Training Camp Notes: Fournette-Me-Not

The preseason schedule is in full swing, but this early in August teams are still mostly resting their starters, making the results and performances somewhat less than predictive for fantasy purposes. When trying to suss out sleepers and busts, what happens on the practice field is still at this point more important than what some second-string RB does against third-string defenders in the second half of a relatively meaningless game.

With that in mind, here’s the news of note from Wednesday:

  • the Jaguars seem intent on driving fantasy owners who have invested heavily in Leonard Fournette absolutely batty before the season even begins. First came the not exactly surprising news that T.J. Yeldon would see a significant chunk of the third-down work, but now comes word that Chris Ivory, and not the 228-pound human battering ram Fournette, might take on short-yardage (and goal-line) work as well. Using the fourth overall pick in the draft on a player you only trust to be on the field in early downs between the 20s might seem like a poor use of resources to you or me, but the Jags know what they’re doing (said no one ever). Fournette should still eventually earn his spot in the lineup as a three-down bell cow, but the possibility that he won’t have that workload starting in Week 1 is a little worrying.
  • Mike Gillislee has had a lot of helium this preseason, but it might be time to pump the brakes a bit. He’s been held off the field the last few days with a hamstring issue that’s apparently been bothering him since OTAs, and if the former Bill can’t stay healthy, the Patriots have plenty of depth to take on those snaps. It’s easy to add Gillislee’s skill set to LeGarrette Blount’s goal-line touches in 2016 and get a hypothetical fantasy superstar, but life rarely works so simply, especially when Bill Belichick’s use of his backfield pieces is concerned.
  • despite the fact that he’ll begin the season serving a three-game suspension, Doug Martin has looked like a man possessed in camp so far, drawing praise from Jameis Winston for his work ethic and ability to focus in the face of adversity. Martin’s been written off before and bounced back, and the combination of Charles Sims, Jacquizz Rodgers and Jeremy McNichols isn’t exactly a tough group to best out for the starting job starting in Week 4. The suspension will reduce his cost at the draft table, but Martin remains the Bucs best bet in the backfield.
  • Devonta Freeman cashed in on his big performances over the last two seasons, signing a five-year extension worth a possible $41.25 million. Those aren’t phantom NFL accounting dollars, either, as he’ll receive a $15 signing bonus and an additional $17.3 million of the deal is fully guaranteed. While he’ll still be splitting snaps with Tevin Coleman, the fact that the Falcons were willing to give him this kind of money suggests Freeman has a firm hold on the starting job in Atlanta, rather than their backfield slipping into a 1A/1B situation.
  • Martavis Bryant has received a conditional reinstatement from the league, allowing him to officially participate in all team activities including practices and preseason games. After sitting out all of last year with a suspension, fantasy GMs will probably want to see him in action before adding too many Bryant shares to their 2017 portfolio, something that may not happen for a week or two, but if he hasn’t lost any of his explosiveness he has the potential for a breakout season as the No. 2 option in a Steelers passing game tailor made for vertical threats like him. Of course, that potential requires not only that he stay out of trouble, but also that Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy…
  • the Bills wasted little time in working Anquan Boldin into their first-team offense after signing him Monday, lining him up in the slot Tuesday. The veteran may not have a whole lot left in the tank at this point  — his 6.1 YPT in 2016 would have been weak for a tight end, much less a wide receiver — but his size and ability to block out defenders still allows him to be an effective red-zone target, and Buffalo’s depth chart is pretty threadbare behind Sammy Watkins. Don’t be surprised if Boldin hauls in a few TDs early in the year before fading away again as the years catch up to him.
  • rookie tight ends are rarely a good fantasy investment, but O.J. Howard is doing his best to convince me that he could be one of the exceptions. Reports out of Tampa’s camp continue to toss around words like “uncoverable”, “mismatch” and “dominant”when it comes to the 19th overall pick in the draft, and he’s been having his way with the team’s first-string safeties and linebackers in drills. In fact, my concerns about Howard’s fantasy value this year have less to do with his talent than his opportunities. Cameron Brate is still on the roster, and Mike Evans is still the team’s top red-zone target. Howard may well make an impact on a per-play basis, but unless the Bucs start throwing the ball a lot more than they have in the last few seasons, he may not get enough looks to be worth a roster spot in most leagues.
  • deep sleeper alert! Trent Taylor, a fifth round pick out of Louisiana Tech, is making a strong push so far in camp for the Niners’ starting slot receiver job. The role currently belongs to thoroughly mediocre veteran Jeremy Kerley but Taylor already has a bead on a roster spot thanks to his return ability, and despite his small stature his elusiveness off the line could make him a viable possession option for Brian Hoyer — and a PPR darling, a la the Cowboys’ Cole Beasley. Kyle Shanahan won’t lift the offense to the heights he reached in Atlanta last year right out of the gate, but the new coach may well decide to give the job to “his” guy rather than a holdover, putting Taylor on the fantasy radar.