Best Ball Journal: Camp AdjustmentsAugust 5, 2022
This article is part of our Best Ball Journal series.
With training camp underway we already have some player developments that warrant reconsideration for projections made before camp. This article looks at seven players whose value is on the upswing and three whose situations are trending downward. The ADP cited is from Underdog.
After a bizarre and disheartening two seasons it would be forgivable if someone remained skeptical of Thomas, but he’s been practicing without any apparent limitations and more or less looks like himself since his return. Chris Olave and Jarvis Landry are perhaps tougher target competition than what preceded them and Jameis Winston/Dennis Allen is a very different question than Drew Brees/Sean Payton, so even in full health it might be too much to expect Thomas to produce like he did before 2020. Even if so, Thomas’ present ADP of 67.1 has to continue rising sharply. I personally think there’s a case for raising him up to as high as the range where Terry McLaurin (40.3 ADP) and Allen Robinson (42.1 ADP) reside in the wide receiver rankings, though it’d be understandable if the broader public found that too risky.
There was an avalanche of leaked reports this spring about how the Giants intended to trade Toney, and then they selected Wan’Dale Robinson 43rd overall. Robinson is a slot prospect, and Toney – infamous for his poor practice habits and resulting rawness as a route runner – had been restricted to the slot to this point. It’s easier to get clean releases from the slot and the routes are generally more primitive than the ones outside and further downfield, so using Toney there was the best way to get him the ball and let his after-the-catch ability gloss over the fact that he only had a very narrow set of functions to that point. However, thus far in training camp Toney has shown the ability to play outside receiver, meaning the Robinson arrival no longer need be at Toney’s expense. Not just that, if Toney sticks outside then that alone is sufficient reason to think he’s applying himself in a new way under coach Brian Daboll and making the most of his talents in a way that he didn’t even at Florida. If Toney is applying himself and developing this new skill set then at that point it’s difficult to think of why anything should hold him back. Toney’s slow development at Florida and struggles to catch on as a rookie had more to do with his approach and relationship with coaches than it did his talent. Talent-wise there was never any good reason why Toney couldn’t be a complete receiver who runs at all depths of the field – he might be finally realizing that too. There’s reason to think Toney, Robinson (172.1) and Kenny Golladay (122.1) can all pay off at their ADPs, especially if the Giants trade Darius Slayton.
Woods is already apparently back to full health following his Nov. 12 ACL tear, to the point that there’s reason to believe he’ll function as Tennessee’s WR1 out of the gate. Treylon Burks will still have something to say about that, but Burks and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine at the very least will not have the benefit of a slow start from Woods. It remains to be seen how Woods fits into this offense – its outside receivers are normally in the big build of Burks, Westbrook-Ikhine, A.J. Brown and Corey Davis – but Woods is a polished horizontal receiver who can post big yards after the catch and create short/immediate separation from a boundary receiver position. At this price his concerns seem a bit overemphasized even if they are real – there are backups going ahead of Woods.
There was a time when Doubs would go in either the 18th round or not at all in Underdog drafts. Those days are gone. It remains to be seen how high Doubs’ price surges in light of the emphatically positive reports of his play in training camp. The only real concern with Doubs as a prospect was the question of his athleticism, because his production and tape tell you anything you’d need to know about his skill level as a receiver. Doubs was almost like a Mountain West Rashod Bateman – both posted inefficient but voluminous numbers as a true freshmen before going nuts with high-volume, high-efficiency production afterward, and they’re both lean, graceful runners with reach. Bateman was an easy evaluation because he demonstrated 4.45 speed, which is definitely good enough to make his obviously strong skill set play at the NFL level. We didn’t have that with Doubs, leaving the worst-case scenario in the back of your mind, but it’s already clear from Green Bay practice tape that he has more than enough speed to play at the NFL level. Whatever his actual 40 time is doesn’t matter so much by now, because he beat the press coverage of Eric Stokes on a vertical route and lost the second-year first-round pick corner on the right sideline for a big play. Stokes ran a 4.31-second pro day 40 last year. If Doubs can create separation against Stokes then he’s going to be more than fine. As much as Allen Lazard and Sammy Watkins remain obstacles in the meantime, Doubs is trending at worst toward a 600-snap sort of workload and one that could easily go higher than that even if Watkins stays healthy, which he has generally not done.
K.J. Hamler, WR, DEN (175.6 ADP)
The Tim Patrick ACL injury leaves an 800-snap void from last year’s offense, which Hamler himself missed due to an ACL tear. While Hamler’s return is bittersweet in light of Patrick’s injury, it is also a reminder that the Broncos are well situated to handle the shock of Patrick’s absence. Patrick played a lot of slot snaps in 2021, but it might more so be Patrick’s outside reps that go to Jerry Jeudy than the slot ones, in which case Hamler could have a route to hundreds more snaps than previously projected. Hamler is a very different player from Patrick and he notably does not have the frame or hands to conventionally project for high target volume, so expect Hamler’s routes to extend much farther downfield and do more damage per target than Patrick would have. It’s becoming almost cliché to point this out by now, but Hamler is very clearly the Broncos player who best profiles for the types of routes Tyler Lockett ran as slot receiver in Seattle.
Tolbert was a candidate to play a swing backup role for Dallas since his skill set is easy to involve from a variety of alignments and depths, but with James Washington missing 6-to-10 weeks with a broken foot it seems like Dallas has no choice but to start Tolbert however long Washington is out. Even then, a broken foot is not an easy injury to bounce back from, and Washington is unreasonably heavy for a receiver with his frame, which I imagine doesn’t make for the swiftest return scenario. If Washington can’t bounce back then Tolbert could play over 800 snaps even if Michael Gallup (ACL) makes a quicker return than expected. It’s also possible that Tolbert sees relatively light coverage as defenses presumably target Dalton Schultz more than in the past. Another thing to keep in mind is Tolbert is older than most rookies (turned 23 in February) and might be better prepared to do the necessary playbook/practice work than some younger players would be in his position.
Pacheco has reportedly shown enough for the Chiefs to commit to him as their kick returner already despite not doing it much and not very well at Rutgers, but it’s possible the Rutgers special teams was so bad that Pacheco simply had no chance, which is certainly the accurate description of his experience on the Rutgers offense. Pacheco’s college numbers look awful across the board… until you notice he played in one of the worst offenses in college football history, one whose combined quarterback and offensive line play has to be the worst of the modern era. Pacheco ran well when he had room, which was exceedingly rare. The case is the opposite in the Chiefs offense – you could almost run blindfolded and find open field with how cautiously defenses approach Patrick Mahomes. Pacheco is unlikely to displace Ronald Jones for off-the-bench run tasks behind the durability-challenged Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but if one of CEH or Jones were to miss time the Chiefs might not be able to shut the door on Pacheco.
Not trying to pile on to Watson or anything, but he was commonly going in the 10th round in Underdog drafts and he’s almost already a complete dud regardless of the round. There is emphatic reason at this point to believe that Romeo Doubs is better than Watson even if Watson gets over his knee injury and catches up on the Green Bay offense. He needs to stop worrying about Doubs and start worrying about Samari Toure.
Although Edwards is still a good bet to revive his career in Atlanta, in a scheme that can actually use a player of his abilities, that salvaging project was potentially complicated by a shoulder injury Edwards suffered. It’s not believed to be serious and he’s already practicing in a non-contact capacity, but Edwards needed all the reps he could get with Kyle Pitts and Drake London already off to strong starts and strengthening their case to be Atlanta’s lead one-two punch by a significant margin.
Perhaps it’s an overreaction, but the news of the Patriots offense struggling to install its run plays in training camp can’t be a great sign for Harris, the team’s lead runner. Harris is a good player but the Patriots are tinkering with their run game under the supervision of Matt Patricia and Joe Judge of all people – perhaps the very two specific worst choices among known NFL football coaches. Greg Roman might be bad (he is) but even he would be an extreme improvement over those bozos. The Patriots also for some reason traded Shaq Mason this offseason, and he’s one of the best run-blocking guards in the league. This all occurs while the Patriots defense likely regresses without J.C. Jackson, meaning the Patriots might run less and worse both in 2022.