It seems that only novices place significant importance on OTAs or minicamps. Novices, or people with undying affection for the performance of players playing sans pads against their teammates — I mean, if you’ve read one tweet about how great DeVante Parker looks in June you’ve pretty much read them all. But sometimes a team, or normally a coach, will give us a nugget about a player that the observant fantasy player can latch onto, storing for later use.
With this in mind, here are three players from the AFC who have generated some buzz over the last few weeks. Where necessary, I’ll refresh your memory about the player, in case you’d forgotten all about him. I’ll offer some thoughts on their potential to be fantasy relevant during the upcoming season.
Rob Gronkowski retired this offseason. Austin Sefarian-Jenkins was signed then released. Ben Watson came out of retirement to sign for the Patriots, then was suspended for the start of the 2019 season. All of this has led to LaCosse, almost by default, ascending to the top of the Patriots TE totem pole.1 It’s a heady rise for LaCosse, who signed for the Patriots in free agency this past March. LaCosse has caught a mere 27 passes in his NFL career, 24 of them coming last season with the Denver Broncos.
It wouldn’t be accurate to say that LaCosse enjoyed a dominant college career with Illinois prior to his entering the NFL. Far from it, in fact. He played just 20 games in four seasons, and never had more than 20 receptions in a single season. His most similar players, according to the RotoViz Box Score Scout tool, include very few notable NFL performers.
LaCosse was part of what Kyle Dvorchak called a “ragtag bunch of free agents” in his look at Vacated Expected Points. Kyle speculated that rookie N’Keal Harry would be the one new face most likely to make fantasy noise in 2019. Watson’s suspension and Sefarian-Jenkins release haven’t changed this too much.
It would be a shock if LaCosse were to immediately replace the production left behind by the retirement of Gronkowski. However, the Patriots have leaned on the TE in the red zone over the last decade. Gronkowski is not the only TE to see success in this area for the team, either. LaCosse could emerge as a touchdown-dependent fantasy option in 2019 … or he could disappear into the ether. Either way, LaCosse is going off the board in best-ball as the TE27 in the 17th round.
There are a whole host of questions surrounding the Miami Dolphins offensive makeup heading into the new season. As expected, Parker is gaining most of the attention as he continues to pace the Offseason MVP race. But UDFA wide receiver Preston Williams has caught the eye during the last few weeks, too.
Williams enjoyed a sensational 2018 season for Colorado State, his only season on the team. He posted 96 receptions in 12 games, amassing 1345 receiving yards whilst scoring 14 touchdowns. These numbers accounted for 32 percent of the team’s total receptions and 37 percent of the receiving yards. Williams also caught more than half of the team’s touchdowns. And 605 of his yards came on passes that traveled at least 20 yards downfield.
Williams would no doubt have generated even more buzz had he focused on his football whilst a collegiate. However, this was not the case. Williams failed drugs tests whilst at Tennesse, and again after transferring to Colorado State. He did not receive an invite to the combine due to his being involved in a physical altercation with his ex-girlfriend back in 2017. His pro day was an absolute waste of everyone’s time, too. He ran a 4.64 40-yard dash, which he followed up with a 4.57.
Still, if he can get his head on straight, this is a talented football player. Lance Zierlein believed that Williams might have been the most talented WR in the 2019 class. This is a new coaching staff and one that will no doubt have taken a critical eye to the Dolphins depth chart.
Brian Flores and Chad O’Shea are not necessarily wedded to the idea that they have to justify keeping Parker around. The uber efficient Albert Wilson is coming off a serious injury that cut short his 2018 season. Kenny Stills has never emerged as a high-volume option. Williams is certainly a name to remember, but I’m not sure how many people will be pinning their fantasy hopes on a WR in a Ryan Fitzpatrick / Josh Rosen offense in 2019.
Duke Johnson wants to be traded from the Browns. I want Duke Johnson to be traded from the Browns. Freddie Kitchens, at this stage of the offseason, does not want Duke Johnson to be traded from the Browns. So that would seem to be that. Johnson will sit behind Nick Chubb until Kareem Hunt returns from his suspension, then Johnson will fade into obscurity.
But just suppose the Browns get an offer they can’t refuse for Johnson. They showed last season that they don’t really think Chubb can cut it as a pass catcher. Even when he finally shook off the “threat” of Carlos Hyde and became the lead back, they did not make use of him in the receiving game.
Enter Dontrell Hilliard. Hillard averaged 5.3 yards per attempt during his time at Tulane, whilst also having two seasons with at least 23 receptions. He offered an above average athletic profile, highlighted by a 4.47 40-yard dash time. Hilliard’s college career bears some comparison to Orleans Darkwa, a player who has enjoyed some success in the NFL … though not much to get too excited about.
Hilliard played in 11 games for the Browns last season. But he saw his opportunities limited by the presence of Chubb and Johnson. Hilliard did not log a carry but did catch nine of his 10 targets for 105 yards. His best outing was against the Texans in Week 13, when he caught all four of his targets for 40 yards.
In the offseason work, Hilliard spent a large part of his time as a receiver, earning praise from his coaches for his work as a pass catcher. Chubb is undoubtedly the guy for the Browns, at least until Hunt is able to return to the field. But a pass-catching option on an offense led by Baker Mayfield could have some deep fantasy appeal in the early weeks of the season, especially if the Browns make Duke (and my) dreams come true and let him go.
Image Credit: David Rosenblum/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Preston Williams.
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