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Every NFL season has enticing stories to follow going into training camps and 2018 is no different. Which players are going to hold out, which teams are going to rise to the occasion and of course, why do teams go on Hard Knocks when it means bad things for their season?

These types of headlines are why I implore you to draft as late as possible in the preseason. There are sure to be some major shifts in value based on these storylines in the coming weeks.

With that said, let’s take a look at some of these headlines and what they mean for fantasy football owners.

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Elite Players Threatening to Hold Out

While there are many elite players who may hold out this season, for our purposes here, we will only look at offensive players.

The first of the stars is LeVeon Bell in Pittsburgh. While he is arguably the best running back in the game, the worry should not be there for Bell. He is not going to give up $15 million no matter what he has said through the media to try to force the Steelers' hand. He will do the same thing as last season and show up after the third preseason game and sign on for the season. The biggest concern is the fact he is getting older and at 26 years old can he just show up and perform without injuries creeping in. He started off slow in 2017, as many fantasy players were concerned enough to trade him after a bad first month. Now being a year older, a hamstring injury might be in the works if he isn't fully prepared for game action. When he does come in and play, expect the Steelers to ride him hard, as he is most likely not going to be re-signed at the end of the season and they will use him the same way the Cowboys used Demarco Murray his last season in Dallas.

Bell is a stud for sure, but not knowing what is in store after this season for him, he is much more valuable in redraft leagues then he is in dynasty. In redraft, he is still clearly the number one, or at worst number two overall pick. Meanwhile, in dynasty he could slip to the end of the first round and could be had as the ninth or 10th pick due to his concerning future.

The next of these stars is Julio Jones in Atlanta. This one is more confusing as Julio has absolutely no leverage in these negotiations what so ever. He still has three seasons left on a six-year $60 million contract he signed before the 2015 season, which was even at the time a bad contract for him but he wanted the long-term security so he signed it. While not the highest-paid receiver in the league, this is what economics dictate and he is still in the top-six in salary at the position at over $14 million per season.

While many people felt he had a down season in 2017, Jones was still elite as he finished with 88 receptions for 1,444 yards and three touchdowns to finish the seventh-ranked fantasy wide receiver. He has never been a high touchdown guy, averaging just over six TD per season in his career. Still, the paltry three scores in 2017 were unsatisfactory for a WR1 and abnormally low, which makes him a prime positive regression candidate in 2018. While last year he was going off the draft board in the middle of the first round, the stigma surrounding his "letdown' year as well as his uncertainty for this season has depressed his value to the start of the second round, making him a steal at this pick as he has a real chance to finish as the top overall receiver in the second year of Steve Sarkisian’s offense with Calvin Ridley on the other side allowing Mohamed Sanu the ability to move to his more natural slot position.

The final player with holdout concerns is also the most likely to cause an issue. Odell Beckham Jr., while still on his rookie contract, is also the biggest diva of this group and loves to make scenes for the media. While this may work for him, it does not work for the Giants which shows in their reluctance to extend the stud receiver past his rookie contract at this point in time. Looking at the number from the Giants standpoint, it makes no sense to extend him as he is under contract this year for a bargain of $8.7 million, then much like the Redskins did with Kirk Cousins and the Steelers have done with LeVeon Bell, they can control him for two further seasons under the franchise tag. While the Steelers and Redskins were paying more for Bell and Cousins than market value, the same can not be said for Beckham as the wide receiver franchise tag for next season will likely be around $16 million and around $18.5 million in 2020. This makes it very unlikely Beckham will see an offer near the $20 million he wants. If he can show up this season, put the injury and the drama behind him, he may get rewarded next offseason. Until then he will play on the final year of his rookie contract and should have a monster season at a great value going as the final pick of the first round in standard 12-team leagues.

 

Battle of the Backfields

While there are backfields where we know who the starter is, such as Pittsburgh and Arizona, and there are even others who will be a committee where we know the relative splits, such as Atlanta and Carolina, there are a few backfields worth looking at in training camp to see what pans out for those teams.

The first of these teams is the Cleveland Browns. With the signing of Carlos Hyde in free agency, we thought he was the answer to the committee questions in Cleveland as he would take over the Isaiah Crowell role as well as much of the pass-catching role of Duke Johnson. Then, the Browns threw us all a curveball by drafting Nick Chubb at number 35 in the draft to muddy the waters. Now it looked like it would be the Hyde and Chubb show with Johnson there as a backup in case of injury or bad play. While this lowered the value of Hyde, it was bearable because you don’t really want a Browns back anyway. Then Cleveland went and did it again. They re-upped Johnson for three more seasons to put his mind at ease and because they had the cap room to do so. Is this a sign that Johnson still has a major role in the offense and this could be a one and done year for Hyde before being let go? Most likely yes, but until we figure out what is going on in training camp, this is a no-fly zone for drafting a running back in redraft leagues.

Another team with questions at the running back position is the Indianapolis Colts. With the departure of the ageless Frank Gore to Miami, it was assumed last year’s rookie Marlon Mack was in store for a big role coming off a season shortened by injury.

With their first pick in the draft the Colts upgraded the offensive line by drafting Guard Quinton Nelson from Notre Dame and he should pair nicely with center Ryan Kelly and left tackle Anthony Castonzo to anchor the left side of the line. This is a great addition for the Colts as they ranked only 28th in the NFL last season, averaging 3.73 yards per rush. While the drafting of Nelson would normally bode well for Mack, the Colts also drafted two running backs late in the draft to give him some competition for the starter's role. In Nyheim Hines, the Colts drafted a talented back who is capable of winning the job in training camp and the preseason, not to mention fellow rookie Jordan Wilkins who was drafted number 169 overall is also in line for work, making this another situation which is best to avoid until it works itself out.

Maybe the most intriguing of the backfield carousels and by far the most fantasy relevant is the Green Bay Packers. With three very talented players vying for the job, Aaron Jones, Jamal Williams and Ty Montgomery could all hold value this season depending on what happens in the preseason. While a simple fix is to move Montgomery back to wide receiver and roll with a committee of Jones and Williams, this looks unlikely to happen as Montgomery has earned at least the right to compete based on solid play last season. Jones looked like the most talented last season and Williams looked the most consistent on a game to game basis so there really is a hard decision to come. If they were smart, the Packers would ask Aaron Rodgers for his thoughts, but who are we kidding--this is not the NBA. In the NFL, the general managers are general managers and coaches are coaches, they do not have to report to the star player only to then get left for Miami or Los Angeles. The frontrunner at this time is Aaron Jones despite Mike McCarthy stating it will be a true committee. No matter who ends up winning the starting job, the split will be close to 50/35/15 and will lower all the players in the positional rankings. If you must draft early, the safest play is to draft the lowest-drafted player, which in this case could work two-fold as Ty Montgomery, who is the lowest at the moment, could also be used as a solid flex play as his receiver potential makes him strong week to week throughout 2018.

 

More 2018 Fantasy Football & ADP Analysis