Training Camp Preview: NFC West

Wed Jul 29 11:02am ET
By JEFF PAUR
Sr Fantasy Writer

Mostert hopes to have big role


This is the final preview in a series of training camp previews. We will continue to release the previews throughout the week. The previews give you a quick look at each team, going over position battles and injuries to watch in camp. The season is right around the corner.

Rams

The Rams should have an interesting back, mainly because they have a real running back battle on their hands. This should make for some quality entertainment for fantasy owners. The winner of that job will have obvious fantasy value in this offense. The big battle will happen this year at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California.

Position battle: The Rams will be without Todd Gurley as their starting running back for the first time in several seasons. This leaves the job up for grabs. The Rams drafted Cam Akers with a high pick, making him maybe the favorite for the job. Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown are still around, though. These three will battle it out for the job. Akers is the favorite, but he’ll need to perform in camp and preseason action to hold off Henderson and Brown .

Injury watch: Cooper Kupp played a full season last year for the first time in his career. He has missed games two of three seasons because of injury. Kupp has struggled to stay healthy at times, but last year was a big step forward. Either way, injury is a concern when it comes to Kupp. He is a huge part of the Rams offense and can be a top fantasy player, but needs to be on the field for that to happen. Make sure he has a healthy camp, though, before taking him come draft day.

Cardinals

Arizona is a team on the rise with a lot of young talent on both sides of the ball. The offense made a big splash this offseason, acquiring DeAndre Hopkins. The offense has a chance to be really good if all the pieces fall into place this season for Arizona. It should be interesting to see how the offense plays out this training camp. The Cardinals hold camp at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Position battle: The Cardinals starting tight end spot is up for grabs. Maxx Williams seems to have the best shot to start of the group, but will be challenged by Dan Arnold and Darrell Daniels. Arizona’s starting tight end doesn’t have a ton of fantasy value, but the starter could be worth a spot start or two in a pinch, making this a job some might want to keep an eye on. 

Injury watch: Larry Fitzgerald just keeps chugging along. He plays every game and produces on the field. It is pretty amazing. He is 37 years old, though, so you have to wonder if he can keep his current pace. It just seems natural that he will slow down sooner than later, maybe because of injury. This makes Fitzgerald a player to keep an eye on in training camp to make sure he comes out healthy and ready for the season.

49ers

The 49ers made it to the Super Bowl last year but lost in the big game. Expectations will be high for this team once again this year. There should be a lot of pressure on Jimmy Garopppolo, who wasn’t great in the playoffs. He might need to up his game a little more if the 49ers hope to win the Super Bowl. Garoppolo and his teammates will train at the San Francisco 49ers Training Facility in Santa Clara, California.

Position battle: Raheem Mostert is threatening a holdout because he wants a new contract. He is expected to start for the 49ers but a possible holdout could open the door for Tevin Coleman. This is a situation to watch going forward. Coleman’s value would take a big step forward if Mostert missed any amount of time. And even if Mostert doesn’t holdout, don’t forget about Coleman as part of a rotation at running back for the 49ers. It is not a slam dunk that Mostert is going to be handed the starting job. (UPDATE: Mostert restructured his contract and ended his holdout)

Injury watch: Deebo Samuel injured his foot in offseason workouts, suffering a Jones fracture. There is a good chance he is not ready for the start of the season, missing a few games to start the year. We’ll have a better idea when camp opens, though. Big things are expected from Samuel this year, but this injury clouds those expectations.

Seahawks

Seattle just keeps chugging along, winning a lot of games while making the playoffs. The big issue is getting over the hump of recent years and making a legit run at the Super Bowl. The team will need to get a little better on both sides of the ball for that to happen. Seattle will need some of that young talent to make progress this year, so that might be the big thing to watch this training camp. The Seahawks hold training camp at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center in Renton, Washington.

Position battle: Chris Carson is the starter for the Seahawks but his backup is up in the air. Carlos Hyde and Rashaad Penny are the top options to backup Carson. Hyde is coming off a 1,000-yard season, so he has the leg up on Penny. But Penny is a talented player that has struggled with injury start his career. When healthy, Penny has made plays for the Seahawks. Penny is recovering from a torn ACL, though, so he will need to prove he is healthy if he hopes to win the job over Hyde. This clouds things even more for Penny. 

Injury watch: Chris Carson had his season cut short because of a hip injury last year. He is not 100 percent certain to be ready for the start of training camp. He might be brought along slowly to make sure he is ready for the start of the year. He’ll need to get up to speed in camp to show the team he is 100 percent and ready for the start of the year. Make sure he has an injury free camp before taking Carson come draft day.

Jeff Paur is a two-time finalist for FSWA Fantasy Football Writer of the Year and won the FSWA award for Best Fantasy Football Article on the Web in 2011. He also was the most accurate expert in 2012, winning the FSTA Fantasy Football Accuracy Award. If you have any questions for Jeff, email him at jeff@rtsports.com. Follow Jeff on Twitter @jeffpaur.

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Player Notes
T Y Hilton Jan 27 5:40pm ET

Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay said that he would love to have impending free-agent wide receiver T.Y. Hilton return in 2021. The 31-year-old had 56 catches, 762 receiving yards and five touchdowns in 15 games for the Colts in 2020. The four-time Pro Bowler had a stretch from 2013-16 where he had four straight seasons of 1,000 yards receiving, but he's been in decline the last two years, combining for 101 receptions, 1,263 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2019 and 2020. Losing Andrew Luck under center certainly didn't help and Hilton's decline in production has certainly hurt his fantasy stock heading into the 2021 season, but he did have a three-week stretch from Week 12 to Week 14 where he reminded us of the Hilton of old. He's unlikely to be anything more than a WR3 for fantasy managers next season, but it will depend on whether he stays in Indy and who the quarterback is, or where he winds up in free agency if he departs.

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Jason Witten Jan 27 5:10pm ET

Las Vegas Raiders tight end Jason Witten is retiring from the NFL and plans to sign a one-day contract to retire as a member of the Dallas Cowboys in March when his deal with the Raiders expires. The 38-year-old played 16 seasons for the Cowboys and spent the 2020 campaign with the Raiders. No tight end in history has played more than his 271 career games, with only Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez recording more catches and yards at the position. Witten was a third-round pick in 2003 and developed into one of the best tight ends in history. The 11-time Pro Bowler is the Cowboys all-time leader in receptions (1,215) and yards (12,977) and is second in touchdown catches (72). Witten had four 1,000-yard seasons and played in a team-record 255 games, including a franchise-record 245 starts. The future Hall of Famer missed just one game in his career due to a broken jaw as a rookie.

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Drew Brees Jan 27 3:20pm ET

New Orleans Saints general manager Mickey Loomis knows it will be a "daunting" offseason if the team has to replace quarterback Drew Brees, who is expected to retire, but Loomis made it clear that the club isn't going into rebuilding mode after winning the last four NFC South titles. The Saints could also be close to $100 million over the salary cap. There is no official word yet on whether Brees will retire, but the Saints plan on waiting for his decision before deciding on how they will approach the position in 2021 and beyond. Quarterback Jameis Winston, safety Marcus Williams, defensive end Trey Hendrickson, defensive tackle Sheldon Rankins and tight end Jared Cook are all scheduled to be free agents. But the Saints could save at least $13.5 million in cap space if Brees retires. They could also consider a blockbuster trade to free up cap space and add draft picks like they did in the past with Jimmy Graham and Brandin Cooks.

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Stefon Diggs Jan 27 3:10pm ET

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John Wolford Jan 27 1:40pm ET

Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff has 45 wins since 2017 (second-most behind Tom Brady), but he was wildly inconsistent in 2020, and the Rams are expected to have an open quarterback competition between Goff and John Wolford during training camp this summer, according to sources. Wolford was much more mobile and added a new dynamic to LA's offense late in the regular season when Goff's thumb was injured, so they will give him another chance to impress this summer. If Goff isn't traded and remains with the Rams, he'll have to show more explosiveness and limit the turnovers in order to keep his starting job. The former first overall pick had his moments in 2020, but he just wasn't consistent enough for fantasy managers and did very little with his legs. If he wins the job in training camp, he'll be a middling QB2 target in fantasy drafts.

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Bud Dupree Jan 27 11:50am ET

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree (knee), who tore his ACL in a Week 12 win over the Ravens on Dec. 2, said that he plans to be ready for training camp and is ahead of schedule in his rehab. "I'm feeling great right now," Dupree said. The star pass-rusher had eight sacks and 31 tackles before suffering the season-ending injury and had formed a two-headed pass-rushing monster with teammate T.J. Watt. After Dupree's injury, Pittsburgh's defense fell off the rest of the way. The 27-year-old played the 2020 season on the franchise tag for $15.828 million and will hit the free-agent market this offseason. The Steelers are unlikely to tag Dupree again, as they are projected to be well over the 2021 salary cap. Dupree should be in play in IDP leagues, if he's healthy, wherever he winds up playing next season.

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Tom Brady Jan 27 11:40am ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Bruce Arians said he doesn't plan on retiring from the NFL if he wins Super Bowl 55 over the Kansas City Chiefs. "Hell no. I'm going for two. If the Glazers will have me back," Arians said. The 68-year-old already retired following the 2017 season with the Arizona Cardinals due to medical concerns, but returned to coach the Buccaneers in 2019 after a year away from the game. If Arians were to retire, he'd likely leave the head-coaching job in the capable hands of either defensive coordinator Todd Bowles or offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich. But with future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady on a two-year deal with Tampa, Arians might see things out for one more season in 2021.

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Antoine Winfield Jr. Jan 27 11:30am ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Jordan Whitehead (shoulder), who is dealing with labrum and additional shoulder issues he suffered during the NFC Championship win over the Green Bay Packers, has not been ruled out for the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs, according to a source. Whitehead is going to try and play, but his practice status will be something to keep an eye on next week. The Buccaneers Defense, particularly their secondary, is going to need all the help they can get in order to try and slow down the Chiefs high-flying offensive attack. Standout rookie Antoine Winfield Jr., who missed the NFC Championship, is expected to return, so that's a plus for the Bucs defense. Whitehead had 74 combined tackles (nine for loss), two interceptions, two sacks, and a fumble recovery in 16 regular season games for Tampa.

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Russell Wilson Jan 26 11:40pm ET

The Seattle Seahawks are planning to hire Los Angeles Rams passing-game coordinator Shane Waldron as their offensive coordinator, according to a source. Waldron will take over for Brian Schottenheimer in Seattle. This is also notable for the Rams, as they are losing Waldron, Brandon Staley, Brad Holmes, Ray Agnew, Joe Barry and Aubrey Pleasant as assistant coaches this offseason. Head coach Pete Carroll said he'd like Seattle's offense to get back to more of a run-first approach next season, which is part of the reason why they parted ways with Schottenheimer after the offense crumbled in the second half after putting up huge passing numbers earlier in the year. Waldron was the Rams pass-game coordinator for the last three seasons, and he'll work closely with quarterback Russell Wilson to find out why he regressed late in the 2020 season.

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Jeff Wilson Jan 26 11:30pm ET

The San Francisco 49ers re-signed restricted free-agent running back Jeff Wilson Jr. to a one-year deal on Tuesday. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The 25-year-old has 974 rushing yards in his three seasons with San Francisco and posted career- and team-highs of 126 carries, 600 yards and seven touchdowns in 2020. He saw more playing time throughout the year due to injuries to Raheem Mostert and Tevin Coleman, but Wilson also played in just 12 games (three starts) due to ailments of his own. He finished with 733 total yards and 10 touchdowns. Wilson could have a bigger role to begin the year next to Mostert, as both Coleman and Jerick McKinnon could leave in free agency. If Wilson is sharing backfield touches only with Mostert, he'll be an RB3/flex with more upside in PPR formats.

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Kyle Rudolph Jan 26 10:30pm ET

Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph expressed unhappiness with his role in the offense over the last two seasons and isn't willing to accept a pay cut heading into the 2021 season. Rudolph went from being the team's second- or third-leading receiver from 2015-18 to being an afterthought in the passing attack. The Vikings would gain $5.1 million in salary cap space if they were to release Rudolph, and they are projected to be $12.8 million over the cap. He has three years remaining on his deal, so they could also look to restructure his deal. The 31-year-old played in just 12 games in 2020 and finished the year on Injured Reserve with a Lisfranc sprain in his foot, while fellow tight end Irv Smith finished third in receiving with 365 yards and five touchdowns. Rudolph had 28 catches on 35 targets last season, his lowest output since 2014. With Smith on the rise, Rudolph is off the fantasy radar in redraft leagues heading into 2021 if he remains in Minnesota.

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DeVonta Smith Jan 26 10:10pm ET

Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores said that Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith's size -- he's listed at just 175 pounds on Alabama's roster -- is not a concern. "If you're a good player -- I mean, you can nitpick all you want about a guy's size -- good players are good players are good players," Flores said. Flores is coaching Smith's national team in the Senior Bowl this week. Smith won't practice or play this week due to a finger injury he sustained in the national championship against Ohio State, but the young pass-catcher is arguably one of the most productive college football wideouts and won the 2020 Heisman Trophy Award. He's an excellent route-runner with incredibly strong hands and could be an option for Miami at No. 3 overall in the draft, although he's expected to go a little later in the top 10 of the first round.

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Justin Herbert Jan 26 8:30pm ET

Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi plan to build the Chargers offense in 2021 around second-year quarterback Justin Herbert. But Herbert will also be learning a new offense with a new head coach and offensive coordinator in just his second season. The Oregon product finished sixth in passing yards (4,336), 10th in touchdown passes (31), 12th in passer rating (98.3) and had only 10 interceptions in his rookie season. "He has a skillset that is elite," Lombardi said. "It appears that there's nothing that he can't do. He has an incredibly strong arm, good accuracy and he is very athletic." Herbert's 31 passing touchdowns was the most for a rookie QB. With his arrow pointing firmly upward, the 22-year-old will be a midrange QB1 with upside in 2021.

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Matthew Stafford Jan 26 5:00pm ET

Teams are already reaching out to the Detroit Lions to initiate trade talks to figure out what it will cost to acquire quarterback Matthew Stafford, according to sources. With a new general manager in place and a new coaching staff for 2021 and beyond, it was reported last weekend that the Lions have mutually agreed to part ways with Stafford, so teams are already reaching out for the 32-year-old. Stafford missed eight games due to injury in 2019, but he was able to play a full 16 games this season despite dealing with multiple injuries. He finished the year with 4,084 yards on a 64.2 completion percentage with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Stafford doesn't have a ton of upside at this stage of his career, but the 2014 Pro Bowler could offer some nice value in fantasy drafts in 2021, depending on where he winds up. Stay tuned.

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Jared Goff Jan 26 4:30pm ET

Los Angeles Rams general manager Les Snead was non-committal on quarterback Jared Goff's future when asked if Goff might not be on the team next season. "Not going to get into specifics on those. That's the beautiful mystery of the future. Jared Goff is a Ram at this moment. It's way too early to speculate," Snead said. The Rams could add a veteran at the position to push Goff in 2021 if he's still on the roster. While Goff wasn't terrible last season -- 67 completion percentage, 20-13 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a passer rating of 90 -- he was too inconsistent in both real life and fantasy. It's unclear who Goff will be playing for in 2021, but if he stays in LA, he'll be a midrange QB2 for fantasy managers unless proven otherwise.

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Nick Mullens Jan 26 4:20pm ET

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Nick Mullens (elbow) underwent successful elbow surgery in late December, according to a source. The damage wasn't as extensive as initially feared and did not require Tommy John surgery. Mullens is expected to be 100 percent recovered for the start of training camp. It's great news for the 25-year-old, as Tommy John surgery would have likely kept him out for most, if not all, of the 2021 season. He was forced into eight starts with Jimmy Garoppolo injured last season, throwing for 2,437 yards, 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions for a QB rating of 84.1 in 10 overall games. Mullens will be a restricted free agent in 2021, but if he returns to San Francisco, he'll continue to hold the clipboard for Jimmy G.

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DeVonta Smith Jan 26 2:10pm ET

Alabama wide receiver DeVonta Smith, the 2020 Heisman Trophy winner and one of the top prospects in the 2021 NFL draft, declined to be weighed or measured for height at the Senior Bowl weigh-in on Tuesday. However, he plans to do so at Alabama's pro-day workout this spring. He was listed at 6-foot-1, 175 pounds during the season, and his size is his lone scouting concern heading to the next level. Smith has 9 3/8-inch hands, 31 1/3-inch arms and a wingspan of 78 1/2. The talented pass-catcher injured a finger in the national championship game against Ohio State and will not compete in practices or the game this week. Smith caught 117 passes for 1,856 yards and 23 touchdowns as a senior and is projected to be a top-10 pick in the first round because of his exceptional route-running skills and strong, sure hands.

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Aaron Rodgers Jan 26 2:00pm ET

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was uncertain about his future with the team after the NFC Championship loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday, but chief executive officer Mark Murphy said the team won't let him go. "There's no way in heck Aaron is not gonna be on the Packers," Murphy said. "He's going to be the MVP of the league, might have had his best year ever, he's our unquestioned leader, and we're not idiots." Rodgers is 37 years old and has three years left on his deal after the Packers drafted his expected successor, Jordan Love, in the first round last year. Green Bay won't take on a huge dead salary cap number in 2021, but they could go in another direction in 2022 when his number drops to $17.2 million. After his MVP season, Rodgers isn't going anywhere just yet and will be more expensive in 2021 fantasy drafts as a QB1 than he was heading into the 2020 season.

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Antonio Brown Jan 26 11:40am ET

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) and rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr. (ankle) are expected to be ready to play in the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs on Feb. 7, according to sources. Both players missed the NFC Championship win over the Packers. Brown was injured in the Divisional Round against the Saints and played just a handful of snaps in the second half. The 32-year-old had five touchdowns in his last five games and will be a touchdown-dependent fantasy play in the Super Bowl. His return could mean fewer looks for Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Scotty Miller. Winfield was injured in practice late last week and was unable to play on Sunday. His return to Tampa's secondary will be a welcomed addition as the Bucs attempt to slow down KC's high-flying aerial attack with Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.

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Sammy Watkins Jan 26 11:30am ET

Kansas City Chiefs running back Le'Veon Bell (knee) and wide receiver Sammy Watkins (calf) are expected to be ready to play in the Super Bowl against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Feb. 7, according to sources. Both players were inactive for the AFC Championship win over Buffalo. Watkins played in just 10 games during the regular season and also missed time with a sore hamstring and didn't play in either of KC's playoff games. He finished the regular season with 37 catches for 421 yards and two touchdowns and will be a boom/bust dart throw in DFS for the big game. Mecole Hardman will be a much more attractive play than Watkins. Bell had 254 rushing yards in nine games for the Chiefs and will likely see scraps behind rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Darrel Williams against Tampa.

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