Perhaps the worst part about Marquez Callaway's breakout performance against the Jaguars was that it came in the preseason. I mean, we'd all do anything to have a receiver notch two deep touchdowns and accrue over 100 yards on a 100% catch rate in less than one half of play!
The best part? Callaway has performed like a dynamite No. 1 receiver in each of two preseason matches against starting-caliber heavyweights like Marcus Peters and Shaquill Griffin. You can see it in his in-breaking routes against zone coverage, ditching the boundary cornerback in a half-second and getting open across the middle of the field. You can see it in his technique on a slant pattern where he jukes outside before crossing inside and getting a full step on his defender. And you can really see it when he turns on the burners to take the top off of zone-coverage, displaying crazy good concentration to bring in the deep ball with a safety basically pushing him down, then again when he stacks a cornerback on a deep fade and reels in a pass with one hand.
He did it again: Marquez Callaway and Jameis Winston is a 🔥🔥🔥 connection.— Ari Meirov (@MySportsUpdate) August 24, 2021
Callaway was an undrafted free agent in 2020. He's going off tonight. pic.twitter.com/aOPXq1caUD
This intoxicating blend of size, speed and separation (the three S's!) is specifically perfect for Jameis Winston, who never met a downfield target he didn't like. Winston figures to be the starting quarterback for the Saints after he connected with Callaway on those two long scores and basically gives New Orleans more pass velocity than Taysom Hill.
It's also assumed that receiver Michael Thomas will miss at least the first month of the season. He might even begin the year on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which could mean we wouldn't see him play until Week 8 against the Buccaneers. No matter when Thomas comes back, there's no guarantee he'll be in football shape and ready to contribute on a heavy dose of targets. It's also rather certain he won't challenge downfield as consistently as Callaway, but he will warrant defensive attention, which never hurts other receivers' chances of getting open.
It feels safe to say Callaway begins 2021 as the Saints' No. 1 receiver. With evidence he's much more than a deep-ball guy, he lands plenty of targets in the early going ahead of Tre'Quan Smith and everyone else. Then when Thomas comes back, whenever that is, Callaway's target share dips a little but not so much that he becomes useless in Fantasy. In fact, I think there's a chance he stays around six targets per game even when Thomas comes back.
Callaway is getting drafted in the double-digit rounds as a reserve. There's potential he could start for you as a flex or No. 3 wideout in Week 1 and potentially every week that Thomas misses. If you decide to build your roster without a lot of receivers in the first seven rounds, reaching for Callaway in Round 9 wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. It might even be sweeter if you took him after nabbing Thomas.
It's easy to compare RBs to RBs and WRs to WRs, but what if you are deciding between Stefon Diggs and Najee Harris? Chase Edmonds and Chase Claypool? We'll break down these decisions on the Fantasy Football Today podcast. Listen below and follow at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts:
La vida de Laviska?!
No one was happy about Travis Etienne's rookie season ending, but one likely benefactor figures to be second-year receiver Laviska Shenault. But before you take him, you should know what kind of receiver you're getting.
Shenault fits into Jacksonville's new quick-throw spread offense in that he's a thick, strong receiver who runs routes well and can change direction quickly. But one look at the kinds of routes he regularly runs and you'll see that speed is not his specialty. He gets open with his footwork and physical nature, not with his burst or acceleration. You could see defenders sticking with him on plenty of his downfield routes against the Browns and Saints.
Proof has been in the preseason: Of the 27 patterns he's run this month, 19 have been inside of 10 yards. That figures to continue into the regular season, which means Shenault should land a high catch rate and, potentially, an excellent target share. But assume there will also be some efficiency woes that cap him in half- and non-PPR leagues. He shouldn't get taken until Round 8 at a minimum.
He may also prove to be the second-worst value among Jacksonville's receivers behind D.J. Chark, who's the first Jaguars wideout off the board. Keep an open mind on Marvin Jones, who is 31 years old but for two weeks has shown considerable chemistry and timing with Lawrence. The veteran has finished inside the top-30 in PPR points per game four straight seasons. Jones is a mortal lock to be available after 100th overall and should return solid value if you're adding him onto rosters in Round 9 or 10.
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Scouting some Steelers
- I needed the refresher from Diontae Johnson on why he's the Steelers' top receiver. He blew past Lions ballyhooed cornerback Jeff Okudah and then adjusted to a Ben Roethlisberger deep lob for a 43-yard gain, but he was also getting exceptional separation in his routes. The offense also looked similar to last year, which isn't to say it will be exactly like last year but it will probably be altered only so much.
There could be a slight downgrade in overall targets for Johnson, but it shouldn't be by much, and his share in the offense doesn't figure to be affected. I've locked in Johnson as a top-20 Fantasy receiver, especially in PPR.
- I also needed the refresher from JuJu Smith Schuster on why he's not the Steelers' top receiver. The talk about him lining up all over? Wasn't true in his 25 pass snaps against the Lions when he was in the slot 20 times and in the backfield twice. The talk about running more routes downfield? Also not true as he ran routes of 10-plus yards nine times, with at least once as a clear decoy. Smith-Schuster couldn't make a defender miss on two bubble screens, didn't show a good top speed, couldn't separate from Okudah (the same cornerback Johnson separated from) on a well-placed fade end-zone throw from Mason Rudolph and seemed to run at half-speed on pass plays that weren't designed for him.
On the plus side, Smith-Schuster's hands are still excellent, he can get open on crosser and over routes against zone coverage and he proved he can still be effective in breaking leg tackles like he did on a fourth-and-1 catch where he flared out and broke away for about 15 yards after contact.
Smith-Schuster continues to tumble down my rank lists, especially in non-PPR where he's at best a flex. You might be able to get away with him as your No. 2 wideout in full PPR, but I'm concerned that even a small target drain in Pittsburgh may affect him the most. There's no way I'm drafting him until at least 70th overall, which isn't far from his ADP but far from where we've been taking him in prior years.
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Quick WR hits
- Corey Davis picked up six targets on nine routes run against the Packers, turning in 70 yards on four grabs. The week before he was targeted on each of four pass routes versus the Giants with two catches for 18 yards. And he clearly appears to have his timing down with Zach Wilson. Just remember: Most of his preseason work, and the work of the Jets offense, has come against backups. Also, early training-camp sensation Elijah Moore has not been on the field when Davis has hogged targets. Both of these elements figure to hinder Davis, but not to a point where he's useless. Our consensus PPR ranks has him at about 100th overall, a fine spot to take Davis as a guy who begins 2021 on Fantasy benches with potential to be a quality No. 3 option.
- Speaking of guys with a lot of preseason targets, Mecole Hardman had himself eight in a showing against the Cardinals with a 4-39-1 stat line. He actually should have had more: Patrick Mahomes threw too late and too high for Hardman when he was open on a corner route in the end zone, then on the next play was too far out in front of him in the end zone. The dude is fast and tough to deal with in coverage. It would only make sense for the Chiefs to get him involved in the offense, which means he not only has stand-alone value when everyone in Kansas City is on the field, but he'd become a potential Fantasy monster if Tyreek Hill (or even Travis Kelce) missed time. The Kareem Hunt of wide receivers? Perhaps. A Round 10 pick would be perfect, which is one round ahead of his current ADP.
- And one more target note, this time in San Francisco. Trey Lance's first two intended throws against the Chargers were sent in Deebo Samuel's direction. The result: one catch for nine yards, and one drop. Samuel's ran 13 routes and has three targets, all on breaking routes and all against off-snap coverage with at least two on designed plays. He's not flashing any quickness to ditch cornerbacks, a possible setback caused by his injuries. If Samuel's going to get it done this year, it's going to have to come on significant volume. He had 7.3 targets per game in 2020, but in games with George Kittle on the field that number looked like 5.5. That's the kind of target number that makes me worried to take Samuel before Round 9 in PPR (and after Round 10 in non-PPR).
- I wouldn't sweat Ja'Marr Chase's trio of drops against Washington. They were ugly, but Chase's ability to break away from his coverage was and is not ugly. Lemmings who go solely by narratives will pass on Chase on Draft Day -- smart Fantasy managers who recognize excellent talent won't. Remember, with Joe Burrow at LSU in 2019, Chase had five drops over 121 targets.
- Speaking of rookies, anyone who judges DeVonta Smith based on his Preseason Week 2 box score is a knucklebeak. It was so obvious watching the game that the Eagles wideout was speedy, sudden and smooth in his routes. He's going to get open plenty, and hopefully when he does he'll have better timing with Jalen Hurts than what he had with Joe Flacco. His near-100th overall ADP will prove to be an excellent value. I would take him 20 spots sooner.
- Haven't heard much about Michael Pittman? Things have been quiet out of Indy but make no mistake, he's locked into a starting spot with the Colts. His quickness at the top of his routes along with his strength helped him get open against the Vikings last weekend, but his speed was still not what you might expect. Minnesota cornerback Bashaud Breeland had a hard time staying with him on a deep route but Pittman wasn't targeted. Breeland did knock a pass away on a short slant when Pittman didn't hold on tight enough. Another Vikings cornerback, Kris Boyd, did manage to stay step-for-step with Pittman on go routes but was a yard out of the way whenever Pittman turned back toward the quarterback. I still believe Pittman will be a top target for Carson Wentz, but he'll need some volume to be a start-worthy Fantasy receiver. I am not sure that will be there for him given the Colts' many-hands approach (and potentially unstoppable run game).
So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen's huge season, and find out.