News & Analysis

NFL Combine Day 1 fantasy football takeaways

Jan 19, 2020; Kansas City, Missouri, USA; Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry (22) runs onto the field before the AFC Championship Game against the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The first day of media interviews is in the books from the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine. We had a flurry of interviews with coaches, general managers and players from three of the four fantasy football skill positions. (Running backs are Wednesday.)

Given everything we saw and heard, let’s break down the four biggest fantasy football takeaways.

Derrick Henry looks like he’s staying put in Tennessee, but the quarterback dominos could fall quickly

When Tennessee Titans GM Jon Robinson took the podium, he made clear that keeping Derrick Henry was a priority. How exactly that plays out is yet to be determined, as the Titans could certainly sign him to a long-term deal. However, that approach doesn’t have the best recent track record, which puts the franchise tag in play.

Of course, Tennessee also has Ryan Tannehill heading into free agency. But another wrinkle was thrown into the mix just last week: Adam Schefter quoted fellow ESPN reporter Jeff Darlington saying on “The Rich Eisen Show” that the Titans are the favorite to land Tom Brady. Darlington has the Las Vegas Raiders as the No. 2 landing spot and the New England Patriots as the third choice. Raiders GM Mike Mayock stated on Tuesday that the team evaluates every position every year and that it is open to upgrading wherever it can.

It’s tough to draw any major conclusions at quarterback here, but this is good news for Henry. The Titans finally figured out how to use him in December of 2018, and since then he’s been an elite fantasy option. While Henry is no spring chicken at 26 years old, he still has enough gas in the tank to put up at least one more front-end RB1 season. He’s a good bet to come off the board in the first half of the first round in 2020 fantasy drafts.

Cue the David Montgomery post-hype sleeper music?

This past season wasn’t anything to write home about for folks who drafted David Montgomery. To be fair, the Chicago Bears back was drafted in the mid-third-round as the No. 18 running back in ADP and finished as the No. 24 running back. That’s about a round of negative value, which isn’t terrible. Then again, that isn’t what you wanted to see from one of the most elusive backs in last year’s rookie class. Unlike at the college level, Montgomery just wasn’t able to create on his own, with just 2.33 yards after contact per attempt.

On Tuesday, Bears GM Ryan Pace called Montgomery a “feature back” and suggested he’d see a bigger workload in 2020. Pace’s words are certainly encouraging, but Montgomery touched the ball 267 times this past season. Only 11 backs had more touches. To be fair, that was in 16 games, and his 16.7 touches per game actually ranked 18th in the league. Still, it’s tough to envision a dramatic uptick in Montgomery’s workload.

The key with Montgomery isn’t necessary more touches. Sure, that won’t hurt the cause, but we also need to see increased efficiency. Last season, there were 35 backs who saw at least 150 touches. Montgomery ranked 31st out of that group in fantasy points per touch at just 0.65. Only Carlos Hyde (0.62), Sony Michel (0.60) and Frank Gore (0.53) had lower numbers. The book is far from written on Montgomery for fantasy purposes, but he’ll be a risk/reward fantasy draft pick this season.

Matt Rhule wants to coach Cam Newton

After months of speculation, it looks like we finally have an answer to what Carolina plans to do with Cam Newton. On Tuesday, Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule told the media that he “want(s) to coach Cam” and expects him to be on the roster when the season begins in September. With Newton sidelined, the Panthers used Kyle Allen for much of the 2019 season. Despite some early success, Allen flamed out and the team got a brief look at Will Grier at the end of the year.

Newton is a classic fantasy football “love to hate” player who many fantasy players avoid drafting. But love him or hate him as a player, there’s no denying his track record of fantasy success. He has posted multiple elite fantasy seasons thanks in large part to his ability as a runner. While Newton isn’t quite as prolific on the ground as he was earlier in his career, he’s still more than capable up putting up good numbers on that front. He also has a dynamic group of receiving weapons in Carolina.

Given the general fantasy negativity surrounding him, Newton is a good bet to fall to the late rounds in 2020 fantasy drafts. Is he the safest fantasy option? No. But the good news is you likely aren’t going to have to pay anything for him this season.

Austin Hooper looks like he’ll test the free agent market

At least, Atlanta Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff said as much in his media interview. Atlanta currently has the third-lowest effective cap space, making it essentially impossible to sign Austin Hooper to a long-term deal. While Dimitroff did note that the team would still negotiate with Hooper, he’s likely to command a healthy salary after posting a career-high 75 catches in 2019. Jimmy Graham is currently the highest-paid tight end per year at $10 million.

For fantasy purposes, Hooper was one of the top options in the league. He finished sixth at the position in scoring despite missing three games. That followed a somewhat surprising sixth-place finish in 2018. Still on the upslope of his career, Hooper is all but locked in as a top-10 fantasy option regardless of what uniform he’s in next season.

Player Interview Quick Hits

With three of the four fantasy skill positions at the podium, there was a lot of action to track on the first day of media interviews.

• The morning began with tight ends, where a number of players at the position said they modeled their games after Travis Kelce and George Kittle (go figure). However, Hunter Bryant said he saw himself as similar to Evan Engram. That’s a solid comp — and one that would be very good for fantasy purposes.

• Speaking of tight ends, Thaddeus Moss said, “I’m a tight end, not a receiver.” Fantasy players need to take note. Moss is going to get some fantasy buzz because of his father, but he doesn’t profile as a high-upside receiving option.

• Jalen Reagor may be a speedster, but the TCU product was one of the most muscular wideouts of the day. While Reagor ranked just 19th on our initial 2020 overall fantasy football rookie rankings, his stock could improve with an especially good showing in the testing events.

• KJ Hamler tweaked his hamstring and won’t be running the 40-yard dash. That’s disappointing, but the good news is that we will see Reagor and Henry Ruggs running. Get your popcorn ready.

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