Fantasy 5: Terrance West forces his way back onto the fantasy radar

The Baltimore RB had a big preseason game Thursday, making Dan Schneier wonder if he'll be relevant this year. Plus some star WRs.

| 10 months ago
(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

(Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Fantasy 5: Terrance West forces his way back onto the fantasy radar

Every weekday, the Fantasy 5 will take a look at the five most important NFL news stories for fantasy football players, giving you the advice you need to improve your team.

Football has returned! The first night of preseason action brought a couple notable developments that we’ll touch on first before getting to the important news and notes from non-gameplay in the last 24 hours.

1. Terrance West could push for goal-line work.

West was a forgotten man in the fantasy landscape after failing with several teams before the Ravens took a shot on him late last season. After reporting to OTAs in outstanding shape — having dropped 15 pounds since last season — West has continued to impress through training camp. Separate beat writers projected him as the starter and called him the most explosive offensive player in training camp. Ravens OC Marc Trestman praised his pass protection. But we didn’t have an opportunity to see the new and improved West until Thursday night.

West finished his first preseason game with 25 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries. He didn’t play the first series, but he was the next back in. More importantly, West was the goal-line back on multiple series (he came back into the game in the third quarter near the goal line). He displayed an excellent cutback move for an early gain and showed off the ability to reverse field on one of his two touchdowns. If West can carve out an early-down role, mix in on passing downs, and/or take over as the red-zone back, that’s enough to get him on your late-round radar.

2. Michael Thomas has an outstanding debut and could be a sneaky DFS play.

The most outstanding performance of the night by any skill-position player arguably came from a rookie. Thomas finished with four receptions for 67 yards and was targeted six times. He finished as the Saints’ leading receiver in targets, receptions and yards. His night was highlighted by a 28-yard reception on a go route that was placed over his shoulder — Thomas extended and made a spectacular catch.

Thomas’ outstanding debut didn’t come out of nowhere. He has been impressing onlookers throughout OTAs and training camp. Multiple beat writers have called him “the best player in camp” and a “bonafide playmaker” after watching his game grow throughout the process. Our draft analysts praised Thomas’ footwork and his hand usage in his ability to beat press coverage. They also praised his ability to create yards after the catch and his high catch rate.

Thomas is currently projected as a WR5 and the biggest red flag in his projection is his path to targets. The Saints have Brandin Cooks, Mark Ingram, Willie Snead and Coby Fleener to feed in the passing game. Having said that, Thomas could find himself in a nice role taking over where Marques Colston left off. Drew Brees has proven his ability to make all of his weapons look good. Past rookies, like Snead and Colston, among others, have had early success with Brees. Thomas is also the perfect fit as an outside receiver in a corps that lacks size. Don’t be surprised if Thomas plays the hero in several tournament-winning DFS lineups and best ball leagues this season.

3. T.Y. Hilton is dominating training camp and could finish as a WR1.

In May, Colts head coach Chuck Pagano raved about how hard Hilton was practicing. Hilton responded by simply saying that he was more motivated than ever. Hilton has carried that momentum over to training camp. On Wednesday,  Andrew Luck said that Hilton has been the best player on the field during camp and the Indianapolis Star beat writers agreed.

Hilton had a disappointing 2015 season — finishing with a 69/1,124/5 line — but when factoring in the context it wasn’t so bad. Hilton lost Luck early in the season, but he was on pace to finish as the WR12 if Luck had played in all 16 games. Matt Hasselbeck was never a good fit for Hilton’s top asset — his straight-line speed. Having said that, Hilton’s ADP is currently WR15 per Fantasy Football Calculator, so fantasy owners are already pricing in the upside of the Colts offense returning to form under Luck. Our rankers and projections are not very bullish on Hilton. With several weapons around him in the passing game, Hilton seems like a risky bet to severely outplay his ADP.

[We’re high on all three Indianapolis receivers around these parts. Which one offers the best draft-day value? Take a spin with PFF’s Draft Master tool to figure out the best approach, plus get recommendations on the players you should target in every round of your draft.]

4. Amari Cooper played through plantar fasciitis most of 2015, the best is yet to come?

Remember when Cooper fell off over the second half of the 2015 season with four games of 20 yards or fewer? We have a much better idea about why it happened now. NFL Media’s Ian Rapoport reported that Cooper played through plantar fasciitis for most of his rookie year. He couldn’t even bear to watch his own game tape. Rapoport added that Cooper is now back to “doing ridiculous things” on the field. This follows up an earlier report about Cooper rooming with Derek Carr and a noticeably improved connection between the two players on the field.

Cooper finished behind Michael Crabtree on the target totem pole in 2015, and his 72/1,070/5 final stat line doesn’t necessarily scream superstar, but don’t rule out the potential for Cooper to separate from Crabtree in targets and production. Our rankers are bullish on Cooper for the most part, with Jeff Ratcliffe ranking him as his 12th-best wide receiver. The PFF Training Camp tour stopped by Raiders camp a few days ago, and they too believe he could become one of the NFL’s elite targets if he cleans up some of the issues that plagued him his rookie year.

5. Christine Michael “had an awakening,” but can he carve out a role?

Fantasy analysts have been writing about a potential Michael breakout for three seasons now, but after bouncing around several NFL rosters before landing back with the Seahawks late last season, it looked like the book on Michael was written. Instead, Michael is convinced he can change that narrative and the people around him are starting to believe it too. Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell recently said that Michael has “had an awakening” as he battles in camp to carve out a role in the backfield. Michael reportedly dropped eight pounds this offseason and has earned praise from head coach Pete Carroll too while taking a majority of first-team reps at running back.

But can Michael’s role with the first team stick? As of now, he’s seeing a lot work with Russell WIlson’s unit because the Seahawks are easing back Thomas Rawls and the rest of his competition at running back are rookies.

Having said that, Michael was a promising prospect that the Seahawks used a second-round draft pick on in 2013. With a whopping 3.85 yards after contact per attempt, Michael finished with the 19th-best elusive rating in 2015 among all RBS. On a limited sample size, Michael has finished in the top 20 in elusive rating in all three seasons since entering the NFL. The Seahawks’ backfield is crowded and Michael’s true role probably won’t be decided until we see what Rawls has to offer, but he definitely belongs on the fringes of the fantasy radar again.

Dan Schneier is a staff writer for PFF Fantasy, a former FOX Sports NFL scribe, and an auction format enthusiast.

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