It’s a sultry July afternoon, roughly 40 miles east of the city of Pittsburgh at Saint Vincent College (SVC), a private liberal arts school nestled near the scenic Chestnut Ridge in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.
The smell of fresh-cut grass, intertwined with the sound of golf carts rolling through the 200-acre campus, fills the air.
Outside, at Chuck Noll Field, named after the legendary Pittsburgh Steelers’ four-time Super Bowl-winning head coach, thousands of fans from far and wide fill the bleacher seats and side of the hill, hoping to catch a glimpse of their favorite players.
Inside the locker room, Mike Tomlin, a Super Bowl-winning head coach of his own, is giving his team the first pep talk of the day as they gear up to hit the field.
However, this season, when and if the team does hit the field for training camp, it won’t be at SVC, and it will be without the presence of Steelers Nation.
Due to COVID-19 continuing to linger throughout the U.S., not only will fans have to miss out on the Steelers’ training camp this season, but they will also have to remain in the dark, uncertain if there will even be an NFL season.
I, myself, sit here, penning in another column instead of gearing up for an afternoon at training camp, trying not to contemplate if there will even be football this year. It’s in this moment that I think I finally feel what ‘80s rock icon Don Henley meant in his 1984 hit, “The Boys of Summer.”
“Nobody on the road. Nobody on the beach,” he wrote. “I feel it in the air, The summer’s out of reach. Empty lake, empty streets. The sun goes down alone.”
I was 14-years-old when my grandmother and grandfather took my older brother and me to our first training camp. In addition to being awed by the beauty of SVC, I dug the vibe that training camp brought.
Unlike game day in Pittsburgh, training camp had a rather relaxed feel to it. Steelers fans of all ages, strapped with coolers and cameras, all gathered to celebrate the dawn of a new season and a new chance to make another run at the coveted Lombardi Trophy.
But my favorite part of training camp, although I didn’t realize it then, was being able to see all the non-starters play. I was one of those kids who was always drawn to the non-stars of a team. The Duce Staleys, Nate Washingtons and David DeCastros of the world were some of my favorite players.
DeCastro, who was the Steelers’ first-round pick in 2012, the year I went to my first training camp, autographed my football that day after practice – putting the cherry on top of a magical day.
However, due to life just getting in the way, it wasn’t until last summer that I returned to SVC and the Steelers’ training camp – this time with my younger brother alongside.
Still, eight years later and after so much had changed in my life and the world in general, the feeling of being there did not.
Together, my brother and I, now strapped with our own cameras and cooler, explored more of campus, trying to take in everything the day had to offer.
It was sitting there on the hill in our bag chairs, trying to stay cool in what little shade we had, that I once again felt those classic training camp vibes that only the boys of summer could bring. We made our player evaluations as we tried to get shots of some of our favorites like JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner.
And see, while training camp to me is as much about following the position battles and headlines, it’s also about the adventure of it all and enjoying it with the people you love.
But come this weekend, I won’t be the only one missing Steelers camp this summer.
Marisa Ferrara, formerly a marketing intern and now a marketing and events assistant with the Steelers, is no stranger to training camp at SVC.
“To me, training camp is the best time to give fans a more personal experience to watch their favorite team practice on one of the best campuses in PA,” she said. “My favorite memory from working training camp is Friday Night Lights with Steelers training camp. The whole team signs autographs for the first 20 minutes of practice. This past year it literally poured but everyone still went out, met fans and it was so much fun.”
And like most of Steelers Nation, while she’s bummed about missing the boys of summer, she realizes the greater-good that will come out of it.
“While I’m so sad that we can’t celebrate training camp with fans as we normally do, I am happy to keep our fans healthy with their families at home, so we can enjoy watching the Steelers in person someday soon when it is safe to do so,” she said.
And back at SVC, although it’ll be different without the Steelers on campus this summer, the university, like most of us, is looking forward to the future.
“We will certainly miss having the Pittsburgh Steelers on campus this summer, as it has been the tradition for the past 54 years,” said SVC President, Rev. Paul R. Taylor O.S.B. “Each year, we look forward to welcoming the Steelers organization and thousands of fans from across the world who have made it a tradition to visit Saint Vincent College each summer. While we are certainly disappointed, we understand the NFL’s decision that requires teams to hold training camp at their own facilities as we all continue to deal with the pandemic. We look forward to the Steelers and Steelers Nation returning to campus next summer, and we pray for the health, safety and success of the entire organization as they prepare for the upcoming season.”
Although the summer will feel strange without training camp at SVC, I have hope that next summer we can return to the storied tradition. And hopefully myself and the ones I love can be there front and center when they do.
Now, let’s get to it.
As training camps begin to open, hopefully without issue, here are some draft-day start/sit selections that I’m paying especially close attention to.
The following start/sit selections are based on not only stats, trends and film research, but also to the current Average Draft Position (ADP) each player currently has in a Points Per Reception (PPR) Redraft League.
Running Backs I’d Start this Season With:
Ronald Jones II (Tampa Bay): After rookie running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn was initially being drafted higher than Ronald Jones II, now in his third season, things have fittingly flipped.
As excited as we all are for Vaughn, who seemingly carried Vanderbilt to a second-to-last finish in the SEC last season, Jones should be the first Tampa Bay running back off the board.
Despite starting only nine games last season and receiving 18 more rushing attempts than the less-than-stellar Peyton Barber, Jones paced as the RB25. And he looked good doing it, averaging 4.2 yards per carry (YPC) and 10 yards per reception.
As camp progresses and Jones proves to be the clear starter, his ADP will likely continue to rise. But right now, it’s an affordable RB31, according to Fantasy Football Calculator. I recommend keeping an eye on this competition but grabbing Jones when you can.
Josh Jacobs (Las Vegas): After an impressive rookie campaign where he had 1150 rushing yards, averaging 4.8 YPC in just 13 games, Josh Jacobs is justifiably going in the first round of redrafts.
The only question now is will Jacobs take on a larger passing-catching role on the Raiders after seeing only 27 targets last season?
The departure of DeAndre Washington, who saw 42 targets, was a promising sign. But, the drafting of all-purpose player Lynn Bowden Jr. in the third round and the remaining of Jalen Richard, who also saw more than 40 targets, muddies the waters.
It’s a situation to monitor throughout camp. And if it does seem like Jacobs’ receiving usage is on its way up, his ceiling could be as well, possibly launching him into the top-five at the position.
Running Backs I’d Leave Sitting:
Devin Singletary (Buffalo): Despite passing the eye test his rookie season, Devin Singletary’s fantasy value remains in limbo after the Bills invested a third-round pick in Zack Moss.
He was effective when given the ball, rushing for 775 yards on only 151 attempts. But ultimately, partially due to a hamstring injury that held him out of four games, he had fewer rushing attempts than Frank Gore.
However, the most concerning aspect of Singletary’s fantasy value comes from his lack of valuable touches inside the red zone. He had only three total rushing attempts to Gore’s 18 attempts inside the opponent’s 10-yard line.
A majority of Singletary’s fantasy points are going to come from rushing yards and receptions. But with his quarterback Josh Allen more known to scramble than to check down, it might be tough for the second-year Florida Atlantic product to out-produce his RB24 ADP.
And if Moss does get the goal-line work come camp, it should be a clear sign to avoid Singletary come draft day.
Marlon Mack (Indianapolis): Also having his workload in jeopardy due to a rookie in the running back room is the Colts’ Marlon Mack, who’s coming off two back-to-back seasons of 900-plus rushing yards and eight touchdowns, despite missing six games over that span due to injury.
Mack makes this list not only because I don’t agree with his current ADP of RB37, but because I’m not sure how to project things for him with rookie Jonathan Taylor competing for early down work and Nyheim Hines likely to see third-down work with check-down-happy Philip Rivers under center.
A couple of things are in Mack’s favor, such as the lack of preseason games that should allow him to remain the starter for the first few weeks of the season. And the Colts were top-five in the league in rushing attempts.
But, we’ve seen this movie before. Eventually, whether it’s two or six weeks in, Taylor, who’s just a better player than Mack, will get the lion’s share of the early down workload. And is an early season rental really worth the eighth or ninth round pick that you’ll probably need to spend to draft Mack?
I’m staying water hear, meaning Mack isn’t totally off my draft board. But if things play out as expected and Hines is the third-down back and Taylor is splitting reps with Mack in camp, I’m taking wide receivers in those rounds and waiting for higher-upside running backs later on.
Wide Receivers I’d Start this Season With:
Michael Gallup (Dallas): Michael Gallup, who was left for dead by some of the fantasy community after Dallas drafted CeeDee Lamb with their first-round pick in April’s draft.
However, Gallup, who’s coming off a 1,100-yard season in just 14 games, averaged only .2 fewer fantasy points per game than Amari Cooper last year.
And without preseason games to get Lamb fully up to speed, Gallup’s No. 2 role should be safe, especially with the Cowboys expected to be frequently trailing after losing key pieces on defenses in the offseason.
Again, things can change in the fantasy landscape quickly. So monitor the situation in camp. But if all stays as expected, Gallup is a locked-and-loaded WR2 for me this season.
Devin Duvernay (Baltimore): With Baltimore expected to be a high-powered offense once again this season, many fantasy players are expecting second-year wide receiver Miles Boykin to hold some fantasy value. However, if there is another fantasy-relevant receiver in Baltimore this season, it’s going to be rookie Devin Duvernay.
While camp will give us some clarification, the Texas product, who had a 106-1386-9 stat line in his final collegiate season, should line up in the slot for the Ravens.
Again, it’s not proven yet if Lamar Jackson can support a third fantasy receiving option. But if the Ravens do run less with him – which they’ve alluded to – Duvernay should be the beneficiary. And the best news is he’s going free in redrafts.
Wide Receivers I’d Leave Sitting:
Will Fuller (Houston): Will Fuller has had a rollercoaster of a career thus far. Now entering his fifth season, Fuller, who’s been inactive for more than 34% of his career games, once again projects to be one of the top options for Deshaun Watson.
Watson being an elite quarterback, in addition to the departure of target-hog DeAndre Hopkins, is what drives Fuller’s current WR36 ADP.
Yes, the injury risk drives me away from Fuller. But in addition to him never finishing inside the top-52 fantasy receivers, even at full-health his ceiling is still a borderline WR2/3.
Last season, his 16-game pace would’ve been good enough for only WR28. Sure, that ceiling could increase without Hopkins, but there are still so many other solid passing options in this offense from the receivers to the tight ends to the running backs.
Because of his familiarity with the offense, Fuller might line up as the WR1 in camp, driving his ADP even higher. I’m more comfortable waiting until the back-end of drafts to grab the veteran slot-man Randall Cobb, who had an impressive last season with the Cowboys and received a three-year, $27 million contract from the Texans to stay in the Lone Star State.
Diontae Johnson (Pittsburgh): After an impressive rookie season, when he finished as the WR39 with sub-par quarterback play, it seems like Diontae Johnson is everyone’s sleeper pick for this season.
However, with not many vacated targets in Pittsburgh to go around, I’m not completely sold on Johnson at his current WR40 ADP.
See, last season Johnson did shockingly pace the Steelers in targets. But that was with Smith-Schuster being injury-plagued and inactive for four games.
James Washington is still in Pittsburgh and will challenge Johnson for the No. 2 role. Plus, the Steelers used their first pick in the draft on 6’4’’ receiver Chase Claypool. And they also acquired Eric Ebron, who should absorb at minimum 50 targets this year, in the offseason.
This is a battle I would personally love to witness at camp. But if things stay as cloudy as they are now at the position in Pittsburgh, I’m backing off Johnson at his current price.
If you have a feel-good story that you would like to share for an opportunity to be featured in an upcoming edition of “Start, Sit & Seth,” please reach out.
And for more fantasy football and uplifting content, you can find me on Twitter @Between_SethFF.