It was down to one time.
In previous trips to the NFL combine in Indianapolis, I would constantly get "What's the fantasy guy doing here?" or "Who let you in?" or (throwing me the keys) "Keep it close." But this year ... it came up only once.
Whether it's a credit to how far fantasy has come; or maybe folks have seen my annual "Fantasy nuggets from the combine" article the past few years; or maybe they just don't ask because they know if they get into a conversation with me, I'm gonna pump them for info -- I don't know. But whatever the reason, fantasy was an accepted (or, at least, highly tolerated) presence at the combine this year.
I saw more fantasy analysts there this year than I ever had before, by a wide margin. For us here at ESPN, we sent our biggest contingent yet. My 06010 podcast partners in crime Field Yates, Stephania Bell, Mike Clay and Daniel Dopp were all there. Mike does an amazing deep dive on all the prospects you should definitely keep an eye out for in the near future.
While we were there, we recorded a pair of podcasts. Included in the shows are exclusive, fantasy-focused (pardon the pun) interviews with Titans general manager Jon Robinson, Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff, Rams general manager Les Snead, Lions general manager Bob Quinn, Chargers general manager Tom Telesco, Packers head coach Matt LaFleur, Redskins head coach Jay Gruden, Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett and Raiders offensive coordinator Greg Olson. You can (and should!) listen to them here:
I bring up the interviews because that's basically all I did the entire time I was in Indy. Some of them were one-on-one sit-downs in front of a microphone like the ones I mentioned above. Some of them were at the formal press conferences many of the head coaches and GMs hold. And a lot of them were late at night, at restaurants and bars, with people giving me information "on background," as it were.
I took notes through it all, and if you look at last year's version of this article, you'll see a lot of stuff from last March that ended up proving correct, so, you know, pay attention.
With so many coaches and so little time, I had help covering everything. In addition to my ESPN teammates mentioned above, I want to give a special shout-out to Byron Lambert and Alex Dunlap of RosterWatch.com. I'm huge fans of these guys and they do an amazing job year round, but especially in terms of rookie scouting. As I've mentioned before, I was so impressed with them at the combine that I went up to them, introduced myself and begged them to let me do business with them through my RotoPass website. Definitely a great follow on Twitter and on their site.
Last thing: There will also be a new episode of "The Fantasy Show with Matthew Berry" on ESPN+ airing this week with some nuggets and interviews that aren't covered here, so please tune in to that.
With that, here are 15 nuggets I learned at the 2019 combine:
1. The Chiefs RB you want is Damien Williams. I spoke with multiple Chiefs sources and, while they all said nice things about Spencer Ware, who is a free agent, it was clear that regardless of Ware's health (if he does return to the Chiefs), this is going to be Williams' job. They love what Williams offers relative to how they want the offense to run. Though Williams' ADP may be held in check for a while, I suspect, come August, Williams will be going in the first two rounds. At least, he should be. Because the full-time running back in that offense is a top-10 RB, and that's what Williams will be.
2. My sense is that it's very unlikely that Tevin Coleman will be back with the Falcons. Confidence was expressed in Ito Smith to be successful as the "two" in a one-two punch with Devonta Freeman. Smith is unlikely to cost very much come draft day, but there will be a legit 10-touch role for him and that's IF Freeman stays healthy, which is no sure thing. Dan Quinn mentioned he "anticipated (Smith's) increase in usage to be significant."
2a. Speaking of Coleman, you know who likes him a lot? The New York Jets. Don't buy your Le'Veon Bell Jets jerseys just yet.
3. Many assumed that Marshawn Lynch was done, but the Raiders have not closed the door on him returning and neither has Lynch, apparently. Especially with the Raiders possibly playing in Oakland again this season, don't close the book on Beast Mode just yet. Doug Martin is also a free agent, so expect the Raiders to sign a RB if either Lynch or Martin comes back for a bit of a committee. They like Jalen Richard, but view him purely as a third-down guy. Even if neither Lynch nor Martin comes back, Richard's role won't increase.
4. Derrius Guice, PPR machine? In speaking with Jay Gruden about Guice, Gruden expressed optimism about Guice being ready for 2019 and mentioned one of the things he really liked about him was, "He doesn't have to come off the field on third down." Gruden expanded on that, saying that though LSU never really used him in the pass game, the Redskins discovered last year in practice and OTAs that's he's a really good pass-catcher, and they will use him in that role this season.
5. More Redskins: If Jamison Crowder leaves (he's a free agent), Gruden had nice things to say about Trey Quinn as potentially their starting slot wide receiver. Quinn dealt with a lot of injuries last season, but was super-productive at SMU. Gruden is excited to get Paul Richardson back (his eyes lit up when I brought up Richardson's name) but, like the rest of us, is hoping for more consistency from Josh Doctson. Also, when I asked Gruden if the Redskins' starting QB in 2019 was currently on the roster, he said yes, Colt McCoy, and once again expressed confidence in him. He said McCoy has just been unlucky, as he hasn't been able to stay healthy when he's gotten a shot before.
6. Speaking at his press conference, Colts head coach Frank Reich got very animated when asked if the team viewed Marlon Mack as a "workhorse"-type running back. He discussed how Mack had a great season and didn't even play every game, but really got into a groove. Reich praised the offensive line, but also said "Marlon did his thing," as if to say Mack built on what the line gave him, not just getting what was blocked. Colts GM Chris Ballard also confirmed Mack is "the guy." That was one of the strongest takeaways from the combine. Reich also mentioned the importance of two tight ends for his offense and the matchup advantages they can create.
7. About that Kerryon Johnson breakout ... I wish I had a sad face Daniel Dopp emoji, because then I could just print that. In hearing from Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn, my sense is that they were pretty clear they do not intend to give him a feature-back role and that both believe in multiple backs. Given that both guys come from New England, which has used multiple backs very successfully, this isn't a shock, but it's a bummer considering the flashes we saw and the expected run-heavy approach for the offense this season under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. It's gonna be a committee in Detroit, with Kerryon at the top of it.
8. Free Aaron Jones! Again? There were lots of questions about the Packers' running back situation and you can hear Matt LaFleur discuss this very subject on our combine podcast. No doubt, LaFleur and GM Brian Gutekunst talked up both Jones and Jamaal Williams. But my take is that there is a difference between not wanting to bury your player before you even get to camp and actually running a committee. I still believe, come draft day, Aaron Jones will be the Packer running back you want.
10. Lots of conversations about Todd Gurley II, including the one on the podcast we had with Les Snead. Reading the tea leaves, there will definitely be a decrease in his workload. How much is yet to be determined, but as it stands now, expect Gurley to continue to be used in high-leverage situations, especially red zone, and he will still be a fantasy star. Reports of a committee (at least as of now) are overblown. I'd expect a 70/30 type split, with Gurley still getting the ball in close.
11. I think there's a decent chance Mark Ingram II is not with the Saints next season and my expectation is that, if that happens, Alvin Kamara's backup/complementary back is not currently on the roster.
13. There will also be a workload reduction for Christian McCaffrey, but his usage was so high that it could go down and he would still be one of the league leaders in total touches. I feel like that will be an overblown fantasy storyline this summer.
14. John Dorsey loves David Njoku's talent and work ethic, but his concerns were about his blocking. Dorsey issued a challenge from the podium for Njoku to improve his blocking. The sense I got is that Njoku is someone from whom the Browns are expecting a big step forward.
15. Sleeper tight ends? Sleeper tight ends (and receivers)! Among those mentioned to me to have on my radar for deeper leagues were Chris Herndon (Jets), Dallas Goedert (Eagles), Darren Waller (Raiders) and Jake Butt (Broncos). Meanwhile, the Steelers' James Washington and Indy's Deon Cain came up as wideouts to make sure you're aware of. Same could be said for Mike Williams of the Chargers, as the expectation is that Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin are unlikely to return to the team.
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- wishes he could print everything he saw and heard. Seriously. You have no idea. He is the 2017 FSTA Fantasy Football Analyst of the Year and the creator of RotoPass.com and RotoPassDaily.com. He is also one of the owners of the Fantasy Life app and FantasyLife.com.