Three Takeaways for Each NFL Team
Ahhhh.. We finally made it. Week one of the NFL Regular Season is finally upon us. By now, you’ve probably ran through a few drafts, read your fantasy magazines front and back, and if you’re an Occupy Fantasy member, have made yourself a pretty profit playing Preseason DFS.
Before we jump into the week one talk, let’s circle around the league and cover what we’ve learned about each team and their potential fantasy production this August:
- Barring injury or falling out of playoff contention early (both of which are likely), Josh Rosen will have to wait to get on the field as Sam Bradford will be the Cardinals’ QB. Bradford will go undrafted in most leagues, but expect him to see some favorable pass-heavy game scripts for DFS purposes.
- Despite being a rookie, RB Chase Edmonds was treated like an important piece of the offense during the preseason. He played just 42 snaps in three games, and coaches have already said he’s earned touches behind David Johnson. He’s one of the true late-round RBs who if thrust into a starting role due to injury would be an immediate three-down, league-winning player.
- No WR established themselves behind Larry Fitzgerald in the preseason. On a team projected to win just six games, he should be near the league leaders in targets.
- Devonta Freeman and Julio Jones didn’t play a snap in the preseason, but not due to injury -- they were just being preserved for their important roles during the regular season.
- Mohamed Sanu has run ahead of Calvin Ridley all summer long for the Falcons’ WR2 spot, and it should stay that way in 2018. As a result, it will be extremely tough to get any consistent production from Ridley in season-long leagues or DFS.
- Austin Hooper saw five targets on just 42 snaps this preseason (albeit without Jones and Freeman), and he’s a candidate to make a big leap in fantasy production as a third-year tight end.
- Alex Collins was treated like a franchise RB this preseason, playing just seven snaps in five games! After the Ravens added zero RBs in free agency or the draft, it’s clear that Collins will have a prominent role in the Baltimore offense.
- After dealing with health issues for the better part of the last few seasons, John Brown missed just one practice this entire off-season with Baltimore. He’s developed an immediate connection with Joe Flacco, and while he’ll likely be inconsistent, he’s poised for some big games this season.
- Rookie TE Hayden Hurst suffered a foot fracture late in the preseason and will be sidelined for a few weeks. Hurst was the 25th overall pick for a reason, but these sort of stress fracture foot injuries have a habit of lingering.
- Nathan Peterman was visibly the best QB on the Bills’ roster this preseason, and he earned the right to start the season opener at Baltimore. It will be a rough early schedule for the Bills, so expect to see first round rookie Josh Allen under center sooner rather than later.
- LeSean McCoy appears to be in no imminent trouble with the league after potential off-the-field allegations surfaced early in camp. However, he suffered a minor groin injury and didn’t play in Week 3 of the preseason. It’s likely no big deal, but it’s something to monitor in the first few weeks.
- This is one of the messiest receiving situations to dissect in all of the league. It’s only made worse when you factor in that the Bills lost arguably their three best o-lineman this offseason. Kelvin Benjamin may be the clear cut #1, but it’s hard to get that excited when he has Peterman/Allen throwing them the ball.
- While the Panthers’ coaching staff has an unrealistic expectation of 25-30 touches per game for second year RB Christian McCaffrey, his preseason usage -- in on 89% of the first team snaps -- indicate that he will be workhorse. Expect his DFS salary to rise dramatically early in the season.
- D.J. Moore was the number one WR selected in April’s draft, but he barely played with the starters in preseason. If he has an impact this season, it likely won’t come until later in the year -- we’ll need to monitor his snap counts closely at the beginning of the season.
- Greg Olsen opted not to retire this off-season, and judging by his preseason play (nine targets in three games), he should be heavily-targeted by Cam Newton once again this year.
- It’s been of breath of fresh air this preseason seeing the variety of formations, motions, and play sequencing from the Bears’ new coaching staff. Add in the skill position upgrades, and this offense is poised to have a big turnaround this season.
- Unlike Calvin Ridley and D.J. Moore, rookie WR Anthony Miller was handled like a first-team starter all throughout camp and preseason. He played just 48 snaps in five games (starting QB Mitchell Trubisky played just 40), and he was held out with the starters in games 1, 4, and 5. He’s easily the favorite to lead rookie WRs in catches and yards.
- Free agent acquisition TE Trey Burton has been used all over the field in preseason -- he ran 47% of his routes from the slot, just slightly below head coach Matt Nagy’s previous tight end in Kansas City’s usage last season (Travis Kelce, 50%). He’s the easy bet for breakout TE in 2018.
- Trading for former Bills’ tackle Cordy Glenn and drafting interior offensive lineman Billy Price will do wonders for this Bengals’ offense. Since most fantasy players remember last year’s train wreck on offense, Bengals’ players -- especially QB Andy Dalton -- will be a value early in the season.
- After a long catch-and-run for a TD in preseason week 3 versus the Bills, WR John Ross shot up the draft boards. However, he’s still clearly the #3 WR on the Bengals, as Tyler Boyd has been on the field for nearly every first team rep in August, while Ross has played with both the 1st and 2nd teams in camp after barely playing at all last season.
- Tyler Eifert made his 2018 debut in preseason week 3 and ran 13 pass routes, catching three balls. He’ll be in a late-career Antonio Gates role, playing mostly on passing downs and in the red zone, as the Bengals are trying to keep him as healthy as possible. Despite playing less than a normal TE, he can still be a top-producing fantasy contributor.
- Despite a scare when Tyrod Taylor landed awkwardly on his wrist, Baker Mayfield will open the season as the backup and will not become the starter unless something drastic happens. The abundance of offensive weapons -- combined with the addition of offensive coordinator Todd Haley -- will make Taylor an attractive fantasy option while he’s on the field.
- Many were worried about Carlos Hyde’s role when the Browns selected Nick Chubb early in the 2nd round, but if preseason is any indication, Hyde will play a ton this year. Nick Chubb ran exclusively with the backups all throughout August, playing just one first-team snap during the preseason.
- Josh Gordon made his return to the team in late August and is expected to be ready to contribute in Week 1. While he won’t “start” right away, he’ll be option 1A/1B with Jarvis Landry in the Browns’ passing game.
- Ezekiel Elliott didn’t play a single snap in preseason, but that’s not concerning in the least. The state of his offensive line, however, murkies the waters for his early season fantasy production. The biggest hit is the loss of center Travis Frederick to a rare neurological disorder.
- No one took the Cowboys’ #1 WR job in preseason and ran with it, so we’ll see a five man rotation at WR for at least the first part of the regular season. On a run-heavy offense, this isn’t an ideal place to look for fantasy production.
- Who is going to replace Jason Witten? It’s going to be Blake Jarwin. He ran with the first team all training camp and in every preseason game, commanding nine targets in three contests. He’ll be virtually free early in the regular season.
- Rookie RB Royce Freeman has caught the attention of most fantasy players with a touchdown in each preseason game he played, but take caution -- he played essentially the same amount of first team snaps as Devontae Booker. Expect Freeman to be overvalued early until he takes over the majority of the playing time in the Denver backfield.
- After not playing in the slot a ton last year, WR Emmanuel Sanders has run nearly 70% of his routes in the slot this preseason. His new QB, Case Keenum, targeting the slot on a league-high 25% of his throws last season. Fully recovered from last season’s nagging ankle injury, Sanders is in line for a career year.
- The hope was for either Jeff Heuerman or Jake Butt to take the tight end job, but no one stood out through camp. It’s a situation to avoid in both DFS and season-long.
- This backfield is a mess -- nearly everyone played significant snaps at some point with the first team this preseason. While we imagine Ameer Abdullah will be the odd man out, it’s still a timeshare until Kerryon Johnson fully emerges. Early in the season, it’ll be tough to count on any of these RBs (until we see a major snap count trend).
- The Lions kept last year’s offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and will continue to run 11 personnel (three WRs) at a high rate, which means second-year WR Kenny Golladay will be a de facto starter. The Lions are missing a ton of targets with the departure of Eric Ebron, so expect a fully healthy Golladay to soak up those missing looks in the passing game.
- With Ebron gone, don’t expect any of the Lions’ tight ends to be fantasy relevant, especially with the note above that they’ll be in 11 personnel often. Like the Broncos, it’s a position group to avoid.
Green Bay Packers
- With Aaron Jones suspended for the first two games of the season and being injured for a majority of training camp, Jamaal Williams has secured the lead back role for the Packers. Head coach Mike McCarthy expects a breakout season from Williams, and he should be a value in DFS, especially the first two weeks of the year.
- The Packers kept seven WRs on their active roster for the upcoming season, but don’t expect much from anyone outside of Davante Adams and Randall Cobb. Cobb is supposedly finally healed from a nagging ankle issue, and if he’s fully healthy, he should have a big season as Rodgers’ number two receiver in the passing game.
- According to beat reporters and coaches, Rodgers and new TE Jimmy Graham developed a rapport immediately. We saw this connection first hand during the short time the two saw the field in the preseason when Graham caught a red zone touchdown in preseason week 3. Given the Packers league-leading red zone passing percentage, Graham could potentially challenge for the league lead in receiving touchdowns.
- Deshaun Watson was fully cleared to return after last year’s ACL tear, but he played sparingly throughout the preseason. While his likely regression is a concern, don’t be concerned about his health -- he’ll be fully unleashed in Week 1.
- RB Lamar Miller dropped a few pounds this off season, which is generally good news for the production of running backs. With second-year RB D’Onta Foreman on PUP, Miller is inline for a huge workload this year, and his preseason usage has shown that -- he’s been in the game for 26 of Watson’s 27 snaps.
- After DeAndre Hopkins, there have been a couple of hamstring injuries for the Texans’ WRs. Rookie burner Keke Coutee missed the entire preseason (and is unlikely to make an impact early) while Will Fuller missed the third preseason game (but should be fine for week 1).
- Andrew Luck is BACK. While he recently admitted his “fastball” is only 90% back, all accounts show that his accuracy is where it was pre-injury. With a poor defense and vastly improved offensive scheme, Luck is in for a monster fantasy year.
- Marlon Mack hurt his hamstring early in the preseason and is doubtful for week 1. Rookie Jordan Wilkins will start against the Bengals, and while he could take the job and run with it (literally), it’s likely that head coach Frank Reich employs a RBBC similar to the one he’s used in Philly in recent years as their OC.
- Without a reliable WR2, expect plenty of two-tight end sets with Jack Doyle and Eric Ebron. Doyle was targeted frequently early in the preseason, then just played three snaps in the dress rehearsal game while Ebron posted 5-59-1 line in one half. Doyle will have the higher floor each week, but both guys will be fantasy relevant.
- The biggest takeaway from Jacksonville’s preseason usage is Leonard Fournette being used on third downs. He played relatively equal passing down reps and T.J. Yeldon, and if this trend continues, Fournette will have a massive year with an increased role in the passing game.
- Unfortunately, WR Marqise Lee was lost for the year with a knee injury, so now it’s up to Keelan Cole, Donte Moncrief, and Dede Westbrook in the Jags’ WR corps. Keelan Cole has been the 1A/1B WR with Lee all camp before the injury, so expect him to play the most. There will still likely be some sort of WR rotation, but it’s now possible we have two or three cheap JAX WR options on any given week in DFS.
- Rookie WR D.J. Chark played just a handful of first team snaps this preseason, so unless another injury occurs, it’s unlikely we see him make a consistent impact in 2018.
Kansas City Chiefs
- Patrick Mahomes showed off his arm strength in the second week of the preseason with a throw that traveled 69 yards in the air -- that would have been the longest throw in the NFL last season. He has an excellent scheme and is surrounded by playmakers, so while there will certainly be bumps in the road this season, he will have some electrifying fantasy performances.
- Spencer Ware had a devastating knee injury in last year’s preseason, but he recovered in time to play sparingly in the team’s 2018 dress rehearsal. However, unless he proves to be the same player he was pre-injury, Kareem Hunt should be a complete workhorse playing on all three downs.
- Free agent addition Sammy Watkins has actually played more snaps than Tyreek Hill this preseason (67 to 64), but Hill has massively outperformed him (1 catch 14 yards for Watkins, 14 for 182 and a TD for Hill). Given his target volume in the preseason, Hill may not be the boom-bust option we’ve known recently -- he could potentially be an elite WR with a high floor and high ceiling.
Los Angeles Chargers
- Bam. Just like that, Antonio Gates is back for at least one more season with Philip Rivers and company. Of course, if Hunter Henry didn’t tear his ACL earlier in OTAs, Gates probably wouldn’t be in the equation. Things change quick in fantasy, and now you have Antonio Gates as the clear cut #1 tight end for the Chargers, without much other serious competition for red zone looks at the position.
- There’s been a lot of talk about Melvin Gordon taking on a larger role in the passing game from both OC Ken Whisenhunt and HC Anthony Lynn. That’s not to say he hasn’t been involved as a receiver before (99 catches for 895 yards the past two seasons), but with Hunter Henry all but certainly out for the season, we expect Gordon to hit a career high in receptions this year.
- Mike Williams has been mostly an afterthought in fantasy drafts this summer. The Chargers used the 7th overall pick on Williams in 2017, and still have high expectations for him this season. It was reported earlier in camp that the Chargers were expected to utilize more 3-WR sets this season (with Henry’s injury), but now with Gates back in the picture, his target share, just like Tyrell Williams, is hard to project.
Los Angeles Rams
- While Todd Gurley enjoyed a relaxing preseason, John Kelly was making a strong case to being the Rams #2 back. He showed how effective he can be by rushing for 197 yards on 46 carries. The Rams still have Malcolm Brown listed as Gurley’s backup on their unofficial depth chart, but if we’re going the handcuff route for Gurley, we’re leaning towards Kelly.
- The Rams got minimal production out of the tight end position last season, which certainly came as a bit of a surprise given McVay’s background. Jared Goff has been vocal about getting Tyler Higbee more involved, but temper your expectations here. The Rams ran more 3-WR sets/11 personnel than any other team in the NFL last season. It’s hard to see them dramatically change what worked so well.
- A lot of folks are comparing the Brandin Cooks situation to Sammy Watkins of last year. Don’t be one of them. Watkins joined the Rams in preseason, while the Rams traded for Cooks early in the spring. McVay has been vocal about how quick Cooks has picked up the offense, and there have been credible sources that say McVay even tried to deal for the speedster last season.
- So much for the notion that Frank Gore will cut into Kenyan Drake’s workload. During the Dolphins dress rehearsal, Drake saw 20 snaps with the starters (Tannehill had 24), while Gore was only on the field for 2. Expect Drake to be a true 3-down back this season.
- There was a lot of noise around the departure of Jarvis Landry this season. Here’s three things we do know: 1) Jarvis Landry averaged 152.6 targets the last three seasons with Miami. 2) Ryan Tannehill loves throwing to the slot. 3) Danny Amendola was on the field for 20 of the 24 snaps in week 3 of the preseason, most of which were out of the slot.
- Kenny Stills was on the field for all 24 plays with the first unit in week three of the preseason. He’s the clear #1 in Miami, and we expect him to see a lot of friendly game scripts this season.
- Ever since Cousins arrived in Minnesota, the WR debate has been “who will Kirk feed more, Diggs or Thielen?”. There’s really no way to know until the season starts, but if we look at preseason week 3 data, we’ll see that Diggs averaged 0.24 targets a snap, compared to Thielen’s 0.14.
- Dalvin Cook was able to get some game reps in this preseason, even if he only got 2 carries. If the Vikings were worried about his health, he would’ve gotten 0. Expect Dalvin to get a lot of work in between the 20s, but it seems like Murray is still the prefered goalline back.
- Kyle Rudolph didn’t do much this preseason, but he’s coming into the season healthy, and now has a QB that loves throwing to tight ends. Last year, Kirk Cousins’ tight ends recorded 966 receiving yards. Don’t forget, the last time Rudolph was fully healthy in 2016, he totaled 83 catches for 840 yards and 7 TD’s. A similar type of season seems very possible.
New England Patriots
- With Julian Edelman set to miss the first four games of the season due to suspension, and Eric Decker retiring/Kenny Britt getting released, the Patriots go into the season with 3 real WRs (Matthew Slater is more of a special teams ace). We all know who Chris Hogan is, but between Cordarrelle Patterson and Phillip Dorsett, someone should have a chance to be a high risk-high reward DFS player early in the season.
- The Patriots backfield is hard enough to read as is, throw in the fact that both Burkhead and Michel have been hurt all preseason, and Jeremy Hill actually made the final roster, figuring out who will get the most action early on is not going to be easy.
- If there was ever a time the Patriots needed Gronk for a full 16 games, this is it. With Danny Amendola (86 targets in 2017) and Brandin Cooks (114 targets in 2017) no longer in New England, and Edelman (160 targets in 2017) suspended for the first 4 weeks, that’s about 22.5 targets a game that need some new recipients.
New Orleans Saints
- All offseason we heard about how the Saints were high on RB Jonathan Williams, and how he could perhaps fill in nicely during Mark Ingram’s suspension. That’s no longer possible as the Saints surprisingly released him during final cuts. They just signed Mike Gillislee to a one-year deal, and hope to get him up to speed quick.
- Drew Brees had an amazing season efficiency wise last season, but still disappointed fantasy owners with his lack of TD production. Expect some regression here, as it’s unlikely that Kamara/Ingram combine for 20 rushing TDs again.
- Preseason didn’t teach us much on who we expect to emerge as the Saints #2 wide receiver as far as fantasy production goes. Cameron Meredith and Ted Ginn Jr. virtually saw the same amount of snaps with the first team offense. Monitor this situation weekly to get a better pulse on how this plays out. We expect some DFS worth performances out of this spot.
New York Giants
- It’ll be just under 4 weeks rest for Saquon Barkley after he suffered a hamstring injury on August 13th. They called it a “mild strain” at the time, but it looks like all systems go for the rookie with high expectations.
- Expect a more versatile passing attack from the Giants this year, as Pat Shurmur brings way more unpredictability to the table. Last year the Giants under Ben McAdoo ran 11-personnel (3 WRs) 92% of the time, compared to 56% of the time for Shurmur and the Vikings last season.
- The Giants invested a 2nd round pick on LG Will Hernandez, and signed LT Nate Solder to a huge contract this offseason. It should help them improve as a unit, but don’t get it twisted, this is still one of the shakier offensive lines in the league.
New York Jets
- Robby Anderson is still under investigation by the NFL. They’ve been reviewing the case for quite some time now. In the even that he does get suspended, that puts an immediate boost towards Jermaine Kearse’s stock early in the season (especially in DFS). Expect the Jets to be down often and playing catch up in the 2nd half.
- Isaiah Crowell took a back-seat to Bilal Powell during the Jets 3rd preseason game. We still expect Crowell to get early down work, but ask yourself, what’s more likely? The Jets playing catch-up relying on a pass-catching back like Powell, or the Jets milking the clock with Crowell as they hold a 2nd half lead…?
- The Jets offensive line play was nauseating (to say the least) in 2017. Rookie Sam Darnold will get thrown to the wolves, and even though Spencer Long is an upgrade from Wesley Johnson at the center position, there isn’t much reason to expect a dramatic improvement from the unit altogether.
- The Raiders traded a 3rd round pick for Martavis Bryant, and a few months later he was released. Jordy Nelson and Amari Cooper didn’t see much action this preseason, but it’s safe to say they are the two best receiving options Oakland has.
- The Raiders offensive line took a step back last season, but they still are one of the better units in the league. The Raiders used the 15th overall pick of the draft to select RT Kolton Miller, who many folks thought was a bit of a reach. Either way, if the Raiders find themselves in a favorable game script, we expect them to pound the rock.
- In 11 seasons as a head coach, Jon Gruden has had a 1000 yard receiver each year. We’re not saying anything about Amari Cooper here, we’re just pointing out a fact.
- The Eagles have one of the best offensive lines in the league, if not the best. Their defense is great, and we expect them to have a lot of favorable game scripts for running backs. We expect Jay Ajayi to be back for the regular season opener, but Corey Clement, Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood should see their share of action as well. There’s a lot of high risk/high reward DFS appeal here.
- Ian Rapoport expects the Eagles to start Nick Foles in Thursday’s opener, but there are folks that think Wentz will be ready. Even if he doesn’t play Thursday, Wentz will be under center soon enough.
- Alshon Jeffery has been labeled as “week-to-week” by head Doug Pederson. This gives an immediate short term boost to both Nelson Agholor and Mike Wallace, who should see an expanded role with Jeffery’s absence.
- The Le’Veon Bell saga continues, as he’s carried his holdout past Labor Day weekend. We still expect him back for week 1 and have a hard time downgrading him until he’s actually ruled out of a game.
- Jame Connor filled in smoothly for Le’Veon Bell this preseason. During week three he saw 0.40 opportunities per snap. If anything were to happen to Bell, we expect Connor to fill in the way DeAngelo Williams did a few years back.
- Juju Smith-Schuster has continued where he left off last season, delivering big play after big play this preseason. The Steelers drafted James Washington, but parted ways with Martavis Bryant (who saw 84 targets last season). Smith-Schuster ranked 4th on the team for targets last year, but we’re 99% sure he’ll finish top 3 on the Steelers in 2018.
San Francisco 49ers
- Well..damn. So much for the Jerick McKinnon hypefest. What remains is a backfield split between Matt Breida and Alfred Morris. Morris is the more known commodity that Shanahan obviously trusts, but Breida brings an unknown upside. We expect both to get an opportunity to take control of the starting gig early in the season, but we also expect both to be significantly involved regardless of who comes out as the alpha-dog.
- Pierre Garcon and Marquise Goodwin are head and shoulders above the rest of the receiving targets in San Francisco. Goodwin’s big play ability will make him a highly targeted WR in GPPs this season.
- It looks like George Kittle appears to be nearing 100% after suffering a shoulder injury in preseason. We expect him to be a key piece, especially in the red zone, this upcoming season.
- When you have one of the worst offensive lines in the league, and you select a RB with your first round pick, you’re going to get some heat. We expect the battle to be wide open heading into week one, but don’t hold your breath waiting for someone to emerge as RB1/RB2 material
- Doug Baldwin looks to be available week one despite missing most of August dealing with a knee injury. He’s the safest bet on this offense regardless, and with Jimmy Graham out of the picture, should be relied upon even more so in the red zone.
- Tyler Lockett recently signed a 3-year/$37-million dollar extension. Even with Jaron Brown and Brandon Marshall in the equation, Lockett is a game breaking DFS GPP play. Expect him to disappoint at times, but when he delivers...bam.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- So much for the Ronald Jones II hype. After 22 carries for 28 yards this preseason, Jones will most likely start the season on the bench. Meanwhile, Peyton Barber’s stock has gone up, up and up. It’s pretty clear who the guy is, at least for the start of the season.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick will be the starter for the first three weeks, and possibly beyond that? It’s tough to measure the impact it’ll have on the Buccaneers wide receivers, and preseason didn’t really give us any more clarity.
- Mike Evans caught 5 TDs last year, compared to 12 in 2016. That regression alone forced him to fall in most drafts. The reality = he’s still a top notch red zone threat and the Bucs will continue to feed him with targets. Bet on him being closer to double digit TDs than 5 this season.
- Rishard Matthews missed the entire preseason/training camp dealing with a knee injury. The expectation is he’ll be all systems go for week one, however.
- Corey Davis and Marcus Mariota didn’t look completely in-sync this preseason, but don’t let it cause concern. They worked very well together in training camp. Davis is the #1 WR heading into his 2nd year, and he’ll get every opportunity to show why he was the #5 pick overall in 2017.
- Henry and Lewis pretty much split work down the middle this preseason. The Titans have a top-1o offensive line in the NFL, and there’s a solid chance both Henry and Lewis are effective fantasy options with good floors and ceilings.
- The Derrius Guice injury was a severe blow to Washington, as they had high expectations for the 2nd round rookie. In comes AP, who should get an opportunity as the early down back for the Skins. AP carried the load week 3, but keep in mind Chris Thompson was out. AP should be very serviceable in contests where Washington has favorable game scripts.
- Jordan Reed was in bubble wrap all preseason, as was Chris Thompson. Make no mistake about it, these are the Skins’ best weapons when they’re both healthy. Expect them to be underutilized in DFS early, given their preseason absence.
- The Skins didn’t show much this preseason, but between Josh Doctson, Paul Richardson and Jamison Crowder, lies a fantasy gem. It might be inconsistent given how Gruden likes to spread it around, but for DFS purposes, expect all three guys to be viable GPP plays with low ownership projections throughout the year.