Preseason Week 1 Notables
Author: Marc Schwartz
Editor: Nikhil Gupta (@KillemWithStats)
YouTube: Fantasy Football Advice
People tend to overlook the first preseason games, as many teams sit older veterans, and most of the elite guys either don’t play or are out after a series or two. Brady, Big Ben, and Rodgers all sat. Gurley, Zeke, and Beckham Jr. took the night off. So your casual FF player will just give the entire week a pass. But there’s nothing casual about what we do here, and there were plenty of notable happenings in the first preseason week. After examining all of the action, here are the things you need to know.
Giants vs. Browns
By now you’ve seen that Barkley broke a huge run with his very first rushing attempt, looking exceptionally fast in the process. What you might have missed is that Barkley looked more like a rookie with his other four carries. He wasn’t able to push forward for much, and like many rookie RB’s, he still has the habit of trying to get to the outside when it’s not really there.
This isn’t much of a knock on him. He’s already one of the most explosive players in the league, and he will get as many touches as he can handle. But the casual player only knows that Barkley looked amazing in the game, while his performance was actually a little uneven.
It feels like Barkley is on his way to becoming the consensus #5 pick in PPR, Standard, and Half-PPR formats, as people lock him into a Zeke and A-Pete type of rookie season. I think the home runs will be there, but I’m not sure the consistency will. I’d still rather have Antonio Brown at #5.
Browns Pass Catchers
While Josh Gordon’s season and career are still very much up in the air, the Browns still have plenty of talented receivers. Tyrod and Mayfield both looked good on Thursday, and I think they’re certainly capable of moving the ball down the field in the many garbage time zones the Browns will be in this season. So Josh Gordon or not, there are going to be plenty of FF points scored by this team.
Tyrod completed 2 of his 5 passes to Jarvis Landry, for 36 yards, and they looked very in sync on those routes. Landry looked better than ever to me. Higgins showed some good, physical moves on his way to catching 4 for 66 yards. Playing against the backups, Callaway flashed with 3 receptions for 87 yards and a TD. Callaway and Mayfield were unable to connect on a handful of other passes, but the long TD came on a slant where Callaway did some impressive work. He has a lot to overcome this year including a possible suspension and a thick depth chart, but he’s certainly very talented.
And then there’s the tight end, Njoku, who caught a touchdown from Tyrod and from Mayfield. Njoku looked more like a wide receiver on his first touchdown, beating coverage with his speed on a wheel route. His second touchdown was a 10 yard pass in the end zone, where Njoku devoured the ball from the air, as several Giants players were also going for it. Njoku apparently has all of the tools, and may have two QB’s capable of getting a lot out of him.
Ravens vs. Rams
The Rams essentially took the night off, but the Ravens took the game more seriously. The Ravens D shut the Rams out through 3 quarters, and made big hits and plays all over the field. Alex Collins started and got just two carries, ripping one of them for an explosive 23 yard gain. The Ravens won a bunch of games last season when they started featuring Collins, and his backups haven’t been able to get out of their own way. He doesn’t have elite moves, cuts, or long speed, but he’s very good at finding the holes and exploding through them. Collins is in an ideal situation, and seems slightly undervalued.
Michael Crabtree made a heck of a move to get wide open for a 30 yard reception, his only catch of the night. He looked like a declining player towards the end of last year, but he might have enough veteran savvy, playing in a fairly good situation, to justify his current ADP.
Eagles vs. Steelers
Juju Smith Schuster
JuJu only had one target, but he made the most of it, turning a shaky pass from Landry Jones into a 71 yard TD. JuJu was the youngest player in the NFL last year, and I think it’s becoming quite clear that he is a very dangerous weapon. Defenses just don’t have the luxury of being able to key in on him, and he’s good enough to beat average cornerbacks all day long. His TD on Thursday was a reminder that last year was no fluke; this guy has a knack for huge plays and is very much worth a 4th round pick.
Seahawks vs. Colts
The good news is that Andrew Luck played football. He didn’t do much, but wasn’t asked to. We would love to see Luck throwing some sharp deep passes by the third week of the preseason, but he gets a passing grade this week just for being out there. The Colts backfield is a mess. Mack left early with a hamstring injury, and Turbin was the first RB to replace him. Wilkins, who has been getting a lot of media buzz of late, didn’t make an appearance until late in the game, so it might be time to pump the breaks on him and everyone else in this backfield.
After a week of camp talk indicating that Carson is ahead of Penny on the depth chart, the ADP of both guys hasn’t changed much. Penny continues to go in the 4th round and Carson goes in the 10th. I keep hearing, “Penny has too much talent, and they didn’t draft him where they did not to use him.” Well, it was Carson who got the start for the Seahawks this week, and he looked good in the first series, taking 4 carries for 26 yards. Penny then came in and struggled with 16 yards on 8 carries. Carson is the only Seahawks RB to look competent in the past two seasons. I’m buying into Carson having a significant role this year. This team struggles to open holes regardless of who is back there, so how much should we really expect from Penny if he’s in a somewhat even timeshare?
Chiefs vs. Texans
Miller only got 4 touches, but looked more explosive and shifty than usual, particularly on a 19 yard carry where he showed elite burst and lateral quickness. Miller worked hard in the off-season to slim down a bit, and it may have paid off. He quietly had 1215 total yards, 6 td’s and 36 receptions last season. Foreman is a long way from being a threat to his workload. This is a decent team, and there are points to be had in the backfield. Miller is being drafted as a bottom-end RB2, and I think he’s more like a top-of-the-line RB2.
Packers vs. Titans
Henry and Lewis were mixing in plays early in the game. Neither did much or received any real work, but Henry got some early down touches, and Lewis was in on 3rd downs. This matches the narrative we’ve heard from camp. This is clearly going to be a very even time-share, with the occasional “hot hand” approach. Henry will probably get more goal line work, and we know Lewis will have more receptions. I find this to be one of the easier committee’s to figure out. Lewis goes rounds later than Henry, so he’s the better value, and it’s as simple as that.
Jamaal Williams got the start and looked good on his 5 carries for 16 yards, adding a fantastic touchdown catch for 8 yards. Williams has a decent chance to run away with this job as Aaron Jones recovers from his hamstring injury and serves his suspension. These two are getting drafted very close to one another, sometimes even back to back. That doesn’t make much sense to anyone who is paying attention. I think it’s fair to move Williams up and Jones down, based on the opportunity.
As far as the pass catchers go, it’s worth noting that Geronimo Allison started and had a couple of catches, with Cobb nursing his surgically repaired ankle. And Davante Adams looked great, hauling in a 48 yard deep ball from Hundley. Don’t be scared to draft Adams early; he has the ideal situation this season, and he’s good enough to take advantage of it. The Packers love to use 3-wide sets, and Rodgers is productive enough to support more than one fantasy starting WR. But I don’t think we have a lot of clarity on the pass catchers past Adams yet. Is Cobb going to be healthy? Do the Packers even want to feature him? Is Allison ready to take a big step forward or is he more of a bit player? Does Graham take enough of the pie to hurt both of them? There are a lot of unanswered questions here, and this is worth monitoring closely as the preseason marches on.
Bills vs. Panthers
A quick look at the box score, and you’ll see that both CJ Anderson and McCaffrey converted goal line rush attempts for touchdowns. But McCaffrey’s TD came in the 1st quarter, while Anderson’s came later in the game against the Bills backups. McCaffrey also looked good catching the ball, as always, with 29 yards on his 2 receptions. It’s still early, and Anderson is only just beginning to settle into things with his new team. It’s possible that he handles the goal line duties, but it was still a good sign for McCaffrey that he had the goal line carry that mattered on Thursday.
I wrote about Benjamin last week, noting that he was quietly on his way to having a fine season before getting traded last year. Now having had plenty of time to gel with his 2nd team, Benjamin had a great game for himself on Thursday, catching 4 passes for 59 yards and a TD in limited 1st quarter duties. I’ve seen people write off Benjamin for a number of reasons, including the acquisition of Corey Coleman. But Coleman is still rough around the edges, and will only help Benjamin by stretching the field. Benjamin is the 46th WR in ADP right now – an absolute steal.
Patriots vs. Redskins
Guice came in early and looked very strong before going to the sideline with an injury. We now know that Guice is done for the season. It’s a shame, but it’s our job to figure out what to do with this backfield now. With Guice gone, we’ll see Chris Thompson get an ADP bump. Thompson didn’t play on Thursday. There are rumors that he might be brought along slowly, and might not be 100% until November. He’ll be a big part of this offense when he’s healthy, but that could take some time, and he’ll probably be on some sort of snap count through most of the season. I don’t even think the Guice injury helps him; his role is unlikely to change. So the ADP bump he gets now will take him out of the range where it would make any sense to draft him.
Perhaps out of loyalty, Rob Kelley started the game and played most of the 1st series, rushing for just 6 yards on 4 carries, all prior to Guice coming in and getting hurt. We’re also likely to see Kelley shoot up the rankings, but he carries 0 upside, so I’d pass. Then there’s Samaje Perine. He played against the backups, and totaled 31 yards on 7 carries, and looked decent in doing so. Perine had a very shaky rookie season, with a few good games sprinkled into mostly disasters. He has some tools, and it’s not all that rare for 2nd year RB’s to take a big step forward. It’s hard to predict where the value will be in this backfield until we see how the ADP of all three remaining Washington RB’s shakes out. And it’s possible that there is no value here. But as long as Perine is available late, I think he’d be a sensible dart throw.
Bengals vs. Bears
Mixon got the start and made the most of his limited touches, catching a 24 yard TD that might have been the play of the day. He actually lined up wide, caught a pass from Dalton on a comeback route, and then pulled a ridiculous spin move to free up enough space to get into the end zone. Mixon hasn’t been easy to rank this season. He has elite tools, but just couldn’t seem to put it together last year, playing for a sub-par team.
And then there’s Bernard, who is too good not to have a role. Bernard had 4 carries for 23 yards Thursday night. So what do we make of Mixon? It was good to see him have a game breaking play, and it’s possible that he takes things to the next level in his second season – he has the talent to do so. He has a so-so floor thanks to guaranteed volume, and while the upside may seem capped by the poor team around him, I believe the upside resides with his talent. Mixon is probably going right about where he should in drafts. He’s one of the few make or break players in the early rounds.
Dolphins vs. Buccaneers
Dolphins 1st string Offense
The first few carries went to Drake, and he also caught a pass on Tannehill’s second attempt. Stills and Amendola had two targets each from Tannehil on the first drive. Drake, Stills, Amendola, and Tannehill were all pulled after that drive, which resulted in a missed field goal attempt. I just thought this was a mostly choreographed drive, and we might expect many drives to go similarly from the Dolphins in the regular season. Parker seems to be in the dog house, yet is being drafted by casuals way ahead of Stills and Amendola.
Peyton Barber got the start had had 21 yards on 4 carries, including a 4 yard touchdown. Ronald Jones came in later and mostly struggled, finishing with 9 yards on 8 carries, but that included a good looking 2 yard TD in the second quarter against mostly backups. Jones was the 38th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, and it doesn’t seem like Barber has enough talent to hold him off forever. But the results of the first preseason game are in line with what we’ve been hearing out of camp, which is that Barber is ahead of Jones right now. It might take Jones longer than initially thought to take over this backfield.
Raiders vs. Lions
This is the kind of game where a quick look at the box score could be misleading. Most people probably think “old man Lynch” was given the night off, as he is not in the box score. But Lynch was out on the field and ripped a 60 yard TD with his only carry. It was called back due to a holding penalty, but he looked faster on his way to the end zone than he did at any point last year. It’s entirely possible that Lynch is in better “game shape” now than he’s been since his first retirement. It’s also possible that the low snap count he was on early last year is gone, and that we get to see Lynch have the opportunity to take over games like he used to.
Kerryon Johnson is getting all of the attention after Friday’s game, when he had 34 yards on 7 carries, and 33 yards on 4 receptions. He also had a big run called back from a penalty, as he outshined the rest of the Lions backfield. I thought he looked good, but I think context matters here. Almost all of his production came in the 2nd half against backups. Blount got the start and was his usual self, plodding for just over 4 yards per carry. Abdullah came in soon after and scored a TD, also averaging 4 yards per carry, and nabbing one reception for 7 yards. Riddick was nowhere to be found, but he’s locked in for a fair share of third down and 2 minute drill work. Johnson had already been rising up the rankings, going in the late 6th round. He has some momentum and buzz now, as other rookies like Penny, Jones, and Michel have momentum going against them. So we might start to see Johnson jump some of the other rookies and go in the late 5th round. I’m off him there. This is a team that has struggled to run well regardless of who has received the work. And it’s one of the more crowded backfields in the NFL. Blount is going to get some goal line work and we know Riddick has a role. Even if Abdullah gets cut, I’m just not sure the volume and the glamour work (goal line and receptions) will be there for Johnson.
Broncos vs. Vikings
Booker and Freeman were taking turns early in the game. Neither did anything with their early work, as Trevor Siemian imploded against the Vikings first stringers. But when the backups entered the game, it was Freeman who was still out there in the 2nd quarter, and he passed the eye test on an impressive 23 yard TD run. It’s important to note that Freeman didn’t come in after Booker’s night was done; their drive by drive rotation matches what we’ve been hearing from beat reporters and coaches. Freeman’s TD against the backups needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but it showed what most of us already know: that Freeman is the better talent. Freeman plays on a team that should have a respectable offense, he has starting RB tools, and he’s battling a quasi-bust in Booker for work. I think he’s the clear #2 Rookie RB at this point.