Week one is upon us at last! Not much has changed since the last preseason notes but there are a few updates and a lot of situations we need to be watching this week. One bit of advice for this week is to stick with safe players. We all have guys on our rosters that have questions but come with big expectations. Fight the urge to play the big expectations over the sure contributor. A lot of week one games are lost because NFL coaches like to keep secrets.
The Cardinals gave Scooby Wright every opportunity to prove himself. He was ultimately let go leaving Josh Bynes as a three-down inside linebacker. Bynes has limited upside but may be a worthy LB3 in many leagues.
Haasan Reddick has been impressive throughout training camp and preseason action. The question for week one being, how much action will he see? The Cardinals showed a lot of three safety looks during the preseason. Unless Reddick can find a way into sub-packages, his value will be hit or miss at best.
Marcus Golden has been activated from the PUP list and has a chance to be active for week one. He has a ton of upside so keep an eye on Golden’s progress. Another injury situation we are monitoring is Robert Nkemdiche’s foot. He was playing well early before a sore foot set him back yet again. In his short NFL history Nkemdiche has missed time with elbow, ankle, hamstring, calf, ankle again, wrist and now he can add foot to the list. If he ever plays this guy has serious potential for those in tackle required leagues. At this point all eyes should probably be on his backup Olsen Pierre who was excellent both on the field and in the box scores down the stretch last year. Pierre has also been dealing with some sort of injury, though the organization is being quiet about what it is.
The watch list includes two situations with the Falcons. Will Vic Beasley Jr play enough snaps to add respectable tackle totals to his expected double-digit sack total? And will Atlanta have another three-down linebacker besides Deion Jones? De’Vondre Campbell seemed to have such a role during preseason action but we should confirm before risking him as a starter.
The Bills have been happy with the play of rookie tackle Harrison Phillips. Early in the summer, he was even called a “young Kyle Williams”. With Williams sidelined for a while, Phillips will at least be a significant part of the rotation up front and he may start over Adolphus Washington. Those who have been at this game for a while know how productive Williams has been throughout his career. Let us see how Phillips performs under fire.
Another point of interest will be Tremaine Edmunds. He was slow to react and looked to be thinking rather than playing throughout much of the preseason. If it takes a few games for Edmunds to get comfortable, weak side linebacker Matt Milano could put up good numbers early on.
This is where we learn what the Panthers really think of Shaq Thompson. He was supposed to take over the three down linebacker role this year but the team’s approach in the preseason suggests otherwise. Thomas Davis has been suspended the first four games, but he ran on all three downs with the starters during the preseason. So this week is it Thompson in those passing situations or a third safety such as rookie Rashaan Gaulden?
The trade for Kahlil Mack made big news leading up to week one. This is great news for Bears fans but a terrible turn of events for fantasy managers counting on Mack as a stud defensive end. The positional yo-yo continues for Mack who will now go back to being a 3-4 outside linebacker.
Those that drafted Roquan Smith may have to wait a week or two before seeing much return. Smith got into camp late after a holdout then suffered a hamstring injury that has kept him off the field since August 21st. He is not expected to play which makes Danny Trevathan a particularly strong start. Nick Kwiatkoski will start in Smith’s place.
Cincinnati played a great fake out on us by cutting Michael Johnson in the move to 53, then bringing him back the next day. The Bengals have a lot of good young talent up front. Just because they brought Johnson back does not necessarily mean he will continue in the same role. Keep Jordan Willis, Sam Hubbard and Carl Lawson on your radar.
Strong safety Shawn Williams is healthy and playing well. He could be an early pickup target.
The Browns started the purge at tackle with the early trade of Danny Shelton and finished it with the release of former starter Jamie Meder among final cuts. In between, they moved on from all experienced interior linemen except Larry Ogunjobi and Trevon Coley who are both second-year players. Both of these players had some IDP upside before final cuts; with virtually no competition for playing time, one or both could step up for managers in tackle required leagues.
The release of Mychal Kendricks puts an end to any questions about Cleveland’s linebacker situation.
Myles Garrett is the Browns headliner up front but the team’s success may ultimately come down to how much he improves those around him. Emmanuel Ogbah is a strong candidate as an early add and belongs on the watch list.
Randy Gregory started the team’s this preseason game and is expected to be opposite Demarcus Lawrence in the opener. How much he plays is another question, however. Gregory showed up in good shape so it did not take him long to get into football condition. The problem is, Taco Charlton has also played well and has done it all summer. There is a least some chance we will see a three man rotation at end in Dallas.
Leighton Vander Esch will go into his first NFL game as a backup if he is even active. Vander Esch has been soundly outplayed by Jaylon Smith at middle backer this summer. The coaching staff expected to start him on the strong side to get all three of their best linebacker on the field, but the injury may have impacted that plan.
The Lions have a trio of players with good IDP potential that are too risky to play in week one. Anthony Zettel is listed as the starting end opposite Ezekiel Ansah, but there has not been any sure sign of how playing time will break down at that spot with Kerry Hyder Jr also in the mix.
At linebacker, we can safely say Christian Jones is the starter on the weak side and it appears he will work on all three downs. This is something we need to confirm, however, as well as how productive he will be in the role.
The Lions showed a lot of three safety sets throughout the preseason. From what we have seen Tavon Wilson is in the prime fantasy spot as strong safety with Glover Quin at free and Quandre Diggs in the nickel.
Green Bay Packers
With Oren Burks expected to miss the first week or two, the Packers traded for Antonio Morrison then plucked Korey Toomner off waivers. Neither player seems destined to fill either a full time or long term role. In fact, it would be no surprise to see the Packers go with a three safety base package until Burks returns. That would get Josh Jones off the bench where he has been throughout the preseason when starters were playing. Jones was supposed to be the next great Packers safety but he has struggled this summer. If he does not get on the field and impress early, cut your losses and move on quickly.
Managers in big play based league will want to keep an eye on outside backer Duke Ejiofor. He has impressed throughout the summer and may end up starting opposite Whitney Mercilus at some point. Imaging how tough the Texans defense can be with Jadaveon Clownery and J.J. Watt at end and a pair of quality outside rushers off the edge.
There are several situations to be watching when the Colts face off against Cincinnati. Starting up front; who will get the call at end opposite Jabaal Sheard? Margus Hunt played there for most of the preseason but the team’s current depth chart shows him third behind Kemoko Turay and Tarell Basham.
At the second level is Skai Moore the real deal or is he just a placeholder at middle linebacker while Anthony Walker recovers? Can Darius Leonard be a difference maker on the field and in the box scores as his preseason production suggests?
In the secondary; can Clayton Geathers stay healthy and be the highly productive strong safety many believe he is?
The unanswered questions for the Jaguars defense: after struggling at middle linebacker early last season will the lights go on for Myles Jack the second time around? And will safety Ronnie Harrison have a big enough role to provide IDP value? Both players clearly have the ability/potential to put up strong numbers.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs played Reggie Ragland in a three-down role during the preseason and he seemed to hold up well. The question is did he perform well enough to stick in a three-down role? If so there is a good chance Ragland will be fantasy relevant for the first time in his young career.
One thing possibly working in Ragland’s favor is the situation at safety. Daniel Sorensen landed on IR and the team snagged their former starting free safety Ron Parker off waivers when Atlanta let him walk. This should make Parker the free safety with Eric Berry going back to strong if he is healthy enough to play. Berry sat out the final two preseason outings with a sore heel. A healthy Berry could put up good numbers as the strong safety. Ultimately the lack of a physical third option at safety could dictate more sub-package time for Ragland.
Los Angeles Chargers
First, we heard how good Jatavis Brown looked throughout the offseason. Then he started the first two preseason games with mixed results but looking pretty solid in general. Then Kyzir White emerged as the starter in both game three and four with Brown bumped to the second team. White saw first-team snaps here and there throughout the summer so this is not a real shock, especially after the way Brown’s 2017 went. It is best to avoid this situation completely for week one but it sure looks like White is going to be the guy to have here.
Safety Derwin James also moved into the starting role in the third warm-up game. He made some rookie mistakes but made some impressive plays as well. Chances are he will be a full-time starter for the rest of his career. On the other hand, the Chargers are loaded at safety and may look for ways to get four players involved.
Raekwon McMillan was anointed the Dolphins starting middle backer last summer but was lost to injury before having the opportunity to show us he deserved it. He is healthy and back in the three down role heading to week one. There has never been a question of his ability as a run defender but there are some that believe McMillan will be a liability in coverage.
The other guy we want to see here is Robert Quinn. It has been three years since he was last healthy and playing end in a 4-3. During the preseason, Quinn looked more like the guy that had 50 tackles and 19 sacks back in 2013 than the player finishing 21-11-7.5 last year.
New Orleans Saints
There are three relevant storylines to follow with the Saints in week one. How will the playing time break down at end opposite Cameron Jordan? Will there be a three-down linebacker other than Demario Davis? And who will be the full-time strong safety?
Trey Hendrickson, Alex Okafor, and rookie Marcus Davenport are all in the mix at end and a solid argument could be made for any of them being a three-down starter. Chances are they will all have some opportunity which unfortunately could mean relatively low or at least inconsistent production individually.
During the preseason, both A.J. Klein and Manti Te’o had opportunities to work in sub packages with the starters. History strongly suggests Klein does not fit in a three down role. While Te’o has never held such a role for any length of time during his career, he has shown to be much less of a liability. Ultimately it would be no surprise if Davis is joined by either Von Bell or Kurt Coleman at linebacker in passing situations.
Coleman and Bell are near the top of this week’s watch list since one of them is in line to assume a role that has been an IDP gold mine in past years. The team’s depth chart list the duo as co-starters which suggests the coaching staff plans to use a lot of big nickel with both on the field.
New York Giants
Alec Ogletree is the player everyone knows and values among the Giants linebackers, but B.J. Goodson could end up being nearly as productive. He worked along with Ogletree on all three downs throughout the preseason and at times looked better. Anyone looking to add a linebacker before the first round of games might want to give Goodson some consideration before the cat gets out of the bag.
Andrew Adams and Darian Thomas were both let go among final roster cuts leaving Curtis Riley as the starting free safety. There is a lot of competition for tackles surrounding the Giants free safety so the chances of Riley being more than depth are minimal.
Olivier Vernon is the team’s best edge rusher but he may miss week one with a bad ankle. Even if he makes a go of it Vernon is sure to be at less than 100%.
When looking at the already dismal on paper Raiders defense without Kahlil Mack; the first thing that comes to mind is who on my roster is playing against them? The second thing that comes to mind is who is going to make all the tackles? History proves even the worst NFL defenses on paper are rarely as bad on the field as expected. This unit could be the exception. Tahir Whitehead is not a big play guy but he could lead the league in solo stops if the defensive tackles can keep the blocker off the second level. By the same token, Karl Joseph will never have a better opportunity to produce and get his career back on track.
The Eagles linebackers are another group high on the watch list. Kamu Grugier-Hill appears to have won the starting job at weakside linebacker but unlike his predecessor Mychal Kendricks, Grugier-Hill may get an opportunity to play in sub packages. He did so extensively during the preseason including game three when he was on the field nearly every down while the starters were in the game. With Nigel Bradham suspended for week one, Grugier-Hill is in line for a full game audition.
During the preseason Pittsburgh gave us little insight into their plan at the safety positions. Sean Davis, Morgan Burnett and Terrell Edmunds each had opportunities to start and each was given a game off, so we saw little or none of them all three on the field together. That is highly likely to change against Cleveland on Sunday. Starting any of these guys in week one without knowing their roles is a big risk.
The Steelers looked at both Tyler Matakevich and Jon Bostic at inside backer. Initial signs point to Bostic having won the job but nothing is certain here. Bostic started game three and saw nickel package action in that contest as well.
Seattle activated Dion Jordan over the weekend and he is expected to be active week one. The Seahawks are putting a lot of faith in him to pick up where former starter Michael Bennett left off. Jordan had a great late season run in 2017 and has a ton of upside. Managers need to keep in mind he is fresh off the PUP and has not been playing for a while. He could be a bit rusty and/or on a pitch count for the first game or two. We may need to be patient with him out of the gate.
Managers in corner required leagues will want to keep an eye on Seattle to see who gets the call opposite Shaquill Griffin. Rookie Tre Flowers could be a candidate and would be an interesting prospect should he win the job.
San Francisco 49ers
Rookie Fred Warner made an impact as a starter in the team’s third preseason game and is in line to get on the field while Reuben Foster sits the first two weeks. His play and production in these games will be a great measuring stick for dynasty managers as it may give us a glimpse into the future of San Francisco’s linebacker corps.
After missing considerable time during the preseason with a concussion, Solomon Thomas is another watch list player. The coaching staff moved him to their lead pass rush position this year and have big expectations for the 2017 first round pick.
When the Titans drafted Rashaan Evans it was universally expected he would be in the opening day lineup. A mysterious ailment kept him on the sideline throughout the preseason and the surprising play of Jayon Brown threatens to keep the rookie off the field for a while. Evans is expected to be available for the game but Brown should get the start. Brown has turned heads in a three-down role throughout the summer and could be a surprisingly productive option out of the gate.
That is going to do it for now. Next time you check in we will have real games to digest and a lot more to go on. Until then, rely on your safe starters and best of luck in round one!