There was once a time when the first week of preseason games gave us answers to a lot of important questions. Now it is more like driving on unfamiliar roads in patchy dense fog. Every now and then you see a sign clearly enough to know where you are going but more often you see just enough of the sign to become more confused. Here is to figuring our if we turn right or left at the next intersection.
Haasan Reddick had a knee scope and was not available to face the Chargers. The Cardinals are hopeful he will be ready for week one. After watching backup Dennis Gardeck with the starters versus Los Angeles, the team is going to need Reddick. Gardeck was decent versus the run most of the time but did not look comfortable and was slow to react at times.
With the release of Robert Nkemdiche and Darius Philon, Rodney Gunter and rookie Zach Allen are set to start at defensive end. Neither is particularly exciting but in this scheme, both are worth keeping an eye on.
Inside linebacker Jordan Hicks looked good on the during the short span of time the starters were on the field.
The Falcons showed nothing against Miami. The only defensive starters to see action were linemen. Damontae Kazee played safety against the Dolphins, which confirms Ricardo Allen as the actual starter.
When I initially covered the Ravens back in early July, Inside linebacker Kenny Young was a guy I identified as a mid to late-round target. After the first round of warmup games, things look much different than anticipated. Instead of putting Young in the position vacated by C.J. Mosley, the Ravens have shifted Patrick Onwuasor into that role while last year’s undrafted rookie Chris Board has moved past Young on the depth chart, at least for now.
Baltimore played their starting front seven against Jacksonville. Both Onwuasor and Board started at the ILB positions and stayed on the field in sub-packages. Onwuasor looked good in the role, making a number of plays in the short time the starters were in the game. Board moved around the formation more but did not make much of an impact statistically.
Young is not going quietly. He worked with the second team but led the club in tackles for the game and was fairly impressive in the process. He may be the odd man out at this stage but the competition is not yet over.
Buffalo ran with most of their defensive starters against the Colts. The only exceptions being safety Micah Hyde who is a little banged up and edge defender Jerry Hughes who has a sore ankle. Not much happened that was noteworthy.
The big news with Carolina is an apparent full-blown switch to a 3-4 scheme. Earlier in the summer Ron Rivera and other members of the organization insisted this would be a hybrid scheme, using multiple fronts. When the team posted their initial depth chart it reflected a 3-4, as did their first preseason game. The main impact for IDP managers will be the imminent position changes for guys like Mario Addison and Bruce Irvin who will now be outside linebackers, along with Kwann Short and Gerald McCoy who will now be defensive ends. It is only a matter of time before league host sites catch up with these changes, so be prepared.
The Panthers sat their starters against Chicago but that did not stop rookie Brian Burns and last year’s fourth-round selection Marquis Hayes from showing off. Each recorded a pair of sacks in the game. Hayes may have a tough time getting on the field when games start to count but Burns is sure to make a significant contribution right away.
The Bears played one starter at each level. Eddie Goldman lined up at nose tackle with inside linebacker Roquan Smith and newcomer Ha Ha Clinton-Dix at strong safety. Other than those three, Chicago sat all defensive starters.
Other than Geno Atkins and a couple of banged-up corners, Cincinnati went with their starting defense on the first series. The results were the same as last season in that Kansas City went right down the field and scored. From the fantasy perspective, we are now able to confirm Nick Vigil and Preston Brown as three-down linebackers.
So far Jordan Evans is holding off rookie Germaine Pratt for the starting job on the weak-side. On a positive note for dynasty managers, Pratt was calling the defense when the second unit took over. He stayed on the field in sub-packages and even played in the middle at times.
One thing the Browns do not have to worry about this year is quality depth at linebacker. Joe Schobert did not play against Washington. Cleveland opened in the nickel with Christian Kirksey and rookie Sione Takitaki as the linebackers. No one played long enough to make a lot of tackles but Takitaki was around the ball regularly while he was in the game. The Browns did not put three linebackers on the field at any point in the first series. Cleveland’s other rookie linebacker Mack Wilson got his chance later in the game and was also impressive, finishing with three tackles and a pair of interceptions. Both youngsters show signs of being future NFL starters.
Denzel Ward and Travis Carrie sat out the game so Greedy Williams and Terrance Mitchell got the start on the corners. Williams is trying to shake the perception that he is not a physical player. He made a statement early in the game, putting a big hit on a receiver after a short completion. Mitchell made a couple of nice plays including a forced fumble. Williams, Mitchell, and Carrie are currently competing for the starting job opposite Ward. Having four starting quality corners is a good problem for the Browns. Once they figure out the pecking order, one of these guys could be roster worthy in corner required leagues.
Robert Quinn had never been involved in any off-field issues and has been healthy for the last couple of seasons. He signs with Dallas and breaks his hand, then gets a two-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Is there something in the water?
The Cowboys played all their healthy starters against San Francisco but there was nothing unexpected to see. Taco Charlson and Dorance Armstrong got the start at defensive end while Joe Thomas filled in for Sean Lee at strong-side linebacker.
Most of Denver’s starters played against Seattle. The exceptions being both starting inside backers Todd Davis and Josey Jewel. It would have been nice to see if Jewel will be part of the sub-packages, but that may have to wait until preseason week three.
One big question that seems to have been answered is the plan for Kareem Jackson. The Broncos list Chris Harris Jr and Bryce Callahan as their starting corners. Calahan did not play against Seattle so De’Vante Bausby got the start with rookie Isaac Yiadom working in the slot. That left Jackson free to work at safety with Justin Simmons. Denver does not play strong and free safeties. Instead, Simmons stayed on the left while Jackson played on the right. This approach means each of them will have a fair share of strong side responsibilities over the course of a game. It also means both could be fairly box score friendly.
The Lions played a few potential starters against New England but mostly they used the game to get a good look at some guys competing for jobs. Rookie Jahlani Tavai started at middle linebacker and played well for the most part, but he came off the field in obvious passing situations. Jaylen Reeves-Maybin was the three-down linebacker. Miles Killebrew also got some looks at linebacker. Quadre Diggs did not play while Tavon Wilson, Tracy Walker, and Jamal Agnew. Considering that head coach Matt Patricia was the mastermind behind the Patriots ever-evolving defenses for a long time, he may simply be trying to figure out how he can use some of these guys when it is their turn.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers played few expected starters against Houston. Rookies Rashan Gary and Darnell Savage got the call so they could gain some much-needed experience, Oren Burks started at inside linebacker and Montravius Adams was at end. The rest were backups. One player that stood out was inside linebacker Ty Summers who finished with nine solo stops and an assist. Burks is believed to have suffered a torn pectoral and is likely lost for the season, so the door is now open for Summers to become a starter. If he ends up in a three-down role there will be some fantasy value with Summers. WE will be watching this situation over the next couple of weeks.
There was a mix of first and second-team players in the Texans starting lineup against Green Bay. It was about as uneventful as a preseason game could be in terms of fantasy impact or information.
The Colts rolled out a mixture of starters and backups, including some guys that we are not sure if they are starters or backups. Jabaal Sheard is going to be out for a while with a knee injury but should be back at some point early in the season. The coaching staff elected to rest Denico Autry, Justin Houston, Darius Leonard, and Clayton Geathers.
Rookie Khari Willis got the start at strong safety over Mathias Farley, which was somewhat of a surprise, but the most interesting situation was at linebacker. Rookie Bobby Okereke played in the middle with Anthony Walker shifting to the weak-side. Walker played middle backer last year and we know beyond doubt that Leonard is going to start on the weak-side. This could be the coaching staff looking at options which is what a lot of people will assume. I see this as a sign that Okereke is going to start in the middle while Walker will be the top backup at both positions. Move Okereke way up your sleeper list based on this development.
The Jaguars showed us nothing against Baltimore. No defensive starters saw action though first-round pick Josh Allen opened at defensive end. Allen had a tackle for a loss but otherwise did not do much.
The Jacksonville depth chart shows rookie Quincy Williams as the weak-side starter. He is out for a few weeks with a knee sprain and could miss a game or two at the beginning of the season, but both his teammates and the coaching staff have been impressed with his play. Ramik Wilson filled in at the position against Baltimore.
Kansas City Chiefs
After watching the first series of their game with Cincinnati, I am still not sure what the Chiefs showed us. The Bengals went on a 14 play scoring drive so there were plenty of opportunities to look at the defense. They opened in a nickel set with Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson at linebacker, and Tyrann Mathieu at strong safety. After three or four plays, all three of those players left the game never to return. Reggie Ragland and Darron Lee took over at linebacker and the Chiefs continued to work out of a nickel for the most part. When they did do to a base 4-3 late in the series it was Ben Niemann lining up on the strong-side. The good news I guess is that Hitchens started the game. It would have been much more reassuring had he remained on the field long enough to confirm his presence in base packages. The Chiefs depth chart shows Ragland as the starting middle backer with Hitchens on the weak-side and Wilson strong. We will have to wait a week or two before we can confirm anything.
Somewhat surprisingly the coaching staff had Daniel Sorensen working as the deep safety on several first series plays. Once Mathieu was done, Sorensen moved up more often but was still not working in the box much if at all. Armani Watts came on at safety when Mathieu left. Rookie Juan Thornhill worked with the second team and did not stand out.
Those in corner required leagues should put Breshaud Breeland high on your list at the position. He has a strong history of quality production and is replacing Steven Nelson who was a top-10 corner last season. Breeland had a good showing against Cincinnati.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers blindsided us by coming out in a three-man front with Uchenna Nwosu as a stand up strong side linebacker. They complicated matters by starting Kyzir White in the middle and Kyle Wilson weak. Normally we would write this off as a matter of the starters resting. For Casey Hayward, Thomas Davis, Melvin Ingram III and Joey Bosa who did not play, that was clearly the case. On the other hand, Denzel Perryman and Jatavis Brown played with the backups, suggesting they may no longer be starters.
Keep in mind White was running with the first unit last summer before being lost to injury. He has added muscle since his rookie campaign and may well be in line for a starting job. He sure looked the part against Arizona. This is a high priority situation to watch for the remainder of the preseason.
Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles rested most of their starters against Oakland. One important exception was Micah Kiser who saw a lot of action as a three-down inside backer. Kiser has been a priority sleeper since the Rams parted ways with Mark Barron. He did not have a flashy game versus Oakland, but Kiser was around the ball regularly, finishing with two tackles and a pair of assists on a limited number of first-quarter snaps. Cory Littleton is the main target but Kiser could be a great late-round pick and a solid LB3.
Miami played most of their starters. The exceptions being Kiko Alonso, Raekwon McMillan, and Reshad Jones; assuming of course that all three are actually starters. Jones has battled shoulder and foot injuries during camp. The foot seems to be the biggest factor, leaving doubt about his week one availability.
Alonso and McMillan are believed to be starters but neither appear locks to be three-down players. McMillan is all but certain to come off the field in passing situations while Alonso has been sharing sub-package snaps with Sam Equavoen in camp. Jerome Baker may be the Dolphins only three-down linebacker. Unfortunately, they have him lining up on the strong side on early downs. There is a lot of production to be divided up here so we will be keeping a close eye on this situation over the next few weeks.
Regardless of what you call him in terms of position, Minkah Fitzpatrick is working as a hybrid slot corner/free safety. The important factor for IDP managers however, he is not coming off the field.
The Vikings were among a small number of teams that opened with their entire starting defense on the field. No surprises, no drama and nothing much to talk about here.
New England Patriots
As we have come to expect, the Patriots showed us nothing in the opener. No starters played on defense unless you count Jamie Collins Sr and Ja’Whaun Bentley who are both currently listed as backups on the team’s depth chart. Pay no attention to anything New England shows during the preseason.
New Orleans Saints
New Orleans went without Sheldon Rankins and Cameron Jordan but otherwise, their starters were on the field for two full series. Middle linebacker Alex Anzalone has been on the watch list for a while with the hope he would emerge as a three-down player. The Saints stuck with their base 4-3 defense on all but two plays while the starters were still in the game. On the two sub-package plays, both Anzalone and A.J. Klein were on the field once. It is a small sample but so far it looks like Anzalone will once again be coming off in at least some sub-packages.
New York Giants
The Giants opened in a nickel set with Tae Davis working alongside Alec Ogletree at linebacker. The duo stayed on the field together until second-team defenders began to take over. Davis opened eyes with his play, making a good number of tackles in a short period of time. If this is an indication of things to come, he could be a quality contributor this season.
As feared, the coaching staff had Antoine Bethea working 12 yards off the ball on most snaps. With Davis sucking up most of the tackle opportunity, Bethea did not get close to the ball much. This does not bode well for his stock.
Jabrill Peppers was up in the box on several plays and was around the ball a lot, but he did not make many plays that showed up in the box scores.
When the Giants had three linemen on the field it was Dalvin Tomlinson at nose tackle with Dexter Lawrence and B.J. Hill at the ends. In some nickel packages, New York lined up in a 2-4-5 with Tomlinson leaving the game to make room of the extra back.
New York Jets
The Jets opened in a 4-3 base with C.J. Mosley in the middle, Avery Williamson at weakside linebacker and Brandon Copeland strong. On the second series, they showed more 3-4 looks. Henry Anderson and Bronson Kaufusi were the defensive ends in four-man fronts. Both were at end in three-man fronts as well, but that could change when Leonard Williams is available.
Jon Gruden played more starters than he usually does, but that probably has more to do with their need for additional experience than anything. The Raiders lined up five rookies with the first team against the Rams, including defensive ends Clelin Ferrell and Max Crosby. Both made good showings in their debut, getting more pressure on Blake Bortles than we saw from the Oakland defense all of last season. It was a positive sign but would have been much more impressive had the Rams not been playing their entire second-team offense.
Oakland opened with a trio of rookies in the secondary. Johnathan Abram was at strong safety with Isiah Johnson and Trayvon Mullen on the corners. Of that group, only Abram has a serious shot at being an opening game starter. He is still working to wrestle the job away from Karl Joseph who has been having a strong training camp. Joseph did not suit up for this contest, leaving us to assume he is currently considered the starter. The third round of warmup game should tell us more about this situation.
Brandon Marshall was somewhat of a surprise starter at weak-side linebacker. If indeed Gruden’s plan was to rest all his veteran starters as it seemed, This would suggest Marshall is not one of them. Vontaze Burfict is the anticipated starter on the weak-side. Neither he nor Tahir Whitehead suited up.
One of the most eye-opening observations from this round of game came when the Eagles started Nate Gerry as their play-calling middle linebacker and had Zach Brown working all three downs while playing on the strong-side in base sets. Brown played well and did nothing to hurt his chances of starting somewhere, but Gerry was the more impressive of the two. This makes for an interesting situation in that Nigel Bradham, who did not play, is the starting middle backer on the Eagles initial depth chart with Brown on the weak-side. It feels like the ending of this story has not yet been written. It also feels like Gerry could have a bigger part than anticipated.
Rookie Devin Bush made a lot of tackles against Tampa Bay, but his play on the field was less impressive than the numbers would suggest; particularly on the first series when the Buccaneers were playing starters. In defense of Bush, the Steelers sat two-thirds of their starting defensive line. Mark Barron got the start at the other inside linebacker position and did not look good. He was pushed around and struggled to get off blocks.
Terell Edmunds made a couple of nice plays before exiting. He worked up in the box on several plays and did a nice job of cleaning up behind the linebackers. Edmunds seemed far more comfortable and/or aggressive than last year, suggesting he could be in for a big second season.
Seattle opened with a mix of first and second-team players. They sat most of their top fantasy prospects, however. Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Bradley McDougald, Jarran Reed, and Ezekiel Ansah all had the night off. What they did show us was a few potential future stars. In years past an injury to Wagner would have been a devastating blow and as we saw last year, the loss of K.J. Wright was significant. The way rookie Cody Barton and Austin Calitro looked at middle and weak-side linebacker respectively against Denver, suggests Seattle would be just fine going forward.
Rookie second-round pick Marquis Blair also turned in an eye-catching performance against Denver. At the moment he is buried on the depth chart but that is likely to change quickly if he keeps playing so well. In fact, it would not be a surprise to see Blair and McDougald as the week-one starters.
Seattle recently brought back DeShawn Shead who was a starting corner for them before suffering an injury in 2017. The coaching staff plans to use him at safety which could be a good fit for a defensive back that is 6’1” 220 pounds. What was once a paper-thin position for the Seahawks, now looks a little crowded.
San Francisco 49ers
The list of 49ers that did not play was almost as long as those that did. Hopefully, we will see the first team in round two of the preseason. One guy that did manage to turn some heads was rookie linebacker Dre Greenlaw who made some nice plays on the way to a team-high five tackles.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers played all their healthy starters against Pittsburgh. Vita Vea knee, Lavonte David, Justin Evans, and Jason Pierre-Paul are all recovering from injuries. Tampa Bay opened in a nickel with William Gholston and Ndamukong Suh up front, Devin White and Deone Bucannon at inside linebacker, Carl Nassib and Noah Spence at outside linebacker, with a secondary consisting of Vernon Hargreaves III and Carlton Davis on the outside, M.J. Stewart in the slot, with Jordan Whitehead and Mike Edwards at safety.
All in all, they played well against the Steelers, which is a good thing considering this may be the Buccaneers starting lineup for week one. White was solid but not flashy in his NFL debut. Whitehead made a couple of good plays and solidified himself as a viable late-round target that could end up a solid DB3
Entering the preseason, Tennessee’s most important IDP question was who will start at inside linebacker and will they continue to rotate Jayon Brown, Rashaan Evans and Wesley Woodyard? The first part of the question appears to have been answered at the least. The Titans opened with Brown and Evans on the field which matches the team’s initial depth chart listing.
As for the second part of the question, Brown and Evans remained on the field for the entire first series, but it lasted only four plays. They were together at the beginning of the second series with Woodyard taking over for Brown after a few plays. That was also about the time Tennessee started working in other second-team guys. So we are left unsure on the rotation issue for at least another game or two.
Not many Washington starters saw action against Cleveland. The exceptions being inside linebackers Jon Bostic and Shaun Dion-Hamilton, along with outside backer Ryan Anderson. It did not take long for the Redskins to see why Bostic was available so late in free agency. Cleveland came out on offense simulating a two-minute situation and really made the veteran journeyman look bad. He missed tackles and/or was a step late on at least two plays, giving up chunks of yardage. The coaching staff mistakenly cast Bostic as the lone linebacker in their dime package and paid the price for that as well. Bostic can hold his own as a run defender but the team had better get him out of their sub-packages or figure out how to help him in coverage.
On the second series, Cole Holcomb joined Dion-Hamilton at inside linebacker. Holcomb made some nice plays against the run and was better in coverage, but that is like comparing apples and oranges since Baker Mayfield was not in the game. Dion-Hamilton played alright but was not eye-catching.
For those that draft this weekend, best of luck. I will be back after the round two games to share any light they may shed.