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The NFL preseason is an avalanche of new information. We have been in our caves of slumber since the NFL Draft for major player value movement. Now, we get breadcrumbs of data from NFL teams - hints of players, depth charts, and playing time to start the season:
Heading into Week 1 here is the landscape of rookie quarterbacks:
Kyler Murray, the 1.01 NFL Draft pick (and commonly so in superflex rookie drafts as well) is the lone Week 1 starter. Murray's electric athleticism and overt arm talent should buoy his fantasy production even if the Arizona offensive line struggles, which dismantled any chance Josh Rosen had a year ago. Murray is a mid-QB2 at worst for fantasy terms and easily-projectable into the top-12 with his (likely) elite rushing numbers and decent passing marks.
Will Grier has been one of the bigger disappointments dating back to the early NFL Draft process. He was discussed in Round 1 regularly for NFL Draft purposes. Since Grier fell almost out of Day 2 of the draft and made little headway in the preseason to look the part of a clear NFL backup or push ho-hum veteran Kyle Allen for the QB2 job in Carolina. Grier is only a superflex hold in leagues where 10-15 NFL backups are already rostered or three quarterbacks (triple flex) can be in weekly lineups.
Dwayne Haskins and Daniel Jones both showed well in the preseason (Jones more than Haskins) but both are set to 'simmer' for starting purposes behind placeholder veterans Eli Manning and Case Keenum. Manning and Keenum (more Manning here) are serviceable stopgap options in superflex leagues until they give way to the rookies, presumably by midseason. With Haskins, this year is a rough projectable considering Washington's weakness at offensive line and their dearth of weapons, especially if Jordan Reed misses time as has been the consistent trend in his career.
Ryan Finley, Gardner Minshew, and Jarrett Stidham emerged as primary backups around the NFL landscape. Stidham has the buzz with the New England factor (and pushed Brian Hoyer out of the depth chart), but Finley has the most 'may see starts in 2019' potential. Andy Dalton is the shakiest of the veteran starters on said depth charts and Finley showed well in the preseason despite falling in the draft after having some Round 1 buzz during his collegiate career. Finley is one of the better superflex stash options for later in 2019 or into 2020.
rookie running backs
The analytics pointed to a tepid rookie crop of running backs and the early opportunities are rather limited for clear starting roles for said players. However, the 2019 class litters RB2/3 roles on NFL depth charts, primed to benefit from injuries during the season. Here are the cliff notes for the notable rookie running backs heading into Week 1:
- Josh Jacobs looks to have the clear starting job in Oakland and a strong workload is ahead. Jacobs never a high-volume option at Alabama so this is uncharted territory for the prototypically-sized receiving maven.
- Miles Sanders and David Montgomery are the next two backs closest to a full-fledged lead job. However, both have decent veterans on their depth charts to point to early-season committees or tempered ceilings under later in the year. Jordan Howard and optimized snaps for Darren Sproles stand in Sanders' way, while Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen can do the same for Sanders.
- Devin Singletary is more ambiguous than Sanders-Montgomery above, but the potential to run with a job is possible in Buffalo. LeSean McCoy's departure is a positive indicator for Singletary, but Frank Gore and T.J. Yeldon are quality veterans to siphon early-season usage. Singletary is one of the 'could break wide open midseason or late-fantasy season' situations to turn into an auto-start option.
- Damien Harris may be a roster-clogger for much of the season, but any week Sony Michel misses, Harris zooms up in appeal to a touchdown-per-game and 15+ carry upside.
- Ryquell Armstead looks to have the valuable RB2 role to Leonard Fournette in hand with Alfred Blue to IR.
- Justice Hill could leapfrog ho-hum veteran Gus Edwards easily for the RB2 role in Baltimore behind Mark Ingram.
- Tony Pollard is a high-upside option if Ezekiel Elliott misses time.
- Alexander Mattison, like Armstead in Jacksonville, has an ideal situation behind oft-injured Dalvin Cook in Minnesota.
- Darrell Henderson did not impress in the preseason, but it would be a surprise if he did not challenge Malcolm Brown for the Rams' RB2 job by later in the season.
- Jordan Scarlett improved his stock with Cameron Artis-Payne and Elijah Holyfield not making the Panthers' final roster.
- Qadree Ollison played behind Brian Hill in the preseason, but the big back role behind Devonta Freeman is very much up in the air with Ito Smith sub-sized and likely to stay in a committee if Freeman misses time.
Being flexible with your final dynasty roster spots is paramount. Running backs are the optimal stashes as they are high-upside (production) and high-leverage (trade assets) if garnering the perfect storm of depth chart standing and/or an injury in front of them in-season. However, the twists and turns require a transient mentality as a dynasty GM to shrug off injuries and depth chart moves which do not go your way in the month of August. For example, Alfred Blue and Cameron Artis-Payne were significant recommendations of mine due to their clear RB2 standings in the weeks leading up to NFL cutdown day(s). Now, we are leading towards Week 1 and Artis-Payne was cut by Carolina and Blue is heading to IR.
However, the flip side is Malcolm Brown, a strong recommendation all the way back in August 2018, much like Artis-Payne this year) as the widely-available backup with high upside, is ahead of Darrell Henderson still despite all the rumor Henderson would easily pass Brown and even challenge Todd Gurley for touches to open his rookie season back in May. 2019 has its own collection of low-cost situational backs for investment, like every year. For example, Dontrell Hilliard as the RB2 job in Cleveland at least until Kareem Hunt returns midseason from suspension. Carlos Hyde has bounced around some (dynasty value and NFL-wise) but is at worst an injury away in Houston. Wayne Gallman is widely available and the clear RB2 for the Giants.
The key is being flexible with these roster spots and sensitive to cost. Instead of paying Round 2 rookie picks for flashy backups in the trade market, shop in the $1 waiver wire bin and be proactive. If you picked up plenty of Cameron Artis-Payne shares three weeks ago for $1, there was minimal investment there. But this paves the way for Jordan Scarlett and even Reggie Bonnafon as the handcuff option in Carolina in the proactive running back dynasty market. Pivoting to Gallman or Hilliard is another low-cost move and this is a worst-case scenario. The better case scenarios include picking up options like Ty Montgomery, DeAndre Washington, C.J. Anderson, or Chase Edmonds types over the course of time for peanuts and they are in prime settings to benefit from a changing depth chart during the season.
The final words before the season begins is be proactive with waiver money (and claims) and, more on this in the next few installments of New Reality, do not be overly sticky with the short-term boosts of the situation when they are valued in the dynasty trade market in-season.