The second dress rehearsal of the season has arrived which means extended playing time for some starters while others attempt to close out training camp on a strong note. Saturday's slate of games has no shortage of standouts from the first week of preseason games, along with a few players looking to bounce back in a big way. Playing DFS this time of year is always a risky venture which must be accounted for when determining how much volume to play on any individual slate. Variance is a fickle son of a gun in NFL DFS and there is no better case study for this than preseason DFS. While snap counts are the foundation for all preseason production forecasts the correlation between snaps and production is far from perfect. Typically, a tournament-focused approach is the way to go in preseason DFS. However, on this particular slate there will likely be a few extremely chalky players. Playing a higher volume in cash games on this slate is a viable entry strategy, because the chalk seems far stronger on this slate than any other preseason DFS slate I can recall.
Note that this article was written before either DraftKings or FanDuel officially posted the Saturday DFS slate. There are five games in total on the day with one kicking off three hours before the rest. It is unclear whether or not it will be included on the main slate for each slate, but this article was written under the assumption that it will be included. If the early game is ultimately is omitted from the slate, the article will be updated accordingly in bold red font with a timestamp.
Best of luck to everyone playing and if you have any questions, comments, or concerns feel free to reach out to me on Twitter @ThaGreatZambino!
Patrick Mahomes II, Kansas City Chiefs
The Kansas City Chiefs' Twitter account confirmed that the team's starters are slated to play the first two-quarters of their second preseason game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Unlike last year, there is no mystery surrounding the talent possessed by Patrick Mahomes II following one of the greatest seasons ever by a quarterback. In week two of the preseason, most players are typically capped at about two quarters of playing time. Following the announcement that Mahomes and company will approach that benchmark, many of these players immediately become elite DFS targets. Mahomes will likely be one of the most-rostered players on the entire slate, but in cash games, there is no reason to overthink things. Mahomes is the top option at quarterback on Saturday's slate of games.
Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh Steelers
Mason Rudolph posted some very respectable numbers in the second half of Pittsburgh's first preseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Following Rudolph's two-touchdown performance in limited action, Mike Tomlin has elected to start Rudolph for the team's second preseason game. Tomlin and the rest of the coaching staff want to both see Rudolph work with the first-team offense and against a first-team defense this week, and he will likely get about two-quarters of action as well. This matchup against the Chiefs has the highest total of any game on the slate (46.5 points,) which encapsulates the market's expectations for Rudolph in the starting role. Rudolph offers a contrarian option for exposure to a game that's expected to be as close to a shootout as anyone will see in the preseason. Lastly, Rudolph is easily stackable with his college teammate James Washington to maximize leverage in tournament lineups.
Darrell Henderson, Los Angeles Rams
Darrell Henderson played 34 percent of the Rams' offensive plays in the preseason opener against Oakland, but he only carried the ball 6 times for 13 yards. Head coach Sean McVay has typically used the preseason as an opportunity to evaluate players at the bottom half of the roster. Henderson, however, is in a bit of unique situation, as he may be heavily relied upon throughout the season to preserve Todd Gurley's health. While Henderson's showing in week one of the preseason did little to inspire hope amongst fantasy owners and the Rams coaching staff alike, he will surely get another crack at it this weekend against Dallas. Look for Henderson's involvement in the Rams offense to increase as McVay tries to pin down exactly what his role on the team will be once the regular season kicks off.
Kareem Hunt, Cleveland Browns
Kareem Hunt returned to practice this week for the Cleveland Browns and he is expected to make his preseason debut in a Browns uniform Saturday against the Colts. Seemingly all reports out of Browns-Colts joint practices have been positive for Hunt in his return to the practice field. Dontrell Hilliard, Cleveland's training camp standout at the running back position, will likely miss the game with a hamstring injury that kept him out of practice late in the week, which may lead to increased playing time for Kareem Hunt. This is speculation, though, as Freddy Kitchens has been tight-lipped regarding how long Hunt may play in his debut, but a player of Hunt's talent-level may not need very much playing time to make a difference both for Cleveland and DFS lineups.
Jonathan Williams, Indianapolis Colts
Jonathan Williams impressed in the first preseason game of the season with 8 carries for 24 yards and 5 receptions for 33 yards. While the efficiency carrying the football may not be anything outstanding, his involvement in the passing game is particularly interesting for preseason DFS. 8.3 DraftKings points or 5.8 FanDuel points solely through the air is a remarkable number for a running back playing under 50 percent of his team's total offensive snaps. Williams has impressed in practice as well, as Zak Keefer of The Athletic has speculated Williams may be the team's third running back on the depth chart right now. Watch for Jonathan Williams to once again see the bulk of the action in the Colts' backfield in week two of the 2019 preseason.
Darwin Thompson, Kansas City Chiefs
Darwin Thompson showcased his talents in the Chiefs' preseason opener both on the ground and through the air. Thompson carried the ball 5 times for 22 yards and caught 1 pass for a 29-yard touchdown. Thompson proved to have many of the physical traits of a successful NFL running back across his six touches, as he both ran through and hurdled over various defenders during his time in the game.
While Carlos Hyde will likely get the start for Kansas City in this game, but his training camp has been highly underwhelming thus far. Some are even speculating that Hyde will end up as the odd-man-out when all is said and done, and the roster gets trimmed down to 53-men. If this comes to fruition, it will likely be in large part due to the performance of Darwin Thompson. Darwin Thompson will probably see the lion's share of the reps when the backups enter the game for Kansas City as well as a handful of first-team reps to see how he fairs against stiffer competition.
6:00 PM UPDATE
Damarea Crockett and Karan Higdon both have impressed throughout camp and are expected to get significant playing time tonight for the Houston Texans. Battling for what may be the last running back spot on the roster, both need a strong performance against the Lions.
Damien Harris is warming up for the New England Patriots and is expected to make his preseason debut for the team against the Tennessee Titans. With the majority of the team's starters inactive for the game, this provides Harris with plenty of opportunity to carve out his role on this offense once the regular season starts.
Jakobi Meyers, New England Patriots
Jakobi Meyers has impressed from Day 1 at New England's training camp, and he certainly did not stop in the team's first preseason game. In Meyers' first taste of NFL action, he lived up to all hype surrounding his strong start to his NFL career to the tune of 6 receptions for 69 yards and 2 touchdowns. Meyers has given fans little reason to lower any expectations before his second outing against the Tennessee Titans. Additionally, the Patriots became increasingly thin at the wide receiver position during the final days of training camp. In the team's last day of joint practices with the Titans, the Patriots had only six wide receivers healthy enough for drills against the Titans' secondary. The lack of available options for Bill Belichick at wide receiver should lead to increased playing time for Jakobi Meyers and subsequently increased production.
James Washington, Pittsburgh Steelers
James Washington started for the Steelers in week one of the preseason and played in 35 percent of the team's total offensive snaps on the night against Tampa Bay. In just over one-third of a game Washington compiled an impressive 4 catches for 84 yards and 1 touchdown on 5 targets. Entering week two of the preseason, Washington will likely be playing alongside a different, but more familiar quarterback with the first-team offense. Mason Rudolph, Washington's college quarterback at Oklahoma State, will start for Pittsburgh against Kansas City. Washington will likely see the field for more than 35 percent of the team's offensive snaps in week two of the preseason as they begin to prep for the regular-season grind. The increased snap-count coupled with a far more familiar quarterback under-center should once again make James Washington a viable option in all preseason DFS contests.
Brandon Powell, Detroit Lions
Leading up to Detroit's preseason opener against New England there was a lot of buzz surrounding Brandon Powell and his training camp performances leading up to the game. Unfortunately, the Lions were dominated in every facet of the game, allowing for only 17 pass attempts for the team en route to a 31-3 defeat. The bad news did not end there for the Lions, as the team lost Jermaine Kearse for the season after he suffered a broken leg on the opening drive of the game. Kearse was poised to start ahead of Powell, presumably in the slot. Before the injury, Powell was fighting for a roster spot, potentially as a special teams weapon for the Lions. Now, however, entering the second preseason game, Powell is battling to be the potential fourth option for Matthew Stafford once the regular season kicks off. Saturday will play a critical role in the Lions' final decision regarding Powell's standing with the team. Watch for the young speedster to thrive on underneath routes against the Houston Texans as he looks to put the finishing touches on a strong training camp.
Jon'Vea Johnson, Dallas Cowboys
Jon'Vea Johnson has impressed throughout training camp with his ability to create separation on both short and deep routes. Unfortunately, Johnson failed to convert that separation into production against the San Francisco 49ers in week one of the preseason, as he dropped a few passes and only hauled in 3 of his 8 targets on the game. Opposite Johnson for the majority of his playing time was Cedrick Wilson, another impressive wide receiver throughout training camp. Unfortunately, Wilson entered concussion protocol late in the game and his availability for the Cowboys' second preseason game is in question. If Wilson is inactive against the Rams on Saturday evening, Johnson may once again finish the slate as one of the most targeted players on any team. Additionally, expect Johnson's 37.5 percent catch rate to rise throughout the preseason, making Johnson an exceptional DFS target.
Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs' starters are expected to play the first two-quarters of the team's second preseason game. Tight end is a notoriously difficult position to project in preseason DFS, which makes two full quarters of Travis Kelce very enticing. Kelce was the most-targeted tight end in the NFL last season, and there is no reason to expect much to change this year. Last week in just one drive Kelce caught 1 pass for 37 yards, good for 4.7 DraftKings points or 4.2 FanDuel points. This total may seem low, but in preseason DFS players are hard-pressed to find anything comparable at this position. Kelce will almost certainly be the most-rostered tight end in all formats on Saturday, but it is tough to argue against Kelce at such a thin position. Fading Kelce in cash games would be overcomplicating the lineup-building process and fading him in tournaments is not for the faint of heart.
Currently, no other tight ends stand out as strong options or pivots away from Kelce. Should anything change as news of expected playing time and potential inactives comes in this section will be updated accordingly.
No particular defense projects especially strong right now, but, again, as news regarding expected playing time and potential inactives comes in this section will be updated accordingly.
The general strategy for choosing a defense is to select a one that faces zero players in your lineup elsewhere. For example, if your lineup is finished aside from the DST position and it features zero players from the Houston Texans on this slate, then consider using the Detroit Lions defense to avoid any potential negatively-correlating plays.