Some fantasy analysts claim the preseason doesn’t matter. Some claim that it matters a lot. In actuality, some truth resides within both of these statements. The real answer is the preseason matters more for some teams and players than it does for others.
For teams with undecided depth charts, pairing clues from the preseason with what beat writers are reporting helps to decipher roles. For teams installing a new offense, it can also be important to see how they are deploying personnel groupings. Finally, some players have question marks around certain aspects of their game and preseason gives us a chance to see if they are progressing, remaining the same, or regressing.
Each week in the preseason can take on a life of its own depending on the goals for the team. If a team rests all starters that can be a message in itself. Who starts in this type of scenario is notable, but some teams may intentionally start a bottom of the roster player to determine if he should be cut or not.
Context and knowing what to look for are keys to unlocking valuable fantasy nuggets in the preseason. Week one provides us with a baseline to revisit as the preseason progresses.
The Cardinals deployed a quick passing attack on their one drive with Kyler Murray and the starting offensive line on the field. Kliff Kingsbury utilized 11 personnel on 9 of 11 snaps. Kingsbury went four wide only one time, and Murray quickly sacked by a four-man rush from the Chargers backups. The offensive line is something to monitor as it could limit the big play upside of this offense. Murray looked crisp but wasn’t asked to uncork a big throw. Maxx Williams played 10 of 11 snaps while Ricky Seals-Jones didn’t see the field with the starters.
Gus Edwards played the first and second drives with Lamar Jackson. Kenneth Dixon worked in on the third drive with the backups, and Justice Hill got out there on the fourth drive. When hill got his chance he showed some juice.
Justice Hill didn't see the field until the 4th drive of the night for the Ravens (After Edwards / Dixon) but as Marcus points out below he showed some of what people love about him when he got his chance.— Context Matters (@dwainmcfarland) August 9, 2019
Rumors that Dixon may be on bubble. https://t.co/11u0aGjbZ6
Lamar Jackson made some nice throws in the middle of the field but struggled to connect on deeper throws outside like last year. Jackson still has time to improve, but this is a trend.
Actionable Advice: Don’t prioritize outside receivers in this passing game at this time. Mark Andrews and whoever takes the slot role will likely be the most targeted and most efficient passing components. Justice Hill is still a great stash later in drafts due to his unique skill set that differs from the other backs in this offense. He is a riskier pick, but you get him at a time in drafts when risk levels are rising with all selections.
There is not a lot to report from a player perspective, but new head coach Zac Taylor held to his Rams roots in this game. Of 15 snaps charted with the starters, 13 of them were from 11 personnel despite missing key receivers.
Notable Inactives: N/A
Actionable Advice: Pollard should be getting taken in all drafts. He will share the load if Ezekiel Elliott misses time, but his pass-catching prowess and status as the starter make him a potential league winner if the hold out gets ugly.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers are installing a new offense under Matt LaFleur. All reports from camp have Marquez Valdes-Scantling serving as the number two option. Geronimo Allison is in line for slot duties. That played out in game one. Both could serve as viable fantasy options, but Allison’s value ties to how LaFleur decides to deploy personnel groupings.
LaFleur has coaching roots tied to Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan. McVay runs 11 personnel (three wide receivers) about 90% of his plays. Shanahan utilizes much more 12 (two tight ends) and 21 (two running backs) groupings. Last season LaFleur deployed 11 only 56% of the time and utilized 12 personnel on 30% of plays with the Titans despite losing Delanie Walker in week one to injury.
The Packers utilized 12 or 21 this week on 9 of 16 snaps with DeShon Kizer in at quarterback. So far it appears LaFleur is leaning towards using 11 groupings more in line with what he did last season and during his time with Shanahan.
Actionable Advice: Allison isn’t a complete fade at this point because this is just one game. Prioritizing him after players like Valdes-Scantling, Curtis Samuel, Corey Davis, and Sammy Watkins is advisable.
Conley getting held out with other offensive starters bodes well for his spot in the pecking order. He is likely the No. 2 receiver to start the season. Marqise Lee isn’t expected to be ready for the opener. Ryquell Armstead worked in after Alfred Blue.
Actionable Advice: Conley is worth a flier in deeper leagues, especially with Marqise Lee not expected to be ready for the opener.
Los Angeles Rams
Darrell Henderson has been anxious to show improvement recently at camp in this zone running scheme. However, it didn’t show up during this game. Henderson ran for 14 yards on two power style runs (similar to Memphis) but registered minus one yard on four zone and inside duo (similar to inside zone) runs.
(1/2) #Rams Darrell Henderson update— Context Matters (@dwainmcfarland) August 12, 2019
Had same play marked in #Rams game notes
Notable - DH told RB coach he was going to improve knowing O better (more zone than Memphis) last week and said, "got to relax and slow down and play."
Power: 2 for 14 Yds
Zone: 4 for -1 Yd https://t.co/5Yl4cbfKSv
Kallen Ballage has received buzz recently due to starting at running back during team drills several times. However, it was Kenyan Drake that took the field first with the starters this week. Ballage took the second drive with starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the game.
Who starts between these two is likely a technicality from week to week. Drake is still the back to own, given the likely scenario that the Dolphins will often be trailing. However, the potential upside for a larger workload is evaporating given Ballage’s consistent presence with the first team.
Actionable Advice: This situation seems pretty solidly set at this point. Don’t prioritize Drake in your draft plans but be willing to grab him as your third running back anytime from round seven and on if you are drafting soon.
Notable Inactives: Dalvin Cook
The Vikings leaned heavily on 12 and 21 personnel on six of eight snaps during the drive with the starters.
Kyle Rudolph looked good, and this Gary Kubiak scheme is going to create more good looks thank many realize. With no proven third wide receiver, this team could run more 12 and 21 looks than most. They opened the game in this look with Rudolph and rookie Irv Smith on the field. Given this development, Adam Thielen is likely in jeopardy of running far fewer routes from the slot this season. When in their 11 personnel grouping, Chad Beebe, was in the slot.
Actionable Advice: Kyle Rudolph is a value given his role in this offensive scheme. Adam Thielen is better as a late third than early or mid-third. His catch rate is going to slip a tad playing outside and his targets could as well given Cousin’s love for throwing at the hashes inside. Mattison is one of the top handcuffs you can draft, and he goes later than most.
New Orleans Saints
Notable Inactives: Drew Brees
Alvin Kamara played ten snaps to five for Latavius Murray on the first drive with the starters. Ted Ginn Jr and Tre'Quan Smith were both on the field for 11 personnel sets. They split snaps from 12 and 21 groupings.
Actionable Advice: Smith and Ginn will likely have similar roles. Smith should be drafted first given his youthful upside, but Ginn is worth a selection as well in deeper leagues.
New York Jets
Notable Inactives: Le'Veon Bell
Jamison Crowder played well on the first drive with Sam Darnold catching two passes. One was a nice run after the catch that totaled 28 yards, and the other was for a touchdown. It wasn’t too long ago Crowder was a fantasy darling and was drafted inside the top ten rounds.
Darnold looked sharp after a nearly intercepted first throw.
Actionable Advice: Jamison Crowder and Darnold are worth a pick in later rounds, especially in deeper leagues.
Moncrief has been in and out of practice since injuring his finger, so the meaning behind him missing this game is a bit cloudy. Was it because he is a starter or because he was injured? He is currently a starter on the first depth chart which matches observations from beat reporters.
Camp reports have James Washington trailing Moncrief in the pecking order, but Washington did everything he could in this game to make his presence felt. He displayed a wide range application making different types of plays at every level of the field.
He caught a 43-yard deep ball that required him to high point the ball on the first drive. He had a nice run after the catch after securing a short crossing route for 22 yards. He secured an in-breaking route in the middle of the field with multiple defenders lurking. He displayed great body control and ability to create space in tight quarters with a back-shoulder touchdown catch and just missed another touchdown not getting his first toe down.
Actionable Advice: Continue to draft Washington as his ADP drops. Even as the third receiver, Washington could hold significant value in this high volume passing offense. If he continues to perform like this, he could find himself much higher in the pecking order.
Sanders has had an outstanding camp by most accounts, but Howard has also done well. Insider, Adam Caplan, backed up the sentiment of Sanders being the best back in camp but also indicated Howard and Sproles have roles.
Actionable Advice: Understand what you are getting if you take Sanders at ADP. He could turn into a league winner if Doug Pederson goes away from his three back rotation or if injury strikes. However, until that point, he could be a frustrating weekly start. Jordan Howard is a buy at current ADP given the discount.
San Francisco 49ers
Dante Pettis was the only offensive skill position player to play in this game. Kyle Shanahan has recently challenged Pettis to play better and might be sending a message by leaving him in this game for three series. Pettis is known for his elite route running and separation skills but is struggling to play through contact.
Actionable Advice: Pettis still belongs in the tier with Robby Anderson, Allen Robinson, Christian Kirk, Will Fuller V, Curtis Samuel, and Marquez Vales-Scantling but the allure to pluck him from this tier first is less exciting.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Notable Inactives: N/A
Peyton Barber started the game and took the first seven snaps with Ronald Jones getting the next five. Each player had some solid runs, but Barber made a great play out of nothing versus a penetrating defensive tackle and linebacker blowing up his tackle. He avoided the defensive tackle, hurdled the falling tackle and linebacker, and stuck the landing finishing with a spin move. The play could have easily lost three yards but ended up as an eight-yard game. A running back by committee (RBBC) is in the making.
O.J. Howard never came off of the field while Winston was playing despite Cameron Brate garnering several snaps. Brate isn’t stealing work from Howard; he is simply the fourth receiver when this team goes to 12 personnel. In 11 it is wide receiver Breshad Perriman getting work with Howard.
Bruce Arians has spent a lot of time talking up Chris Godwin this offseason including comments such as “he will never come off the field.” That was the case in this game, and Godwin was protected nearly every play by either alignment (all slot snaps) or motion. Godwin also made a very nice play on a screen for a touchdown.
Gotta share the slowmo on Godwin TD detailed above.— Context Matters (@dwainmcfarland) August 10, 2019
Integrates catching the ball and positioning body for RAC into one movement. Points shoulders downfield as securing catch.
Gets low to break tackle attempt of smaller opponent understanding the situation. pic.twitter.com/JNjiafEk4K
Actionable Advice: Barber is being under drafted and appears to be the lead back in an RBBC situation. The presence of Brate is no reason to pass on O.J. Howard in this offense – select him with confidence at ADP. Chris Godwin’s ADP continues to rise but should still return value in the fourth and fifth rounds.
It could be meaningless given all of the starters missing. However, the team did pay Humphries well, and head coach Mike Vrabel spent time playing with Wes Welker while in New England (whom they outbid for Humphries services).
If the Titans lean heavier to passing and utilize more 11 personnel under new coordinator, Arthur Smith, Humphries could have sneaky value.
Actionable Advice: This more of a situation to monitor, but in deeper leagues, Humphries is worth a late pick to see how this plays out for now.