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With the new three-game preseason, we were unsure what to expect from the first round of warmup games. As it turns out, there was no uniform response across the league. Some teams played starters for a series or two, other teams sprinkled in a few of their younger starters, and some teams kept their starters safe on the sidelines.
There are a ton of situations we are watching for clarification. The games gave us clues about what is going on with some of them, and we got a little help with most teams posting their initial depth charts ahead of the first preseason games, but we have to be careful and not overreact to some of the things we are seeing early. There are a lot of ongoing competitions across the league. Some coaches use early depth charts as motivational tools to get guys going, and many coaches will make a statement by listing rookies at the bottom of the initial depth charts just to make them earn their way up.
Some veteran starters are not expected to see any action during the preseason. I expect most teams will approach the second round of practice games as they previously used the third one, with starters playing much of the first half. Next week should give us our best look. Until then, this is what I have seen.
J.J. Watt’s career in Arizona is off to a shaky start. He landed on the PUP during training camp after tweaking a hamstring. Watt made it through a full slate of games in two of the last three seasons but has a history of hamstring issues. This one is not believed to be serious, and he has almost three more weeks to get healthy, but we need to keep an eye on this.
With Hasaan Reddick gone, the Cardinals had Marcus Golden starting opposite Chandler Jones at outside linebacker. Golden made a couple of impact plays in the first quarter against Dallas. He is an underrated edge defender and should provide good late-round value for managers in big-play-based leagues.
Isaiah Simmons and Zaven Collins played against Dallas. Simmons looked good, but Collins was downright impressive. He was quick to trigger and highly disruptive while in the game. It was a brief look but was enough to make me say wow.
Jalen Thompson is listed as the starting safety opposite Budda Baker on the initial depth chart. I expected Shawn Williams to be in the mix for that spot, but he is currently third-string behind Chris Banjo. Injuries have made this spot a revolving door over the last couple of seasons, but there is enough potential for whoever starts here to have some value. Banjo left Friday’s game with a hamstring injury.
Atlanta sat most of their defensive starters against the Titans, so there was not much to learn from the game. Their depth chart does give us some insight, though. Steven Means and Jacob Tuloti-Mariner are listed as the starting outside linebackers, with Dante Fowler Jr behind Means. Maybe this is the new defensive coordinator's way of motivating Fowler, but there is nothing good about it for IDP managers.
The Falcons list Eric Harris and Duron Harmon as the starting safeties, with second-round pick Richie Grant third string. Grant looked pretty good against the Titans, so we should not put much emphasis on this. I expect he will be at least the third safety by week one.
Malik Harrison is listed as the starter opposite Patrick Queen on the Ravens' first depth chart, and he lined up with the starters against the Saints. Harrison was strong against the run, making solid plays, including a forced fumble to end the first drive. Unfortunately, he exited stage left on passing downs. Harrison and Queen were the only inside linebackers to see action with the first team, which could signify that Chris Board and L.J. Fort will be relegated to backup roles instead of being part of a rotation as they were last season. By the way, Queen is going to be a beast this year!
Buffalo sat starters, and their depth chart shows no surprises. One player that did catch my eye is rookie Greg Rosseau who had an early sack against the Lions’ starting offense. Rosseau had another pressure or two as well and was generally disruptive.
Carolina sat their defensive starters, but there are some fascinating notes when looking at their depth charts. Jeremy Chinn is listed as the free safety with Juston Burris at strong. The positional designation has little bearing when it comes to Chinn, who moves all over the place. Pro Football Focus charted Chinn all over the formation last season. He lined up in the box on 392 snaps, along the D-line on 84, slot corner 230 times, wide corner 24, and free safety 237 snaps.
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