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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:
Trevor Lawrence, the 1.01 NFL Draft pick and anointed as such since entering college at Clemson, perked up in the final game of the preseason with a strong showing. While losing Round 1 pick Travis Etienne is a potential loss this season, the supporting cast of weapons is still sturdy for Lawrence with D.J. Chark Jr, Laviska Shenault Jr, Marvin Jones Jr, and James Robinson of note. 1.01 NFL Draft picks hit for top-12 seasons 77% of the time, but Year 1 is a rare occurrence, and they average a finish in the QB20-25 range.
Zach Wilson, like Lawrence, is projected to start Week 1, and there was minimal suspense in the decision. Wilson has the play-making arm talent and mobility to dazzle. The early-built connection with Corey Davis is a positive sign from the preseason, including the return of Jamison Crowder and the drafting of Elijah Moore. Historically, the No.2 overall selection through the mid-first round for drafted quarterbacks has similar fantasy success rates.
Trey Lance projects as the least likely to start early in the season among the notable rookie quarterbacks. Being inserted with various packages has been the plan out of 49ers camp and San Francisco projects as a quality team, which can certainly push towards the postseason with Jimmy Garoppolo under center. Lance has an elite rushing profile and, even with growing pains as a passer, can be the first strong fantasy producer of this year's class at the position once starting.
Justin Fields showed his rushing upside in the preseason and showed some promise as a passer despite not playing with the Bears' best weapons. Andy Dalton is set to start the season, but the leash is likely short for the veteran. Expect to see Fields sooner rather than later outside of Dalton leading the Bears to an early winning record. Like Lance, Fields can be a fantasy starter even without strong passing panache early in his career as one of the stronger rushers of the entire positional landscape.
Mac Jones' path to start was cleared with Cam Newton's release promptly before the season. Jones had an excellent preseason, showing accuracy, timing, and creating a rhythm for the Patriots' passing game. The weapons are improved from a year ago with Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry, and Jonnu Smith notable additions from New England's make-shift offense through the air. Jones' rushing upside is minimal and even if a success as a passer, there is a potential disconnect between being on a quality trajectory as an NFL quarterback compared to a meaningful fantasy option outside of QB-premium formats.
Kyle Trask, Kellen Mond, and Davis Mills, all drafted in the same five-pick zone of Day 2, are the best of the rest for the rookies. Mond and Trask are firmly affixed behind clear starters, and Trask could be even more of a 2022 projection for any chance of starts with Blaine Gabbert working as the QB2 in the preseason for the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. Mills has a shot to start as a rookie even without injury with Deshaun Watson in limbo for the season and not projected to play anytime soon this season, while Tyrod Taylor has thrown just 36 passes over the past two seasons combined. Taylor is far from a strong bet to start the entire season for a Houston team more likely to draft in the top-five than competing for a playoff spot.
Rookie Running Backs
The class lacked an elite prospect like Ezekiel Elliott or Saquon Barkley in recent years, but two, Najee Harris and Travis Etienne, collected Round 1 pedigree, and Javonte Williams went in the early second round. Etienne is already out until 2022 with an injury, but his Year 1 opportunity was a question mark with James Robinson and Carlos Hyde on the depth chart.
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