Yes, yes, yes child, I understand: don’t overreact to the preseason. Offenses and defenses are using vanilla schemes. Many players are resting. No Week One product is going to be fully fleshed out in exhibition action, this is all true, especially in the first set of games.
Still, plenty of meaningful fantasy football nuggets can be pulled out from the game tape. We get glimpses at new coaching schemes and player fits (re: Exotic Smashmouth last year). We see if all the “best-shape-of-his-life” puff pieces hold any weight. Potential roles and usage rates can gain some clarity.
Simply put: Fantasy Wolves consider all possible evidence, and the preseason is no exception.
Below are our Fantasy Winners and Losers from the first week of action. All will be seeing the appropriate rise and fall on my Top-150 Big Board, with an explanation why.
Preseason Week 1: Fantasy Football Winners
1) Kelvin Benjamin (CAR – WR): Only one month ago I was labeling Benjamin one of the Top Five Most Overpriced Players to Avoid. He was looking like a reserve guard in OTAs photos, and I severely doubted his ability to shed all that weight and re-emerge as a true difference maker.
In one series of action, my stance has taken a complete turn. Benjamin looked slimmed down and was a flat out monster on the field, stiff-arming fools to the ground on his first 17-yard reception before making this leaping 23 yard TD grab over Jonathan Joseph.
— Roto Street Journal (@RotoStJournal) August 9, 2017
Despite this encouraging performance, questions still need to be answered: Can we trust Cam Newton to consistently deliver the rock? Is the offensive shift to a quicker-strike attack going to be detrimental to Benjamin’s usage? Where will he rank on the target totem pole with new weapons Christian McCaffrey and Curtis Samuel now here?
Still, the most glaring and important issue has been addressed: Benjamin is no longer fat.
Instead, he’s in-shape looks plenty motivated to prove his initial doubters wrong. Thus, Benjamin immediately rockets up from the bench stashes into the startable fantasy products as a huge-ceiling WR3.
2) Dalvin Cook (MIN – RB): Similar to Benjamin, Cook’s fantasy outlook has taken a complete 180 this summer, and he will no longer be listed on our Draft Guide’s “Overpriced List” for our August Update (coming in two weeks). Cook has been rolling all summer in Latavius Murray‘s absence, earning his coach and teammates’ trusts while firmly establishing himself as the lead RB — a role that could yield 300+ touches, according to beat writers.
That workload seemed ludicrous just a week ago. After Thursday, it may be an underestimate. Cook touched the ball on 7 of the 10 plays with the first team offense, and looked highly impressive in the process. Despite minimal room to run, Cook got skinny in the hole and never stopped falling forward or churning his legs. More encouragingly, he led the team with four targets, hauling in all for 30 yards. This offense will again be dump-off city, and Cook is a real threat for 50+ receptions.
Admittedly, the offensive line, a major reason for our initial skepticism, still looked horrendous Thursday. This, however, could be neutralized with Bradford constantly facing pressure and turning immediately to his rookie for the quick pass bailout. Even in an unappealing offense and behind a weak line, I’m now convinced Cook has the talent and will see the volume to transcend his awful situation and yield quality RB2 numbers, at minimum. With Chris Ivory and TJ Yeldon working in ahead of Leonard Fournette, while Christian McCaffrey splits reps with Jonathan Stewart, Cook now warrants consideration at the top of rookie in redraft leagues with the most guaranteed workload of the bunch.
3) Joe Mixon (CIN – RB)
Unlike Cook, Mixon was listed as the third-stringer on Cincinnati’s initial depth chart and faces serious workload questions. This was emphasized further with Jeremy Hill getting the starting nod on Friday.
Still, these tides seem bound to shift after Mixon put on a dazzling show with his first 7 NFL touches. Working in with the ones, Mixon showed his trademark patience and vision at the point of attack while slashing through the defense for 31 yards on six carries. Additionally, he caught a ball in the flat and made three defenders miss to add five plus yards for a big first down on what looked like a doomed play.
Though he’s been playing depth chart games to begin the preseason, Marvin Lewis has called Mixon “off-the-charts, talent wise.” This was highly evident in his first live NFL action, and the team will have no choice but to feed this ability if he keeps impressing. Mixon rises back into my top-20 RBs, and makes a fantastic upside selection in the fourth round of all leagues.
4) Kenny Golladay (DET – WR): Read any Detroit practice recap, and chances are this rookie third round WR’s name will pop up. Golladay’s reportedly been “devastating” in red zone practice drills, which immediately translated on Sunday as the monstrous target exploded for two TDs while hauling in 3-of-3 looks for 53 yards. As advertised, Golladay was dominating contested balls by routinely using his 6’4″ frame to “box out” defenders in traffic, including a grab in between the safety and corner.
With Anquan Boldin‘s 22 red zone looks now up for grabs, Golladay’s clearly making his case for a role. He immediately slides to the top of 2017’s WR “Penny Stock” list, and could rise further with continued dominance.
5) Robby Anderson (NYJ – WR): We turn from one “Penny Stock” WR to the next, as Robby Anderson dominated on Saturday in his new No. 1 wideout role. Due to inconsistent, drop-filled practices, beat writers have questioned Anderson’s ability to shoulder this passing attack after Quincy Enunwa‘s injury. Yet, Anderson’s proven a true gamer, and once on the actual field, he shined.
Anderson dusted Logan Ryan for a 53 yard bomb from Josh McCown and ultimately caught 3-of-3 targets for 71 yards in just a quarter of burn. On a team that’ll be frequently playing from behind, Anderson could see 100+ targets. Indeed, he may struggle with consistency and drops, but Anderson has also put numerous highlight reel catches on tape and, thanks to a 4.36 forty, can absolutely blaze his 6’3″ flame down the field. The upside is monumental given the current price — 167 on the ECR Big Board and 168 in ADP.
6) Philip Rivers (LAC – QB): Perennially undervalued by the fantasy community, Rivers looked primed for a career year on his lone drive. We caught our first glimpse at Anthony Lynn / Ken Whisenhunt‘s hybrid offense, and it looks like a glove-like fit for Rivers and his surrounding talent. The team operated in multiple tight end, bunch formations, getting creative with Hunter Henry and Antonio Gates‘ alignments. The team moved down the field with ease and at a breakneck pace, while Rivers enjoyed clean pockets all night, ultimately going 5-for-6 for 56 yards and a TD to Gates. Fellow Fantasy Wolf Derek Brown sang Rivers’ praises on our own Fantasy Fullback Dive podcast, calling him 2017’s Matt Ryan and labeling him “the move that will win people titles.” Sunday night did nothing but fuel this fire.
7) Mike Evans, Jameis Winston, and the TB Offense: All offseason we’ve been predicting Tampa will emerge as the league’s next juggernaut, as creative head coach Dirk Koetter finally has the talent to match his “chunk play,” Four Verticals scheme. Friday did nothing to slow down our hype.
Winston looked incredibly sharp Friday, going 9-of-13 for 99 yards while operating at a rapid fire pace. In the process Mike Evans looks completely dominant yet again, seeing a whopping 7 targets in under a quarter of action, which he ultimately turned into 58 yards. He additionally saw two end zone attempts, but appeared held on both plays despite drawing no flags. Regardless, please bury those concerns that his volume is about to take a dramatic hit. Evans should be considered a real threat to lead the NFL in yardage, and with Julio Jones year-to-year injury concerns, I’m ready to move Evans up as my No. 2 fantasy wideout.
This offense is going to put on a show, yet key pieces like Doug Martin and DeSean Jackson can be found after Round 7. Capitalize.
8) Joe Williams (SF – RB): Though Williams was the third 49ers back to receive playing time, he was easily the most impressive. The fourth-round rookie absolutely gashed the Chiefs, displaying his patented acceleration and speed with two 17 yards bursts to open the night. Kyle Shanahan featured Williams in a number of different ways – outside zone runs, inside zone runs, toss sweeps, toss counters – and Williams excelled at everything. He ultimately finished with 60 yards on seven attempts, a healthy 8.6 YPA, but his numbers could have been even more impressive after having 17, 15, and 9 yard plays all called back due to penalty.
Shanahan has never been bashful about starting rookie running backs if they fit his system the best. Not long ago, Alfred Morris (undrafted) and Steve Slaton (third round) tallied 1,600+ total yard and 10+ TD rookie campaigns under the new head coach, and he’s already spoken at length about how he “would’ve lost sleep” had the team missed on Williams. Whether before the season starts or midyear, Williams feels bound to make starts in the uber-productive zone blocking scheme he was handpicked for, and Friday was a definite step in the right direction. This is the type of late upside (141 ADP) that can win you your league.
9) Spencer Ware (KC – Chiefs): Despite all the Kareem Hunt buzz, Ware’s grip on the starting gig appeared very firm in this one. He operated as the lone featured back with the starters, and received a typical Andy Reid smattering of carries and catches, ultimately rushing four times for six yards and a touchdown while adding three catches for 20 yards. Ware looked nimble in the open field on his receptions, and showed his typical nose for the end zone on a powerful two yard plunge.
This obviously remains a “Must Monitor” situation, as Hunt is an ideal fit for this offense and has received oodles of praise this offseason. But Friday was a strong reminder of Ware’s own talent and grittiness, which the coaching staff loves. Most encouragingly, this did not have the look of a shared backfield, with Ware staying in on all downs. Thus, Ware should be a highly valuable RB2 for as long as he maintains the starting role — a major question mark, no doubt.
10) Rob Kelley (WAS – RB): Unlike the players above him, Kelley isn’t a winner due to his own on-field play. In fact, his 7 yards on 4 total touches were pretty disgusting. Still, Kelley worked exclusively with the ones, and Samaje Perine did nothing but fumble and get stuffed in his work with the twos. Leading into the game, beat writers had observed how Kelley was “the clear No.1 back,” and Thursdays contest did nothing but confirm, and even further, this narrative. Thus, he’s set for extensive work in an explosive offense behind a top-10 line. Even with his own deficiencies, Kelley should ride this situation to RB2 numbers whenever active. This creates tremendous value for the 98th player on the Experts Consensus Board and 92nd player in ADP.
- Thomas Rawls drew the start over Eddie Lacy and was the only tailback to roll with the ones. As we predicted, Rawls could absolutely start here, yet continues being drafted three – four rounds after the tub of Chinese Food. Fix this.
- Hue Jackson made good on his word of using Duke Johnson as his moveable “Queen” chess piece. He was motioning all over the place as a WR, and offers a huge sneaky ceiling as one of 2017s top “Handcuff with Benefits.”
- Darren McFadden played all 19 snaps with the starters, and showed strong burst doing so. He’s the clear back to own behind Ezekiel Elliott, although I think better band-aid options exist.
Preseason Week 1 Losers
Although the preseason often reveals positive trends like scheme fit, expected usage, and unforeseen talent, I try to avoid too many Stock Down arrows on this ultimately meaningless action. Still, negative depth chart developments or poor play can often trickle into the season. Here are the most important “losers” from this weekend:
1) Samaje Perine (WAS – RB): Performing worse than 7 yards on 4 touches would seem impossible. Yet, Perine dared to dream on Thursday, totaling robust 15 yards on six touches to go alongside a fumble, dropped pass, and missed blocking assignment. Puke.
Perine was reportedly already falling behind incumbent Rob Kelley after multiple camp blunders, and this performance all-but guarantees he’ll be riding pine come September. HC Jay Gruden didn’t hide his disappointment, noting:
Gruden on rookie RB Perine: 'Rough 1st start…a little fumble; dropped a pass; didn’t hit the hole as violently as we’d like him to.’
— Liz Clarke (@lizclarketweet) August 12, 2017
Kelley has never handled a full workload, so Perine shouldn’t be crossed off lists entirely — he’ll likely make some starts when all’s said and done. Still, the Oklahoma rookie has to drop below more promising rookies like Joe and Jamaal Williams.
2) Eddie Lacy (SEA – RB): Many Training Camp reports have placed Thomas Rawls as the clear number one back in practices:
Lacy working solely with backup units during team drills. Rawls appears clear number one right now.
— Bob Condotta (@bcondotta) August 9, 2017
Unfortunately for Lacy, this carried over into game action, as Tub Tub played strictly with the reserves while Rawls worked exclusively with the ones. Indeed, the team is paying Lacy a handsome sum, and there’s plenty of time for him to ascend… if he’s in-shape. He looked bleh on his 4 carries for 10 yards, however, and Lacy continues proving why he’s one of 2017’s most overpriced players to avoid.
Rawls, who has three 165 yard games in 16 starts, is clearly the better talent and fantasy value. Even so, both will lose receiving work to CJ Prosise while operating behind one of the league’s worst lines, making the situation quite unattractive from all angles.
3) Kareem Hunt (KC – RB): Hunt’s fall directly correlates to Ware’s aforementioned rise, as the impressive rookie still has quite a bit of ground to make up. Hunt didn’t sniff a snap with the starters, and was curiously utilized very sparingly thereafter, totaling one reception for nine yards and one carry for no gain. As a natural receiver from a West Coast system in Toldeo, Hunt fits Andy Reid‘s system perfectly. Thus, he remains likely to make a major impact at some point in 2017, but Hunt’s Day One appeal seems nonexistent at this point, and he needs to be drafted as a mere stash-and-see.
4) Ty Montgomery (GB – RB): Let me preface that I don’t think this game was a huge loss for Montgomery. He played 10-of-10 snaps with the starters while touching the ball on 40% of these plays, and seems generally locked-in as the top tailback.
Nonetheless, what he did with these touches was a bit concerning: 0 yards on three carries, and (gasp) a lost fumble. Encouragingly, the team immediately went back to Montgomery, suggesting he does have some leash here. Still, Mike McCarthy has cited pass-protection and ball-security woes as his two question marks with Montgomery, and the converted RB did nothing to quell these qualms. Also, rookie Jamaal Williams looked solid in his limited action, and has already outperformed Montgomery in pass protection drills early on.
Though I’m still a big believer in Montgomery, and he has plenty of time to iron out these issues, he still had the chance to run away with the role, and did nothing but take steps backwards. Here’s hoping for a much improved Week 2.
5) Andrew Luck (IND – QB) and Russell Wilson (SEA – QB): This might seem absurd with Luck not playing and Wilson showing well (3-for-4 for 41 yards). Yet, a major reason we’re far (re: over 50 spots) lower on these two signal callers than the expert community is their abysmal lines. Neither team made any serious moves to improve these, and the results showed Sunday. Wilson didn’t have a clean pocket all day, while every Colts QB was getting pummeled. A major concern is still glaring, and so often ignored by everyone else. With so much depth at QB this season, I’m fading both QBs, especially at the premium they cost. Give me Rivers 40 picks later, he’ll outscore both.
Whoever says the Preseason doesn’t matter clearly doesn’t play fantasy! Be sure to tune in every Monday as The Wolf recounts the week’s important action and reveals the Winners and Losers fantasy owners need to know. Be sure to harass him in the comments below or @RotoStreetWolf with any disagreements.
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