Though overreacting to Preseason Play and Training Camp Puff is a sheepish move, so too would be ignoring actually meaningful developments — Fantasy Wolves consider all possible evidence. From rapport building, to role development and unexpected usage, to overall team performances and glimpses at new schemes, plenty of important trends emerge in the preseason that cannot be ignored. Below, find out all the meaningful Fantasy Football Risers, Fallers, Sleepers and Takeaways from Preseason Week 3, aka “The Dress Rehearsal.” (Week 1 Takeaways here; Week 2 Takeaways here)
**Save the Magazine for the Sheep**: With all of the meaningful Preseason Action wrapped up, be sure to reserve your copy of our 2018 Draft Day Guide by joining the Fantasy Wolfpack (for FREE – limited time). This is loaded with 50+ pages of updated Bargains, Overpriced Avoids, and Penny Stocks.
1) Marquise Lee to IR: Keelan Cole, Dede Westbrook, Donte Moncrief and ASJ now have Clearer Path to Targets
Potential No.1 Jaguars WR Marquise Lee was carted off the field Saturday night, and has since been placed on the season-ending IR with knee damage. Though unfortunate for Lee, this makes a cloudy “Aerial Pie” just a little clearer with one less mouth to feed. Keelan Cole, last year’s leading receiver as an UDFA, seems likely to benefit the most, though athletic and explosive freaks like Dede Westbrook, Donte Moncrief, and Austin Seferian Jenkins all stand for a target bump and increased consistency as well.
Already a “Penny Stock” in our 2018 Preseason Kickoff Guide, Cole is now even more attractive with a 15+ Round ADP. He hasn’t been lighting the stat-sheet on fire this preseason, but he’s dominated first-team snaps. On 53 pass plays, Cole has logged 42 (78%), as compared to 31 for Moncrief (58%) and 26 for Westbrook (49%). A year after topping the team with 748 yards and 3 TDs, Cole seems destined to step into the clear No.1 role now with his main competition removed.
Plus, after (shockingly) ranking 5th in Total Offensive Points in 2017 (26.1 PPG), the Jaguars are reportedly ready to hit the gas pedal even further in Year 2 of OC Nathaniel Hackett‘s attack. Blake Bortles is reportedly now “fully pain-free,” and feels as though he is now “owning the offense” in his second season, allowing him to think less and play freer. Consequently, Hackett is promising a “more aggressive” Year 2 attack as he now feels a “you can trust that Blake is going to make the right decision more consistently.”
This is perfect for Cole, as well as Moncrief, Westbrook, and ASJ, who can all streak down the field with the best of them. Cole is my favorite of the bunch, especially after flatout dominant run to close 2017 (eerily similar to 2017 breakout Adam Thielen). In the last four weeks of 2017, Cole went 3-49-1 TD (Wk 13 v IND), 3-99-1 TD (Wk 14 v SEA), 7-186-1 TD (Wk 15 v HOU), and 6-108 (Wk 16), finishing as the No.2 WR in all of fantasy in this time span. Still, any of the bunch is worth a stab, as they all drip in ability and fall to the last rounds of fantasy drafts, and any one of them could emerge as the passing-game’s main vein
In order of most meaningful developments:
1) Ring the Bell Cow: Christian McCaffrey set to Explode in 2018
For the third straight game this preseason, Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey operated as a pure “Bell Cow” RB. McCaffrey logged 10 carries in the first quarter alone, and finished the night with 12 carries for 48 yards, in addition to 2 receptions for 16. He received a GL carry and converted, which was overturned on a hold. On the preseason, McCaffrey has played on 59-of-66 first team snaps (89%), as compared to 7-of-66 for CJ Anderson. (11%)
This includes every inside-10 snap, and confirms what was abundantly clear: McCaffrey will be a true workhorse in 2018. In roughly 2.5 quarters of action, McCaffrey finishes the preseason with 221 total yards (151 rushing), 2 TDs, and 21 touches (8 catches). Simply put, after being labeled calling “Overpriced” in our Preseason Kickoff Guide, McCaffrey’s far-and-away the biggest riser of this Preseason, now landing in the First Round (12th overall) of my latest Big Board.
After touching the ball only 12.3 times per game as a rookie, McCaffrey seems likely to double this total in his sophomore campaign, particularly as a rusher (only 117 carries last year). OC Norv Turner has a long history of riding a bell-cow, and called it “realistic” for McCaffrey to receive 25-30 touches a game — something HC Ron Rivera called “ideal.” Turner fed a similarly built 5’10, 220 lb LaDainian Tomlinson enormous workloads, and McCaffrey reportedly added 8-10 lbs of muscle this offseason in anticipation of more volume. Though this massive volume spike once seemed laughable, the preseason rates strongly suggest this will continue all year.
With immense “Individual Talent” and quality “Usage” in his favor, McCaffrey seems bound to explode. His line has been decimated with injury, and he is a bit small for this type of Bell Cow treatment. Still, McCaffrey was a true horse at Stanford and held up perfectly to massive usage, and Turner will be able to constantly get McCaffrey into space. Along with Jordan Howard, McCaffrey’s a Round 2 RB that seems bound to yield First Round value.
2) Emmanuel Sanders Continues Confirming Target Hog Status, Fantasy WR3 Steal
During “Dress Rehearsal Week” versus the Redskins, Broncos WR Emmanuel Sanders continued proving he’ll be Case Keenum’s “Target Hog” in 2018. The talented WR again led the team with up a 8 looks, 4 catches, and 61 yards, while adding a 27 yard TD run in which he broke roughly 1,000 tackles. In fact, Sanders accounted for 75 straight yards on said drive, and appears to be the passing-game engine of this offense.
Moreover, Sanders’ slot usage continues growing. Last night, he ran 74% of his routes out of the slot, raising his rate to 64%, as compared to 28% last season. This is HUGE, as Case Keenum LOVED peppering Adam Thielen out of the slot last year, especially on third-downs. Here, Thielen trailed only Keenan Allen and tied DeAndre Hopkins with 32% of his team’s targets. Thus far, Sanders has accounted for 6 of Keenum’s 10 third down targets (60%), and 15 of 34 total throws (44%) — both tops among any WRs this preseason by a mile. Considering Thielen’s massive 91 catch, 1,276 yard breakout, Sanders’ upside is enormous.
In general, Sanders is an underrated “Individual Talented” who’s being grossly overlooked because an ankle-injury sapped him last year. Nevermind the “Surrounding Talent” upgrade. Not only is Keenum a slot-lover, he’s just a much better overall QB than anything the Broncos trotted out last year. In fact, Keenum’s QB Rating on throws to wide receivers was 95.4 (11th-best of 36). Trevor Siemian’s was 59.2 (second-worst). Between the newfound slot role, the increased usage that’ll come from this, and the enormous QB-gain, Sanders could genuinely blow-up in 2018 (and is just a season removed from three-straight 1,000 yard seasons). The fact he goes after Demaryius Thomas at all, nevermind almost 50 picks later, is mind-boggling. Scoop up Sanders everywhere at his 91 ADP — this “Unsexy Upside” is real, and enormous.
3) Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill Clearly Pat Mahomes’ Top Target, Set to Explode Even Further
As has been abundantly clear this preseason, Tyreek Hill remains the Chiefs’ top WR and has, by far, the best rapport with new QB Patrick Mahomes. During “Dress Rehearsal” Week versus the Bears, Hill hauled in all 8 of his targets for 88 yards, dominating at every layer of the field as the clear engine of this passing attack. On the Preseason, Hill has caught all of his team-high 14 targets (33% of Mahomes throws) for 183 yards and 1 TD. By stark contrast, “competition” Sammy Watkins has seen 7 looks, hauling in just 1 for 15 yards with one drop and one going for an interception.
If Watkins can be credited with one positive, he’s kept Hill’s ADP (28) and ECR (30) in the third round — a major bargain, considering he’s 22 overall on my own Big Board, above Mike Evans. Hill seems to be even more involved in his third season, running the entire route tree and shaking free far more often than any other pass-catcher. He’ll undoubtedly benefit from Mahomes’ cannon arm and ability to buy time in the pocket, as was glaringly evident on Week 2’s 69-yard TD bomb. With a stronger arm under center and an expanded underneath role, Hill’s set to build upon his 75 – 1,183 – 7 TD line and WR4 (STD) finish last season. Thank Watkins as you steal Hill in Round 3 of every draft.
4) Kenyan Drake Continues Impressive Preseason Play, Ensuring Heavy Usage Despite “Committee”
Though the Dolphins continue hyping up Frank Gore‘s corpse and a committee backfield approach, Kenyan Drake’s dominant Preseason play may force them to reconsider. Most recently, the former ‘Bama back racked up 68 total yards on just 5 touches versus Baltimore, and has now taken 15 preseason carries for 102 yards (6.8 YPC), while racking up 5 catches and 47 yards in the receiving game.
Dating back to last season’s epic stretch run, Drake has consistently flashed more than enough “Individual Talent” to supersede his glaring “Surrounding Talent” and “Usage” question marks. He comes with enormous upside as an RB2.
Constantly overshadowed at Alabama, Drake has never been a true “Bell Cow.” Following Damien Williams‘ Week 12 injury, however, Drake flashed his workhorse potential, shouldering 20+ touches for three straight weeks (13-15) and scoring as the RB4 in this span. His 444 rushing yards during this final five weeks led the league. More importantly, he posted the most yards after contact per attempt (4.29) ever recorded by PFF — highly necessary, considering his line graded as the worst run-blocking in the league.
This preseason, Drake’s again flashed the ability to transcend what appears to be a “Fantasy Wasteland” situation. He continues escaping congested situations with his insane ability to first make tacklers miss and then zip up the field in a hurry. He’s been used on a multitude of pass-routes, from deep flies and wheels, to screens and short hitches.
Plus, maybe the Dolphins offense isn’t quite the Dumpster Fire we expect. Returning QB Ryan Tannehill went 11-of-16 for 115 and a TD while leading consecutive scoring drives in the preseason dress rehearsal, and finishes the preseason at 29-of-39 (74%), 247, and a TD with 0 turnovers. The Dolphins have acquired the right YAC WRs to execute Adam Gase‘s screen-heavy attack, and the results are promising.
All-in-all, after being one of our “Overpriced” Players to begin the Preseason, Drake’s forcing us to reconsider. Even if Gore’s worked in, Drake’s averaging 7.5 yards a touch and should do plenty of damage even if just on 15ish weekly looks. And that’s just the floor.
In Drake’s favor, Gase has historically ridden a true workhorse and facilitated monstrous backfield production, even if he claims to never want to ride a single guy for 25 carries a game. From 2013-2016, Gase facilitated four straight RB1 campaigns:
- Knowshon Moreno finished as the 2013 RB4 with 1586 Yards from Scrimmage (YFS) to pair with 13 total TDs
- CJ Anderson racked up nearly 1200 yards and 10 total TDs in only seven 2014 starts
- Matt Forte tallied 1287 YFS and 7 TDs in just 13 games in 2015
- Jay Ajayi hit 1423 YFS and 8 TDs in 12 2016 starts.
Thus, Drake’s floor feels fairly secure thanks to his efficiency and ability to make plays amidst a horrid situation. The ceiling is also astronomical if Father Time finally catches Gore, or Gase realizes just how special Drake is and returns to his workhorse ways.
5) Slimmer Leonard Fournette Continues Flashing 3-Down Ability, Set to Explode
For the second straight week, a slimmed-down Leonard Fournette flashed both his high-TD and newfound receiving upside. Facing the Falcons, Fournette took 10 carries for 57 yards and a score, while also racking up 3 catches for 18 yards. Most importantly, he’s been in on 9 of the team’s last 13 third downs (69%), racking up 5 catches for 35 yards in that span. Between the weight loss, the added receiving work, and an improved line, all of Fournette’s fantasy stars are aligning for a massive sophomore campaign that builds upon his impressive rookie debut.
Up to 137 total yards (4.9 per touch) and 2 scores on the preseason, Fournette’s shaping up to be a true difference maker. Shedding pounds has often helped RBs make major leaps, especially in the pass-game. Just last year Carlos Hyde dropped 15 and saw his receiving spike from 27 rec and 163 yds to 59 rec and 350 yds, while Le’veon Bell ascended to the elite in his sophomore campaign after losing 20 lbs (45 rec + 399 yds to 83 rec + 854 yds). Based on his preseason receiving usage, Fournette seems bound for an additional 20+ catches, especially after the team just lost a top target in Marquise Lee.
After topping double-digit points in 11 of 13 games played, expected Fournette’s floor to be even safer with this improved usage and line. Health is the only real risk here — admittedly, fairly large considering Fournett’es troublesome history with ankle and foot ailments.
Still, the Talented sophomore seems primed for yet another leap forward after a top-10 campaign (despite missing 3 games) that saw him average 17+ FPs per contest. With health, Fournette could truly push for Ezekiel Elliott style numbers, and rises up to No.8 (above Melvin Gordon) on my latest Big Board.
6) Buccaneers RB Peyton Barber Continues Impressing in Starting Role, Fantasy Football Bargain
Once again, Buccaneers RB Peyton Barber started and played admirably, taking 5 carries for 34 yards (6.8 YPC) and a TD as the clear-cut No.1 back versus Detroit. He’s now averaged over 5 YPC in all three preseason contests while scoring in two, and is firmly entrenched as the top dog in this backfield.
As he’s always done when given the opportunity, Barber ripped through tackles and found tight creases all night — especially on his beautiful 14 yard TD score. He logged 8 straight snaps with the first team before being put on ice for the night (and likely rest of preseason), and has now played 33 of 51 first team snaps (65%).
The struggling Ronald Jones then relieved him for Ryan Fitzpatrick‘s second and final drive, yet once again struggled mightily. Outside of a nice 37-yard reception, Jones was stuffed all night, mustering just 7 yards on 6 carries. He’s firmly below Barber on this depth chart.
Last week, HC Dirk Koetter labeled Barber the clear starter, which was once again validated during the Dress Rehearsal. The coach went as far as suggesting a workhorse role for Barber, stating, “He’s got his eye on the prize and right where it should be. He’s doing everything he should be doing right now, and I think if we went out there and gave it to Peyton 20 times, we’d like what he does.”
Barber thrives with volume. When given the opportunity last year (Weeks 13-17), Barber averaged 15.6 carries per game (4.3 YPC) and 2.4 receptions (6.9 YPR). Extrapolate this over 16 games, and Barber would finish with 250/1,037/6 Receiving 38/265/1, or 210 PPR points which would’ve been a Top-12 Fantasy Season. He’s looked even better this preseason. His ADP continues to climb, but still around Round 10, he’s a bonafide steal.
For Fallers & “Penny Stock” Sleepers, continue on to Page 2: