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Biggest Fantasy Football Lessons from NFL Preseason: Don’t Sleep on Rookie QBs

  • The first-round quarterbacks of the 2018 draft have each flashed high-level ability.
  • Running backs Carlos Hyde and Peyton Barber are set to start for the Browns and Buccaneers, respectively.
  • Christian McCaffrey could be in for a MASSIVE workload with the Panthers this season.

Preseason football brings out the best (and the worst) in football fans, but it’s still an informative opportunity to get a read on various position battles and new schemes.

Since Week 4 consists almost entirely of backups, let’s break down the 10 biggest preseason takeaways from Weeks 1-3.


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1. The Packers are Poised to Feature Jimmy Graham

Aaron Rodgers connected with free agent addition Jimmy Graham for a red-zone touchdown on their first and only preseason drive together.

The 31-year-old tight end might have lost a step, but Rodgers is one of few quarterbacks capable of feeding Graham the type of touchdown production he’ll need to justify his present ADP as the TE4 in both PPR and standard leagues.

The Packers haven’t had much fantasy success with tight ends during the Rodgers era. Still, Graham will likely be featured as a slot receiver — like he was on his touchdown from Rodgers — as opposed to a traditional in-line tight end. The five-time Pro Bowler spent a position-high 58.7% of his snaps in the slot last season, and nine of his 10 touchdowns came from the slot or out wide.

2. Royce Freeman is Winning the Broncos’ Running Back Battle

Devontae Booker drew the start in the Broncos’ third preseason game, but third-rounder Royce Freeman proved to be the more effective back. The rookie should be the favorite to secure the lead running back spot after three preseason games:

  • Freeman: 15 carries, 84 rush yards, 5.6 YPC, 3 TDs, 1 rec, 6 rec yards
  • Booker: 9 carries, 33 rush yards, 3.6 YPC, 1 rec, 10 rec yards

Still, Booker and Freeman played 25 and 23 snaps, respectively, with Case Keenum at quarterback (per Graham Barfield). The rookie deserves some hype, but the Broncos are trending toward a running back-by-committee approach, especially early in the season.

3. Get Ready for a Ton of Trey Burton in Chicago

Former second-round tight end Adam Shaheen (ankle) is out indefinitely. High-priced offseason addition Trey Burton immediately picked up the slack, totaling 45 yards and a touchdown on just four first-half targets during the Bears’ Week 2 dress rehearsal.

Burton’s ability to work effectively out of the the slot will enable him to share the field with Shaheen even once the more traditional in-line tight end returns. In the meantime, one less mouth to feed in a mostly unproven Bears offense will only help decipher Mitch Trubisky’s pecking order at tight end and receiver.

4. Peyton Barber is the Buccaneers’ Workhorse Running Back (For Now)

Peyton Barber provided efficient production for the Buccaneers all August, while second-rounder Ronald Jones struggled to get much of anything going.

  • Barber: 15 carries, 87 rush yards, 5.8 YPC, 2 TDs, 3 rec, 2 rec yards
  • Jones: 18 carries, 18 rush yards, 1 YPC, 1 TD, 1 rec, 37 rec yards

Barber regularly worked in front of Jones with the first-team offense and will start the season as the team’s early-down and goal-line back.

Still, Jones did flash his big-play potential by hauling in a 37-yard reception on a go route after lining up wide in the formation in Week 3. If Jones can develop into a dynamic receiving threat, it may vault him back into fantasy RB2 consideration with passing-down back Charles Sims (knee) on injured reserve.

5. Mike Williams Looks Like the Chargers’ New Red-Zone Threat

The Chargers’ offense was full of available red-zone opportunity, as Hunter Henry (torn ACL) and Antonio Gates combined for 34 targets inside the 10-yard line over the past two seasons. It makes sense that they’d turn to 6-foot-4, 218-pound receiver Mike Williams to make plays when spacing is cramped.

The No. 7 overall pick in the 2017 draft demonstrated impressive contested-catch ability and earned a starting spot in the offense’s three-receiver sets with Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams.

6. Get Ready for the Christian McCaffrey Show

Most have laughed off Panthers coach Ron Rivera’s goal of getting Christian McCaffrey 25 to 30 touches per game, but there’s an off chance that he was serious. CMC racked up an absurd 10 touches on the Panthers’ first drive Friday night.

McCaffrey finished the dress rehearsal with 14 touches (12 carries, two receptions) and 64 all-purpose yards (48 rushing, 16 receiving).

He’s locked in as the team’s workhorse back, as the presence of C.J. Anderson is almost irrelevant to CMC’s high-upside/high-floor fantasy value, thanks to his unique usage as a receiver.

7. Mark Ingram’s loss is Jonathan Williams’ gain in Weeks 1-4

The Saints released journeyman running back Terrance West, meaning Jonathan Williams is the clubhouse leader to work alongside Alvin Kamara during Mark Ingram’s four-game suspension.

Coach Sean Payton told the media in May that “the mistake would be that Alvin gets 15 more carries.”

It’s hard to keep Kamara off the field for too long because he’s usually the best player on it, but the Saints’ perennially high-scoring offense has routinely enabled multiple fantasy-relevant backs during the Brees-Payton era. Kamara and Williams are set up for positive projected game flow against mediocre rushing defenses in Weeks 1-4.

8. Chris Hogan is Tom Brady’s No. 1 Wide Receiver

The Patriots’ wide receiver room has undergone an extreme makeover since last season.

Julian Edelman is suspended for the first four games, Brandin Cooks was traded to the Rams, Danny Amendola signed with the Dolphins, and the recently signed Eric Decker retired. Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and potentially Cordarrelle Patterson (!!!) are poised to be the top three wide receivers.

Hogan was the league’s PPR WR10 during the first eight weeks of last season before missing time with a shoulder injury. He’s locked in as Tom Brady’s No. 2 option behind Rob Gronkowski.

9. First-round Quarterbacks are Ready to Contribute

The 2018 draft featured five quarterbacks selected in the top 32 picks. Each player has flashed some of the ability that earned him a first-round selection.

  • Baker Mayfield‘s average of 8.1 yards per pass attempt through three games is the highest among the group, but Tyrod Taylor will still start Week 1.
  • Sam Darnold posted a group-best 64.4% completion rate and is the favorite to start Week 1 for the Jets.
  • Josh Allen flashed his tantalizing upside, but struggled as a starter in the Bills’ third regular-season game. AJ McCarron could steal early-season snaps.
  • Josh Rosen displayed NFL-level passing ability against the Saints, but is firmly behind Captain Check-down Sam Bradford until an inevitable injury occurs.
  • Lamar Jackson‘s next-level rushing ability was as good as advertised, but his early struggles as a passer could keep Joe Flacco under center for another year.

10. Carlos Hyde is Well Ahead of Rookie Nick Chubb on the Depth Chart

The Browns didn’t draft Nick Chubb in the second round to sit on the bench, but they also didn’t hand Carlos Hyde $8 million guaranteed to not have a role.

The fifth-year pro did everything in his power to hold off the rookie, as Hyde gained 108 yards and scored a touchdown on just 17 attempts — good for a robust 6.4 yards per carry.

There’s plenty of time for Chubb to catch up and earn a major role in the offense, but Hyde is locked in as the Browns’ Week 1 feature back.

Credit:

Aug 16, 2018; Landover, MD, USA; New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold (14) attempts a pass against the Washington Redskins during the first half at FedEx Field. Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Follow Ian Hartitz on Twitter
@IHartitz
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