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Some people say you have to wait until the last week before the start of the season to draft, but those people apparently have never tried to actually schedule a Fantasy Football draft. Schedule conflicts arise, vacations get in the way, and all of a sudden, you’ve got one day where everyone in your league is free to draft, and it just so happens to be three weeks before the season starts. So, that’s when you draft.
Yeah, you’d rather get through the whole preseason before you draft, obviously. Inevitably there will be some big injury that shakes up draft boards, and you just have to hope it isn’t someone you already drafted who goes down.
But that’s part of the game, and we know there are some of you who will be drafting this weekend, so today’s newsletter is here to help. I have my latest rankings for the 2022 season ready to go at the bottom of this newsletter, and I’ve collected pretty much everything else you need to draft from the Fantasy Football Today crew in a nifty little , so take some time and make sure you’re caught up if you’ve got a draft this weekend.
Of course, those of you who aren’t drafting this weekend don’t just get to kick back and relax. We’ve got preseason football all weekend, with position battles still to be decided, and you need to know what to watch.
That’s what the bulk of today’s newsletter is about: The key storyline Fantasy players need to know about for every game on the schedule. I’ve gone through every game to identify what we need to keep an eye on heading into this important week of preseason action. These games could determine how countless Fantasy leagues turn out, so it’s important stuff.
Let’s get to it.
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Panthers @ Patriots – Is Rhamondre Stevenson getting third-down snaps?
With James White retiring, there is a chance for someone to step into a valuable role as the Patriots’ pass-catching back. The assumption is that Ty Montgomery is likely to handle that role, but Stevenson is the much more intriguing possibility, and Bill Belichick gave Stevenson a lot of praise when asked about the gains he’s made as a receiver recently.
“He’s way better than he was last year and he understands that’s an important part of his game. It’s not just carrying the ball, it’s all things that go with the passing game. So, he’s done a great job.”
Stevenson is the most high-upside back in the Patriots group, and the passing-game role is the key thing there. If he can lock up a third-down role, he’s just one Damien Harris slip-up away from potentially being a top-15 back.
Allen Lazard, Sammy Watkins, Randall Cobb, and Christian Watson were all sitting during last week’s preseason opener, so we really didn’t get a sense of how things are shaking out there. Romeo Doubs carried over a strong camp, but if he’s not playing with the first team, that won’t matter much. Aaron Rodgers probably isn’t going to play in this one, but it would be nice to see more of the receivers get in there this week so we can start to get a sense of how things stack up – though if Lazard, Watkins, and Cobb are all inactive and Doubs is playing significant snaps with Jordan Love again, that could be its own indicator of where he is. Rodgers was pretty vocally critical of the job the young receivers have done in camp this week, so it’s possible Doubs (and Watson, once he’s up to speed after being activated from the PUP list this week) may not have the kind of role we want to see early this season.
Pierce impressed in the opener, and Texans offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton praised Pierce after practice earlier this week, saying Pierce is, “just a guy that can create his own yards. And he’s a tough runner.” Pierce is battling with Marlon Mack for playing time, with Rex Burkhead presumably set to handle most passing downs. There are a few questions with Pierce’s upside, however, primarily whether this Texans offense can be good enough for Pierce to matter much. There is also the question of whether Pierce can handle a heavy workload after topping out at 106 carries and 19 catches in his four college seasons. Still, he’s working his way into the top 100 and could cement his place as a mid-round pick if he looks like he’s overtaken Mack this weekend.
The steady drumbeat out of camp is that Zack Moss has carved out enough of a role where it’s fair to assume he’ll be part of the team’s plans this season. That’s bad news, seeing as this Bills offense has produced the fewest PPR points of any team for running backs in Josh Allen‘s time as a starter. Rookie James Cook is working on kick return duty, so there could be room for all three backs (including Devin Singletary) to be on the active roster, but that wouldn’t be particularly good news for Fantasy. As The Athletic’s Joe Buscaglia wrote Thursday, “the Bills’ running back corps has all the potential to devolve into a muddy three-person committee dependent on the situation and riding the hot hand.” I might be out on everyone here.
We know Williams is going to have a role, but in 10 snaps with Jared Goff and the first-team offense last week, Williams played four while Swift was out there for six. We’d like to see Swift used as a true lead back, but it’s possible Williams will continue to have a bigger role than we might like.
There might not be a player of note having a worse August than Antonio Gibson, who fumbled in the preseason opener, played extensive snaps with the backups, and was even spotted on punt return and third-team duties this week. He’s also spent time with the first-team offense, but so has Robinson, the rookie, and it looks like this is a legitimate competition. The worst-case scenario would be a three-way split with J.D. McKissic, and that’s what it looks like we’re heading toward. Let’s see if Robinson can start to pull away, but right now I wouldn’t take any of these backs inside of the top 75, and McKissic might be the first one I take at this point.
White is the guy everyone has their eyes on as the potential backup to Leonard Fournette, though there’s also a chance that the rookie could cut into Fournette’s pass-catching role, which would be a pretty big deal, seeing as how Tom Brady targets running backs about as often as any QB in the league. It doesn’t sound like White is at that point yet, but he broke three tackles on seven carries in the preseason opener and could continue to impress.
With Mitchell recovering from a hamstring injury that has him set to miss the entire preseason, Sermon played every snap with the starters in the first preseason game, even running a route on all seven pass plays. That was with Jeff Wilson inactive, so it’s possible Wilson is still ahead of Sermon, but this week should tell us more. Sermon was a disaster as a rookie, falling in Kyle Shanahan’s doghouse, but he has earned plenty of praise so far in camp this year and has real sleeper appeal. He’s definitely on my late-round draft board.
Josh Jacobs surprisingly played in the opener, a sign that his role was in doubt, and then he was held out along with the rest of the starters in the second game. Similarly Chase Edmonds and Raheem Mostert were inactive for the Dolphins’ preseason debut, so we’re assuming they’re in the lead for now. However, Zamir White on the Raiders and Sony Michel for the Dolphins are still in the mix and could improve their standing this weekend. Ideally, one lead back would emerge for both teams, but it looks like we’re going to see committees in both spots.
The rookie is starting to push up the depth chart, but Trubisky is still starting this week. However, Pickett has started to get his first taste of first-team reps, so he might not be too far behind Trubisky at this point. Trubisky is the more interesting of the two from a Fantasy perspective, but he’s a low-end QB2 either way, so we’re mostly concerned about whoever can do the best job of getting the ball to Diontae Johnson, Chase Claypool, and, increasingly, George Pickens.
It sure sounds like that’s the case at this point, as Kelley played the most snaps with the ostensible first-teamers in the preseason opener. Larry Rountree split some reps with him, with rookie Isaiah Spiller coming on later. Spiller is probably the most interesting of the crew just because we’ve seen everyone else look pretty pedestrian in the NFL, but Kelley has received some nice praise from the coaching staff in camp and has handled most of the non-Ekeler first-team reps, from all accounts. This is a valuable and important role, so if Kelley can step up, he’s a viable late-round target for Fantasy.
Miles Sanders played the first-team snaps in the preseason opener, but he probably won’t play in this one after missing three straight days of practice with a hamstring injury. It’s not clear if that injury is expected to linger long enough to impact his Week 1 availability – Sanders has had trouble staying healthy in the NFL – but it’ll be interesting to see how first-team reps are split between Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell, who missed the first game with a hip injury. Gainwell is a viable late-round sleeper who could conceivably push Sanders for the starting job if he plays well, so it’ll be interesting to see if he’s already ahead of Scott after coming back from the injury.
He was in the opener, playing 13 snaps to Kenny Golladay‘s 16, but that was without Kadarius Toney. The thing is Toney is probably out for this one again, so Robinson might have a chance to really lock in as a first-team slot option. Toney remains a high-upside option, but injuries have been a constant throughout his year-plus in the NFL, so he needs to get healthy before he actually breaks out. He’s still by far the highest ranked of the Giants receivers, but Robinson is starting to garner some late-round sleeper appeal in PPR leagues – remember, Sterling Shepard is coming back from a ruptured Achilles and the slot receiver in Brian Daboll’s offense in Buffalo was a key part of the offense.
Eno Benjamin played most of the snaps early on, though most of the starters weren’t out there for the Cardinals, so we don’t know what that means. Benjamin is fighting to be the No. 2 back behind James Conner, and that’s a potentially valuable role given how much time Conner has missed with injuries over the years. This is a valuable backfield because of how many goal-line carries they create, so if Benjamin is truly ahead of Darrel Williams for the No. 2 job, he definitely deserves to be in the late-round sleeper discussion, especially if he can show some passing game chops.
One of the surprises of the preseason opener is that Michael Carter actually played more snaps with the first-team offense than Breece Hall, the first running back taken in this year’s NFL Draft. That doesn’t necessarily mean Hall is a backup, or anything, but it does seem to indicate that Hall isn’t necessarily the every down back right now. He might still be the lead back as we expected, but the Jets aren’t just clearing the decks for him – they’re going to use multiple backs, and Carter is going to be a factor. He may even be the lead back to start the season, so you might need to be patient with Hall at first. We’ll find out more this week.
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