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The NFL preseason is often a mirage. With coaches using vanilla schemes and many starters seeing little, if any, playing time, it’s impossible to determine which teams will or won’t be successful in the regular season.
This doesn’t mean we can’t ascertain valuable information from the exhibition slate. We are seeing players in game situations, and individual performances can be telling. This helps map out the NFL landscape to some degree, but it’s especially useful when preparing for the fantasy football season.
By Week 2, we’re starting to get a longer look at projected starters, often in new situations. Though things must be taken with a grain of salt, the second and third weeks of the preseason are useful for fantasy football managers.
Last year, new Kansas City Chiefs starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes went 8-of-12 for 138 yards with a touchdown and an interception in Week 2. He rushed twice for 16 yards. We couldn’t have predicted he’d go for over 5,000 passing yards and 50 touchdowns in the regular slate. However, we could recognize that he was comfortable, efficient and in full command of the offense. It wasn’t hard to see him as a potential mid-round steal.
With the first half of the preseason nearly in the books, here’s what we’ve learned about the fantasy world in Week 2 so far.
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Though New England Patriots wide receiver Josh Gordon won’t be playing in Week 2 of the preseason, he’s involved in one of the week’s biggest fantasy-related storylines. Gordon, who was suspended indefinitely for a violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy last year, has been conditionally reinstated by the league.
“We are all rooting for Josh to succeed, both personally and professionally,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement Friday. “Everyone shares in that hope and will continue to support him to every extent possible. But as Josh acknowledged, ultimately his success is up to him.”
Gordon should immediately become one of Tom Brady’s top targets, but keep in mind that the wideout remains a suspension risk. Even if you plan to avoid him, his reinstatement could impact your draft-day decisions.
As NFL Media’s Michael Fabiano pointed out, Brady was a more prolific fantasy quarterback with Gordon on the field. In 11 games with Gordon, he averaged 303.2 passing yards and 18.55 fantasy points per game. Without Gordon, he averaged 204.0 passing yards and 15.24 points per contest.
If Gordon is on the field for Week 1, the Patriots could lean less heavily on their ground game. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is gone, but a receiving corps of Gordon, Julian Edelman, N’Keal Harry and Phillip Dorsett is formidable.
If New England does pass more with Gordon, the value of running backs Sony Michel and Damien Harris will take a hit—particularly in standard-scoring leagues.
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For starters, it moves Tyler Boyd into the No. 1 receiver spot. With the fourth-year player coming off a 1,028-yard campaign and likely to see a lot of early-season work, he should be targeted as a WR2 in most scoring formats.
Green’s likely absence also means another receiver will need to step into the starting lineup at the beginning of the season. Based on what we saw in Week 2, that player may be undrafted Troy product Damion Willis.
Willis drew rave reviews during training camp but failed to make an impact in his preseason debut, recording just one catch for four yards. In Week 2, however, he lit up the Washington Redskins, catching all five of his targets for 59 yards with a long of 19. It was a huge step toward not only making the 53-man roster but also becoming a reliable piece of the offense.
“He’s got that radar where he can get underneath and go track those balls down,” head coach Zac Taylor said, per Geoff Hobson of the Bengals’ official website. “Damion has been impressive.”
Cincinnati still has the likes of Boyd, Tyler Eifert, Cody Core and Joe Mixon, so it’s too early to call Willis a definite fantasy sleeper. However, another strong performance in Week 3 could lock up his roster spot and make him worthy of a late-round flier.
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Redskins rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins looked much better in his Week 2 performance against Cincinnati. After tossing two interceptions in his debut, Haskins looked far more comfortable in the offense, throwing for 114 yards on a 50 percent completion rate with a beautiful 55-yard touchdown strike.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that we still haven’t seen the debut of second-year running back Derrius Guice, who suffered a torn ACL last August. Many expected Guice to be vying for the starting job by now. Yet, he hasn’t even been cleared for contact.
“The first thing and foremost is when the trainers and doctors say he can go full contact, he’ll go,” head coach Jay Gruden said earlier this week, per Ethan Cadeaux of NBC Sports Washington. “Once I get that OK, we will make that decision.”
While Guice was out of the lineup in Week 2, Adrian Peterson was showing that he hasn’t let Father Time catch him. The veteran back carried the ball four times for 31 yards—an impressive 7.8 yards per carry.
According to Yahoo Fantasy, Guice’s average draft position (ADP) is 99.4, more than 20 spots higher than Peterson’s. It’s time to start valuing Peterson as the 1,000-yard back he was for Washington in 2018 and viewing Guice as a flier selection.
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Based on the roster, it’s difficult to tell which Philadelphia Eagles back is worth targeting. The team has Darren Sproles, Wendell Smallwood, Corey Clement, Josh Adams, Boston Scott, trade acquisition Jordan Howard and rookie second-round pick Miles Sanders.
Howard, who has averaged more than 1,000 rushing yards per season as a pro, and Sanders appear to be the most likely backs to see consistent workloads. Of those two, Sanders was the superior player in Week 2.
Against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Howard looked like the plodding interior rusher he was with the Chicago Bears last season. He averaged 3.8 yards per carry, roughly the same as what he averaged (3.7) in 2018.
Sanders, meanwhile, flashed quickness, acceleration and elusiveness against the same Jaguars defense Howard struggled to penetrate. He rushed for 31 yards on just five carries. This was a significant improvement over his preseason debut, in which he ran three times for a mere three yards.
“I felt like I was more patient back there, more comfortable, so it was a good day,” Sanders said, per Dave Spadaro of the team’s official website.
This doesn’t mean that Sanders is set to become a workhorse back. However, it is a sign that he could be zeroing in on the starting job. If things keep trending in this direction, Sanders will be the Eagles back to target in drafts, while Howard will be little more than a late-round flier or flex option.
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Aaron Rodgers was held out of Thursday night’s game with back tightness, which means we still haven’t seen him in new head coach Matt LaFleur’s offense. That’s a disappointment for Green Bay Packers fans but not yet cause for concern.
But we have seen a fair amount of Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson, which has been great for fantasy fanatics.
Baltimore’s emphasis this offseason has been on improving Jackson’s passing ability, and he has shown signs of progress in the system of new offensive coordinator Greg Roman. Though Jackson still has accuracy issues, he has completed at least 60 percent of his passes in both of his exhibition outings. He topped that mark just twice in eight games as a starter last season (including the playoffs).
The big takeaway from Week 2, though, is that Jackson is still going to break ankles and into the end zone when given the chance. He had a thrilling 18-yard touchdown run that, unfortunately, was nullified by a penalty.
“They gave me the opportunity to run, squeezing out the edges, gave me the middle lane,” Jackson told reporters. “I just took advantage.”
This should help ease concerns that a new offense might mean all gun and no run. Jackson is going to be the same dangerous dual threat he was last year and should be a starting-caliber fantasy quarterback in leagues that award points for quarterback rushing.
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Atlanta Falcons head coach Dan Quinn likes what he has in backup running back Ito Smith.
“He just has a knack, even though he’s not a bigger guy, inside of the tackles,” Quinn said, via the team’s official website. “It’s making a guy miss, change of direction. I think that’s what makes him so unique.”
The reality, though, is that Smith has been more of a grinder than a big-play threat. He averaged just 3.5 yards per carry as a rookie last season with a long run of 18 yards. He’s continued to be workmanlike this preseason, averaging 2.2 yards on 12 carries.
In most standard-scoring formats, Smith should be a viable flex option and potential touchdown vulture—he had four rushing touchdowns in 90 attempts last season and picked up one Thursday night.
Smith has even more upside in points-per-reception leagues. He caught 27 passes in 14 games last season and could be an even bigger piece of the passing puzzle in 2019. He had three receptions against the New York Jets for 45 yards.
Even without the touchdown, his 58 yards and three catches would have been good for 8.8 points in most PPR leagues. That’s fair flex value, and in a regular-season game, his production would likely have been even higher.
Those extra two or three points per game from receptions add up, and they give Smith’s value a bump in PPR formats. Expect him to jump into the complementary role Tevin Coleman filled in 2017—when he topped 900 yards from scrimmage with 27 catches and eight touchdowns.
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Brian Blanco/Associated Press
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen became a realistic fantasy option late in his rookie season—primarily because of his running ability. Over the last six weeks of 2018, Allen passed for 1,242 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.
That’s an average of roughly 207 yards, one touchdown and one pick per game. Not great for fantasy. However, Allen also averaged 79 rushing yards and just under a touchdown per contest during that span. Given that most leagues typically give one point for 10 rushing yards versus one for 25 passing yards, Allen’s running ability was valuable.
If what we saw against the Carolina Panthers was not just a preseason mirage, Allen is a step closer to being a complete quarterback and dual-threat fantasy stud.
“Josh Allen is firing shots tonight,” CBS Sports’ Pete Prisco tweeted during Friday’s game at Bank of America Stadium. “Yes, I thought he would be the best in his draft class—and I still do.”
Allen led the Bills to points on their first two possessions in Week 2. He went 9-of-11 for 102 yards in the process. More importantly, he looked comfortable in the pocket, decisive with his throws and accurate.
It will be important to see continued consistency next week, but do not undervalue Allen on draft day.
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Back in 2016, Arizona Cardinals running back David Johnson was fantasy gold. He racked up 2,118 rushing and receiving yards and reached the end zone a whopping 20 times. A year later, he suffered a dislocated wrist and missed all but the season opener.
Many fantasy enthusiasts expected Johnson to bounce back in 2018, but he didn’t. He was a viable fantasy starter—he caught 50 passes and totaled 1,386 yards—but he wasn’t the same dominant player he was. He may never again be.
The transition to Kliff Kingsbury’s offense has done nothing to raise Johnson’s value. If the first two weeks of the preseason are any indication, it may actually lower it. He averaged just 1.5 yards per carry Thursday, has just 10 yards on six carries overall and has been even less of a factor in the passing game with one catch in each contest.
The Arizona offensive line is still a problem, which was evident even in the vanilla setting of the preseason Thursday. In four series, Cardinals starters produced just 12 yards against the Oakland Raiders. If the line cannot open holes for Johnson—and if Kingsbury isn’t going to make him a focal point of the passing game—Johnson isn’t worth even a first-round pick.
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While the Cardinals offense accomplished little against the Raiders, the defense was arguably worse—specifically against the pass. It allowed Raiders quarterbacks to finish 21-of-24 for 250 yards and three touchdowns. It generated one sack and zero turnovers.
Through two preseason games, Arizona has allowed 730 yards and six touchdowns while generating just one interception and one forced fumble. Opposing teams have rushed for 302 yards and 4.4 yards per carry. Quarterbacks have gone a combined 38-of-47 for 428 yards with three touchdowns and one pick.
“I don’t think it’s any time to panic,” defensive tackle Corey Peters said, via the team’s official website.
Panic? No, it’s not time for that yet. The preseason can be deceiving, and a lot can change once games actually matter. For those of you already looking ahead to weekly matchups, however, it could be time to start circling the Cardinals as a favorable opponent—especially if you’re planning on streaming players at key positions.
Is Matthew Stafford one of your quarterback options? He could be worth a start in Week 1. Did you draft Mark Ingram II to fill your flex? You may want to leave him there in Week 2. You get the idea.
Week 3 of the preseason, which teams often treat as a dress rehearsal for the regular season, will tell us more about the state of the Arizona defense. So far, though, it’s looking like a unit you can regularly exploit. It’s definitely not a defense you want to draft—especially with cornerback-return ace Patrick Peterson set to serve a six-game suspension and cornerback Robert Alford out with a fractured tibia.
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Jason Behnken/Associated Press
The Miami Dolphins are one of two teams—along with Washington—that still have an undecided quarterback competition. Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick was the early leader in training camp, but Josh Rosen, acquired from Arizona during April’s draft, closed the gap after Week 1.
According to Albert Breer of SI.com, the Dolphins staff was impressed with Rosen’s preseason debut.
“Rosen came on in the days leading into the preseason opener. And the staff liked how he played against Atlanta—and in particular how he responded after throwing a pick in the game, leading a 70-yard drive to a field goal at the end of the half,” he wrote.
Rosen finished that game 13-of-20 for 191 yards with the pick. That came primarily against reserve players, though. Given the chance to start against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Friday, Rosen took a significant step back.
He went 10-of-18 for 102 yards in the 16-14 defeat. That’s still better than Fitzpatrick, who was 3-of-9 for a mere 20 yards. The 36-year-old veteran is 5-of-14 for 40 yards in the preseason.
So Rosen may be pulling ahead in the competition, but that’s only significant to fans of the franchise. Miami appears as though it’ll get mediocre quarterback play at best in 2019—regardless of who wins the job—and it isn’t worth even considering one of its quarterbacks on draft day.
The more relevant takeaway is that it’s difficult to highly value Dolphins receivers like DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Albert Wilson. On the flip side, a focus on running the ball could boost the stock of Kalen Ballage and Kenyan Drake.