Preseason FanDuel Guide: Week 3 DFS (Fantasy Football)
Enter stage left: Starters. Week 3 is the most popular week in NFL Preseason as it provides dress rehearsals for all 32 teams and a chance for fans and fantasy players to catch a glimpse of first-team action. This week also provides an opportunity for an edge, in daily fantasy, over the competition if we’re open to analyzing the entire roster and look for trends in playing time, as we have in past weeks.
How is Week 3 different than Weeks 1 & 2?
Week 3 of Preseason DFS is the closest thing to the football we all know and love that will ever grace the month of August. However, to approach it the same way we approach the regular season would still be a mistake. Yes, this week will be the best chance we get to see starters in their normal roles on the field, however, last year only 38% of QB1s received more than half of the snaps in Week 3 action. This makes it just as important to dig into our playing time data as it has been before, as this week, the dress rehearsal for starters begins to open them up as viable DFS plays.
Playing Time Breakdown
As in previous weeks, for all playing time statistics, I will be using the data provided from the NFL Game Stats and Information System. In Weeks 1 & 2, our primary focus was finding teams with small depth charts and narrowing in on prior year trends to pick the one with the best opportunity for playing time (typically QB2 or QB3). In Week 3, we’ll still see a boost for small depth charts, but we have some tougher decisions that will be influenced by situation, coaching philosophy, and talent. Here’s a look at how Average Snap% progressed from Week 1 – Week 3 of 2016 on teams with three QBs on the roster:
Week 3 shows a great opportunity for QB1 on most teams. The trend of QB1 pulling playing time from QB3 is amplified again as most starting QBs play for most of the first half. However, there’s less than a 6% drop-off between QB1 and QB2. This should be monitored throughout the week as you do your digging into beat writer reports — particularly on teams with an older starting QB, as they likely won’t see prolonged playing time (35%+), even in Week 3. Now, onto four-QB teams:
Adding a QB to the roster makes for even more intrigue as we comb through QBs for our preseason plays. Notice that a starting QB on a team with four QBs is only expected, on average, to play in 2.02% more snaps than the backup QB on a team with three QBs. For tournament play this is where I would look to get an edge, as most of your competition will focus on QB1 plays with the “Dress Rehearsal” narrative fresh in their mind. That being said, we do still see QB1 leading the way in terms of straight Snap% opportunity, so in cash games they are still a safer choice if picking blindly.
To reiterate from the past two weeks, “teams with less competition will once again see their players benefit with more opportunities.” So that’s a good place to start, especially when considering the market share for RB. With that in mind, let’s see the Snap% data for RBs on teams with five RBs:
Here we see a deviation from public assumptions: RB1s see their playing time decrease between Week 2 and Week 3 and a solid increase for RB3s. The best explanation for this is that the relatively smaller data sample is skewed by Washington’s RB battle from last season. We saw Matt Jones and Chris Thompson (RB1 & RB2 respectively, during last preseason) get zero playing time as Gruden gave Rob Kelley (RB3) his chance at earning the starting job. That being said, in 2016, only one RB1 on the nine teams with five RBs earned more than 30% of snaps during Week 3 of preseason (C.J. Anderson – 36%). So, with all of those variables being taken into consideration, I very much like the idea of pivoting to a backup RB or two, especially in tournament play. This idea is backed up further with data for teams rostering six RBs:
Again we see data suggesting that starting RB is a position that coaches don’t give as much playing time to during Week 3. There are a few reasons for this to hold true. 1) Coaches try to protect their starting RB (especially star RBs) from taking unnecessary hits, as every hit takes its toll as the season progresses and 2) There is more of a time-share at RB than other positions, within the starting lineup, especially as we’re in the age of the RBBC (Running Back by Committee).
Unsurprisingly, at this point, the trend is the same — RB1s are out-snapped by RB2s. Using this information at RB is important when weighing opportunity against situation and talent — RB2 and RB3 should be positions that are taken into consideration during lineup construction, but in the right situation RB1 talent may win out.
As we have done in the last two Preseason Guides, we will analyze the WR position as a whole, without regard to number of WRs on the roster (as its impact is negligible due to high volatility). Here are the WR Snap% from Weeks 1-3 of 2016:
WR sees WR1-WR3 increasing steadily into Week 3, providing lots of potential for scoring. The one thing to watch, however for WR playing time this week would be found in team/coach tendency to expose their top receivers to injury. Last season saw 47% of teams provide sub-30% playing time to their WR1. The choices seemed fairly obvious too, as they were teams with clear WR1 options and a healthy perceived drop-off filling in behind them. In fact, the WR1 options leading Week 3 in preseason last season were options that had question marks around them or WRs who had never seen RB1 status before (Golden Tate – 61%, Jarvis Landry – 59%, Jeremy Maclin – 55%). This data points us to look for receivers, this week, with new opportunities and in roles that they have not yet seen.
For being a position marked by murky conditions during the preseason, TE Playing Time in Week 3 is fairly well carved out:
The opportunities should be there for backup TEs, however, it can often be difficult to project any sort of target-share for them, especially beyond the starting role. Most cash lineups will likely see starting TEs on teams that like to utilize their TE in the passing game. If you’re feeling like taking a gamble (especially in GPPs) try and find a sure-handed TE2 as they should see the field with a bit more frequency.
Something to keep in mind this week and next is a rule change made by the NFL this past offseason. Previously, the NFL required teams to trim their rosters from 90 to 75 prior to Week 4 of preseason. Now, however, teams are allowed to carry 90 players throughout the entire preseason. This means, to us DFS players, that position battles carry even more importance as coaches look to get a few more looks at the guys who are currently sitting on the bubble. I think this has more of a bearing on next week’s slate, but this week’s slate could see some effect, especially with backups.
Week 2 Plays
Note: This article was written Wednesday, 8/23. Preseason DFS is fluid so keep an ear to the ground, but these will at least give you a solid starting point for your research.
Carson Wentz (PHI)
Last season Wentz went into Week 3 still buried on the depth chart. This was before the Bradford trade and it meant that he saw 0 snaps (granted, that was partially due to protective behavior as he was getting back to 100% after injury). This season, however, Wentz will be the QB1 going into Week 3 and he will look to show mastery of his position and improve his chemistry with new weapons Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Philadelphia gave Bradford 58% of the snaps last year. I’d expect them to show Wentz at least that share, if not more, considering he’s still a young QB. To persuade even further, Week 3 of last preseason saw Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota (2016 sophomores) get 58% and 66% of their team’s snaps, respectively. I’m confident we’ll see the Eagles follow suit.
Jameis Winston (TB)
As stated above, Winston saw 58% of the snaps in Week 3 last preseason. This week, I’d expect at least 50% again as he adjusts to life with DeSean Jackson. The reason I like Jameis over, say, Dak Prescott, is because Jameis saw 60% of the snaps last week in Week 2 against Jacksonville. He’s a bit more acclimated to game-speed than Dak, and I think we’ll see that show this week against the Browns (who have been a pleasant surprise so far this preseason).
Christian McCaffrey (CAR)
We should finally be getting a look at Cam this week, and getting a look at Cam means we should be getting a look at this new check-down oriented passing attack where Cam can get in rhythm with his new weapon out of the backfield, slot, or wherever they decide to throw the hyped rookie. Also, being a young RB means he is in a good spot to see increased reps during preseason action — particularly with the first-team offense.
James Conner (PIT)
Regardless of Le’Veon Bell’s holdout, Week 3 will likely see Fitzgerald Toussaint and James Conner sharing RB1 snaps with the first team. It has also been revealed that Conner has been elevated to No. 2 on the Steelers’ Depth Chart, meaning there’s a good chance we will see him work with Ben Roethlisberger and the majority of the other starters on the Steelers’ offense. That alone would be enough to earn a start in preseason, but you can add in the fact that they’re playing an Indianapolis defense that has struggled so far this preseason stopping the run.
Zay Jones (BUF)
Last week saw Zay Jones got his first amount of meaningful playing time as he saw 44% of the offensive snaps. This week, the Bills must acclimate Jones to a firm position on the first-team offense, as Sammy Watkins (trade) and Anquan Boldin (retirement) have both left the team, while recent acquisition Jordan Matthews is dealing with a chest injury. Added to the plus side that he’s a young player, the Bills also don’t have much outside of him in terms of offensive weapons, so I would expect to see a lot of playing time for the ECU rookie against the Ravens.
Cooper Kupp (LAR)
Sticking with the rookie WR hype-train, Kupp provides Jared Goff with sure hands and a great deal of early chemistry. Last week, Kupp was in on 36% of the Rams offensive plays and he saw great usage as he was peppered with seven targets for six receptions, 70 yards, and one TD. Kupp should follow the same trend that Jones does, as rookie WRs in starting roles should expect to see longer looks than veteran receivers in similar spots.
Nelson Agholor (PHI)
An Eagles stack, paired with Wentz and a certain TE to be mentioned below seems like a great opportunity in tournament settings for Agholor to be the right play on Thursday night. Agholor is still young and has been improving his reputation as a pass-catcher throughout training camp and preseason thus far. I would expect to see Agholor get time with the first-team offense as well as some additional time once Foles or McGloin comes in for relief.
Zach Ertz (PHI)
As mentioned above, the Eagles stack is my favorite option for Thursday night’s slate. Ertz should see increased targets over the middle as Jordan Matthews is no longer on the roster. I would expect to see Ertz get decent reps as he rekindles the connection he had with Wentz last season.
According to Ourlads Depth Charts, the following teams currently have only one kicker on the roster (meaning they are all preseason viable): Bills, Dolphins, Patriots, Steelers, Colts, Jaguars, Broncos, Cowboys, Eagles, Redskins, Lions, Packers, Saints, Cardinals, Seahawks.
New York Giants
We like consistency and because of that, we like to pick on the Jets. However, Pittsburgh would be another great option as they face a Luck-less Colts team.
Good luck out there on all of the Preseason Slates this week, look forward to one last week of using our Preseason edge before we go into battle for the regular season.