Preseason DFS Guide: Week 1 (2018 Fantasy Football)

Aug 9, 2018

Have you ever heard the saying “technically correct is the best kind of correct?” Well, in the sense of that quote, the football season is back! Okay, so preseason matchups don’t necessarily light a fire under most football fans, but with Daily Fantasy contests being offered on FanDuel and Draftkings, there is no reason why these games can’t offer just as much excitement and fun as a regular season matchup. Jumping in with both feet, this guide is a great place to start with your Preseason DFS research.

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How is Preseason DFS different from Regular Season?

Preseason DFS is a completely different animal than regular season. The major difference that will immediately jump out is that all players are evenly priced. This means that there is no difference in cost between Aaron Rodgers and Blaine Gabbert. But before we go ahead and make our very own all-star team, let’s break down the last two years’ opening week of the preseason to see who typically receives the most playing time.

Playing Time Breakdown

Quarterback
According to the NFL Game Stats and Information System’s tracking of playtime percentage, there is a distinct bump in snaps for QBs on teams with three QBs as opposed to QBs on teams with four QBs (which seems obvious, right?). The advantage translated into a near 15% bump for any given team’s QB2. Breakdown seen here:

Depth Chart QB1 Snap % QB2 Snap % QB3 Snap % QB4 Snap %
3 QBs on Team 14.36% 46.08% 39.69%
4 QBs on Team 9.15% 31.34% 37.87% 21.89%

 
This is your first edge. Unless there is major chatter to imply otherwise (ie: coach says QB will get extended playing time beyond what is typical) find a team with three QBs on the depth chart and target their QB2 or QB3.

Running Back

Depth Chart RB 1 Snap % RB 2 Snap % RB 3 Snap % RB 4 Snap % RB 5 Snap % RB 6 Snap % RB 7 Snap %
5 RBs on Team 10.84% 14.59% 21.10% 25.25% 24.14%
6 RBs on Team 9.57% 14.14% 21.70% 16.14% 20.73% 15.30%
7 RBs on Team 11.27% 9.45% 11.82% 22.09% 12.18% 19.27 21.18%

 
As you can see, RBs have a bit more even spread. If the data tells us anything, I would lean toward looking for teams with five RBs on the roster that have a young (first- or second-year) player buried on the depth chart. In 2016, Week 1 had strong playing time for players in this role: Elijhaa Penny (36% – Arizona), Kenneth Dixon (38% – Baltimore), Terrell Watson (44% – Cleveland), C.J. Ham (54% – Minnesota), Kenneth Farrow (59% – Los Angeles Chargers). In 2017, De’Angelo Henderson (44% — Denver), Taquan Mizzell (48% — Baltimore), and Andre Williams (40% — LA Chargers) carried on a similar trend. Most of these players had been talked up by coaches and beat writers in the days leading up to the matchup, but we’ll discuss this aspect more below.

Wide Receiver
Due to the volume of WRs on each roster, I won’t break it down by number of receivers on the roster (however the basic rule of less WRs on the roster = more opportunity still applies). Instead, the following data will show overall Snap % for WRs 1-6 on the depth charts for Week 1 of Preseason in 2016 & 2017:

WR 1 Snap % WR 2 Snap % WR 3 Snap % WR 4 Snap % WR 5 Snap % WR 6 Snap %
11.59% 9.31 % 17.41% 22.97% 24.78% 28.31%

 
Seeing this breakdown pretty clearly suggests that WR1 & WR2 should only be considered for a spot in your lineup if you’ve heard explicit information from a coach or beat writer that they will see an unusually high amount of playing time. The best potential for volume will lie in WR3s and beyond on the depth chart. Again, youth will pay off in searching for playing time. 2016 saw Sammie Coates (68% – Pittsburgh), Leonte Carroo (75% – Miami), Daniel Braverman (63% – Chicago), Paul Turner (61% – Philadelphia), and Robbie Anderson (53% – New York Jets) all come in with +50% of the snaps and ample opportunity to make an impact. In 2017, Deontay Thompson (70% — Chicago), Isaiah Burse (65% — LA Chargers), TommyLee Lewis (74% — New Orleans), Marquis Bundy (78% — Arizona), Paul McRoberts (73% — LA Rams), and Austin Carr (88% — New England) all ran for massive playing time in Week 1.

Tight End
TEs follow a similar pattern. The TE1 and TE2 for any given team typically don’t see a lion’s share of snaps – TE1 comes in at 13.1% and TE2 at 22.66%, so it’s best to dig down the depth chart to find your TE play. Keep an ear to the ground for buzz, particularly concerning pass-catching TEs in their second and third year, as the TE position is such a tough position to adapt to in the NFL. Rookies often don’t have the full skill-set under their belt, particularly in preseason. Everyone is hoping to find this year’s Rico Gathers.

The Importance of Beat Writers

Preseason DFS is all about listening to the blowing of the wind (read: Twitter). The best thing to do, in order to gain information and your competitive advantage is to follow an extensive, frequently updated, list of beat writers to stay informed throughout training camp. Game day updates happen frequently and standout players will get plenty of chatter by coaches and writers leading up to their Week 1 game.

Week 1 Plays

Note: This article was written on Wednesday, 8/8. As I just mentioned, Preseason DFS is fluid. Keep an ear to the ground, but these will at least give you a solid starting point for your research.

Quarterback

Nate Sudfeld (PHI)
This is a spot where listening to coach talk is important. Earlier this week, Doug Peterson mentioned that the Eagles are alright if Wentz didn’t play at all in the Preseason. Meanwhile, Foles is still nursing “very minor” upper body soreness. This should leave him off the field for the Eagles’ matchup against the Steelers. That means Sudfeld and Joe Callahan could be the only QBs suited up and would see around 50% of snaps, each.

Danny Etling (NE)
With three QBs on the roster, the Patriots match the criteria we covered in the section above. Brian Hoyer is also up for consideration, but according to the workload each has gotten this Summer (and in Tuesday’s last practice before their Week 1 matchup against Washington) Ettling has been getting the bigger workload.

Running Back

Akrum Wadley (TEN)
All offseason, the focus on the Titans backfield has centered around Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis. Meanwhile, Akrum Wadley has been quietly putting in work in camp and showing impressive burst. Thursday will be a perfect opportunity for Wadley, particularly on sites that offer full PPR. The undrafted rookie will look to serve as a situational backup for Dion Lewis.

Tim Cook (JAX)
Cook is a second-year RB out of Oregon State and according to the beat writers, he’s shown quite a bit of flash this training camp. He’s currently fourth on the Jags depth chart but will likely see some good work. His playing style is more akin to Leonard Fournette than any other back on the roster, so if he produces in this spot he could easily land a situational backup role.

Wide Receiver

Aldrick Robinson/Kendrick Bourne (SF)
Okay, so this might be cheating a bit by listing two players here, but I really like both of them for different reasons. Robinson is absolutely a bubble-player who may not make the final roster, moving into the season, but he has balled out in Week 1 the past two preseasons (3 receptions/118 yards in 2016 & 2 receptions/83 yards in 2017). This may be chasing points by playing him for a third-straight year, but with Robinson going into his 8th season, he desperately needs to impress to earn a spot on a team’s final-53. Kendrick Bourne, on the other hand, has been having a very good Summer and should be a lock on the 53 in San Fran. He fits our mold, though, as a young, talented player who is buried a bit on the depth chart. I expect Shanahan will give him solid looks this preseason to see if he may be up to climbing into a starting role.

Quadree Henderson (PIT)
Henderson is an explosive player with everything to prove as he dons the Black and Gold for his first game on Thursday. The rookie went to school at Pittsburgh, so he’s a home-grown product that can really make the most of the opportunities he’s given. In his favor, Antonio Brown (and perhaps Juju Smith-Schuster) will be out to help the recovery of lingering camp injuries. Also, Henderson has been announced as the starting punt returner for the preseason opener, so he’ll have an extra chance to put six points on the board.

Braxton Berrios/Riley McCarron (NE)
Sorry, I did it again, but these two are likely in direct competition for a role in this offense as they are so similar in style. Again, I like them for different reasons, so I had to list them both. Berrios, in my eyes, is the more talented player and has the higher potential. However, Berrios suffered an injury early in the offseason and is still making up for lost time with getting on the field. This is why McCarron is a wild card for Thursday night. Increased time to get in rhythm with this offense and find his role could mean he’s showcased (in a fashion similar to Austin Carr‘s 88% playing time Week 1 of last year).

Tight End

Blake Mack (KC)
Sneaky, sneaky. The Chiefs have placed Blake Mack as a fun little easter egg on their depth chart this preseason. What makes Mack so different or unique? Well, Mack is currently listed as both a WR and a TE. From what beat writers have said, this former WR-turned TE from Arkansas State will actually be returning to his role as a WR. With his listing on the roster/depth chart as a TE, he will be eligible as a TE for DFS purposes. My guess is that Andy Reid will be licking his chops to find ways to get Mack in mismatches. Early comparisons have been drawn to Trey Burton (another undersized TE) as he has turned heads from an early point this Summer.

Defense

Tennessee Titans (TEN)
Defense is a pretty tough position to fill in preseason, but when in doubt, look for turnover-prone QBs (preferably backups) who will likely see early action (against the First-Team Defense of their opponents). For the Titans, they’ll likely see either Brett Hundley or DeShone Kizer against a first-team defense that is looking to take on the tenacity of their defensive-minded new head coach, Mike Vrabel.

Trust your sources as you hear from beat writers on who is shining and who is struggling in camp. It cannot be overstated how important this is. Look for opportunities that balance healthy talent with ample opportunity.

Check out FanDuel’s Week 1 preseason contests >>

Ethan Sauers is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Ethan, check out his archive and follow him @ethansauers.

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