Preseason DFS Guide: Week 3 (2018 Fantasy Football)
We’ve made it! NFL action is here, with the familiar faces that make the NFL look and feel like the NFL. Week 3 is far and away the most popular week of the NFL preseason as it provides dress rehearsals for all 32 teams and a chance for viewers to get a taste of first-team action. However, DFS in Week 3 is not yet the same product as it is in the regular season, so let’s analyze a few trends in playing time, as we have for the previous 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, only 25% of QB1s received more than half of the snaps in Week 3 action last year. 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 by 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 the last two years on teams with three QBs on the roster:
Week 3 shows 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 merely 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 extended 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, on average, playing 1.5% fewer 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 only see their playing time increase 3% from Week 2 to Week 3. The best explanation for this is that coaches are still worried about injury for RBs more than they are for other positions. Most stud RBs don’t see significant playing time in the preseason, regardless of the week.
Further backing this up, over the last two years, only two RB1s on the 16 teams with five RBs earned more than 30% of snaps during Week 3 of preseason (2016: C.J. Anderson – 36% and 2017: LeSean McCoy — 39%). 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 timeshare 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 essential 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. However, the one thing to watch for WR playing time this week would be found in team/coach tendency to expose their top receivers to injury. Last season saw 41% of teams provide sub-30% playing time to their WR1.
The choices seemed reasonably obvious too, as they were teams with clear WR1 options and a well-perceived drop-off filling in behind them. The WR1 options leading Week 3 in the preseason last season were options that had question marks around them or WRs who had never seen WR1 status before (Terrelle Pryor – 59%, Rishard Matthews – 58%, Jarvis Landry – 63%). 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 since they should see the field with a bit more frequency.
Week 3 Plays
Note: This article was written Thursday, August 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.
Tom Brady (NE)
Last year, Brady was in the game for 56% of the snaps, seeing a healthy dose of first-team action. Add to this fact that Julian Edelman will be suspended to start the regular season and it seems there is a perfect storm brewing to see Brady connect with his WRs in an attempt to establish a rapport. We know Brady is a technician on the field and always comes to play with intensity — all of these factors make him a strong play for Week 3.
Alex Smith (WAS)
This is a choice that would be entirely dictated by previous years’ data: Jay Gruden gave Kirk Cousins 62% of the first-team snaps, and it would be expected now that Smith is trying to build chemistry with his teammates and that the opportunity will be there for him to have similar playing time.
Christian McCaffery (CAR)
Ron Rivera has already stated that he wants to see starters get “extended playing time” into the third quarter against the Patriots on Friday night. This is an excellent opportunity for McCaffery to shine and demonstrate just how explosive he is. McCaffrey has seen quality usage in the previous two games and could make an impact in Week 3.
Latavius Murray (MIN)
All signs point towards Dalvin Cook lacing up his cleats and getting some playing time in this one, but it’s safe to assume he won’t see extended action. Murray’s role in this offense as the power back who can handle higher quantities of work seems like a logical choice to use in the preseason. Week 3 is a tricky balance of starters and backups, but Murray looks like a good option here.
Chris Hogan (NE)
As mentioned above, Brady will be looking to establish connections with his WRs and work on timing for their quick routes. Hogan should be a PPR play for sure as he will be expected to get plenty of practice in establishing himself as the WR1 for the first four weeks of the regular season. As always, with any player (but especially the Patriots), keep an eye out for playing time confirmations as changes could happen at any moment.
Jordy Nelson (OAK)
Narratives come into play now and then and why would you think John Gruden would shy away from indulging us in a good grudge match in Week 3 of the preseason? Nelson gets a chance to show Green Bay that they should never have let him go and pepper him with targets (and hopefully a few red zone opportunities). Nelson’s involvement in this offense is yet to be seen, but this should be a good chance for him to get on the same page as Derek Carr before the regular season.
Christian Kirk (ARI)
The Texas A&M rookie has made waves this preseason and seems to be on his way to earning a starting role. This will be the time where he gets to test his skills against a starting NFL secondary and see how his chemistry can build with both Sam Bradford and Josh Rosen. Rookies are solid options in Week 3 as they may see extended playing time to get reps, even once most starters are pulled. Seeing as Josh Rosen and Christian Kirk are the future of the Cardinals’ passing attack, expect Kirk to see great playing time.
Trey Burton (CHI)
This season has the opportunity to turn Burton into a top-five TE for season-long leagues. Bears’ coach Matt Nagy has showcased Burton when the starting offense is on the field, and it should be expected that Burton will be utilized heavily, as Nagy used Travis Kelce quite a bit in Kansas City. At the TE position, solid floors are crucial, and Burton’s opportunity is there.
Houston Texans (HOU)
The Texans will face the L.A. Rams on Saturday and Rams coach Sean McVay has already stated that multiple starters will be riding the pine in Week 3. Without Gurley (and likely Goff since the starting offensive line is without two starters), the Texans’ first-team defense should have a field day getting after the QB and causing disruptions. As always, turnovers are king, so looking for those hurries and opportunities will be a huge payoff.
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.