What We Learned From Week 3 of Preseason (2018 Fantasy Football)
Week 3 is the most important of the NFL preseason, and there’s really no debate about that. Generally regarded as the closest thing to a regular season game, this is the time when starters play the most, with some of the biggest names in the game logging over a full half of football. This time around, it was a very eventful slate of games and a lot of relevant fantasy football information emerged from the happenings of the weekend. So let’s get right to it.
The Browns showed us why we typically wait until after the third preseason game to draft our fantasy squads as both of the team’s quarterbacks sustained injuries during the dress rehearsal. Tyrod Taylor suffered a dislocated pinky while Baker Mayfield took a shot that led to a brief concussion scare (although he immediately passed the protocol). Taylor is expected to be fine and should remain the opening week starter for an improved Cleveland squad, while Mayfield waits in the wings.
In the same game, Nick Foles continued to struggle, tossing two interceptions and losing a fumble against a surging Browns defense. It’s hard to write off a Super Bowl MVP after a couple of unimpressive preseason performances, but with Carson Wentz‘s status for the opener still up in the air, the Eagles will need more from Foles.
Cam Newton looked solid against the Patriots, going 11 of 17 for 142 yards, and adding 13 yards on two carries, but he took a nasty spill and had to enter concussion protocol. Fortunately, he was quickly cleared and returned to action, but it was a scary situation nonetheless. Quietly, Newton has a tremendous group of weapons at his disposal this year and could have a big statistical season as long as his depleted offensive line holds up.
Teddy Bridgewater continues to look good, as the former first-round pick went 11 of 15 for 105 yards against the Giants. Bridgewater has quietly been the Jets’ best quarterback during the preseason (although admittedly, he’s played against backups), and has likely improved his trade value for a team that appears set to roll with rookie Sam Darnold and veteran stalwart Josh McCown. Meanwhile, Darnold remained solid against the Giants, while leading the offense on two touchdowns drives. It’s entirely possible if not probable that he opens the season as the starter. Eli Manning also played well in this game, going 17 of 23 for 188 yards against the Jets and showing great chemistry with Sterling Shepard. More on that later.
It’s been a tough preseason for Matthew Stafford, as the veteran went 9 of 18 for 113 yards against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in his latest appearance. Through his first two games, he has completed only 47.8% of his passes and has yet to throw a touchdown, while his receivers have struggled with drops. Most alarmingly, he’s already taken five sacks in spite of the fact that the Lions have invested more money and draft capital in their offensive line than virtually anyone over the last two-and-a-half years. It’s too soon to get worried about the Lions’ offense, but a little bit of hesitancy is warranted.
Clearly, Patrick Mahomes can play some football. Kansas City’s first-year starter completed 18 of 24 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown while adding two scrambles for 11 yards in an impressive performance against the Bears. The Mahomes-Tyreek Hill connection looks fantastic this point, and the sophomore signal caller could be well on his way to a big season.
Andrew Luck looked a lot like his old self while completing eight of ten passes for 90 yards and a touchdown against the 49ers. Luck has been a top-five fantasy passer in each of his last three healthy seasons, and while he comes with a certain amount of risk, the former first overall pick could be the comeback player of the year in both real life and fantasy football. Lamar Jackson played his best game of the preseason on Saturday, completing 70% of his passes for 98 yards and a touchdown, and scrambling for 39 yards and another score on three carries. While Joe Flacco appears locked in as the starter for the foreseeable future, this performance was a reminder of the incredible ability the former Heisman trophy winner possesses.
Andy Dalton lit up the Bills’ defense for 180 yards and two touchdowns and looks like a potentially fantastic fantasy value coming off a disappointing 2017 campaign. Meanwhile, it wasn’t as fun a day for his opponent, Bills rookie signal caller Josh Allen. Allen completed only six passes for 34 yards against the Bengals, taking five sacks in the process. Even worse, he had to leave the game to be evaluated for a concussion. Allen will be the team’s starting quarterback sooner than later, but this particular showing was a sign that perhaps that day isn’t here quite yet.
Carlos Hyde continued his impressive string of play, taking seven carries for 45 yards against the Browns. Hyde has 17 carries for 108 yards (5.7 YPC) and a touchdown through three preseason contests and looks to have a solid grip on the starting tailback role for now. LeGarrette Blount looks like the lead back in Detroit, after rushing 11 times for 45 yards and playing most of the first-team snaps against the Bucs. The Lions’ backfield looks like a muddled mess right now, but Blount’s role as a goal-line back and his established relationship with Matt Patricia makes it clear he will be significantly involved from day one.
Rookie Ronald Jones rushed six times for seven yards against the Lions. While his struggles on the ground are well-documented, he did snare a 37-yard reception in the process. Jones has lost a lot of luster during the preseason and his ADP is slipping. Meanwhile, his backfield mate Peyton Barber rushed five times for 34 yards and a touchdown. I still have optimism about Jones’ season-long outlook, but this is clearly looking like Barber’s gig to lose early in 2018. Bilal Powell earned the start for the New York Jets, taking ten carries for 24 yards and a touchdown. It was Powell’s second consecutive start, and a clear sign that he’s going to have a larger role in this backfield than many anticipated. Isaiah Crowell will still be heavily involved, but this is shaping up to be more of a committee than it previously appeared.
The Chris Carson hype train isn’t slowing down any time soon. Carson took seven carries for 26 yards and a score while adding two receptions for an additional 20 yards against the Vikings. The sophomore has been the talk of Seattle for much of the preseason, and Rashaad Penny remains sidelined with a finger injury. Carson looks like a lock to be the ‘Hawks lead back at the start of the season, but Penny should eventually earn his way into the rotation.
Latavius Murray received ten carries and seven targets in the first half against the Seahawks in a game that saw Dalvin Cook make his return from last season’s ACL tear. There has been a lot of talk about Murray retaining a reasonably large early-season role as Cook makes his way back to full speed, and his workload this preseason won’t do anything to silence those suggestions. Murray’s seven targets are particularly notable as he only received 17 in total last season.
Remember when the idea that Christian McCaffrey would receive 25-30 touches a game seemed crazy? Well, it no longer appears that absurd. Run CMC had 14 total touches for 64 yards in a busy first half against the Pats. McCaffrey has now piled up 29 total touches for 224 yards over his first three preseason appearances, which is good for 7.7 yards per touch. That number matches the 7.7 yards averaged in 2017 by rookie of the year Alvin Kamara last season. McCaffrey is poised for big things in 2018, and his ADP is skyrocketing.
Adrian Peterson took 11 carries for 56 yards in his first preseason appearance, just days after signing with Washington. It was an impressive performance, although until we get a clearer picture of how the workload will be divided in this backfield, proceed with caution. The preseason’s leading rusher Chris Warren continued his string of quality play for the Raiders, picking up 54 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries against the Packers. Warren has accumulated 250 rushing yards and two scores on 46 totes, which is good for a sparkling 5.4 YPC. James Conner caught six passes for 52 yards against the Titans, and showed he’s ready to step up in the event Le’Veon Bell‘s holdout lasts longer than expected.
Alfred Morris has to be one of the more underappreciated running back talents of the decade. The man has performed capably wherever he’s been, yet it took a series of injuries for him to even receive a contract in 2018. On Saturday, he took 17 carries for 84 yards and dominated backfield snaps for the 49ers. Jerick McKinnon and Matt Breida are going to be back at full health sooner than later, but I would be stunned if Morris doesn’t carve out a meaningful role for himself.
Tevin Coleman looked good starting in place of Devonta Freeman against the Jaguars and picking up 38 rushing yards on seven carries. While Freeman should continue to lead the backfield in 2018, it’s a reminder of how talented Coleman is and his ability to contribute quality production to your squad, even in a limited role. Leonard Fournette looks ready to dominate this year. The sophomore tailback picked up 57 rushing yards (and a score) on ten carries, and also chipped in three receptions for 18 yards against the Falcons. Fournette has dropped weight this off-season, and is being talked up as someone who could see an expanded role on third down. It could be a very big season for the former LSU standout, even with the exciting Corey Grant in the mix for touches.
Kenyan Drake may share carries with Frank Gore, but he appears ready to build off his impressive finish from the last month of 2017. The former Alabama runner accumulated 68 total yards on only five touches against the Ravens’ defense. There’s a lot of upside here if you can stomach the risk of a reduced workload. It’s not going to matter much while he’s playing behind Todd Gurley, but rookie runner John Kelley looks like a great find for the Rams. The former Tennessee standout rushed for 64 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries against the Texans. Kelley was a popular player in the analyst community during the draft process, and it looks like he will be a capable backup for 2017’s reigning Offensive Player of the Year.
The Raiders’ starters only played one series in Week 3, but that was enough for Amari Cooper to secure his only target for a 49-yard gain. While we haven’t seen much of him in the preseason, Coop is a tremendous bounce-back candidate in an offense that will feature him heavily. Sterling Shepard snared all seven of his targets for 78 yards against the Jets. Shepard has become something of a forgotten man in an offense that includes Odell Beckham, Saquon Barkley, and Evan Engram, but Eli Manning‘s No. 2 wideout has been on the precipice of a breakout for some time now.
Stefon Diggs continued to display a strong connection with Kirk Cousins, snaring four of eight targets for 51 yards. Diggs has struggled with injuries in the past but is a premium talent when healthy. If the connection with Cousins continues to blossom and he can avoid the trainer’s table, it could be a special season for the fourth-year man. Courtland Sutton looks like the real deal for the Denver Broncos. The rookie snared all three of his targets for 45 yards against Washington and looks ready to contribute in his first NFL season. While he likely won’t advance any higher than third on the depth chart in the near future, his impressive play early on is exciting and should be closely monitored.
Sammy Watkins is having a hard time getting going during the preseason and was only able to corral one of his four targets against the Bears. Watkins has been a popular bounce-back pick in drafts this year, but until his connection with Mahomes improves, optimism should be tempered. The Bears rested most of their starters against Kansas City but had to be encouraged by the performances of receivers Kevin White and Javon Wims. White, the seventh overall pick of the 2015 draft, caught a pair of passes for 33 yards and a touchdown, while Wims, a 2018 seventh-rounder, continued his impressive preseason by snaring four receptions for 114 yards and a score of his own. Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, and Taylor Gabriel are the team’s top three wideouts entering the season, but the team has to be pleased with these performances (particularly from the oft-injured White).
Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee suffered what appeared to be a significant knee injury against the Falcons. As of this writing, the severity of the ailment isn’t known, but it doesn’t look promising. It’s unfortunate for a player who was at the top of the team’s crowded depth chart and let’s hope it’s not as serious as it appeared. Impressive Steelers’ rookie James Washington sustained an abdominal injury against the Titans. When healthy, Washington possesses serious upside in a potent passing game with an elite quarterback. While he will constantly be fighting for playing time, he should still see plenty of quality looks throughout the season.
Kenny Stills reeled in all three of his targets for 28 yards against the Ravens, a week after being sidelined with an ankle injury. Stills could legitimately emerge as the Dolphins’ most productive wideout in 2018, as there are question marks surrounding most of the team’s other pass-catchers. In my opinion, Stills’ WR47 ADP is mouth-watering. As a rookie in 2017, former first-rounder John Ross failed to make an impact for the Bengals. This year, he appears to have the No. 2 receiver role locked up, and he looked good against the Bills, grabbing two receptions for 66 yards, with a nifty 57-yard touchdown reception in the process. It’s too soon to give up on the speedster.
Eric Decker‘s biggest news didn’t come from preseason action against the Panthers, but rather from Instagram, as the veteran announced his retirement on the social media outlet on Sunday. Decker was competing for a roster spot on the Patriots, who are likely to roll with Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, a returning Julian Edelman, and potentially Cordarrelle Patterson as the top options in the wideout pecking order.
It was a rough week for tight end injuries. Evan Engram suffered a concussion against the Jets. Luke Willson injured his knee against the Bucs. David Njoku sustained an ankle injury during Thursday’s match-up with the Eagles. Jesse James dinged up his back against the Titans. Furthermore, it’s been reported that Hayden Hurst will miss three to four weeks with a stress fracture in his foot. That’s a ton of bad news, but let’s focus on what little positivity surrounding the position there is right now.
By now, you probably already know of my affinity for O.J. Howard, so I was happy to see the sophomore secure both of his targets for 22 yards against the Lions. Howard was one of the best tight end prospects of the last decade coming out of college and was enjoying a bigger role late in 2017 before an ankle injury ended his season. This year, he could be primed for big things, particularly when Jameis Winston returns from suspension.
If you’re an Eric Ebron backer, you’re pretty happy after the young veteran snared all five of his targets for 54 yards and a touchdown on Saturday. Ebron looked in sync with quarterback Andrew Luck and has oodles of athletic ability, so he could be a quality low-risk, high-upside flyer late in drafts.