When the NFL had a four-week preseason, the fourth week’s games were almost completely irrelevant, with most teams refusing to play their starters. Now that the league has gone to a three-week exhibition season, the preseason finales are more of a mixed bag. Some teams didn’t play their offensive starters at all. But some teams treated Week 3 as a dress rehearsal, giving their offensive starters substantial playing time. We fantasy managers didn’t get an enormous volume of actionable information, but we got some — especially at the RB position.
Let’s take a position-by-position look at some noteworthy fantasy tidbits from the third and final week of the preseason.
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Anthony Richardson‘s final preseason game of 2023 might have been a taste of what we’ll see from him in the regular season. Richardson wasn’t particularly inspiring or efficient as a passer, completing 6-of-17 throws for 78 yards, no TDs and no INTs while playing 37 snaps. But he did run five times for 38 yards. Richardson figures to derive a great deal of his rookie-year fantasy value from his rushing. His passing numbers probably aren’t going to be pretty in Year 1.
Buccaneers RB Rachaad White appears to be poised for a meaty role this season. White was on the field for all nine of starting QB Baker Mayfield‘s snaps in the Bucs’ preseason finale vs. the Ravens. White also ran a route on all six of Mayfield’s dropbacks, which bodes well for White’s usage in the passing game. White had 50 receptions last season as a rookie, but that was 23 fewer receptions than now-departed RB Leonard Fournette had for the Bucs. Although Mayfield probably won’t check down to his running backs as often as Tom Brady did last year, White could still catch 60-plus balls.
Bears RB coach David Walker has said Khalil Herbert is the top back in Chicago’s multi-pronged backfield, and the usage of the Bears’ running backs in the team’s preseason finale seemed to (ahem) bear that out. Herbert took a majority of the snaps that Bears QB Justin Fields played in the preseason, and Herbert played all the early-down snaps in Chicago’s preseason finale against Buffalo. Still, it was at least mildly encouraging to see rookie fourth-rounder Roschon Johnson on the field for a pair of third-and-long plays vs. Buffalo while Bears QB Justin Fields was still in the game. A willing and able pass blocker, Johnson might have a chance to become the Bears’ primary passing-down back.
The Texans’ usage of Dameon Pierce in the preseason has been eye-opening. Pierce has been on the field for nearly every snap that starting QB C.J. Stroud has taken in Houston’s three exhibition games. Stroud played nine snaps against the Saints on Sunday night, and Pierce was in the backfield for all nine. Pierce ran out of gas during the latter part of his rookie season, possibly because he was a committee back during his college career at Florida and not accustomed to the heavier workload. It appears that Pierce is positioned for heavy usage in 2023, making him look like draft value since he’s usually not among the first 20 running backs to come off the board.
Jaguars rookie Tank Bigsby played 9-of-25 snaps while Trevor Larence was on the field for the Jaguars in their preseason game against the Dolphins on Saturday. Bigsby seems destined to put a dent in the fantasy value of incumbent Jags RB Travis Etienne.
The Steelers have talked about giving more work to backup RB Jaylen Warren this season, and Warren’s preseason usage suggests that might be true. In Pittsburgh’s final preseason game, on the 11 snaps that starting QB Kenny Pickett played, Najee Harris was in the backfield for seven, and Warren was in for four.
A knee injury kept Damien Harris out of the Bills’ first two preseason games, but he played in the third and had a 2-yard touchdown run to cap the Bills’ opening drive against the Bears. James Cook‘s ADP has been helium-filled throughout August, but perhaps Cook will lose some of his steam if investors are concerned that Harris might serve as the Bills’ primary goal-line back. It’s a valid concern, since Harris is 23 pounds heavier than Cook and had 15 TD runs for the Patriots in 2021.
Deon Jackson was the Colts’ starting running back for their last preseason game. That suggests Jackson will be the Week 1 starter if the Colts trade Jonathan Taylor this week, if Taylor starts the season on the PUP list, or if Taylor holds out into the regular season.
In the spring, rookie Zach Evans seemed like a potentially valuable handcuff to starting Rams RB Cam Akers. Perhaps it was foolhardy to have such high hopes for a late-sixth-round draft pick — particularly one whose lead-RB role at Ole Miss was usurped by a true freshman (Quinshon Judkins) last fall. Now, it appears Evans might not make the Rams’ final roster. As noted by PFF’s Nathan Jahnke, the Rams have held Akers and Kyren Williams out of all three of their preseason games, and Ronnie Rivers has consistently played ahead of Evans throughout the preseason. Evans may be battling Royce Freeman for the team’s final RB spot.
Rookie Jayden Reed is expected to play a significant role for the Packers this season, but his usage might limit his fantasy potential. Throughout the preseason, Reed wasn’t on the field whenever Green Bay used two-TE sets. It’s especially noteworthy that Reed wasn’t one of the two receivers on the field when the Packers used 12 personnel (two TEs, two WRs) in their final preseason game, since starting WR Romeo Doubs was out with a hamstring injury. It’s an indication that Reed will rarely be on the field for two-WR sets and will be used exclusively as a slot man. There’s still fantasy value to that role, but Reed’s ceiling may be limited.
With Tim Patrick out for the season with a torn ACL and Jerry Jeudy dealing with a hamstring injury that could keep him out of action until late September or early October, rookie Marvin Mims is poised for a major role with the Broncos. Mims started the Broncos’ third preseason game and was a fixture in two-WR sets. Even when Jeudy returns, Mims should have some fantasy utility as a regular in Denver’s three-WR sets.
The Panthers have one of the messier WR situations in the league. Adam Thielen has FantasyPros’ highest Expert Consensus Ranking, slightly ahead of D.J. Chark and rookie Jonathan Mingo. In his best performance of the preseason, No. 1 overall draft pick Bryce Young targeted Thielen on 5-of-12 pass attempts. Thielen finished with four catches for 48 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown.
Rookie Josh Downs played extensively with the Colts’ starters on Thursday night and appears to have locked down a role as Indy’s primary slot receiver.
As my colleague Andrew Erickson noted, the Browns’ David Njoku ran a route on all 16 of Deshaun Watson‘s preseason dropbacks. It’s an encouraging sign that Njoku, an athletic marvel who’s never quite fulfilled his fantasy potential, will be prominently involved in the Cleveland passing game this year.
More of Fitz’s Fantasy Football Draft Advice
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- Fitz’s Quarterback Primer
- Fitz’s Running Back Primer
- Fitz’s Wide Receiver Primer
- Fitz’s Tight End Primer