WATCH: QB RUNDOWN – PRESEASON STARTERS
Many teams will only play their starters for a quarter or less in the first preseason game. Others won’t risk their best players at all. But we should still watch closely for clues regarding depth charts, position battles and health. Here are five storylines I’ll be watching this week:
1. Health of established players
Box-score production isn’t very important in the preseason – especially for established veterans who are taking it easy and operating in vanilla schemes. When it comes to players with well-defined roles and skill sets, health is most important. There are four players I’ll have a close eye on as they come off serious injuries:
A) Sammy Watkins: Had another foot surgery in January after it crippled his 2016 season. When healthy, he’s a no-brainer top-12 fantasy wideout. At the age of 22 and in his second NFL season (2015), Watkins posted 60-1,047-9 in just 13 games. Encouraging that he’s expected to play a quarter Thursday.
B) Keenan Allen: Blew out his left ACL in Week 1 last year, his fourth season-ending injury in the last five years (dating back to college). All reports have been positive as Allen lights up Chargers camp. Remember that he was on pace for 134 catches, 1,450 yards and eight TDs when we last saw him healthy (first eight games of 2015). Mike Williams’ back injury ensures the market share will be there for Keenan if he’s right.
C) Gio Bernard: The Bengals’ backfield is among the most interesting position battles. Second-round rookie Joe Mixon is the best talent, but how much volume will he get right away? The health of Bernard, who tore his ACL just eight months ago, will play a big factor. We also need to see if Mixon can separate from Jeremy Hill.
D) John Brown: As I detailed in my Undervalued article, Brown is set up beautifully. The Cardinals are desperate for playmakers beyond David Johnson/Larry Fitzgerald and Brown is a game-breaker. He’s just one year removed from a 65-1,003-7 season – and that was with Michael Floyd soaking up 89 targets. Now Floyd is gone and Brown reportedly has his sickle cell trait under control. We’ll see.
2. Mike Gillislee vs. Rex Burkhead
The fantasy community assumes Gillislee will handle the LeGarrette Blount role for the Patriots. Gillislee’s ADP is at 58.2 while Rex Burkhead’s is at 184.5. I also think Gillislee will be the goal-line and clock-killer, but I’m not certain enough to validate that gap in ADP. Preseason usage showing Gillislee far ahead of Burkhead would make me more comfortable.
3. Tyreek Hill’s plate
Ever since Jeremy Maclin was released, we knew the Chiefs had big plans for Tyreek Hill. Last year he was only in on 40.7 percent of the offensive snaps and averaged 5.1 targets per game. Now they’re taking him off kickoff returns and using him at the Z – the highlight position in Andy Reid’s offense. So are we going to see him on every offensive snap at the Z? The preseason should let us know.
4. Willie Snead vs. Ted Ginn
We’ve seen Ted Ginn spoil the upside of young players before. Just last year, Devin Funchess was often relegated to a blocking role in two-wide sets because the Panthers wanted Ginn’s speed on the field. I detailed the potential breakout for Willie Snead here, but I’d like to see him in at least some 2-WR sets and not exclusively playing the slot in 3-WR sets.
5. Ameer Abdullah’s usage
Abdullah is undoubtedly a talented guy, but there are questions about his situation. The Lions played extremely slow last year and have one of the best pass-catching backs in the league (Theo Riddick). They also have a good short-yardage back in Zach Zenner. So Abdullah could potentially have a really good real-life season but struggle to be a difference-maker in fantasy if he’s not getting pass-down or goal-line work. Watching how he’s used in the preseason will be useful.
ALSO WORTH WATCHING
6. DeAndre Washington vs. Jalen Richard: I don’t believe in Marshawn Lynch’s comeback as detailed here, but it’s not clear yet who will be the complement.
7. Ty Montgomery: I expect a jacked-up TyMont to be a workhorse as noted here. Will he be challenged by a rookie like Jamaal Williams or Aaron Jones?
8. Devin Funchess: Became obvious last August that Funchess wasn’t going to be on the field enough to make an impact. With Ted Ginn gone, does that change?
9. Rob Kelley vs. Semaje Perine: The offseason hype was all on Perine, but Kelley has held off the rookie so far in camp.
10. Eddie Lacy vs. Thomas Rawls: The artist formerly known as “Fat Ed” has met all his weight requirements so far, but are we certain he’s overwhelmingly better than Thomas Rawls? Their current ADPs are Lacy 77.5 and Rawls 147.9.
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