Fantasy Football: Dynasty winners from preseason Week 1

2RH0FEJ Dallas Cowboys tight end Jake Ferguson (87) catches a pass and is tackled by Jacksonville Jaguars linebacker Chad Muma (48) during the first half of an NFL preseason football game, Saturday, Aug. 12, 2023, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

  • Khalil Herbert is the RB to roster in Chicago: Fantasy managers have wondered who will stand out in a relatively crowded backfield with the offseason additions of D’Onta Foreman and rookie Roschon Johnson. However, Herbert was the running back to see 100% of snaps with the starting offense.
  • Zamir White has solidified himself as the RB2 in Las Vegas: As Josh Jacobs continues his holdout after receiving the franchise tag earlier this offseason, White has benefited from work with the first-team offense. Should Jacobs’ holdout continue, dynasty managers will want to ensure they’re rostering the best insurance policy in town.
  • Dallas Cowboys TE Jake Ferguson stands out as the receiving tight end option in Week 1: Dak Prescott and the Cowboys have heavily featured the tight end position historically. Now, coming into his sophomore season, Jake Ferguson was featured heavily in the passing game with the starting offense in Week 1 of the preseason.
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes

Week 1 of the NFL preseason is officially in the books, and there’s a lot to unpack from the first week of live action. Though every bit of preseason data comes with a grain of salt given the variability of which teams are playing their starting skill players, offensive linemen, or even whether or not they’re facing opposing starters on defense. It’s a hodgepodge but given the opportunity to unique opportunity to observe usage trends with more backups in

 the mix, there is some we can glean in terms of identifying potential values in dynasty leagues.

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QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Cleveland Browns

This is Deshaun Watson’s team. That’s a given considering the team’s investment in him, both financially and with the draft capital given up to acquire him. However, Thompson-Robinson has had a great start in his first career preseason games, with an 85.6 PFF passing grade and 73.7 grade as a rusher that ranked eighth and fifth among preseason quarterbacks so far. He’s also shown some upside as a rusher, with four attempts for 47 rushing yards over his two preseason games, including two runs of 10-plus yards.

Thompson-Robinson’s offensive execution has been beyond what you’d expect from a fifth-round rookie, and his athleticism (4.56 speed) and willingness as a runner provide more upside than you see from most backups. Though he won’t see playing time, barring injury to Watson or other extenuating circumstances, our two-game sample size says the rookie’s worth a speculative stash in superflex or two QB dynasty leagues — just in case. In his final season with UCLA, DTR totaled 720 rushing yards and 11 rushing touchdowns, both of which exceeded Indianapolis Colts fourth-overall pick Anthony Richardson.

RB Khalil Herbert, Chicago Bears

Since RB David Montgomery‘s departure in free agency, fantasy managers have hotly debated the future of the Bears run game (aside from Justin Fields. We know what we have there.) The team added D’Onta Foreman in free agency, fresh off a breakout season with the Carolina Panthers, and then went on to draft Texas prospect Roschon Johnson in the fourth round of the 2023 NFL Draft. However, if Week 1 of the preseason is any indication, this is absolutely Herbert’s job to lose.

Since being drafted in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft, Herbert has showcased all of the skills that made him so productive as one of the most elusive backs in the FBS during his final season at Virginia Tech. His 85.9 PFF rushing grade since being drafted ranks 14th among running backs, and he averaged 5.1 yards per carry over his career so far. His ability to generate yards after contact has been exemplary, averaging 3.3 yards after contact per attempt and a 21% missed forced tackle rate.

As lead fantasy analyst Nathan Jahnke noted in his post-game takeaways, Herbert played 100% of running back snaps with the first-team offense while Foreman and Johnson spent time working with the backups. Most notable, perhaps, was Johnson’s usage, playing deep into the fourth quarter. Herbert punctuated the team’s second drive by taking a screen pass from Justin Fields 56 yards to the house. Boom. 

Herbert has two years remaining on his rookie contract, and it stands to reason he’s earned the starting role in one of the league’s most productive and efficient rushing offenses. Dating back through college, Herbert has just 764 total touches to his name, coming into his third season with fresh legs and significant opportunity ahead. 

RB Zamir White, Las Vegas Raiders

White has benefitted tremendously from Josh Jacobs‘ absence this offseason, seeing the bulk of first-team reps through training camp amidst a contract dispute. In Week 1’s preseason game, White clearly solidified himself as the RB2 in the offense, playing 20-of-23 snaps with the team’s starters while totaling 13 carries for 43 yards and a score. Though generally inefficient with 3.3 yards per attempt, the work he received with the starters indicated that he’s the clearcut handcuff to Jacobs that’s worth a stash in dynasty leagues.

Veteran Ameer Abdullah played in third-down situations, which is unsurprising considering White’s history, as he totaled just 17 receptions dating back to his freshman year at Georgia. Regardless, White’s usage clearly indicated he’d be favored for early-down work, and his 4.40 speed gives him some upside for fantasy managers to enjoy should he see playing time during a Jacobs holdout. Consider him a valuable handcuff with minimal competition behind him between Abdullah, Brandon Bolden, and Damien Williams, who was signed to the roster just days ahead of the Week 1 preseason matchup.

WR Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers

While all eyes are on Steelers WR George Pickens for the highlight-reel circus catches, Johnson is gently nudging dynasty managers with some, “don’t forget me” grabs as well. Despite running one fewer route than both Pickens and Allen Robinson II on the team’s lone starting drive, Johnson saw three of Pickett’s seven targets with the first-team offense. 

Over the last three seasons, Johnson ranks fifth among wide receivers with a 24.8% team target share, sixth in receptions (281) and is tied with Chris Godwin for the 15th most receiving yards in that span. Where Johnson really struggled in 2022 was in the touchdown department — but to be fair, all Steelers receivers did. There wasn’t a single team in the league to throw for fewer touchdowns than Pittsburgh. However, Johnson led the team in both red zone and end zone targets on the season, he is due for everyone’s favorite phrase — “positive regression”. 

Johnson’s entering his age-27 season with a lot left in the tank, finesse as a route runner and consistency as a target hog. Don’t sleep on Johnson’s skillset because of the highlights Pickens has to offer, especially when Johnson has been a consistent chain mover for this Steelers' offense. 

TE Jake Ferguson, Dallas Cowboys

Ferguson stepped into a huge opportunity this offseason with Dalton Schultz‘s departure in free agency. He kicked off his career with a 19/174/2 line as a rookie, as his 75.2 receiving grade ranked 10th among tight ends with 20 or more targets. He also posted 1.66 yards per route run (ninth) and 6.4 yards after the catch per reception (13th). Now, with Week 1 of the preseason in the books, he’s starting to show that efficiency as a rookie translates in his second NFL season.

Though the tight end room feels a bit crowded with Peyton Hendershot and second-round rookie Luke Schoonmaker, Ferguson saw heavy usage as a receiver to start the game. He played 13-of-17 snaps with the first-team offense (nine of those being routes run) to Hendershot’s six snaps played and four routes run, catching all three of his targets for 38 receiving yards. Ferguson is just 24 years old and already showing upside as a receiver. Pair him with Dak Prescott, who’s thrown just under eight pass attempts to the tight end position per game over the last three seasons, and we have ourselves a budding dynasty sleeper. 


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