- RB Deneric Prince, Kansas City Chiefs (70.0 PFF offense grade): He is taking his training camp hype to the next level against the New Orleans Saints on Sunday.
- WR Puka Nacua, Los Angeles Rams (89.8 PFF offense grade): He will play the inside/outside No. 1 wide receiver role in Cooper Kupp’s (86.3 PFF offense grade) absence.
- RB Roschon Johnson, Chicago Bears (82.0 PFF offense grade): His three-down skillset will be on full display against the Tennessee Titans.
Estimated reading time: 8 minutes
The NFL preseason Week 1 continues with Saturday and Sunday-night slates featuring the Chicago Bears vs. Tennessee Titans, Carolina Panthers vs. New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens vs. Philadelphia Eagles, Los Angeles Rams vs. Los Angeles Chargers, New Orleans Saints vs. Kansas City Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders vs. San Francisco 49ers.
Below are the top five recommended players for DraftKings’ daily fantasy football Thursday competitions. All NFL preseason players come with a $5,500 salary.
Prince (70.0 PFF offense grade) parlayed moderate college production and an exceptional NFL combine showing into an undrafted-free-agent rookie contract with Kansas City last spring and immediately stole the show at summer practices. The 6-foot, 216-pound 23-year-old is on the same path taken by 2022 breakout rookie Isiah Pacheco (76.2 PFF offense grade), returning kicks while working his way up the running back depth chart. With Pacheco (hand and shoulder injuries) declared out, 31-year-old Jerick McKinnon (57.5 PFF offense grade) unlikely to play and Clyde Edwards-Helaire (67.6 PFF offense grade) potentially on the roster bubble, Prince will be featured both in the backfield and on special teams.
Prince’s 2022 rushing data among 56 Group-of-Five running backs with at least 125 rushing attempts (table below has ranks in parentheses):
|2022 Group-of-Five RB Rushing||Deneric Prince|
|PFF Rushing Grade||73.8 (No. 49)|
|YPC||5.8 (T-No. 9)|
|Missed Tackles Forced||30 (T-No. 37)|
|MTF/Rush Att.||0.24 (T-No. 23)|
|Yards After Contact/Rush Att.||3.4 (T-No. 15)|
|10+-Yd Rush Att.||19 (T-No. 35)|
|10+-Yd Rush Att. %||15.0% (No. 12)|
|1st-Dwn + TD %||26.8% (No. 26)|
Among 34 Group-of-Five running backs with at least 15 green-zone rushing attempts, Prince ranked top 10 in missed tackles forced per rushing attempt rate (0.24) and top five in yards after contact per rushing attempt (2.1 yards) despite running behind Tulsa’s No. 50-ranked offensive line (51.0 PFF run-blocking grade).
New Orleans’ 65.6 PFF run-defense grade in 2022 ranked No. 15 among NFL teams, and its 4.3-yard average depth of tackle ranked No. 20. The defensive line ranked a lowly No. 29 in Zoltán Buday’s 2023 defensive line rankings, in part, due to soft interior run defense.
Prince has been dutifully improving his pass-catching and pass-protection skills after operating primarily as a rusher in college. Prince flashed potent run-after-catch skills on 16 receptions over the last two years, averaging 10.6 yards after the catch per reception.
Prince (57.1 PFF return grade) efficiently averaged 17.0 yards per kickoff return as a Tulsa sophomore, increasing his end zone odds for Sunday’s game.
WR Puka Nacua, Los Angeles Rams (vs. Los Angeles Chargers)
Nacua (89.8 PFF offense grade) possesses the elite efficiency needed to rapidly ascend Los Angeles’ thin wide receiver corps. Lackluster veterans Demarcus Robinson (64.8 PFF receiving grade), Ben Skowronek (56.4 PFF receiving grade) and Tutu Atwell (70.2 PFF receiving grade) in addition to 2022 preseason mirage Lance McCutcheon (47.4 PFF receiving grade) comprise Nacua’s preseason competition.
As detailed in Jon Macri’s “sleepers to target late in dynasty rookie drafts,” Nacua wins as both a short-area and downfield route runner who can line up all over the formation pre-snap. The 22-year-old produced a pair of remarkably efficient seasons in vastly different roles over the last two years.
Nacua’s 2021 and 2022 receiving data among Power-Five wide receivers with at least 65 targets (table below has ranks in parentheses):
|Power-Five WR Receiving||Puka Nacua in 2021||Puka Nacua in 2022|
|PFF Receiving Grade||83.3 (No. 17)||90.1 (No. 1)|
|TPRR||27.8% (No. 21)||37.9% (No. 1)|
|YPRR||3.44 (No. 4)||3.53 (No. 1)|
|Catch % – Contested Catch %||67.7% (No. 35) – 64.7% (No. 6)||71.6% (No. 15) – 50.0% (T-No. 39)|
|aDot – Yd/Rec.||16.7 (T-No. 3) – 18.3 (No. 5)||12.0 (No. 37) – 13.0 (No. 48)|
|Yards After Catch/Rec.||6.1 (No. 28)||7.4 (No. 9)|
|15+-Yd Pass Plays %||45.5% (No. 5)||29.2% (No. 59)|
|20+-Yd aDot %||40.0% (No. 1)||28.4% (No. 14)|
Built akin to Cooper Kupp (86.3 PFF offense grade, 6-foot-2, 208 pounds), the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Nacua should bully Los Angeles’ 5-foot-10, 185-pound backup slot cornerback Ja’Sir Taylor (69.6 PFF slot-coverage grade) and his 66.7% open-target slot-coverage rate.
Special teams contributors and 2023 rookies comprise Los Angeles’ backup perimeter cornerback group, boding well for Nacua’s odds when lined up out wide.
RB Roschon Johnson, Chicago Bears (vs. Tennessee Titans)
Chicago boasts a deep, talented backfield featuring veterans Khalil Herbert (72.5 PFF offense grade) and D’Onta Foreman (73.1 PFF offense grade) in front of Johnson (82.0 PFF offense grade). Herbert and Foreman are efficient ball carriers but possess glaring deficiencies as pass-catchers and pass-protectors. The 22-year-old Johnson quietly honed his three-down skillset working in Bijan Robinson’s (95.3 PFF offense grade) shadow from 2020-to-2022. Come Saturday morning, Johnson will demonstrate his status as Chicago’s most complete running back, ready to contend for the team’s starting role.
The Chicago backfield’s three-down profiles via PFF grades:
|Chicago Bears RBs||Roschon Johnson||Khalil Herbert||D’Onta Foreman|
|PFF Rushing Grade||88.3||77.1||76.5|
|PFF Receiving Grade||58.1||46.5||52.4|
|PFF Pass-Blocking Grade||67.4||54.4||14.8|
Johnson produced sterling efficiency rates in 2022.
Johnson’s 2022 rushing data among 103 Power-Five running backs with at least 90 rushing attempts (table below has ranks in parentheses):
|2022 Power-Five RB Rushing||Roschon Johnson|
|PFF Rushing Grade||88.3 (No. 18)|
|YPC||5.8 (No. 29)|
|Missed Tackles Forced||46 (T-No. 24)|
|MTF/Rush Att.||0.49 (No. 2)|
|Yards After Contact/Rush Att.||4.3 (No. 6)|
|1st-Dwn + TD %||34.0% (No. 14)|
Johnson’s 2022 receiving data among 71 Power-Five running backs with at least 20 targets and his 2022 pass-blocking data among 83 Power-5 running backs with at least 35 pass-protection snaps (table below has ranks in parentheses):
|2022 Power-Five RB Passing Game Data||Roschon Johnson|
|PFF Receiving Grade||58.1 (T-No. 57)|
|PFF Pass-Blocking Grade||67.4 (No. 8)|
|TPRR – YPRR||19.1% (No. 25) – 1.16 (T-No. 30)|
|Yd/Rec.||9.1 (No. 26)|
|Yards After Catch/Rec.||9.8 (No. 21)|
|MTF/Rec.||28.6% (T-No. 28)|
|15+-Yd Pass Plays %||28.6% (No. 3)|
|Pass-Blocking Efficiency %||97.2% (T-No. 15)|
|QB Pressure %||5.6% (T-No. 16)|
|QB Knockdown %||0.0% (T-No. 1)|
Head coach Matt Eberflus gave significant playing time to the young backups in both NFL preseason Weeks 1 and 2 last year, indicating Johnson will have ample opportunity to prove his worth before hosting a showdown between Johnson, Herbert and Foreman in NFL preseason Week 3.
WR Tre Tucker, Las Vegas Raiders (vs. San Francisco 49ers)
Tucker (70.3 PFF offense grade) offers the blazing speed that Las Vegas sorely needs in its three-wide receiver sets. A Friday calf injury suffered by No. 1 wide receiver Davante Adams (90.1 PFF offense grade) likely results in Nos. 2 and 3 wide receivers Jakobi Meyers (75.6 PFF offense grade) and Hunter Renfrow (65.6 PFF offense grade) receiving bubble-wrap treatment throughout the preseason. Tucker’s continual big-play deliverance in practice should result in multiple first-read looks come Sunday night as Adams’ injury puts the onus of head coach Josh McDaniels to rapidly diagnose Tucker’s potential.
Tucker confirmed his on-field eye-test quicks with a 1.48-second 40-yard-dash 10-yard split that had him tied for the 2023 NFL combine’s No. 4 overall spot. The 5-foot-9, 185-pounder routinely separated for explosive gains in 2022.
Tucker registered top-25 per-route target (26.4%) and yardage (2.24) rates among 55 Power-Five wide receivers with at least 80 targets but dominated defenders on targets within five yards of the line of scrimmage.
Tucker’s 2022 receiving data among 40 Power-Five wide receivers with at least 35 targets within five yards of the line of scrimmage (The table below ranks in parentheses):
|2022 Power-Five WR -5-to-5-Yd aDot Receiving||Tre Tucker|
|PFF Receiving Grade||68.6 (No. 21)|
|TPRR – YPRR||33.6% (No. 16) – 2.47 (No. 6)|
|Catch %||78.4% (No. 39) – 100.0% (T-No. 1)|
|Yd/Rec.||9.4 (No. 1)|
|Yards After Catch/Rec.||9.7 (No. 2)|
|15+-Yd Pass Plays||5 (T-No. 4)|
|NFL Passer %||106.3 (No. 10)|
San Francisco allowed a 78.3% open-target rate on targets within five yards of the line of scrimmage last year, ranking No. 26 among NFL teams. Although the defense ranked top eight in both catch rate allowed (80.3%) and yards allowed per coverage snap (5.06) on those targets, the unit was gifted a league-high 47 drops or off-target incompletions, allowing for artificially inflated successes. San Francisco notched 30 missed tackles (No. 15) in this department as well, which is problematic when facing a run-after-catch speedster like Tucker.
WR Jonathan Mingo, Carolina Panthers (vs. New York Jets)
General manager Scott Fitterer spent his first two seasons in Carolina building up the trenches before drafting Alabama quarterback Bryce Young (91.3 PFF passing grade) and Ole Miss wide receiver Jonathan Mingo (78.6 PFF offense grade) with his first two 2023 NFL Draft picks. Mingo joins a paper-thin Carolina wide receiver room expected to start washed-up veterans D.J. Chark Jr. (69.6 PFF offense grade) and Adam Thielen (66.3 PFF offense grade) at the Z-receiver and slot receiver positions, respectively. Mingo gets the unique opportunity to build mutual Day 1 rapport with Young, operating as the 22-year-old quarterback’s long-term No. 1, X-wide receiver.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound hyper athlete boasts a multi-faceted downfield receiving profile.
Mingo’s 2022 receiving data among 43 Power-Five wide receivers with at least 85 targets (The table below ranks in parentheses):
|2022 Power-Five WR Receiving||Jonathan Mingo|
|PFF Receiving Grade||78.6 (No. 18)|
|TPRR – YPRR||21.6% (No. 41) – 2.14 (No. 29)|
|aDot – Yd/Rec.||14.5 (No. 5) – 16.9 (No. 5)|
|Yards After Catch/Rec.||7.3 (No. 6)|
|15+-Yd Pass Plays %||39.2% (No. 8)|
|20+-Yd aDot %||31.0% (No. 3)|
Among 31 Power-Five wide receivers with at least 35 targets with a 15-plus-yard average depth of target (aDot), Mingo ranked top five in yards per reception (33.6) and top eight in yards after the catch per reception (7.1). Mingo maintained this impressive downfield production despite running routes as either a slot receiver or in-line tight end at a 43.9% rate.
Five New York cornerbacks logged double-digit coverage snaps in last week’s Hall of Fame preseason opener. Three-of-five players operated primarily as special teams players in 2022 while the reaming two failed to log a single 2022 coverage snap.