Preseason Week 1 Recap: Immediate fantasy football takeaways from Saturday's games

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers running back Anthony McFarland (26) runs the ball against the Seattle Seahawks during the first quarter at Acrisure Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

• Seventh-round rookie RB Isiah Pacheco was the second Kansas City Chiefs running back to receive snaps — before both Jerick McKinnon and Ronald Jones.

• Washington Commanders RB Antonio Gibson fumbled his second carry, leading to a drive with Brian Robinson Jr., where the rookie scores a touchdown.

• Buffalo BillsZack Moss and James Cook split snaps in the battle to be Devin Singletary’s backup.

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Draft Jahan Dotson: The Commanders spent the 16th overall pick on Dotson and wasted no time starting him. He was thought to be more of a slot receiver, but he was lining up on the outside more often than not Saturday with Curtis Samuel in the slot. Most importantly, Dotson was on the field in two wide receiver sets, meaning he should rarely leave the field. Early first-round wide receivers are making an impact in their rookie seasons more often than not, making Dotson a great player to take a risk on.

Draft Antonio Gibson at your own risk: The Commanders’ first two drives were all too familiar, as Gibson played on first and second down while J.D. McKissic took over on third downs. This was expected but disappointing nonetheless. His day got worse when he fumbled on his second carry, which led to rookie Brian Robinson taking the first and second down snaps on a long touchdown drive. It’s unclear if that was planned or a reaction to the fumble, but Robinson made the most of his opportunity. Gibson entered the game again, but with the backups.

Robinson will likely earn some short yardage touches during the regular season, which will greatly hurt Gibson’s touchdown potential. It’s possible that Robinson starts at some point this season.

Avoid the Panthers’ backup running backs: Both Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman played with the first team while Christian McCaffrey took the day off. McCaffrey’s re-injury risk is low, so even if there was a clear backup, they wouldn’t be more attractive than other situations. The fact that it’s unclear who would take over, or that it could be a 50/50 split, makes it hard to draft either player.

Don’t worry about Robbie Anderson: Carolina rested its star skill players, but Anderson still started the game. While other wide receivers played more with the starters, Anderson finished his day earlier than the other starters. He played the first four snaps and only came back for one snap where he was targeted on a deep pass. His starting role seems secure, and he should see plenty more deep targets as long as Baker Mayfield wins Carolina's starting quarterback job.


Draft Clyde Edwards-Helaire: There were concerns over the former first-round pick after Jerick McKinnon had an excellent end-of-season performance and Kansas City added Ronald Jones in free agency. Edwards-Helaire remained the starter, playing the first seven snaps before calling it a day. Isiah Pacheco took over next and seems like the favorite for the backup job. He is worthy of a late-round draft pick in fantasy leagues now. 

Jones might not make the roster, as he didn’t see playing time until the second quarter, and Derrick Gore played shortly after him. Kansas City will still likely have some rotation at running back, but Edwards-Helaire should be at the top of that rotation.

Draft JuJu Smith-Schuster: Kansas City rotated running backs and tight ends with the starters, but the wide receiver depth chart seemed pretty clear. Smith-Schuster played every snap with the starters, so he is likely at the top of the depth chart and could lead the team in targets.

Marquez Valdes-Scantling was second on the depth chart, playing all but two snaps —both were run plays. Valdes-Scantling is worth a late-round pick.

Mecole Hardman only played in three wide receiver sets and shouldn’t be drafted. Second-round rookie Skyy Moore played a lot starting with the second drive, but it wouldn’t be surprising if Moore works his way up to at least third on the depth chart, which would potentially leave Hardman on the bench. It would have been nice to see Moore play at least one snap with the starters, but there is still plenty of time for him to work his way up.

Don’t draft Travis Kelce in the first round: Kelce’s skills and playing time began to decline last season. He used to consistently play over 80% of offensive snaps, only missing that mark in six games from 2017 until Week 6 of 2021. He finished with less than 80% of Kansas City's offensive snaps seven times over the last 10 games of last season. His PFF grade, threat rate, yards per route run and explosive plays were all his lowest in five seasons.

If this game is any indication, his playing time could decrease even more. Kansas City rotated tight ends in and out. Kelce led that rotation and played five snaps. He usually sat out run plays, but he was also out on the touchdown play that went to one of his backups. If the Chiefs wanted to limit him because it’s the preseason, then they probably wouldn’t have played him at all.

Kelce at 75% is still better than most tight ends in the league, but the first-round price tag is a little high for a player on a downward trend.

Draft Khalil Herbert with a late-round pick: The Bears had a number of starters either resting or out with injury, including most tight ends, wide receivers not named Darnell Mooney, and starting running back David Montgomery. Herbert played every snap with the starters, including third downs. This meant sixth-round rookie Trestan Ebner didn’t play until the backups came in. Herbert is Montgomery's handcuff at the very least but could have some stand-alone value if he can cut into Montgomery’s playing time.


Draft the Bills running backs with caution: The Bills rested their starters, which included Devin Singletary. Zack Moss started and rotated in and out with third-round rookie James Cook. It wouldn’t be surprising if Cook gets the No. 2 job, but this could be a three-man backfield. It’s also unclear how far Singletary is ahead of the backups. The backfield was already one of the murkiest in the NFL, and Moss still being a factor just makes it more confusing.

Draft Isaiah McKenzie: McKenzie has been one of the most hyped Bills in training camp. He was among the starters who didn’t play today. Jamison Crowder is his competition for the slot job, but the veteran played with the backups for a few drives. Crowder did leave the game before other backups, so he should still factor in, but McKenzie is clearly ahead of him. Cole Beasley was WR27 in this role as recently as 2020, so McKenzie has a shot to be a consistent fantasy starter.

Take a late-round shot on Alec Pierce: Several first- and second-round wide receivers have either barely played with the starters or didn’t play with the them at all, but Pierce has already worked his way up to WR3 on the roster. He was one of only Colts three receivers to play with the first team. Parris Campbell played instead of Pierce in two wide receiver sets, but Pierce could surpass Campbell on the depth chart at some point. Every rookie picked in the first two rounds has high upside, but Pierce also has an OK floor to go with the upside.

Don’t draft a Colts tight end: Mo Alie-Cox has moved into Indianapolis' starting role after Jack Doyle‘s retirement. The problem is the Colts like using three tight ends interchangeably. Alie-Cox was, at times, rotated out, including on the Colts' first third down of the game. They haven’t had a top-24 tight end each of the last two years due to this rotation despite having talent at the position. It’s also worth noting that sixth-round rookie Andrew Ogletree played with the first team in three tight end sets and also played more with the second team before third-round rookie Jelani Woods.


Consider a late-round pick on Anthony McFarland Jr.: The Steelers rested their starters, including Najee Harris. Benny Snell missed Thursday’s practice and was seen with a large wrap on his right knee, which gave McFarland a chance to shine in this preseason game. He gained 53 yards from six carries. Preseason statistics don’t mean a lot, but those numbers certainly don’t hurt McFarland’s chances of winning the backup job. He could end up as Harris' handcuff on a team that likes to run.

Don’t adjust Kenneth Walker III on your rankings: Rashaad Penny sat out this game with a groin injury, although he might have sat out if he was healthy. Walker started and played on first downs, second downs and third-and-short over three of the first four drives. Travis Homer took his spot on third-and-long. Homer played most of the snaps on the third drive as well as all nine snaps in the two-minute drill, pushing Homer’s total snaps played above Walker. The rookie is still the clear backup on early downs who won't play on third downs or two-minute drills, which is exactly where we expected him to be at this point.

Don’t draft Noah Fant: The Seahawks rested their starters, which included Will Dissly but not Fant. Dissly signed a three-year, $24 million contract with over $10 million guaranteed, which is more money than the Seahawks have invested in Fant. We could still expect Fant to lead the tight end room in targets, but Dissly has a chance to take significant playing time from the former Bronco.

Fant was mostly used as a blocker when on the field. Colby Parkinson was used in two tight end sets with Fant, and the two split time in 11 personnel. Fant was used more as a receiver during the two-minute drill, but it’s also concerning he was used late in the second quarter of a preseason game.  Fant was a borderline fantasy starter in Denver, but in a worse offense with more competition, his upside has quickly dissipated.


Slow the hype on Rachaad White: The Buccaneers rested several players, including starting running back Leonard Fournette. Giovani Bernard is the clear favorite for the No. 2 spot at running back, taking all 13 snaps with the starters in the first quarter. He’s recently been viewed as a third-down back, so it was good to see him play every down. Ke’Shawn Vaughn was the next back on the field. White didn’t register a carry until Bernard and Vaughn ran a combined 16 times. The rookie will need to surpass both players to be Fournette’s handcuff. There is certainly a chance he gets there, but he has a ways to go.

Avoid drafting Mike Gesicki: The Dolphins rested several key players, including eight key offensive contributors, but Gesicki wasn’t among one of them. He was often used in the slot in recent seasons but is adjusting to playing more tight end in the new offense. Over half of his snaps came playing inline compared to the slot. When he was in the slot, there were also two receivers outside of him. In 11 personnel, there were also plays where Durham Smythe was on the field instead of Gesicki. The position change and increased competition for targets will reduce Gesicki’s volume, making it much harder for him to be a fantasy starter. He should still get drafted but not at his current ADP.

Don’t draft Myles Gaskin: The Dolphins didn’t use Chase Edmonds or Raheem Mostert Saturday night. Sony Michel started the game, and Salvon Ahmed mixed in early. The two split snaps for the first half. Neither player put up great numbers, but it was noticeable that the former starter wasn’t part of that rotation. Gaskin first played his offensive snaps late in the second quarter. None of these three backs should be getting drafted in most leagues, but even in deeper leagues, Gaskin is only an option if he can find a role on a new NFL team.


Monitor the Texans running backs: The Texans gave 32-year-old Rex Burkhead the night off to no surprise. He is locked in as the receiving back for the team. Marlon Mack started the game and played all first and second downs for the first three drives while Dare Ogunbowale took the third downs. Both backs continued playing even after a number of starters left the game. Fourth-round rookie Dameon Pierce didn’t play until the second quarter. He put up great numbers, but it was against backups.

There is still plenty of time for Pierce to surpass Mack on the depth chart, but it would have been nice for Pierce to see a snap in the first quarter. He should still be picked as a sleeper now while his ADP is low before he wins the job. Mack is a good running back to pick for anyone who needs a starter in September to pair with Pierce or another rookie who might have a slow start but a strong finish.

Don’t adjust Chris Olave‘s rankings: The Saints rested several veterans, including Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry. It was good to see Olave as a clear starter, ahead of former starter Tre’Quan Smith on the depth chart, this early. It’s very unlikely a team would rest a rookie even if it considers him a starter. On the other hand, it would be nice to see where he stands against Thomas and Landry. Marquez Callaway played just as many snaps and left the game at the same time as Olave. There was no bad news from this game, but not much good news either.

Don’t draft Adam Trautman: Trautman finally started to look fantasy relevant in the middle of 2021. He had four straight games with six or more targets and finished Week 11 as TE4 before missing most of the rest of the season with an injury. He appeared to be clearly behind Juwan Johnson for New Orleans' receiving tight end job. Taysom Hill has switched to tight end full time, and he will also complicate things once he starts playing. At this point, Trautman could be dropped in some dynasty leagues.


Ignore the Cowboys' snap counts: The Cowboys rested most of their starters today, including at wide receiver. Not only was CeeDee Lamb out, but Noah Brown also got the night off. Jalen Tolbert was the Cowboys' top wide receiver on the depth chart Saturday, will likely start the season in three-receiver sets and should eventually surpass Brown, but it’s not too noteworthy when a rookie is behind a veteran at this point of the season.

Move Albert Okwuegbunam down the draft rankings: Okwuegbunam was once considered a fantasy sleeper, but the Broncos new coaching staff hasn’t seemed impressed with the tight end. Denver drafted Greg Dulcich as competition, but the rookie missed this game with a hamstring injury. The Broncos rested every single starter at quarterback, running back, wide receiver and offensive line, but Okwuegbunam played. He didn’t start, as Eric Tomlinson and Andrew Beck began the game from a clear run formation. Okwuegbunam continued to leave the field anytime Beck was in at fullback.

Okwuegbunam played when Denver used 11 personnel, but the fact that he played in this game at all is concerning, and he continued to play until the end of the second quarter while third-string wide receivers were on the field. He’s still worth holding onto in dynasty leagues due to how well he’s played over the first two seasons, but he doesn’t appear to be a high enough priority to be worth more than a last-round flier right now.


Slow the Josh Palmer hype: The Chargers were one of several teams to rest their starters. Palmer has received a lot of attention recently, as there are reports he might be far ahead of Jalen Guyton. Ideally, the Chargers would think highly enough of Palmer to not play him Saturday night. He could still be a clear No. 3 wide receiver for the team this season, but this was a missed opportunity to solidify his starting status.

Slow the Isaiah Spiller hype even more: Spiller was drafted to be a change-of-pace back with Austin Ekeler, but it might be some time before he fulfills that expectation. Joshua Kelley started the game and rotated in and out with Larry Rountree III for the first 25 minutes of the game. It’s one thing for an expected role player to not play with the starters in the first preseason game, but it’s concerning when they aren’t playing with the second team either. Spiller can still get drafted in late rounds, but it might not be until mid-season until he starts seeing significant playing time.

Ignore the Rams' snap counts: The Rams rested several players. The only questions for the team are how the backfield snaps will be distributed between Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson and the receiving snaps will be distributed with Van Jefferson injured. Ben Skowronek was listed ahead of Tutu Atwell on the unofficial depth chart, but neither receiver played. Starters Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson II also rested, leaving the Rams with the receivers who were No. 6 or below on the depth chart Saturday.

Table Notes
  • Snaps include plays called back due to penalties like offensive holding or defensive pass interference. The other three stats have these plays removed.
  • Targets may differ from official NFL sources. The most likely discrepancy would be from a clear thrown away pass, where the NFL may give the target to the nearest receiver, while this data will not.
  • Carries are only on designed plays. Quarterback scrambles won’t count for the total number of carries in the game.

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