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

2RERB5Y Green Bay Packers' Jayden Reed catches during NFL football training camp Saturday, July 29, 2023, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Najee Harris and Pat Freiermuth see less playing time than expected: They were both part of rotations last regular season, and the rotations seem to be more competitive this year.

De’Von Achane is fifth on the depth chart: He didn’t play until the second quarter and wasn’t particularly effective, but there is plenty of time for him to move up the depth chart.

• The Green Bay Packers’ second-round rookies are high on the depth chart: Jayden Reed has already secured the third wide receiver spot, while Luke Musgrave appears to be the starting tight end.

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Green Bay Packers @ Cincinnati Bengals

Jayden Reed is the established WR3 for Green Bay: The second-round rookie played 100% of snaps in 11 personnel with the starters.

  • Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs remain the clear top two on the depth chart, both in terms of playing time and targets.
  • Reed’s main competition for the third spot was Samori Toure, who played only one snap with the starters while Christian Watson took a play off.
  • It was expected that Reed would eventually secure the third spot, especially after positive training camp reports, but it was good to see his stranglehold on the job this early.
  • Reed continued playing with the second-string offense after Watson’s and Doubs' nights were done. He continued to stick with 11 personnel sets with the backups.
  • All but one of his snaps with the starters came from the slot, with his only out-wide snap coming in a bunched formation.
  • He can be worth a late-round flier in case he becomes one of Jordan Love’s favorite targets.

Luke Musgrave might be an every-down tight end: Musgrave took every snap with the starters.

  • The Packers traditionally employ a rotation of tight ends by situation. They could still do this in the regular season, but it was noteworthy Musgrave was ahead of third-round rookie Tucker Kraft on all 11-personnel snaps.
  • Robert Tonyan and Marcedes Lewis were leading that rotation last year, but both left for the rival Chicago Bears this offseason.
  • It was also noteworthy that both Musgrave and Kraft were already playing ahead of Tyler Davis, who didn’t see a single snap with the starters. Davis played 175 offensive snaps last season and 121 the year before.
  • Josiah Deguara is the only other player on the roster who could impact playing time for Musgrave and Kraft.
  • Deguara missed a week of training camp with a calf injury and recently returned, but the Packers still kept him out of this game.
  • If Musgrave plays anywhere close to 100% of offensive snaps, he should be considered among the league’s top sleeper tight ends.

The Bengals’ open running back competition: The Bengals rotated Chris Evans and Chase Brown by drive.

  • Joe Mixon was among the Bengals’ starters who rested.
  • Trayveon Williams seemed to be the favorite for the backup job, but he sprained his ankle and is week to week.
  • This gives veteran Chris Evans or fifth-round rookie Chase Brown a chance to win the job.
  • Evans started the game and broke a 33-yard run in the second quarter, so he is likely ahead of Brown.
  • The Bengals could very well add a veteran if Mixon ever suffers an injury, but there is at least a chance one of these players could be a fantasy starter this season if Mixon is hurt and the Bengals don’t look elsewhere.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • The Packers ruled out 2023 seventh-round rookie running back Lew Nichols and wide receiver Grant DuBose, as well as veteran tight end Josiah Deguara before the game. They were among the nine players ruled out for primarily injury reasons.
  • Aaron Jones played the first offensive snap of the game, caught a six-yard pass and then called it a night.
  • Trenton Irwin, Trent Taylor and Stanley Morgan Jr. were the Bengals' backup wide receivers last season, and they started Friday night.
  • Fourth-round rookie Charlie Jones is most likely to challenge for one of those spots, but he’s playing with a torn labrum. He was further down the depth chart than you would expect, but it was likely due to the injury.
  • Irv Smith Jr. was among the Bengals’ starters not playing, as was backup Drew Sample, who seems secure in the No. 2 job after missing most of last season.

Atlanta Falcons @ Miami Dolphins

De’Von Achane has work to do: Achane currently sits at fifth on the Dolphins’ running back depth chart.

  • Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson Jr. were both given the night off with the rest of the starters.
  • Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed were the only running backs to play for Miami in the first quarter.
  • The Dolphins started transitioning to more backups throughout the second quarter, particularly on the offensive line. This was when Achane started mixing in.
  • Gaskin put up a great performance, recording seven carries for 57 yards.
  • Achane continued playing into the third quarter but gained only 25 yards over his first 10 carries.
  • On the bright side, Achane did make a few nice catches. But he caught only one pass in the first three quarters.
  • Plenty of rookie running backs were far down the depth chart in the first week of the preseason last year, including Tyler Allgeier with the Atlanta Falcons and Rachaad White with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Both worked their way up the depth chart quickly.
  • It’s far too early to give up on Achane for 2023, but this game hurt him more than it helped.

The Atlanta Falcons rested almost everyone: Atlanta didn’t use its top two quarterbacks, top three running backs, top three wide receivers and top two tight ends.

  • Interestingly, KhaDarel Hodge didn’t play. He was the Falcons’ fourth wide receiver last season.
  • Olamide Zaccheaus, Damiere Byrd and Bryan Edwards were all among the Falcons’ top five wide receivers last season and are no longer on the roster.
  • This implies Hodge is third on the depth chart, behind Drake London and free agent addition Mack Hollins.
  • It was also noteworthy that Parker Hesse played significantly in the first half after leading the Atlanta tight end room in offensive snaps last season with 619.
  • This means he is third on the depth chart, behind Kyle Pitts and Jonnu Smith.
  • His playing time could have just been due to a lack of healthy tight ends. The Falcons have six on the roster, and MyCole Pruitt was just added two weeks ago.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • The Dolphins announced ahead of the game that Tua Tagovailoa, Raheem Mostert, Jeff Wilson Jr., Alec Ingold, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and Durham Smythe were among the starters not playing.
  • Wide receiver Braylon Sanders suffered a minor knee injury earlier in the week, so he was also among the 31 Dolphins ruled out before the game.
  • Dolphins free agent addition Robbie Chosen wasn’t among the players listed as not playing but was on the sideline in shorts. It’s unclear why he didn’t play, but based on training camp reports and the unofficial depth chart, it doesn’t seem like Chosen is an established starter

Pittsburgh Steelers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Jaylen Warren leads in snaps with Steelers starters: Najee Harris started the game, but Warren also played significantly.

  • Harris played each of the team’s first three snaps. Warren replaced him for second-and-11 and third-and-10, which isn’t surprising considering those were the kinds of situations Warren played in last season.
  • Warren stayed on the field for the following first-and-10 and was replaced by Harris for a first-and-10. Harris was then replaced by Warren for another first-and-10.
  • The Steelers turned to backups for the second drive, which included not just replacing Harris for the night, but also Warren.
  • We already anticipated Warren playing in passing situations this year, but this at least increases the possibility of him taking more snaps on early downs, too.
  • This could be enough of a reason to move Harris down the rankings at least a little bit until we see the Steelers’ starters again this preseason, if at all.
  • It’s also possible the Steelers were just trying different things with the offense. Harris never ran the ball but did catch a pass, whereas Warren was used more as a runner than a receiver — the opposite of what we’d typically expect.

Monitor the Steelers’ tight end rotation: Pat Freiermuth similarly saw fewer snaps than expected with the starters.

  • Freiermuth played five of eight snaps in 11 personnel and neither of the snaps in two-tight end sets.
  • Zach Gentry was the Steelers’ run-blocking tight end last season, which cost Freiermuth some pass routes out of run formations.
  • Pittsburgh drafted Darnell Washington, who is also a run blocker. If Freiermuth stops playing in 12 personnel, that might be enough to keep him from being a top-10 fantasy tight end.
  • The fact that Washington played three snaps in 11 personnel with the starters was also alarming.
  • With both the running backs and the tight ends, this could just be the team wanting to try things with Kenny Pickett on the field. But it could also be a sign of things to come.

Allen Robinson II might fight for the second receiver spot: Robinson played significantly with the starters, including in 12 personnel.

  • Diontae Johnson played both snaps in 12 personnel, one with George Pickens and the other with Robinson.
  • Robinson also played every snap in 11 personnel, while Johnson and Pickens both took a play off.
  • Pickens was rarely playing in 12 personnel in the first half of the season but played more than two-thirds of snaps there in the second half of the season.
  • The addition of Robinson wasn’t expected to impact Pickens’ playing time, but there is at least a chance it will.
  • Pickens caught a highlight-worthy 33-yard touchdown pass to end the first drive, so ideally, he can find a way to keep those snaps.

Ke’Shawn Vaughn has the early lead on the Buccaneers' backup job: Vaughn started the game and played the first several snaps for Tampa Bay.

  • The Buccaneers played Vaughn for a while, then Edmonds for a while and then back to Vaughn and back to Edmonds.
  • Tampa Bay similarly rotated its running backs by drive during the regular season late last year.
  • This could simply be a case of Vaughn having more experience in the offense, and it’s close given the similar snaps.
  • It’s unlikely that Rachaad White is playing more than 75% of offensive snaps once the regular season starts, so one of these running backs — not both — will see some significant playing time in the regular season.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • The Buccaneers announced Rachaad White, Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, a few offensive linemen and several defensive players wouldn’t play before the game.
  • Undrafted rookie wide receiver Rakim Jarrett was also among the players ruled out before the game. He’s put together a strong camp, but even then it would be surprising if he’s already earned a day off.
  • Wide receiver Russell Gage is locked into the third receiver spot. While he wasn’t among the clear starters who didn’t play, he took snaps on the first drive only, and his night was done before the rest of the Buccaneers' “starters.”
  • Tight end Cade Otton similarly left before other players who started the game. He played the Buccaneers' first 14 offensive plays and then left mid-drive. While it was a little surprising to see him play considering he was the clear starter to end last season, it doesn’t seem like anyone will surpass him.
  • Steelers Calvin Austin III was a fourth-round pick last season but then missed the entire year with a foot injury. This was his first preseason game, and he caught a 67-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

New York Giants @ Detroit Lions

Sam LaPorta is already the Lions’ starting tight end: LaPorta played the clear majority of snaps with the starters over the team’s other top players.

  • While starters at several positions got the night off, there were no notable tight ends who didn’t play.
  • LaPorta played during the first three drives, taking 100% of snaps in 11 personnel and 100% of snaps in 12 personnel with Brock Wright.
  • Wright took 100% of snaps in 21 personnel.
  • Both tight ends were replaced after the third drive by James Mitchell and Daniel Helm.
  • This is the best-case scenario for LaPorta. He’s already ahead of everyone else, and the time the Lions plan to take him off the field is during likely run situations.
  • Typically, we shouldn’t read too much into rookies playing further down the depth chart, but when a rookie is starting in the first week of the preseason ahead of all veterans, they are very likely to have that role during the regular season.

Jameson Williams plays longer than expected: Williams played much later into the game than other notable Lions.

  • Rookies Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta played only the first three drives, as did veterans such as Brock Wright.
  • Williams continued to play into the third quarter of the game.
  • This might look like bad news for Williams, but it might have just been a case of the Lions lacking healthy receivers. While they could have wanted to simply see him play, they also probably needed him.
  • He officially caught two passes on seven targets for 18 yards, but most of those incomplete passes weren’t catchable.
  • He did drop a pass, but that doesn’t indicate he will drop a lot of passes in the future.
  • Williams brought in a nice two-point conversion in the third quarter.
  • It will at least be worth monitoring Williams more closely going forward, but this game for him may not have been as bad as it looked.

The Giants’ seemingly crowded receiver room wasn’t crowded: The Giants had three clear wide receivers, but the room will be more complicated soon.

  • Darius Slayton and Parris Campbell appeared to be among the starters who were given the night off, which should be good news for their fantasy value.
  • It was at least somewhat surprising that Isaiah Hodgins also didn’t receive the night off based on how well he played last season. It could have potentially been because of how few healthy receivers New York had.
  • Wan’Dale Robinson is still on the PUP list after tearing his ACL last season. Sterling Shepard returned from the PUP list two weeks ago, but given his injury history, it isn’t surprising he also had the night off.
  • This meant Hodgins and third-round rookie Jalin Hyatt were the starters, while Cole Beasley was in the slot.
  • Beasley stood out the most with four catches for 33 yards. Hyatt caught only one pass for -4 yards by halftime.
  • Former NFL starter Jamison Crowder played with the second-team offense and appears to be among the odd men out once everyone is healthy.
  • Collin Johnson also played with the second-team offense but suffered a knee injury and was quickly ruled out.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Lions first-round rookie Jahmyr Gibbs played every snap in the first quarter before taking the rest of the game off. It was good to see him on the field in every situation, but we can’t learn much without David Montgomery also playing.
  • Giants fifth-round rookie Eric Gray played on third downs with the second team. It’s possible Gray earns time in that situation in the regular season.
  • Giants backup running back Matt Breida and tight end Daniel Bellinger were among the players who played for only two drives before sitting out. Starters Saquon Barkley and Darren Waller were among the several Giants given the night off.

Washington Commanders @ Cleveland Browns

Monitor the Elijah Moore injury: Moore suffered a ribs injury on the Browns' first drive, but X-rays have already come back negative.

  • He played every snap on the Browns' first drive in three- or four-receiver sets but not in any of their one or two-receiver sets.
  • This suggests he will remain third on the depth chart behind Donovan Peoples-Jones and Amari Cooper, at least in terms of playing time.
  • He took two snaps out of the backfield and is the only wide receiver to take snaps at running back in the first quarter of a preseason game this year.
  • He took a carry out of this set for 18 yards.
  • Seeing some rushing production is a big bonus to his fantasy upside, making him an interesting late-round sleeper.

New offensive coordinator, same offensive trends for Commanders: Washington played its healthy starters, and the offensive snap trends were very similar to last season even though Eric Bieniemy is the team's new offensive coordinator.

  • Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson continued to split offensive snaps, as they did last season, with the general trend of Robinson playing more on early downs and Gibson playing more on late downs.
  • Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson were almost always the receivers in two-receiver sets while Curtis Samuel joined for 11 personnel sets.
  • While playing time was similar to last season, we already started to see more personnel diversity.
  • Washington never used 21 personnel last season, but the Commanders used it once with the starters Friday night. They also only used 20 personnel three times all of last season and already used it once with the starters.

Miscellaneous notes

  • Tight end Logan Thomas was among the few Commanders ruled out before the game. He’s dealing with a calf injury and the team is being cautious.
  • John Bates had been the primary backup tight end last season, followed by Cole Turner, but Turner played most of the snaps with the starters Friday night, suggesting there might be a new primary backup.
  • The Browns declared the following players out before the game: running back Jerome Ford, wide receivers Jakeem Grant Sr., Mike Woods II, Jaelon Darden, Marquise Goodwin, and tight end Harrison Bryant.
  • Nick Chubb and Amari Cooper also didn’t play, which was similar to last preseason.
  • The Browns started a game without a running back, and John Kelly Jr. took the first offensive snaps. Demetric Felton performed better, which probably means the battle for the third running back spot is still close.
  • Third-round rookie Cedric Tillman is clearly established as the team’s fourth wide receiver at this point, replacing Cooper among the starters instead of David Bell or Anthony Schwartz.
  • Jordan Akins missed the Hall of Fame Game but was healthy enough to play Friday night. He played in every two- and three-tight end set with the starters and took over as the primary tight end with the backups.

Denver Broncos @ Arizona Cardinals

Greg Dulcich’s playing time is in trouble: Adam Trautman was not just the Broncos starting tight end, but he played on all first and second downs.

  • Trautman caught two passes in the first half for 18 yards while Dulcich wasn’t targeted.
  • Dulcich only joined the field for third downs and two-tight end sets. Last season, he would play significantly on early downs and third downs.
  • Trautman has a history in Sean Payton’s offense, and he was consistently playing in over 80% of his team's offensive snaps the last time he was healthy with Payton as his coach.
  • Trautman was listed as the starter on the unofficial depth chart, so it wasn’t surprising to see him in 21 personnel, but the fact that he played in 11 personnel on early downs is a problem for Dulcich’s fantasy value.
  • If this carries on into the regular season, then Dulcich likely won’t be able to be a fantasy starter.
  • Chris Manhertz was a Broncos free agent signing who could also play in run-blocking situations. He was not in uniform Friday night, but he could take some of the snaps in 12 personnel away from Dulcich.
  • Payton did refer to Dulcich as a “Joker” in the offense, similar to Taysom Hill or Darren Sproles. The Broncos didn’t use Dulcich in these kinds of creative ways Friday night, but this could help his fantasy value even if Trautman is seeing significant playing time.

Marquez Callaway is currently WR3 for the Broncos: Callaway is another former Sean Payton player who saw played with the starters.

  • Tim Patrick and K.J. Hamler being injured/off the roster have opened the door for Callaway to move up the depth chart.
  • While it’s not surprising to see Callaway ahead of Marvin Mims at this point of the preseason, it was surprising that Mims didn’t see a single snap with the starters in the team's first four drives.
  • Callaway also took some snaps in two-receiver sets in place of Jerry Jeudy.
  • Jeudy and Sutton were targeted more than Callaway to no surprise.
  • Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who is another former Sean Payton player, played a few snaps in Courtland Sutton‘s place on the Broncos' fourth drive, also ahead of Mims.
  • We can fully expect Mims to see play more as the season progresses, but it’s possible Callaway always stays part of the offense, potentially preventing Mims from seeing his potential as a rookie. 

Rondale Moore only played in the slot: The Cardinals, at times, used Moore in two-receiver sets, but he appears to mostly be a three-receiver set player this season.

  • The Cardinals typically used Zach Pascal and Michael Wilson in two-receiver sets instead of Moore.
  • He pretty consistently lined up in the slot when he was on the field.
  • The fact that he was playing while several other starters had the night off is another sign the Cardinals might not view him as highly as we thought.
  • The one piece of good news is Greg Dortch didn’t play until the third drive when several Cardinals starters were done, so Moore appears to be clearly ahead of Dortch at this point.
  • Pascal and Wilson are likely fighting for the other outside receiving spot across from Marquise Brown. There was no difference between them in playing time. Wilson caught two passes for eight yards.
  • There is at least a chance Brown plays at times in the slot with Pascal and Wilson out wide.
  • Moore can still be considered a late-round sleeper if he’s consistently in the slot in 11 personnel, but it’s a little less likely to work out based on Friday night.

Monitor Corey Clement‘s health: Clement took a big hit and went to the locker room after.

  • About 40 minutes later, he was spotted on the sideline with his helmet. His night would have likely been done by that point regardless, but he was kept out.
  • Clement is fighting with Keaontay Ingram for the backup job behind James Conner.
  • Conner was among the starters sitting Friday night out, while Ingram has been out of action with an abdomen injury.
  • This game didn’t tell us much about the Cardinals' backup running back situation, outside of Clement being ahead of Ty’Son Williams on the depth chart.
  • It wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the Cardinals bring in a free agent, especially after adding Marlon Mack before he landed on injured reserve a few days later.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Samaje Perine took every snap with the starters. This wasn’t surprising considering Javonte Williams wasn’t playing, but it was at least good to see they trust him in every situation in case Williams misses regular season time.
  • Trey McBride is the Cardinals starting tight end, but it’s unclear if he didn’t play because he’s that established of a starter, or if it’s because he missed some practice last week and early this week.

Table Notes
  • Snaps include plays called back due to penalties, including 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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