Fantasy News & Analysis

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

2R67DET Chicago Bears wide receiver DJ Moore works on the field during NFL football practice in Lake Forest, Ill., Wednesday, June 7, 2023. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Khalil Herbert is the clear favorite in the Bears’ backfield: Herbert played every snap with the starters and scored a touchdown.

Tyjae Spears outshines Hassan Haskins: Spears saw significant time with the primary backups and was a more impressive runner, with his runs coming against Bears starters.

D.J. Moore is already making a difference: Moore scored on the Bears’ third offensive play, a 62-yard touchdown, and got the rest of the day off before the remaining Chicago starters.

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Tennessee Titans @ Chicago Bears

Khalil Herbert is the clear early favorite for the Bears’ RB job: Herbert played 100% of snaps while Justin Fields was also playing.

  • Free agent addition D’Onta Foreman only began playing on the third drive with the backups.
  • When a team in the preseason doesn’t have any kind of rotation, it typically means one player is ahead of the other on the depth chart.
  • Chicago consistently used David Montgomery on the first two drives and Khalil Herbert on the third drive last season, so in this particular case, it could mean Herbert will be the one playing on the first two drives this season.
  • Herbert graded very well as a runner but not as well as a receiver last season.
  • His 56-yard touchdown catch could lead the Bears to trust him more as a receiver.
  • Herbert’s ADP might be one of the biggest risers over the next week, given his playing time and highlight play, and it deserves to rise.
  • Trestan Ebner was the third halfback to see playing time late in the second quarter. 
  • Roschon Johnson also played late into the second quarter, but only after Ebner was helped off the field. This suggests he’s currently fourth on the depth chart.
  • There is plenty of time for Johnson to work his way up the depth chart, but he might not factor in much in September.

Tyjae Spears makes a statement in the Titans’ backup competition: Hassan Haskins started the game, but Spears made his mark on the first drive.

  • Spears outsnapped Haskins on the first two drives and ran six times for 32 yards, compared to two carries for five yards by Haskins.
  • Haskins eventually scored a touchdown, but it took him two goal-line tries. His efficiency remained low relative to Spears.
  • Typically, rookie running backs are decently far down the depth chart the first week of the preseason — for example, De’Von Achane with the Miami Dolphins — so the fact that Spears is already seeing significant time with the second team is a good sign.
  • It’s unlikely Spears has standalone value to start the season, but he’s trending toward being the handcuff for Derrick Henry.
  • Henry is also 29 years old and on a below-average team. If the Titans are off to a bad start this season, it’s possible Henry will get traded at the deadline, which could turn Spears into a fantasy starter.

The Titans' third wide receiver battle: DeAndre Hopkins and Treylon Burks both had the day off. Multiple other Titans wide receivers are fighting for playing time this season.

  • Chris Moore and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine started the game for Tennessee. Moore was a free agent from the Houston Texans, while Westbrook-Ikhine was a starter last season.
  • Moore caught a 30-yard pass on the team’s first scoring drive, and his day was done afterward, whereas Westbrook-Ikhine kept playing. This suggests Moore is ahead of Westbrook-Ikhine on the depth chart.
  • Kyle Phillips started last season as the Titans’ slot receiver but didn’t play much with how much 12 and 21 personnel the offense used.
  • He was still playing on the second drive but was done playing on offense after that point. This suggests the Titans also value him more than other players who played on the third drive and beyond.
  • It seems like Phillips is still the favorite to play in 11 personnel, but Moore should also see significant playing time when either Hopkins or Burks needs a play off. Moore is also the favorite to be a starter if Hopkins or Burks suffers an injury this season.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Titans tight ends Chigoziem Okonkwo and Trevon Wesco were among the veterans who had the day off. Rookie Josh Whyle was expected to be a receiving tight end primarily, but he was used often in two-tight end sets in rushing situations, as well. He’s clearly third on the depth chart right now and will factor in this season.
  • Malik Willis started for the Titans, but he and Will Levis rotated by drive. Willis had the advantage of playing behind the starting offensive line on the first drive. Tennessee switched to backup offensive linemen for the second drive.
  • D.J. Moore played every snap on the first drive, scored a 62-yard touchdown and called it a day before the rest of the Bears’ starters.
  • Chase Claypool didn’t play in this game due to a tweaked hamstring in practice Wednesday. It’s expected to be a minor issue, and he should be the Bears’ third wide receiver.
  • Robert Tonyan played in two-tight end sets with the starters and stopped playing when the starters were done. He should see significant playing time in the regular season, but there was no indication from this game that his playing time will be a threat to Cole Kmet’s snaps.

Indianapolis Colts @ Buffalo Bills

James Cook is unsurprisingly the early favorite for Buffalo: Cook played every snap on the Bills’ first two drives.

  • He ran on four of those six plays, gaining 20 yards and a touchdown.
  • This isn’t all that surprising, considering the Bills typically rotated their running backs by drive rather than situation and Cook is at the top of the depth chart.
  • Damien Harris missed this game with a knee injury.
  • Latavius Murray entered the game once Cook exited.
  • If anything, it’s surprising that a 33-year-old Murray is playing in the preseason.
  • Cook is a breakout running back contender, but this game shouldn’t move the needle on his fantasy value.

Deonte Harty is the early favorite for the slot wide receiver role: Harty was consistently the Bills' slot receiver in the first half.

  • Gabe Davis started on the outside as he did all last season, with Trent Sherfield taking Stefon Diggs’ spot opposite Davis.
  • The Bills used 12 personnel on their first drive and then switched to three-wide receiver sets on the second drive.
  • Harty was the third wide receiver. He played in the slot on two of those three plays, with Davis playing in the slot on the other rep.
  • The Bills subbed out several players who started after those two drives, including Davis and Sherfield.
  • Harty continued playing in the slot with the other backups, with Khalil Shakir and Justin Shorter playing on the outside.
  • This suggests that Harty will be the primary slot receiver this season with Sherfield joining when Diggs or Davis need time off.
  • Shakir seemed like an up-and-coming player for the Bills late last season, but it appears he has fallen back down to fifth on the depth chart.

Dalton Kincaid plays with the starters: Kincaid played all six snaps with Buffalo’s first team.

  • The Bills' first drive featured three straight runs out of 12 personnel. Kincaid and Knox lined up on the same side of the field for all three plays, with Knox on the outside and Kincaid on the inside.
  • The Bills used 11 personnel on the second drive with Kincaid on the field for all three plays. This could just be Knox exiting the game before others, which, given his experience, is a believable theory.
  • This could also mean Kincaid has already surpassed Knox as the top tight end in 11 personnel, which also wouldn’t be surprising.
  • Kincaid took one snap from a traditional tight end position on the drive but lined up in the slot for the other two plays.
  • The Bills could easily rest starters in other preseason games, so we might not know how much they will use Kincaid or Knox until after Week 1. What is clear is that Kincaid will see some playing with the starters immediately.

Evan Hull starts over Deon Jackson: Hull received the snaps on the first drive, with Jackson taking the second drive.

  • The two continued to rotate throughout the first four drives.
  • They played in place of Jonathan Taylor, who is holding out, and Zack Moss, who is dealing with a broken arm.
  • When two players are rotating like this in the preseason, it’s typically the veteran who gets the start. The fact that Hull started is a good sign he can remain ahead of Jackson on the depth chart.
  • Jackson put up better numbers rushing with the ball, but Hull caught two passes for 18 yards, compared to no targets for Jackson.
  • The Colts signed Kenyan Drake, who didn’t receive his first carry until late in the third quarter, but it wouldn’t be surprising for Drake to move up the depth chart, considering he’s been on the team for only a week.
  • Indianapolis also pursued Kareem Hunt a few days ago.
  • It’s fine to be cautiously optimistic about Hull because he received the start, but the biggest takeaway is that Jackson doesn’t seem to be a significant part of the team’s running back plans despite his big games last season.

Isaiah McKenzie is the third wide receiver for now: The former Bill played in three-receiver sets.

  • He caught three passes for 20 yards in his revenge game.
  • Michael Pittman Jr. and Alec Pierce started on the outside and played every snap with the starters, which was unsurprising based on how they were used last season and the lack of depth at the position.
  • McKenzie’s biggest competition will come from third-round rookie Josh Downs.
  • Downs played in the slot with the second team and caught two first-down passes for a total of 29 yards.
  • Downs was leading the team in receiving yards after the first three quarters.
  • The rookie is expected to take over at some point. It didn’t happen in this game, but it will be interesting to see if Downs gets opportunities with the starters over the next two preseason contests.

Miscellaneous Notes

New York Jets @ Carolina Panthers

The Panthers complicated wide receiver room: The Panthers used six different wide receivers during Bryce Young’s three drives.

  • D.J. Chark Jr., Adam Thielen and Jonathan Mingo started the game for Carolina.
  • Chark only played on the first drive before his day was done. That is a good indication his starting job is secure.
  • Thielen played on the first two drives. He was consistently playing in the slot in three-receiver sets. He only played 28.6% of his snaps in the slot last season with the Minnesota Vikings.
  • He graded better out wide than in the slot in addition to posting a better target share and yards per route run, so this move to the slot is a little surprising.
  • Mingo starting in his first preseason game as a rookie is a pretty strong sign he will be among the receivers in 11 personnel in Week 1.
  • The Panthers stuck with three-receiver sets on their first drive, so we couldn’t confirm he would be the odd man out in 12 personnel.
  • Mingo left for the second drive and returned for the third drive, so his job isn’t necessarily secure.
  • Terrace Marshall Jr. was expected to be a starter over Mingo early in the season given his experience, but this was a decent sign Marshall is fourth on the depth chart.
  • Laviska Shenault Jr. also received snaps on the second drive while Shi Smith played on the third drive.
  • Marshall, Shenault and Smith all continued to play once Matt Corral replaced Bryce on the fourth drive.
  • Chark, Thielen and Mingo are all worth late-round fliers in case they work out, but Marshall no longer seems worth the late-round pick.

Jets backup running back battle heats up: Michael Carter and Zonovan Knight split time with the starters with Breece Hall still sidelined.

  • Carter started the game, but the Jets rotated between him and Knight roughly every three plays.
  • Carter was the more impressive of the two.
  • Once the Jets switched to their second team for this game, rookie Israel Abanikanda took snaps out of the backfield.
  • Chances are both Carter and Knight would see significant playing time if Hall isn’t ready for Week 1, and the Jets don’t add Dalvin Cook.
  • It’s also possible one of these players doesn’t make the roster, as a healthy hall is assured one roster spot, and Abanikanda will likely take another.

A glimpse into the Jets wide receiver rotation: New York only used some of their receivers Saturday, but it was enough to gain some information about what to expect in September.

  • The Jets rested a number of starters, including Garrett Wilson, while Randall Cobb has been out with an injury.
  • This left Allen Lazard, Corey Davis and Mecole Hardman Jr. on top of the depth chart.
  • Lazard and Davis generally played every snap, outside of taking a little time off near the end of a 13-play drive.
  • Hardman was largely restricted to snaps out of 11 personnel.
  • He only played in two-thirds of offensive snaps without Wilson and Cobb, so chances are Hardman will see even less playing time when they are playing.
  • It’s fine to draft Hardman in best ball leagues for when he breaks big plays, but it will be difficult for him to make an impact in redraft leagues without injuries.
  • This also makes it pretty clear Davis will remain a major part of the offense. This could be implied given his $11.2 million cap hit, but Saturday gave me even more evidence.

The Jets tight end duo: Tyler Conklin was the tight end in clear passing situations, but C.J. Uzomah also saw significant playing time.

  • The two played together in two tight end sets, but on one-third of the plays with the starters, Uzomah was the solo tight end.
  • That kind of rotation will make it difficult for Conklin to be a fantasy starter.
  • The one piece of good news is second-year tight end Jeremy Ruckert didn’t start playing until the backups came in.
  • Ruckert’s had a strong training camp and was among the players who got to sit out the Hall of Fame Game.
  • This made it look like a two-man rotation at the top instead of three.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Miles Sanders tweaked his groin in practice earlier in the week. It’s not expected to be serious, but it was enough for him to sit this game.
  • Hayden Hurst was the starting tight end today, which was no surprise. It was good to see him dominate offensive snaps, giving him a chance to be a fantasy starter this season if he gains chemistry with Bryce Young.

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Dallas Cowboys

Christian Kirk restricted to the slot: Kirk was an every-down receiver last season, but the Calvin Ridley addition has reduced his role.

  • Kirk had played 89% of snaps in 12 personnel last season, with Zay Jones playing 65%.
  • Most expected Kirk to remain in 12 personnel with Ridley, but it was Jones playing in 12 personnel Saturday.
  • Both Ridley and Jones took snaps in 13 personnel, which was typically either Tim Jones or Zay Jones last season.
  • The Jaguars were around league average in how often they used 11 personnel last season, so this could result in a substantial decrease in snaps for Kirk.
  • Luckily, that decrease will mostly be on run plays, but it will also lead to fewer pass routes similar to this game.

Tank Bigsby played one snap with the starters: Bigsby has been one of the most hyped players during training camp, but that only resulted in one snap with the starters Saturday.

  • He played on a third-and-1, which was the only short-yardage situation with the starters.
  • This is a good sign he will take short-yardage situations in the regular season, which could snipe some touchdowns away from Travis Etienne.
  • JaMycal Hasty received more snaps with the starters in passing situations, but once the second team came in, Bigsby consistently saw offensive snaps.
  • The third-round pick ran nine times in the first half for 52 yards. That is the second-most rushing yards by a player in the first half this preseason thus far.
  • Considering the rookie running back who was picked before him (De’Von Achane) and the running back picked after him (Roschon Johnson) were fifth and fourth on their respective depth charts, any playing time with the starters this early is a good sign.
  • There is a good chance Etienne remains the primary starter all season, but everything is trending toward this being a committee rather than Etienne being a potential top-10 fantasy running back.

Jake Ferguson leads the Cowboys’ tight ends: Ferguson was Dallas' starting tight end and played the majority of snaps.

  • He received most early down snaps last season when Dalton Schultz wasn’t playing, so that part wasn’t surprising.
  • Peyton Hendershot was typically the tight end on third downs when Schultz wasn’t on the field, but Saturday, Ferguson saw the first third-and-long snap and took more of the third down snaps.
  • This makes him a sleeper tight end considering how good Cowboys tight ends have done in the past in fantasy football.
  • It was a little concerning that the four plays Dallas took him off the field were all pass plays. This is worth monitoring and could limit his upside.
  • Dallas spent a second-round pick on Luke Schoonmaker, who had a foot injury coming into the league. He’s been limited throughout training camp which should keep him lower on the depth chart for now, but he could mix in more as the season progresses.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Jaguars second-round rookie Brenton Strange received three plays with the starters, but they all came in 13 personnel rather than Strange playing in place of Evan Engram or Luke Farrell.
  • Cowboys Malik Davis has the early lead for the Cowboys’ backup running back job, but they rotated by drive with Rico Dowdle playing more in the second quarter. Rookie Deuce Vaughn didn’t play until later in the game.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Baltimore Ravens

The Eagles backfield gets more complicated: Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott received the night off while D’Andre Swift started Saturday night with Rashaad Penny playing into the second quarter.

  • Swift and Penny both have ADPs among the top 35 running backs while Gainwell is at 52 on Underdog and Scott is going undrafted.
  • This suggests it should be Gainwell and Scott getting drafted early.
  • There were reports early in the week that Gainwell was playing like the feature back.
  • Swift played the first six snaps Saturday night, had a 22-yard run, and then Penny played for the next quarter’s worth of snaps.
  • An argument could be made that the Eagles know what they have in Gainwell and Scott after the last two seasons, but players like Olamide Zaccheaus, who is a new free agent addition, received the night off even though he should also be a relatively unknown for the team.
  • Penny seems like the most likely player to not make the roster if Philadelphia decides to stick with three running backs.
  • It’s worth noting the Eagles typically have different running backs play in different situations, which was not true Saturday night. Penny played in passing situations, which he typically never does, for example. This also happened last preseason, and the Eagles immediately went back to using running backs in situations once the regular season hit.
  • At this point, it’s probably best to not draft Swift or Penny at their current ADP and potentially draft Gainwell depending on how high his ADP rises.

Zay Flowers makes his Ravens debut: The Ravens rested several key players, but we got a taste of how the Ravens might use him.

  • Flowers didn’t have an official target, but he had one backward pass that counted as a one-yard run and two targets that led to defensive penalties.
  • The Ravens didn’t use Odell Beckham Jr., Rashod Bateman or Nelson Agholor. The fact that Flowers played doesn’t give us much indication of where he is on the depth chart.
  • It was interesting to see Baltimore use Flowers both out wide as well as in the slot.
  • Devin Duvernay was the primary slot receiver last season. He started this game but was consistently lining up on the outside. This could be just to give him more experience outside, or it could mean he’s no longer a slot player for them.
  • This probably hurts Duvernay’s chances of seeing significant playing time this season and helps the Ravens' young receivers and Beckham.
  • Tylan Wallace was the primary slot receiver to begin the evening, but he probably won’t be the primary slot receiver while everyone is playing.
  • While plenty of teams have restricted their rookie wide receivers to a specific role, seeing Flowers play multiple receiver spots and move around is probably a positive sign for what the team will ask him to do in the regular season.

Justice Hill starts for the Ravens: Hill received every snap on the first two drives before Gus Edwards received his first offensive snaps.

  • Edwards left Wednesday’s practice early, so there is a chance him playing after Hill if simply Hill has practiced more.
  • Not that we can take much stock in the official depth charts, but Edwards was listed first on the depth chart earlier in the week, followed by J.K. Dobbins and Hill.
  • There is also a chance Hill has legitimately passed Edwards on the depth chart as a better fit for the Ravens’ offense.
  • Hill broke a 37-yard run during his time, which could lead to more opportunities down the road.
  • For now, this is simply a situation to monitor.

Miscellaneous notes

  • Ravens’ tight end Isaiah Likely went to the locker room early, potentially with a lower-body injury. He left at a time when his playing could have been over regardless of the injury.

Los Angeles Chargers @ Los Angeles Rams 

Tutu Atwell is the favorite for the Rams WR3 job: Atwell was among the three Rams wide receivers who had the night off.

  • Cooper Kupp and Van Jefferson seem to have a strong hold on the top two starting jobs. Both players also received the night off.
  • Atwell was listed among the starters on the unofficial depth chart earlier in the week.
  • His top competition comes from Ben Skowronek, free agent addition Demarcus Robinson and fifth-round rookie Puka Nacua.
  • Those were the three receivers that started the game for the Rams tonight.
  • This is somewhat surprising considering Skowronek led the Rams wide receivers in offensive snaps last season with 698 while Atwell only played 308 snaps.
  • Atwell was the second-highest-graded wide receiver last season, so it’s good to see he will be seeing more opportunities.

Joshua Kelley is currently ahead of Isaiah Spiller: Kelley started the game before the two rotated in and out.

  • Most backup running back battles are between an incumbent and a new player or two, but this is a battle between two returning players.
  • Kelley was the primary backup last season with 271 offensive snaps.
  • Spiller only played 53 snaps as a rookie, mostly in the middle of the season when Kelley was injured.
  • Both running backs looked good, but they were playing against a lot of the Rams' second- and third-string defenders.
  • The competition seems like one that Kelley will win, but it’s not entirely out of the question the Chargers look to add a running back to take the backup job.

Quentin Johnston makes his NFL debut: Johnston played the entire first half and scored the Chargers’ first offensive touchdown.

  • The Chargers had Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Josh Palmer take the night off while Jalen Guyton remains on the PUP list.
  • This game doesn’t say much about where Johnston sits on the depth chart, as it’s very common for teams to play rookies in the preseason even if they are high on the depth chart.
  • Johnston was the clear favorite target on the offense but ended up dropping two passes. He’s also reportedly been dropping passes in training camp.
  • Dropped passes aren’t necessarily an indication of future dropped passes. Ja’Marr Chase dropped four passes in his rookie preseason, and statistically, we haven’t seen dropped passes be a consistent thing for receivers.
  • Johnston consistently lined up on the outside, which is unsurprising given his height, and Keenan Allen’s status as the Chargers’ slot receiver.
  • This all adds up to us not learning all that much about Johnston at this point, but we should learn more once starters are playing.

Miscellaneous Notes

  • Cam Akers and Kyren Williams were both given the night off. Ronnie Rivers and Royce Freeman are both currently ahead of sixth-round rookie Zach Evans, but there is plenty of time for that to change.
  • The Chargers didn’t have a clear-cut No. 2 tight end last season between Donald Parham Jr. and Tre’ McKitty, and that remains true. Parham had a slight edge for playing time tonight, but there were still plays where McKitty was on the field and Parham was off.

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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