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Fantasy Football: Utilization takeaways from Preseason Week 1

Ashburn, VA, USA; Washington Commanders wide receiver Jahan Dotson (1) catches a pass during day three of training camp at the Park in Ashburn. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

• For fantasy football purposes, WR Isaiah McKenzie looks like the starting slot receiver for the Buffalo Bills.

Indianapolis Colts RB Nyheim Hines might have much more upside than we initially thought if something happens to Jonathan Taylor.

Kansas City Chiefs RB Isiah Pacheco is pushing for the No. 2 job, and Ronald Jones might be the odd man out.

New York Jets RBs Michael Carter and Breece Hall split the backfield 50/50 with the starting offense.

• The Tampa Bay BuccaneersRachaad White, Los Angeles ChargersIsaiah Spiller and San Francisco 49ersTyrion Davis-Price have ground to make up before the end of the preseason to have a shot at significant playing time early in the year.

• WR Jahan Dotson is locked in as the No. 2 option in the Washington Commanders’ offense.


 


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ARIZONA CARDINALS

The Cardinals rested most of their starters.

Takeaways:
  • Williams is currently the best bet to serve as James Conner‘s backup, and it could be an every-down option considering Benjamin didn’t play much on obvious passing downs.

ATLANTA FALCONS

The Falcons played most of their starters for one drive.

  • Quarterback: Marcus Mariota played the first drive and scrambled for 30 yards on four attempts (including a penalty) while Desmond Ridder took over after the first drive and showed a willingness to scramble but struggled in the passing game.
  • Running back: Cordarrelle Patterson handled the first snap of the game before the coaching staff wrapped him in bubble wrap. Damien Williams and Qadree Ollison split work for the rest of the first drive, with Williams taking the passing downs. Williams rested after the first drive while Ollison finished the half. Tyler Allgeier entered the game after Caleb Huntley in the second quarter and played into the fourth quarter.
  • Wide receiver: Drake London started the game but only played four snaps after suffering a knee injury that could keep him out of some preseason action but isn’t considered severe. Bryan Edwards didn’t play because he is recovering from a shoulder injury. The rest of the Falcons receivers rotated.
  • Tight end: Kyle Pitts played the first series and lined up in-line or from the slot on nine of 10 snaps.
Takeaways:
  • Mariota offers upside as a late-round pick if his willingness to scramble is a sign of things to come. His career scramble rate (5.6%) is only one percentage point above the league average.
  • The Falcons will use a rotation at running back this season, but Patterson is the guy the team wants to protect in the preseason and should see the high-leverage snaps.
  • Williams looks like the No. 2 option and has proven passing-down chops, making him an attractive late-round dart in fantasy leagues that roster more than 15 players.
  • Allgeier still has time to ascend the depth chart but could be stuck as an early-down grinder in an offense that could trail often.
  • Pitts’ chances of finishing as the TE1 overall get a boost, and he is a priority third-round fantasy pick. He received the lowest percentage of targets against linebackers and safeties in 2021 (51%) out of tight ends with at least 200 routes.

BALTIMORE RAVENS

The Ravens rested most of their starters.

  • Running back: Mike Davis started the game and shared time with Justice Hill over the first three drives. Tyler Badie was the third man up.
  • Wide receiver: Devin Duvernay and James Proche rested, reinforcing that both are considered in contention for the WR2 and WR3 roles. Duvernay is expected to play outside currently while Proche handles slot duties.
  • Tight end: Josh Oliver and Isaiah Likely split time. Oliver left the game before Likely, who ran a route for 100% of obvious passing situations and popped with an 83.6 PFF receiving grade.
Takeaways:
  • Davis appears to be the No. 2 option behind J.K. Dobbins for the moment and could handle a Gus Edwards-type role early in the season. He is a late-round option in leagues that roster 15-plus players.
  • Likely has made a ton of noise in camp, which translated to the field in the first preseason game — a positive for his dynasty value. If Mark Andrews suffered an injury, Likely could become a factor in 2022.

BUFFALO BILLS

The Bills rested their starters.

  • Running back: Zack Moss started the game and rotated with James Cook over the first four drives. There wasn’t a discernable pattern for passing-down work because both players took snaps in those situations.
  • Wide receiver: Isaiah McKenzie rested with the starters, offering another data point that suggests he is locked into the starting slot role. Jamison Crowder played one series and operated almost 100% out of the slot. Khalil Shakir started and played into the third quarter while lining up all over the formation (13 wide, 17 slot, two in-line and one backfield).
Takeaways:
  • Moss is still in the mix for now and could create a three-headed rotation that isn’t ideal for fantasy purposes on a pass-heavy offense.
  • Cook will need to lock down the passing-down work to pay off his current ADP. He is still a high-priority target but fantasy managers shouldn’t reach, as it could take some time before we trust him in starting lineups.
  • McKenzie is still a Round 14 selection in FFPC drafts, which is too late for the starting slot option in a pass-first offense. Crowder is still worth a late-round pick in deep leagues but shouldn’t be picked before McKenzie.
  • Shakir could start outside opposite Stefon Diggs and move all over the field based on matchups, making him another great late-round target in deep formats. He posted a solid 77.5 PFF receiving grade, and his competition outside (Jake Kumerow) is thin.

CAROLINA PANTHERS

The Panthers rested many of their starters.

  • Quarterback: Baker Mayfield reinforced the thought that he is the favorite to start Week 1 after getting the first series and then retiring to the sideline. 
  • Running back: Chuba Hubbard and D’Onta Foreman split snaps (57% to 43%) throughout the first half of the game. Hubbard handled 71% of the two-minute offense and 86% of the LDD work while Foreman saw 100% of the SDD snaps.
  • Wide receiver: Robbie Anderson played the first drive, and Rashard Higgins started, but Terrace Marshall didn’t play due to a lower-body injury.
  • Tight end: Ian Thomas rested while Tommy Tremble started and played the first quarter.
Takeaways:
  • Hubbard and Foreman are still battling for the backup job, and we could see a rotation if anything happens to Christian McCaffrey. If Hubbard hangs on to the passing-down work, he will provide more value given the Panthers’ chances of often trailing in 2022. Neither are priorities in fantasy drafts.

CHICAGO BEARS

The Bears played a mix of starters and backups.

  • Quarterback: Justin Fields struggled with a 64.6 PFF passing grade and took two sacks. In three drives, we also didn’t see a designed rushing attempt.
  • Running back: Khalil Herbert started and played the first four drives, handling an every-down role. Trestan Ebner was the next man up and played into the fourth quarter, and Darrynton Evans rotated in.
  • Wide Receiver: Neither Velus Jones Jr. nor Byron Pringle played due to injuries.
Takeaways:
  • The Bears might not want to tip their hand on how they will use Fields on designed rush attempts in the preseason, but it sure would be nice to see. He was underutilized in that regard in 2021, and his path to upside resides in more rushing involvement.
  • Herbert is the clear-cut handcuff to David Montgomery and could have an every-down role if Montgomery goes down.

CINCINNATI BENGALS

The Bengals rested their starters.

  • Running back: Samaje Perine rested with the starters. Chris Evans rotated with Trayveon Williams but was pulled from the game earlier than Williams. Evans handled 100% of the two-minute offense but shared with Williams in LDD situations.
Takeaways:
  • Perine appears to have a leg up on Evans in the battle for the RB2 spot and is worth a late-round pick in leagues that roster 17-plus players.

CLEVELAND BROWNS

The Browns played a mix of starters and backups.

Takeaways:
  • The Browns have deployed a maddening rotation at tight end under head coach Kevin Stefanski, so the 100% snap rate for Njoku with the starters is encouraging. Njoku is a high-end TE2.

DALLAS COWBOYS

The Cowboys rested most of their starting skill position players.

  • Wide receiver: Noah Brown rested with the starters while Jalen Tolbert started and played into the third quarter and led the team with seven targets.
  • Tight end: Rookie Jake Ferguson started and played into the third quarter.
Takeaways:
  • Brown could start Week 1 with Michael Gallup out. Brown hasn’t done much with his opportunities historically, but he is a deep sleeper.
  • The current assumption is that Tolbert starts outside, but after seeing Brown rest, he might be limited to three-receiver sets. Tolbert is still the preferred option over Brown in drafts, but his ADP is up to a Round 12 pick at the FFPC.
  • Ferguson could be in line for an expanded role in 2023 if Dalton Schultz doesn’t get a long-term deal.

DENVER BRONCOS

The Broncos rested the majority of starters.

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