The preseason is full of limited appearances for regulars and a bunch of backups battling for roster spots. But it’s football nonetheless, and there are fantasy nuggets to be gleaned from these exhibition tilts. Here’s a few such nuggets from Week 1 of the preseason.
Jameis Winston, 9-19-131-0-1 passing; 4-18-1 rushing—The first overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft took the reins in Tampa, and he learned quickly that pockets won’t be nearly as clean in The League as they were at Florida State. The pressure resulted in a pick and a sub-.500 completion percentage and also forced Winston to run more than he’d like—though he did scramble into the end zone for a touchdown. Contrast Winston with Vikings sophomore Teddy Bridgewater (7-8-86) and it’s clear Jameis still has work to do.
Marcus Mariota, 7-8-94-0-1 passing, 1-(-6) rushing — After not throwing an interception through the early going of training camp, Mariota was picked in his first NFL game. He also coughed up a fumble on his lone rushing attempt. The rest of the evening was fine—7-for-7 for 94 yards—but with two critical turnovers Mariota looked like… a rookie quarterback getting his first taste of NFL action. It only gets better.
David Cobb 11-53 rushing, 1-1 receiving—Not that Cobb was outstanding, or that the Titans’ backfield will yield big fantasy assistance. But when compared to Bishop Sankey, who carried eight times for just 15 yards and looked lost on the Mariota screen pass that turned into an interception, and if there is fantasy value to be had in the Tennessee backfield Cobb stated his case as the early favorite to claim it.
Alfred Blue 9-59-0 rushing—With Arian Foster out for roughly half the season the Texans need to determine who’ll carry the load in the ground game. Blue should get the first opportunity and he looked up to the task in the preseason opener. Chris Polk (10-29 rushing, 3-36 receiving) didn’t stand out on the ground but could claim a role on third downs, while rookie Kenny Hilliard (13-39 rushing) might be in the mix for short yardage/goal line work. The only Texans back who didn’t acquit himself well was Jonathan Grimes, who turned four carries into five yards. Blue is still the handcuff to have, but this is shaping up as a committee until Foster returns.
Tyler Lockett 4-184-1 kickoff returns, 1-18-0 punt returns—It will be tough for Lockett to make noise, fantasy or otherwise, from scrimmage in Seattle’s run-centric offense. But in the return game Lockett gives the Seahawks everything they had in Percy Harvin minus the bad attitude. In leagues where return yardage matters he’s eminently draftable, and his presence upgrades the already stout Seattle DST’s fantasy prospects as well.
Ameer Abdullah 7-67 rushing, 1-25 kickoff return—Perhaps the biggest cheat sheet mover based on the first week of preseason action, Abdullah lived up to all the hype coming out of Lions’ training camp. He showed plenty of burst and should easily claim third down work in Detroit—and with Joique Bell coming off a pair of offseason surgeries, Abdullah could challenge for feature duties as well.
Devin Funchess 2-53 receiving—Cam Newton’s new target looked like a worthy bookend to Kelvin Benjamin (3-36-1); toss Greg Olsen into the mix and if Newton can stay upright the Panthers have themselves an intriguing receiving corps. If nothing else, with all three pass-catchers—and the quarterback—6-4 or taller, they’ll win a lot of jump balls.
Andre Ellington 3-3-1 rushing; 2-59 receiving—12.4 yards per touch, with a score to boot, is a pretty solid stat line for Arizona’s diminutive feature back. But 57 of Ellington’s 62 yards from scrimmage came on one dump-off pass play; his other four touches went for two yards or less. Ellington is all about the big plays, and if Arizona limits his touches he’ll be an effective fantasy home run hitter. The problem will come if Bruce Arians starts overloading Ellington with something north of 15 touches per game, as he’s demonstrated the propensity to break down.
Jimmy Garoppolo 20-30-159-0-1—While Tom Brady (1-4-10) opened the show it was Garoppolo who received the bulk of the reps. He completed two-thirds of his passes but didn’t connect much down the field—though when you think about New England’s receiving corps they’ve survived without the deep ball before so there’s no reason to hit the panic button just yet. Expect Garoppolo to lean heavily on the ground game in the early going; with LeGarrette Blount still nursing a bum knee Jonas Gray (7-74-1) stood out as the Patriots’ primary rusher while James White (8-12 rushing, 4-52 receiving) looks to be the best option to replace what Shane Vereen provided in the passing game.
Khiry Robinson 2-35 rushing; 3-37-1 receiving—Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller are getting all the fantasy love, but Spiller is already hurt and the Saints have been known to frustrate fantasy owners with their committee approach to the backfield. Robinson is going largely undrafted, yet he flashed his talent when given the chance and is at minimum a Spiller handcuff; at best he’s a late-round stash who turns out to be a legit fantasy contributor at a fraction of the Ingram/Spiller price tag.