While the second and third weeks of preseason play are the most meaningful for fantasy football purposes, we still found noteworthy data to highlight from the opening week of action.
10) Chad Kelly, Denver Broncos: Why not toss in the 2017 Mr. Irrelevant after his first NFL game action of any kind resulted in a marvelous performance? He finished 14-for-21 (66.7 percent) for 121 yards, two scores and an interception. Sure, it all came late in a blowout vs. a reserve defense, but after the way Case Keenum (1-for-4, 5 yards) and Paxton Lynch (6-for-11, 24 yards) played, Kelly’s glowing effort possibly won him the No. 2 job. Why does it matter in fantasy? It may not amount to anything, but it puts him one step closer to the starting lineup in the event the (thus far) one-year wonder in Keenum reverts to being a pumpkin. Kelly, the nephew of Jim Kelly, is blessed with a big arm and unteachable moxie.
9) RB Jeremy Hill, New England Patriots: Remember him? The former Cincinnati Bengal led the way for New England’s backfield with an 11-carry, 51-yard day that resulted in a score and a pair of receptions for 14 additional yards. While the receiving work is a bonus from the one-dimensional bruiser, Hill could earn a roster spot and a role around the end zone. Don’t be quick to dismiss him after one terrible year in Cincy.
8) New York Jets quarterbacks: Even though Josh McCown’s day lasted all of one pass for four yards, he should remain in the conversation to start — presuming rookie Sam Darnold did not do enough to unseat him. The No. 3 pick in this year’s draft was splendid, going for 96 yards and a score on 13-for-18 passing. He showed mobility, kept his eyes downfield when being harassed, and threw well on the run. Seeing stability at quarterback is a plus for Robbie Anderson and Jermaine Kearse, both of whom were useful at times in ’17. Teddy Bridgewater also was impressive, leading a touchdown drive on a 7-for-8, 85-yard day when he connected with Isaiah Crowell on a 16-yard strike. Bridgewater’s performance could place him on the trading block for a QB-hungry team.
7) Cleveland Browns offense: It is easy to get excited about the idea of Baker Mayfield starting after his 212-yard, two-TD performance, yet we cannot lose sight of Tyrod Taylor’s effort. He responded to a New York Giants field goal with a four-play, 66-yard drive resulting in a David Njoku score. Taylor finished he day by completing all five of his throws for 99 yards. Mayfield has a livelier arm, and he, too, can make some plays with his legs, but Hue Jackson (in theory) learned his lesson after playing DeShone Kizer too soon last year. Progression is important, and when you’re a coach with a lone win in the past two seasons to his credit, starting with Taylor and eventually moving to Mayfield is the only conceivable option. If Taylor stinks, Jackson can fall back on Mayfield as being a rookie and the future in an effort to buy time. At any rate, seeing the passing game clicking is encouraging for those looking to own shares of Antonio Callaway (scored once), Jarvis Landry, Josh Gordon (eventually?) and Njoku (two TDs in this one).
6) TE Dallas Goedert, Philadelphia Eagles: After hauling in a slash of 4/66/1, the backup rookie opened a few eyes. His inclusion, especially as high on the list as it is, mainly comes from the reality Zach Ertz isn’t particularly durable. This offense will creatively use Goedert, much like it did Trey Burton before he left for the Chicago Bears. Unfortunately, knowing when to play Goedert will be difficult, and he may be only useful in DFS play.
5) WR Kelvin Benjamin, Buffalo Bills: Benjamin looked healthy and could emerge as an underrated fantasy asset, if he can stay on the field. All three of Buffalo’s quarterbacks were competent, with Josh Allen being the least impressive of the group. Nathan Peterman started the contest, finding Benjamin on a 28-yard touchdown toss in the opening quarter. The veteran receiver concluded his outing with four catches for 59 yards and the aforementioned score. He’s a sound WR3 at this point in fantasy drafts and could progress toward No. 2 playability, provided he manages to stay healthy.
4) QB Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens: The veteran has completed 64-plus percent of his throws each of the past three seasons, yet he has amounted to almost nothing in fantasy due to a weak cast around him. The Ravens went out of their way to upgrade the entire receiving corps, and Flacco has drawn strong reviews in camp thus far. He finished his night 5-for-7 for 71 yards and a score in the Hall of Fame Game, which didn’t get as much media attention as a mediocre showing by first-round pick Lamar Jackson. If nothing else, Flacco silenced doubters with his actions and will make at least Michael Crabtree a weekly lineup consideration.
3) WR Michael Gallup, Dallas Cowboys: Catching only one pass — a 30-yard touchdown — Gallup manages to crack the top five for one reason: The ball came from Dak Prescott. Camp reviews have suggested Gallup is as ready as one can expect, but it was nice to see it actually play out on the field. Don’t expect elite stats, although it will be a surprise if he doesn’t help fantasy lineups more than hurt in 2018.
2) RB Saquon Barkley, New York Giants: It wasn’t so much his four carries for 43 yards that earned the No. 2 overall choice a spot but rather how he did it. One run, a 39-yard masterpiece of bouncing, slashing, vision and acceleration, cemented Barkley’s place in the hearts of Giants fans and fantasy owners. His days at Penn State should speak to his ability in the NFL, but seeing it happen is needed for some owners. Despite towering over Hall of Famer Barry Sanders, some comparisons to their style aren’t unwarranted. Barkley is a generational talent and deserves every bit of a first-round fantasy placement.
1) Kerryon Johnson, Detroit Lions: The second-round rookie ripped off 4.9 yards per pop, going for 34 yards on seven handles. Johnson, with Theo Riddick sitting, played nearly the entire day and was a factor in the passing offense (five catches, 33 yards). What didn’t appear in the box score was his most impressive play of all: a 57-yard jaunt called by a holding penalty. Maybe the run never would have materialized without the hold, but it was what he did in the open field after the penalty that should have fantasy owners excited. Detroit hasn’t produced a 100-yard rusher since 2013, and if Johnson’s electric display translates into the regular season, Motown may present a far more balanced offense in 2018. The do-all Johnson is an intriguing RB3, even with LeGarrette Blount and Riddick likely in his way.
Honorable mention: Andrew Luck went 6-for-9 for 64 yards without a mistake and led two scoring drives. These innocuous stats are worth including for no reason other than it was encouraging to see him pass the eye test. Draft away!