For preseason, usage is the golden nugget, but how they look matters a bit, too. Here are my thoughts after watching each game on all-22. This will be a weekly column.
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Swift started the game, scored a 7-yard touchdown, and played on 6-of-10 first-drive snaps, with Jamaal Williams getting the other four. It would've been a surprise if this wasn't a two-back committee, but this is confirmation that Swift needs more work or for Dan Campbell's Lions to be better than expected to be a top-12 overall fantasy asset. The good news: Detroit's offensive line moved bodies and are ready to set the MFin tone. I don't think this split, nor his touchdown should move his ADP much. There wasn't a situational trend in that first drive that caught my eye.
This was his first action in a year, and he had an up-and-down game. Etienne getting this many snaps is a win in general, but this is without James Robinson (Achilles) and with late-round rookie Snoop Conner coming in as his backup. Etienne looks extremely explosive, as expected. He also always looks for the big play, which is both good and bad. Both Robinson and Conner are the exact opposite, as no nonsense forward fallers who hold their own on passing downs. Ultimately, I didn't learn a lot from Etienne's Preseason Week 1 game. He's a boom-bust Round 4 pick for the time being.
JuJu Smith-Schuster (11-of-11 snaps) and Marquez Valdes-Scantling (9) were the 2-WR set starters and played nearly every snap in the Chiefs' lone drive with the starters. They are veterans and have established roles. JuJu will be the shallow/intermediate target with some snaps in the slot, and MVS will take the top off as the primary deep threat. Mecole Hardman (4-of-11 snaps) will likely rotate in when the Chiefs are in 3-WR sets to start the season, while Skyy Moore gets familiarized in the offense (and maybe sees gadget touches). Moore didn't see a snap with the starters in Preseason Week 1. In fact, Justin Watson played one first-team snap ahead of him.
CEH started the game and played the first seven snaps. Then Isiah Pacheco entered on a 2nd-and-10 play, before both Jerick McKinnon and Ronald Jones saw the field. That was a surprise and evidence that the Pacheco hype is at least somewhat real. Meanwhile, Rones didn't play with the first-team at all. I think RoJo is a fade in fantasy and a cut/trade candidate, given his low guaranteed money.
McKinnon got one snap with Patrick Mahomes on the first drive, but also played special teams. I think this rotation is telling and mirrors what the Chiefs' backfield looked like last year. The Chiefs seem to be hoping it'll be 1) CEH as the primary back, 2) Pacheco as the secondary back like Darrel Williams last year, and 3) McKinnon as the third back and special teamer. If so, CEH and Pacheco are underdrafted.
Gibson started the game, but the rest was negative. He was subbed out for J.D. McKissic on the first two third downs (3rd-and-4 and 3rd-and-2), fumbled in traffic (after having way too many fumbles last year), and then played with the second-team offense after Brian Robinson scored a goal-line TD with the first-team. But it gets worse! When Gibson was playing with the second-team offense, he was again subbed out on 3rd-and-1 for Jonathan Williams! And holy smokes, it gets worse again!!! On the next set of downs, Gibson finally gets a crack on a 3rd-and-2 carry, but he gets stuffed for no yards. In comes Jonathan Williams for the fourth down attempt, and he converts!!! OH NO! I wonder if the Commanders don't trust him on passing downs and short yardage. His ADP rightfully will plummet. Robinson's rightfully will climb, as he didn't play a single snap with the second-team offense following Gibson's fumble.
With Corey Davis on a big contract, Braxton Berrios on a low-end starter contract, and with top-10 overall pick Garrett Wilson in town, there has been legitimate concerns with Moore's route share given the Jets' above-average 2-WR set usage. Preseason Week 1 helped alleviate those concerns. Here is how the rotation broke down:
It's too early to tell, but this situation reminds me of Melvin/Javonte from last year. The offense is likely mid (or worse). The play volume isn't great. And both backs are good enough to start, so they split touches in disgusting ways. In Preseason Week 1, Carter started, played 10-of-20 snaps in the first two drives, and exited the game first (without playing in the second quarter).
Hall subbed in after the chains were re-set as the 1B, also finishing with 10 snaps. The second-round rookie did handle the 3rd-and-1 carries (and was even subbed in for one, suggesting he's the goal-line back). That's a slight win. The Athletic and ESPN have both called Carter the RB1 right now, with the expectation that Hall will eventually take over. That could be in Week 1, after the bye, in 2023, or never. I've never seen Hall as the elite prospect others have, which is why I've been consistently lower on Hall and overweight on Carter (who is the far more consistent rusher at this stage).
The severity must be more than grade 1, so this is worth watching. Meanwhile, veteran Jeff Wilson did not play in Preseason Week 1 for personal reasons, so Trey Sermon drew the start and played all 11 snaps with Trey Lance. The OL was garbage (this is the 49ers potential roster weakness), but Sermon being ahead of Ty Davis-Price and playing on third downs is a slight win for the 2021 bust. TDP played with the second-team only and generally ran hard. It's too early to tell what the final pecking order will be, but it seems like it'll be Mitchell as the clear-cut starter, then a huge gap to some combination of Wilson, Sermon, and TDP. JaMycal Hasty was a third-stringer.
The Titans' starters didn't suit up, but Burks did. That's not a red flag by itself, but Burks remained in the game until the fourth quarter despite the second-stringers getting pulled earlier. That suggests Burks needs time to develop, and the tape agrees in my opinion. Burks was given one jet sweep (it went nowhere), but otherwise ran intermediate and deep routes, something he didn't do much of in college. Quite frankly, Burks looked slow and unpolished on these routes. It's too early to tell, but Burks' transition being more difficult than other rookies would make sense given he was an early-declare, missed time in mini camp, and only played out wide on 18% of his snaps last year. Sometimes you have to be lower on a hyped player, and that's the case here for me, Josh Norris, and Matt Harmon.
Penny is battling an injury and didn't suit up, so Walker drew the start. His vision and cutback ability are very strong, and those traits were on display on a few of his carries. The problem is that he was subbed out on passing downs for Travis Homer. Walker did catch his lone target and didn't have any pass protection issues, so maybe they give him a crack at third downs at some point (like they have done in practices). Of course, the real upside comes if Penny can't get healthy.
Jacobs played well into the Hall of Fame game last week, which made me skeptical of his status with the Raiders. But things look somewhat normal now with Jacobs not suiting up for Preseason Week 1. Intriguing fourth-round rookie Zamir White drew the start but ceded third-down passing duties to well-paid veteran Kenyan Drake. It would be classic Josh McDaniels to have a RB by committee, with Jacobs playing early downs, Drake/Brandon Bolden playing passing downs, and White directly backing up Jacobs. A lot would have to go right to have a semi-bellcow role I think, which stinks because this offense could score a ton of points this year.
The Bucs rested their starters, including Leonard Fournette. With that, veteran Gio Bernard started and handled the first two drives by himself before exiting. Afterwards, it was Ke'Shawn Vaughn for most of his touchdown drive (with White entering for one converted 3rd-and-8 reception). White played the next two drives before Vaughn re-entered for two drives himself, including the two minute drill. White played most of the third quarter before leaving. Long story short: White isn't Fournette's backup right now, yet is drafted way ahead of Vaughn and Bernard. There's still time for White to move up the depth chart, but it was interesting that White was subbed in on passing downs before getting a drive himself. In full PPR, that could be a nice sign. In half PPR, I'm wondering if Vaughn or Bernard would handle short-yardage before White got a crack at that role. We'll learn more in the upcoming weeks I guess. Good news, White looked pretty good on his chances, minus the INT that was on him: Bucs RB rotation with Lenny resting:
The Chargers rested their starters, including Austin Ekeler. Joshua Kelley drew the start and looked decent on his chances. Larry Rountree rotated in with Kelley, too. Spiller entered with 5:10 left in the second quarter, with Kelley rotating back in. Long story short: Kelley was ahead of Spiller but not so far ahead that Spiller can't win out here eventually, given Kelley's day wasn't over early. Spiller looks the stockiest, so perhaps he's the better short-yardage compliment to Ekeler. But Kelley looks to be the quickest. We'll see what happens over the next two weeks. It's a relative toss-up right now.
Marlon Mack started with Dare Ogunbowale entering on passing downs with the first team offense, but the Day 3 rookie made an impact on the second-team offense. Pierce has a violent rushing style and had elite per-touch numbers in college. The issue was he never had a big workload. That could change, given the Texans iffy depth chart. Pierce also gets after it in pass protection (wait for the last clip). Based on coach Lovie Smith's post-game comments, we shouldn't be surprised if Pierce is named the Week 1 starter. I'm buying. (He's also an elite interview).
The Vikings rested a lot of their starters. Mattison did play, but he started, played the first two drives, and was never subbed out (including third downs) until his day was done. Aside from not suiting up at all, this was the best outcome for Mattison's projected playing time. Kene Nwagwu and Ty Chandler rotated for the next couple of drives, but neither have the size or experience that Mattison has as Dalvin Cook's backup.
Cordarrelle Patterson technically played, but he was out there for a couple of veteran snaps before he left. Then it was veterans Damien Williams and Qadree Ollison who split snaps for the majority of the first half. The Day 3 rookie didn't enter until the second half of the game with the third-team offense. It's too early to write him off, but it wouldn't be a surprise if this hard-nosed coaching staff opted for veteran touches over Allgeier early in the season.
The Bills rested their entire starting lineup, including McKenzie. And then Jamison Crowder lined up with Case Keenum and the second-stringers, despite being a veteran. People have remained skeptical about McKenzie for some reason, but I see a highly-athletic weapon in one of the league's most-productive passing offenses. Go out to a nice dinner with appetizers if your McKenzie bags are packed. His ADP could get to the 120s in no time.
Dotson played 22-of-22 first-team snaps in Preseason Week 1. The pecking order already is set, with Terry McLaurin being Terry McLaurin, Dotson as the flanker while remaining in 2-WR sets, and Samuel as the slot/motion man in 3-WR sets. Dotson will be inconsistent because of Wentz and McLaurin's target-hogging ability, but he will have spiked weeks and the routes necessary to be a fantasy flex option during bye weeks. Samuel, meanwhile, is nothing but a deep-league bench stash. His aDOT will likely be low.
Russ, Javonte, Sutton, Jeudy, and the other big names didn't play in the opener, but Okwuegbunam did. Not only did he play, but he also didn't even start with the Broncos in a run-first look with two tight ends on the field. Albert O was subbed out often throughout the first half in run-heavy looks and missed a few blocks when given the opportunity. Keep in mind, Greg Dulcich (hamstring) wasn't even active here. Put simply, Albert O's playing time projections deserve a tick downwards. He played until halftime and wasn't a full-time player.
Tua, Waddle, Tyreek, and the other big names didn't play in the opener (even Teddy Bridgewater didn't), but Gesicki was out there. He got his usual slot snaps on passing downs, but to me, this action was to test Gesicki as a run-blocker. He was given a handful of split zone "sift" blocks (run play goes one way, and the tight end runs the opposite to block the backside) because he's so inexperienced in them. Gesicki was the 70th tight end in split zone blocks last year. George Kittle (in this Shanahan-based offense) was 3rd. To me, Gesicki didn't look great on these reps this weekend, which could effect his snaps in general. The film bros will keep an eye on this throughout the preseason.
The Browns looked like shit with the redacted quarterback. The main takeaway was Njoku playing 9-of-9 snaps with the first-team offense. I thought his tape last year showed a better blocker than given credit for, so this is not a surprise. Last year with Austin Hooper and without the bag he secured this offseason, Njoku played between 57% and 73% of snaps in all but two games. That number will go up in 2022. He's my favorite TE2 target.
This is a minor footnote. This competition is far from over. In fact, it could be argued that Pierce starting in 3-WR sets already is a win for him.
Non-contact knee injuries are scary, but Wilson dodged the worst-case scenario here. He still needs surgery, is questionable for Week 1, and could be less mobile early in the year even when he returns. In his reps before going down, Wilson looked shaky. He had an inexcusable INT in the middle of the field after staring down his receiver, and also missed an easy out route by more than a few yards. A less-mobile Wilson forcing even more in-pocket throws is a bad recipe. I'm nervous here.
Mariota started, completed both of his passes, and most importantly for fantasy had multiple scrambles, one going for a touchdown. Mariota looks as fast as usual, and he'll be throwing to Kyle Pitts and Drake London, who looked as advertised on a crossing route that included at-snap separation and some YAC.
Ridder played the rest of the game and looked promising. He had two two-minute drills and set up scores on both with good awareness. Like Mariota, Ridder scrambled a lot (6 for 59 yards), which gives them both sneaky best ball upside in Round 18 on Pitts or London teams. Ridder did have a few catchable but not-perfectly accurate throws (that was on his college tape frequently) and had two near INTs, however. The first was a poor route and arguably forced throw on an out route (not so bad). The second was worse, as he stared down a hitch route over the middle and the LB nearly pick-6ed him. There will be ups and downs, but the QB play in preseason Week 1 has me more comfortable that the Falcons will at least be watchable.
Look, I get it. You probably think Pickett is total trash. It's the current narrative, but I'm leaving the light on for him. He has more athleticism than given credit for and can truly spin the ball, particularly on the run. Pickett was able to scramble and make throughs outside of the pocket in his debut, while managing the clock. Beat reporters expect Mitchell Trubisky to start the season, but I'm not fully convinced of that yet. I see some Ryan Tannehill to Pickett's game. Also, the Steelers offense looks pretty similar. Lots of their passes were shallow. The primary difference will be more throws on the move and more QB scrambling.
He played exactly like his prospect profile. Willis had a wow touchdown run, a very rare arm angled throw, and a deep ball with some zip. But at the same time, Willis missed a few reads over the middle that would've went for big plays. Coach Mike Vrabel ultimately pulled Willis because he wasn't throwing the ball on time, something that was a concern in college, too. There's a reasonable chance Willis is the No. 3 quarterback, but the Titans should give him a ton of reps in Preseason Week 2 and Week 3. He needs them, and they are fun.
Kadarius Toney (leg) and Sterling Shepard (Achilles) didn't play, but Robinson lined up with Kenny Golladay in a 2-WR set for the Giants' first snap of the game and was pulled with most of the starters early on. Simply put, Robinson is a starter. He'll have to hold off Shepard when he eventually returns and probably won't be in many 2-WR sets when Toney is in the lineup, but Robinson is a late-round option, especially in PPR. Expect him to be an underneath threat while Golladay tries to win downfield and Toney does a little bit of everything.
The Patriots starters didn't play, so Thornton remains behind DeVante Parker, Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, and Kendrick Bourne and thus remains a last-round pick in best ball drafts only. But the Patriots gave Thornton a lot of responsibility with routes coming from the slot, from the perimeter, and while in motion. If he's any good (he's on track), Thornton's snaps will mainly come at the expense of Meyers in the slot and Agholor on deep route concepts. Thornton has rare speed but also has underrated toughness in the run game. Just check out his snaps below: