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: Preseason Week 1. Preseason Week 2 (updating daily). Preseason Week 3 (upcoming).
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Mitch Trubisky started the game and was up-and-down. But to me, if Pickett shows anything, he should be the Week 1 starter. In my opinion, Pickett has done enough. Against the Jaguars' starting defense and with the Steelers starters in Preseason Week 2, Pickett showed pocket movement, situational awareness, timing, and accuracy.
Here are some details on the plays I clipped below: (0:00) Cover 3 defense, so Pickett rolls left and takes the free yards underneath near the sideline. Difficult footwork, but ball is accurate. Cheap win. (0:08) It's a 3rd-and-9. He gets a two-high shell that rolls into Cover 3. Only route that makes sense is the curl over the middle at the first-down marker, but that ball has to be on time and has to have some zip. Pass is completed for the first. At (0:24) we get the angle of Pickett's footwork, where he slides left but gets his feet back underneath him. Very promising play. (0:33) Two-minute drill. Perfect accuracy to Diontae for a first down. Correct read and timing, too. (0:41) Two-minute drill. Gets a blitz, but he hangs in there despite a blown block from RB Benny Snell. Pickett leads the TE to where the blitz came from. Throw has great touch, and he takes a hit in the pocket. (0:50) Two-minute drill. Free play. Great accuracy up-and-away from CB for would-be TD. No play. (0:57) Two-minute drill. Gets Pickens in motion. Sees a man coverage indicator. Tells Pickens to go back. Finds the best man matchup with RB running to the flats. TD. His day is over.
Gibson returned the opening kickoff -- he played zero (0) special teams snaps last year -- and then Robinson played the first drive. The rookie is the exact opposite style of Gibson, where Robinson is a no-nonsense physical rusher while Gibson is an inconsistent home run rusher. Neither will play many passing downs with J.D. McKissic in that role, but it's now time to rank and draft Robinson slightly ahead of Gibson. Once Gibson's ADP has fallen enough, he'll be one of my favorite picks in Best Ball Mania III only for leverage reasons. It'll take a week or so to bottom out.
I tweeted that Travis Kelce isn't playing every preseason starter snap, and people think I've lost my mind. Let me elaborate. Kelce is 33 years old and the history of elite TEs falling off at this age is strong. Over the last four years, Kelce's snap rate has gradually fallen from 95% to 92% to 86% to 82% last year, and Kelce's yards per game last year was the lowest it's been since Mahomes showed up. Same with his yards per route run. Would it be a surprise if the Chiefs began saving him more for the postseason? I don't think so.
And here's what we have in the preseason so far. Last preseason, Kelce played on 96% of Mahomes' reps. This preseason, 44%. On the first 13-play drive of Preseason Week 2, 62% (he only played in 3-TE sets on the second 12-play drive). Of course, he's going to play way more than 44% or 62% snaps. I'm not arguing that. I'm arguing that this year's snap rate can go from 82% to around 75%, and it's nearly impossible to be worth a first-round pick at this position if so. We're in the wild, wild west of the TE age model here. Lastly, the Chiefs offense likely will be swapping out some of the RPO/backyard play for more tradition concepts that require better run-blocking from their TEs. This offense will have some wrinkles post-Tyreek Hill.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire received the first six snaps, including 3rd-and-short, but Jerick McKinnon entered on the first 3rd-and-passing down. CEH immediately re-entered after the 3rd-down conversion, signaling that CEH's role will be on early and short-yardage downs this year. McKinnon played the next 3rd-and-10s, too, but was subbed out for CEH once the Chiefs made it to the 5-yard line. Isiah Pacheco only played one meaningless snap on this 13-play drive. For now, it's CEH on short-yardage and McKinnon on passing downs. Pacheco will backup both of them in the Darrel Williams role from last year. Ronald Jones, who only played in the third quarter, will likely be cut or the RB4.
The Chiefs played their starters, but JuJu Smith-Schuster and Mecole Hardman didn't suit up due to injury. Despite this, Skyy Moore didn't start in 2-WR sets. That was Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Justin Watson. Moore did play in 3-WR sets, but those are less-valuable reps and simply mean he's not playing every down. It's possible that Moore and Hardman split that No. 3 receiver role throughout the season with veterans JJSS and MVS occupying 2-WR sets. Give me MVS (97th overall) straight up over Moore (90th).
Burks did nothing in this game (4 yards) and played into the fourth quarter again. Malik Willis (who is nowhere near ready for NFL action) missed some reads to be fair, but I agree with coach Vrabel's post-game comments. Vrabel said, "There's some other times where we'd like to see a better route. And just continue to progress and work on the conditioning in the game." The last part of that quote is the worrisome part. Burks likely won't start in Week 1. Nick Westbrook-Ikhine (X), Robert Woods (Z), and Kyle Phillips (slot) is my best guess. Of course, Burks' ceiling is the highest of the group, so he could be a decent player late in his rookie season.
Twitter wants there to be a "James White role" so bad, but the reality is those peak seasons were with Tom Brady and without any WR depth. There are now fewer RB receptions and touchdowns in the offense, and that role likely will be split between Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson, and Ty Montgomery. In Preseason Week 2, Harris drew the start and played all three snaps on the first drive. On the second drive, Stevenson took all three snaps. On the third drive, Montgomery took all snaps and scored a goal-line touchdown. This three-back rotational trend continued until the first half was over. Nobody has projected Montgomery rotating drives, so this is a storyline worth monitoring closely.
Per SIS, the Patriots RB ran 126 routes on 3rd- or 4th-down last year. Those went to Brandon Bolden (105), White (15), Stevenson (4), and Harris (2).
The fourth-round rookie didn't play in Preseason Week 2, and Texans reporter Aaron Wilson tweeted it's because "Texans are looking for someone to step up at running back beyond Dameon Pierce." Marlon Mack played on early downs with Rex Burkhead subbing in on passing downs. Pierce could take on both roles if he continues developing, but may cede passing work to Burkhead. We might learn more next week. In the meantime, it's time to view Pierce as a real fantasy asset. His tape last week was fun. As was it in college.
This was expected, but confirmed. Claypool struggled beating press at times last year, so this should make him a more efficient receiver. The problem though is playing time. George Pickens and Claypool rotated in 2-WR sets, and even slot-only Gunner Olszewski subbed in with the first-team offense (7-of-18 routes) when the Steelers wanted a more traditional slot receiver on the field. That's bad for Claypool's fantasy stock. Pickens (17-of-18) played more with the first-team offense than Claypool did (10-of-18), and my opinion is that Pickens is already a better player, too. I'm drafting him ahead of the veteran.
McKenzie has been confirmed as the Bills' starting slot WR, a role that's fantasy viable given Buffalo's 3-WR set usage. But we also had a couple of plays with Stefon Diggs on the sideline following a 26-yard completion. The Bills went to a 2-WR set, and McKenzie (typically a slot WR) stayed in the game. If Diggs or Gabe Davis were to miss time, McKenzie would be a full-time player. We didn't know that before this week ... It's simple. You are bad at best ball if you're not getting overweight on McKenzie.
Devin Singletary played all 10 snaps with the first-team offense, but it's worth noting that all 10 snaps were 1st- or 2nd-downs (no 3rd-downs) and none came in the red zone. This is a win for Singletary still, but we didn't learn what will happen during the high-value touches. After Singletary exited with the first-team offense, Zack Moss entered and scored a goal-line touchdown. The third drive was split between Moss and James Cook, who caught a pass and was tackled at the 1-yard line. He was then subbed out for Moss, who scored his second goal-line touchdown. It seems like all three RBs have different strengths: Singletary (early-down rushing), Moss (short-yardage rushing), and Cook (passing downs). Following the game, coach Sean McDermott said Moss has had "one of the more consistent training camps to this point."
We have a potential stock up and stock down with the third-round rookie. White was promoted in the pecking order (he entered before Ke'Shawn Vaughn while Gio Bernard was sidelined), but he had a crucial fumble loss. Despite coming in later, Vaughn showed well on his snaps and caught the eye of coach Todd Bowles; "Ke’Shawn did a good job when he was in there. I can’t say much about everybody else without seeing the tape." It's fair to say the Bucs backup job is still up in the air, which is notable considering Leonard Fournette suited up this week despite almost all other starters resting. Scroll to the bottom to see the Bucs OL update, too. We have chaos in Tampa Bay.
Following the game coach Brandon Staley said, "All five running backs didn’t do much tonight. I don’t think any of the five of them played very well." I'd have to agree. Joshua Kelley started the game but doesn't have top-end juice and dropped a potential first-down on an option route over the middle. Larry Rountree was next in line, but he really doesn't have a top gear. Fourth-round rookie Spiller didn't enter until the second quarter as the RB4 and didn't do anything with his opportunities before he left with an ankle/knee injury. Staley mentioned that Spiller's ankle injury doesn't appear to be "anything serious." The lack of speed behind Ekeler is serious. Nobody has truly stepped up. Kelley remains in the lead for now, especially if Spiller misses any time. At this point, I wouldn't rule out a Ronald Jones or Kenyan Drake type of addition after more cuts.
Miles Sanders (hamstring) is sidelined, and the Eagles rested their starters. Still, it's notable that veteran Boston Scott played the entire first drive ahead of Gainwell, who played the entire second drive. Gainwell has reportedly struggled in camp recently. This depth chart seems highly suspect, so I'm anticipating some type of RB addition before the season. Maybe Ronald Jones? Kenyan Drake? Jordan Howard? Kareem Hunt?
Cordarrelle Patterson is on ice and is getting ready for the regular season, so Williams drew the start with the rest of the first-team offense. This was the case last week, too. What's changed is Allgeier is now the RB3 instead of Qadree Ollison. Allgeier easily could be the RB2 soon, but this will likely be a bottom-10 RB rushing offense with Marcus Mariota rushing himself. The rookie probably a deep sleeper only.
Eli Mitchell (hamstring) and Jeff Wilson (maybe personal reasons?) didn't play, so Sermon started and played most of the first half with the second-string offense. The OL was disasterous, but Sermon didn't create any big plays himself. On passing downs, JaMycal Hasty subbed in. That remained true for the two-minute drill and when Tyrion Davis-Price checked in as the early-down back. Davis-Price had an up-and-down night but has one preseason game to move up the depth chart. He's the RB4 or RB5 right now depending on how we're viewing Wilson and Hasty.
Bourne fought in joint practices and basically was suspended by the team, so he didn't suit up and may have cost himself a starting job. The rest of the WR group rotated drives:
Parker (X) & Meyers (slot), with Agholor in 3-WR sets
Parker (X) & Meyers (slot), with Agholor in 3-WR sets
Thornton (X) & Agholor (Z), with Meyers in 3-WR sets
Parker (X) & Meyers (slot), with Thornton in 3-WR sets
Parker and Meyers appear to project for the most playing time because they started the game in 2-WR sets. Parker played in 3-of-4 series and wasn't subbed out when he was out there. Meyers played all 4 series but was subbed out on occasion (and Bourne was a slot WR on 37% of his snaps last year, so Meyers playing time could drop from here when Bourne returns). Meanwhile, Agholor and Thornton were directly competing as outside deep threats, but Thornton (collarbone) is now out weeks. Too bad. He was having a good camp and preseason. Ultimately, I think Parker (X) plays the most, with Meyers (slot), Agholor (deep threat Z), and Bourne (versatile) rotating in around him until Thornton is back.
Justin Fields was 26th in play action rate and 34th in screen rate last year out of 38 QBs. He really struggled with traditional dropbacks last year (so did the OL), but the 2021 coaching staff did him few favors. This year could be a different story. In Preseason Week 2, the Bears first-team offense had some sizzle. On eight dropbacks, Fields had two screens, three play actions (including two bootlegs), some deep concepts, and some pre-snap motion. Fields worked too fast on at least two of these dropbacks, but I trust this staff more than last year's. That's a step in the right direction.
Last year, Herbert showed me that he is a patient, efficient ball-carrier. If David Montgomery misses time, he'll have enough volume to be an every-week starter. His preseason usage has confirmed that: he played all nine snaps with the first-team offense while Montgomery was sidelined. However, Herbert is an incomplete player right now. He had a brutal drop last week and a brutal pass-protection lapse this week, all this after ranking 81st out of 89 RBs in yards per route run last year. Montgomery is (by far) the Bears' best option on passing downs, so Herbert will probably only spell him on early-downs between the 20s. Montgomery is the butt of jokes on Twitter, so his ADP can easily overcorrect, making him a fine pick in the haunted RB Dead Zone.
Just like last week. He's not resting with the rest of the starters and is being subbed out in 2-TE sets for better run-blocking TEs. Not good. Adjust the rankings.
Fant was a throw-in piece in the Russell Wilson trade, and then the Seahawks paid run-blocking specialist Will Dissly to a 3-year, $24M contract with over $10M guaranteed. This will be a TE committee, as it was in Preseason Week 2. Dissly and Fant rotated with the starters, but Fant even played on the first snap of the second half with the backups. In a below-average passing offense, Fant needs a full-time role to be a fringe TE1 and it's hard to see that happening with Dissly obviously viewed a starting-level player, too. ... The more preseason notes I write about the TE2 group, the more I love David Njoku's price tag.
A dominant unit last year, the 2022 Bucs suddenly have holes across their offensive line. Pro Bowl guard Ali Marpet retired, Pro Bowl center Ryan Jansen is likely done for the year, and veteran guard Aaron Stinnie tore his ACL in Preseason Week 2. Throw in Tristan Wirfs' oblique injury (potentially minor), and Tom Brady is all of a sudden coming back to a line full of backups. The good news: Brady reportedly is coming back.
Undrafted rookie Jaylen Warren received some first-team reps in practice this week after looking real nice in Preseason Week 1, but Snell received the start with Najee Harris sidelined. Warren entered ahead of Anthony McFarland.
Perine's roster spot is safe. He rested in each of the first two preseason games, as did Joe Mixon. Evans, because he didn't play much at Michigan or as a rookie, got the bulk of first-half RB snaps. He caught all three of his targets, had a nice evening in pass protection, and made another big play (this time on special teams). Evans has way more juice than Perine. It's unclear who is the RB2 behind Mixon, but I think Evans has far more upside than the veteran.
The Raiders' starters didn't play. Neither did Ameer Abdullah or coach's pet Brandon Bolden, potentially signalling their roster spots are safe. There's probably not room to keep Drake if Josh Jacobs, Zamir White, Abdullah, and Bolden are around. Cutting him only saves $250k against the cap. A trade, $2.75M. Either way, the only backs worth drafting are Jacobs and White.