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Fantasy Football: Patriots RB Jeremy Hill among players who impressed in first preseason game

Pete Davidson
August 11, 2018 - 12:03 pm
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After watching all (yes, all) of the preseason action from Thursday and Friday’s games, I have some fantasy related notes for you all to chew on. Obviously, this are just early returns, but I’ve isolated some things that I thought were compelling for those of us with fantasy drafts in our near future. Sadly, we also have some early injuries to discuss. Freaking preseason.

Programming note: Don’t forget to tune to 93.7 Sunday morning at 8 a.m., when Jim Hackett and I will be diving into all of this stuff and more in the opening episode of The Fantasy Football Hour.  If you are not an early riser, you can find the show right here on WEEI.com. I will tweet out the link to the show as soon as its posted, so follow me @Rotobahn if you aren’t already doing so.

Check out Friday's article on High Value Targets.

QUARTERBACKS

The big story is how well the young guns have played so far.  The 2018 class is looking very good based on early returns.  Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold both looked ready to step in and play winning football.  Both showed composure along with the physical tools that we saw throughout their college years.  They were tied at the top of my board going into the NFL Draft and it’s still a compelling debate.  In addition to Mayfield and Darnold, we saw some good things from Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson, albeit on a more intermittent basis.

Allen showed off every trait that was over-discussed in the Spring—the strong arm, the mobility and of course, the lack of accuracy.  Even with the negative stuff, Bills fans have to be excited about what they saw from their first round pick and future franchise passer.  His long term fantasy stock received a tempered boost on Thursday night. 

Jackson ran for a score on his first drive, and while it was nothing we haven’t seen before, it was still fun to watch.  Perhaps the biggest thing to note on Jackson’s first score is that it wasn’t a called run.  Jackson assessed the situation, broke containment as the pocket collapsed, and created the play on his own.  It was impressive and if you are a defensive coordinator, you want no part of this guy.  If you are a late QB drafter, like myself, the idea of a Joe Flacco/Jackson tandem is a compelling one, especially in deeper leagues.  It costs you next to nothing based on current ADP.  As compelling as Jackson’s play was, as with Allen, we saw some of the raw stuff too.  Both of these young passers would benefit greatly from not being rushed into regular season action.  In Jackson’s case, we saw the lack of a definable repeatable release point and a shaky throwing base—his feet in a different position from throw to throw.  If the Ravens’ coaching staff can help Jackson clean some of these things up, he can be a star.  Having Flacco around to start games while Jackson learns is a good scenario.  Speaking of Flacco, Joe looked like a highly motivated quarterback against the Rams, and it makes sense with Jackson nipping at his heels.  We could see a good year from Flacco, who hasn’t been pushed in a long, long time.  Think Alex Smith last season—as he felt the heat from the newly drafted Patrick Mahomes and played the best football of his long career.

Deshaun Watson looked healthy in his limited work versus the Chiefs.  There was nothing special in his handful of plays, but the fact that they were willing to expose him at all is a good sign considering that he’s coming off of an ACL injury.  While we’re on ACL injuries, it’s worth noting that Ryan Tannehill looked healthy in limited work.  While I am a non-fan, Tannehill is the only decent quarterback on the Dolphins’ roster and he is a huge key when we are talking about the value of the Miami receivers, like Kenny Stills.  Tannehill was 4 of 6 passing and his feet looked light and quick.  Definitely a positive sign.

Andrew Luck looked healthy, and that’s a huge story in and of itself.  His ADP is about to skyrocket if this continues next week.  I like the new look of the Colts offense as long as Luck stays on track.  T.Y. Hilton is a steal in the third round right now, by the way.

RUNNING BACKS

Lamar Miller looked fresh-legged and spry in limited work.  He’s a great value right now in the fifth round of fantasy drafts—with very little in the way of healthy backfield competition.  If you miss out on the backs you want early, Miller is a great way to fill the void.  I’m a buyer.

Unlike some other teams, the Bengals gave us an extended look at their starters, and Joe Mixon popped right away.  He’s a compelling fantasy target based on his 3rd round ADP, and it was encouraging to see him lined up as an outside receiver and then scoring a touchdown after making multiple defenders miss.  If Mixon hits this year, and he most definitely could, he is going to win some leagues for folks.  He could play a much bigger role in his second season and is a player to watch carefully in the coming weeks.

Christian McCaffrey was heavily involved early on and has the look of a breakout fantasy performer in PPR leagues.  Saquon Barkley looked as-advertised in limited action, but I was hoping to see more in terms of route work.  That’s something to watch for in the coming weeks, because how the Giants opt to use him will have a lot to do with his value in PPR formats.

The Tampa Bay backfield is definitely one to watch this August.  Both of the primary backs, Peyton Barber and rookie Ronald Jones got meaningful playing time and both scored, but it was Barber who looked best, and that’s a big story if it continues.  While I like both players from a talent perspective, Barber’s late round ADP makes him the better fantasy buy right now.  He’s a very underrated runner with enough size to handle a big workload.  If Jones fails to pick up the nuances of the Bucs’ scheme as a rookie, Barber could be a real story.

San Francisco’s Matt Breida suffered a shoulder injury which is worth monitoring.  If he is going to miss significant time, it will open up reps for Joe Williams and Jeremy McNichols.  While it appears to be relatively minor, all reps are big reps when we are talking about a Kyle Shanahan backfield.

The Patriots game wasn’t all that eye-opening, with Brady not playing and all, but we definitely got a feel for how the backfield is shaking out.  Jeremy Hill thoroughly outplayed Mike Gillislee.  I mean, it wasn’t close.  Hill looked like the guy we saw at LSU and as a rookie in Cincinnati versus the plodder we saw over the last three seasons.  This has the look of a classic Patriots buy low move.  Hill looks like a strong bet to make the team and he offers a compelling early down option if Sony Michel is slow to heal.  He’s a stronger runner than Gillislee and a more compelling option as a receiver.

I saved the saddest RB news for last.  As many of you saw, rookie Derruis Guice went down after looking very good versus the Patriots.  At first the rumor was an MCL strain, but 24 hours later, the news of a season-ending ACL broke.  It’s awful news for Washington, who will now likely turn to a committee of Chris Thompson, Samaje Perine and Rob Kelley.  The guy I am buying is most definitely Perine because he’s a diverse talent who can be a volume runner.  A tandem of Perine and Thompson can do plenty of damage.

WIDE RECEIVER

It’s nothing to get excited about just yet, but Kevin White, who was a top ten pick in 2016 and who has played in only five games since, looks healthy right now.  If the Bears click on offense and he stays healthy all year, we may finally see what this guy can do.  He’s not on the fantasy radar just yet, but he’s a guy to keep an eye on for sure.

Speaking of lost rookie seasons, John Ross was involved in the Bengals offense versus the Bears.  He fell down coming out of a break and that led to a pick six for Andy Dalton, but the pair quickly rebounded with a nice catch and run that set up a score for Tyler Boyd.  Both Boyd and Ross are players to watch right now.  Both have upside—Ross as a big play option and Boyd as a potential deep option in PPR leagues.  Boyd has been left for dead too soon by some dynasty GMs.  I think he still has a chance to be a volume slot receiver.

Rookie D.J. Moore announced his presence with authority and has the look of a guy who will do big things as a rookie.  He showed the balls skills and after-the-catch ability that we grew accustomed to seeing at the University of Maryland.  He’s a value in drafts right now.  He should lead the Panthers’ receivers in targets this season.  I’m not buying into the idea that Devin Funchess is going to break out.  Moore already looks like a superior option.  In that same game Bills/Panthers, ex-Panther Kelvin Benjamin, fresh off his pre-game “reunion” with Cam Newton, looked like a player on a mission.  Benjamin was involved early and showed some very positive signs—coming back to the quarterback on a sideline route and beating the jam with an outside release on his touchdown.  He’s a good bet for heavy target volume if he can stay healthy.

The Browns are probably praying that rookie Antonio Callaway’s recent drug related arrest goes away quietly, because he looks ready to contribute and the Browns have a need in the wake of Corey Coleman’s departure (Traded to Buffalo) and with the uncertain status of Josh Gordon, who is still very much in a gray area with his rehabilitation.  Callaway was active all night and caught a touchdown from Baker Mayfield.

If there is one team to watch right now in terms of wide receivers, it might be the Packers.  Jordy Nelson is now playing in Oakland and Randall Cobb was in a walking boot just a few weeks ago, and has been an injury risk in recent seasons.  Lead dog Devante Adams is set up for a big year, but he’s had health concerns himself.  If he has concussion issues again, this situation could get wild, because we know that where there’s Aaron Rodgers, there will be passing yards.  Somebody will be on the receiving end!  Right now, the names to watch closely are Geronimo Allison, J’Mon Moore, Equanimeous St. Brown, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, DeAngelo Yancey and Trevor Davis.  No, really.  It’s a deep and talented group and a few of these guys almost have to emerge over time.  This is a depth chart to obsess over this summer.

Even dark horse Jake Kumerow is worth knowing about.  Both Kumerow and Valdes-Scantling caught touchdowns in Week 1.

For the Patriots, while we won’t see him until Week 5, Julian Edelman looked to be moving very well out there in his brief stint.  Edelman said that he still doesn’t have his “football legs” and that may be true, but health-wise, it was still encouraging.  I’m looking for a lot of production once he gets back.  He’s well worth a stash pick in full PPR fantasy formats.

TIGHT ENDS

Rookie Hayden Hurst, the first tight end off the board in this year’s draft, got going right away—catching Joe Flacco’s first pass.  It’s a great sign for a rookie tight end to be so involved from the get go.  He was looking good in his routes and also with his blocking.  Hurst’s 2018 fantasy stock is on the rise, and the Ravens overall are a nice source of value targets with Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Alex Collins all compelling buys right now at their current prices.

Speaking of young tight ends, David Njoku, now playing with much better quarterbacks in Cleveland, looks like a potential breakout candidate.  He caught an impressive score from both Tyrod Taylor and then another from Baker Mayfield.  In Philadelphia, Dallas Goedert, another young dynamic tight end, looked like he was ready to make the jump from SDSU to the NFL.  If there is an injury to Zach Ertz, Goedert would be a high priority fantasy pickup.  He’s uniquely talented and could be a red zone monster working with Carson Wentz in Philadelphia.  The youngster will more than make up for the loss of Trey Burton, who signed with the Bears as a free agent.

The Texans may have found something in Jordan Akins.  He’s a player I liked in my pre-draft film work, but I may have mistakenly classified him as a project.  Based on the early returns (he scored twice!), he could be a factor as a rookie.  For fantasy GMs, he has the look of an offense-first tight end—exactly the kind of talent we look for on our teams.  Akin’s dynasty arrow is pointing up for sure.

In the bad news column, second year 49er George Kittle injured his shoulder and will miss some time.  It’s not time to fade him on draft boards just yet, but knocking him down a round or two might be advisable for now, until we hear more about the timing of his return.  It appears that no structural damage was done, but it was a separation, so he’s going to miss some time.

Related: Danny Etling discusses first NFL game

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