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What we learned from each team in the NFL preseason

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The NFL preseason has come to an end, and no matter what you think of the exercise, it was amazing to have it, especially after it was missing from our lives this time last year. And before you say anything, yes, preseason absolutely does matter, and we saw a lot happen to impact fantasy football over the last three weeks of action.

So with fantasy drafts in full swing, let’s take a look at what we can take away from all 32 teams’ preseasons. 

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Arizona Cardinals: Rondale Moore has a role

The Cardinals drafted Rondale Moore in the second round in April despite having DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green and Christian Kirk at receiver, and the rookie clearly has a role in this offense. During the preseason, we saw Arizona manufacture touches for Moore in the screen game, on handoffs, you name it, which is similar to how he was used at Purdue. Arizona’s horizontal raid will fit Moore perfectly, as quarterback Kyler Murray was tied for seventh in pass attempts off screens last year (70), while Hopkins was second in both targets and receptions off the play type. Meanwhile, Murray’s 95 pass attempts behind the line of scrimmage were the fourth-most in football.

Atlanta Falcons: Kyle Pitts will be moved all over the field

This shouldn’t shock anyone, but I am very excited to see it over the course of the season. We’ve seen glimpses during training camp, but the Falcons are going to move Kyle Pitts all over the formation and try to create as many mismatches as possible for opposing defenses.

Baltimore Ravens: Gus Edwards will be relied on even more

Unfortunately, the Ravens lost J.K. Dobbins for the season after the electric sophomore running back suffered a torn ACL over the weekend. Dobbins was set to operate as the 1A in this Baltimore backfield, but now that he is sidelined, Gus Edwards will become the unquestioned starting running back for an offense that ran the ball 55% of the time last season, the highest mark in football. If you go back to 2019 when Mark Ingram was out of the lineup, Edwards started one game, rushing for 130 yards on 21 carries against the Steelers. And we actually did see a stretch back in 2018 where Edwards was the lead running back for the Ravens. From Week 11 on that season, Edwards averaged 17.4 carries per game, while rushing for 100 yards three times. He is now in line for around 15 carries per game and plenty of goal-line work in an offense that called run 66.7% of the time from inside the 5-yard line last season, a top-six rate in football. Edwards is now a low-end RB2 in fantasy and worthy of a selection in the fifth round of drafts. 

Buffalo Bills: Brian Daboll remains a very fantasy-friendly play caller

Josh Allen made his 2021 debut in Buffalo’s final preseason game Saturday, and honestly, the Bills offense looked pretty identical to 2020. Allen completed 20-of-26 passes for 194 yards and two touchdowns, as offensive coordinator Brian Daboll continued to rely on the pass. Allen threw the football on every snap during the first quarter, and running back Devin Singletary didn’t record a single carry in any of his 15 snaps. Allen is amazing and so are Buffalo’s pass-catchers, but I really believe many are sleeping on how great Daboll’s play calling is for this offense and for fantasy. Buffalo will once again be among the league-leaders in passing rate, especially on early downs.

Carolina Panthers: Terrace Marshall is really, really good

Terrace Marshall had a fantastic preseason, capped off by a 3-43-1 line in Week 3 against the Steelers over the weekend. The Panthers have talked about moving Marshall all over the formation and that has been the case, as Marshall saw 10 preseason targets from the slot. He wasn’t on the field when the Panthers ran 12 personnel in their final preseason game with both D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson healthy, but this team is going to run plenty of three-wide sets over the course of the season.

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Cincinnati Bengals: Tee Higgins is the top Bengals WR

Sure, Ja’Marr Chase has had his issues with drops so far this summer, but drops are overrated, and he’ll get going. Still, Tee Higgins should have been ranked much closer to Chase all offseason, and now he is being drafted ahead of him in fantasy leagues, which is the right call. The Bengals didn’t play their starters very much during the preseason, but Higgins has looked like the top target in one of the pass-happiest offenses in the NFL.

Chicago Bears: Justin Fields needs to start at QB

It is pretty obvious that the Bears need to start Justin Fields right away, but it looks like the team is going to at least open the season with Andy Dalton under center. Fields is going to take over sooner rather than later, and he showcased the immense upside he has, despite not even playing alongside Chicago’s starters on the offensive side of the ball. There hasn’t been a single point over the course of the preseason where Dalton has outperformed Fields. 

Cleveland Browns: Donovan Peoples-Jones needs to be on your radar

It appears Donovan Peoples-Jones has passed Rashard Higgins on the depth chart as Cleveland’s No. 3 receiver. That won’t translate to much fantasy relevance this season, especially with the Browns running so many two- and three-TE sets. However, in dynasty leagues, DPJ is a player you need to be keeping an eye on. Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham are clearly the starting wideouts, but their futures in Cleveland aren’t exactly set in stone, and Peoples-Jones showed plenty of signs when filling in for Beckham a season ago.

Dallas Cowboys: CeeDee Lamb is going to play out wide more

CeeDee Lamb is one of the most exciting players in fantasy ahead of the 2021 season and for good reason. He has shown the ability to be a superstar receiver in this league and the Cowboys are planning on moving him to the perimeter more in his sophomore season, which will lead to more targets down the field. Lamb has the talent and opportunity to finish as a top-10 wideout in fantasy this season.

Denver Broncos: Courtland Sutton looks healthy

Courtland Sutton saw his first in-game action since suffering a torn ACL in September Saturday and looked good. He caught two balls for 23 yards and a touchdown, but the impressive play was a 19-yard play where Sutton planted off his leg and cut to the inside, showing both full recovery and confidence. Sutton also scored an end zone touchdown from Teddy Bridgewater and was playing alongside Tim Patrick when the Broncos were in 11 personnel during this game. There is some uncertainty with Sutton and this Denver passing attack, but he is being drafted in the middle rounds and could potentially be your WR3 or WR4, which presents massive upside this season.

Detroit Lions: Both D’Andre Swift and Jamaal Williams will be involved

D’Andre Swift has missed time with a groin injury, but even before that, this was always going to be a two-man backfield. Offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn has a track record of using multiple running backs, and Jamaal Williams has always been a very underrated player. Swift still has upside in PPR leagues, especially if the Lions play him out wide and in the slot more, but the Lions are also set to score fewer rushing touchdowns this year. In 2020, Detroit scored 17 rushing touchdowns, the most they’ve scored in a season since 2012. 

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Houston Texans: This backfield is going to be a mess

David Johnson was the unquestioned starting running back all last season and for much of the offseason. But Houston’s new regime added both Phillip Lindsay and Mark Ingram this offseason, and they have both been playing ahead of Johnson during the preseason. And Ingram led the backfield in snaps (10) and carries (11) with the first team during Houston’s preseason finale over the weekend. Johnson was quietly a good pass-catcher last season and appears to be the passing-downs back, but this is a situation you’d be better off avoiding. 

Green Bay Packers: A.J. Dillon remains an elite zero-RB candidate

Aaron Jones is the starting running back for the Packers, but A.J. Dillon is going to have standalone value over the course of the season. Jamaal Williams averaged 9-10 touches per game in Dillon’s role since 2018, which is enough to warrant flex consideration in deeper leagues. But if Jones were to miss any time, Dillon would become an every-week RB1. We saw him play one game last year where he saw significant work. He rushed for 124 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries against the Titans.

Indianapolis Colts: There’s an opportunity for the Colts receivers

We didn’t learn too much from the Colts during the preseason because their key players didn’t play all that much. This team has dealt with multiple injuries, and it continued with T.Y. Hilton, who will miss a few weeks with a neck injury. Michael Pittman and Zach Pascal have been the starting receivers in 12 personnel sets, but Pascal is now on the Reserve/COVID-19 List. Pittman and Parris Campbell will see their ADPs rise, but don’t sleep on Pascal at the end of your drafts. 

Jacksonville Jaguars: Carlos Hyde will play more than you think

The Jaguars lost Travis Etienne for the season, but that doesn’t necessarily mean James Robinson will see a similar workload that he saw during his rookie season. Carlos Hyde has a track record with head coach Urban Meyer, and he pretty much split snaps and carries with Robinson throughout the preseason. Meanwhile, Robinson only ran two more pass routes than Hyde during the preseason, so it isn’t even a lock that he will be the pass-catching running back in this offense.

Kansas City Chiefs: Mecole Hardman appears to be the WR2

Mecole Hardman has always flashed upside, but the Chiefs hadn’t committed to him as the full-time No. 2 receiver. Finally, it appears that is the case, as he got the start over Demarcus Robinson during the team’s final preseason game over the weekend, while he played way more than Byron Pringle, who had been taking snaps and routes away from him a season ago. There appears to be a higher chance of a breakout season for Hardman in 2021.

Las Vegas Raiders: John Brown will not be fantasy relevant

John Brown continues to slide down the depth chart, and in a game where the Raiders rested their starters, Brown was active. He is clearly behind Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards, Hunter Renfrow, Zay Jones and Willie Snead on the depth chart. Yikes.

Los Angeles Rams: Not much, honestly

The Rams don’t play their starters during the preseason, so it is difficult to take too much away from them right now. We did see the team trade for Sony Michel last week, which gives them some much needed depth and experience behind Darrell Henderson

Los Angeles Chargers: Jalen Guyton is the WR3

The Chargers haven’t played Keenan Allen or Mike Williams during the preseason, and that continued during their finale this weekend. However, Jalen Guyton also didn’t suit up — a sign that he has secured the No. 3 receiver spot on this team — while Josh Palmer and Tyron Johnson played.

Miami Dolphins: Myles Gaskin’s workload could be inconsistent

In Week 1 of the preseason, Malcolm Brown got the start for the Dolphins, while Myles Gaskin played with both the first and second team. He played deep into the second quarter, and after the game, head coach Brian Flores stated that he was going to use three running backs this season. However, during the team’s second preseason game against the Falcons, Gaskin dominated the snaps on the opening drive, ultimately finishing the game with two touchdowns on 10 touches. Gaskin should be viewed as the top running back in this offense, but he isn’t as ahead of Brown and Salvon Ahmed as we might have thought a month ago.

Minnesota Vikings: Irv Smith to miss some time

We didn’t see Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen or Dalvin Cook during the preseason, but we saw plenty of Irv Smith, who looked amazing. Unfortunately, he’ll miss at least the start of the season after undergoing meniscus surgery. It is brutal; I truly believe the young tight end was in line for a breakout campaign. Tyler Conklin will slide in as Minnesota’s starting tight end, but it sounds like they are very interested in bringing someone in.

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New England Patriots: Rhamondre Stevenson continues to shine

The Patriots rookie running back was arguably the most impressive player during the preseason, as he rushed for 216 yards and five touchdowns on 30 carries. An impressive 161 of those yards came after contact, as Rhamondre Stevenson averaged a gaudy 5.3 yards after contact per attempt. His stellar play was perhaps a reason the Patriots felt confident trading Michel to the Rams and after the trade, Stevenson was taking reps right behind Damien Harris, which tells me he is the clear No. 2 running back in New England. 

New Orleans Saints: Marquez Callaway is the WR1

With Michael Thomas set to miss the start of the season, the Saints need someone to step up in the passing game outside of Alvin Kamara. It appears Marquez Callaway is that player, as he shined during New Orleans preseason stretch, especially Week 2 against the Jaguars where he hauled in two impressive deep touchdown passes from Jameis Winston. With Winston starting at quarterback, there will be more deep shots in this Saints offense, which bodes well for Callaway. He is suddenly a WR4 with upside in fantasy drafts.

New York Giants: I am worried about Kenny Golladay

For starters, Kenny Golladay has been dealing with a hamstring injury that has kept him out of practice and games during the preseason. That is already concerning for a player who missed so much time last season. But I also worry about this overall Giants offense. Golladay is supposed to be the deep threat but if Daniel Jones doesn’t have time behind this brutal offensive line, things could go poorly. Jones was under pressure on 40.3% of his dropbacks last season.

New York Jets: Corey Davis is the clear WR1

Elijah Moore has missed time, and Corey Davis has developed quite the rapport with quarterback Zach Wilson. Davis was targeted 10 times on just 13 pass routes during the preseason, which is obviously an absurd rate. Moore is going to have a fairly large role during the regular season, but it appears I was too low on Davis during the offseason.

Philadelphia Eagles: Boston Scott and Kenneth Gainwell are sleepers

Make no mistake: Miles Sanders is the starting running back in Philadelphia. However, after seriously struggling as a pass-catcher last season, Sanders has had issues again during training camp. And the Eagles drafted Kenneth Gainwell, who was arguably the top pass-catching running back from this draft class, while Boston Scott continues to play very well in that role. We have also seen new head coach Nick Sirianni use multiple running backs in the past.

Pittsburgh Steelers: 12 personnel will be a larger part of the offense

In 2020, the Steelers offensive line was atrocious. It was a huge reason why their running game was nonexistent, as they created 1.17 yards before contact per attempt, tied for the fourth-worst rate in football. To make up for their still poor offensive line, the Steelers have been using a lot more two tight end sets during the preseason, which means there will only be two receivers on the field. That could limit the playing time of either JuJu Smith-Schuster or Chase Claypool, while rookie tight end Pat Freiermuth could be more involved than I originally expected in year one.

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San Francisco 49ers: We have an interesting QB situation

We are still waiting to see when Kyle Shanahan will name a starting quarterback, but in San Francisco’s final preseason game over the weekend, both Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance rotated, which could be an absolute nightmare if that carries over into the regular season. After the game, Shanahan stated that rotating the quarterbacks will “always be an option” over the course of the season, which isn’t exactly what you want to hear. Garoppolo played a few more snaps with the starters but Lance got work into the third quarter. If San Francisco starts Garoppolo but mixes in Lance for 10-15 snaps each game, it could become a headache for fantasy.

Seattle Seahawks: Alex Collins might be Chris Carson’s backup

There have been some rumors that Rashaad Penny could be cut before the season starts, and I believe it. Penny and Alex Collins have been rotating during the preseason, and Collins has played well. If Penny remains with the team, I’d expect him to open the season as the No. 2 running back, but Collins is clearly making a push for that role.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronald Jones is still the preferred running back

This backfield obviously isn’t the most enticing for fantasy, but I still have interest in Jones. He operated as the early-down running back in Tampa Bay’s preseason finale over the weekend and scored a touchdown. Jones played two more snaps than Leonard Fournette, while Giovani Bernard was worked in on passing downs. It’ll likely be a gamescript situation all year long, but with the Buccaneers being one of the best teams in the NFL, we shouldn’t expect them to be chasing points very often this season.

Tennessee Titans: Not much

The Titans didn’t play their starters during the preseason, so we couldn’t see how Julio Jones and A.J. Brown might be utilized in this offense, especially with a new offensive coordinator. Meanwhile, tight end Anthony Firkser’s role wasn’t very fantasy-friendly during his snaps, as he split time with multiple tight ends. He’ll have to see some playing time in the slot this season to have any chance of being a top-15 tight end, let alone top-12.

Washington Football Team: Antonio Gibson has immense upside

Antonio Gibson logged just one third-down snap during the entire preseason. And while that seems to be a talking point, why aren’t we discussing the fact that Gibson logged 24 snaps and touched the football 16 times? He’s been targeted on first and second down, while it is blatantly obvious that Gibson is going to get the majority of the carries in this offense. Sure, you’d like to see him play more on third downs, as it limits his overall ceiling as a pass-catcher. However, if he is targeted and touching the football when he is on the field, so what? Not to mention his snaps will be way higher than they were during his rookie season, especially with Washington running the third-most plays in negative gamescript in the NFL last year.

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