I put almost no stock in preseason performances. The minuscule sample size and vanilla scheming leads to a ton of irrelevant noise and dangerous swings in player perception.
However, I do use the preseason to get a handle on how coaches view their depth charts. The easiest way to do this is by not following what they say, but instead how they use players. By tracking first-string usage, we can quietly learn a ton as we continue to get set for the regular season. Below are the usage notes I found important following the second week of preseason action. For the opening week observations, bang it here.
1. Tajae Sharpe’s meteoric rise continues
The Titans’ first-team offense logged 21 snaps Saturday and fifth-round rookie Tajae Sharpe was on the field for 17 of them. That was more than Rishard Mathews, Harry Douglas or Andre Johnson (Kendall Wright sat out). During those snaps with Marcus Mariota, Sharpe racked up six catches on six targets and had an end-around called for him. At this point, it’s foolish to dismiss Sharpe as anything except a legit threat to lead all Titans wideouts in targets this season. The matchup in Week 1 (vs. Vikings) is difficult, but Sharpe costs the stone minimum $3,000 on DraftKings. He’s in play for cash game lineups right now.
2. DeMarco Murray hogging first-team reps
Derrick Henry is a beast of a man and a future fantasy monster. But I’m not sure that day is coming in the early part of his rookie season. The Titans appear committed to DeMarco Murray as their lead back, giving him 20-of-21 first-team snaps Saturday. Henry logged zero first-team reps, just as he did in the preseason opener. With a projection of 20+ touches likely for Week 1, DeMarco is another RB in the $5K range that’s firmly in play.
3. Lockett running behind Kearse
I discussed Tyler Lockett in Overvalued, as his season-long stock had reached absurd proportions. I’ve seen him go as early as the fifth round in drafts. That’s way too high and prices in the historic hot streak Russell Wilson went on down the stretch last year. It also fails to consider that Doug Baldwin got paid, Jermaine Kearse got paid, Jimmy Graham (knee) could be back and C.J. Prosise is a candidate for targets out of the backfield. Perhaps most importantly, Lockett only played on 17-of-30 first-string snaps in the second preseason game. That trailed both Kearse (25 snaps) and Baldwin (27). There are no questions about Lockett’s ability, but there are questions about his opportunity.
4. Will Fuller flashes in a big way
The Texans have now run 47 plays this preseason and first-round speedster Will Fuller has been on the field for 44 of them. He flashed his big-play ability with a 19-yard TD on a go-route from Brock Osweiler Saturday, but I was encouraged by the comeback routes he ran. Fuller finished with a 4-73-1 line on 36 snaps in that second preseason game against the Saints. Meanwhile, Jaelen Strong is only operating as DeAndre Hopkins’ direct backup and Braxton Miller is an exclusive slot player. With an every-down role, big-play ability and a pristine matchup in Week 1 (home vs. Bears), Fuller makes for an ideal GPP target at just $3,700.
5. Big change for Tyler Boyd in Week 2
Last week, I highlighted Tyler Boyd’s concerning usage in the preseason opener. This week, a lot changed. Instead of strictly playing in the slot, Boyd ran in two-wide sets opposite A.J. Green and lined up everywhere. Overall, the Bengals first-string WR snaps were Boyd 13, Green 13 and Brandon Tate 8. That could change if/when Brandon LaFell (hand) returns, but Boyd is a better player. He’s someone whose progress I’m watching closely.
6. Bengals’ backfield continues timeshare
The Bengals starters have run 23 preseason plays so far. The total snaps are Jeremy Hill 12, Gio Bernard 11. Third-down snaps Gio 4, Hill 0 and red-zone Hill 1, Gio 0. It’s clear that the Bengals value both backs equally, but Hill will have more TD upside weekly. With Tyler Eifert (ankle) still in doubt for Week 1 and Marvin Jones/Mohamed Sanu gone, utilizing Hill’s big back skill set makes sense.
7. Colts formations as expected
With Coby Fleener in New Orleans, Andrew Luck healthy and three gifted wideouts at the top of the depth chart, it made sense for the Colts to move toward more 3-WR personnel. They’ve confirmed as much through training camp practices and used at least three WRs on 70 percent of their pass plays with Andrew Luck in the second preseason game – even though T.Y. Hilton rested. It’s great news for Phillip Dorsett, the explosive 2015 first-round pick.
In related news, it was revealed Monday that star corner Vontae Davis (ankle) will miss at least the first month of the regular season. This Colts defense is a legit threat to give up more yards than anyone in the NFL this season, which isn’t a bad thing for Andrew Luck. Saddling up grandpa Frank Gore for a ball-control offense is not a realistic plan.
8. Tyrell Williams pushing toward the top of depth chart
The injury situation among the Chargers’ wideouts has muddled everything. Stevie Johnson is done for the year, Dontrelle Inman left after one snap Friday following a big hit and Travis Benjamin is coming off a hamstring injury. Still, I thought it was interesting that Tyrell Williams played more snaps with Keenan Allen (9-of-15) than Benjamin (8) or James Jones (0). I don’t think Williams will be a realistic play in Week 1 in a brutal matchup at Kansas City, but he’s a talented guy worth watching closely.
9. Crowell quietly out-snapping Duke
The Browns’ first-stringers have played 34 snaps this preseason. The RB snaps are Isaiah Crowell 22, Duke Johnson 16 (they lined up together twice). The touches are Crowell 8, Duke 6. For now, it appears suggestions that Duke would become the feature back were far off base. Hue Jackson, formerly of Cincy, is using his backs in a Jeremy Hill/Gio Bernard manner. In an offense that could be sneaky good behind a rejuvenated Robert Griffin III, Crowell will have multiple-TD upside in Week 1 at just $4,200 against the Eagles.
10. Jaguars RBs in a dead heat
The Jags’ first-stringers have logged 39 preseason snaps. Total RB snaps are T.J. Yeldon 19, Chris Ivory 19. Red-zone snaps are Yeldon 4, Ivory 4. Goal-line snaps are Ivory 2, Yeldon 0. It’s about as even as it can possibly get and I’d expect that to continue through the regular season. Unless one gets hurt, they’ll both be GPP plays only.
11. Latavius, Langford continue strangleholds
Through two preseason games, Latavius Murray has handled 24-of-25 first-string reps for the Raiders. Similarly, Jeremy Langford has been in on 36-of-39 first-team reps for the Bears. As true three-down plus goal-line backs, I expect both to be popular on DraftKings in Week 1. Especially Murray, who costs $5,600 and is facing the Saints.
12. Darren Sproles flying under the radar
The Eagles have one of the league’s worst pass-catching corps and a starting running back with an extensive injury history. It creates a clear opening for Darren Sproles, the no-doubt passing-down back and punt returner. Note that Sproles was in on 12 of the first 21 snaps with Sam Bradford in preseason Week 2, including 5-of-6 third-down plays. In full-PPR formats, he has a higher weekly floor than most project.
13. No clarity yet in Ravens backfield
We’re going to need some more time before we can draw conclusions about the Ravens backfield. The first-team snaps Saturday were Justin Forsett 7 as the starter, Terrance West 5 and Buck Allen 4. Each back got one third-down snap. I suspect Buck’s role is most secure as the best passing-down back, but we’ll have to see how the third preseason game and final cuts go. For now, I’m off the entire group.
I am a promoter at DraftKings and am also an avid fan and user (my username is AdamLevitan) and may sometimes play on my personal account in the games that I offer advice on. Although I have expressed my personal view on the games and strategies above, they do not necessarily reflect the view(s) of DraftKings and I may also deploy different players and strategies than what I recommend above.