Preseason football is a bit of a joke, especially week 1. Starters come in for one play and then exit. Dudes you’ve never heard of come in for 2+ quarters and throw the ball to other dudes you’ve never heard, but who look like stars because they’re playing against a bunch of other dudes who probably don’t belong in the NFL. That is week 1 preseason in a nutshell.
But we can mock it all we want. The fact is, starting Sunday, football players will begin scoring points again, and that means they will also begin scoring fantasy points. And that means you and I can take advantage.
Picking targets in the preseason is an art, and a lovely one at that
I can hear you laughing, but it’s true. Preseason football favours the complete nuts, the draftniks, the guys who know each team’s depth charts like the back of their hand. Picking in preseason isn’t really about matchups (for me at least) it’s about playing time and finding out which of those “non-starters” will be able to get the most of it, and hopefully do something with it.
Finding those athletic unknown specimens most teams have lurking down their charts, who even their own GM is oblivious to, is the key to a good daily fantasy preseason team. You want upside. You want players who will be going up against second and third string defenses and can capitalize. And most of all you want playing time! As the weeks progress starters will get more playing time, but for now they are off limits (ok maybe one exception below). For now we want unknowns. We want second and third string RB’s. We want WR’s who are so far off the depth chart they are actually listed under special teams. We want TE’s who never catch the ball except when the starting TE is not on the field. And once again, we want playing time!
So read up, because NFL starts in one day, and fantasy points will be scored. I’ve broken down my favourite plays and tried to identify the players I think will see a lot of field next week and who could have the potential for a big fantasy payday.
Remember when I said playing time was huge? Well reports out of Pittsburgh are now indicating that Big Ben isn’t even going to suit up for the “Hall of Fame” game and backup Bruce Gradkowski is hurt. Enter third stringer and constant enigma, Landry Jones. Jones hasn’t taken the step the Steelers have wanted in his first two years in the league, although he’s hardly been given a real chance. The truth is that Jones was actually a very underrated prospect out of Oklahoma where he completed 65% of his passes college. Jones is big (6’3 220llbs) and has a big arm but was plagued by some inconsistent performances after his 1st year in college. The metrics are there for Jones to be an elite QB and it looks like now the Steelers are committed to finding out his real potential this preseason. With the playing time he’ll be getting, and the fact he’ll see second and third team defenses exclusively Jones is my number one QB this week.
Garropollo is currently slated to be the Patriots starting QB week 1 thanks to the ridiculous “deflategate” saga which is threatening to get its own lifetime movie soon. The fact remains though, Jimmy G is likely going to get a heavy workload in preseason as Bill Bellichek should be determined to ensure his current opening day QB is ready and able to lead the Patriots. In last year’s final preseason game Garropollo threw for well over 200 yards and a TD. He’s got great instincts a quick release and is pretty underrated in terms of how he’s portrayed by the press. If he gets a lot of paying time this week (nothing is guaranteed in NE) he could be the best play on the board. It remains to be seen however how Bill Bellichek will handle his QB’s with the impending suspension looming, but I think it makes sense that Garropollo will get the most looks this Thursday.
Weeden isn’t exactly what I would call an elite backup but he does still have a gun for an arm and a lot of experience playing in the NFL. He is going to see a lot of playing time (most of the game) as the Cowboys have been hyper-safe with Tony Romo the last few years and don’t really have a true third string prospect. Last preseason in week one Weeden played almost the entire game and excelled against the weaker competition. With the lack of good RB’s in Dallas I think you might see him sling it more than normal. He’s definitely a decent pick this week.
If you’ve heard the name Jeff Janis thrown around a lot by draft enthusiasts over the past year or so here’s why. He’s an absolute metrics beast. Coming in at 6’3 and almost 220lbs, Janis is the type of player who can not only bully second and third string DB’s but also outrun them (4.42 40m). Janis is going to get a long look this preseason for a couple different reasons. One, he’s had issues adjusting to the pace of the NFL and right now he’s in a fight for one of the final WR spots on the team. Two, Jordy Nelson is recovering from hip surgery and so it’s doubtful you’ll see him this week. In a lot of ways this is a make or break preseason for Janis. Lots of people have been singing his praises but he really didn’t do anything last year and got beat out by Davante Adams. His one issue is that he has quite small hands for WR his size (9’’) and drops may still hold him back in the pro game. Still, he decimated weaker competition while in college and I expect he could do the same this Thursday. He’ll get playing time and will have an athletic advantage over the DB’s he’ll be facing and that should be a recipe for fantasy preseason goodness.
Matthews should benefit from the fact that both Devante Parker and Kenny Stills are not going to be in the lineup for this first preseason game. While I don’t expect Matthews will play the entire game, he should play more than Greg Jennings and Jarvis Landry who essentially are cemented in as the 1-2 WR on this team. Matthews is an extremely underrated talent with excellent hands and a very solid build. Two years ago he posted a massive fantasy game total when Ryan Tannehill locked onto him for about 15 or so passes. Since then he’s barely been heard from. I could see him working well into the game with the second teams this week and getting a lot of looks from both Tannehill, Matt Moore and possibly even third stringer Josh Freeman. There is a slight worry he gets pulled early just for caution but I think the upside is worth the risk with him as the Dolphins will want to see if he’s progressed and will want an NFL worthy WR to work with their backups.
Matt Jones is an excellent prospect for the Washington Redskins and I won’t be shocked if he pushes Alfred Morris for carries all season (and possibly overtakes him). He is a rookie though and I expect he’ll still get a lot of carries this week so that coaches can finally see what he looks like in a game. Jones is big and powerful should really benefit from the strong run blocking the Redskins have shown the past few years. In a lot of ways I see Jones as the more explosive version of Alfred Morris and there’s a real possibility he comes out of the gates and simply decimates the second team defense of the Browns. A lot of what he does is dependent on volume obviously but talent wise he’s one of the best backups in play this week. (read my draft scouting report on Jones here: http://playbook.draftkings.com/news/nfl-draft-breakdown-nfc-east/)
LaMichael James came out of Oregon with some fanfare a few years ago and then proceeded to do exactly nothing. However a lot of that can be attributed to depth issues as he was simply never going to unseat Frank Gore in the power rushing scheme employed by San Francisco. James has apparently looked good all training camp thus far and should get his shot this week to show people if he still has the same potential and quickness he was being lauded for when drafted. I expect you’ll see a lot of him on Thursday as there is a competition for backup duties to Lamar Miller. He’ll be battling rookie Jay Ajayi for snaps but seems to have the upper hand at this point.
You might remember this Zach Miller from last preseason when he tore it up for Chicago and ended up making the team. Shortly after however he suffered a Lisfranc fracture to his foot and ended up missing the entire season. He’s back and I expect he might once again get a long look. Miller is a very underrated player who has good pass catching abilities. He’s been ignored by teams or just overlooked in his career thus far but he will get a long look this game and I won’t be shocked if we see a repeat performance of his 2014 preseason performance. He’s going to be one of my tops plays at this position for most of the preseason since I know he’ll get playing time and has the ability to dominate second team defenses.
Sims is the clear number two TE now that Jordan Cameron has arrived in Miami. I expect Cameron to play about one series and then rest due to his concussion history. Sims should get the majority of the work and definitely has the potential to take advantage. Sims is big and has good hands for his size. He showed up when given some opportunities last year and was a sneaky ppr play in those weeks when he was the clear number #1 TE. He should benefit from the Dolphins reliance on the short passing game and might be a security blanket of sorts for the backup QB’s in this game. The Dolphins also lack depth at WR right now so he might see a lot of targets.
Defense is by far the trickiest position to pick this week. A lot depends on usage and what offense the opposing team is gonna roll out. Still, this pick shouldn’t be too hard to explain. The Browns offense just isn’t that good. They don’t have any game breaking backs, their quarterbacks do not inspire fear from opposing defenses and their WR depth chart is laughable. Johnny Manziel, if anything, should motivate the second stringers to play well and ensure they don’t get the “money sign” flashed in their faces (I know I know he said he wouldn’t do it anymore). The Browns are just bad on offense and the Redskins have a pretty ferocious D-line and some decent depth which should help them win this game. I think you’ll see a ton of sacks and probably some turnovers regardless of who is in at QB.