Bilal Powell, RB, Jets
With Isaiah Crowell back healthy for the Jets' 3rd preseason game, it was still Powell leading off in the backfield. And he logged 11 total opportunities to Crowell's 6, including a 10-4 edge in rushing attempts.
For the preseason, Powell managed just 2.1 yards per rush and saw only 4 total targets. Should he remain the lead back into the regular season, he'll do so for an offense that ranked 24th in scoring and 28th in yards last year -- and now appears set to start a rookie QB.
But after leading the 2017 Jets by 3.3 carries per game over Matt Forte, Powell appears to have even less competition for backfield touches. Elijah McGuire won't be ready for Week 1 and might yet land on short-term IR as he works back from a summer foot fracture. It'll be a challenge for him to return to last year's version, which tallied 88 carries and 26 targets (17 receptions) as a rookie.
Crowell steps in for Forte, with nowhere near the track record of receiving production. We expected Crowell and his 3-year, $12 million contract to reach September as at least the Jets' lead ball-carrier, but he's not there yet and might not be at any point. That contract includes cuttable money beyond 2018, and Crowell has ranked just 40th, 38th and 40th in Football Outsiders' rushing success rate over the past 3 years (measuring how often a RB gains at least what's needed on a given play). Powell checked in just 45th last season but 4th the year before.
Most importantly for his fantasy outlook, Powell remains just RB45 even in MFL10 drafting this week. That's 7 spots behind Crowell on the RB board, and 16 spots lower than where Powell ranked in total PPR points in 2017. Powell also finished 2016 at RB16 in PPR, despite just 131 rushing attempts (plus 58 receptions) and 5 total TDs.
Matt Breida, RB, 49ers
It's not fun to include a currently injured player here, but Breida's shoulder issue is exactly what allows him to jump into this category. His preseason absence has gotten him to the end of August as RB54. Whereas he was trending up and finding his way into Round 12 and earlier as August began, Breida can linger into the final rounds of many drafts at this stage and will likely go undrafted in some home leagues.
But he appears to be nearing a return, working out in pads on a side field Tuesday, during the Niners' final practice before the preseason finale. And the only guy ahead of him on the depth chart -- Jerick McKinnon -- hits the regular season with at least as much durability concern thanks to his own calf strain.
Breida went from undrafted free agent to RB47 as Carlos Hyde's backup a year ago, when he garnered 11+ carries in 4 of the final 5 games. His rosy outlook for 2018 would be playing Tevin Coleman to McKinnon's Devonta Freeman. And if either of the Niners' top 2 RBs suffers an early health setback, Alfred Morris should be sitting there on the waiver wire as an option.
Keelan Cole, WR, Jaguars
Cole already had some sleeper appeal, as he drew starter work from the beginning of camp while leaving fantasy draft boards in WR6 range. But then Marqise Lee's season-ending knee injury cleared some of the muddle from the Jacksonville WR corps.
With Lee out for the final 3 regular-season games last year, Cole racked up 30 targets to lead the team with a 26.6% share over that stretch. He garnered a 20.5% share over the final 7 games, after Dede Westbrook returned from IR -- trailing Westbrook by 2 total targets over that span.
Cole did all that despite arriving as an undrafted free agent, in the same class as 4th-round pick Westbrook and in an offense that ranked just 21st in pass attempts. Cole also led last year's Jaguars and ranked 2nd league wide with 17.8 yards per catch. Even if you take out receptions of 75 and 73 yards, Cole still averaged 15.0 per catch.
That followed a college career that saw him average 20.8 yards per reception and 133.2 yards per game over his final 3 seasons at Kentucky Wesleyan.
Cole will now hit 2018 as the favorite to lead Jacksonville wideouts in snaps and targets. His newfound prominence within the offense has pushed his ADP into low-WR4 range, but Cole still presents upside well beyond that late-Round 10 position in 12-team leagues.
Kenny Golladay, WR, Lions
Golladay sits right behind Cole in WR ADP, going at the 10-11 turn in recent MFL10 drafting. In the preseason, he sat right alongside Golden Tate and Marvin Jones in snaps played. Jones led the top trio of Lions' wideouts with 72 snaps, then came Golladay's 64 and Tate's 55. Tate topped Golladay by 6 snaps in the 3rd exhibition after trailing him in the 1st 2, but the specifics there don't seem important.
Over the past 2 seasons, no team has run more 3-WR sets than Detroit, which has done so on 84% of plays. So regardless of who lines up first, all 3 wideouts will see plenty of time.
As a rookie, Golladay grabbed a 12.8% share of targets for his 11 games on the field -- losing 5 other contests to a hamstring injury. He topped 4 targets just twice (and 5 once) in 8 games after returning. This year's squad shed 86 targets with Eric Ebron's departure, along with 20 red-zone targets between Ebron and TE Darren Fells.
Golladay's 6'4, 213-pound frame should play especially well down there, alongside a QB who has finished 7 straight years among the top 11 in red-zone pass attempts.
Danny Amendola, WR, Dolphins
With less than 2 weeks before the start of the regular season, DeVante Parker is not even allowed to catch footballs yet -- following his mid-August finger fracture. That follows yet another disappointing camp for the former 1st-round pick.
Parker's situation shoves the door wide open for his teammates to claim available targets and deliver big upside on modest draft prices. We've already highlighted Kenny Stills, whom you can still get in mid-to-late WR4 territory for some reason.
But Amendola has also not seen the drastic rise in ADP that seemed likely to follow as buzz followed him from spring workouts into training camp. In their 2 shared preseason contests, Amendola has played 29 snaps to Stills' 35. That included the opener, with Parker around as well. Amendola drew 6 targets to Stills' 5 in those 2 games.
We're obviously not projecting a team target leader off that small sample, but leading the team in that category resides within Amendola's range of possible outcomes. And when you're talking about a going going outside the top 70 at WR, that's attractive PPR upside -- regardless of the offense's quality.
And just in case you forgot, this is a team that watched Jarvis Landry take with him 166, 131 and 161 targets from the past 3 years.
Rishard Matthews, WR, Titans
Matthews finally came off the PUP over the weekend after missing all of training camp and most of the preseason following meniscus surgery. A couple of weeks ago, we expected him to return to an offense with Taywan Taylor emerging to join classmate Corey Davis as potential passing-game leaders heading into their 2nd season. Instead, the Titans have run Tajae Sharpe and Nick Williams as parts 2 and 3 of their 1st-team WR grouping over the past 2 preseason contests.
Matthews, meanwhile, got a 1-year, $7.75 million extension on a contract that was set to end after this season. He clearly remains in Tennessee's plans for at least the near term. And we're talking about a guy who has ranked 2nd and 1st on the team in targets over his 2 seasons since arriving as a free agent.
You'll see that we remain apprehensive with our projections for Matthews, who could certainly still see competition from Taylor this season. But our initial projections for Matthews had him on the fringes of WR3 territory. He finished WR37 in PPR last season, despite missing 2 games. And that followed a WR20 finish in 2016. So he clearly presents upside beyond his current WR49 ADP.
Phillip Dorsett, WR, Patriots
None of us had Dorsett in our fantasy plans back in spring. Perhaps even the Patriots didn't. They sure didn't appear happy with their WR options when they signed Jordan Matthews and then Eric Decker.
But New England has since shed Malcolm Mitchell, Kenny Britt, Matthews and Decker from a once crowded WR corps. Dorsett, meanwhile, has opened all 3 preseason games on the field. He matched Julian Edelman's snap count in the 1st, matched Chris Hogan's in the 2nd and played 21 to Edelman's 24 in the 3rd.
It seems pretty clear now that Dorsett will open the regular season as a starting WR for the Patriots. And regardless of his bust history, that's a profile worth chasing late in your fantasy football draft. We don't even need to dig further into the numbers to justify it, because Dorsett's ADP still sits just 92nd at the position this week -- and that comes from best-ball drafts, where you can squeeze out all the upside without even having to decide when to start him.
Factor in Edelman's 4-game suspension, and Dorsett almost becomes a "must" pick in the final round of your draft if he's still on the board. And there's certainly nothing wrong with taking a shot earlier than that.
Tre'Quan Smith, WR, Saints
Smith's scant playing time with the 1st team in the preseason would be more bothersome if there had been more impressive performances ahead of him -- or if the real 1st team had played more.
But through 3 exhibitions, Drew Brees has thrown just 9 passes. Just 5 Saints have caught more than 3 passes: Incumbent starters Michael Thomas and Ted Ginn snagged 6 apiece, with WR Austin Carr grabbing another 6 and RB Shane Vereen 8. Smith leads the team with 11 receptions and 147 yards, including the lone TD catch.
We can't project that usage into a large early-season role, but we're not drafting Smith to start in Week 1. We're chasing what he could become.
Thomas will remain New Orleans' clear top target for as long as he's healthy. Ginn, even as the #2 wideout, ranked just 4th on the team in targets last year (70). Free-agent import Cameron Meredith presents plenty of intrigue but has also endured an up-and-down August as he works back from the double ligament tear that cost him 2017.
As a late pick -- currently WR81 in ADP -- Smith presents basically no risk to go along with the upside of potentially climbing as high as #2 WR for the Saints at some point in 2018. (Check out Jared's Dynasty Prospect Profile from the spring for the pitch on Smith's talent and college production.)
Ricky Seals-Jones, TE, Cardinals
We all watched Seals-Jones flash late in his rookie season, and challenge us to decide whether to chase him in the barren, mirage-filled wasteland that is the late-season waiver wire.
What he lacked at that point, though, was playing time. Seals-Jones didn't reach 40% snaps played until the 2nd-to-last game. This summer, however, he has played on 27 of 31 Sam Bradford snaps, according to Graham Barfield. That's pretty much all we needed to see from the young TE (who converted from college WR).
Arizona saw only Larry Fitzgerald reach 70 targets last season. And even with Fitz so dominating that category, this year's squad looks to redistribute 45.7% of last year's targets.
David Johnson will obviously claim a big chunk. But the landscape looks wide open behind him and Fitzgerald. And the aforementioned percentage doesn't even include Jermaine Gresham's 46, which led Arizona TEs in 2017. Gresham looks iffy for at least the early part of the season, coming off a Week 17 Achilles' tear.
Seals-Jones, meanwhile, looks like all upside from his TE23 ADP.