NFL teams are getting smarter. Starters played less this preseason than any other year we can remember. Some teams — the Rams and Bears, for example — didn’t play many starters at all.
So we need to be even more careful with preseason analysis than usual. But there were certainly fantasy takeaways to be had.
We noted usage and performance nuggets throughout the first 3 weeks of the preseason here:
Now we’ve got 15 winners and 5 losers from the action.
Sam Darnold, QB, Jets
Darnold turned in an impressive preseason, completing 17 of 25 passes (68.0%) for 211 yards (8.4 YPA), 2 TDs and 0 INTs. He’s been accurate, flashed impressive pocket presence and mobility and looked comfortable in new HC Adam Gase’s offense.
With a sneaky-good group of pass-catchers, Darnold looks set to a big step forward in Year 2.
Daniel Jones, QB, Giants
While he worked behind Eli Manning, Jones was clearly New York’s best QB this preseason. The rookie completed 25 of 30 passes (83.3%) for 369 yards (12.3 YPA), 2 TDs and 0 INTs. By comparison, Eli finished with a 69.2% completion rate and just 6.6 yards per attempt.
We’ll see how long the Giants stubbornly stick with their veteran. But Jones looks capable of sparking this offense — and maybe even being a fantasy spot starter.
James Conner, RB, Steelers
There was talk this offseason that Pittsburgh might go with more of a committee backfield this year. Preseason usage suggests that won’t be the case.
In QB Ben Roethlisberger’s only appearance, Conner played 15 of 19 snaps (78.9%) with the starters (Jaylen Samuels played 3; Trey Edmunds 1). And he looked awesome, ripping off 41 yards on 5 carries and catching 2 balls for 15 more yards. Conner ranks 20th in Pro Football Focus’ Elusive Rating among 100 RBs with 10+ carries through the first 3 weeks of the preseason.
Seemingly set to play a workhorse role in a strong offense, Conner is locked in as a RB1 and worth a pick in the back half of Round 1.