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Preseason Winners and Losers

By Jared Smola 11:08am EDT 8/31/21


With 48 preseason games in the books, here are the guys who are rising or falling in fantasy value ...

Winners

Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Dolphins

Tua looks like a guy ready to take a 2nd-year leap. Across 60 preseason snaps (a little less than a game’s worth), he completed 24 of 34 passes (70.6%) for 282 yards (8.3 YPA), 1 TD and 1 INT. And he did that without WRs DeVante Parker and Will Fuller. Tagovailoa finished 17th among 79 qualifiers in Pro Football Focus’ preseason passing grades. Highlight him as a strong QB2 target in your fantasy draft.

Mac Jones, QB, Patriots

79 QBs dropped back 20+ times this preseason. Only 1 finished with a higher Pro Football Focus passing grade than Jones. The rookie was poised and accurate, completing 36 of 52 passes (69.2%) for 389 yards (7.5 YPA), 1 TD and 0 INTs. HC Bill Belichick was obviously impressed, opting to dump QB Cam Newton and make Jones his Week 1 starter.

Devin Singletary, RB, Bills

Singletary played every single snap on Buffalo’s 1st possessions in Week 2 and 3 of the preseason. He out-snapped RB Zack Moss 36 to 28 across those 2 games. This still looks like a committee backfield, with RB Matt Breida also potentially involved. But Singletary might open the season atop the totem pole. He led all 93 qualifying RBs in Pro Football Focus’ preseason rushing grades.

Tevin Coleman, RB, Jets

Preseason usage suggests that Coleman will open the season as the Jets’ starter. He drew the start in the 2nd exhibition and led with 10 first-team snaps. Then Coleman was rested in Week 3, while RBs Ty Johnson and Michael Carter split work. We’re expecting all 3 guys to be involved. But Coleman will be the best fantasy bet, at least in Week 1.

Rhamondre Stevenson and J.J. Taylor, RBs, Patriots

Both of these guys had excellent preseasons. Stevenson ripped off 217 yards and 5 TDs on 30 carries (7.2 YPC). Taylor toted it 23 times for 179 yards (7.8 YPC) and a score. Both guys earned top 9 Pro Football Focus rushing grades. It’s unclear exactly how these guys stand on the depth chart behind starter Damien Harris -- but both are worth keeping on your radar.

CeeDee Lamb, WR, Cowboys

We only got to see Dallas’ top 3 WRs on the field together once this preseason. But in that Week 2 game, Lamb led the group with 15 snaps vs. Amari Cooper’s 13 and Michael Gallup’s 11. That’s notable because it was Lamb coming off the field in 2-WR sets last season. That won’t be the case in 2021. Look for Lamb to play outside in 2-WR sets and move into the slot when Dallas goes 3-wide.

Corey Davis, WR, Jets

Davis was targeted on 10 of QB Zach Wilson’s 20 throws this preseason. That all came without WR Elijah Moore -- and you’re obviously not banking on a 50% target share for Davis this year. But it’s clear that he’ll be a big part of this passing game.

Marquez Callaway, WR, Saints

His 5-104-2 line on Monday Night Football -- featuring 2 highlight-reel TDs -- was the most memorable performance of this preseason. Callaway finished with the top Pro Football Focus receiving grade among 172 WRs with 5+ targets. That, coupled with a buzzy training camp, has Callaway locked in as New Orleans’ #1 WR until Michael Thomas returns.

Jakobi Meyers, WR, Patriots

Meyers ran a pass route on all 21 first-team pass plays this preseason. And he was targeted on 8 of 21 passes -- a huge 38% target share. Meyers sure looks like New England’s #1 WR. (And he gets a bump with what’s likely to be a more pass-leaning offense under QB Mac Jones.)

Rondale Moore, WR, Cardinals

The rookie was busy this preseason, tallying 9 targets and 3 carries on 47 snaps. The Cardinals are clearly looking to get the ball in this kid’s hands. But more importantly, Moore played 94% of those snaps in the slot. WRs Christian Kirk and A.J. Green played 88% and 75% of their snaps on the outside. So Moore looks like Arizona’s starting slot receiver, giving him a real shot to finish 2nd on the team in targets.

Terrace Marshall, WR, Panthers

Marshall aced the eye test this preseason, totaling a 9-181-1 line and looking like a rookie ready to make an immediate impact. Pro Football Focus agreed, ranking him 8th among 172 qualifiers in receiving grade. Marshall also encouragingly played 60% of his snaps in the slot and the other 40% on the outside, so Carolina already trusts him in multiple positions. It’s worth remembering that Marshall played under Panthers OC Joe Brady at LSU.

Quez Watkins, WR, Eagles

Watkins looks like Philadelphia’s starting slot receiver based on preseason usage. He reportedly had a strong training camp and scored this impressive 79-yard TD in Week 1.

Logan Thomas, TE, Washington

He played all 37 of QB Ryan Fitzpatrick’s snaps this preseason and ran a route on 22 of Fitz’s 23 drop backs (96%). While we still expect Thomas to lose some target share this year, he’s a virtual lock for TE1 numbers if that preseason usage continues into the regular season.

Jonnu Smith, TE, Patriots

There’s a lot of projecting going on here because Smith played just 20 preseason snaps -- and they all came without TE Hunter Henry. But Smith’s usage was encouraging. He played 95% of the snaps with the 1st-team offense, ran a route on 92% of pass plays and was lined up in the slot or out wide for 35% of his snaps. If he gets anything close to that type of usage in the regular season, he’ll be a good bet for TE1 production.

Pat Freiermuth, TE, Steelers

Freiermuth popped 2 TDs -- both from QB Ben Roethlisberger -- in the 2nd preseason game. Then in the 3rd, the rookie matched TE Eric Ebron with 4 pass routes with the 1st-team offense. Those 2 might be splitting pass-catching duties right out of the gate.


Losers

Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington

Gibson looked good as a runner this preseason and even saw 5 targets on 24 snaps. The problem is that he continued to lose 3rd-down work to RB J.D. McKissic. Gibson was on the field for just 1 of 9 3rd-downs with the 1st-team offense. He won’t hit his fantasy ceiling until that changes.

Michael Carter, RB, Jets

Carter didn’t play a single snap with QB Zach Wilson and the 1st-team offense in Week 2. (Tevin Coleman played 10, Ty Johnson 9). Then Carter split work with Johnson in Week 3, while Coleman got the night off. So the rookie looks like the Jets’ #2 or #3 RB heading into the opener. He’s not a guy we can trust in Week 1 fantasy lineups -- although we do still like him to emerge as the best fantasy bet in this backfield.

Leonard Fournette, RB, Bucs

The hope with Fournette was that he’d lead Tampa’s backfield in carries and also play a big role in the passing game. He might still lead in carries -- although Ronald Jones will be plenty involved. But the bigger issue is that RB Gio Bernard looks set to handle most of the passing-down work. He played every 3rd-down snap with QB Tom Brady this preseason. So, without an injury to Jones or Bernard, Fournette might be tough to trust in weekly fantasy lineups.

Texans RBs

Based on preseason usage, it looks like Mark Ingram and Phillip Lindsay will split early-down work in Houston, with David Johnson playing on passing downs. A 3-headed committee backfield on a bad offense is not a situation to invest in.

Ja’Marr Chase, WR, Bengals

Call it the yips. Or rust. Or whatever. But Ja’Marr Chase’s drops this preseason are at least slightly concerning. He had 4 of them on 5 catchable targets. The rookie has also reportedly struggled with drops in practice. We expect Chase to eventually figure this out, but he’s looking like a risky early-season fantasy play.

Mecole Hardman, WR, Chiefs

Preseason usage suggests Hardman will open the season as the #3 WR, at least in terms of playing time, behind Tyreek Hill and Demarcus Robinson. That’s fine: The Chiefs had 3+ WRs on the field 73% of the time last season. But Hardman’s play this preseason didn’t inspire much confidence. He still doesn’t seem to be on the same page as QB Patrick Mahomes. Those 2 connected on just 2 of 7 targets. (Mahomes went 17 of 22 on all other throws.) Hardman finished 123rd in PFF receiving grade among 172 qualifying WRs.

Amon-Ra St. Brown, WR, Lions

He’s Detroit’s starting slot receiver. But based on what we saw this preseason, St. Brown will only hit the field in 3-WR sets. That usage on what figures to be a bottom-barrel offense makes the rookie a long shot for reliable fantasy value.

John Brown, WR, Raiders

The Raiders sat their starters all preseason. At WR, that meant Henry Ruggs, Bryan Edwards and Hunter Renfrow never saw the field. Brown, meanwhile, played 32 snaps with the backups. He’ll enter the season no higher than 4th on the depth chart.

Anthony Firkser, TE, Titans

Per Pro Football Focus’ Nathan Jahnke, Firkser played almost exclusively in 3-TE sets this preseason. For perspective, Tennessee had 3 TEs on the field for just 9% of plays last year. We’d be shocked if Firkser didn’t get more playing time than that this season. But he’s looking like a much shakier fantasy bet than he did a month ago.


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