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Preseason Winners and Losers

By Jared Smola 8:11am EDT 8/30/22

If you’re not paying attention to the preseason, you’re missing valuable information. Teams are more honest about their intentions in preseason games than they are at any other point before Week 1.

The key, of course, is knowing what to look for in these exhibitions. We watched all 48 games over the past 3 weeks and compiled the takeaways that matter:

Preseason Week 1 Notes

Preseason Week 2 Notes

Preseason Week 3 Notes

Now, here are 20 teams and players who are trending up or down with the 2022 preseason in the books.

Preseason Winners

Justin Fields, QB, Bears

Fields was awesome in the preseason finale, completing 14 of 16 passes for 156 yards, 3 TDs and 0 INTs. It was a good reminder of his high-level talent.

But we’re more encouraged by what we saw from this Luke Getsy offense. The new OC had Fields on the move on bootlegs and called play action on 31% of Fields’ dropbacks – up from 24% last year.

Fields’ weak supporting cast still figures to cap his fantasy upside this season. But it at least looks like he’ll be in a system that better accentuates his skill set. He’s an intriguing QB2 target.

Steelers passing game

The early reports out of Steelers camp painted an ugly picture of the QB situation. But Mitchell Trubisky and Kenny Pickett both played well in the preseason. Trubisky posted a 71% completion rate and 8.3 yards per attempt; Pickett an 81% completion rate and 7.3 yards per attempt. They combined for 5 TDs and 0 INTs.

Trubisky figures to get the Week 1 nod, but we’re expecting to see Pickett before the end of the season. Neither guy is a target outside of 2-QB and Superflex leagues.

But if Pittsburgh gets league-average QB play, it’d be an upgrade from last year and good news for RB Najee Harris, WRs Diontae Johnson, George Pickens and Chase Claypool and TE Pat Freiermuth.

Falcons passing game

QBs Marcus Mariota and Desmond Ridder both looked better than expected in preseason action. Mariota actually led all QBs in Pro Football Focus passing grade, completing 8 of 12 passes for 168 yards, 1 TD, 0 INTs. Ridder finished with a 61% completion rate, 7.7 yards per attempt and an above-average PFF grade.

Like the Steelers situation, neither of these guys is worth drafting outside of 2-QB and Superflex leagues. But their preseason performance has us feeling even better about TE Kyle Pitts, WR Drake London and RB Cordarrelle Patterson.

David Montgomery, RB, Bears

There were some worrisome signs for Montgomery in August. Multiple beat writers predicted more of a committee backfield under Chicago’s new staff. And Montgomery spent some practice time working on special teams.

But in the Bears’ 3rd preseason game, Montgomery out-snapped RB Khalil Herbert 20 to 2 with QB Justin Fields and the 1st-team offense. So it sure looks like Montgomery will at least open the season as the clear lead back.

He’s not an exciting pick, but Montgomery brings a nice floor if you can land him in Round 5 or 6.

Dameon Pierce, RB, Texans

He might be the biggest riser – both in our rankings and ADP – from the preseason.

Pierce worked behind RB Marlon Mack in the opener but ripped off 49 yards on 5 carries. He got the night off (read: starter’s treatment) in the 2nd exhibition. Then Pierce got the start over Mack in the finale, taking 6 carries for 37 yards and a score.

He’s in line to open the season as Houston’s lead back and looks ready to make an immediate impact after leading all RBs in Pro Football Focus’ preseason rushing grades. It’s worth noting that RB Rex Burkead played over Pierce on passing downs this preseason, but the rookie is capable of eventually taking over those snaps, too.

Consider Pierce an upside RB3 worth targeting as early as Round 7.

Chase Edmonds, RB, Dolphins

Miami kept Edmonds on ice in the 1st and 3rd exhibitions. But he played 10 of QB Tua Tagovailoa's 13 snaps in the 2nd, carrying 3 times and seeing 2 targets.

Don’t expect workhorse volume from Edmonds, but he looks like the clear lead back in what should be a much-improved Dolphins offense. He’s 1 of our favorite RB3 targets at his 7th-round ADP.

Zack Moss, RB, Bills

There was positive buzz on Moss throughout training camp, and preseason usage seemed to confirm that he’ll be part of Buffalo’s backfield this year.

Moss played ahead of rookie RB James Cook in the first 2 preseason games and then sat out the 3rd alongside RB Devin Singletary. Moss averaged 8.0 yards per carry with 2 TDs on 7 preseason totes, earning the league’s 2nd highest Pro Football Focus rushing grade.

We’re expecting Moss to open the season with a short-yardage and goal-line role. He’s a Devin Singletary injury away from real fantasy value.

Jahan Dotson, WR, Commanders

Not that it was a major surprise considering Washington spent the 16th overall pick of this spring’s draft on this guy … but Dotson will be an every-down player out of the gate. He ran a route on 100% of the 1st-team pass plays this preseason.

Dotson remains undervalued at his 13th-round ADP.

David Njoku, TE, Browns

If you were still wondering whether Njoku will be a big part of Cleveland’s passing game, his preseason usage should put those questions to bed. Njoku ran a pass route on 80% of the 1st-team pass plays.

QB Deshaun Watson’s 11-game suspension certainly hurts Njoku’s fantasy upside. But if his regular-season route rate sticks in that 80% range, he’ll have a good shot at top-12 fantasy numbers.

Mo Alie-Cox, TE, Colts

The Colts have tended to deploy TE committees under HC Frank Reich. But it looks like that’ll change – at least early in the year – after Alie-Cox posted a 75% route rate with QB Matt Ryan this preseason.

Young TEs Jelani Woods and Kylen Granson reportedly struggled in camp. Maybe 1 or both earns a role later this season. But Alie-Cox could be a sneaky play early on.

Isaiah Likely, TE, Ravens

The 4th-round rookie caught 4 balls for 44 yards in his preseason debut and exploded for an 8-100-1 line in 1 half of action in his 2nd preseason game. Then Likely was held out of the finale along with the rest of Baltimore’s notables. He easily led all TEs in Pro Football Focus’ preseason receiving grades.

Multiple Ravens beat writers have said that they expect Likely to have a real role in the passing game this season. ESPN's Jamison Hensley called him a "leading candidate" for the team's #3 pass-catcher role behind TE Mark Andrews and WR Rashod Bateman.

Likely is worth stashing in deep fantasy leagues and TE-premium leagues like the FFPC.

Preseason Losers

Patriots passing game

There was consistent negative buzz on the Patriots offense out of training camp, and we didn’t like what we saw in the preseason. QB Mac Jones and the 1st team produced only 10 points on 7 possessions. Jones completed just 59% of his passes and averaged 6.3 yards per attempt. None of the top 5 WRs stood out. And TEs Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith split snaps in the finale.

This is a passing game to avoid at least early in the season.

Breece Hall, RB, Jets

Hall worked behind RB Michael Carter throughout the preseason. The gap narrowed in the finale, with Carter out-snapping Hall only 12 to 9. But this looks like a true 50/50 committee to open the year.

We’re still projecting Hall to emerge as the lead back over the course of the season. And his price has dropped into the 4th and sometimes even 5th round. He’s still worth considering in fantasy drafts, but don’t expect big volume out of the gate.

Treylon Burks, WR, Titans

Based on preseason usage, it looks like Burks will open the season behind at least WRs Robert Woods and Nick Westbrook-Ikhine on Tennessee’s depth chart.

What’s more worrisome, though, is that Burks looked a bit sluggish in preseason action – even working against backups. He turned 7 targets into just 37 yards and ranked 115th among 173 qualifying WRs in Pro Football Focus’ receiving grades.

We’re certainly not writing Burks off as a 2022 fantasy factor. But we’re less excited about his outlook than we were a month ago.

Skyy Moore, WR, Chiefs

Moore might be 5th on Kansas City’s WR depth chart heading into Week 1. Based on preseason usage, he’s definitely behind JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Mecole Hardman – and he might also be behind Justin Watson.

Moore certainly has a shot to climb the depth chart over the course of the season, so he remains a fine bench stash. But he won’t be a starter in fantasy lineups early on.

Garrett Wilson, WR, Jets

The rookie WR section of this article continues with Wilson.

The Jets seem intent on opening the season with Elijah Moore, Corey Davis and Braxton Berrios as their top 3 WRs. Wilson played just 17% of the 1st-team snaps in preseason action.

We fully expect the 10th overall pick of this spring’s draft to move up in the pecking order before long. But he won’t be an immediate fantasy starter.

Jalen Tolbert, WR, Cowboys

Another rookie WR. This one simply wasn’t good this preseason. Tolbert averaged an ugly .83 yards per route run and ranked 164th in Pro Football Focus receiving grades among 173 qualifying WRs.

Noah Brown was held out of all 3 exhibitions and looks set to open the season as Dallas’ #2 WR. Tolbert might be 3rd in snaps but will be tough to trust in fantasy lineups.

Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Broncos

Denver’s new coaching staff clearly isn’t sold on Okwuegbunam just yet. He played in both of the first 2 preseason games, despite the Broncos sitting the rest of their starters.

Okwuegbunam did get the finale off, so perhaps the Broncos were satisfied with what they saw in those first 2 games. And with rookie TE Greg Dulcich still dealing with a hamstring injury, Okwuegbunam should open the season as Denver’s lead TE.

We wouldn’t want to bank on him as a TE1, but he still has intriguing upside as a TE2.

Mike Gesicki, TE, Dolphins

Gesicki is essentially playing a new position in HC Mike McDaniel’s offense. He played just 43% of his preseason snaps out wide or in the slot – down from 85% last year.

Gesicki still ran a route on 87% of the pass plays he was on the field for this preseason – down just slightly from 91% last season – so it’s not all bad news. But the role changed, coupled with added target competition from WR Tyreek Hill, has Gesicki’s stock trending down.

Noah Fant, TE, Seahawks

Fant was used in a committee alongside TEs Will Dissly and Colby Parkinson this preseason, running a route on just 54% of the 1st-team pass plays.

It'd be coaching malpractice if that continues in the regular season, but we wouldn't put it past HC Pete Carroll. Fant will not be a reliable fantasy option if his route rate hovers around 55%.

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