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10 Things We Learned From Preseason Wk 1

By Kirk Hollis | 8/14/23

The 2023 preseason is now officially underway! Some projected starters saw action in Week 1 while some were relegated to watching from the sidelines. Every NFL team takes a unique approach to this three-week stretch and it is our job to help you understand what might be gained from a fantasy football perspective. Let’s dig in…

Anthony Richardson

1. Raw Rookie Performances at Quarterback

All three projected starters at QB who enter 2023 as rookies got their debut. While none of the three played long, two of the three played long enough to throw an interception and demonstrate how steep the learning curve can be at the NFL’s most difficult position. Anthony Richardson (7-12, 67 yds, 1 INT; 2 carries, 7 yds) completed just over half of his passes for roughly 5.5 yards per attempt, demonstrating what is likely to be an early season tendency to check down and run frequently when a play breaks down. Richardson didn’t get a chance to showcase that rushing ability this weekend, but look for him to see more opportunities in the weeks to come.

As for C.J. Stroud (2/4, 13 yds, 1 INT; 2 carries, 6 yds) and Bryce Young (4/6, 21 yds), both are projected to score fantasy points through the air more than Richardson. Stroud looked shaky in the pocket compared to Young and was sacked for a 15-yard loss in addition to the interception.

The bottom line on all three rookies is that they shouldn’t be drafted as fantasy starters anytime soon. The growth from Week 1 of the preseason to Week 2 will be interesting to watch.

2. Two Tanks Strut Their Stuff

With most teams, the target tree well known. There’s a clear-cut lead receiver and then a procession of players at multiple positions who are targeted thereafter. In Houston, the target tree is unclear. No receiver stands out as the lead guy with Brandin Cooks now residing in Dallas however, rookie Tank Dell certainly made his case on Thursday for being more than a freshman learning the trade. Dell’s 5 catches for 65 yards and a TD came courtesy of 8 targets demonstrating the receiver’s ability to separate from defenders and present himself for throws. The performance made Dell a good late-round pick in drafts yet to take place.

Another Tank had a big game for Jacksonville. Running back Tank Bigsby (9 carries, 52 yds) ran the ball for nearly 6 yards a carry that included a 34-yard burst in which he flashed his big play potential. Both Dell and Bigsby deserve to be on watch lists entering the preseason’s second week. Solid debuts for both.

3. A Penny for Our Thoughts

One thing is for certain: At the end of 2023, the Philadelphia Eagles are going to be among the leaders in rushing yards with a good chance of being the top overall team in that category. The question is: How will carries/yards/touches be distributed? We know Jalen Hurts will get plenty of opportunities, including at or near the goal line. But what about the two talented, but oft injured players picked up this offseason to bolster their running back room? First, it was good to see Rashaad Penny on the field doing his thing. Penny’s numbers weren’t extraordinary (9 carries, 34 yards), but they showed he is ready to play a role in co-leading this team’s rushing attack. D’Andre Swift only needed two touches to rip off a 22-yard run. Penny and Swift are annually among the league’s leaders in YPC when healthy. Imagine what they could do in Philadelphia if they’re able to remain on the field. Stay tuned.

4. All You Need Is Love

It’s only the preseason and it’s only one game, but Jordan Love (7-10, 46 yds, 1 TD) showed poise on Friday night as he led the Packers on a first series drive of 43 yards that resulted in a touchdown pass to second year wide-out, Romeo Doubs. Speculation about Love’s real-world and fantasy-based potentials has run the gamut as some suggest Love is a worthy predecessor to Aaron Rodgers and some say he’s over his head. Sure, he didn’t complete any downfield throws of significance, but an opening TD drive is just that and it will no doubt aid his confidence as the preseason moves forward. On a side note for Green Bay, Emanuel Wilson led all running backs in Week 1 with 111 rushing yards. Might Wilson be able to carve out a role as a more explosive runner than Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon? Perhaps. Whatever the case, Green Bay (led by Love) enjoyed a good showing in the preseason’s opening stanza.

5. Sophomore Surge in Washington?

There was a time last season when Jahan Dotson appeared to be a candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He had four TDs in the first four weeks of the season putting him on pace for 17 by season’s end. Dotson’s pace slowed as he battled injuries, but he still finished with 7 TDs in ten games which seems like a harbinger for a second-year leap.

The guy throwing him the ball this weekend was the same guy taken in the same draft with Dotson in April of 2022. And, on Saturday, the two connected for a 26-yard TD as Sam Howell (9-12, 77 yds, 1 TD; 1 carry, 8 yds) also made his preseason debut with flair. Terry McLaurin has always seemed more of a high-end WR2 for NFL purposes and it is entirely possible that is where this season takes him as he drifts into being more of a WR3 for fantasy purposes.

Never underestimate the power of two guys coming into the league together at the QB and WR positions. I can’t blame anyone for not having Howell on their fantasy radar, but Dotson is a different story. He should be considered in the middle rounds of your draft.

6. Chicago Hope?

How does a QB rack up big fantasy totals on a few attempts? Answer: Big plays. And, in the case of Justin Fields (3-3, 129 yds, 2 TD), this weekend’s preseason debut included not one, but two of those as he connected with brand new Bears’ wide receiver D.J. Moore for a 64-yard TD on a screen pass and Khalil Herbert for a score of 56 yards. That’s 120 yards and 2 TDs on two throws. The addition of Moore who is Chicago first true WR1 in many years and the return of Herbert could prove to be huge as Chicago seeks to become offensively relevant for something other than Fields’s rushing abilities. Yes, it’s only one game and a very small sample size, but there’s no denying that these Bears already look different from years past with more pieces of the puzzle in place and with a QB who is growing on the job. Fantasy owners looking to make Fields their QB on draft day and Moore their WR2, are feeling confident.

7. Deuces Wild in Dallas

Tony Pollard’s role in Dallas has been well defined over the past four years. Pollard was the explosive change of pace back meant to provide some lightning to Ezekiel Elliott’s thunder. So, now that Pollard is the main guy and not just the pace changer, who fills Pollard’s old shoes? Well, the Cowboys haven’t re-signed Elliott yet, so perhaps they’re looking to make rookie Deuce Vaughn the new Pollard while Pollard is assuming the lead back role. Vaughn’s Saturday night heroics (8 carries, 50 yds, 1 TD; 3 rec, 6 yds) included a Pollard-like 26 yard gallop and 56 yards from scrimmage including a 4-yard TD. It was said in college that Vaughn is a very difficult ball carrier to locate for defenders due to his quickness and diminutive stature. He seems to be earning a role if current trends hold. We’ll continue to track his play as August rolls on, but for now, consider his stock to be rising.

8. Speaking of Dallas...

The WR1 is set in stone (CeeDee Lamb), but the competition for second in targets is wide open. That said, let me throw a name out there as someone who could surprise and should be a late-round pick in fantasy drafts. The guy is Jake Ferguson, a second year TE who was used sparingly last season in the shadow of Dalton Schultz. Schultz is now in Houston and with Brandin Cooks and Michael Gallup representing somewhat uncertain commodities at this point, Ferguson is a dark horse candidate for significant target expansion. On Saturday, he hauled in all 3 targets for 38 yards including (like Vaughn) a 26-yard catch and scamper. Every year, a few young TEs emerge and become fantasy relevant based on ability and opportunity. Consider Ferguson an opportunity guy for sure as we seek to learn more about his abilities moving forward.

9. Welcome to the Calvin Austin Show!

The preseason is always a good showcase for players to emerge and become players spoken of in fantasy circles, Week 1’s standout was WR Calvin Austin (2 rec, 73 yds, 1 TD; 2 carries, 23 yds) of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Austin was drafted out of Memphis in 2022, but endured a lost rookie season due to injury. With the Steelers likely focusing on the run this season, targets may be an issue for Austin given that Diontae Johnson, George Pickens, and Pat Freiermuth all have well-established roles. That said, if Austin truly offers the Steelers something they don’t already have, he could carve out a role for fantasy purposes, especially in non-PPR leagues where yards are premium. Austin turned 4 touches into 96 yards this past weekend and is this week’s player to watch as a result. Am I saying that he deserves to be drafted based on one week? Probably not, but he is someone that I wouldn’t turn my back on right now as an early season wire add.

10. A Mixed Bag for Zamir White

While there is news that Jonathan Taylor may soon return to the Colts, there is no such news that Josh Jacobs will do the same anytime soon. That meant that Sunday night was a chance for Zamir White to show Las Vegas what he might be a lead back. White’s night resulted in 43 yards rushing on 13 carries, and did include a touchdown as the Raiders routed the 49ers. Whether or not White is ready for a bigger role than the Raiders would prefer remains to be seen, but we at least learned that he’s being primed for that role until something changes on the Jacobs front. Perhaps next week we’ll get a chance to examine White’s worthiness a bit further.

Next week, we’ll break down everything related to Preseason Week No.2. Until then…

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