The NFL preseason often is criticized as being meaningless, or at least unnecessarily lengthy, for everyone besides team owners (who benefit financially) and players on the roster bubble (most of whom fans donít care about). This view leaves out a third group, one near and dear to our hearts -- avid fantasy footballers.
While most studies suggest little-to-no correlation between preseason results and win-loss record for teams, thereís plenty of information to be gained by assessing individual players with a focus on their roles/usage more so than stat lines. Of course, most people donít want to watch the third quarter of a preseason game to figure out who they should draft in the 13th round as a handcuff, which is why you have Rotowire to do the dirty work (we actually enjoy it for some reason).
Weíll start here with a brief team-by-team preview ahead of preseason Week 1, with follow-up articles on the major fantasy-relevant developments from the weekendís exhibition slate posted each Tuesday leading up to the regular season. Itís not a perfect substitute for keeping up with Rotowireís player notes, but weíll at least make sure to cover the major job battles and injuries.
Baltimore Ravens - Tight end is the obvious job battle, but I donít foresee any of the candidates (Ben Watson, Nick Boyle, Maxx Williams) emerging as much more than a bye week fill-in. The teamís wideouts are far more intriguing for the fantasy world, though Breshad Perriman (hamstring) needs to get healthy if heís going to challenge Mike Wallace or Jeremy Maclin for snaps in two-wide formations
Cincinnati Bengals - All eyes will be on Joe Mixon, who faces a tricky path to a major early season workload with Giovani Bernard coming along faster than expected in his recovery from a torn ACL. Itíll also be interesting to see how first-team wideout snaps are divided between John Ross, Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell.
Cleveland Browns - The QB battle will draw all the headlines, but itís really only relevant in two-QB or superflex leagues. Corey Colemanís progress is the more intriguing story for fantasy purposes.
Pittsburgh Steelers - Can rookie third-round pick James Conner solidify himself as the top backup and a valuable handcuff? He should have plenty of chances, considering LeíVeon Bell may not play at all this preseason. Martavis Bryant, as always, is worth keeping a close eye on. Donít be surprised if he looks more dominant than ever.
Buffalo Bills - With the receiving corps unlikely to provide much value beyond Sammy Watkins, weíll turn our focus to 2016 fifth-round pick Jonathan Williams, who could share second-team backfield work with bowling ball Mike Tolbert. Donít underestimate the value of these handcuffs to RB1s. Iíll probably want Williams on my roster if I draft McCoy, just as Iíd want Conner if I were to draft Bell. And donít assume the guy who had the most hype during the spring/summer will actually enter Week 1 as the top backup.
Miami Dolphins - With no real job battles to speak of among the skill-position players, Jay Cutlerís progress is the far-and-away lead storyline. Will Cutler love Jarvis Landry as much as Ryan Tannehill does? If not, could the strong-armed veteran be a godsend for DeVatne Parker? The preseason wonít provide a clear answer, but Iíd happily settle for a clue.
New York Jets - Somebody has to get targets. TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins (suspension) has all the offseason hype as well as the draft pedigree, but heís out for Weeks 1 and 2 of the regular season. Second-year wideout Robby Anderson is the other leading candidate to emerge, but he still profiles as more of a mid-volume deep threat than a go-to option, even on a team utterly lacking in weapons. He might be on the roster bubble with a more competent squad.
New England Patriots - Mike Gillislee is trying to fend off Rex Burkhead for early down carries and goal-line work, but donít expect Bill Belichick to tip his hand too much during the preseason. This one could carry into the regular season, and if history is any guide, things could change week to week without any notice.
Houston Texans - The Texans actually kicked off their preseason Wednesday, with the most notable development being a big game from rookie third-round pick DíOnta Foreman, who ripped off a 41-yard gain on his way to nine carries for 76 yards. Heís at least worth a late-round flier, but thereís no guarantee heíll be the clear handcuff to Lamar Miller, as the Texans still seem to have a thing for plodder Alfred Blue, who worked ahead of the rookie Wednesday and also had a nice night.
Indianapolis Colts - Chester Rogers has an early lead for the No. 3 receiver job, ahead of Phillip Dorsett (hamstring) and Kamar Aiken. Iím actually more interested to see rookie fourth-round back Marlon Mack, who figures to have a limited or non-existent role in Week 1, but has the talent to eventually push Frank Gore and Robert Turbin.
Jacksonville Jaguars - If the first-team offense has a goal-to-go situation, will Leonard Fournette or T.J. Yeldon be in the backfield? Also, can Blake Bortles at least appear competent? The rookie will have a hard time finding the end zone if his team rarely scores and he has to split goal-line work with Ivory.
Tennessee Titans - This team looks pretty stacked -- like possibly 12-4 stacked. My eyes mostly will be on Derrick Henry, who impressed as a rookie and now is drawing glowing reviews at camp. Can he push toward a 50-50 split with DeMarco Murray?
Denver Broncos - Trevor Siemian vs. Paxton Lynch, Round 2. I like Siemian more than most, and Iíll feel much better about Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders if the veteran beats out the more athletic Lynch. But I might be completely wrong? The backfield also requires watching, though I suspect CJA actually seizes it this time.
Kansas City Chiefs - Rookie third-round pick Kareem Hunt is a capable pass catcher, which should give him a chance to push Charcandrick West for the No. 2 job right out of the gate. Spencer Ware essentially seems locked in as the Week 1 starter, but his seat will get hot if he struggles early in the year.
Los Angeles Chargers - This offense seems pretty settled, but itíll be interesting to see how they involve first-round pick Mike Williams (back) if heís available at any point this preseason. Otherwise, the backup running back battle between Branden Oliver, Andre Williams, Kenneth Farrow (shoulder) and Kenjon Barner will have my attention. Oliverís a personal favorite, but he may not be the same coming off a torn Achilles. Williams is the other leading candidate to serve as Melvin Gordonís top backup and preferred handcuff.
Oakland Raiders - Looking to backup running backs once again, second-year players DeAndre Washington and Jalen Richard will duke it out for the No. 2 spot, though theyíd likely split work in the event of a Marshawn Lynch injury. It will also be interesting to see if Derek Carr takes a liking to offseason addition Jared Cook, who generally disappoints but still should be the best tight end the young QB has ever played with.
Chicago Bears - There are a lot of wideouts jockeying for position on a team that wants to pound the ball and likely will deal with lousy QB play. My preference is to avoid everyone on this team besides Jordan Howard and Cameron Meredith, but Kevin White admittedly at least warrants some preseason attention. The 2015 first-round pick could lose snaps to Markus Wheaton (appendectomy), Kendall Wright and/or Victor Cruz if heís outplayed this preseason.
Detroit Lions - Ameer Abdullah is locked in as the lead runner, so in this case weíre watching to track performance more so than role. Rookie third-round pick Kenny Golladay is also worth monitoring, as heís the favorite to serve as the No. 3 wideout in a pass-first attack. If Golladay fails to impress, it could lead to more targets for Golden Tate, Eric Ebron and Marvin Jones. Tate is primed for a hefty workload, regardless.
Green Bay Packers - Whether youíre an avid fantasy player or just a fan, all eyes will be on the Green Bay backfield, where the team added three players between the middle and late rounds of this yearís draft. Fourth-round pick Jamaal Williams apparently is already showing why he was the first of those players, standing out above Aaron Jones (fifth round) and Devante Mays (seventh) early in training camp, though thereís obviously still plenty of time for Jones and Mays to make their cases. Meanwhile, converted wideout Ty Montgomery doesnít have much experience in pass protection, which could open up a regular role for one of the rookies. Montgomery could lock down a huge role if he looks good in pass protection this preseason.
Minnesota Vikings - Latavius Murray (ankle) probably wonít be ready until the third or fourth of the week preseason, if at all. Dalvin Cook already figured to see plenty of work, and he now seems to have the inside track to the lead back job. Letís see if he can lock it down with a strong preseason while running behind a somewhat worrisome offensive line.
Dallas Cowboys - Not really much to see here. Darren McFadden has the No. 2 running back job locked down, while Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams are solidified as the top three wideouts. I guess weíre just waiting to see if Zeke gets suspended or not.
New York Giants - Playing in a spread offense that likes to chuck the ball, Evan Engram may face a softer rookie learning curve than tight ends that are asked to do more blocking. His athleticism is tantalizing, and heíll likely draw favorable matchups as opponents key on Odell Beckham and Brandon Marshall. In the backfield, Paul Perkins doesnít have real competition for the lead job, but a poor preseason might encourage the Giants to use their other backs more often.
Philadelphia Eagles - LeGarrette Blount will get the goal-line work and Darren Sproles will handle most passing downs, but the Philadelphia backfield still isnít totally settled, as itís unclear how often each player will be on the field and whether the team will also involve Wendell Smallwood and/or Donnel Pumphrey. Itís a situation best avoided in drafts, but one thatís well worth monitoring throughout the exhibition schedule and into the regular season.
Washington Redskins - Samaje Perine is a long shot to push ahead of Rob Kelley by Week 1, but the rookie could at least narrow the gap with a strong preseason, which would then shorten Kelleyís leash in the regular season. Josh Doctson (hamstring) also will be in the spotlight, assuming he makes it back on the field at some point before the games count.
Atlanta Falcons - No real position battles of note, but Iím excited to see second-year tight end Austin Hooper. Can he become the No. 2 option in the passing game sooner than expected?
Carolina Panthers - The Panthers got an early start to their preseason Wednesday, with Kelvin Benjamin and Christian McCaffrey both impressing against the Texans. McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart seem to be headed for a pretty even split, at least to start the season, but maybe the rookie can push for more if he continues to impress.
New Orleans Saints - Adrian Peterson is the obvious storyline, but Iím not sure there will really be anything to watch, as he probably wonít see much action and isnít going to usurp Mark Ingram. Iím more interested to see how the Saints use Willie Snead, Ten Ginn and Brandon Coleman. Primarily a slot receiver, Snead becomes a more attractive fantasy option if heís at least getting some of the snaps in two-wide formations.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Against all odds, Doug Martin (suspension) is poised to reclaim the lead role in Week 4, but until then the Bucs will get by with some combination of Jacquizz Rodgers, Charles Sims and possibly Jeremy McNichols. Not sure the preseason will give us an answer, but it would be nice to get some kind of clue as to how Rodgers and Sims will be deployed. Sims has mostly just played passing downs to this point in his career, but he could get something close to an even split until Martin return. McNichols could push for a chance-of-pace role.
Arizona Cardinals - Not much up in the air here, but itíll be interesting to see how John Brown (quad) looks, assuming he plays at some point.
Los Angeles Rams - Thereís a lot to be determined in the receiving corps, but itís hard to sell any of the Ramsí pass-game options as anything more than late-round fliers. What I really want to see is whether Todd Gurley stays on the field for passing downs.
San Francisco 49ers - Carlos Hyde seems well on his way to locking down the top job, but thatís obviously still something worth monitoring. Elsewhere, the receiver spots are up for grabs behind top option Pierre Garcon. A battle between Marquise Goodwin, Jeremy Kerley, Aldrick Robinson and Trent Taylor may not sound intriguing, but someone besides Garcon has to catch passes, and it probably wonít be any of the teamís tight ends. Speaking of which, fifth-round rookie George Kittle is pushing Vance McDonald for the starting job.
Seattle Seahawks - Thomas Rawls reportedly has moved ahead of Eddie Lacy in practice, and we obviously canít forget about C.J. Prosise, the best athlete and pass catcher of the trio. Not sure how this will shake out, but it has major fantasy implications.