Fantasy Football Takeaways from Preseason Week 1
Week 1 of the NFL preseason tends to be far more about the rookies than the veterans.
While the debuts of quarterbacks Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortles and Teddy Bridgewater steal the airtime for the talking heads on TV, we gush more as fantasy analysts over the debuts of:
- Tennessee Titans running back Bishop Sankey
- New Orleans Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks
- Carolina Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin
- San Francisco 49ers running back Carlos Hyde
- Kansas City Chiefs return specialist De'Anthony Thomas
We break down all the takeaways from the first full weekend of preseason action here, game by game and note by note.
You shouldn't overrate what you have seen from a collection of meaningless exhibition games for your early fantasy drafts, but you definitely have to like what you saw from many of the NFL's top rookies.
Packers-Titans: Bishop Sankey Productive in His Tennessee Debut
The Tennessee Titans had to love what they saw in Bishop Sankey's debut.
Sankey, the first running back drafted in May and expected to be the first off the board in fantasy, isn't yet considered a starter over veteran Shonn Greene, but he was impressive in the passing game, catching a 23-yard pass and a five-yard touchdown. He totaled 38 yards receiving on three catches and 37 yards rushing on 13 carries.
The involvement in the passing game should help quarterback Jake Locker's development and should be considered a potential coup for fantasy owners, especially in PPR formats. Sankey has the makings of a big-time rookie running back for fantasy, perhaps even a 1,000-yard rusher with 600 yards receiving.
Expect Sankey's rankings to rise after this performance. He was just 56th, a middle-of-Round 5 pick, in FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings, but his receiving talents can make him a potential second-round value if he wins the starting job over Greene.
Green Bay Packers at Tennessee Titans Fantasy Takeaways
- Greene rushed four times for 20 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown. The Titans broke in rookie left tackle Taylor Lewan too, so they stand to be a very good running team, even if Greene is a mere plodder.
- Packers rookie receiver Davante Adams caught two passes for 22 yards, but it was his two muffed punts that put him in danger of the doghouse. The conditions were awful in a driving rain, but Adams needed a lot to go right to score draft-day value this preseason.
Bills-Panthers: Carolina 1st-Rounder Kelvin Benjamin Makes an Impact
The Buffalo Bills' Sammy Watkins is widely considered the No. 1 fantasy wide receiver, but the Carolina Panthers' Kelvin Benjamin will provide a lot better return on investment in drafts. Benjamin made the bigger play in his debut, reeling in a 29-yard touchdown pass on a dive.
Benjamin, who is getting selected 55 picks later (143) than Watkins (88) in FantasyPros.com's ADP consensus, recalled his first catch in an NFL uniform to The Associated Press' Steve Reed (via CBSSports.com):
The whole time I was stumbling I kept my eyes on the ball and I followed it all the way to the ground. In a split second I just stuck my arms up between the ball and the ground and caught it before it hit the ground. It was crazy.
Benjamin might lack Watkins' polish, but he has a far better situation for rookie-year success in fantasy terms. Benjamin is clearly the best of a revamped receiving corps in Carolina and has an elite passer in Cam Newton to get him the ball.
Buffalo Bills at Carolina Panthers Fantasy Takeaways
- Cam Newton did not play, as he is in recovery from his offseason ankle surgery. "He's right on track and we're not overly concerned," Panthers coach Ron Rivera told Reed. We shouldn't be concerned with Newton's health as much as his shaky receiving corps right now. If Benjamin keeps making plays like that one, Newton is going to be a solid fantasy starter out of the middle rounds.
- C.J. Spiller had a brief outing, and he looked impressive with three carries for 22 yards. If he can prove healthy this preseason, he is going to be a great value pick on draft day.
- Watkins had three catches for 21 yards after being held catchless in the Hall of Fame Game in his debut. Expect Watkins to be heavily targeted in the preseason. The talented receiver needs EJ Manuel to play well in order to fulfill high expectations. That might be a tall order.
- Carolina's Tavarres King, competing to start as a second-year wideout, had four catches for 50 yards, and ESPN.com's David Newton wrote King's "stock is rising."
49ers-Ravens: Running Backs for Both Teams Rule the Day
San Francisco 49ers at Baltimore Ravens Fantasy Takeaways
- Carlos Hyde was solid in his debut, ripping off a 19-yard run and rushing five times for 39 yards. He is going to be one of the first backup running backs picked in fantasy drafts, especially with Frank Gore past the age of breakdown at 31. The 49ers are a run-heavy team, and Hyde is going to be important, particularly with the injury woes the 49ers have had at running back this preseason.
- By the way, Marcus Lattimore (knee) is not yet active and likely shouldn't be considered in fantasy drafts.
- Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce were both solid out of the gate for the Ravens. They are taking to offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak's scheme. Pierce is rising in fantasy value with Rice due to serve a two-game suspension.
- Ravens rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro might have even been the most impressive running back in this game. He rushed 13 times for 71 yards. He could be a handcuff for both Rice and Pierce owners in the last round. The Ravens might need all three backs this season in spots.
Browns-Lions: Johnny Manziel Makes Plays with His Legs in Debut
Johnny Manziel is still capable of stealing the starting job from Cleveland Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer, but if his debut was any indication, he will have to do it with his legs over his arm. The best highlights from Manziel came on him running out of the pocket versus throwing from it.
Browns head coach Mike Pettine has a position battle on his hands. He told the AP's Noah Trister (via CBSSports.com):
They both did some things more suited to their skill set. I think Brian was high on a couple throws. I think he would want those back, and he threw a couple other nice balls in there. Then I thought Johnny did some nice things from the pocket, and when he got out, he created a little bit as well.
Manziel was getting himself in danger running around and even putting his head down on a failed third down that ended his first series.
"The times I did take off, I felt like I got out of bounds, slid, and tried to protect myself in the best way that I could," Manziel told Trister. "I feel fine."
The rookie scrambler was exciting to watch, but he did not do enough to unseat Hoyer as the starter yet, especially because his play in the pocket has to be graded "incomplete." You shouldn't draft Manziel outside of being a late-round flier, but we guarantee you will be watching him closely this preseason.
Cleveland Browns at Detroit Lions Fantasy Takeaways
- Josh Gordon, facing a full-season suspension, started and caught two passes for 32 yards. Mary Kay Cabot of The Cleveland Plain Dealer tweeted Gordon expects the decision on his appeal to take as long as three weeks. There isn't a whole lot of optimism for Gordon's ability to help fantasy owners at this point.
- Ben Tate rushed six times for 25 yards, thoroughly outplaying Terrance West, who had 10 carries for just 22 yards. Undrafted free agent Isaiah Crowell didn't get a carry for Cleveland. Tate is the starter as long as he is healthy, but West showed a good burst, despite the subpar numbers.
- Detroit's Ryan Broyles showed us something with three catches for 27 yards. He might wind up being a bye-week replacement option this season.
- Rookie tight end Eric Ebron caught just one pass for two yards for the Lions. He hasn't been impressive in camp and isn't close enough to the top of the depth chart right now to be worth picking in fantasy drafts. He is one of the most disappointing of the elite rookies thus far in training camp.
Buccaneers-Jaguars: Blake Bortles Impressive in His Debut
It is no secret the Jacksonville Jaguars want Blake Bortles to get a year on the bench to soak up the nuances of the NFL game. But Bortles' preseason debut suggests they might need to rethink that strategy.
He was 7-of-11 for 117 yards passing. Head coach Gus Bradley is going to get constant questions on when the third overall pick will get time with the first team. Bradley told the AP's Fred Goodall (via CBSSports.com):
I thought he did a nice job, showed some good poise. We felt like we could protect him. Just the poise factor, we wanted to see that in him, and he did a nice job. ...
... Our philosophy is to try and get these rookies in with the ones. Somewhere you're going to see it, we want them to feel the speed of the ones. We do that with all our guys, I'm sure we'll do that with Blake as well. We'll see how things go as to when we get him in there. I just think he's progressing nice.
The sharp debut might not change Bradley's mind or Bortles' draft position in standard fantasy leagues, but it can elevate him as a dynasty-league pick.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Jacksonville Jaguars Fantasy Takeaways
- Bucs rookie running back Charles Sims was underwhelming running the ball, but he reeled in three passes for 32 yards receiving. Sims is going to steal some receptions from Doug Martin perhaps, but Martin's status as a fantasy starter should be cemented.
- Denard Robinson, the former Michigan quarterback, was impressive on a 23-yard touchdown run for Jacksonville. His conversion to running back is a process, but he could impact fantasy before this season is through. He thoroughly outplayed rookie Storm Johnson, who is competing with Robinson as Toby Gerhart's backup.
- Tampa's Josh McCown threw an interception, and Mike Glennon was impressive, but this still isn't a true position battle. McCown is the starter.
Saints-Rams: Brandin Cooks, Mark Ingram Impressive for New Orleans
New Orleans Saints at St. Louis Rams Fantasy Takeaways
- Pierre Thomas was held out of the game, and Mark Ingram took advantage, rushing for 83 yards and a touchdown on just eight carries. Khiry Robinson split reps with him and added five carries for 23 yards and a touchdown. All three Saints backs should be drafted, with Ingram being the best value relative to draft position. He is the former first-round pick, after all.
- Speaking of first-round picks, rookie Brandin Cooks sprinted in for a 25-yard touchdown reception. He had five catches for 55 yards, adding credence to his sleeper status at wide receiver.
- Rookie Tre Mason ripped off a 20-yard run for St. Louis, but most of the rest of his debut was mediocre. He totaled just 51 yards on 15 carries, and he didn't catch a pass.
- Zac Stacy's starting job is safe. Move him up your draft boards.
- Sam Bradford was held out coming off his knee reconstruction. He should be fine to play later in the preseason, but he is merely a flier in two-quarterback formats right now.
Bengals-Chiefs: 'DAT' Debuts with 80-Yard Punt-Return Touchdown
This might have been the worst game to total 80 points in NFL history and yet provide little for us in the way of fantasy nuggets. Rookie running back De'Anthony Thomas did impress with an 80-yard punt return, though.
Thomas was one of the fastest but undersized running backs in this year's draft class. He won't be a fantasy option on offense right away, but his game-breaking speed is noteworthy for the Kansas City Chiefs defense/special teams. You shouldn't pick a D/ST based on a speedy rookie returner, though.
Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs Fantasy Takeaways
- Cincinnati's Jeremy Hill was solid in his debut with six carries for 36 yards.
- Kansas City's Knile Davis ripped off a pair of nice runs. He is one of the best handcuffs in fantasy football this year. He is a must-have for Jamaal Charles owners, and his modest draft position—190th in FantasyPros.com's ADP consensus—makes him affordable to everyone.
Texans-Cardinals: Jadeveon Clowney Debuts with Huge Backfield Stop
Houston Texans at Arizona Cardinals Fantasy Takeaways
- Bill O'Brien's offense looked awful in a 32-0 loss. There is nothing to be excited about here, particularly with the terrible play of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and the preseason injury woes of Arian Foster, who was inactive.
O'Brien took the blame for the bad performance, telling the AP's Bob Baum (via CBSSports.com): "Tonight was not a good night of football. It all starts with me. I've got to do a better job of coaching this team. ... It's the first preseason game and there's nowhere but up from where we are right now."
- Jadeveon Clowney did make some plays on defense, including stopping the Cardinals' Stepfan Taylor for a five-yard loss. That Texans offense is so bad, though, the defense isn't a true fantasy option at this point.
- Rookie Alfred Blue, a potential handcuff for Foster and Andre Brown, was impressive. Blue rushed five times for 30 yards and caught two passes for 14 yards.
- Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald were in regular-season form, connecting on a seven-yard touchdown in the first quarter. They should be even better with a whole second year to work with each other.
- Rob Housler caught a 38-yard pass from Carson Palmer. Don't bury him as a deep fantasy sleeper at tight end.
- Training camp star John Brown, a potential slot receiver replacement for the departed Andre Roberts, caught five passes for 87 yards, including a 25-yarder. Brown is gaining steam as a late-round rookie-receiver pickup.
- Arizona's Andre Ellington was limited to two carries for seven yards but showed a nice burst past Clowney on one six-yard run.
- Rookie quarterback Tom Savage was 2-of-3 for 14 yards, but he is no threat to start over Fitzpatrick at this point.
Raiders-Vikings: Matt Cassel Starts, Outplays Rookie Teddy Bridgewater
Oakland Raiders at Minnesota Vikings Fantasy Takeaways
- Score Round 1 to Matt Cassel in the Minnesota Vikings' starting quarterback fight. The fans were chanting Bridgewater's name, but it was Cassel who looked like the worthy starter.
- Cordarrelle Patterson had three receptions for 38 yards. He might be the single most important fantasy reason to care about who starts for the Vikings.
- Maurice Jones-Drew is expected to get the majority of early-down work for the Raiders, but it was Darren McFadden who ripped off a 23-yard run for his only carry. This is still a position battle to watch this preseason.
- Rookie quarterback Derek Carr had an interception in his debut for Oakland. Matt Schaub is clearly the starter. This is not a true position battle, and neither quarterback is worth drafting outside of deep, two-quarterback formats.
Steelers-Giants: Rashad Jennings Looks as Spry as Rookie Burner Dri Archer
- Jennings has some serious potential as a first-time, full-year feature back.
- The Pittsburgh Steelers run defense has some serious issues right now.
A 29-year-old running back is not supposed to be showing the kind of 73-yard touchdown juice Rashad Jennings displayed Saturday night for the New York Giants. That is a kid's thing to do.
Seeing that can be a signal of two things:
If Jennings can break 73-yard touchdowns (doubtful) and stay healthy for a 16-game season (equally doubtful), he is going to smash his current Round 5 average draft position at FantasyPros.com. Jennings told Simmi Buttar of The Associated Press (via CBSSports.com):
It feels good to get out there and jell with the offense, find a big hole like that and make a big play. ... It was a well-executed play. Eli (Manning) made sure we were in the right play, it was a hat on a hat, a gaping hole in the offensive line. One-on-one battles in the open field, you've got to win those. It's what I did and the rest was just a race.
We gave up a long run and that can't happen. You're going to have guys break out and get 8 or get 12 yards, but not 78. It was an integrity issue. When those things happen, you have to be able to minimize the explosion.
You might not expect much from the Steelers defense this season if it is going to give up runs like that.
Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants Fantasy Takeaways
- Pittsburgh's Dri Archer, the fastest player in the 2013 scouting combine, showed his juice too, taking a short pass for a 46-yard catch and run. He won't hold fantasy value in standard leagues yet, but the NFL always schemes touches eventually for the impressively fast.
- Odell Beckham (hamstring) missed the game. His fantasy value is sliding due to his injury issues. We need to see a healthy Beckham to hype him as anything more than a late-round or dynasty-league pick.
- Steelers first-round linebacker Ryan Shazier didn't play, so perhaps he could provide some legs to run down backs for the Steelers defense.
- Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant, two late-round sleeper candidates, caught long passes for Pittsburgh. Watch them closely in future weeks.
- Corey Washington caught a touchdown pass for the second consecutive preseason game for the Giants. He had been a star early in camp too. His juice might make Mario Manningham (knee) a candidate to be cut. Don't consider Manningham in drafts at this point.
Cowboys-Chargers: Ladarius Green Reels in 20-Yard Catch
One of fantasy's favorite sleepers and biggest breakout candidates, Ladarius Green, wasted no time making his presence felt, reeling in a 20-yard pass for the Chargers.
The distance was noteworthy because Green averaged an astonishing 22.1 yards per catch in his second season as a pro last year. He is going to push 34-year-old Antonio Gates for snaps and targets this season.
If Philip Rivers is anything, he has proven to be a fan of throwing down the seam to his tight ends. Green is a great value pick at 161st overall in FantasyPros.com's ADP consensus.
Dallas Cowboys at San Diego Chargers Fantasy Takeaways
- Tony Romo sat out to rest his surgically repaired back. Romo is having issues in camp, according to Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson told Hill Jr. the healing back issue has sapped the strength from Romo's deep ball:
It's been OK. I think the deeper the ball goes down the field, it's a little bit more inconsistent. He's thrown all the intermediates—the fours and the seven routes and the deep outs—have been fine. It's just the nine routes and the deep posts. Those things have been a little inconsistent. I think that's all due to his back.
- Dontrelle Inman, a signee from the CFL, made a big play on a 70-yard touchdown for San Diego. He doesn't yet have fantasy value, but he had three catches for 107 yards. He is someone to watch perhaps.
Eagles-Bears: Philadelphia's Nick Foles Picked Off Twice
We have been calling Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles a potential bust because of extremely high expectations after he threw for 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions a year ago. Foles had that many interceptions in the first quarter of his preseason debut here.
We will consider that a warning sign things won't be as easy for Foles this year.
We believe the low interception total to be a fluke thing for a quarterback who hasn't been a full-season starter yet. Consider Foles a risky pick among the elite fantasy starters this year. The veterans like Matt Ryan, Tom Brady et al. offer better values.
Philadelphia Eagles at Chicago Bears Fantasy Takeaways
- Zach Ertz, a tight end breakout candidate in his second year, caught four passes for 60 yards. He was also a target on Foles' second interception. Ertz is a pass-catcher in a potentially explosive Chip Kelly offense. He might even slip to being one of the last fantasy starting tight ends picked in drafts. He is currently the 11th tight end in the FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings.
- Jeremy Maclin, coming off a major knee reconstruction, started and caught a 15-yard pass. He is healthy and a potential 1,500-yard, 12-touchdown breakout candidate.
- Jordan Matthews, a second-round rookie competing to start, had four receptions for 14 yards for the Eagles. He dropped three passes, though, according to NJ.com's Eliot Shorr-Parks. There is sleeper potential here, but watch the drops. They could get him in the doghouse and cost him targets early in the season. Matthews told Shorr-Parks:
It's just concentration. You have to bring the ball in. I try to go out there each and every day and practice as if it's a game anyway. As fast as we practice too, when you get out there it feels like it slowed down. I still have a lot of stuff to work on, and that's my mindset heading into next week. ... I have to make sure I bring in those (catches) for my teammates. I have to get back to the drawing board and get back to work.
- Josh Huff, another rookie receiver competing with Matthews, returned a kickoff 102 yards for a touchdown and made a tough catch.
- Tight end Zach Miller started for the suspended Martellus Bennett and had a busy day. He caught six passes for 68 yards and two touchdowns. Watch Miller as a potential sleeper in a pass-friendly Bears offense, especially if Bennett's team misconduct earns Miller more time.
- Rookie running back Ka'Deem Carey, an important handcuff for Matt Forte owners, was underwhelming in his debut, rushing 10 times for just 23 yards. Watch Carey closely this preseason if you have Forte or plan on picking him. Forte is older and risky and might need Carey to spell him.
Colts-Jets: Chris Johnson Gets 1-Yard Touchdown in New York Debut
Rarely is a one-yard touchdown so noteworthy, but Chris Johnson came in for the injured Chris Ivory (rib) and scored as a goal-line back. Johnson has been many things in his career; goal-line back hasn't often been one of them.
It should be mentioned Ivory got the start, and Johnson scored in the second quarter with the reserves. Don't expect that to be the situation by Week 1 of the season. Johnson, who also had two catches for 16 yards in his New York Jets debut, will be the starter, we project. If he is the goal-line back for a run-heavy Jets offense, look out.
Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets Fantasy Takeaways
- Ivory left the game, but he should be fine. Jets head coach Rex Ryan told the AP's Dennis Waszak Jr. (via CBSSports.com), Ivory, who was mediocre on seven carries for 17 yards, has a storied history of injury woes, which is partially the reason Johnson lovers shouldn't be worried.
- Andrew Luck was sharp. Ho hum. He's going to be a fantasy star after the top three quarterbacks are off the board.
- Geno Smith and Michael Vick both showed flashes, especially in their mobility. Smith is clearly the starter right now, so ignore Vick in fantasy drafts.
- Eric Decker (Jets) and Hakeem Nicks (Colts), two of the biggest offseason free-agent receiver signings, both made debuts with catches. They are rare cases of free-agent signings who are underrated in their new homes.
Patriots-Redskins: Stevan Ridley Starts, Shane Vereen Plays on 3rd Down
You want to know how the New England Patriots are going to line up their running backs this season? Bill Belichick might have given us a clue. Stevan Ridley started, while Shane Vereen came in on third down.
Frankly, this is how the Pats should do things. It makes Ridley a potential Comeback Player of the Year—even if the only thing he is coming back from is the Belichick doghouse for his fumbling woes.
Vereen is still going 15 picks higher than Ridley in fantasy drafts, according to FantasyPros.com's ADP consensus. If the Pats line their backs up this way, Ridley can go for 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns and prove to be the better pick. Vereen is more important, perhaps only in PPR formats. He just isn't a between-the-tackles runner.
New England Patriots at Washington Redskins Fantasy Takeaways
- The Pats might have started Ryan Mallett over a healthy and ready Tom Brady to showcase him for a potential trade, but that move backfired. Mallett looked like a horrible excuse for an NFL quarterback. Rookie Jimmy Garoppolo was impressive. The Patriots might want to consider dealing Mallett for anything and make Garoppolo their backup answer to Brady already. Watch this in the coming weeks, even if it doesn't have any real fantasy pertinence...Brady owners hope.
- Rob Gronkowski (knee) didn't play. Expect a lot of that this preseason. He is a risk at his draft position, especially because it has always seemed to be something with Gronk and injuries—back, arm, knee, ankle, etc.
- Rookie running back Lache Seastrunk showed flashes, but he is still well behind Alfred Morris and Roy Helu in the pecking order for Washington.
Seahawks-Broncos: C.J. Anderson Concussion Increases Ronnie Hillman's Value
Seattle Seahawks at Denver Broncos Fantasy Takeaways
- C.J. Anderson is still ahead of Ronnie Hillman in FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings (191-194), but it is Hillman who is the backup to Montee Ball. Anderson came in and suffered a concussion that will likely keep him from truly changing that status.
- Montee Ball was out after an appendectomy, but the Broncos are confident he will be ready for the start of the season, according to The Denver Post's Mike Klis. He is one of the biggest breakout candidates in fantasy this season, replacing 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown running back Knowshon Moreno as the starter.
- Christine Michael outplayed Robert Turbin. Marshawn Lynch sat out. Michael is clearly the better Lynch handcuff this year.
- Rookie wide receiver Paul Richardson led the Seahawks with four catches for 37 yards in his debut. He is not yet fantasy draft worthy.
Dolphins-Falcons: Starting Quarterbacks Were Sharp out of the Gate
Miami Dolphins at Atlanta Falcons Fantasy Takeaways
- Neither Matt Ryan nor Ryan Tannehill missed on a pass here. Both quarterbacks are outstanding values at their modest draft positions. Ryan is a starter among the top 12, while Tannehill is a starter in two-quarterback formats.
- Devonta Freeman rushed 10 times for 50 yards in his debut. He is going to prove to be a great late-round pick, especially because Steven Jackson (hamstring) is banged up and past the age of 30.
- Knowshon Moreno (knee) is off the physically unable to perform list, but he didn't play. Moreno still has time to usurp the starting job from incumbent third-year running back Lamar Miller. This is a must-watch position battle in the coming weeks.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.