NFL Preseason Fantasy Stock Report
With three preseason games out of the way and less than two weeks to go before the start of the regular season, it's a good time to assess what the preseason meant to the fantasy values of key players.
Statistical outputs in the preseason mean little, but seeing how players fit into roles and how much playing time they are getting with each unit of the offense is important. With Kareem Hunt taking over the starting running back job in Kansas City following the injury to Spencer Ware, I feel confident knowing he's performed well with the starters in multiple preseason games.
One player we haven't seen at all in training camp or preseason action is Andrew Luck. A healthy Luck has been a top-five quarterback in the past, but his 2017 fantasy value continues to plummet thanks to a lengthy recovery from offseason shoulder surgery. He remains on the PUP list with no indication of when he'll see his first action of any kind.
It's important to look at the big picture of the preseason when you assess the direction players are moving as the regular season approaches. In addition to my feelings on whether a player is on the rise or falling, I also included where each player was ranked in my big board article following the first full week of preseason games and where I have them now.
Note: All ADP data from Fantasy Football Calculator accurate as of 8/28. All fantasy stats used to calculate finishes from FantasyPros. All advanced stats calculated using data from Pro Football Reference. All stats based on points-per-reception format.
Up: Dalvin Cook
Dalvin Cook is just one of a handful of rookie running backs to impress this month, which is setting him up for a significant and possibly starting role in Week 1. I wasn't very excited about Cook's fantasy prospects for this season and still think his ADP of 24.4/RB12 is too high. However, I also recognize that everything seems to be breaking in his favor and his performance has been impressive.
Veteran running back Latavius Murray missed the early part of training camp to recovery from offseason ankle surgery. With Murray on the PUP list to open camp, Cook got the opportunity to work with the first-team offense and did well, especially as a receiver.
As Sam Bradford told Chris Tomasson of the Pioneer Press: "I think he's going to be a valuable asset, not only in the run game, but I think we're going to be able to utilize him in the pass game." That is music to the ears of fantasy players, as it adds another way for Cook to rack up points.
Murray didn't see game action until the Minnesota Vikings' third preseason tilt, against the San Francisco 49ers, and even then, Cook got the start. While Murray and Jerick McKinnon will get their chances, Cook seems to have a strong hold as the lead back. The biggest concern is a shaky offensive line, which was a problem last season and remains an issue heading into this season. It's the primary reason I don't have Cook ranked higher.
Current Ranking: RB19
Initial Ranking: RB26
Down: Tyrod Taylor
In the span of less than a month, Tyrod Taylor went from a nice QB value to a player who needed his starting role clarified in back-to-back games. The Buffalo Bills sent Taylor's best receiver, Sammy Watkins, to the Los Angeles Rams. They attempted to cushion that blow by acquiring Jordan Matthews from the Philadelphia Eagles. You don't need me to tell you that's a downgrade.
Taylor lost another potential weapon when Anquan Boldin retired just 13 days after signing with the Bills. That leaves Matthews, rookie WR Zay Jones and TE Charles Clay as the top options in the receiving corps, although RB LeSean McCoy should also get plenty of targets.
To make matters worse, Taylor suffered a concussion in the third preseason game and remains in the protocol, according to Chris Brown of BuffaloBills.com. Obviously, you can't assume anything when it comes to concussions, so Taylor isn't a lock to be on the field for the regular-season opener.
While they'll never admit it, trading Watkins seemed like the start of the Bills' quietly giving up on the season, and if that's the case, expect them to take a look at rookie QB Nathan Peterman at some point during the year.
Current Ranking: QB24
Initial Ranking: QB16
Up: Brandin Cooks
It's not the way you want it to happen, but Brandin Cooks finds himself as the clear top WR for the New England Patriots. In the team's third preseason game, Julian Edelman suffered "a complete ACL tear in his right knee," according to Albert Breer of TheMMQB.
For a time, I was a believer in taking Edelman's value over Cooks based on what was typically a two-round difference before the preseason got underway. But while putting together my initial rankings and projections, I found myself wanting Cooks even though he'd cost a higher pick.
Considering the Patriots gave up 2017 first- and third-round picks for Cooks and a 2017 fourth-round pick, a big role is clearly in the plans for him. Knowing the Patriots have a tendency to trade out of the first round but instead used that pick to get an established player tells me they coveted him.
After ranking him as a low-end WR1, I had no plans of moving Cooks higher, as that felt aggressive enough. But the injury to Edelman gave me reason to push him further up the draft board. While Cooks and Edelman had different roles, eliminating a player who had a 29.1 percent target share last season has to increase the volume of Cooks' targets.
Current Ranking: WR8
Initial Ranking: WR12
Down: Andrew Luck
I'd like to say I'm surprised to still be discussing Andrew Luck's shoulder recovery, but I'm not, and that's a bummer. During my time in the fantasy industry, I've learned to not assume anything when it comes to injury timelines, especially when talking about months instead of weeks and days.
Despite a lack of solid information about Luck's return to football activities, I heard no concern about him in my conversations with other fantasy analysts or lowered expectations from fantasy players. Without a timetable to work off, I didn't assume anything about Luck's recovery, so when he opened training camp on the PUP list, I wasn't shocked.
Luck hasn't committed to any timeline for a return at any point during the offseason and now into the preseason. As of August 22, head coach Chuck Pagano said he "still doesn't have a timeline" for Luck, according to Stephen Holder of the Indianapolis Star. Luck remains on the PUP list, so he hasn't practiced at all with less than two weeks until the start of the regular season.
None of the information on Luck has been positive, so expecting him back for Week 1 seems foolish. In fact, the longer he sits, the harder it is to feel good about his fantasy prospects when he finally does take the field. Obviously, this has also led to a drop for T.Y. Hilton since backup QB Scott Tolzien looked terrible in the preseason.
Current Ranking: QB10
Initial Ranking: QB5
Up: Kareem Hunt
Much like with Brandin Cooks, I've been high on Kareem Hunt despite a challenge for touches, but also like Cooks, that challenge has disappeared. According to Kansas City Chiefs' head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder, Spencer Ware tore his PCL and has additional damage that is expected to end his season, as BJ Kissel of Chiefs.com relayed.
I wrote about Hunt as a sleeper two weeks ago when he was going off the board as RB37 while Ware was around RB21. I've had Hunt ahead of Ware in my rankings with the expectation that the more talented, younger Hunt, 22, would eventually take the starting job away from Ware, 25, during the season.
Obviously, with Ware's injury, the door is wide-open for Hunt to make a major impact in both fantasy and reality as a rookie. Head coach Andy Reid already confirmed Hunt would be the "next man up," according to Adam Teicher of ESPN.com. The good news is Hunt has plenty of practice and preseason game action with the first-team offense and has looked good.
Reid has a great history when it comes to coaching high-end fantasy running backs, such as Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy and Brian Westbrook. The Chiefs are short on playmakers other than Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill, so expect Hunt to have a big role as the lead back all season. Hunt's rise in value comes from a clear path to lead the backfield in touches and the team's need to have an effective rushing attack.
Current Ranking: RB11
Initial Ranking: RB32
Down: Mike Gillislee
Trying to project the 2017 New England Patriots backfield might be the hardest task of my career. In any year, figuring out what head coach Bill Belichick is thinking when it comes to his running backs is tough, but at least roles have been somewhat well defined based on personnel. The lines are blurred more than ever this year.
Mike Gillislee was signed from the Buffalo Bills with the belief that he'd handle a similar role to LeGarrette Blount's from 2016. Blount was the lead rusher and gave the team a reliable ground game. He was also a bruiser who finished drives and ran down the clock at the end of comfortable victories.
The major concern for Gillislee was the 299 carries Blount handled last season. Granted, Blount ran for just 3.9 yards per carry, but he did enough in his role to be a reliable producer for fantasy—although 18 touchdowns will boost the fantasy value of any player.
Taking on Blount's role would mean a serious uptick in Gillislee's workload compared to the first four seasons of his career when he had a total of 154 carries, including a career-high 101 last year as the No. 2 back in Buffalo behind LeSean McCoy. The more I thought about it, the more concern I had for Gillislee's ability to handle such a big role.
A hamstring injury cost Gillislee about two weeks in August and held off his debut until the third preseason game. According to Zack Cox of NESN.com, Belichick said Gillislee "still has quite a ways to go" and referenced the time Gillislee missed during offseason workouts and training camp. It's far from an endorsement of a player who was expected to lead the team in carries.
Having versatile options such as Rex Burkhead, James White and Dion Lewis in the same backfield gives the team plenty of tools at its disposal. Plus, with such a deep backfield, the Patriots don't have to rush Gillislee into a big role.
I ranked Gillislee too high to begin with, but between Gillislee's injury, Belichick's comments and the rest of the team's backs, there's no reason to have a strong commitment to him in fantasy or reality.
Current Ranking: RB35
Initial Ranking: RB29
Up: Doug Martin
Based on how Martin's looked in the preseason, I expect him to get the starting job back upon his return, especially since Jacquizz Rodgers is his only true competition. The suspension seems to have motivated Martin to improve himself on the field so he'll be ready when his suspension concludes. Last year, Martin carried 144 times for 421 yards, putting him at an ugly 2.9 yards per carry. Just one year prior, Martin averaged 4.9 yards per carry and ran 1,402 yards.
Because the Tampa Bay Buccaneers look more potent than they ever have during Jameis Winston's tenure, when Martin returns, he won't have to carry the offense the way he's done in the past. Over his first five seasons, Martin averaged 17.8 carries per game. If he doesn't have the same busy workload, he should be more efficient, which should work in his favor.
Current Ranking: RB28
Initial Ranking: RB35
Down: Sammy Watkins
After Sammy Watkins missed 11 games over the last two seasons, the Buffalo Bills decided against picking up his fifth-year option. That seemed surprising but was just the first part of their plan to move on from the player they traded up to get with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft.
A day after Buffalo's first preseason game, it dealt Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams. Tyrod Taylor might not be a top-10 or even top-15 QB, but he's good enough to get Watkins the ball, and the two had somewhat of a connection. Now, Watkins has to rely on second-year QB Jared Goff, and that's troublesome.
Not only does Goff need to come a long way in his development, but he's also learning a new system under head coach Sean McVay. In addition to Watkins also having to learn a new system, he hasn't had a lot of time to build any chemistry with Goff, which might explain why he has just two receptions for eight yards in two preseason games with the Rams.
I wasn't high on Watkins coming into the preseason, but I recognized his talent could shine through if he stayed healthy in a decent situation as the top option in Buffalo. From a talent standpoint, he's the best receiver the Rams have, but he'll need time to acclimate. Don't be surprised to see Watkins struggle for fantasy production early in the season. There's not much working in his favor.
Current Ranking: WR35
Initial Ranking: WR34