Preseason football is an exciting time. Not only does it mark the first regulation football anyone’s seen since February, it’s quietly some of the best knowledge to take in as fantasy players.
Of course, we don’t have to wait until the regular season to apply that knowledge anymore. Numerous daily fantasy sites now run preseason contests, which allows us to play (and in some cases wager on) fantasy football the moment games kick-off. Below are a few preseason guidelines and players to monitor in Week 1.
Week 1 of the preseason usually features team’s starters for 1 – 2 possessions, second-string offenses for 1 – 2 quarters, and third-stringers the rest of the way. Unlike the regular season, there is no edge to rostering anyone who may be injured or inactive. Now, read that last line again and take it to heart. You can literally gain an advantage on your competition by simply researching playing time and potential usage. DraftKings held a one-game contest last Thursday for the Hall of Fame game, for example, and nine (30%) of the highest-owned players were declared inactive at least an hour before kick-off. Usage trumps talent in preseason DFS, and it’s near impossible to profit with a big fat ‘0’ on your roster. Pay attention to inactive lists beginning an hour before the games.
Tonight is not only the first night of actual preseason play, it’s the first time prominent rookies will be on display in live NFL game-action. The Browns’ No. 1 overall pick Baker Mayfield is expected to get “extensive” work. The Bills’ polarizing No. 7 overall pick Josh Allen should see a lot of time behind incumbent starter A.J. McCarron and second-year pro Nathan Peterman. Although those are household names worth watching, we can take the excitement surrounding them and spin it into an advantage in daily fantasy. There are still four quarterbacks on Cleveland’s roster, for example, so there’s a chance Mayfield plays less than expected or perhaps doesn’t perform well. If he garners high ownership in tournaments (and he likely will), we can leverage that knowledge and instead roster rookie Nick Chubb (or the Browns’ rushing attack in general), who has only Matt Dayes and Dontrell Hilliard standing in his path for late-game carries. Cleveland will likely want to hand their new toy 10-12 touches, which makes Chubb a viable cash game option.
It’s important to note past preseason performance, especially for particular players who are still on the same 53-man bubble they were a year ago. Two prime examples are Landry Jones and Josh Dobbs, the Steelers’ second- and third-string quarterbacks, who both had performances last preseason in which they attempted 20-plus passes but finished with fewer than five fantasy points. With Ben Roethlisberger playing sparingly (if at all) tonight, Jones, Dobbs, and third-round rookie Mason Rudolph should all see an equal amount of time under center. That’s great news for the Eagles’ defense.
NFL SLEEPERS OF THE WEEK
Each week, we will identify three players worth taking a shot on in both season-long and daily fantasy (or, as is the case over the next four weeks, preseason daily fantasy):
1. Corey Grant, RB, Jaguars – Grant led the preseason last year with an average 8.7 yards per carry (among 51 qualifiers who received 20-plus carries). He played a paltry 4.7% of the Jaguars’ offensive snaps during the regular season, but eventually flashed with a 3-59 receiving line against New England in the Conference Championship. He likely won’t play much, but has tournament-winning upside with the few touches he’ll see.
2. Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Packers – Green Bay traded for second-year pro DeShone Kizer from the Browns this offseason. Kizer showed poorly his rookie year, finishing with the lowest completion percentage (53.6%) among the league’s 32 starters. But now he’s settled into the Packers’ third-string offense with rookie wideout St. Brown, who helped the former Notre Dame play-caller post a 47-19 TD-INT ratio (and 8.3 yards per attempt) in his final two collegiate seasons. Stacking the two in tournaments is optimal.
3. Nate Sudfeld, QB, Eagles – Carson Wentz is expected to be held out of the entire preseason while recovering from last year’s ACL surgery. Backup Nick Foles is currently dealing with muscle spasms and has missed practice the past week. With only four quarterbacks on the roster, we should expect to see Sudfeld take the field for at least two quarters. He has recent regular season experience, completing 19-of-23 (82.6%) pass attempts against the Cowboys’ second-team defense in Week 17.
PRESEASON WEEK 1 BEST BET
It’s extremely rare for starters to play more than two drives in the first preseason game. That rule will even apply to some backup veterans if a coach is comfortable with their knowledge of the offense. A great example is the New England Patriots. The club obviously knows what they have in Tom Brady, and backup Brian Hoyer is a savvy 10-year vet who actually played under head coach Bill Belichick from 2009 – 2011. With only three quarterbacks on the roster, we should expect to see seventh-round rookie Danny Etling for three-plus quarters. As previously noted, that type of usage is usually something to target in preseason DFS (especially at quarterback). But Etling is an inexperienced late-round flier who showed inaccuracy at LSU when pressured — a trait best not to have when potentially facing first-string defenses in the preseason. If he’s set to go the distance, we should target (and bet) the defensive unit teeing off on him.
The play: Redskins D/ST, Redskins +3 (+100)