Week 3 of the preseason is usually the best glimpse into how teams plan to use their skill players in the regular season and a great blueprint for owners drafting in late August. This year’s, however, was unfortunately marred by three season-ending injuries which will rightfully dominate the discussion. That said, there were some interesting usage hints dropped in basically every game, and those could end up being almost as important as the injuries when it is all said and done. First, though, the bad news.
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Things started out so well for Julian Edelman against the Lions. He looked quick as ever, was getting open almost at will, and was making things happen after the catch. In other words, he looked like Edelman. Unfortunately, all of that came to halt when he limped off the field following an 18-yard gain on just the fifth play of the game – he already had three catches for 52 yards. He was diagnosed with an ACL tear in his right knee the next day. With the news official, the only thing left to do is look forward, and the Patriots are as well prepared as any offense to deal with a loss of this magnitude.
Acquired from the Saints this offseason, Brandin Cooks should immediately step into the No. 1 role, although his usage this preseason – two catches for 15 yards – at least raises some concern. Viewed as a boom-or-bust option in New Orleans, questions about his consistency have also been raised, but those are mostly unfounded. Over his final two years with the Saints, Cooks bested the WR2 threshold (around 14 PPR points) in over 55 percent of his games with nine 20-point outings. That is below the likes of Antonio Brown and Julio Jones, but still pretty good. With his target share certain to rise following the injury, Cooks is locked in as a top-10 option.
Outside of Cooks, the Patriots have some interesting decisions. New England could decide to use Dwayne Allen more in two-TE sets, give the backs, especially James White and Rex Burkhead, more opportunities in the passing game, or allow Danny Amendola to take on a large chunk of Edelman’s slot role – considering he cannot stay healthy, the latter seems the most unlikely.
All of that said, the biggest beneficiary likely will be Chris Hogan, who went for 70 yards and two touchdowns Saturday night. Hogan has been used as a deep threat since joining the Patriots, but he, like Cooks, has experience in the slot, where he ran 37 percent of his routes last season. In fact, his first touchdown on Friday came after he motioned into the slot and ran the type of option route you would expect to see from Edelman. The most talented option for the No. 2 job, Hogan should better his 58 targets from a season ago and is an upside pick even at his inflated ADP.
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Ware Goes Down
With everyone still reeling from the Edelman injury, fate dealt another blow when Spencer Ware went down with a knee injury during the first drive of the Chiefs-Seahawks matchup. Initially thought to be just a sprain, Ware was eventually diagnosed with a torn PCL which will almost certainly require season-ending surgery.
Unlike with Edelman, there is not much analysis necessary in the aftermath of Ware’s injury. Drafted in the third-round and already earning first-team reps before Saturday, Kareem Hunt should immediately step into a workhorse role in the Kansas City backfield – in fact, coach Andy Reid said as much – and he has the talent to make the opportunity count. Hunt has turned his 22 preseason touches into 111 yards.
Despite scoring just five touchdowns and slowing down dramatically down the stretch, Ware was the RB18 in per-game scoring last season. Hunt has a good chance to match that, and the offense looks like it could be better this year. The rookie is worth a pick in the third round ahead of names like Ty Montgomery and Joe Mixon.
Meredith Cannot Escape Injury Bug
While we escaped Saturday’s slate without any significant injuries, Sunday was not as kind, with Cameron Meredith suffering a gruesome knee injury in the first quarter against the Titans. The injury has been confirmed as a torn ACL, and there are reports there could be even more damage. Unfortunately, he is done for the year.
With Meredith gone, there are suddenly a lot of targets to spread around in Chicago. Meredith saw 97 in 14 games last year, and he was likely to see closer to 125 this time around. Kevin White would seem like the favorite to take on a lot of that work, but he both cannot be trusted to stay healthy and has not proven he is any good. He certainly should not be drafted where Meredith was coming off the board, and it is tough to put him over guys like John Brown, Corey Coleman, Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews, and Zay Jones. He makes sense as a flier in the 11th round or so, but he likely goes higher.
The real beneficiary may end up being Kendall Wright, who has shown a good connection with Mike Glennon this preseason. Always talented, Wright fell out of Tennessee because of locker-room issues more than trouble on the field, and he has been able to produce when given the opportunity throughout his career even with mostly bad quarterback play. Free in most leagues, Wright is worth a look both on the waiver wire and as a late-round flier in deeper formats. Markus Wheaton should also be involved when he returns from his broken finger, but he remains waiver wire fodder.
No Answers in New Orleans
The Saints’ backfield was one of the biggest question marks entering training camp, and it looks like we will leave August without much clarity. Mark Ingram got the start and the first series to himself on Saturday, but Adrian Peterson rotated in evenly after that and saw more carries, although Ingram appeared to be the back of choice on third down. Rookie Alvin Kamara was held out.
If that usage pattern holds, it would seem to favor Ingram slightly in a pass-first offense. That could change if Peterson dominates work around the goal-line, however, but the Saints unfortunately did not see any goal-line opportunities against the Texans, leaving us without many answers on what could be the most important question in the backfield.
The likely outcome is both backs will get their chances in the scoring area with Peterson perhaps getting slightly more work. That said, of the two Peterson seems more likely to run away with the short-yardage opportunities. Then again, Ingram looks like the favorite to lead the backfield in touches. Those are almost just guesses at this point, but if they are correct it would make Peterson the upside play and Ingram the safer weekly option. With the duo coming off the board almost next to each other in the fifth round, the decision on which to take simply comes down to personal preference.
-As has been the case all offseason, Jeremy Hill got the start, dominated the first-team snaps, and got the goal-line work in the third preseason game. Joe Mixon did get snaps with the ones, but a fumble could have hurt his already disappointing place in the pecking order. Mixon is the best back on the roster, but neither our opinion on his talent nor us wish-casting him a big role makes it more likely to happen. Unless the ankle injury which caused Hill to exit the game early ends up being serious, owners who draft Mixon in the third round are going to be very disappointed early in the season.
-With Rex Burkhead sidelined by an injury, Dion Lewis got the start for the Patriots on Friday night with James White and Mike Gillislee working behind him. Coming back from an injury of his own, Gillislee saw the most work of the group and converted both a short touchdown and a two-point conversion with the first-team. Like in New Orleans, the preseason has not offered much in the way of clarity on this backfield situation, and it looks like Edelman’s injury could complicate matters further with White and Burkhead perhaps asked to do more as receivers. Gillislee remains the best fantasy bet as the most likely option near the goal line, but Burkhead is the best value in the 11th round.
-After a bad couple weeks with his coach openly calling him out through the media, John Brown came back to life in a big way Saturday night, turning his only two targets into two long scores. The first touchdown had more to do with the play design than Brown, but the receiver showed off why he is such a good deep threat on the second score, creating space for the throw with his route and making a good catch over the shoulder. We already know Brown is a stud, however. The real concern is his illness which seemingly could pop back up at any time. The upside is worth the risk at his current 10th-round ADP, but that will not be the case if this performance pushes him closer to the seventh. As for Brown’s quarterback, Carson Palmer was dealing against the Falcons and gets the Lions, Colts, Cowboys, and 49ers to open the season. He is a great late-round target and someone to pair with Andrew Luck.
-After missing a week with a leg injury and with Jamaal Williams closing in his rear view mirror, Ty Montgomery needed a strong performance in the third preseason game, and that is exactly what he did, rushing three times for 31 yards and a goal-line touchdown. More importantly, he was the clear lead back while in the game with Williams serving as breather and change-of-pace option. He certainly comes with risk, but Montgomery also has massive upside in this offense.
-DeShone Kizer was not spectacular in his first preseason start, but he was better than his stat line (6/18 for 93 yards and an interception) and showed flashes of his immense upside. The rookie also showed something of a connection with Corey Coleman, who finished with 66 yards on four catches and saw four more targets than anyone else in the first half. Coleman had another long catch called back on a questionable pass interference call down the sideline. Kenny Britt remains the safer option, but Coleman brings the upside in the 10th round.
-The reasoning was not clear at the time, but Matt Forte both started and was on the field for the first 27 snaps of the Jets’ matchup with the Giants on Saturday night. It is possible the Jets were simply giving him an extended run after missing the rest of the preseason and almost all of camp, but reports came out Tuesday the team is attempting to move the veteran, which both makes sense and would fit in with what they did all offseason. After going for 133 total yards including an 85-yard touchdown reception on Saturday, Powell’s place in the rotation is likely secure even if Forte sticks around as he is the better player at this point, and it is now possible he could have the backfield to himself. He is a good pick in the sixth.
-Jay Cutler appears to really like DeVante Parker. In limited opportunities, Cutler has found the receiver for gains of 16, 31 (negated by penalty), and a 72-yarder on Thursday night in which Parker went up over Ronald Darby to make the catch and rumbled down the sideline for a big play. It already seems like Cutler is comfortable giving Parker a chance to make contested catches, and while that will likely lead to some classic Cutler mistakes, it also could mean big plays and games for Parker. His ADP is rising, but his upside justifies the cost.
-There does not appear to be much intrigue when it comes to Dallas’ replacement for Ezekiel Elliott. While Zeke did get some snaps on Saturday, Darren McFadden was the next back in and treated to a starter’s workload, i.e. limited. The other option would seem to be Alfred Morris, but he has been relegated to second- and third-team work all preseason and even played behind Ronnie Hillman against the Raiders. He also rushed for 56 yards on nine carries against Oakland, however, and now has 158 yards on 30 carries (5.27 YPC) this preseason. McFadden has a better three-down skill set, but Morris looks like the superior runner. If McFadden struggles early, perhaps the Cowboys will give Morris a shot, but that assumes they do not trade or release him in the next week.
-If there was any question about who would start with Doug Martin suspended, it was put to bed this week. Jacquizz Rodgers both got the start and saw all but one backfield touch in the first quarter against the Browns. The lone other touch was a pass to Charles Sims. While the opening schedule is not great, Rodgers should see a substantial workload – he averaged over 21 carries in his five starts last season – for a quality offense. That gives him an RB2 floor with the upside for a lot more.
-It is not a surprise considering he is back to full health, but Russell Wilson has looked like the quarterback of old this preseason, and that continued against the Chiefs. He looked vintage creating time with his legs, and he threw a couple absolute dimes down the field. With Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham looking great, Tyler Lockett hopefully returning healthy, and Paul Richardson a big-play threat, Wilson will likely return to the form which made him an early-round pick last year, and he will come at a much cheaper price this time around.
-There were rumors Jamaal Charles needed a strong game Saturday to lock up his roster spot, and that is exactly what he delivered, gaining 42 yards on six touches. Coach Vance Joseph said after the game Charles had cemented his spot on the roster, making it likely he will open the season in a timeshare with C.J. Anderson. He is far from a lock to last the entire year on balky knees and may not have much of a role to start out, but Charles has enough talent to make him a late-round option.
-In a surprising twist for a star coming off a major knee injury, Keenan Allen has not garnered much ink so far this August, but he certainly looked back to form against the Rams, catching all five of his targets for 45 yards and looking silky smooth while doing it. While his target share may not be as robust as it once was with the likes of Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin, Hunter Henry, Antonio Gates, and first-round pick Mike Williams (once healthy) in the picture, Allen is still the clear No. 1 in what should be a good passing attack.
-While a hamstring injury seemed to knock Wendell Smallwood out of the conversation for lead duties, his usage Thursday suggests he has a real shot to jump a disappointing LeGarrette Blount in the pecking order, especially since he simply looked like the better player against the Dolphins. Darren Sproles, who has been kept on ice all preseason, figures to have a big role, but there are fantasy points up for grabs around him on the depth chart. Smallwood at least has a shot to grab them, making him a good late-round dart throw.
-Blake Bortles certainly looked better against the backups on Thursday night, but it is still shocking the Jaguars decided to go with him over Chad Henne after publicly demoting him only a few days before. Looking better also did not look great, and the same problems which led to Bortles being sent to the bench will likely pop up again in the very near future, especially with the Texans’ stout defense up first on the menu. The smart money is on Henne making some starts this season, and it may be the sooner the better for the Jags’ skill position players, which is an almost unthinkable thought.
-While he is not going to be a direct replacement for Brandin Cooks, it looks like Ted Ginn will be more involved in the offense than originally thought. The nominal starter opposite Michael Thomas, Ginn turned four targets into three catches for 26 yards and added 24 more yards on an end around – the play actually went for 48 but was called back on a penalty. In fact, Ginn saw as many targets as Thomas while Drew Brees was in the game. Willie Snead still seems like the better bet to finish second in targets, but Ginn is the better value in the 12th round.
-It is important not to read too much into it because Theo Riddick is likely still limited as he returns from injury, but Ameer Abdullah dominated work with the first-team and contributed three catches for 39 yards in addition to 60 yards on the ground in the third preseason game. More importantly, he looked quick and dangerous with the ball in his hands. Riddick is a concern and his touchdown upside is limited, but Abdullah looks like a safer option than the backs going around him right now.
-Carlos Hyde looked perfectly capable of playing a three-down role against the Vikings – his ran a nice route to get open for a 24-yard touchdown – but the backup job behind him is still interesting. Based on Sunday night, the favorite looks like UDFA rookie Matt Breida, who worked as the clear No. 2 back against the Vikings after doing the same in the preseason opener. Offseason darling Joe Williams ran as the fourth back behind even Raheem Mostert, suggesting he is well off the map. Tim Hightower would also seem to be in the mix, but he sat out Sunday and has played just 15 snaps total so far this preseason. Hyde is going to be the guy, but his injury history suggests someone else will get a shot at some point. Hopefully the situation shakes out before then.
-Laquon Treadwell worked with the first-team offense in his preseason debut, catching all three of his targets for 36 yards. With Michael Floyd suspended the first four games, the sophomore should have the opportunity to carve out a much bigger role than he had last season, although it is unlikely he will be relevant in shallower leagues as long as Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen are healthy. Of course, Diggs struggled through injury issues most of last season.
-Terrance West got the start, but Buck Allen continue to see snaps with the first-team offense, although his performance was not quite as good against the Bills as some of his previous outings. Everything I can cross is crossed hoping Danny Woodhead is fine for Week 1 – there has been basically no update on his status – but if he is not, Allen will be an interesting spot start option in deep PPR leagues and DFS sites Week 1 against the Bengals.