Get ready for your season with theScore's 2018 Fantasy Football Draft Kit.
The preseason isn't just a time for NFL clubs to evaluate their talent; it's a time when fantasy owners become fantasy scouts - watching games, doing research, and forming opinions that'll guide them on draft day.
Exhibition games may not mean much overall, but they provide us with our first live-action look at rookies and offer a glimpse of veterans in new situations. Knowing when an aging star is on their last legs is just as important as figuring out if a young player is ready for a breakout.
With that in mind, let's take a look at 12 players whose preseason performance could have a major impact on their draft stock.
The Colts would probably like to keep Luck in bubble wrap for the preseason, instead of risking his health and the team's hopes of competing. But fantasy owners desperately want to see Luck in live action to know whether he's still the elite QB1 he was prior to his shoulder injury, or if expectations need to be lowered.
The third-rounder is turning heads in camp while trying to carve out an immediate role in a receiving corps lacking proven weapons. Gallup is a pro-ready prospect, who at worst should play in three-wide sets with Allen Hurns and Cole Beasley. If the rookie can emerge as the Cowboys' top pass-catcher, he offers a massive ceiling at his current late-round ADP.
Jordan Howard is the lead back in Chicago, but it's Cohen who will enrage defensive coordinators in 2018. The Bears' former coaching staff inexplicably limited Cohen's touches despite the fact he broke 100 total yards in two of his first three games, including back-to-back eight-catch outings to start the season. The new regime is using him all over the field at practice, which we should see replicated during the preseason.
Cohen isn't the only Bear generating hype in training camp. His rookie teammate Miller has the look of a veteran playmaker and is one of my favorite targets in the late rounds. We saw a similar story unfold with Michael Thomas in 2016, who was also a second-round receiver that stood out before the season for his performance and hard work. Like Thomas, Miller has a chance to be exceptional right away.
The release of veteran Brandon LaFell would indicate the Bengals are pleased with Ross' development. After drafting him ninth overall last year, Ross was held catchless in his debut season, leading many to wonder if he was heading toward bust territory. With some practice highlights making the rounds, Ross appears to be getting his shot at the No. 2 spot across from A.J. Green. His world-class speed is exciting, as long as his hands don't prevent him from reaching his potential as an NFL wideout.
Johnson is checking all the right boxes en route to a breakout season. He's excelling in every facet of the game, including pass protection, which is often an issue for young backs. He also has a direct path to the starting job, with 31-year-old LeGarrette Blount and perennial pass-catching back Theo Riddick representing his main competition. And finally, Johnson is playing in an explosive offense behind a much-improved line. If he answers the bell in the preseason, his draft stock will skyrocket.
With a lineup filled with talented offensive weapons, Mahomes has as much upside as anyone at the quarterback position. Unfortunately, we haven't seen enough of the sophomore passer to definitively say whether he'll be a star in 2018. Another solid preseason from Mahomes would send the fantasy world into a frenzy to secure his services.
Another member of the disappointing 2017 wide receiver class enters his second season with the hope that stardom is still in his future. The Chargers have a clear first option in Keenan Allen, but the battle behind him will pit Mike against Tyrell Williams and isn't likely to be decided until well into August. With tight end Hunter Henry lost for the year due to a torn ACL, Mike's red-zone skills could help him earn more snaps.
The Seahawks' backfield has created plenty of debate over the last few weeks, with the fantasy community divided over who will see more touches between Penny and Chris Carson. Seattle's investment of a first-round pick makes Penny seem like the logical choice, and his success as a pass-protector only furthers his cause. However, Pete Carroll's consistently glowing remarks have led some to conclude Carson will start. There's still time for this to play out, but given the draft capital involved, Penny would need to be severely outplayed for the Seahawks to sit him.
Unlike most of the names on this list, Reed's talent is not in question. His health is the major issue that has sidelined him for parts of all five of his pro seasons. Coming off a career-low six appearances in 2017, he underwent a procedure on his toes and claims he's feeling much better. Even if Reed looks like his old self in the preseason, it will be difficult to trust him as your lone fantasy tight end.
Opportunity is everything for running backs, and despite being a Day 3 pick, Wilkins has a chance to vault up the depth chart with a strong exhibition campaign. Wilkins has impressed with his physical running style, a trait that the other members of the Colts' backfield don't bring to the field. Fellow rookie Nyheim Hines is a dynamic pass-catching threat, while incumbent Marlon Mack is an explosive player who hasn't been able to deliver drive-sustaining rushes. All three backs are worth monitoring over the next month.
After looking like he was on his last legs in Green Bay, Nelson is garnering positive headlines in Oakland. It's possible the 33-year-old steps into a Michael Crabtree-esque role for the Raiders, but you should be very hesitant about putting a fantasy chip down on Nelson this season. His preseason performance will go a long way to telling us if there's anything left in the tank.