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Every game night during the preseason, theScore gets you caught up on the most important fantasy performances from around the league.
Let's preface this by saying: Don't overreact to the opening week of the preseason. It's the first time these players are taking the field for NFL game action in seven or eight months.
It's also worth mentioning that a lot of starters sit out the first week of exhibition contests, so we should get a more complete picture of where everyone stands over the next couple of outings.
That being said, there's still plenty of information to gather from these performances, especially when it comes to rookies.
Washington makes his case
Antonio Brown continues to be a lightning rod for controversy, but the Steelers no longer have to deal with the distractions. Instead, Pittsburgh's focus is on finding a new No. 2 receiver to pair with ascending star JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Based on reports coming out of training camp, Donte Moncrief is the favorite to secure that job, but sophomore James Washington did his best to keep the competition alive with a monster performance Friday night.
Washington caught four of his five targets for 84 yards and a touchdown while showcasing his ability to make plays all over the field.
His first grab was a 43-yard bomb down the middle of the field.
He followed that up with a 22-yard snag in between several defenders to keep the Steelers' drive alive after being pinned down in their own end on third-and-21. The forgotten play on the night will be the touchdown that Washington nearly had on that same drive; unfortunately, he was unable to keep his left foot entirely inbounds while toe-tapping.
He made good on his opportunity next time down the field, scoring on a back-shoulder toss from Mason Rudolph.
It's important to note that Smith-Schuster, Moncrief, and rookie Diontae Johnson weren't in the lineup for this game, allowing Washington plenty of runway to make his case for a starting role.
Though it's a positive step for the young wideout, Moncrief remains the receiver I'll be targeting in fantasy as an upside WR4 with an ADP in the 11th round. Washington is worth a dart throw in the late rounds, but he still needs to beat out Johnson for the No. 3 role before we gain confidence in him as a regular contributor.
Earlier this week, NFL.com's Amber Theoharis reported that some within the Steelers organization view Johnson as ahead of Washington. This outing definitely helped Washington's cause.
- The Buccaneers' backfield battle between Peyton Barber and Ronald Jones can be ruled a draw after the first preseason contest. Both backs saw action with the first-team offense, with Barber getting the start and Jones subbing in. They also had virtually identical stat lines as Barber compiled 22 yards on three carries and one reception, while Jones notched 23 yards on four carries and one reception. Jones did appear more sure of himself than he looked at this time last year, but whether that translates to improved play has yet to be seen. Barber doesn't have elite skills in any area, but he's the more reliable option of the two and comes with a two-round discount in fantasy drafts as an 11th-round pick.
- It was a quick night for Jameis Winston, whom fantasy managers have high hopes for under Bruce Arians' tutelage. We saw some very inspiring play from Winston in his lone drive, completing 5 of 6 throws for 40 yards and a touchdown on a 9-yard screen to Chris Godwin. More importantly, Winston showed signs of playing within himself. On a second-and-5 in the Steelers' zone, Winston scrambled away from pressure, and though he appeared to consider launching the ball downfield, he held on and used his legs to pick up 10 yards and a first down. If Winston can limit his turnovers, he'll be a top-10 fantasy passer in this offense.
- You don't need me to tell you that Adam Thielen is an outstanding NFL receiver, but you do need to watch this 34-yard catch that was initially ruled a touchdown before replay ruled him down at the 1-yard line. That kind of adjustment on the ball is what helped make Thielen a fantasy star. Hopefully, he can keep that up in an offense that's projected to have reduced passing volume mixed with serious target competition.
- The Vikings relied heavily on the tight ends for their passing attack Friday, something that could be more common as they increase their use of 12 personnel in this revamped offense. It's worth monitoring throughout the preseason since they did spend a top-50 pick on tight end Irv Smith Jr., who will see more snaps than people may realize playing alongside Kyle Rudolph.
Alexander Mattison being No. 2 on the Vikings' running back depth chart is up for debate at this point. The rookie picked up 30 yards on nine carries before capping the opening drive with a 1-yard touchdown catch off a play-action. If Dalvin Cook suffers an injury, Mattison will be a league-winner. Minnesota has plenty of depth in the backfield with Mattison, Mike Boone, and Ameer Abdullah. Boone and Abdullah flashed their explosive playmaking skills with 64- and 42-yard runs, respectively, in the win over the Saints.
- The man Mattison is replacing - Latavius Murray - was on the opposite sideline tonight as a member of the Saints and he may have had a little extra juice going up against his former team. Murray had three rushes for 14 yards, but also caught three passes for 22 yards. The receiving work is the key there as the announcers said the Saints' plan is to use both Alvin Kamara and Murray in all facets of the offense. This is just further confirmation that Murray will take on the very productive Mark Ingram role in New Orleans, putting him on track to be a top-30 fantasy back.
- Though I've assumed speedsters Ted Ginn and Tre'Quan Smith were fighting for the same field-stretcher position in the Saints' receiving corps, they actually took the field together Friday in three-wide sets. That's great news for Smith, who I recently discussed in our sleepers article. Smith did have a drop in the game but caught his other two targets for 16 yards. He should be on your list of late-round stashes.