Fantasy: Biggest takeaways from Week 1 of NFL preseason
Lance ready for battle
After all the words written and spoken about Trey Lance, it's nice to finally see the 49ers quarterback on the field leading his offense to the end zone.
In the 49ers' first preseason game, last year's No. 3 overall pick orchestrated a nine-play opening drive that culminated in a 50-yard Robbie Gould field goal. Lance followed that up with a deep pass that rookie speedster Danny Gray took 76 yards to the house.
Though most of his production came on the long touchdown, Lance finished the game having completed 4 of 5 attempts for 92 yards and a score while also adding 7 yards on the ground in one quarter of action.
As we've said all offseason, Lance won't be flawless. The 22-year-old still needs plenty of development as a passer, and his understanding of Kyle Shanahan's system will only grow with time. What fantasy managers can feel good about is his comfort level as the leader of this offense and the dual-threat ability that will bring a high floor and an even higher ceiling.
That allowed several players to earn extended playing time, including the aforementioned TD-scorer Gray. The third-rounder brings a field-stretching element to San Francisco's attack and is making a case to be the No. 3 wideout over Jauan Jennings. Dynasty managers should take note.
Gibson fumbling away starting job?
J.D. McKissic's return to the Commanders wasn't a great sign for Antonio Gibson's fantasy outlook. The situation became even more complicated when the front office brought in a variety of running back prospects for top-30 visits in the spring and drafted Brian Robinson in the third round.
When head coach Ron Rivera talked up Robinson as a potential short-yardage back and a member of a one-two punch, we had to consider the possibility that Washington didn't see Gibson as its long-term answer in the backfield.
Gibson's ball security may have been one of the issues that influenced the Commanders' decision. The 24-year-old fumbled six times in 2021 - the most of any running back in the league.
Several beat writers have pointed out recurrences of the fumbling problems in offseason practices, and Gibson lost yet another ball in Saturday's game against the Panthers.
The coaching staff responded by letting Robinson take over the early-down work with the first-team offense. The rookie piled up 26 rushing yards, 15 receiving yards, and a touchdown. Gibson was limited to 4 yards on five touches.
While Gibson remains the lead back (for now), his fantasy stock has already taken a dramatic hit with McKissic's passing game role and Robinson siphoning carries and possibly goal-line duties.
It makes it very hard to trust Gibson as a fantasy starter this season, which is why he's on our list of players to avoid in your drafts.
If Gibon gets hurt, or if his fumbling issues persist, the door will be open for Robinson to steal the lead back job in Washington.
Pickens, Doubs came to play
The practice highlights and buzz surrounding the Steelers' George Pickens and the Packers' Romeo Doubs has been overwhelming this offseason, and they reached new heights over the last couple weeks of training camp.
So it shouldn't have been the least bit surprising that both rookie wideouts posted strong performances in their preseason debuts.
Pickens was listed as a starter alongside Diontae Johnson and Chase Claypool on Pittsburgh's initial depth chart. However, with the two veterans sitting out, this year's second-round pick went to work, catching three of his five targets for 43 yards and a score.
The toe-tapping touchdown was impressive, but the more exciting storyline has been Pickens showing he belongs in the NFL from Day 1.
The 21-year-old is physical and competitive, with a massive catch radius and outstanding ball skills. He was a No. 1 receiver talent who fell out of the first round due to an ACL tear last season. There were also concerns about his decision-making and maturity. While he still has a long way to go to prove himself as a pro, Pickens has the look of a future star and may take on a big role right away in an already crowded Steelers offense.
As for Doubs, the opportunity in Green Bay is enormous. The departure of Davante Adams left an unfillable void on the Packers' receiving depth chart.
Allen Lazard is the most likely candidate to feature, but Doubs is doing his best to earn snaps and targets. Like Pickens, he's been catching everything thrown his way in camp - with the exception of the times he's been matched up against second-team All-Pro cornerback Jaire Alexander.
The fourth-round rookie continued to make plays in his preseason debut against the 49ers, hauling in three grabs for 45 yards and a score.
For now, we'll keep monitoring both Pickens and Doubs as former sleepers who are now on everyone's radar as late-round picks with significant fantasy upside in 2022.
Wilson needs surgery - The Jets quarterback suffered a scary non-contact knee injury against the Eagles, but the early diagnosis of a bone bruise and meniscus tear came as a relief since it had looked like a potential ACL. While the doctors may still determine Zach Wilson needs a more extensive procedure, that won't be known until he goes under the knife. For now, the team is hoping he'll only miss two-to-four weeks - giving him a chance to return for Week 1. If he's unable to go, Joe Flacco will step into the starting lineup. In his only extended action last year, Flacco finished as a top-10 fantasy QB in Week 11 after throwing for 291 yards and two touchdowns. He's more than capable of keeping this offense and its skill position players producing.
London avoids serious injury - First-rounder Drake London was forced off his preseason debut after injuring his knee while making a 24-yard catch. Though he's expected to be held out of practice this week, head coach Arthur Smith said it wasn't a long-term issue. Any practice time missed for a rookie is a negative, but London is locked in as the team's top receiver behind tight end Kyle Pitts. Both should be drafted heavily in what projects to be a very condensed Atlanta passing attack.
Etienne looks explosive - The fact Travis Etienne compiled 33 yards from scrimmage on 10 touches doesn't tell the full story. The bigger takeaway is that he looked fast and decisive coming back from the Lisfranc surgery that cost him his rookie year. His teammate James Robinson, who's trying to return from a torn Achilles, didn't play in the game. So we're still waiting to find out how much of a factor Robinson will be in the Jaguars' backfield this season. Either way, Etienne will likely emerge as their most dangerous weapon with pass-catching skills and big-play breakaway speed, giving him RB2 fantasy value with the potential for more.
Pierce's time is coming - We can't get too far ahead of ourselves projecting Day 3 picks to have sizeable roles in the NFL. However, Dameon Pierce's five-carry, 49-yard effort against the Saints was an excellent place to start for a fourth-rounder hoping to earn playing time as a rookie. While he remains behind veterans Marlon Mack and Rex Burkhead at the moment, the Texans' offense needs to find playmakers. As we saw in this game - the hard-charging Pierce offers more than the other members of Houston's backfield.
Chiefs' backfield lining up - None of the ball carriers in this offense produced much yardage this week, but the new depth chart is starting to come into view. Clyde Edwards-Helaire has been getting the bulk of the first-team reps in training camp, and that carried over into Kansas City's first preseason game. Seventh-round rookie Isiah Pacheco is the surprise No. 2 at the moment, with Jerick McKinnon handling whatever's left over. Free-agent addition Ronald Jones ran with the second team and appears to be on the outside looking in. After arriving in K.C. with potential, the former Buc continues to fall down our rankings.
Burks has to prove himself - When reports swirled about Treylon Burks arriving at rookie camp out of shape, it opened a buying window for fantasy managers willing to take on the risk. The recent reports out of training camp have been much more positive, but with Burks playing into the fourth quarter of the team's first preseason game, the fantasy community is likely worried again. There's still plenty of time for the rookie to convince the coaching staff he deserves to be a starter in a lineup that desperately needs his skill set.
Fields under constant pressure - A lack of pass-catching talent behind Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet might not be the biggest problem facing the Bears this season. Their offensive line, which we recently ranked 32nd in our rankings, struggled to keep Justin Fields clean against the Chiefs. Though he has the talent to overcome it, the degree of difficulty for Fields is reaching an inhospitable level.
Backup RBs who should be on your radar - Every year, we see running backs rise up their rosters to make an impact on the fantasy season. Often, the preseason is our best time to evaluate those runners and get a feel for what they might offer if an opportunity were to present itself. This week, we saw ball carriers like the Steelers' Anthony McFarland Jr., the Seahawks' DeeJay Dallas, the Browns' Jerome Ford, and the Bears' Trestan Ebner showcase what they could do. While none will likely be listed higher than third on their depth charts entering the season, injuries or ineffectiveness could create a path for them to be fantasy waiver wire stars in 2022.
Other preseason standouts who caught my eye this week - Jaguars WR Zay Jones, Bills WR Khalil Shakir, Ravens TE Isaiah Likely, Cardinals RB Keaontay Ingram, Jets TE Tyler Conklin, Ravens QB Tyler Huntley, Cowboys WR Simi Fehoko, Buccaneers WR Tyler Johnson, Saints RB Abram Smith, Chiefs WR Justin Watson, QB Skylar Thompson.