Skip to content

Fantasy: Biggest takeaways from Week 1 of NFL preseason


Get ready for your season with theScore's 2023 Fantasy Football Draft Kit and subscribe to push notifications in the NFL Fantasy News section.

Sorting out the Eagles' RBs

In the team's first preseason action of the year, Philadelphia's coaching staff elected to give Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott the night off. This immediately led to speculation that they might be ahead of newcomers D'Andre Swift and Rashaad Penny, who suited up for Saturday's game.

Swift (two carries for 24 yards) played the first six snaps with the offense before taking a seat himself and allowing Penny (nine carries for 34 yards) to take over.

This makes for an odd situation in fantasy, but we always expected a committee scenario in Philly - the only question was how the touches would be distributed among the top trio of Swift, Penny, and Gainwell.

The decision to rest veterans like Gainwell and Scott - who are familiar with the system - makes sense for a team that knows what they have in those players. Getting Swift and Penny some looks in an early preseason game is also understandable and doesn't automatically mean they're behind on the depth chart.

"We wanted to see Rashaad go. Rashaad hasn't played in a little bit. ... My plan with the backs - and I have no problem telling you guys this - (with) the backs, I always like those guys getting tackled, so the first time they get tackled isn't in Game 1," head coach Nick Sirianni explained to reporters, including The Athletic's Zach Berman. "So, next game, (Scott or Gainwell) will get a couple carries like Swift did today, and the next game, the other one will get a couple carries. So, it was just D'Andre's turn tonight to do it. That's what went into that; that's my philosophy with backs."

For now, we're still projecting a three-way split, with Swift being the most valuable and most talented (just look at his 22-yard run on Saturday), Penny being the bigger-bodied hammer, and Gainwell serving as the multipurpose trusted veteran.

They're all worth selecting at their current ADPs in the seventh, eighth, and 14th rounds, respectively.

Instant impressions

Buy the Howell-Dotson connection - After barely playing as a rookie, Sam Howell has a lot to prove this year. On Friday, he took the first step toward solidifying his role as Washington's 2023 starter by overcoming poor offensive line play and completing 9 of 12 attempts for 77 yards and a touchdown. He added eight rushing yards, which is important since his scrambling ability is what makes him a fantasy sleeper. The chemistry he's been displaying in practice with sophomore wideout Jahan Dotson was also on display during a beautiful 26-yard score. Dotson remains one of our favorite breakout candidates this season.

Steelers' passing attack on the rise - Kenny Pickett was underwhelming in his starts as a rookie, but there's reason to believe a Year 2 improvement is coming. A positive drumbeat in camp turned into a strong performance on Friday, as he completed 6 of 7 passes for 70 yards and a 33-yard score where he hit George Pickens with a tight window throw and let his young wideout do the rest. Diontae Johnson also caught three balls for 32 yards and is positioned for another high-volume campaign after three straight seasons with at least 140 targets.

Welcome to Chicago, D.J. Moore - Moore's impact on the Bears' offense was felt immediately, with his first catch as a Bear going for a 62-yard score. The overall pass volume in this attack is still a concern, but Moore's presence in Chicago (especially his run-after-catch ability) is going to help this team be more successful through the air. He remains a fantasy WR2 and will help Justin Fields challenge for a spot among the top-five fantasy QBs.

Herbert standing out - The Bears' backfield was one of the few open RB competitions this summer, and it appears as though Khalil Herbert has the early lead after he played every snap with Fields. While the results on the ground were minimal (four carries for 15 yards), Herbert turned his lone catch into a 56-yard house call. Rookie Roschon Johnson ran well with his opportunities and should carve out more of a role as the season goes along, but Herbert is the favorite to be a fantasy difference-maker in Week 1. Both backs are values at their current ADPs.

Etienne's ceiling in doubt? - Travis Etienne is locked in as the Jaguars' No. 1 back, but rookie Tank Bigsby getting a short-yardage preseason snap with the starting unit is a sign he'll be involved right away. It's tough to predict how the coaching staff plans to deploy the duo, but we could eventually see a split closer to what Etienne and James Robinson had at the beginning of last year's campaign - which isn't great news for Etienne's fantasy ceiling. He should be viewed as a fantasy RB2 moving forward, with Bigsby being an intriguing one-injury-away guy.

Bills' youth movement - Running back James Cook has secured Buffalo's starting RB job and is a fantasy breakout candidate for 2023. His four carries for 20 yards and a score was a welcome sign for an offense that hopes to get more from its run game this season. If Cook is going to become a star, he'll still need to overcome Josh Allen's goal-line usage and the presence of Damien Harris (currently out with a knee injury) and 33-year-old Latavius Murray. Meanwhile, rookie tight end Dalton Kincaid played with the starters and projects to have a big role in the Bills' offense right out of the gate. Kincaid's pass-catching skills could earn him a spot among the top-10 fantasy tight ends in Year 1.

Zach attack - After a shoulder injury sidelined rookie Zach Charbonnet early in camp, it was great to see him healthy and punishing defenders with physical runs on Thursday. The 22-year-old finished with four carries for 14 yards and two catches for 14 yards. Starting back Ken Walker, who's been out with a groin injury, was back on the practice field this weekend - but it's safe to assume Charbonnet will have a role even when Walker is back to full strength. He'll be a flex option with massive upside if Walker misses time at any point.

Kirk limited to the slot? - We knew the arrival of Calvin Ridley would hurt some of the Jags' pass-catchers from a target-share standpoint. If the first preseason game is any indication, the player most impacted might be Christian Kirk, who took a seat in two-receiver sets in favor of Ridley and Zay Jones, according to PFF's Nathan Jahnke. Kirk being limited to slot snaps would make it nearly impossible for him to come close to his 2022 production. It's not time to panic yet, but it makes Kirk a tough sell at his early-fifth round ADP.

Broncos' offense a work-in-progress - Though Russell Wilson's final stat line looks acceptable (7/13, 93 yards, TD), Denver's franchise QB played deeper in the opening preseason game than expected - staying out into the second quarter. Perhaps Sean Payton wanted to get his new passer more reps as they try to get comfortable with the scheme, and he did find some success with an eventual touchdown to Jerry Jeudy. But after the disappointment that was the 2022 season, it's clear there's still work to do in the Mile High City. It's worth noting backup Jarrett Stidham didn't make much of a push, completing just 5 of 15 passes for 50 yards and an interception.

Tight ends with worrying usage - Greg Dulcich and Pat Freiermuth are among the players with a chance to crack the top-12 fantasy tight ends this season. Unfortunately, there are warning signs for both after the first preseason contest. Adam Trautman played over Dulcich and limited his sophomore teammate to obvious passing downs and two tight end sets. Trautman is familiar with the system going back to his time in New Orleans with Payton and might have an early edge. If this continues, it would be a big hit to Dulcich's breakout potential. Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, Freiermuth played the same number of snaps with the starters as rookie Darnell Washington. This is one of the reasons why we had Freiermuth on our list of bust candidates for 2023.

Chandler makes a strong case - Despite some less than glowing reports about how the Vikings' backup running backs were playing in training camp, Ty Chandler delivered in the team's first preseason outing. The sophomore runner looked explosive while compiling 11 carries for 41 yards and four catches for 29 yards. Starter Alexander Mattison was sitting out, and Kene Nwangwu was dealing with an injury, but Chandler showed more than enough to eventually become the immediate backup to Mattison - as long as the team doesn't add a veteran.

Temper the Tank Dell hype - With just two preseason games on Thursday, Dell's five-catch, 65-yard, one-touchdown performance garnered a lot of attention. However, we have to remember the history of players his size (5-8, 165 lbs) making a significant fantasy impact is very slim. It's also hard to tell where Dell fits in the lineup since veterans like Robert Woods and Noah Brown had the night off. Woods is likely locked in as a starter to begin the year, Nico Collins has reportedly been C.J. Stroud's top target in practice, and John Metchie is also in the mix. In the end, Dell might be an exciting part-time contributor, but it's unlikely a player with his frame commands serious volume over a full season.

Rookie QBs taking their lumps - All three first-round rookie quarterbacks had up-and-down preseason debuts this week, but it's more important to observe the performances than to just look at the stats. Anthony Richardson faced a tough Buffalo defense and settled in after an early interception, eventually making a couple of quality throws and showing poise in the pocket. Bryce Young was under duress behind a Panthers offensive line that was dominated by the Jets' defensive front yet still appeared in control working through his progressions. Stroud is the hardest evaluation after looking overmatched by the Patriots' defense and playing just two series - one of which ended in a pick. The bottom line is you shouldn't overreact to rookie quarterbacks in their first preseason outing, especially when they're dealing with some of the best defenses in the league. We'll continue to check in on all three passers as the preseason moves along.

Long way to go for Achane - Despite a flurry of praise from teammates and beat writers for his practice performances, De'Von Achane was way down the depth chart for the team's first preseason contest. Different teams handle rookies in their own way, and some coaches want to see a player earn their spot, which might be the case here. The Dolphins rookie runner finished with 10 carries for 25 yards but led the team with four catches for 41 yards. We expect to see him rise the depth chart over the next few weeks, but for the time being, Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson are well ahead of Achane, and the threat of a potential Dalvin Cook signing still looms large in this backfield.

Spears gets involved early - Titans rookie Tyjae Spears has been the favorite for the backup job behind Derrick Henry since he was drafted in April. The third-rounder proved his worth with a strong showing in his first preseason action en route to 36 yards on seven touches, including a 14-yard run where he used his speed to find a seam on the outside and even stiff-armed a defender along the way. We've been high on Spears all summer as the No. 2 option in this backfield and a possible weekly flex play if Tennessee wants to lighten the load for the 29-year-old Henry.

Chargers' backup RBs - Joshua Kelley played ahead of Isaiah Spiller and outproduced him with nine touches for 54 yards to Spiller's seven touches for 38 yards. However, it's worth noting Spiller had a 71-yard touchdown run called back due to a penalty. This competition is far from over, and it's worth keeping a close eye on it since the victor might end up having flex value as the complementary back to Austin Ekeler.

Ferguson a sleeper TE - With rookie Luke Schoonmaker still playing catchup after a foot injury sidelined him for most of the offseason, Ferguson has a strong hold on the starting tight end job in Dallas. He played most of the snaps on Saturday and came away with three catches for 38 yards. Ferguson belongs on any late-round sleeper list at tight end.

New injuries to monitor - Buccaneers RB Rachaad White (undisclosed), Browns WR Elijah Moore (ribs), Saints RB Kendre Miller (knee), Ravens TE Isaiah Likely (undisclosed), Cardinals RB Corey Clement (undisclosed), Ravens QB Tyler Huntley (hamstring), Seahawks WR Cade Johnson (concussion)

Other preseason standouts who caught my eye this week - Vikings WR Jordan Addison, Packers QB Jordan Love, Commanders TE Cole Turner, Buccaneers QB Baker Mayfield, Jets RB Israel Abanikanda, Cowboys RB Deuce Vaughn, Rams WR Puka Nacua, Rams RB Zach Evans, Buccaneers WR Trey Palmer, Steelers WR Calvin Austin, Saints WR A.T. Perry

Deeper rookie standouts who caught my eye this week - Commanders RB Chris Rodriguez Jr., Chargers RB Elijah Dotson, 49ers WR Ronnie Bell, Bengals WR Andrei Iosivas, Chargers WR Derius Davis, Rams QB Stetson Bennett, Browns QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Patriots QB Malik Cunningham

Daily Newsletter

Get the latest trending sports news daily in your inbox