The NFL preseason rolls into Week 2. Unlike in Week 1, all 32 teams will be in action. We have three games to choose from on Friday: The Titans vs. the Falcons and the Bills vs. the Lions at 7 p.m. ET, and the Cowboys vs. the Cardinals at 10 p.m. ET.
There are some key differences between the preseason and the regular season from a DFS perspective. For starters, the rosters are substantially larger. Each team has 90 players on their roster at the moment, but that number will be trimmed to 53 during the regular season. Most teams use the preseason to try and evaluate their entire roster, so expect nearly every player to see the field.
Volume is everything in the preseason. If the starters are only going to play one or two drives before ceding to the backups, the backups will inherently carry more fantasy value. Talent is simply not that important. Maybe the starters can score a touchdown in their limited playing time, but chasing volume is going to be a more sustainable strategy in the long term.
Luckily, FantasyLabs now has preseason projections in our NFL Models to help you build your lineups. Chris Raybon has also put together an awesome guide on how to crush preseason DFS.
Let’s dive into Friday’s three-game slate.
The Falcons are the team that caught my eye here. Matt Ryan is not expected to play on Friday, which leaves them with just two quarterbacks to split the playing time. Feleipe Franks and A.J. McCarron are rumored to be battling for the backup job, so both players figure to see around a half each.
Franks stands out as the preferred target. He’s an undrafted free agent out of Arkansas, but what really makes him appealing is his athleticism. He blazed a 4.61 40-yard dash at his pro day, and his 103.8 SPARQ-x score puts him in the 88th percentile per PlayerProfiler. Rushing ability is a cheat code for fantasy quarterbacks, and it is even more valuable in the preseason. Quarterbacks routinely score in the single digits, so having a guy who can score a few points with his legs is a major win.
The Titans are another team with a backup quarterback battle on their hands. Logan Woodside is competing with Matt Barkley, and both players are expected to play about a half vs. the Cardinals. Woodside is the better athlete of the two, but this is Barkley’s first season with the Titans.
Josh Allen won’t suit up in the Bills’ first preseason game, but they still have three other QBs on their roster in Mitch Trubisky, Jake Fromm and Davis Webb. There’s been no indication on how the playing time will shake out between those three players, but Fromm was the Bills’ fifth-round pick in 2020. This will be their first chance to see him in a real game, so I would give him the edge in this trio.
Kyler Murray is expected to play vs. the Cowboys, but he should give way to Colt McCoy and Chris Streveler quickly. Streveler is the guy I’m looking at here. He has blazing speed for a quarterback – he ran a 4.51 40-yard dash at his pro day in 2018 – so he can clearly do some damage with his legs.
The Lions have the potential to be really thin at running back for a preseason game. D’Andre Swift didn’t practice on Wednesday, so I’m not expecting him to suit up. Jamal Williams doesn’t need many (if any) preseason carries. Seventh-round pick Jermar Jefferson suffered an injury on Monday, Jason Cabinda is a full back and Javon Leake was signed on Wednesday and is nothing more than a camp body.
That leaves Dedrick Mills and Godwin Igwebuike to handle most of the running back touches on Friday. Mills is an undrafted free agent, and those players tend to dominate the preseason at the running back position. There isn’t much to get excited about with Mills from an athleticism standpoint, but he should see a large workload vs. the Bills. That’s more than enough to be relevant in the preseason.
Igwebuike is an interesting story. He was an undrafted free agent in 2018, and he’s spent the early part of his career as a safety. However, the Lions are giving him an audition at running back, and he did rush for 1,985 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior in high school. Athletically, he is more than good enough to be on an NFL roster. He ran a 4.44 40-yard dash at the 2018 combine, and he also ranked in the 93rd percentile for Speed Score and Agility Score. Frankly, I’m excited to see what he can do at running back, so I will definitely have some exposure to him on Friday.
The Cowboys are another team with a thin RB rotation. Rico Dowdle and JaQuan Hardy both played at least 20 snaps in the Hall of Fame Game, and they could see an even larger workload on Friday. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard are both expected to be limited – if they play at all – and Sewo Oloniula suffered a neck injury in the first preseason game.
The Falcons running back corps is largely healthy, but we do have some intel from the beat reporters. AtlantaFalcons.com’s Scott Bair reports that Javian Hawkins and Caleb Huntley are both expected to “play a ton” during the preseason, so expect those two players to lead the position group in snaps. Both players have merit in their own way. Hawkins is the better athlete of the two, but Huntley was the more productive player in college.
The Cardinals are another thin team at the position. They only have six players on their depth chart currently, and James Conner was just placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list. He may not have played anyways, but it does leave the team with just five viable players, and Ito Smith only tied with the team last Saturday.
Eno Benjamin has generated some buzz during training camp, and he’s someone who should get some action in this contest. The seventh-round pick in the 2020 draft was extremely effective in college, particularly as a receiver out of the backfield. Jonathan Ward and Tavien Feaster should also factor into the rotation.
The Bills have seven RBs on their depth chart currently, but I’m expecting Antonio Williams and Taiwan Jones to handle most of their opportunities on Friday. Williams was a four-star recruit out of high school who struggled to find playing time at North Carolina, but he did average 6.1 yards per carry. Jones checked every box as an NFL prospect, and I’m honestly still not sure how he busted. He was dominant at Eastern Washington, posting a 41.2% Dominator Rating while averaging 7.9 yards per carry, and he blazed a 4.33 40-yard dash at his pro day. That said, he’s a veteran now at 33 years old, and the preseason is decidedly a young man’s game. As much as I’m drooling over his PlayerProfiler page, Williams is the stronger option.
Receiver is the toughest position to project during the preseason. Most teams are going to play a large rotation at the position, and the production will likely be spread out.
To put that in perspective, the Steelers had 16 players receive at least one target in the Hall of Fame Game, while the Cowboys had 18. However, none of those players had more than five targets, and only five saw at least four. In other words, there’s a lot of variance at the position, so using a large player pool makes the most sense.
One thing to keep in mind is that stacking quarterbacks and wide receivers is still a viable strategy. If you’re going to play the starting quarterback, pairing him with the starting receivers is more viable. Even if those players may not see as much playing time as the backups, at least their scoring will be correlated. The same goes for the second and third stringers.
Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t dive into the rosters for each team and try to identify some of the stronger options.
We’ve already seen the Cowboys during the preseason, so we have a decent idea of how their rotation is going to shake out. Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup didn’t play in the Hall of Fame Game, and it wouldn’t be shocking if they’re held out again. Simi Fehoko led the team with 29 snaps, while Noah Brown, Cedrick Wilson, Malik Turner and Johnnie Dixon all saw at least 21. Aaron Parker only played 16 snaps, but he led the team with five targets. All of those options seem viable on Friday.
The Lions have been thin at receiver during camp. Breshad Perriman, Tyrell Williams, and Quintez Cephus all sat out their scrimmage on Saturday, and Cephus was absent on Wednesday’s practice as well.
That leaves Amon-Ra St. Brown, Kalif Raymond, Geronimo Allison, and Victor Bolden to handle most of the receiving responsibilities. St. Brown was their fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft, while Raymond and Allison are playing their first seasons in Detroit.
The Falcons have 12 players at the position on their depth chart, but I think we can cross Calvin Ridley, Russell Gage and Olamide Zaccheaus off the list. Tajae Sharpe is a new addition to the Falcons this season, while Frank Darby and Antonio Nunn are the rookies worth considering.
As for the Titans, A.J. Brown, Julio Jones, and Josh Reynolds have all missed time during training camp, so I’m fine with avoiding them vs. the Falcons. Dez Fitzpatrick was their fourth-round pick in 2021, and he averaged 17.5 yards per game at Louisville. Racey McMath was also a sixth-rounder out of LSU, and he’s extremely appealing from an athleticism standpoint. He ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at his pro day, and he ranks in the 91st percentile in Speed Score. McMath wasn’t particularly productive in college, but that’s excusable when you play with guys like Justin Jefferson, Ja’Marr Chase and Terrace Marshall.
The Bills’ top four of Stefon Diggs, Emmanuel Sanders, Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis is firmly entrenched, and Isaiah McKenzie has also been with the team since 2018. That group shouldn’t need a long look on Friday, which leaves plenty of time for the rest of the roster.
Marquez Stevenson was their sixth-round pick in 2021, and he has some athletic upside. Isaiah Hodgins was their sixth-round last year, and he’s a big, physical target at 6-foot-4 and 210 pounds. He was also productive in college, posting a 40.8% Dominator Rating and a 30.2% target market share at Oregon State.
Last but not least is the Cardinals, and they’re the hardest team to predict. We can definitely avoid their top guys, but the next tier of players have been in-and-out of the lineup during camp. Andy Isabella is currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list, while KeeSean Johnson and Rico Gafford have also missed time due to COVID. Johnson and Gafford have both returned to practice, but this is the group of receivers I’m the least interested in.
Sorry for the long-winded WR breakdown, but it’s kind of necessary during the preseason. I’ll keep things much briefer at tight end. Ultimately, you should be playing as few tight ends as possible during the preseason. That means no tight ends in the flex and no tight ends in the single-game formats.
You do have to roster one tight end in the classic format, and I think this is the rare situation where it’s OK to play someone at the top of the depth chart. Kyle Pitts might only play for a couple of drives, but he’s essentially a receiver in a tight end’s body. I would gladly play a wide receiver who might only play two drives over a tight end who is going to play a half, especially if that player is as talented as Pitts. He’s a generational prospect at the position, which is why he’s being drafted as a top-five player at the position in redraft leagues before ever playing a snap. I’ll look to differentiate my lineups elsewhere, but Pitts is my guy at tight end.
Pictured above: Kyle Pitts
Credit: Edward M. Pio Roda/Getty Images