Editor’s note: Thursday’s analysis has been moved to the bottom of this article to prioritize Ian Hartitz’s picks for Friday’s and Saturday’s slates.
Thursday’s 11-game slate in the books, but the NFL preseason keeps rolling on Friday and Saturday with two and three games, respectively.
What follows is an analysis on the optimal daily fantasy strategy and picks for the Preseason Week 1 DraftKings slate.
For Sean Koerner’s complete DFS projections for Week 1 of the preseason, check out our NFL Models.
General Preseason DFS Strategy
Action Network NFL expert Chris Raybon wrote an incredibly helpful and actionable piece titled The Definitive Guide to Crushing Preseason DFS that tackles some of the unique nuances of preseason daily fantasy football.
Some of Raybon’s key takeaways were:
- Fade starters/weekly regulars outside of Week 3.
- Target players who are considered in the running for a spot on the 53, but without much prior tape of live NFL game action.
- Feel free to target undrafted players at running back, wide receiver and/or tight end, but quarterbacks who post top-10 preseason results tend to be drafted more often than not.
- Experience is not a big factor at quarterback. Less experience has also been better at running back and wide receiver. Experience has historically meant the most at tight end.
- Running backs have had a slight edge as flex options, but wide receivers have been similarly productive. The tight end position should generally be avoided in the FLEX and faded completely in one-game contests.
- Target teams with only one kicker on the roster and don’t hesitate to use a kicker or D/ST in the 1.5x spot in one-game contests.
- Limit quarterback stacks to one pass catcher on large slates.
- Stack DSTs with running backs or wide receivers vying for return jobs.
- Don’t overrate Vegas odds.
- Be aware of preseason coaching tendencies.
- Local team beat reports are key.
- Preseason lends itself to tournaments.
As you’ve probably realized by now: Evaluating opportunity is more important than ever compared to discerning talent gaps when it comes to preseason DFS.
Friday and Saturday Slate Breakdowns
The following players are my top picks for Friday and Saturday slates. We’ll run through important injuries to note shortly after.
- Blake Bortles, Rams
- Taysom Hill, Saints
- Mike Weber, Cowboys
- Austin Walter, 49ers
- John Kelly, Rams
- Trayveon Williams, Bengals
- Benny Snell, Steelers
- Cedric Wilson, Cowboys
- Jalen Hurd, 49ers
- Mecole Hardman, Chiefs
- Auden Tate, Bengals
- Tre’Quan Smith, Saints
- Irv Smith Jr., Vikings
- Rams at Raiders has the lowest total at 34.5
Preseason Week 1 Workload and Injury Notes
Teams aren’t required to submit official practice and injury reports during the preseason, so following beat writers and listening to coaches is one of the best ways to figure out who is going to receive the most playing time.
Some of the biggest takeaways thus far include:
- Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray is expected to play roughly one series Thursday night.
- Atlanta Falcons: Matt Ryan and the starters could get a series vs. the Dolphins.
- Carolina Panthers: Cam Newton and Luke Kuechly won’t play Thursday night.
- Chicago Bears: Both kickers will kick vs. the Panthers, but don’t expect to see hardly any key starters throughout the preseason.
- Denver Broncos: Joe Flacco and most of the starting offensive line will play Thursday.
- Green Bay Packers: Aaron Rodgers is tentatively expected to rest Thursday.
- Indianapolis Colts: Andrew Luck (calf) is out, so Jacoby Brissett will get the start and play for about a quarter.
- Los Angeles Chargers: Don’t expect Philip Rivers (rest) to play.
- San Francisco 49ers: Jimmy Garoppolo won’t suit up Thursday night, but he’ll play in Weeks 2 and 3.
- Washington Redskins: Expect running back Derrius Guice to be limited throughout the preseason.
The following dashboard features injuries and notes for players across the league. It’ll be updating this until game time, but note that teams aren’t required to provide final designations prior to kickoff so nothing is official.
Everyone costs $5,500 on DraftKings this week, so there’s no need to concern ourselves with any pricing discrepancies.
Thursday DFS Slate Breakdown
We’re going to trim our player group down to backup dual-threat signal callers on depth charts that feature only three quarterbacks. This includes the Falcons, Bills, Bears, Lions, Texans, Dolphins, Seahawks and Titans. The Ravens, Colts, Chargers and Packers are also expected to only feature three quarterbacks with each of Robert Griffin III (finger), Andrew Luck (calf), Philip Rivers (rest) and Aaron Rodgers (rest) unlikely to suit up. The Patriots are a bit of a wild card considering Danny Etling has been playing both quarterback and wide receiver during training camp.
The following quarterbacks are my favorite plays on the board this week.
Tyree Jackson, Buffalo Bills
The Bills used the No. 7 overall pick of the 2018 draft to select an athletically-gifted gunslinger, but they managed to get Jackson for free in 2019. The undrafted free agent stands 6-foot-7 and weighs 249 pounds, yet still boasts a 4.59-second 40-yard dash and elite athleticism for the quarterback position (92nd-percentile SPARQ-x athlete).
Jackson wasn’t all that accurate (55.8% completion rate) or efficient (7.3 yards per attempt) in 32 career games at the University of Buffalo. Still, his 757 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns on the ground during that stretch are the signs of a fantasy-friendly quarterback. Jackson also doesn’t have a history of shying away from taking downfield shots.
Tyree Jackson …
6’7″ 249 lbs
4.59-second 40-yard dash
92nd-percentile SPARQ-x athlete
Three-QB depth chart behind only Matt Barkley and Josh Allen
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) August 6, 2019
The only other quarterbacks expected to receive snaps on Thursday night are Josh Allen and career journeyman Matt Barkley. Jackson has the ideal skill-set to rack up fantasy points in a hurry and the potential to receive more than a quarter’s worth of snaps.
Trace McSorley, Baltimore Ravens
Lamar Jackson doesn’t figure to get a ton of reps on Thursday in an effort to preserve his health, while Robert Griffin III (thumb) is unlikely to take any snaps under center. That leaves journeyman Joe Callahan and sixth-round pick Trace McSorley as the team’s only remaining quarterbacks.
McSorley is incredibly intriguing thanks to his dual-threat talents that make him an ideal backup for Jackson. McSorley might not boast the same top-end speed as Jackson, but he did manage to rush for 1,697 yards and 30 touchdowns on the ground in 46 career games at Penn State.
McSorley isn’t the same type of overwhelming athlete as our first preseason fantasy option, but there’s plenty of speed (4.57-second 40-yard dash) and athleticism (89th-percentile SPARQ-x athlete) to be intrigued by the possibilities of an extended home audition on an offense that doesn’t lack young and speedy play-makers on the perimeter.
Chad Kelly, Indianapolis Colts
‘Swag’ Kelly strung together the type of performances last preseason with the Broncos that should make everyone excited to see what he can do this season inside of a more talented Colts’ offense.
Chad Kelly’s 2018 Preseason Performances
- Week 1: 14-of-21 (66.7%), 177 yards (8.4 Y/A), 2 touchdowns, 1 interception
- Week 2: 7-of-9 (78%), 90 yards (10 Y/A), 1 touchdown, 0 interception
- Week 3: 7-of-11 (64%), 73 yards (6.6 Y/A), 0 touchdowns, 0 interception
- Week 4: 12-of-19 (63%), 126 yards (6.6 Y/A), 0 touchdowns, 1 interception
Helping matters for improved performance in 2019 is the fact that Kelly is yet to tap into his rushing upside, as the 2017 Mr. Irrelevant racked up 841 yards and 15 touchdowns rushing in his last 22 games at Mississippi.
Kelly finds himself on a three-quarterback depth chart due to Luck’s injury. Beat writers estimate that Kelly and Phillip Walker will play most of the final three quarters of the game, which should be plenty of time for ‘Swag’ to take plenty of chances downfield in an effort to get his career back on track.
More QBs to Consider:
- Joe Webb, Texans
- Geno Smith, Seahawks
- Manny Wilkins, Packers
Our search for preseason fantasy football stars at the running back position will involve identifying players with…
- Three-down size
- Receiving ability
- A fairly barren depth chart
The following running backs especially stick out as potential workhorses come Thursday night.
Damarea Crockett, Houston Texans
The Texans curiously parted ways with backup running back D’Onta Foreman this week, leaving them with a few proven players behind incumbent starter Lamar Miller.
Journeymen Taiwan Jones and Josh Ferguson don’t figure to make all that much noise as early-down options, leaving us with two potential preseason bell-cow backs on the Texans.
- Crockett possesses an elite combination of size (5-foot-10 and 225 pounds) and speed (80th-percentile Speed Score) that helped him average a sturdy six yards per touch in three seasons at Missouri. He’s earned plenty of praise during training camp as both a rusher and receiver and should be considered the front-runner in this position battle.
- Buddy Howell is the potential wild card in the Houston backfield, as he possesses enough size (6-foot and 219 pounds) to feasibly win the early-down preseason job. Still, Howell is far less athletic and possesses even less proven receiving ability than Crockett.
Ty Johnson, Detroit Lions
The Lions also made some recent subtractions in their backfield, releasing longtime scat back Theo Riddick. This leaves them with stud starter Kerryon Johnson, newly-signed early-down back C.J. Anderson as well as longtime backup Zach Zenner. The two mysteries in the Detroit backfield are Johnson and Mark Thompson, who managed to rack up 146 rushing yards and another 10 receptions for 76 yards through the airs with the Ravens in the 2018 preseason.
Johnson is the back to target in this situation thanks to his combination of size (5-foot-11 and 210 pounds), speed (4.45-second 40-yard dash) and enhanced opportunity for additional touches as both a receiver and kick returner. He averaged an absurd 7.6 yards per carry during his four years at Maryland and offers fantasy-friendly home-run ability.
Dontrell Hilliard, Cleveland Browns
The Browns are all kinds of banged up at the running back position, as each of Kareem Hunt (groin) and Duke Johnson (hamstring) have missed most of training camp to this point. Even backup Trayone Gray (calf) shouldn’t be considered 100%.
Enter Hilliard, who has earned great reviews from reporters dating back to OTAs. His only real threat to touches on Thursday is former AAF-champion D’Ernest Johnson, but the Browns proved more than willing to feed Hilliard last preseason to the tune of 20 touches in Week 4.
Hilliard offers more special teams versatility than Johnson and has even spent time working with the wide receivers during the offseason after posting a 9-105-0 receiving line in limited regular season work in 2018. It makes all the sense in the world for the Browns to figure out exactly what they have in Hilliard, particularly in a situation where they don’t have many healthy bodies at the running back position.
More RBs to Consider:
- Darrin Hall, Packers
- Reggie Bonnafon, Panthers
- Bo Scarbrough, Seahawks
- Nick Brossette, Patriots
- Rod Smith, Giants
Touches are even more scarce at the wide receiver position. Every team has at least 10 wide receivers on their depth chart at the moment, so expect to see low individual target shares around the league.
We can focus on drafting straight up ballers with this in mind, or at least players that have managed to stand out from their competition to this point in training camp. If our players are only going to get a handful of targets at most, we might as well make sure the receivers have the ability to make big plays with their limited opportunities.
JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have the looks of a great offense entering 2019 after adding additional weapons on the outside. DeSean Jackson might make the biggest difference, but don’t sleep on the early impact of second-round pick Arcega-Whiteside.
The former Stanford Cardinals is a handful for any cornerback to cover in the red zone thanks to his solid size (6-foot-2 and 225 pounds) and ridiculous arm length (87th-percentile among all wide receivers).
( (> Arcega-Whiteside
<) )> Preseason WR1
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) August 6, 2019
Expect JAWS to get plenty of work in the preseason sooner rather than later, as the Eagles are dealing with multiple injuries in their wide receiver room to Shelton Gibson (ankle) and Mack Hollins (hip).
Jakobi Meyers, New England Patriots
The hottest name out of Patriots’ training camp hasn’t been first-round pick N’Keal Harry, as their undrafted free agent out of NC State has stolen the show. Bill Belichick actually had nice things to say when asked about Meyers, noting “he’s a smart kid and learns well.”
Meyers is already earning training camp reps with the starters. His status as one of Tom Brady’s favorite receivers could help him earn snaps from the first quarter on Thursday, which is good news for a player who managed to post a 155-1,774-9 receiving line during his final 24 collegiate games.
Deon Cain, Indianapolis Colts
The Colts were extremely high on Cain entering last season, but the 2018 sixth-round pick suffered a torn ACL during training camp and never played a regular-season snap.
Colts HC Frank Reich confirmed WR Deon Cain will suit up Thursday night.
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) August 6, 2019
Head coach Frank Reich has already confirmed that Cain will suit up and play on Thursday. He’s a natural stacking partner with ‘Swag’ Kelly and offers plenty of big-play ability: Cain caught 20 touchdowns and averaged 15.7 yards per reception in 40 career games at Clemson.
More WRs to Consider:
- Keesean Johnson, Cardinals
- DJ Chark, Jaguars
- Gary Jennings, Seahawks
- Geremy Davis, Chargers
- Preston Williams, Dolphins
- Terry McLaurin, Redskins
Remember to fade the tight end position in the flex spot.
The following tight ends are athletic pass-catching types on shallow depth charts:
- Mo Alie-Cox, Indianapolis Colts: Alie-Cox has earned plenty of hype from Colts reporters during the offseason. The former college basketball player managed to catch 7-of-13 targets for 133 yards and two touchdowns during the 2018 regular season.
- Donald Parham, Washington Redskins: NFL.com draft expert Lance Zierlein described Parham as an “unusually tall, mismatch slot with soft hands and intriguing athletic ability who comes from an extended family of football players.”
The following matchups have the smallest game totals (per our Live NFL Odds page):
- Jets at Giants (33)
- Colts at Bills (34.5)
- Redskins at Browns (35)
- Jaguars at Ravens (32.5)
I’m inclined to load up my exposure with the Ravens thanks to their sterling history of success in the preseason and cozy matchup against a Jaguars offense that features few proven commodities under center aside from starter Nick Foles.