Preseason football is here, and so is DFS! If you are itching for some action, DraftKings is pushing. Scratch that itch at your own peril, though—the preseason is treacherous.
There are no salary issues here. Everyone is listed at $5,500, which makes sense considering there is no way to tell how much or even if certain players are going to play. We don’t have much help from Vegas, which doesn’t think much of the scoring in Week 1 of the preseason. Our main weapons are camp news reports, the knowledge that starters won’t play much this week, and intuition. Playing time is your ally—though it guarantees nothing, as we saw with Landry Jones last weekend—but we can only provide reasonable approximations.
Now, where does that lead us? Let’s take a look at some of the best plays this week, as I see them. Start them at your own risk.
Johnny Manziel, CLE vs. WAS
The Battle Royale begins in Cleveland as Johnny Manziel seeks to usurp the starting job. That shouldn’t be too difficult considering Josh McCown isn’t exactly Brett Favre—yes, I mean present-day, 50-year-old Favre, who is still probably better—but fortune favors those who play Manziel.
That’s because Johnny Football is second on the depth chart, indicating he’ll get plenty of run with the second team after the starters exit. It’s a reasonable assumption we’ll see him run around for two-plus quarters of fantasy goodness.
Jimmy Garoppolo, NE vs. GB
In all seriousness, we weren’t going to see much of him anyway, but his absence will open the door for an extra series or two for current Week 1 starter Jimmy Garoppolo. What’s more is that the Patriots released Matt Flynn, replacing him with Ryan Lindley this week. Perhaps the latter will get a few series, but it’s likely we’ll get plenty of Garoppolo this week.
Bryce Petty, NYJ @ DET
Geno Smith got himself knocked out of action for the next couple of months, leaving the New York Jets a bit thin at the quarterback position. Given Ryan Fitzpatrick is the de facto starter, we aren’t likely to see him on the field much this week. We could see Bryce Petty on the field for an extended period of time—possibly three quarters.
Damien Williams, MIA @ CHI
Lamar Miller is clearly the starter in Miami, but there is a bit of a logjam behind him for the No. 2 spot. Damien Williams currently sits atop that logjam—figuring to be the third-down back—but Lamichael James is giving him a run for his money.
Both should get some good run with rookie Jay Ajayi sidelined, but Williams has shown more than James thus far in their careers. Williams, in particular, was a preseason standout a year ago, and he should be motivated to hold off the competition for a significant role this year.
Gus Johnson, DAL @ SD
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before—Darren McFadden is injured. So is white hot fantasy commodity Joseph Randle along with pass-catching sleeper Lance Dunbar. With Ryan Williams recently released, that leaves Gus Johnson and Lache Seastrunk standing in the Cowboys backfield for this week’s tilt against the San Diego Chargers.
Considering Johnson has gotten reps with the first team over the past week, it’s a good bet he will see the bulk of the playing time.
Javorious Allen or Lorenzo Taliaferro, BAL vs. NO
Both are pretty good options this week, but Allen could get a few more touches by virtue of his rookie status. Knowing what we saw from the Ravens a year ago, both could get into double digits, so it would be a matter of talent and a bit of good fortune.
James White, NE vs. GB
LeGarrette Blount is nursing an injury, and the Patriots have some decisions to make at running back. This is a true dart because we never know who Bill Belichick will ride, but—seeing as how White needs to prove himself on the field—he is as interesting a dart as any at the position.
Of course this means Tony Creecy or somesuch player will go off.
Joseph Morgan, WR, NO @ BAL
Few players have piqued more preseason interest than Joseph Morgan of the Saints in recent years. The speedy wideout has made some explosive plays, leading us to believe he might be a fantasy factor. Alas, health has not been his ally.
Morgan has plenty of competition to contend with, but he is the kind of dart you want to throw in this situation—a GPP prayer who is capable from scoring from anywhere on the field.
Josh Lenz, CLE vs. WAS
Too bad Terrelle Pryor will miss this week’s game, though he might have had the highest ownership percentage at receiver.
Last year we saw Taylor Gabriel become a preseason darling in Cleveland as an undrafted rookie. This year, Josh Lenz could take his place. More important here is the fact he has drawn praise during training camp, including a reported “connection” with Johnny Manziel. Perhaps a stack is in order?
Jeff Janis, GB vs. NE
The saint of metrics scouts has something to prove in Green Bay.
Jeff Janis has reportedly been unimpressive thus far in camp, threatening his very existence on the Packers roster. Chances are the staff will try to get him on the field as much as possible after the starters have gone out of the game.
Rishard Matthews, MIA @ CHI
The Dolphins made over the wide receiver position in a big way this offseason, to the point of angering incumbent fifth receiver Rishard Matthews. He has since calmed down a bit as he tries to make the team.
With rookie DeVante Parker recovering from foot surgery and Kenny Stills hampered with injury, Matthews is going to get a starting nod alongside Greg Jennings. Even better than getting a target or three from Ryan Tannehill is the likelihood Matthews will see extended playing time as he tries to make the team.
Marquess Wilson, CHI vs. MIA
The third-year wideout has reportedly been on the outs in Chicago this offseason, something he should look to rectify during the preseason. Worse, though, is the scathing review of the receiver corps behind the starters from camp.
With Alshon Jeffery and Eddie Royal likely sitting out early, Wilson should see plenty of time on the field. He'll give way to the waiver wire fodder in the second half, but Wilson has a ton of upside and motivation heading into the first game of the preseason.
Rob Housler, CLE vs. WAS
Gary Barnridge looks like the leader in the clubhouse to start, especially when compared to Housler and the dropsies. The athletic tight end has had issues catching the ball at camp—you know, that thing you need to be able to do as a pass-catching tight end—and his coaches have taken note.
At least Mike Pettine mentioned him getting the ball thrown to him during the preseason games. Hopefully he can catch those targets.
Maxx Williams, BAL vs. NO
The tight end competition is no competition, at least from what we’ve heard out of Baltimore. Crockett Gilmore is the starter, hands down, stiff-arming second-round rookie Maxx Williams out of a starting gig in the process. We’ve seen this before—Tyler Eifert, anyone?—so this shouldn’t be a huge surprise. What this does do from a preseason standpoint is give the Ravens license to keep their rookie on the field plenty to learn the ropes. We could see some fireworks from Williams a la touchdown-scoring Mycole Pruitt last week for the Minnesota Vikings.
James Hanna, DAL @ SD
Gavin Escobar is the heir apparent to Jason Witten’s throne in Dallas, and both should see limited playing time this week. That leaves James Hanna trying to fend off Geoff Swaim for a spot on the roster. We could see decent playing time for both, but Hanna is a better pass-catching option who could sneak into the end zone if the script is right.
Ladarius Green, SD vs. DAL
Ladarius Green is one of those players liable to fire up his own hype machine with a big preseason performance or two. The athletic tight end has generated some interest in the wake of Antonio Gates’ suspension, but he could see an extended run early in the preseason to get coaches a better look. After all, they hardly played him last year.