NFL PRESEASON DFS STRATEGY AND RESEARCH
The most important data points for the preseason are drastically different from the regular season. While things like matchups, betting market data, and other more advanced metrics are the focal point of regular season DFS research, during the preseason there is one main data point that trumps almost everything else, at least early in the preseason: snap counts.
Snap counts will be projected based on two main factors: coaching tendencies and beat writer reports (this will be a common trend in preseason DFS.) Coaching tendencies from previous years give a solid foundation for conclusions regarding a coach’s approach to each preseason game. For example, some coaches want to see each unit play a bit in their initial preseason bout (see: Dirk Koetter in Tampa Bay), while others prefer to ensure the health of their first team and play them for just a single series (see: Mike McCarthy in Green Bay).
Beat writers for each team will also provide invaluable insight regarding which players are making the most of their opportunities in training camp. These training camp standouts catch the eye of their respective coaches and this can lead to increased playing time along with a more reliable connection with others, boosting their fantasy value dramatically.
During the preseason, the focus should be pointed towards GPPs. Nothing is guaranteed in the preseason, as with sports in general, but the NFL preseason is a time for evaluation. The final score is far from the top of a coach’s list of priorities, which leads to inconsistent playing time for players and vague guidelines for how much each unit and player will play. Due to the inconsistencies in playing time, the inability to accurately project full-game matchups, and a lack of solid information available, the risk associated with NFL preseason DFS is high enough to warrant a GPP focus rather than a cash-game focus.
BREAKING DOWN THE SLATE (6 GAMES)
- Houston Texans @ Los Angeles Rams
- Tennessee Titans @ Pittsburgh Steelers
- San Francisco 49ers @ Indianapolis Colts
- Atlanta Falcons @ Jacksonville Jaguars
- Baltimore Ravens @ Miami Dolphins
- New Orleans Saints @ Los Angeles Chargers
Deshaun Watson- Recovering from a torn ACL after just a few stellar games in his rookie season, Deshaun Watson and the Texans’ starters are headed into their final tune-up before the games start to matter. Coach Bill O’Brien has not yet disclosed playing time expectations for the team (the article will be updated if/when he does so), but he did say this game is “important” and he will use every available and healthy player in the game. Sean McVay, the head coach for the opposing Los Angeles Rams, has been incredibly cautious with playing time for his starters throughout the preseason. Todd Gurley and other offensive starters are already missing this game, and it would not come as a surprise to see the bulk of their defensive stars miss this game as well. Watson, because of this, will likely see extensive playing time against the Rams’ second team. In the battle of Deshaun Watson vs. the Los Angeles Rams’ second-string defense, advantage: Watson.
Sean Mannion- Head coach Sean McVay was asked this week if he was 100 percent certain that Jared Goff is going to play in the third preseason game, and he said, simply, “No. No.” The uncertainty surrounding Goff’s availability also speaks to how much he will likely play if he plays at all. The Rams have been one of the most cautious teams in the NFL regarding using their starters this preseason, and if Goff sees the field at all, it likely will not be for long. Sean Mannion is number two on the Rams’ depth chart this season, and in Goff’s absence this preseason he has seen the bulk of the action. Mannion is slated to see about one half of work in the third preseason game and if Goff does not play at all, possibly more. In the preseason, snaps trump everything in the evaluation of players for DFS purposes, and Sean Mannion provides one of the highest projected snap counts on the entire slate.
John Kelly - John Kelly, the Rams’ sixth-round pick in the 2018 NFL draft, has burst onto the scene this preseason by earning 13 and 18 carries through the first two preseason games, respectively. Todd Gurley will not be playing in their third preseason game against the Houston Texans for precautionary reasons, meaning more snaps for Kelly. However, due to Kelly’s rare combination of consistency and production this preseason, he will likely be one of the most rostered running backs on the entire slate. Kelly may trend a bit more towards a cash-game play, rather than a GPP play because of the comparatively high floor he offers, along with how highly rostered he will likely be.
Melvin Gordon III - Melvin Gordon III saw 33 percent of offensive snaps for the Los Angeles Chargers in their second preseason game, which is relatively high for a starter of his caliber, and he is likely to see even more playing time in the third game. In a recent press conference, Anthony Lynn said Gordon the starters should play about one half of football this weekend. Last week, Gordon was given 10 carries (1 of which found the end zone) and targeted two times. He was either given the football or targeted on over 50 percent of his snaps, in Week 2 of the preseason. In Week 3, his final preseason game before the regular season starts, his snap count is projected to increase significantly, but his touch-rate should hover around the 50 percent number he registered last week.
Leonard Fournette - Leonard Fournette is undoubtedly Jacksonville’s bell-cow running back. Over the course of his rookie year, he dominated the depth chart with over 150 more carries than their number two running back (Chris Ivory, no longer on the roster.) Jaguars beat writer Mike Kaye said that he expects the Jag’s starters to play about a half, maybe a bit longer. Coach Doug Marrone also said that he wants to play the starters quite a bit in the third preseason game, as that is his “philosophy”, as he put it. Fournette’s usage on the ground in this offense was one of the highest amongst running backs in the NFL, and in extensive playing time during the third preseason game, his usage numbers should look very similar to what they did throughout last season. Two full quarters of action for one of the highest volume running backs in the NFL makes Fournette one of the top running back options on the slate.
Albert Wilson - Albert Wilson came to South Beach on a three-year, $24 million contract, which is substantially more than anticipated, considering his prior production. The Dolphins, however, did not sign him for what he has done, but rather what they believe he will do. In last week’s preseason matchup with Carolina, Wilson played out wide in his natural position, rather than in the slot where many assume he should play, given his stature. While playing on the outside, Wilson was targeted a whopping seven times, hauling in 5 catches for 39 yards. A big reason for this high usage rate is DeVante Parker’s absence, as he deals with a broken finger. Parker will once again be inactive in the Dolphin’s third preseason game, giving Wilson another opportunity to be one of the most targeted wide receivers on the day.
James Washington - The training camp standout out of Oklahoma State has not disappointed thus far in the preseason. James Washington has contributed to the Steelers’ offense with highlight-reel catches all over the field. Antonio Brown is technically questionable for this game, but in the preseason there is little need to rush him into action. The starters will play in this game, but how much has not yet been determined or announced. Regardless of the starters’ playing time in this matchup, a rookie like James Washington will likely see extensive playing time. Washington comes out of a system in college that typically has not translated directly to the pros immediately, with the exception of Dez Bryant. If Washington hopes to follow in JuJu Smith-Schuster’s footsteps this season and contribute as a rookie, he will need to make the most of every rep he gets against a live defense. Saturday against the Titans will likely be his last chance before the start of the regular season.
Marquise Goodwin - As stated in the intro, preseason NFL DFS is tailored more towards GPP play, rather than cash games. There may be no better GPP play on any slate than Marquise Goodwin. The speedster for San Francisco is one of the top deep threats in the NFL and just last week, he caught a 40-yard pass on the opening drive. However, Goodwin is coming into this year looking to be much more than just a deep threat. Marquise Goodwin, Jimmy Garoppolo, and the rest of the 49ers starters will likely approach, if not exceed, one full half of action in Week 3 of the preseason, and this will be Goodwin’s first lengthy chance to establish himself as a well-rounded starting NFL wide receiver.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins - Austin Seferian-Jenkins came out of the University of Washington in 2014 with sky-high expectations. He even drew comparisons to one of the greatest tight ends of all time, Tony Gonzalez. While Seferian-Jenkins has never lived up to those expectations for a variety of reasons, Jaguars beat writers have raved about his connection with Blake Bortles throughout his first preseason with the team. He has not been able to produce in live preseason action thus far, as his playing time was limited to just 19 percent of offensive snaps in Week 1 and he was inactive due to a minor injury in Week 2. Week 3, however, when the starters are expected to play approximately one full half of the game, is Seferian-Jenkins’ time to shine and carry his practice production over to the dress rehearsal.