2018 NFL Preseason: What We Learned After Week 1 Games
Howard Bender takes a look at Thursday's NFL preseason action and what fantasy football owners should take away after watching the games.
As you continue to dig in to your fantasy football draft prep, you’re going to hear a number of pundits tell you the preseason doesn’t matter. Simply put, that’s garbage and it’s the lazy man’s analysis. Ignoring the hype-train and refusing to buy into a bunch of beat-writer homerism is one thing, but when they tell you they don’t even watch the preseason games, they’re not doing their job. There is plenty to learn here and we’re ready to dive in.
If you’ve read through the articles and watched the videos in the Fantasy Alarm Draft Guide, then you are already ahead of the game because you know what to look for. The whole crew has done a tremendous job keeping you up to date on everything you will need to have a successful draft. Brandon Marianne Lee is highlighting a number of questions about key players in her video profiles, Dom Murtha has given you everything you need to know about the rookies, Dan Malin has focused on the offensive lines and if you haven’t read my piece which analyzes the coaching systems of all 32 NFL teams, you’re doing it wrong. Reading and watching all of that immediately puts you in a great place to watch the preseason games and get the final answers to those questions you probably have heading into your war room.
Here is what we learned after Thursday night’s action:
Carolina Panthers 28 Buffalo Bills 23
New Panthers OC Norv Turner wants to test Christian McCaffrey in short-yardage situations. The last thing you want is for the defense to know exactly what you’re doing based on the personnel on the field. No one would have been surprised to see C.J. Anderson come in and run it up the gut on 1st-and-goal at the two, but having McCaffrey in there forced the defense to respect the pass.
Cam Newton is certainly eager to get things going this season and seems comfortable with Turner’s desire to make him a more efficient passer. He’ll get his shots downfield, but steadily moving the chains is what Turner and head coach Ron Rivera want to see.
Devin Funchess and Greg Olson are obvious locks, but the slot and Z-receiver spots are up for grabs. Torrey Smith was signed, but Turner wants to get a long look at what he has in a versatile Curtis Samuel and an undersized D.J. Moore . Both looked good in their debuts but there’s still a long way to go.
Josh Allen had some nice flashes, but is still not ready to lead an NFL offense into battle. His time could come later in the season, but the battle between AJ McCarron and Nathan Peterman started last night. Both worked efficiently and looked good to start, but you just can’t shake the feeling of the Bills really wanting their investment in McCarron to pay off. Every time Peterman throws an interception, his fault or not, we are reminded of what the nightmare could look like.
Similar to Carolina, both Kelvin Benjamin and Charles Clay are locks. Everyone else is auditioning, not just for a starter’s job, but to just make it onto the 53-man roster. Ray-Ray McCloud III and Marcus Murphy had their moments in the sun during the first week of the preseason, but there are several others capable of out-shining them.
Cincinnati Bengals 30 Chicago Bears 27
Bill Lazor’s first full year as the Bengals OC is off to a rousing start as he got plenty out of his players, starting with Andy Dalton . The pick-6 wasn’t exactly his fault as John Ross slipped and fell down on the play and he looked very comfortable for the majority of time he spent on the field. Just remember this is still Andy Dalton we’re talking about.
The rebuilt offensive line looked good in early action and it showed with Joe Mixon on the field. If they can stay healthy, this line should move up the rankings as the year progresses.
Matt Nagy and Mitchell Trubisky have a long way to go. They had eight plays to work with and the results were meh. Expect the two to huddle up and spend a lot of time together over the next several weeks as the two of them look to get everyone on the first-team offense on the same page.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26 Miami Dolphins 24
All eyes are on the backfield as reports of Ronald Jones struggling in pass-protection have people nervous and then we saw Peyton Barber get the carries in the opening series. Is this a preview of what we expect in Week 1 with Barber in the backfield and Ryan Fitzpatrick under center? What about when Jameis Winston entered the game and Jones was his lead back? Both backs found the endzone and neither back really separated himself just yet. If the Bucs start putting Jones in during more pass-friendly plays, you know they’re testing and trying to improve their new toy. For now, let’s call it a committee.
The Bucs are definitely auditioning for that fourth wideout as several players saw targets. The Mike Evans , Chris Godwin , DeSean Jackson will be the way things start off this season, but Sergio Bailey and the diminutive Bobo Wilson are stating their cases for more 4-WR sets.
CB Vernon Hargreaves left with a groin injury. No word yet on the severity of it, but preseason injuries always need a look, especially when they involve starters.
If the season actually started today, Chandler Catanzaro would be the first kicker to lose his job. A missed 53-yard field goal attempt is one thing, but an extra-point? Come on.
The Miami offensive line looked good in its debut as Ryan Tannehill had plenty of time to look downfield and throw. Protection is always a key, so this is certainly a nice way to start. It helped Tannehill look strong during his appearance and both Kenyan Drake and Kalen Ballage ran with some success behind them. Ballage’s fumble to start the second quarter was a bummer, but rookie mistakes happen. Maybe next time he tries to plow through instead of hurdle. It had nothing to do with the play of the offensive line though.
Cleveland Browns 20 New York Giants 10
New OC Todd Haley is already starting to imprint on this offense as both Tyrod Taylor and Baker Mayfield were looking extremely comfortable early on. Both ran the offense efficiently and both hit TE David Njoku for touchdowns. Mayfield also had a nice, late shot to Antonio Callaway who was playing despite all that happened to him during the week.
Njoku, by the way, put a quick end to the dropped passes everyone was talking about in camp. Consider him a strong late-round target.
Nick Chubb had a mediocre start as he amassed just 11 yards on 15 carries. Not all of it was his fault, though, as the back-up line struggled and he took a few extra hits behind the line of scrimmage. He did break a few tackles at times, so we’re getting a good look at what he could do against tougher run defenses.
Not a ton of first-team work here, so it’s difficult to judge the impact of a new offense based on what we saw. We were, however, very encouraged by Saquon Barkley ’s early explosiveness. His 39-yard run to kick things off had Big Blue’s fan on their feet in an instant.
Pittsburgh Steelers 31 Philadelphia Eagles 14
Not much concern here as we know what the first-team looks like. The back-up QB job is the interesting thing to watch as incumbent Landry Jones looked decent in comparison to Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs . Rudolph took a pair of sacks and struggled with ball security again (something he’s had an issue with in camp) so expect head coach Mike Tomlin to make that a major point when practice resumes.
How the backfield behind Le’Veon Bell shapes up is definitely something to watch. Fitzgerald Toussaint and James Conner saw some work, Stevan Ridley made a case for himself and Jaylen Samuels showed he is still learning the running back position. This will bea position battle to watch for the next several weeks.
It was all back-ups for the most part, so the only eye-catching thing in this game was back-up tight end Dallas Goedert who caught four of his five targets, including a 15-yard touchdown. Many are wondering if he could poach some work from Zach Ertz the way Trey Burton did in the latter half of the season last year, but even if he did, it wouldn’t be enough to trust in fantasy without some major injury in front of him.
New Orleans Saints 24 Jacksonville Jaguars 20
This was all about the back-up quarterbacks as none of the starters spent significant time on the field nor are any of their jobs really in jeopardy. Tom Savage and Taysom Hill will go back and forth for the next few weeks as neither really separated himself from the other.
Keeping tabs on Tre’Quan Smith is definitely recommended. Michael Thomas leads the way and Ted Ginn does a good job of stretching the field, but Cameron Meredith is still recovering from his knee injury, the team cut Brandon Coleman and they are in need of a fresh set of hands. Smith certainly looked the part, hauling in four of his five targets for 48 yards.
Cody Kessler looked like he was a decent choice to replace Chad Henne as the back-up QB and Doug Marrone just wants to see him play mistake-free football. He should be able to handle that in this offense.
We should enjoy the WR2/WR3 position battle throughout the preseason as Keelan Cole , Dede Westbrook , Donte Moncrief and D.J. Chark all try to gain an advantage over the other. No one separated themselves from the pack just yet, but Chark makes for a very interesting watch.
New England Patriots 26 Washington Redskins 17
With no starters to really watch, the biggest takeaway from this game was that Jeremy Hill and Mike Gillislee are definitely in a battle for the short-yardage back. Things are tilting in Hill’s favor right now and he was a bit more impressive than Gillislee, but we expect this battle to go a few more rounds.
Safety first, right? So when Derrius Guice left with an apparent knee injury, people got nervous. He was seen on the sidelines with ice bags wrapped around his left knee, but he was spotted walking around and joking with teammates later in the game. He’ll go for an MRI on Friday to ensure there is not lingering effect, but just keep in mind that it was the left knee Guice had issues with back in college. UPDATE: MRI is still pending, but they are calling it a MCL sprain.
The second and third-team defense stink and have a long way to go. Good thing they’re just the back-ups.
Baltimore Ravens 33 Los Angeles Rams 7
Nothing much out of the starters in this game, but all eyes continue to be glued to Lamar Jackson who, again, made a strong case to be the No. 2 behind Joe Flacco . He led the team on three drives that resulted in field goals and one in which he juked his way to a nine-yard touchdown. Robert Griffin has looked good thus far, but Jackson is the Ravens new baby and will always get the longer look.
Seriously, nothing to see here. No Todd Gurley and no Jared Goff . Head coach Sean McVay hates tipping his hand so when eyes are watching in preseason games, he’s playing everything pretty close to the vest. Rookie John Kelly made a nice case for himself as the potential No. 3 RB with a late 40-yard run.
Houston Texans 17 Kansas City Chiefs 10
Head Coach Bill O’Brien has a good idea of what his team will look like when Week 1 rolls around so he’s all about minimal game work for his starters. We did get a quick look at Deshaun Watson who played one series, threw one pass, but, most importantly, looked healthy when he came off the field. Everything else was pretty quiet which, again, is a good thing. Even the offensive line held its own.
Andy Reid is the king of sitting starters in the preseason but he did give Patrick Mahomes and Kareem Hunt a little work to open things up. Neither did anything dazzling, but Mahomes did throw seven passes without an interception.
We do need to keep a Target-Watch for Sammy Watkins as everyone wants to know if he’ll ever turn out to be a fantasy asset again. So far, the preseason count is at zero.
Green Bay Packers 31 Tennessee Titans 17
There was no Aaron Rodgers and the starters saw limited work. Nothing crazy to report, but Davante Adams did have a pretty sweet 48-yard catch which is always nice to see as an analyst who decided to hang his hat on Adams’ impending breakout campaign. It will probably be the only time we praise Brett Hundley , but he did make a real nice throw on this play.
New DC Mike Pettine is keeping his cards close to the vest as we didn’t really see much of the blitzing we expected. He’s got big shoes to fill this season and the defense is going to be highly scrutinized by Mike McCarthy, particularly the secondary.
New OC Matt LaFleur looked like he had a successful debut. Marcus Mariota looked comfortable in the only drive he played, but the offense efficiently marched down the field 71 yards in just eight plays and Mariota hit Darius Jennings in the endzone for a four-yard score.
Indianapolis Colts 19 Seattle Seahawks 17
Obviously, it was all about Andrew Luck who completed six of nine passes for 64 yards. No touchdowns, but two field goals. The biggest thing I was watching was how Luck was responding to getting hit. He got wrapped up by Bobby Wagner once and was sacked by Rasheem Green. He brushed both off and walked off the field a healthy man. More convincing is still needed, but his ADP is going climb even higher now.
Marlon Mack left the game late in the first quarter as he suffered a hamstring injury after four carries and two catches. Updates weren’t available after the game, so keep an eye on updates throughout the day Friday.
Not much happening with the Seahawks as the starters were very limited in the early part of the game. The Seahawks’ offensive line seemed to fare well as the team amassed a total of 87 yards on 22 carries. Chris Carson looked the best out of the group, but we still have a ways to go before this ground game takes shape.
San Francisco 49ers 24 Dallas Cowboys 21
Not much work from the starters and rightfully so as the team watched TE George Kittle (shoulder), RB Matt Breida (shoulder), LB Malcolm Smith (hamstring), DL Solomon Thomas (head) and T Garry Gilliam all leave with injuries. Head coach Kyle Shanahan opted to pull the first-team quickly in the wake of it all.
More back-ups than starters here as well, but the rapport between Dak Prescott and rookie WR Michael Gallup continues to improve as they connected on a sweet, 30-yard touchdown that had Jim Bowden flipping out and blowing up my texts.
Everyone wants to know if Rod Smith is the handcuff for Ezekiel Elliott ? Nope. Looks like Bo Scarbrough will be the guy as Smith stays in the third-down, pass-catching role. Scarbrough racked up 33 yards and a score on nine carries.