The 2023 preseason is now in the books, with the regular season just round the corner. Preseason is often full of narrative, with snaps being split between backups and players trying to make the roster as well as some connections forming between starters.
Rookies carving out significant roles
Tyjae Spears (RB, TEN)
Spears continues to dominate. Technically he’s not carving out a large role straight away. The King is still alive and well and Derrick Henry is in for another mammoth season. What the Titans must have loved though is their third-round pick leading preseason in yards after contact per attempt with 4.73. Apparently having no ACL is not stopping Spears anytime soon. He could easily be worked into this offense in its current state. It lacks depth throughout, and then if Henry were to miss any time then Spears has top-12 upside in any given week.
Marvin Mims (WR, DEN)
Mims looks set to join Courtland Sutton in two wide receiver sets now. The injury to Jerry Jeudy has put his status in question for the first few weeks of the season. Mims has shown the explosive threat he carried from college where he ranks first out of this rookie class in yards per target with 13.2. Another beautiful 50-yard deep completion this week for the number-one pick of the Sean Payton era.
Michael Wilson (WR, ARI)
Another rookie wide receiver who’s left preseason with a starting role is Arizona Cardinals third-round pick Michael Wilson. The team rested their starters in week 3, and that included Wilson. The rookie looks to have locked down one of the top 2 outside receiver roles. Even in what projects to be a pretty dismal offense, Wilson and veteran Marquise Brown are going to get opportunities. This team is slated to play from behind in a lot of games.
QB Battles & Movement
We got clarity over the QB position for a number of teams with some shocks as well as some with no surprises. Brock Purdy was cemented as the San Francisco 49ers QB1 for the coming season. There was even the direct quote from Kyle Shanahan saying ‘Brock Purdy would have to melt in practice’ to lose the starting role. Purdy remains a value in drafts at QB20 in FantsyPros’ latest ADP. Purdy was the QB9 over the final 6 weeks of the season when he took over and QB11 in PPG.
On the opposite side of the spectrum is now ex-teammate Trey Lance. A player who the 49ers paid 3 x 1st round picks for when selecting him 3rd overall in 2021. Lance was traded to the Dallas Cowboys this week for a 4th round pick, where he’ll backup Dak Prescott. The Cowboys will hope Prescott, a two-time pro bowler and solidified starter for the Cowboys, will be pushed by Trey Lance. But realistically Trey Lance is not likely going to see the field for 2 seasons.
Sam Howell was given the nod ahead of Jacoby Brissett for the Washington Commanders job having performed well in camp and in preseason. Howell fits the Konami code fantasy QB that we all strive to own. Playing under Eric Bieniemy, and with two very good wide receivers in Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson he has nice upside through the air. There is a risk that if results don’t go their way and with head coach Ron Rivera on the hot seat, a quarterback change could easily happen but I’m reaching for the stars on Howell at QB28.
New QB/WR connections building chemistry and look set to hit this season
Aaron Rodgers took his first snaps as a New York Jet with his first pass completed to young star Garrett Wilson, his first TD pass also going to Wilson. This looks exactly what we thought it could be. A dangerous combination and one that has the ability to be up there with the old Rodgers and Davante Adams pairing.
Rookie overall no.1 pick Bryce Young has sometimes looked shaky in the preseason. The adaptation to the demands of the NFL hasn’t gone smoothly. But one thing is for certain, Adam Thielen is his go-to target. Young completed 7 passes from 12 attempted with 4 of them completed to the ex-Minnesota Viking (Thielen). Thielen at 33 years old may not have any yards after the catch anymore. But for PPR formats, he is a steady option who should see a ton of targets this season.
Another stacking option I wish I targeted more in drafts is Justin Fields and DJ Moore. They continued their budding new relationship in week 3 with another impressive catch and run for a 40-yard play. If Fields is to take a step forward in passing yards and TDs then it’s paramount that these two hit it off early and that’s exactly what they’ve done. Excited to see these two throughout the season hit big plays and I’m tipping them both to surpass their current ADP of QB7 and WR20.
Dameon Pierce is a workhorse back once again. Not only did he feature in 83% of starting QB CJ Stroud’s snaps, but he looked like the Dameon Pierce of last season. The worry is the number of targets (or lack of), 0 to be exact this preseason. If he is to become a top 12 option then he will have to see an uptick in his targets which might prove difficult with Devin Singletary being able to come in on passing downs.
Tight Ends ascending and descending
Hayden Hurst was brought in over the offseason to help out rookie QB Bryce Young but for two preseason games, Hurst was not targeted despite running plenty of routes. Instead Young hyper-targeted wide receiver Adam Thielen with rookie Jonathon Mingo the second target. Hurst is completely off my draft list.
Darren Waller is back to being an elite tight end option. His new home in New York has seen QB Daniel Jones hyper-target the former Raider who’s twice finished as a top 3 TE on the season when healthy. That’s the only question mark for me when faced with the option of drafting Waller at his current draft cost. He projects to be the No.1 target in the offense and his ceiling is the TE2. A hugely positive start to life in New York, intrigued to see his usage in the regular season for a team that passed the least (32nd) to the TE position in 2022.
Jake Ferguson could be a diamond in the rough at the TE position. With the Cowboys moving on from Dalton Schultz this offseason, the question is, who would pick up the slack at Tight End. Jerry Jones selected Luke Schoonmaker surprisingly in round 2 of the 2023 NFL Draft. But he has been struggling this preseason with injury. Up steps second-year Jake Ferguson who saw 100% of the starter reps in week 1, 3 catches from 3 receptions for 38 yards (4.75 YPRR). He most importantly ran a route on 53% of QB dropbacks and saw the most targets while on the field. I’ve targeted Ferguson everywhere as a late TE option as a result. I’m excited for his usage as the starter on a team that was top 10 in targets to the TE position in 2022.
Image Credit: Andrew Nelles – USA TODAY Sports