Another week of the preseason is in the books, which means it’s time for another recap. Remember that most fantasy-relevant players played limited snaps against vanilla defenses, so it’s important to avoid overreacting to good or bad performances. But if you watch the film closely, preseason play can raise red flags for certain players while lowering red flags for others. Here’s my take on who stood out, who slipped up, and who has sleeper potential.
These are mid-to-high draft picks who looked good this week. They didn’t have huge stats since they had limited playing time, but they showed something that should make you take notice.
Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Thielen made a spectacular 34-yard catch in the first week of the preseason, and he followed it up with another nice 34-yard reception this week against Seattle. On that play, he beat cornerback Shaq Griffin on a go route and caught the ball over his shoulder as the pass forced him to drift a bit outside. On the very next play, Kirk Cousins launched it 45 yards downfield to Thielen on the post route, and even though he didn’t make the catch, he did manage to draw a pass interference flag on cornerback Tre Flowers (the play could have been a touchdown if the ball wasn’t slightly underthrown). Aside from those two plays, Thielen also caught two short passes on arrow routes and gained 5 yards on a jet sweep. Overall, he continued to display the excellent route running and reliable hands that have made him a star, and the deep shots he’s received in the preseason suggest he might be in line for more vertical work in 2019. Fantasy owners are understandably cautious after Thielen’s production dipped in the middle of last season when Minnesota switched offensive coordinators, but he’s just too talented to pass up at his current third-round draft price.
Josh Jacobs, RB, Oakland Raiders
Jacobs carried the ball four times for 21 yards in one drive against Arizona, and all four of those carries were impressive. On his first run, he was contacted after 2 yards, but he powered straight through several defenders for a 6-yard gain. On his second run, he made a good cutback to find a hole up the middle and gain 8 yards. On his third run, he displayed some solid short-area quickness as he weaved his way through the defense for a 6-yard gain. And on his fourth run, two unblocked defenders — Chandler Jones and D.J. Swearinger — met him in the backfield, but he was able to cut upfield and turn a possible 2-yard loss into a 1-yard gain. Jacobs’ stats in this game won’t have him surging up draft boards, but he showed that he has the power, vision, and burst to be a workhorse. And if you’re worried about the limited touches that Jacobs received at Alabama, don’t be. Jacobs got the ball on four of six plays with the first-team offense, including the first three offensive plays of the game. It’s obvious that head coach Jon Gruden wants to feed him early and often, and that gives him RB1 upside at a third- or fourth-round price.
These are players who made mistakes or struggled this week.
Kyler Murray, QB, Arizona Cardinals
In four drives against Oakland on Thursday, Murray completed three of eight passes for just 12 yards and ran for another 4 yards. He also got flagged three times, taking a delay of game penalty and causing two false starts with his clap snap. In general, he wasn’t very accurate, especially when he overthrew both Christian Kirk and Larry Fitzgerald on deep passes in one-on-one coverage. His fourth drive capped off a forgettable performance, as he took a sack on first down, missed Kirk on a slant on second down, and took another sack for a safety on third down. That second sack was probably unavoidable, but Murray should have had the awareness to give himself up in the field of play, rather than falling backward into the end zone like he did. It’s important to remember that Arizona was running a generic offense that probably doesn’t resemble what we’ll see in the regular season, but this performance emphasized that there are still many unknowns with this team. I’m as excited as anyone to see what Murray and new head coach Kliff Kingsbury can bring to the table, but all of Arizona’s fantasy-relevant players, including Murray, carry significant risk.
Donte Moncrief, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
Moncrief got the start against Kansas City on Saturday, and he played four drives with most of the first-team offense (excluding Ben Roethlisberger). Unfortunately, his only target was a 1-yard catch on a slant, and he immediately fumbled when cornerback Herb Miller wrapped him up and stripped him. Given the positive reviews in training camp, you shouldn’t let one play alter your entire perception of Moncrief, but when you add in James Washington’s second straight excellent preseason game (four catches for 78 yards, including a nice 40-yard grab), there might be reason for concern. Washington was reportedly struggling in training camp before the preseason started, and he also failed to build on a promising preseason in 2018, so I’m not convinced that he will suddenly overtake Moncrief as Pittsburgh’s No. 2 receiver. Nevertheless, he is making a pretty good case so far, and if you’re choosing between the two in the later rounds of your draft, Washington appears to have more upside.
These are players who played well this week, but they should only be considered as late-round picks.
Emmanuel Sanders, WR, Denver Broncos
In his first game back since tearing his Achilles tendon in December, Sanders only caught one pass for 5 yards. However, he was involved in three other plays against San Francisco that should make fantasy football fans take notice. First, he took an end around for a 19-yard gain, displaying good burst in the process. Later in the game, he appeared to make an excellent toe-tapping grab as he leaned over the sideline on a comeback route, but the referee ruled it incomplete and the Broncos didn’t challenge (I thought it was a catch, but Sanders displayed great body control regardless of the ruling). A few plays later on 3rd and 14, he made an excellent move to get cornerback D.J. Reed to bite on the post, which allowed him to get wide open on the go route. He made a great adjustment to haul in a 45-yard reception, but the play was unfortunately nullified by a holding penalty on Garett Bolles. Those plays all seemed to indicate that Sanders is fully recovered from his Achilles tear, which is hard to believe considering that he suffered the injury less than nine months ago. It’s possible that the injury could affect him as he gets more playing time, but for now, he looks like the same player who racked up 868 receiving yards in 12 games in 2018. Sanders is going in the double-digit rounds at the moment, and given what we’ve seen, he seems to be worth the risk at that stage of your draft.
Tony Pollard, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Pollard got all of the first-team work against the Rams on Saturday, and he made it count. In the one drive he played, he carried the ball five times for 42 yards and a touchdown, and he also caught his lone target for 9 yards. His most impressive run was his 14-yard touchdown, when he broke a low tackle attempt, maintained his balance, and pushed through the two safeties for the score. If I’m being honest, there wasn’t much else about Pollard’s performance that popped off the screen, as he mostly ran through big holes and gained easy yardage against the Rams second-string defense. Still, much of fantasy football is about finding promising players who are in good situations at a reasonable price, and Pollard checks all those boxes. He has a good combination of size and speed, an excellent offensive line in front of him, a coaching staff and quarterback who trust him, and a draft price that is basically free in most leagues. Obviously that last point is due to the expectation that Ezekiel Elliott will return in the next few weeks, but Pollard is still well worth a late-round pick just in case Elliott’s holdout extends into the regular season.