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PRESEASON RECAP: Week 1 Standouts, Slip-Ups, and Sleepers

Week 1 of the preseason is in the books, so I’m here to give you the rundown. Since most fantasy relevant players played limited snaps against vanilla defenses, 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.

Standouts

These are fantasy relevant players who looked good this week. None of them had crazy stats since they had limited playing time, but they all showed something that should wash away your concerns.

Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

If you’re worried that Evans is going to lose work to DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard, don’t be. In two drives against Cincinnati, Evans had four catches for 58 yards on seven targets. Meanwhile, Jackson had just one catch for 6 yards, and Howard had no catches. Jameis Winston targeted Evans early and often, hitting him on a 29-yard back-shoulder pass and tossing him a fade on two consecutive goal-to-go plays. Evans wasn’t perfect – he couldn’t haul in either of those end zone targets, and he dropped a third-down pass that was thrown a little behind him. But he’s still a major talent, and you can expect him to remain a target monster in this offense. Draft him in the first round with confidence.

Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals

Jeremy Hill technically got the start for Cincinnati, but when Mixon got sprinkled in, he looked like the better back. Mixon finished with six carries for 31 yards against Tampa Bay, and he had several nice plays. On an 11-yard reception, he caught a pass in the flat, broke the first tackle, and juked two more guys before getting brought down. On a 13-yard run, he showed incredible patience as he waited for the play to develop and expertly followed his blocks. And on at least two other runs, he showed some good cutback ability. This backfield is expected to remain crowded since Hill will likely get the goal-line work and Giovani Bernard (who was held out) appears to be healthy. But if you’re banking on someone to take over, Mixon looks like the best bet.

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, Carolina Panthers

Benjamin only had two catches against Houston, but both of them were memorable. His first catch was a 17-yard reception on a simple in route – cornerback Kevin Johnson went low on the tackle but bounced off Benjamin, then Benjamin threw Johnson down with a stiff-arm when he tried to tackle him again. Benjamin’s second catch was a beautiful 23-yard touchdown reception – backup quarterback Derek Anderson threw a jump ball where only Benjamin could reach it, and Benjamin came down with it despite good coverage. Both catches displayed the type of physicality and body control that you want to see from a 6-foot-5 receiver like Benjamin. He’ll probably still have the occasional inexplicable drop, but Benjamin at least proved that he’s not out of shape.

Sammy Watkins, WR, Los Angeles Rams

A day before he was traded to the Rams, Watkins looked good in Buffalo’s preseason opener, catching four passes for 39 yards against Minnesota. Buffalo’s first three offensive plays all went to Watkins, capped off by a 14-yard reception on a hitch route. None of the plays were anything special, but Watkins looked comfortable planting and cutting with his surgically-repaired left foot. While the trade to the Rams probably decreases his value, Watkins at least appears healthy for fantasy owners who choose to invest in him.

Darren McFadden, RB, Dallas Cowboys

After posting a terrible stat line in the Hall of Fame Game (-6 yards on three carries), McFadden bounced back with a solid performance against the Los Angeles Rams. He finished with 28 yards on six carries, and he also got a first down on an 8-yard reception after he shoved cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman to the ground. McFadden will turn 30 before the regular season starts, but he looks healthy and showed solid speed, gaining the edge on a couple runs. McFadden’s day could have been better too. He had two nice runs called back by holding calls on backup lineman Byron Bell, and backup quarterback Kellen Moore completely missed him on two check-down passes (those shouldn’t be issues when the starters are playing). If Ezekiel Elliott’s six-game suspension holds, McFadden looks like a strong fantasy fill-in.

About Jay Devineni

A journalist by trade, Jay is in St. Louis and still a loyal Rams fan. He earned a Master's Degree in Journalism from Columbia University and is a published sports writer.