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Training Camp Daily Dose

What Matters From the Final Week of Preseason?

by Jack Miller
Updated On: September 2, 2021, 11:00 am ET

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The next snap of NFL football we watch will be on September 9th when the Cowboys travel to Tampa Bay to take on the reigning Super Bowl champs in a regular season game. Real football is less than two weeks away.

In the meantime, we are left to reflect on the final week of preseason action. It wasn't overly eventful – many teams rested their starters – but there were still some fantasy-relevant takeaways. In the preseason, it can be difficult to differentiate between what matters and what doesn't, especially when first-teamers are only playing a few drives. With that in mind, we'll do our best today to separate the signal from the noise. Much of what we saw this weekend merely confirmed what we learned from the previous two weeks, so we're mostly going to focus on new information today. Let's get right into it.

Torn ACL for Dobbins

The biggest news of the weekend was J.K. Dobbins' season-ending ACL tear. It's a heartbreaker for a back who was poised for a huge year after averaging 6.0 yards per carry as a rookie. Gus Edwards figures to step up as the RB1 in his absence. Edwards has posted at least 5.0 yards per attempt in each of his first three professional seasons. With Lamar Jackson's dual-threat ability opening up running lanes, Edwards is a strong bet to be among the league leaders in rushing efficiency. In fact, Baltimore running backs have averaged 5.2 yards per attempt across Jackson's 37 career starts. The Browns are the next-most efficient team since 2018 at 4.8 yards per rush.

The question with Edwards is how much work he'll get. Last year, the Ravens split carries fairly evenly between Dobbins, Edwards, Jackson, and Mark Ingram (when active). In the one game Dobbins and Jackson missed in 2020, Edwards still only played 52% of snaps and saw nine carries. Justice Hill was in for the remaining 48% and also got nine carries. More perspective: Dobbins only handled 12.1 carries per game over the second half of last season, while Edwards was at 9.8. There are going to be multiple guys involved. Edwards has also never seen more than 13 targets in a season. This is all to say that Edwards inherits a lucrative role as the Ravens' RB1 – especially since he should be their primary goal-line back – but it's unlikely Baltimore uses him as an every-down player. I'm fine with Edwards as a low-end RB2, but his role isn't that different from someone like Raheem Mostert.

Baltimore's RB2 spot is more up in the air. Ty'Son Williams is drawing rave reviews at training camp, but his prospect profile doesn't inspire much confidence. The 25-year-old never had more than 95 carries or 471 rushing yards in a college season. He was on his way to besting both of those numbers in his age-23 senior season before a torn ACL sidelined him for the rest of the year. Still, he's probably second in command behind Edwards and is worth a late-round pick. Hill isn't totally dead yet and could play on passing downs, although that role isn't super valuable in such a run-heavy offense. It's also possible the Ravens bring in another back after cuts on Tuesday.

Edwards is a low-end RB2 who will rely on efficiency – both on a per-carry basis and as it relates to touchdowns – to return value. Williams and Hill are late-round darts.

Buffalo's Revolutionary Play-Calling

The Bills ran 12 plays on their opening drive.

They dropped back to pass on all 12.

Buffalo got lucky when no team offered offensive coordinator Brian Daboll a head coaching job, and he's back to spearhead one of the league's most potent offenses. Last year, the Bills threw the ball 62% of the time in neutral game script, the fourth-highest rate in the league. They abandoned the run numerous times near the end of the year – a savvy decision amidst Josh Allen's breakout campaign. Daboll has spoken this offseason about his offensive philosophy, which forgoes the old-school idea of balance in favor of a modern, analytics-based pass-heavy attack. It worked on Saturday, as Allen threw two touchdowns on three drives before making way for the backups. You can safely expect Buffalo to be near the top of the league in neutral-script pass rate, which is an awesome sign for Allen and his pass-catchers.

On the other hand, it's not great news for Devin Singletary and Zack Moss. A high-end offense rarely has a backfield this cheap in fantasy, but it makes sense given the Bills' propensity for passing the rock. Still, there is necessarily some upside in an offense of this caliber, especially if one of them can separate as a receiver. For the second straight game, Singletary started and dominated snaps early, playing all 12 snaps on the Bills' opening drive and 15-of-18 on their first two drives. The third-year back didn't play at all after that, paving the way for Moss to play on 16-of-18 snaps in the second quarter.

This is the second straight week we've seen Singletary start and get the early snaps. Last week, the Florida Atlantic product played the first 10 snaps and 18 of the Bills' first 20 before Moss came in and got significant run after that. It's worth noting that Moss is still making his way back from a minor hamstring injury, but this could signal that Singletary has the upper hand right now. Still, it's hard to put too much stock into it when the two players rotated so abruptly. Singletary was the preferred passing-down back last year, a valuable role in an offense that almost exclusively throws the ball. This offense is so efficient that you can easily make a bull case for either, but Singletary is particularly alluring because he's cheaper and mostly operated as the pass-catcher in 2020. Both are viable options for RB-needy teams.

Wide Receiver Roles in Carolina

D.J. Moore played on 38 of Sam Darnold's 41 snaps on Friday night. He caught all six of his targets for 48 yards. Notably, he was used in a completely different role than what he did in 2020. His average depth of target spiked to 13.1 yards last year, a far cry from where he was in his first two seasons. He still excelled, posting nearly 1,200 yards and averaging 10.1 yards per target. Still, it's good news for fantasy purposes if they use him in an underneath role. If his usage on Friday is any indication – he had a 2.5 aDOT on six targets – he could be a legitimate target hog this fall. Robby Anderson and Terrace Marshall both possess the acumen to operate downfield, which would open up the short stuff for Moore and Christian McCaffrey.

The aforementioned Marshall continued his dominant preseason with a short touchdown catch against Pittsburgh. Buzz out of camp has indicated he's the clear WR3 ahead of David Moore, and he has looked the part this August. Moore, Anderson, and McCaffrey are going to command most of Darnold's targets, but Marshall was a strong prospect and seems like a solid pick in the double-digit rounds.

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Quick Hitters

  • Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance rotated with the first-team offense. Garoppolo isn't on the fantasy radar anyway, but the possibility that Lance could get time even if he's not the starter precludes Jimmy G from fantasy relevance entirely. On the other hand, Lance will be a top-12 QB from the moment he's declared the starter. 49ers RBs would also benefit from the rookie starting.
  • The 49ers finally let Raheem Mostert play after resting him all preseason. He was in for all 10 snaps on San Francisco's first drive. Trey Sermon entered the game on the second drive, signifying the end of Mostert's day. They have been careful with him all preseason long, a welcome sight considering Mostert has struggled with injuries in the past. Once Trey Lance starts, the 49ers could be a lite version of the Ravens' offense (i.e. otherworldly rushing efficiency). Mostert's injury past gets more attention, but Sermon has a precarious history in his own right. Edwin Porras (of Fantasy Points) noted that he has by far the most concerning injury history of any running back in the 2021 class. I want pieces of this rushing attack, and Mostert – who looks like the clear RB1 based on how the team has handled him this offseason – is affordable in the seventh round of drafts.

  • Irv Smith's preseason usage was encouraging – he played on 26 of Kirk Cousins' 30 snaps – but news broke on Sunday that he's expected to miss the start of the season. Smith is undraftable in managed leagues now because you can simply pick him up once he's back. If healthy, Tyler Conklin is a potential streamer, but he'll be immediately relegated to TE2 once Smith returns. A second-round pick in 2019, Smith is still only 23 years old and looked on the verge of a breakout before this news.
  • Tyreek Hill played 14-of-15 snaps with the Chiefs' first-team offense in their preseason finale. Demarcus Robinson played 11. And Mecole Hardman played nine. With Sammy Watkins gone, Hardman has ascended the depth chart so that he's now in for 3-WR sets, but it's less apparent whether he has surpassed Robinson for the WR2 role. On Friday, the latter held that spot, running a route on 7-of-8 Patrick Mahomes dropbacks vs. just four for Hardman. The speedster's ADP varies wildly by site – he goes much earlier on sharper best ball platforms like Underdog – so you'll have to check where he's ranked to determine whether he's worth the cost. If you can get him in the double-digit rounds, that's a cheap way to get exposure to the best offense in football. It's harder to justify spending an earlier pick on someone who may or may not be on the field in 2-WR sets. Meanwhile, Robinson is interesting as a last-round dart in the off chance he holds the WR2 job for the entire season. Someone besides Hill and Kelce is going to be worth drafting, and that could easily end up being Robinson.
  • Courtland Sutton is all the way back. For the first time since Week 2 of 2020, Sutton was active – and he looked good. ESPN's Stephania Bell noted that he was confidently planting on his surgically repaired left knee, a positive development after there were reports earlier this month that he was still working through the mental side of returning from such a major injury. It seems like the fantasy community has forgotten how good Sutton is. He put up 1,112 receiving yards on 9.0 yards per target in 2019 on one of the worst passing offenses in the league. Jerry Jeudy is awesome too, but his ADP has skyrocketed past Sutton's in recent weeks as a result of the negative Sutton drumbeat. I like both Denver wideouts and prefer whoever is cheaper.

  • The Broncos rested Javonte Williams in their preseason finale. They probably just wanted to get Melvin Gordon some snaps after the veteran missed a few weeks with a groin injury, but it's an endorsement of Williams that they already feel good enough to not give him valuable preseason reps as a rookie. This is going to be a split in Week 1, but Williams should be the lead runner by the end of the season. The second-round pick led the FBS in forced missed tackles and Pro Football Focus rushing grade in 2020.
  • In 66 Trevor Lawrence snaps this preseason, James Robinson played 33 snaps and Carlos Hyde played 28. Don't panic. The Jaguars had very distinct RB usage where Robinson played the first two drives and then Hyde would come in. It wasn't an even split where they rotated in and out on the same drive. Basically, we don't have much clarity on how Jacksonville plans to use their backs during the season. The fact that Urban Meyer immediately spent a first-round pick on a running back isn't exactly a vote of confidence in Robinson, so I'm not trying to say that he's going to run the show. All I'm saying is to not overreact to how evenly the Jaguars split RB snaps this preseason.
  • Tyrell Williams was out with a groin injury, but Detroit played the rest of their wide receivers. Lions coach Dan Campbell said last week that wideout is the position at which the most spots are up for grabs, so it makes sense that they wanted a longer look. Williams, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Quintez Cephus, and Kalif Raymond are locks. Breshad Perriman is on the right side of the roster bubble, but he doesn't seem like a stone lock to make the 53-man squad and is undraftable in fantasy as a result. Underdog's Hayden Winks pointed out that St. Brown didn't play in 2-WR sets. Williams is the only Lions wideout I'm interested in right now; it seems like they'll rotate everyone else.
  • T.Y. Hilton is out for the start of the season with a neck injury. The Colts said the ailment is not considered season-ending, but it's still impossible to justify spending a pick on a soon-to-be 32-year-old who's out indefinitely. It's also not great when the team immediately has to clarify that he's not out for the year. Michael Pittman, Zach Pascal, and Parris Campbell get a slight boost in the meantime. Campbell ran with the backups for most of the preseason but is now in line to be a first-teamer in multi-WR sets.
  • Third-round rookie Nico Collins played 20-of-27 first-team snaps and ran alongside Brandin Cooks as the second WR. Chris Conley played ahead of Collins for most of the preseason, but that changed over the weekend. It's worth mentioning that Collins played deeper into the game than Conley, so it's not clear whether the rookie is actually the WR2 or they just wanted to get him more snaps to prepare him for a larger role down the line. Either way, Collins is intriguing as a late-round pick.
  • For the first time this preseason, Gerald Everett and Will Dissly played together. The result was a pretty even split with Everett getting 12 first-team snaps and Dissly notching 10. PFF's Nathan Jahnke noted that they shared routes run and blocking snaps (i.e. there was no pass-catching tight end).
Jack Miller

Jack Miller is a fantasy football and prop betting analyst for NBC Sports EDGE and Establish The Run. You can find him on Twitter @JackMiller02.