Preseason football is often not very indicative of how the regular season will play out. Week 4 is definitely hit or miss. Some teams will opt to play their starters for a couple series or maybe a quarter, while others will choose to rest their stars. This week is all about the number “53” for most guys. That number is important because it is the number of rosters spots a NFL team has to use on players. Most of the guys on the field this week will be there with one hope, and that is securing on of those 53 roster spots. However, there are still certain aspects of teams to pay attention to. Listed below are a few things I’ll be looking for in the final week of preseason games this week.
Redskins vs Buccaneers:
With Matt Jones questionable week 1 and rookie draft pick Keith Marshall being added to IR, be sure to pay attention to how the Redskins backfield shakes out. Undrafted signee Robert Kelley could be in line to earn more playing time if Jones misses more time than expected.
Take a close look at how both Cameron Brate and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins are deployed. Both TEs seem to be locked in a time share due to their differing skill sets. Brate was awarded first team duties for the first couple of preseason games, but Sefarian-Jenkins appears to be a more dynamic playmaker when healthy.
Patriots vs Giants
Dion Lewis was officially added to the PUP list, which means he will miss the first 6 weeks of the season at the very least. LeGarrette Blount will handle the majority of early down work, and James White is poised to take over on passing downs. Keep an eye on Tyler Gaffney to see if he can make any headway up the depth chart.
The Giants have a surplus of running backs on their roster. Rashad Jennings certainly has a stranglehold on the starting spot, but he is getting older by the day. Keep an eye on Paul Perkins to see if he shows anything special that could earn him additional playing time should Jennings miss any time or run out of gas.
Jets vs Eagles
Matt Forte rushed for a measly 28 yards on 10 carries in his preseason debut with the Jets. New York has gone all in on the long time fantasy standout, and his only real competition for carries is third down specialist Bilal Powell. Let’s see if the Jets are able to move the ball on the ground at all this week.
Ryan Matthews will be the guy to handle the early down work in Philly this season. Nagging injuries have kept him out of the limelight for the majority of his career, so look for Kenjon Barner to continue to make a case for the backup position. Rookie Wendell Smallwood is currently going through concussion protocol and is unlikely to participate in Thursday’s game. If he manages to squeak through, however, watch to see who Matthews’ top backup will be.
Jaguars vs Falcons
Both Chris Ivory and TJ Yeldon seem to be destined to share the rock this season. Yeldon is the presumptive starter, but Ivory has been stealing carries regularly. Ivory is coming off a career year last season, but Yeldon will likely dominate the passing down work. Look to see if one is able to outshine the other.
Julio Jones has rightfully been a top 5 player drafted in fantasy football this year. What’s worrisome is the fact that Matt Ryan‘s performance has been mediocre at best, and he appears to be regressing from the breakout candidate he was a few seasons ago. The emergence of DeVonta Freeman last year should help keep defenses honest, but keep an eye on how the quarterback play shakes out.
Titans vs Dolphins
The Titans have been one of the most exciting teams to watch it his preseason (as weird as that is to type). Both Demarco Murray and rookie Derrick Henry look primed and ready to go in Tennessee’s “exotic smash mouth” approach. However, Marcus Mariota has to have someone to throw to, so be on the lookout for highly praised rookie WR Tajae Sharp to keep turning heads. He could very well end up and the Titans’ #1 receiver sooner rather than later.
Sophomore running back Jay Ajayi was poised to lead Miami’s rushing attack in 2016 before the Dolphins signed veteran Arian Foster. Since then, his draft stock has plummeted. Foster is an incredibly talented back but has a career that is plagued with injuries. Ajayi is still listed as the starter, but look to see how each running back performs. Ajayi could be in line for a lot of touches if Foster goes down again.
Bills vs Lions
Rex Ryan loves running the football, and Shady McCoy is undoubtedly the starting running back for the Buffalo Bills. He is also unfortunately somewhat injury prone, which led to the team signing Reggie Bush and letting go of troublesome RB Karlos Williams. The Bills also selected rookie Jonathan Williams in this year’s draft. If Williams is able to play keep an eye on anything that might move him up the depth chart.
Detroit’s passing attack as been source of fantasy delight over the past several seasons. However, Calvin Johnson took everyone by surprise when he decided to retire after last season. His departure leaves over 170 targets up for grabs in an offense that is presumed to have to throw the football a lot. Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, and Eric Ebron all figure to eat up most of those targets, so identifying a favorite target for Stafford early on could be beneficial.
Steelers vs Panthers
Pittsburgh appears to be in a similar situation they found themselves in last season. Le’Veon Bell will be suspended for the first three games which will allow for Deangelo Williams to pick up right where he left off. One of the big changes will be in the receiving core where Martavis Bryant has been lost for the season due to a suspension. Antonio Bryant is obviously the number one receiver on this offense, but pay close attention to who Big Ben is targeting when he’s covered up.
The Panthers were dominate last season but fell apart when it mattered most. Cam Newton was forced to work with what he had with a mostly subpar receiving core. 2014 breakout rookie Kelvin Benjamin is making his comeback this season, and many people hope him and Cam rekindle some of that magic from two years ago. Devin Funchess and Ted Ginn Jr were both beneficiaries of Benjamin’s absence last season, so take a look at how the targets shake out before the season begins.
Ravens vs Saints
Baltimore’s backfield is a complete mess for fantasy owners. Justin Forsett will be the starter to begin the season after missing the later part of last year due to injury. Baltimore selected Kenneth Dixon in this year’s draft, and his game is oddly similar to the running back they selected a year before in Buck Allen. Terrance West has been making a lot of noise in the preseason as well, so it’ll be interesting to see what the Ravens’ backfield looks like to begin the season. Forsett is an old man by NFL standards, so his backup could be in line for a lot of work should he get injured again.
New Orleans should be in good form offensively to begin the season. Their running backs are intact, and they have a strong receiving core. Brandin Cooks will likely be the go to guy in the Saints’ passing attack, but pay attention to how Drew Brees spreads the ball around. Willie Snead was a popular addition last year, but rookie Michael Thomas has been impressive throughout the offseason. Sean Payton loves passing the ball around, so whoever garners the most attention from Brees could put up very decent numbers.
Bears vs Browns
Rookie Jeremy Langford appears to have locked up the starting job in Chicago to begin the season. The Bears drafted Jordan Howard from Indiana, but he has not impressed enough to move up the depth chart to this point. Watch to see how the Bears deploy Jacquizz Rodgers and Ka’Deem Carey. If one of the three back up running backs can make an impression they would be a valuable waiver add should anything happen to Langford.
Robert Griffin III has looked serviceable to this point in the preseason, and the Browns added a ton of young talent at the wide receiver position in the draft. Josh Gordon is also set to return to the NFL this season after missing all of last season due to a suspension but will not be eligible to play in the regular season until week 5. Cleveland should be more dynamic on offense this year, so try to identify who RGIII’s favorite target could be.
Packers vs Chiefs
The Packers acquired the often disappointing Jared Cook in the offseason. Cook has long been looked at as a breakout candidate but has never really lived up to the hype. Richard Rodgers is currently listed as the starter, but Cook has outplayed him so far this preseason in the passing game. If Jared Cook is ever going to realize his potential it’ll be this year in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers as his QB.
Kansas City is a team that has the talent to make it to the playoffs this year. Last season Jamaal Charles was on his way to an outstanding year before tearing his ACL. From week 6 on the Chiefs deployed a running back by committee approach. There are reports the team would like to shy away from overusing Charles in an effort to keep him healthy all season. If that’s the case look how Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West are used before the regular season gets underway.
Rams vs Vikings
Jared Goff was the first overall selection in the draft this year. The expectation was for him to start right away, but that does not appear to be case at this point. Goff has failed to separate himself from Case Keenum, who looks to start week 1. I’m watching to see if Goff can bring anything special to the table if he is able to play Thursday.
Minnesota’s worst fear was realized this week when QB Teddy Bridgewater suffered a season ending knee injury in practice. They have virtually no depth at quarterback and long time backup Shaun Hill will likely get the first crack at starting duties. If Hill can’t perform look for the Vikings to make an attempt to sign another veteran quart back before the season starts.
Texans vs Cowboys
Houston added some help at the wide receiver position in the draft in an effort to give DeAndre Hopkins some help. Rookie Will Fuller has looked polished so far and has gotten a lot of attention from first year Texans QB Brock Osweiler. Look for Fuller, Braxton Miller, and Jaelen Strong to continue to make their case for the number 2 spot behind Hopkins.
The Cowboys seem to be satisfied with Dak Prescott‘s performance in the preseason as he is not expected to play Thursday night. I’ll be keeping an eye on the back up running back battle between Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris. Ezekiel Elliott is unquestionably the starter, but his backup could be in line for a huge workload should something happen to him over the course of the season.
Broncos vs Cardinals
Denver announced Trevor Siemian as the starting quarterback of the Broncos to start the reason, which only leads me to believe they are going to want to run the football as much as possible. CJ Anderson was a huge bust last season but still retains the lead back role in the offense. Rookie Devontae Booker has received praise from GM John Elway and has a real shot at eventually supplanting Anderson as the starter should he get off to a sluggish start again this season. Watch to see if one back separates themselves from the other.
The Arizona Cardinals are returning their trio of talented receivers this season and should be explosive on offense once again. Larry Fitzgerald looked like a young man last year, but is now 33 years old. Both John Brown and Michael Floyd are expected to take another step forward in 2016, so keep an eye out to see who Carson Palmer favors most.
Seahawks vs Raiders
Thomas Rawls is slowly recovering from an ankle injury he suffered last season, which has opened the door for Christine Michael to make an impressive case for additional carries in the Seahawks backfield. Rawls was originally thought to be the guy to own in Seattle but very well could be entering into a timeshare with Michael. Rookie CJ Prosise figures to be in the mix for work in the passing game as well. If Michael continues to shine he could be in line for a ton of work if Rawls has further injury complications.
Latavius Murray had every opportunity to become a fantasy stud last season but was largely unimpressive considering the amount of volume he was awarded. The Raiders seemingly felt the same way, because they selected Texas Tech running back DeAndre Washington in the draft this year. Washington has looked solid in the preseason and could push Murray for carries as the season wears on.
49ers vs Chargers
The 49ers aren’t expected to do much this year, but someone has to catch passes in that offense. San Francisco has had bad luck at the wide receiver position this offseason and recently added Bruce Ellington to IR. Torrey Smith and Quinton Patton are in line to start the season as the #1 and #2 receivers, but look for someone else to emerge at that position. DeAndre Smelter is a deep sleeper pick and could possibly make his preseason debut on Thursday.
Phillip Rivers is as solid as they come at the quarterback position from a fantasy perspective. He has his favorite target, Keenan Allen, back to start the season after getting hurt last year. The next in line for targets is a little cloudy at the moment. The Chargers acquired Travis Benjamin in the offseason to give Allen some help but most Stevie Johnson for the year to an injury. Tyrell Williams has been impressive in the preseason and could end up taking the WR 3 job from Dontrelle Inman. Antonio Gates will also see a lot of targets, but at 36 years old he has a lot of mileage on the tires. Rookie Hunter Henry could be in line to see a lot of work if Gates goes down. I’ll be watching to see who emerges as Rivers’ favorite target behind Keenan Allen.