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Fantasy football Preseason Week 1 watch list

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Fantasy league winners know that preseason matters. Those who choose to ignore the drum beats provided by camp and exhibition games come up short every year. Be smart, and pay attention to what happens this weekend. To help you know what to watch for, here's your all out guide to all things preseason Week 1.

Saturday slate

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Minnesota Vikings (8:00 ET, NFLN)

 

Tampa Bay: The biggest storyline will be the debut of Jameis Winston. Many fantasy hopes are riding on Mike Evans this season, and Winston's outlook will have the biggest say on how that fairs. A strong preseason from the rookie quarterback will let us know just what we are getting ourselves into by taking Evans as a potential top-10 receiver. Fantasy owners want to see the aggressive Winston college football fans remember from Florida State.

Doug Martin is the Buccaneers starting running back. With the team seemingly squarely behind him this season, now we just need to see him live up to the faith on tape. A strong preseason run or two by Martin could have us recalling his 2012 glory year. If he's going to have a Mark Ingram-like career revival, his ADP is going to look like a steal.

Minnesota: We already got a glimpse of the Vikings last week, but this should provide a more extended glance. Jerick McKinnon impressed us in the Hall of Fame game, and he along with Matt Asiata should get most of the work with Adrian Peterson unlikely to play.

Kyle Rudolph was another impressive player in the first exhibition. Watch to see if he continues to pick up steam. The Teddy Bridgewater/Mike Wallace connection looked pretty hit or miss in our short glance. Fantasy owners would not mind seeing those two connect a bit more this time out.

San Francisco 49ers at Houston Texans (8:00 ET)

 

San Francisco: Torrey Smith is an interesting fantasy case. His ADP is strikingly low (10th round on NFL.com) for a player who got in the end zone 11 times last season, and has only gone down over the summer. Colin Kaepernick does not inspire much confidence, but that's quite cheap for a WR1. If the two can connect on a big play or two, perhaps fantasy owners might feel better about drafting the newest 49ers receiver.

Carlos Hyde is a popular breakout candidate, but we need to see how he looks in the preseason. Similar to Latavius Murray, Hyde could make some exciting runs that will cause some owners to reach for him in drafts. But pay extra attention to Reggie Bush and his usage. If Bush looks rejuvenated, he will make a deep cut into the passing game work.

Vernon Davis and Colin Kaepernick disappointed drafters last season. While we may not learn much about the latter in exhibition games, there's worth in watch the former's play. Davis is essentially free in drafts, but could pay off if he's playing strong, healthy and motivated under a new head coach.

Houston: With Arian Foster on the shelf, our attention will shift to the backup running backs. Alfred Blue is the best bet to get the first crack at the job, but needs to show better in exhibitions than he did in real games last year. Chris Polk and Jonathan Grimes will put up a strong fight. Good showings by either could shift the way owners are tackling this handcuff situation. Regardless, unless he goes out and tears this game up, reaching on Blue is not advised.

Anyone considering DeAndre Hopkins needs to carefully monitor this signal-caller battle. Bill O'Brien insists neither player has a leg up, but fantasy owners will be pining for whichever passer shows the best chemistry with Hopkins. The exciting young playmaker's stock is holding steady. So, we need to make sure one of Ryan Mallett or Brian Hoyer steps up to not crater his 2015 outlook.

Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals (9:00 ET)

 

Kansas City: We heard all the puff pieces about more deep-passing in play for the Chiefs out of training camp. Now, we'd like to see it take hold on the field. Alex Smith uncorking a few long shots would raise some questions of whether the fantasy world is underrating this offense. Jeremy Maclin could be a direct cause of the change, and some chemistry between he and Smith would be good to see.

Other passing game weapons, such as rookie Chris Conley and super sleeper sophomore Albert Wilson, should be on your radar tonight. Both players are enticing athletes, and could surprise if this offense does indeed open up. Wilson is the clear early favorite, and has run with the starters all offseason. A nice play or two in the preseason could finally cause the world to open their eyes to him.

Arizona: John Brown is all the buzz right now. He was primarily a deep threat as a rookie, but looks well on his way to following the T.Y. Hilton career path. With Michael Floyd sidelined, the time is now for Brown to seize hold of a majority share of this passing game. Watch his route running this game. We want to see him utilized in a fashion more indicative of an every-down threat, rather than a vertical burner. He's going to be one of the steals of fantasy drafts, and the march begins Saturday.

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Directly related to Brown's status is the play of Carson Palmer. Despite his aging, he's a major fantasy factor, as the splits for the Cardinals offense with and without him are scary. Palmer is reportedly practicing without restrictions in camp, and should be good to go for the season. Just keep an eye on how his arm looks. There is a lot of mileage, and injuries, logged on Palmer's body.

The Cardinals backfield is inching ever closer to the all-out avoid category. Injuries to both Andre Ellington and David Johnson caused the team to reach out to free agent, Chris Johnson. That is pretty unsettling. We'd like to leave Saturday night with some clarity on this situation.

Sunday slate

 

Indianapolis Colts at Philadelphia Eagles (1:00 ET, NFLN)

 

Indianapolis: There's not much we need to learn about the Colts offense in the preseason. The quarterback, running back and top two receiver spots are all locked into place. However, pay attention to the third receiver and tight end splits. Phillip Dorsett and Donte Moncrief will have sporadic production in this offense, but make sure to track who looks the more likely candidate to emerge. Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen both had value in seasons past, but one would imagine the offense is drifting away from the two-tight end set. Watch closely to see who is the favored asset, both in terms of targets and playing time.

Philadelphia: We will not get a chance to scout Sam Bradford in the Chip Kelly offense, as the veteran passer will sit this game out. Mark Sanchez should get the start, but will play sparingly. The receiver reps will be the story most worth watching. Jordan Matthews is set up for a big season as the slot receiver. Keep an eye out for how often he, if at all, plays outside of that role. Nelson Agholor has had an up and down early training camp. However, there is serious opportunity and target share to be had in this passing game. Agholor needs some shining moments to cement a starting job for Week 1 over incumbent Josh Huff.

DeMarco Murray has been in and out of the Eagles training camp practices, mostly for unspecified reasons. Chip Kelly could be employing a sports science method to make sure Murray is at his most effective when the lights come on. However, this team was pretty excited to acquire Ryan Mathews, and he's dazzling in camp. There's room for both to be effective, but do make sure to monitor how this pie is split up. Mathews and Darren Sproles could push for stand alone value if they have good preseasons, regardless of Murray's status.


Matt Harmon is an associate fantasy writer/editor for NFL.com, and the creator of #ReceptionPerception, who you can follow on Twitter @MattHarmon_BYB. If you made it this far down this article to read the tag line, bless you.

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