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Fantasy What to Watch: Preseason Week 3

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It's Preseason Week 3, aka The Dress Rehearsal. This is the week that we can expect to see starters get extended action as teams look to firm up the top of their depth charts. This is our last best chance to set our draft rankings on a weekend when plenty of leagues will have their drafts. Here are a few things to keep an eye on as we get ready to do this for real.

Thursday


Philadelphia Eagles at Cleveland Browns


Eagles: If this is truly the dress rehearsal for the Eagles, we'll see plenty of Nick Foles. Does that mean we'll see Philly's Super Bowl MVP when Week 1 rolls around? That's still unknown. A big thing to watch will be how (or how much) Jay Ajayi is used after reports earlier in the week that he was dealing with a lower body injury. Alshon Jeffery's continued absence due to injury -- and expected placement on the PUP list to start the season -- opens opportunities for other receivers like Mike Wallace or Mack Hollins. It should also be interesting to watch how the Eagles deploy the tight end duo of Zach Ertz and rookie Dallas Goedert.

Browns: Head coach Hue Jackson has made it clear that Tyrod Taylor is the starter and will take the entirety of the first team snaps. That means we should get to see him with his panoply of weapons, minus perhaps Josh Gordon. Carlos Hyde has started to assert himself in the Browns backfield race and could see his ADP rise in the next few days. David Njoku has been a popular sleeper tight end pick this summer and could cement his status as a late-round option.

Friday


New England Patriots at Carolina Panthers


Patriots: Tom Brady said earlier in the week that he felt a little "rusty" in last week's game against Philadelphia. This is a chance for him to get a little more ready for Week 1. It will be equally interesting to see how the target distribution might go among his receivers -- a group that hasn't inspired a ton of fantasy confidence. Jeremy Hill has had a resurgent preseason which makes him an interesting proposition in a backfield that could once again tie us in knots.

Panthers: Speaking of target distribution, this could be another chance for rookie D.J. Moore to stake a claim to Carolina's No. 2 receiver job. Torrey Smith has been put on notice. Keep an eye on how Christian McCaffrey and C.J. Anderson are used this week. Run CMC has seen a bit of between-the-tackles work in the preseason. Let's see if this continues or if Anderson takes his place as the short-yardage and goal line hammer.

New York Giants at New York Jets


Giants: Big Blue is likely to be very cautious with Saquon Barkley after the rookie missed a number of practices with a hamstring issue. Wayne Gallman has earned positive reviews lately and could cement himself as Barkley's backup. We have a pretty good idea of the pecking order among the pass-catchers but it's important to know if the offensive line can hold up enough for Eli Manning to get them the ball consistently.

Jets: Signs are pointing toward Sam Darnold being Gang Green's starter in Week 1 but Teddy Bridgewater has made this competition extremely entertaining. There's a battle brewing between Terrelle Pryor and Quincy Enunwa for the Jets' third wide receiver spot, though we might not see much of either player in this one. The Isaiah Crowell-Bilal Powell backfield battle could have interesting implications near the bottom of a lot of upcoming fantasy drafts.

Denver Broncos at Washington Redskins


Broncos: Case Keenum has been slowly working his way into the preseason. It would be nice to see him have a standout performance this week. Rookie Courtland Sutton is aiming for a starting job as an outside receiver and would do well to make a few plays this week. The cries of a backfield committee have quieted a little bit but it's too soon to completely count out Devontae Booker. Royce Freeman will need to again be productive to lock down the starting job.

Redskins: Injuries have made a mess of Washington's backfield, so it's worth keeping an eye on who gets a majority of the carries. Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson have been tagged with sleeper potential this offseason and will try to continue to earn Alex Smith's trust. Speaking of Smith, we've seen very little of him in the preseason so this is an opportunity to get a better feel for Washington's offense in 2018.

Seattle Seahawks at Minnesota Vikings


Seahawks: Russell Wilson is going to be Russell Wilson, though it would be nice to know he'll have some protection from his offensive line. The biggest things to watch for Seattle will be the target distribution as we await the return of Doug Baldwin. Is this finally the year for Tyler Lockett? The fantasy world holds its collective breath. Chris Carson will try to strengthen his grip on the starting running back gig ... but first it would behoove him to strengthen his grip on the football near the goal line.

Vikings: There have been concerns about Minnesota's offensive line, which could cause concern for Kirk Cousins and Dalvin Cook. Nonetheless, watching how Cook performs could nudge his fantasy value a little closer to the end of the first round. The top two receiver spots are set but the Vikings are giving Laquon Treadwell ample opportunity to be the third wideout -- this is our opportunity to see if he can take advantage.

Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers


Lions: Are we any closer to clarity in the Lions backfield? We'll find out as LeGarrette Blount, Kerryon Johnson, and Theo Riddick (Ameer Abdullah?) take their turns carrying the football. The Kenny Golladay hype train is picking up more passengers by the day. With a solid performance this weekend, it could be a standing room only affair by the time we get to Week 1.

Buccaneers: Ryan Fitzpatrick will likely get the bulk of the work since he's slated to be Tampa's Week 1 starter. There are no mysteries here but what's worth watching is where he distributes the football. Will fellow Harvarder (is that a word?) Cameron Brate get involved? Peyton Barber has the lead in the RB battle but Ronald Jones' slow start might have a lot to do with an offensive line that won't let him get started. Keep an eye on everyone's favorite young sleeper wideout, Chris Godwin. He's reportedly pushing to overtake DeSean Jackson in the pecking order.

Green Bay Packers at Oakland Raiders


Packers: Aaron Jones will begin the regular season on suspension so Jamaal Williams should see plenty of work in this one. Aaron Rodgers hasn't been thrilled with some of his wide receivers in the preseason. This is a chance for some of those pass-catchers to earn their quarterback's trust. Meanwhile, this is another week for us to witness the blossoming bromance between Rodgers and Jimmy Graham.

Raiders: Jordy Nelson revenge game, anyone? No? Okay. Regardless, some of the Raiders key pieces -- Nelson, Amari Cooper, and Marshawn Lynch -- are experiencing an end-of-summer ADP boost. We could see how much of that new-found excitement is warranted. More importantly, pay close attention to what Jon Gruden's heretofore mysterious offense could look like this season.

Saturday


Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears


Chiefs: We get another week of the Patrick Mahomes experience. Last week featured both the highs and the lows. This week, maybe we can see a little more consistency. Knowing that Charcandrick West is no longer a threat, Spencer Ware has an opportunity to show that he deserves a larger role behind Kareem Hunt. Demarcus Robinson has earned preseason hype ... the next step is to turn it into extra targets as the Chiefs' other outside receiver.

Bears: It's been an uneven preseason for Mitch Trubisky but there's hope that we can get a better sense of his grasp of Matt Nagy's offense. This also means another chance to see how much the passing game could rely on Trey Burton. Nagy says Jordan Howard will be a three-down back in the offense. Fantasy managers can put that theory to the test as well as seeing how Tarik Cohen will be used. Keep an eye on rookie Anthony Miller, who could surpass Kevin White to become Chicago's third option in three-receiver sets.

Houston Texans at Los Angeles Rams


Texans: In case you forgot what the Texans offense looked like with Deshaun Watson -- or you just want to see it again -- keep an eye on this game. There are few major position battles worth watching, though it could be intriguing to see who's on the field when the Texans go with three or more wideouts (something they did nearly 60 percent of the time last year). This should also remind us of how good this defense can be when all of its key pieces are healthy.

Rams: We're not going to see Todd Gurley again this week, which should give John Kelly another opportunity to shine ... y'know, in case you're looking for a handcuff. Similarly, we may see little or nothing of Jared Goff although no one is considering Sean Mannion in any kind of format. While it won't be a full dress rehearsal for Sean McVay's offense, it's still worth watching what type of routes Brandin Cooks is running and how he could potentially be targeted when the lights come on for real.

Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh Steelers


Titans: The Titans have become an intriguing offense loaded with fantasy sleepers. What will Marcus Mariota look like in a post-Exotic Smashmouth offense? How many places will Corey Davis line up? Can Taywan Taylor continue to dazzle after his two-touchdown performance last week? Whither the backfield split between Derrick Henry and Dion Lewis? Why do we continually overlook Delanie Walker in tight end discussions. Inquiring minds want to know.

Steelers: Another week without Le'Veon Bell means another week with a heavy dose of James Conner. James Washington has made himself hard to ignore and should have a chance to make plays with the first team this weekend. Vance McDonald has earned some deep sleeper tight end love, let's see if we still feel that way about him on Sunday morning. Pittsburgh's top two receivers pretty much have their draft spots locked in but maybe Antonio Brown makes a play to be a dark horse No. 1 overall pick?

San Francisco 49ers at Indianapolis Colts


49ers: Neither Kyle Shanahan nor Jimmy Garoppolo have been thrilled with the quarterback's play so far this preaseason. Here's a final chance to get it right before the real thing begins. With multiple injuries in the backfield, we will get a long look at Joe Williams and the recently-signed Alfred Morris. Dante Pettis still finds himself down the depth chart but could still pose a challenge to Aaron Burbridge and Trent Taylor to be the Niners third wideout.

Colts: Andrew Luck will continue his work to regain his old form. We know what T.Y. Hilton can do but Ryan Grant is a interesting option worth spending a late round draft pick on. Jack Doyle appears to have the lead in the tight end race over Eric Ebron. We'll see if that race gets any closer this weekend. The Colts backfield is a scary morass of uncertainty -- especially with talk that Marlon Mack isn't a lock to be ready for Week 1. Nonetheless, if you enjoy riddles, try to unravel the mess with Christine Michael, Jordan Wilkins, and Nyheim Hines.

Atlanta Falcons at Jacksonville Jaguars


Falcons: There are two major things worth watching for Atlanta this weekend; the first is whether Calvin Ridley can build upon last week's outing. He hasn't had as much buzz as some of his fellow rookie wideouts. Maybe that could start to change with another strong performance. Austin Hooper hasn't had a ton of love in tight end conversations but he could turn out to be a key cog in the Falcons passing game and is worth at least paying attention to.

Jaguars: Once again, we will watch with wonderment as the Jaguars run a panoply of receivers onto the field and dare us to try and pick one. Woe be unto you if you choose poorly. Historically, I've never been a big fan of T.J. Yeldon but if he has another week like last week then I might change my mind about his late-round PPR potential. See, I can admit when I'm wrong.

Baltimore Ravens at Miami Dolphins


Ravens: I've been promoting the idea of the #Flacconnaissance and this could be a prime week to see if that theory has legs. The injury to Hayden Hurst re-opens the battle at tight end. Although injured tight ends are nearly as common in Baltimore as blue crab. Alex Collins appears ticketed for a starting gig but we've seen a lot of Javorius Allen in the preseason. The latter has a role as a pass-catcher but I need to see more from him after the catch before I can make a case for him in most leagues.

Dolphins: Can we please get any kind of clarity on the potential backfield split for the season? Kenyan Drake's draft value has taken a hit after reports that he could be in a serious timeshare with Frank Gore. Of equal confusion is the Miami receiving corps. The bloom is off of Devante Parker's fantasy rose. But who do we target -- Albert Wilson? Danny Amendola? There are no good answers right now. Maybe we can zoom in on some after this weekend.

New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Chargers


Saints: Perhaps the biggest thing to watch here is how the Saints handle their backfield snaps with the knowledge that Mark Ingram won't be available to start the season. Will they load up Alvin Kamara with touches or could someone else emerge to take a portion of the workload? Jonathan Williams seems like a name to remember in that regard. I've mentioned a few tight ends who have been neglected in preseason discussions and you can add Benjamin Watson to that list.

Chargers: The Mike Williams Hype Train makes another stop this week and if he performs well, his ADP could take another spike. Don't forget about Tyrell Williams, who could have late-round value as the outside receiver across from Keenan Allen. Melvin Gordon is locked in as the top running back in the Los Angeles backfield but Austin Ekeler could push for a larger role and has handcuff potential.

Sunday


Cincinnati Bengals at Buffalo Bills


Bengals: I admit to having some trepidation over the predicted Joe Mixon breakout season. Maybe because he burned me last season. The biggest obstacle to his success was a poor offensive line. If Cincinnati has figured that out, I'll feel better. John Ross is being given a chance to be a playmaker in the passing game. I'd like to see him make more than one play per game before I get on the bandwagon.

Bills: AJ McCarron appears to be back in the mix after suffering a shoulder injury last week but it looks like Josh Allen is the new leader in this quarterback competition. The next step is to figure out exactly who he'll be throwing the ball to. Corey Coleman should get a lot of run this week. Will he end up as the top wideout over Kelvin Benjamin? Stay tuned.

Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys


Cardinals: This is probably Josh Rosen's last best chance to steal the starting job away from Sam Bradford. Arizona is still looking for wide receiver help not named Larry Fitzgerald. This could be an opening for Brice Butler, J.J. Nelson or Chad Williams. Chase Edmonds will have a chance to solidify his hold on the No. 2 running back job.

Cowboys: Michael Gallup has been all the rage in the Cowboys offense and might be staking a claim to the No. 2 wideout job. Hopefully we'll get our first preseason look at Ezekiel Elliott -- not because we need to know if he's good. Mostly because I'm curious about the reports that he could line up in multiple spots along the formation. If you're interested in sorting through the Cowboys tight end situation, be my guest. Couldn't be me, though.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for NFL.com and a man who honestly has no idea how many fantasy leagues he's playing in this year. Maybe he should count that. Send him your over-scheduling dilemmas via Twitter @MarcasG. If you read all of that, congrats. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat (marcasg9).

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