If you came here for anything but a recap of key fantasy football takeaways from Week 1 of the 2017 NFL preseason, you're out of luck. Despite popular belief, the preseason actually does matter for fantasy football. It's where we can witness our favorite storylines of the offseason play out (or not play out) on the field. Sleepers emerge, rookies try to prove themselves and backups fight for jobs.
2017: Year of the rookie running back?
We witnessed an outlier season for rookie wideouts in 2014 with a handful of stars like Odell Beckham Jr., Mike Evans and Kelvin Benjamin (to name a few), bursting onto the scene and making a huge fantasy impact in their first pro seasons. This year, with such a deep running back class, we could see a similar trend with the position. Players like Leonard Fournette, Joe Mixon, Dalvin Cook, Alvin Kamara and Christian McCaffrey all showed promise in their NFL preseason debuts. Fantasy football drafters will have to ask themselves if they're willing to sink early-to-mid round picks into some of these players based on potential alone. Right now, Fournette is being drafted the highest while Cook looks like the best value. Keep an eye on their ADPs as the preseason progresses to help identify value plays.
With Mike Gillislee nursing a hamstring injury, it was Dion Lewis who got the bulk of the workload early on in New England's preseason opener. Lewis was held back by injury and conditioning issues last year but looked stronger and ready for a bigger role in 2017. He had been thrust aside by many in the fantasy community because the Patriots added so much depth at the position this offseason. While we can't forget about Rex Burkhead and James White, it looks like Lewis is going to have a role too. Coach Bill Belichick referenced earlier in the summer that he wanted his backfield to be more versatile than it was with LeGarrette Blount and James White last season. We're already trending in the direction of a muddled quagmire of a situation here and have been spoiled by two seasons of Blount being the guy. We need to erase the notion that Gillislee is a lock as the go-to guy and must draft New England backs with extreme caution.
Veteran quarterback and likely the favorite to begin Week 1 as the New York Jets' starter, Josh McCown, hit Robby Anderson with a 53-yard bomb early in the first quarter Saturday. With the attrition at wideout on the Jets, someone is going to have to emerge. Right now it looks like that guy is Anderson. Don't forget, we saw Anderson have a mini break-out late last season with 29 targets, 14 receptions, 240 yards and two scores in Weeks 12-14. At 6-foot-3, he's the tallest, healthy receiver on New York's roster, though he only weighs about 190 lbs. This could simply be the speedy second-year wideout picking up where he left off.
It's not really a surprise, but right out of the gate, Jameis Winston pummeled Mike Evans with seven targets on Tampa Bay's first possession. He also found Cameron Brate for 19- and eight-yard gains on the same drive. For those wondering about rookie tight end O.J. Howard, it's probably not wise to invest a fantasy draft pick in him at this point. But at least we've been reassured that despite talk about regression for Evans after finishing 2016 as fantasy's WR1, he remains squarely on the radar as a late first-round pick given his usage and apparent mind-meld with Winston. Look for more hints about the Bucs' offense on HBO's Hard Knocks.
Next man up in the Dallas backfield is ...
From what we saw on Sunday, it looks like Darren McFadden is next in line for carries behind Ezekiel Elliott. McFadden led Dallas with six rush attempts for 28 yards. If the second-year running back has to miss games with a suspension pending, fantasy drafters will need a backup plan. Until we get more clarity on the situation, it's tough to determine what a fair draft price is for Zeke or his backups. For what it's worth, McFadden looked old and a step slower than when we saw him rush for 1,000 yards in 2015. The veteran will be 30 before the season kicks off.
A rookie receiver for the Lions had two impressive touchdown grabs in the first half (neither of which were throws from Matthew Stafford). Kenny Golliday, a third-round selection of Northern Illinois, beat press and man coverage on his two scores showcasing his size and athletic ability. He's been a favorite sleeper at the position among draft pundits. But considering the pecking order for targets in the Lions offense, he may have a tough time finding opportunities to produce. The downside is that Golden Tate, Marvin Jones, Eric Ebron and Theo Riddick are all priorities ahead of the rookie in terms of target share. The upside is that Ebron is extremely injury prone, and we saw Jones fall off a proverbial statistical cliff last season. At 6-foot-4, Golliday stands as the tallest wideout on the Lions roster. He could make a huge impact in the red zone and will likely remain a late-round steal in most leagues.
The word on Andrew Luck seems to change on a daily basis. Sunday was another day with another bit of news on the Colts' quarterback, but it wasn't exactly positive for his fantasy outlook. The team's GM Chris Ballard couldn't promise that Luck would be a go to start Week 1 against the Rams. On the bright side, Ballard did confirm that Luck was back to throwing footballs again, after only using tennis balls to build strength in his surgically repaired shoulder. If Luck does indeed miss Week 1, well, it could be a lot worse. Still, backup Scott Tolzien doesn't exactly inspire confidence in elite fantasy players like T.Y. Hilton. If you're looking for a deeper dive into Luck's 2017 outlook, check out this investigative piece on signal callers returning from throwing shoulder injuries.
Rookie quarterbacks impress
DeShone Kizer, Mitchell Trubisky, and Deshaun Watson made their respective NFL preseason debuts over the past week. The trio combined for 68 pass attempts and each escaped without throwing a single interception. Granted, most of their work came against second and third-string defenses, but it's still a good sign for the young signal callers. There is a possibility that all three could start games at some point this season, with Watson probably having the easiest path to playing time. It's worth keeping an eye on how they progress through the preseason program, but none are worth drafting in fantasy leagues just yet. We're more concerned with the skill position players they support. Wideouts like DeAndre Hopkins, Kenny Britt, and Cameron Meredith could all be affected.