General Preseason Showdown Strategy
The overarching key is to do your best to highlight which players will be playing the most snaps. This can be gleaned by researching depth chart scarcity, coachspeak/press conferences, or beat reports.
The only position you can roster that will score fantasy points for the entire game is DST. With all other position players having their playing time limited to anywhere from a series to a half, DST becomes a key cog in roster construction. Despite the fact DSTs don’t normally end up as the highest scoring position on a normal slate, they can on a preseason slate. The ability for quarterbacks, running backs, wide receivers, and tight ends to outscore DSTs is neutralized in preseason by only playing a portion of the game. Don’t be afraid to roster both DSTs in a lineup or in the captain spot, in fact it’s encouraged.
Don’t worry about negative correlation in preseason. QB v. opposing defense, too many WRs from the same team, or two running backs from the same team don’t carry the negative impact they would in the regular season. Oftentimes they won’t eat into each other’s production because they won’t be on the field at the same time, anyway.
The one correlation that does matter is trying to pinpoint which quarterbacks will be paired up with which skill players. It’s often arbitrary and unpredictable, but there are times when a unit will play all their snaps together. That increases your ceiling by having the QB in the same lineup as the RB/WR/TE he has the potential to throw touchdown passes to.
Prioritize wide receivers. Since playing time is limited, target positions and players that can hit a ceiling in one or two plays. Though running backs are in play, it’s unlikely you get a high-volume game where a runner grinds out the 100-yard bonus on 20 carries. When you do roster running backs and tight ends, it’s important to roster the ones that have pass-catching roles.
According to Mike Tomlin, Mason Rudolph is going to start the game, Dwayne Haskins is going to finish the half, and Josh Dobbs will finish the second half. He was unclear how long Rudolph will play and if Haskins would come back out after halftime. Because of this I am leaning towards Dobbs/Haskins > Rudolph in terms of playing time. Haskins has a good deal of experience from last year and could carve up a second or third team unit. The key is how much will Rudolph play. If it’s a series and Haskins plays the entire first half minus that series, he is an excellent play. Both Dobbs and Haskins should be in your player pool, though.
Najee Harris is going to play in this game according to Tomlin, but I’m guessing he plays the first series and that’s it. Could he score on that lone series? Sure, but I’ll lean towards the players that are going to be on the field more than Harris.
Anthony McFarland, Jaylen Samuels, and Kalen Ballage will play the most with the 1st and 2nd unit, meaning Rudolph (for as long as he is in) and Haskins will be under center for their reps. One thing we’ll have to keep an eye on is if Anthony McFarland’s thigh, he finished practice on the sideline with ice on it Tuesday. The Steelers signed Tony Brooks-James probably a reaction to not having Benny Snell available, but also could be enough of a reason to hold McFarland out. Pay attention to reports if McFarland is dressed around game time.
Trey Edmunds had a nice practice on Tuesday leading up to this game which could indicate he is in for a nice game on Thursday. He caught a touchdown and had some nice runs. I would expect him to play a good portion of the second half
We have to keep tabs on whether or not Ray Ray McCloud dresses for the game as he’s had a solid camp and has the experience on offense and special teams to show out in a preseason game such as this. He didn’t practice on Tuesday which puts his status in doubt, though. If he can’t go, Anthony Johnson makes a lot of sense as they’re both slot-type players and Johnson filled in for him during the practice that McCloud missed.
Rico Bussey is the Steelers receiver I’m most excited to watch on Thursday. He has been electric in camp and probably the most talked about non-starter. Tyler Simmons caught a touchdown from Dwayne Haskins in the Steelers “7 Shots” drill, which is a competitive point-based game they play at the goal line in practice. The two worked after practice on their chemistry as well. Isaiah McKoy is the third backup WR that I’ll have interest in pairing with the Haskins/Dobbs teams.
The starters could play a series in this game, but this first preseason game is usually not one that starters get many snaps. James Washington could play with Rudolph in the first quarter so that’s an interesting OK State combo to build into lineups.
Things are slim on the depth chart currently for the Steelers and it’s something we’ll have to pay attention to around kickoff. Eric Ebron most likely isn’t going to play as he’s missed a bunch of practice with an elbow. Both Pat Freirmuth and Zach Gentry have played well in camp, but both missed time on Tuesday. Friermuth started the day but left with a should injury and Gentry missed the entire day. I would like to get both in some lineups if they are playing, If they don’t, I like sprinkling in a little Kevin Radar and Marcus Baugh. Neither are core plays, but decent last man in fliers if they are the only two active.
Note: I think we are going to see the Cowboys’ third, fourth, and fifth units hit the field earlier than expected because they have a Saturday scrimmage with the Rams in Oxnard on Saturday. The Cowboys will definitely want to get a look at their starters and any other player that will be getting meaningful playing time in this scrimmage format, so I’m guessing they’ll get pulled early or not play at all.
Dak isn’t going to suit up, so the Cowboys will split four quarters between Garrett Gilbert, Cooper Rush, and Ben Dinucci. Gilbert has looked the best in practice of the three, but he may not be in for long considering he is currently the next man up if something happens to Dak. There wasn’t much of an indication of how these reps will be split up. I’m much more excited about Haskins and Dobbs, but Ben DiNucci has played well in camp and has had the best throws of the backups. I’ll have a smattering of each, but the fact that McCarthy hasn’t specified splits which makes it difficult to favor one.
Rico Dowdle will most likely get run right out of the gate with the unit that starts the game. He is a good pass-catcher which is something that is a bonus in these games. He is a talented runner and oftentimes skill and experience shine through in these early preseason games.
JaQuan Hardy and Brenden Knox will get a good amount of run in the second half and should be in your player pool as well. Hardy isn’t the best receiving back, which is a knock, but he’s an aggressive runner and can also make the first guy miss so he’s worth a look. Knox was a college football fantasy darling who can catch the ball. He’s also a good pass protector which could earn him some reps. I’ll have all three, but Knox getting a solid chunk of time in the second half intrigues me. Sewo Olunilua is a fullback but has caught a punch of passes in camp. He’s a potential dart throw as a last man.
The wide receivers for the Cowboys is the toughest group to handicap for this game. I am going to highlight who has had the best camp and who has the most talent, but there has been zero indication which players of this massive group will be on the field most.
Simi Fehoko will probably get a lot of traction because he’s a superior athlete with great combine numbers. He didn’t pile up stats at Stanford because that’s not their style, but I like him a lot in the Hall of Fame game. Malik Turner, Aaron Parker, and Osirus Mitchell have been getting the buzz in camp and are in that sweet spot on the depth chart where they could play a good chunk of the second half.
Noah Brown and Cedrick Wilson have been preseason players before and also have gotten time in regular season contests as well. That makes me think they won’t require an extended look, especially with the Saturday scrimmage on the horizon, but are worth fliers paired with Gilbert as I expect they’ll be playing together early in this game.
The Cowboys depth is rounded out by Johnnie Dixon. Brennan Eagles, Brandon Smith, and Reggie Davis. All worth a speculative flier, but I’m going to focus on the players that have been playing the best in camp listed above.
We aren’t going to see Blake Jarwin or much of Dalton Shultz either. That gives Sean McKeon and Jeremy Sprinkle time to shine. McKeon has had his name mentioned in nearly every recap/article I’ve read about camp. He needs to show out in these games to earn the third TE spot. There are some other tight ends at the bottom of the depth chart in Nick Eubanks and Artayvious Lynn who, if you are entering a slew of lineups, can be a dart throw here or there.
The Cowboys won’t have a kicker on their roster in the player pool for the HOF game, so that’s easy. The Steelers will have two Chris Boswell and Sam Sloman. They can be used, maybe Sloman more so since the Steelers know what they have in Boswell, Sloman may get a longer look.