Preseason Bottom Line: August 12

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Preseason Bottom Line: August 12

Quarterbacks

Taylor Heinicke, QB, Washington at New England (Spread: Washington -2 | O/U: 34.5)

Three seasons ago in Carolina, Taylor Heinicke managed to station himself third on Ron Rivera’s depth chart behind Cam Newton and Garrett Gilbert. Kyle Allen was signed as an UDFA, but didn’t see any action until the final preseason game. With the QB2 role undecided, Heinicke evenly split snaps with Gilbert. Newton averaged 14.3 dropbacks over three preseason games, with zero rushing attempts. Two seasons ago in Carolina, Heinicke was overtaken by both Allen and Will Grier, finding himself listed fourth on the depth chart. Once again, the QB2 role behind Cam was undecided. Despite 5-to-1 TDs-to-INTs and a rushing TD, the Carolina competitions only left him an average of 10.7 dropbacks/game during those two preseasons.

Why should we expect anything different? Allen continues to miss out on training camp reps since suffering a setback with the ankle he dislocated in Week 9 of last season:

Unlike previous preseasons when we would expect someone such as fourth-stringer Steven Montez to get some significant run to close out the game, it appears that will not be the case. Everything passed along from Rivera is pointing to all of his healthy starters taking the field:

How much they end up playing is the important question we need answered. While word on the street indicates Ryan Fitzpatrick has already closed the deal on the starting job, don’t try to sell that deal to Heinicke. For the former Old Dominion Monarch, this is an ongoing battle. No matter how much Fitzpatrick ends up playing, we can pencil in Heinicke for an even amount of reps in order to give him the opportunity to show the staff that his ‘20 Wild Card performance against Tampa Bay was no fluke.

The Bottom Line: If you think Rivera intends to play the 38-year-old Fitzpatrick the entire first half, starting him is a no-brainer. Yes, he’ll be facing the Patriots’ first-string defense, but they’ll be without several key starters, including Stephon Gilmore. But Fitz will also benefit from playing with the first-string offense. For me, I’m skeptical, and the risk of losing a playmaker like Terry McLaurin, Antonio Gibson, or Logan Thomas in the first preseason game would devastate the offense. On the flip side, we know Heinicke is hungry to prove himself, has the wheels to elevate his floor, and will see extensive action without Allen available.

Jalen Hurts, QB, Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh (Spread: Eagles -1 | O/U: 34.5)

If you have already decided on Jalen Hurts’ outlook after two weeks of training camp, you must know something that I do not. We all know Hurts struggled during the first couple practices in pads. We also know new OC Shane Steichen didn’t initially want a dual-threat QB leading his offense after coaching the likes of Philip Rivers and Justin Herbert. But it seems Steichen has come around to the idea:

Hurts finds himself in a unique situation. Without a ‘20 preseason, he was only able to put 185 dropbacks on tape at the tail end of last season. And he is currently learning a new offensive system. Every snap in training camp holds extreme importance. And Hurts has expressed the time-sensitive significance of everyone being on the same page, learning Nick Sirianni and Steichen’s offense. He even stated he’d “play every down” on Thursday if asked to do so by his coaches. Apparently Sirianni has a certain number of snaps in mind for Hurts and he will play as deep into the game as needed until reaching that number.

The Bottom Line: We normally want to fade starting QBs in preseason action until their dress rehearsal. Based on missing out on the ‘20 preseason, limited rookie season snaps, and learning a new system, Hurts needs as many reps as possible this preseason. It’s always possible Sirianni envisions the second or third week of the preseason to max out Hurts’ snaps. Mac Jones is listed below as the third QB on my list. He’s another youngster that needs the reps. But, with Jones, I’ll need to see him deal with NFL pressure before I’ll have enough faith to deploy him.

Alternative:

Mac Jones, QB, New England vs. Washington (Spread: Washington -2 | O/U: 34.5)

Running Backs

Najee Harris, Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (Spread: Eagles -1 | O/U: 34.5)

The Steelers’ ‘21 first round investment, Najee Harris, played a total of 18 snaps in the Hall of Fame game last Thursday night. He touched the ball seven times, totalling 25 yards. Those are the kind of numbers we want to avoid. But HC Mike Tomlin recently passed along some interesting information regarding Harris’ role against the Eagles:

One of the benefits heading into Tomlin’s 15th season running Pittsburgh’s franchise are the unmistakable breadcrumbs he’s left behind. In 2017, after missing the Steelers’ first preseason game, third-round rookie James Conner was featured in the second game with 20 carries, resulting in 98 rushing yards. In 2018, fifth-round rookie Jaylen Samuels led Pittsburgh during the preseason with 28 total carries. In the second game, he touched the ball 13 times, resulting in 51 yards, and one TD. In 2019, Tomlin attempted to feature fourth-round rookie Benny Snell Jr., providing him with 28 carries during the preseason. Snell rewarded Tomlin with 1.9 YPC. The main takeaway is not the individuals, per say, but Tomlin’s desire to put the ball into their hands to acclimate them to the speed of the NFL, gain experience, and to understand the type of back he’ll have at his disposal.

The Bottom Line: Harris isn’t competing with anyone on the depth chart. His regular season role is set in stone. But Tomlin’s previous treatment of rookie RBs is significant. We already saw the floor for Najee against Dallas. But, with that direct quote from Tomlin, how can we sit him if 20 touches are possible facing a defense that permitted the 10th-most rushing YPG, and eighth-most rushing TDs/game last season?

Rhamondre Stevenson, New England vs. Washington (Spread: Washington -2 | O/U: 34.5)

Rhamondre Stevenson landed in an excellent scheme fit when he was drafted by the Patriots. While he was at Oklahoma, no other team in the country used a higher rate of Counter/Misdirectional blocking, and the Sooners ranked with the third-most combined carries in the nation using Counter, Backside Pulls, and Frontside Pulls. Last season, New England used Counter blocking at the fourth-highest rate, Backside Pulls at the fourth-highest, and Frontside Pulls at the second-highest. That said, word from camp states Stevenson has a long way to go.

Hey, that’s okay. Stevenson has a very bright NFL future. Judging from New England’s unofficial depth chart, he is behind Damien Harris, Sony Michel, James White, and, apparently, even J.J. Taylor. It’s very possible that Stevenson’s time will not come until next season. But I, for one, think they are sending some tough love toward Rhamondre to maximize his motivation. For preseason DFS, we only care about the touches. And we got a bit of a gift at Tyler Gaffney’s expense:

The Bottom Line: Harris is the lead back. His time on the field will be limited. The same goes for White, secure as the passing-down specialist. Michel should be lucky he’s still on the roster, so he may see some touches. But the rest of the RB reps should go to Stevenson and Taylor. And Stevenson will be able to sidestep the wicked Washington D-line when he does enter the game.

Jaylen Samuels, Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (Spread: Eagles -1 | O/U: 34.5)

I know what you’re thinking. Jaylen Samuels, WTF?!? I actually agree. The guy is just not built right to be a RB or TE. But his usage in the Hall of Fame game gave the impression that his roster spot is in jeopardy. During his eight career preseason games, HC Mike Tomlin has fed him with an average of 7.9 touches/game. Then we have the following:

The Bottom Line: We will need to follow reports up until game time to see if Kalen Ballage will join Benny Snell Jr. on the sideline. If he’s out, we may actually see Najee Harris play the entire first half, Samuels the second, and Anthony McFarland Jr. mixing in as the change-of-pace back throughout. Verifying this information will be vital since the Steelers will be facing the weakest run defense on the slate.

Alternatives:

Jason Huntley, Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh (Spread: Eagles -1 | O/U: 34.5)

Jaret Patterson, Washington at New England (Spread: Washington -2 | O/U: 34.5)

Wide Receivers

Dyami Brown, WR, Washington at New England (Spread: Washington -2 | O/U: 34.5)

Frequently mentioned among a trio of playmakers that have been the talk of Washington’s camp, ‘21 third-rounder Dyami Brown is going to be special. We know Ryan Fitzpatrick and Taylor Heinicke will play significant snaps. And Brown is going to see time with both, mixing in with the first- and second-string units.

Brown brings along outstanding athleticism that matches his production at North Carolina. Curtis Samuel is currently resting a groin injury. And we know HC Ron Rivera and OC Scott Turner have an itch to test their newest toy against outside competition.

The Bottom Line: Another WFT WR I think will have a solid game is Cam Sims. Both Brown and Sims have something to prove, albeit for far different reasons. I very much doubt we’ll see Terry McLaurin or Logan Thomas play any deeper than the first quarter. Brown has shown his hunger throughout camp and that’s exactly what we should expect to see continue on Thursday night in Foxborough.

Quez Watkins, WR, Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh (Spread: Eagles -1 | O/U: 34.5)

As ‘21 first-rounder DeVonta Smith continues to sit with a knee injury, it’s been Quez Watkins that has put on a show throughout camp:

He’s developed outstanding chemistry with Jalen Hurts, connecting on multiple deep balls during 11-on-11’s:

Watkins will face a Pittsburgh secondary that garners plenty of respect. But the Steelers will likely sit Joe Haden, Terrell Edmunds, Minkah Fitzpatrick and Antoine Brooks Jr. — the defensive standout from the Hall of Fame Game — may also miss the contest.

The Bottom Line: Best of all, Pittsburgh played Man coverage on two-thirds of snaps last Thursday. The thought of Watkins’ 4.35-speed in one-on-one’s vs. James Pierre, Stephen Denmark, Mark Gilbert, and/or Lafayette Pitts is just too much to pass up.

Kristian Wilkerson, WR, New England vs. Washington (Spread: Washington -2 | O/U: 34.5)

If you didn’t get the memo, Jakobi Meyers has solidified his standing as the WR1 with another outstanding training camp. Unlike Dyami Brown and Quez Watkins, Kristian Wilkerson has also had an outstanding camp, but without drawing anything close to the same amount of attention. Also unlike Brown and Watkins, Wilkerson is fighting to secure a spot on the 53-man roster. He may be well on his way.

HC/GM/DC Bill Belichick has avoided the narrative, but it’s pretty clear ‘21 first-rounder Mac Jones is at least garnering internal support toward challenging Cam Newton. Unfortunately for Jones, it would take Andrew Luck-ian results to unseat the veteran this soon. But the idea of the challenge being legitimate is enough for both Newton and Jones to see a good amount of reps. And Wilkerson has established a rapport with both QBs.

The Bottom Line: Avoiding the starting secondary of Washington is key. That is expected with Wilkerson playing behind four other New England WRs. WFT has great corner depth, but I’m counting on Wilkerson seeing at least five targets in order to provide him an opportunity to earn a roster spot as a reward for his hard work in camp.

Anthony Johnson, WR, Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (Spread: Eagles -1 | O/U: 34.5)

With some preseason plays, you really can’t provide any compelling evidence to prove why they’ll do well. You are simply reacting to the volume of recent playing time. That’s precisely the case with both Anthony Johnson (27 snaps in the Hall of Fame Game) and Tyler Simmons (14) — the alternative listed below.

The Bottom Line: If James Washington plays, you should have exposure to him in every single lineup you construct. Since he hasn’t practiced this week with what is being labeled as a minor injury, Johnson and Simmons could see even more time on Thursday night.

Alternatives:

Cam Sims, Washington at New England (Spread: Washington -2 | O/U: 34.5)

Tyler Simmons, WR, Pittsburgh at Philadelphia (Spread: Eagles -1 | O/U: 34.5)

Tight Ends

Temarrick Hemingway, TE, Washington at New England (Spread: Washington -2 | O/U: 34.5)

When I fill out my preseason DFS lineups, if I manage to get five points from my TE, I consider it a victory. I doubt we’ll see Logan Thomas play longer than the first quarter. In fact, that may be enough snaps to make Thomas a solid play. The same goes for Philadelphia's Dallas Goedert. But I tend to dig deeper to uncover the individuals that will see the most time. For Temarrick Hemingway, the only competition for snaps behind Thomas are ‘21 fourth-rounder John Bates and ‘21 UDFA Sammis Reyes. Reyes has plenty of future upside, but little in the way of immediate expectations.

The Bottom Line: If you believe in the elite talent doing enough in one quarter, go with Thomas, Goedert, or even Jonnu Smith. If you want your TE to see a longer stretch of play to get something done, Hemingway is an excellent choice.

Tyree Jackson, TE, Philadelphia vs. Pittsburgh (Spread: Eagles -1 | O/U: 34.5)

If you’ve followed camp reports, you’ll no doubt already be aware of the emergence of QB-to-TE convert Tyree Jackson. Along with Quez Watkins, Jackson has put his name firmly into the discussion to not only make the 53-man roster, but to see immediate snaps during the regular season.

Jackson has connected with each of the Eagles’ three QBs on the roster and trucked over veteran defenders on long gains. Still only 23-years-old, Jackson has made such an immediate impact that he’s thrust his name into the dynasty conversation after only two weeks of camp. For context, the following was Tweeted out in reply to naming the individual that has stood out the most in camp.

The Bottom Line: Jackson may have already done enough to force the Philadelphia front office to rethink their plans for the 53-man roster. There is zero chance Jackson could be snuck onto the practice squad without being stolen away. And the Eagles will want to expose him to as many live-action scenarios to see how he handles the pressure. That’s music to our preseason DFS ears.

Alternative:

Devin Asiasi, TE, New England vs. Washington (Spread: Washington -2 | O/U: 34.5)

With a dedicated focus on studying game film and a faithful commitment to metrics & analytics, Huber’s specialties include DFS (college and NFL), Devy & Dynasty formats, and second-to-none fantasy analysis of high school prospects.