The final slate of the unofficial stuff until the results matter. Just as I’ve done with every preseason slate to date, the approach to Sunday’s games is based on the most current information available. As of the writing of this piece, the only indications passed along on starting skill positions playing are from the 49ers, Falcons, and Giants. I’ve not seen enough to convince me that starters from Atlanta or San Francisco will play enough to get too excited.
The Giants are another matter.
Daniel Jones, QB, Giants vs. Patriots (Spread: Patriots -3.5 | O/U: 35.5)
Joe Judge said he plans to treat the preseason finale against the Patriots next Sunday as "almost like a regular season game," with his starters and regulars playing about a half.— Ralph Vacchiano (@RVacchianoSNY) August 22, 2021
So we get Daniel Jones for two, potentially a bit more, quarters on Sunday. Sadly enough, is he even worthy of exposure? Considering the pathetic state of the Giants’ O-line, every half second of pocket protection he’s provided will be a true blessing. And that’s assuming he’ll face New England’s defensive reserves. As you can see, HC Joe Judge releasing word that his starters will use the game as a dress rehearsal did not result in Vegas favoring NYG.
If we knew Saquon Barkley, Kenny Golladay, and Kadarius Toney would be on the field with him, it would make clicking that plus sign to add Jones to lineups a bit easier to stomach. And it’s very difficult to trust that Judge will keep Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton on the field throughout the first half. I definitely have my doubts. However, it doesn’t appear that any other teams are planning to use their starters nearly as much as New York.
The Bottom Line: Part of the reason the Patriots are favored can be attributed to Bill Belichick’s stellar preseason record. And preseason QBs have not blazed a trail of DFS production. So, Jones’ extensive playing time should result in enough output to threaten for the top score at the position.
Trey Lance, QB, 49ers vs. Raiders (Spread: 49ers -3.5 | O/U: 35.5)
Shanahan said he plans on playing all of the 49ers starters during the third preseason game against the Raiders. Even the ones who have yet to play during the preseason.— Niners Nation (@NinersNation) August 23, 2021
Word has not been passed down as to exactly how HC Kyle Shanahan will distribute his QB snaps against the Raiders. We do know the “starters” will play, just no idea how much. And the QB situation could be considered mudier if you are reading into Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance splitting first-team reps in recent joint practices.
One thing Shanahan has not been shy to admit is that he already knows which QB will be the starter in Week 1. Excuse my confidence, but that QB is going to be Jimmy G. However, it should not be long until Lance is inserted as the starter. For Sunday, I prefer Lance not running with the starters. The hope is that Garoppolo and the ones will play a few series, and Lance will collect his typical two quarters of play.
The Bottom Line: No matter when Lance’s playing time comes this weekend, he will not face the first-string defense of the Raiders… since they are not going to play. A simple repeat of his performances against the Chiefs or Chargers would suffice.
Alternatives (provided a couple extra since we’re waiting on some news to be passed along):
Jacoby Brissett, QB, Dolphins at Bengals (Spread: Bengals -1.5 | O/U: 36.5)
Zac Taylor indicates the first team defensive starters will not play in the final preseason game Sunday.— Marisa Contipelli (@BengalsMarisa) August 25, 2021
Kyle Lauletta, QB, Browns at Falcons (Spread: Browns -5.5 | O/U: 36.0)
#Browns HC Kevin Stefanski on whether starters will play on Sunday: "I'll announce it on Friday. We have a plan. Want to get through these next few days, talk about it."— 92.3 The Fan (@923TheFan) August 25, 2021
Nathan Peterman, QB, Raiders at 49ers (Spread: 49ers -3.5 | O/U: 35.5)
#Raiders OC Greg Olson, on sitting starters during preseason: The risk of losing an athlete player...we just didn't feel like the risk was worth it."— Paul Gutierrez (@PGutierrezESPN) August 26, 2021
Rhamondre Stevenson, RB, Patriots at Giants (Spread: Patriots -3.5 | O/U: 35.5)
RB Rhamondre Stevenson’s preseason tape for the @patriots is just ridiculously good. Smooth, great feet, vision, strength, breakaway speed…and they got him in the 4th!!!! He obviously put in the work to be ready to hit the ground running in camp. Love to see it. @dreeday32— Louis Riddick (@LRiddickESPN) August 27, 2021
J.J. Taylor, RB, Patriots at Giants (Spread: Patriots -3.5 | O/U: 35.5)
Patriots RB JJ Taylor is breaking Giants LBs’ ankles in 1-on-1 pass-catching drills. Finished with a deep completion from Mac Jones.— Doug Kyed (@DougKyed) August 25, 2021
With back-to-back victories and outsourcing opponents 57-13, we simply must be all over the New England backfield on Sunday. Taking it a step further, HC Bill Belichick has compiled a 48-36 preseason record during his time in New England. And, if it wasn’t entirely clear, Sony Michel became expendable due to the play of Rhamondre Stevenson and J.J. Taylor. But it would be unwise to categorize these two together. At 5-foot-6, 185-pounds, Taylor is a change-of-pace scatback whowill be the direct backup to James White.
Stevenson, on the other hand, is a 6-foot, 227-pounder with three-down potential. Damien Harris will deservedly work as the lead back this season. But, should he go down to injury, Harris may find it difficult collecting the entirety of his backfield share from “Dre-Day.” If you’ve watched the first two preseason games, you’ll see precisely why analysts are excited about Stevenson’s futute. A guy his size is not supposed to have feet that quick.
The Bottom Line: 25 carries, 12 broken tackles, four TDs. Stevenson shed double-digit tackles just last week on only 15 carries. Everything early down, inside the 20 will be owned by Rhamondre on Sunday. That’s big-time important. But all of the backfield receiving work will be delivered to the hands of Taylor. Two different, but very important roles. Especially when the Pats have either Mac Jones or Brian Hoyer under center. It’s difficult to envision any cashing lineups this weekend without one of the two rostered.
JaMycal Hasty, RB, 49ers vs. Raiders (Spread: 49ers -3.5 | O/U: 35.5)
It appears that Elijah Mitchell will land on injured reserve. If we do see Raheem Mostert or Trey Sermon, it will be brief. That leaves the remainder of the carries to be distributed between JaMycal Hasty and Wayne Gallman. And word on the street is that they are competing for one spot on the 53-man roster. That said, Gallman, who is the most likely of the two to be released, can be added back to the active roster when Mitchell is officially moved to IR.
The Bottom Line: Hasty touched the ball 22 times last week, 16 for Gallman. We can expect similar usage facing the vulnerable run defense of the Raiders.
John Kelly, RB, Browns at Falcons (Spread: Browns -5.5 | O/U: 36.0)
Interesting juxtaposition when watching Demetric Felton vs. John Kelly run in the Browns' zone scheme. Obviously, Felton can be an offensive weapon as a receiver and runner. But he looks a little indecisive when reading blocks. Kelly is one cut and downhill right now.— Brent Sobleski (@brentsobleski) August 23, 2021
It’s already written in stone that Nick Chubb, Kareem Hunt, and D’Ernest Johnson will be listed on the opening day roster. Due to his ability to contribute on the ground as a RB, through the air as an inside WR, and on special teams, it’s likely that Demetric Felton also breaks camp with the big boys. That leaves John Kelly either signing elsewhere or landing on Cleveland’s practice squad. But he’ll have one last opportunity to give the Browns’ brass something to think about.
The Bottom Line: It is very likely that we’ll see similar usage with the Cleveland backfield that we saw last week against the Giants. A couple series of reps for Johnson, around a quarter for Felton, and Kelly closing out the game. Kelly will sidestep however many snaps the Falcons’ defensive starters play, facing off with the reserves that have been trampled over in run defense this preseason. Kelly has compiled 122 total yards, one TD, and 11 receptions through two preseason games.
Trey Ragas, RB, Raiders at 49ers (Spread: 49ers -3.5 | O/U: 35.5)
Demetric Felton, RB, Browns at Falcons (Spread: Browns -5.5 | O/U: 36.0)
The Browns’ “smart, tough, accountable” mantra led them to Demetric Felton. Now, the question isn’t about Felton making the team - but did the Browns find another sixth round gem? https://t.co/OEmegV61oG— Zac Jackson (@AkronJackson) August 25, 2021
Caleb Huntley, RB, Falcons vs. Browns (Spread: Browns -5.5 | O/U: 36.0)
For those who have been annoyed by the Falcons not playing their starters (which...don't be annoyed by it...seriously. Just don't)... the TV broadcast said starters are expected to play next Sunday against Cleveland.— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) August 21, 2021
(That'll be at home, too)
Trent Sherfield, WR, 49ers vs. Raiders (Spread: 49ers -3.5 | O/U: 35.5)
Just listened to Trent Sherfield on KNBR. High level guy. High level preparation. I walked away from it thinking “Of course he’s having camp/pre season success.”— Big CROCKY⚡️ (@eric_crocker) August 26, 2021
It’s a shame that Jauan Jennings is injured. I planned on relying on him after his tremendous camp. However, even Jennings has been outshined by Trent Sherfield. He’s made such an impression on the 49ers that, when San Francisco fields three WRs, Sherfield will join Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel.
The Bottom Line: The best aspect of the Sherfield deal is that he’s established an outstanding connection with Trey Lance. Sherfield was on the receiving end of the 37-yard bomb from Lance against Kansas City that he took the rest of the 43 yards to the house for Trey’s first TD pass. And the Lance-to-Sherfield association took root again last week on a pair of receptions for 50 yards. The hope is that these two will get extended run together on Sunday against Las Vegas.
David Sills V, WR, Giants vs. Patriots (Spread: Patriots -3.5 | O/U: 35.5)
David Sills with a beautiful catch in the end zone for a TD!— Alex Wilson (@AlexWilsonESM) August 26, 2021
SILLS ARMY 💪 pic.twitter.com/F6u5uiOO0r
As already mentioned, I do not feel Joe Judge will follow through on his stated plans to allow Sterling Shepard and Darius Slayton play the entire first half with the rest of the starters due to the diminished health of his WR unit. And that plays directly into a target relationship between Daniel Jones and David Sills V. We already saw Sills, Dante Pettis, and Damien Willis featured last week. The trio combined to see 12 targets against the Browns. But those targets were delivered by Mike Glennon and Brian Lewerke.
The Bottom Line: Sills has easily been New York’s top preseason receiver. He caught a TD from Lewerke last week and leads the group with a solid 1.78 yards gained/route run (YPRR). If you decide on exposure to Jones, Sills and/or Kaden Smith will be the optimal stacks.
Davion Davis, WR, Browns at Falcons (Spread: Browns -5.5 | O/U: 36.0)
Baker Mayfield just found Davion Davis for a 50-yard TD. #Browns— Hayden Grove (@H_Grove) August 26, 2021
Anthony Schwartz is participating in team drills, and Davion Davis made a tumbling catch on a deep pass in 7-on-7. We will probably see a lot of both guys Sunday night.— Scott Patsko (@ScottPatsko) August 26, 2021
If you listened last week on Davion Davis, you are already fully aware of this kid’s potential. The Vikings kicked the tires on Davis as an UDFA in 2019 out of Sam Houston State. He was eventually waived prior to last season. How this kid managed to go unclaimed until the Browns picked him up in late July may be tied to being suspended the first two games of 2021 for a substance abuse violation. But, as long as this kid continues to work his ass off, Davis has some long-term potential. Best of all, he is rostered with a team with little in the way of developmental talent at WR.
The Bottom Line: In two preseason games with Cleveland, Davis has turned 33 routes and eight targets into seven receptions, 101 yards, one TD, and 3.06 YPRR. And most of that production has come with Kyle Lauletta under center. On a slate short on obvious options at WR, Davis is an easy call to return value against an Atlanta secondary that hasn’t much opposition to production this preseason.
Kristian Wilkerson, WR, Patriots at Giants (Spread: Patriots -3.5 | O/U: 35.5)
Mac Jones did a good job spreading the ball out today.— Mark Daniels (@MarkDanielsPJ) August 25, 2021
James White (6), Kendrick Bourne (6), Jakobi Meyers (6) and Kristian Wilkerson (5) led the Patriots in catches
David Andrews and Gunner Olszewski are new absences at Patriots practice today.— Alex Barth (@RealAlexBarth) August 27, 2021
Jonathan Jones and Justin Bethel returned.
Newly-acquired cornerback Shaun Wade is here, wearing Sony’s old No. 26. He’s in a red non-contact jersey. @985TheSportsHub pic.twitter.com/qd3X2C3ggg
Here it is. Kristian Wilkerson’s final opportunity to stake his claim on a 53-man roster spot with the Patriots. At the time of this write-up, word has not been passed along as to the distribution of QB reps. It doesn’t matter. Wilkerson has been a frequent target of all three New England QBs during camp, joint practices, and preseason action.
The Bottom Line: The only other NEP WR that’s seen as much play as Wilkerson has been N’Keal Harry. Harry is out with a shoulder injury. Wilkerson should play most of the game on Sunday. While a TD might be asking a bit much, six-to-eight targets are entirely within reason.
DJ Turner, WR, Raiders at 49ers (Spread: 49ers -3.5 | O/U: 35.5)
#Raiders place LB Darron Lee on IR and waive 2 WR Marcell Ateman and DT Darius Stills— Barb Layton (@RedZoneLayton) August 24, 2021
Kirk Merritt, WR, Dolphins at Bengals (Spread: Bengals -1.5 | O/U: 36.5)
Dolphins can make a compelling case to keep 7 WRs: Parker, Fuller, Waddle, Wilson, Hollins, Grant, Preston Williams. Fuller doesn't count toward 53 in week 1 (NFL suspension). And Kirk Merritt is an intriguing young player.— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) August 24, 2021
Anthony Schwartz, WR, Browns at Falcons (Spread: Browns -5.5 | O/U: 36.0)
Alex Ellis, TE, Raiders at 49ers (Spread: 49ers -3.5 | O/U: 35.5)
TE Alex Ellis just beat Abram for what would have been a TD pass, ball delivered by Mariota. Secondary Coach Ron Milus with instructions after.— Your Boy Q (@YourboyQ254) August 25, 2021
None of the TEs on the slate have scored a TD this preseason. If you want an absolute, I can’t provide you with one. But Alex Ellis saw a target on 46% of routes last week, producing the most receiving yards (41) among TEs on the slate that are expected to see the field.
The Bottom Line: Five points. That’s all we need 🤞🤞🤞.
Thaddeus Moss, TE, Bengals vs. Dolphins (Spread: Bengals -1.5 | O/U: 36.5)
Hearing a lot of positivity out of Bengals camp on Thaddeus Moss, Randy's son and former NC State and LSU TE. Has played well when given the opportunity this summer.— Peter Schrager (@PSchrags) August 25, 2021
The signing of Thaddeus Moss originally appeared to be a favor from former LSU teammate Joe Burrow. Then Moss actually provided some compelling reasons for Cincinnati to consider keeping him this season.
The Bottom Line: Again, you need to dig deep at TE on Sunday. Moss, Hunter Long, and Kaden Smith are the best pivots if Ellis isn’t your flavor.
Hunter Long, TE, Dolphins at Bengals (Spread: Bengals -1.5 | O/U: 36.5)
Hunter Long doing good job today - multiple chunk catches - with first team. He led Power 5 TEs in catches last year. Fins with enviable TE depth; good room.— Barry Jackson (@flasportsbuzz) August 26, 2021
Kaden Smith, TE, Giants vs. Patriots (Spread: Patriots -3.5 | O/U: 35.5)
49ers, DST, 49ers vs. Raiders (Spread: 49ers -3.5 | O/U: 35.5)
Final practice open to the media ended a little while ago. What I saw reminded me of 2019 camp: Nick Bosa, Dee Ford and the rest of the D-line absolutely storming across the line of scrimmage every snap they were out there.— Tim Kawakami (@timkawakami) August 26, 2021
Patriots, DST, Patriots at Giants (Spread: Patriots -3.5 | O/U: 35.5)