This week in the Fantasy Football Today Newsletter, we're going to start looking ahead to Week 1, and I'll have an early look at the top players who might be available on waivers right now Tuesday. We'll also be looking around the league to see what depth charts might look like after cuts are made tomorrow afternoon and things settle in. But, for today, let's take one last look back at the preseason and see what we learned.
Those of you still drafting have to make sure you're ready, so you can keep an eye out for the FFT team's Sleepers, Breakouts, and Busts this week as well, along with our walkthrough of how to draft from every spot. And then there was, you know, a bunch of huge news from the weekend, all of which you can read about here -- along with my latest rankings based on that news.
We're juggling a lot this week, in other words -- including our Fantasy Football Today Draft-A-Thon, more about which later. Let's start with today's Winners and Losers from the preseason, along with your questions in a mailbag -- as always, Chris.Towers@CBSi.com is where you can reach me, with the subject line "#AskFFT."
As we continue to prepare for the start of the season, let's catch up on the key storylines you need to know about from the preseason:
Preseason Winners and Losers
- The rookie quarterbacks -- The vibes around the rookies are unusually good right now. This does seem to be an unusually talented rookie class -- the top three picks and five of the first 15 will do that -- but all of Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Trey Lance, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones all acquitted themselves very well in their first taste of (almost-real) NFL action. From a Fantasy perspective, the most interesting of them were Fields, Lance, and Lawrence, in that order, but it's also worth noting that I thought those three were the most interesting for Fantasy before they stepped foot on the field. The point is all five passed their first tests. We should see all five of them starting at some point this season, and while Wilson and (especially) Jones (because of his limited rushing potential) may not have as much immediate Fantasy potential, all five could be relevant by the season's end. So far, so good.
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Oh, here's a friendly reminder before we move on: The Fantasy Football Today Draft-A-Thon is this Wednesday, Sept. 1, at 6 p.m. on CBS Sports HQ and the FFT YouTube page. We'll be live all night long helping you prep for your drafts, taking your questions, talking to some of the best analysts from the Fantasy industry, and, of course, raising money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. We've still got plenty of awesome items up for auction on EBay, and you can join our FFT Draft-A-Thon Poker Tournament TONIGHT at 7 p.m. ET, where you'll be playing for a spot in one of our podcast listener's leagues and a private Zoom call with the FFT team. It's all for our friends at St. Jude, so let's play some poker! Alright, back to the biggest winners!
- Terrace Marshall Jr. -- In an incredibly hyped rookie wide receiver class, Marshall went a bit overlooked as the 10th wide receiver off the board at 59 overall, but he left college with a very strong athletic profile and college track record while being just 20 when he was drafted. He's clearly locked up the No. 3 WR role for the Panthers and brings an element to the offense they didn't have last season thanks to his size. He'll likely work primarily out of the slot and could have a sizable role in the red zone especially, where the Panthers struggled last season. He'll probably be fourth in the hierarchy of a passing game with Christian McCaffrey here, but there could still be room for him to be relevant if Sam Darnold can take a leap. He's worth a late-round pick in all leagues.
- Corey Davis -- Davis played 23 snaps in his two preseason games. 10 of those snaps were running plays. On the other 13, he was targeted 10 times. Think he's the No. 1 receiver? Sure, we haven't seen him play alongside Elijah Moore yet, and the sample size is very small, but Davis could be a very good PPR option based on what we've seen so far. He's in the WR3 discussion for me right now, after being in the 45-50 range a few weeks ago.
- Jameis Winston -- Admittedly, I think Taysom Hill would have been a better Fantasy option than Winston is likely to be, but Winston's downfield heavy approach makes him a high-upside Fantasy option if he can avoid the miscues that ultimately derailed him in Tampa. It also makes him much better for the rest of the Saints offense. He doesn't have Mike Evans and Chris Godwin to throw to this time, so I don't expect 5,000 yards and 33 touchdowns like we got in 2019. But Winston is an excellent No. 2 QB, whether you're in a two-QB league or just looking for someone to pair with one of the high-upside rookies.
- Marquez Callaway -- Don't overreact to his second preseason game, but don't overlook it either. In the game that cemented Winston as the starter, the two hooked up for five catches, 104 yards, and two touchdowns on five targets. It's just a reminder of what kind of upside Winston's approach can bring if Callaway can consistently get open down the field. He's been doing that in the preseason and throughout training camp, and it's not out of the question Callaway could emerge as a top-30 WR until Michael Thomas is healthy. He's a fine dice roll after pick 100.
- Jakobi Meyers -- Meyers has pretty conclusively established himself as the No. 1 WR for the Patriots between his strong second half in 2020 and then his strong play this preseason despite the additions of Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Hunter Henry, and Jonnu Smith. Of course, injuries limited those guys throughout, but Meyers was pretty consistently playing a significant role. He was targeted eight times on his 25 routes run, catching five passes for 73 yards and a touchdown -- a 2.92 yards per route run mark that would match Davante Adams' 2020 mark. Meyers isn't Adams, obviously, but it's just to show that he was quite productive when given the opportunity this preseason. He's a WR5 on Draft Day who could be a WR3 in your lineup.
- Damien Harris -- The Patriots traded Harris' only real competition for early-down snaps when they sent Sony Michel to the Rams this week, and then Harris every first and second down snap with the starters in Week 3 of the preseason, a good sign that he's locked into the lead back role. I have concerns about his upside (due to a lack of pass catching potential) and his injury track record, but Harris is a much more solid RB3 candidate than he was coming into camp.
- Kenneth Gainwell -- I wrestled with whether I should include Gainwell in the winners or Miles Sanders in the losers, but you know I like to be positive, so let's praise Gainwell. It wasn't clear what kind of role the fifth-round pick would have, but it sure seems like he could have a role as a pass catcher right away. Sanders' struggles catching the ball have continued in training camp, while Gainwell was targeted 11 times in three games, catching nine for 66 yards. Gainwell still has to contend with Boston Scott for playing time, especially in that third-down role, but if Sanders continues to struggle in that role when the games count, Gainwell could see the field quickly.
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- Ty'Son Williams -- If Gus Edwards is going to be the J.K. Dobbins replacement, can Williams be the Edwards replacement? At this point, that seems like the most obvious move for the Ravens, which could push Williams from the "Wait, can you say that name again?" tier to the intriguing late-round pick tier. There's always the chance the Ravens go out and add a veteran -- a trade for Latavius Murray would make a ton of sense, actually -- but until they do, Williams could be in line for a 10-carry-per-game role in an offense that makes every running back look good.
- Michael Strachan -- Strachan is a seventh-round pick out of Charleston who is viewed as a prospect for the Colts, but he's also worked his way into the occasional first-team rep and has been the talk of Colts camp going back to OTAs. He's massive at 6-foot-5, 226 pounds, which makes his 4.59 40-yard time look even more impressive, and he put up 78 catches for 1,319 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2019, so it's not hard to be intrigued. Make sure he's not out on waivers in your Dynasty leagues.
Still have questions …
- Antonio Gibson -- Through the first two preseason games -- Gibson didn't play in the third -- he played just one third-down snap. Washington got him involved in the passing game anyway, which was good to see, but if Gibson is still mostly just an early-down back, it might be tough for him to actually live up to our expectations. I'm taking Gibson around the end of the second round, which usually means I'm not ending up with Gibson. Maybe I'll regret that, but I just want more guarantees he's going to get the role he needs.
- Myles Gaskin -- Malcolm Brown started the first preseason game and caused panic in the Fantasy industry. Then Gaskin started the second and was generally used as expected with Tua Tagovailoa. The Dolphins didn't use their starters in the third game Sunday, which meant Gaskin, Brown, and Salvon Ahmed were on the sidelines. They've vowed to use all three backs in a rotation, but the question is whether it's a "rotation" around Gaskin, or if it might be a true hot-hand approach. Gaskin is a solid player, but his primary appeal was around projected volume, and it's just a bit harder to project that since the start of the preseason.
- Bills running backs -- I've tried to hammer this point home this offseason, but the Bills are the worst offense for running backs in Fantasy. At least, that's been the case over the last three seasons, as Bills backs have scored the fewest points of any team. A player can avoid that with an inordinately high share of the team's production, and there was some hope that Zack Moss could work his way into something like that role. Instead, he's come off the bench for Devin Singeltary in each of the last two preseason games and hasn't seen many carries anyway. Singletary figures to see more of a passing role in this split, which makes him the better target in my eyes. Moss has to hope for 13 carries and a chance at a touchdown every week -- and Josh Allen is gonna steal a bunch of those touchdowns anyway.
- D'Andre Swift -- We had some concerns about Swift's role at the start of training camp, but it was still easy to talk yourself into him because he figured to be such a central part of the passing game. Now, it's not clear if he's going to be a central part of the Lions offense at the start of the season due to a groin injury that has lingered through much of camp and kept Swift out of action for the whole preseason. Swift is still worth taking a risk on in the third-round range, but you might feel added pressure to snag Jamaal Williams in the middle rounds, and it may just not be worth the headache -- especially if Swift is active but limited early on.
- Amon-Ra St. Brown -- St. Brown fell to the fourth round following a decent career at USC and a pretty mediocre Pro Day, but there was still a good bit of hype around him thanks to his landing spot on the WR-needy Lions. However, St. Brown was limited to just three- or four-wide receiver sets throughout preseason action and wasn't a fixture in starter snaps even in those 11 or 10 personnel packages. St. Brown probably needs a lot of volume to be Fantasy relevant in what should be a pretty middling offense, and it doesn't look like he's going to get that. He's not on my radar for a normal 12-team draft.
- David Johnson -- Johnson seems locked into a third-down and passing role, except that Rex Burkhead also cut into some of those snaps in the third preseason game. It's entirely possible Burkhead doesn't make the team, but either way, it looks like Johnson is slated for a niche role in a bad offense. Outside of the top 100 (maybe top 120), he's a potential PPR contributor, but Johnson is no longer someone you should be targeting.
- Kenny Golladay -- Golladay left practice on Aug. 3 with a hamstring injury that was given a 2-3 week timetable. Tuesday marks four weeks since that injury, and we haven't seen him outside of side work during practice. Golladay figures to be the No. 1 option on this offense when healthy, but between questions about Daniel Jones, Golladay switching teams, and now his health, it's hard to feel confident about him. If you can get him as a lower-end RB3, Golladay is still a solid target, but he's a huge risk at this point.
- Michael Carter -- Before long, we all assume Carter will end up being the Jets primary back, though I'll be a bit of a wet blanket by pointing out that, of 46 running backs drafted in the fourth round over the last decade, just 12 have had more than 100 carries in a season -- and only Andre Williams reached 200 carries. Fantasy players -- analysts, too! -- tend to get easily distracted by new, shiny things, but we also tend to overstate the chances of third-day picks to make an impact at any point, let alone as a rookie. Carter is running third right now behind Tevin Coleman and Ty Johnson, and given the track record of fourth rounders, optimism is not recommended.
- Dallas Goedert -- Goedert could turn into a winner very quickly if the Eagles can find a trade partner for Zach Ertz, but right now, it looks like they are content to roll into the season with both of them. They'll share the field plenty, but Goedert's upside is obviously capped by the presence of another viable receiving option at tight end. He's still a low-end top-12 TE for me, but it's hard to get excited about Goedert as long as Ertz is around.
- Tarik Cohen -- Cohen is working his way back from a torn ACL, and apparently is not going as well as hoped. He has yet to practice and seems likely to begin the season on the Physically Unable to Perform list, which would sideline him for the first six weeks of the season, so at this point, it seems like you can safely ignore Cohen. That's good news for David Montgomery, who has averaged 19.1 points per game in 12 career games without Cohen, and it's good news for Damien Williams, who is worth drafting late as the primary backup to Montgomery.
- Latavius Murray -- I mentioned Murray as a possible trade target for the Ravens, which might come as something of a surprise if you've assumed Murray is locked in as the complement to Alvin Kamara. However, reports have surfaced suggesting Murray is on the roster bubble, and the play of Tony Jones in the preseason is putting even more pressure on Murray. There's value here for whoever is the No. 2 back behind and often next to Kamara, but Murray shouldn't be a top-100 pick unless we know he's got that role locked in. We don't right now.
- Drew: I was wondering exactly what drugs you were on when you made your top-200 list and had Derrick Henry as the No. 10 running back?
It's called "math," Drew, and it'll expand your mind, man.
When it comes to PPR rankings especially, Henry is facing a math problem -- and so are Nick Chubb, Josh Jacobs, Gus Edwards, Damien Harris, Zack Moss, and so on down the list -- because he doesn't catch passes. Obviously, it isn't an insurmountable problem -- Henry has reached close to the summit of the position two years in a row. However, he had the fourth-most rushing yards ever in 2020 and the fifth-most rushing touchdowns since 2011 and still had just the 32nd-best RB season in that span in points per game. That's amazing -- he was amazing -- but he had a pretty typical great season for Fantasy despite a historic season as a rusher.
I've got Henry projected for 1,548 rushing yards and 15.1 total touchdowns en route to that No. 10 rankings. Can you really argue I'm selling him short there? But you are right about one thing: I shouldn't have had Najee Harris ranked ahead of Henry. That was silly. My bad.
- Ricco: I'm drafting from the No. 1 position and I believe I've heard you say this position has the highest winning percentage of any draft slot. As I'm doing mock drafts, I'm finding this is the hardest slot I've had because you have to wait so long between picks, and you often have to reach to get players or you end up missing any runs that may occur. How do you navigate the need to reach vs value in a scenario like this? Do you say you would reach more than a round? If someone like Javonte Williams has an ADP of 60, would you take him at the 48/49 turn because you know you won't get him at 72?
This anxiety is natural, but I think you have to look at it as a feature, not a bug. You've already locked in Christian McCaffrey, the player with the highest ceiling in Fantasy, and probably the highest healthy floor. Your margin for error is a lot wider than most. And then you should look at it like this: You get to pick the best two players every time you are drafting, which is an advantage in and of itself! If you think that is Williams when you get to pick, take him! One thing I would advise is to think less about positions from this spot in the draft, or at least, don't pass on an obviously better player because you need to fill a position. You're not drafting a team just for Week 1, and if you go into the season with McCaffrey, a stacked WR corps, a very good TE, but a weakness at RB2, that's totally fine. McCaffrey is very much a cheat code in that way. That philosophy applies to every spot in the draft, but it's especially true at the ends of the draft, where you need to maximize the impact of each turn.
- Jeremy: I have the 8th pick in a .5 PPR league. I expect to be choosing between Antonio Gibson and Najee Harris. Who would you go with? If Travis Kelce is there, would you go with him over the running backs?
I'm on Harris' side over Gibson -- my Gibson skepticism shows up elsewhere in this newsletter -- but I'm Kelce over Harris in any league where catches count. Even in .5-PPR (and non-PPR), Kelce is the biggest edge you can get on your competition at any position outside of the top handful of running backs.
- Kyle: I'm in a 10-team non-PPR, two-keeper league. I'm already keeping Lamar Jackson at pick 52. Need to decide between Damian Harris at pick 112 or Terry McLaurin at pick 29. Based on the value this should be easy right by going with Harris? However, I have very, very high expectations for McLaurin and think there is no shot he lasts to 29 in my league. Harris in a 10-team league may never even need to start for me, though now with Sony Michel gone, I think I have to go with Harris and hope Cam Newton doesn't steal all the goal line work. Agree?
I think you're taking a lot of important variables into account, but I view things very simply in a 10-team league: You should be all about upside. I know, I know -- I say that a lot for 12-team leagues, too. However, when you're talking about shallow leagues, the bar is higher for each lineup spot, which means you definitely need to be looking for impact players from every position. I've got Harris ranked as RB31 in non-PPR leagues, and it's not hard to see how someone ranked behind him like A.J. Dillon or Jamaal Williams could make more of an impact than Harris if things go right. Which is to say: You're right in thinking Harris probably wouldn't even be a starter for you, but McLaurin definitely will be. He's a legitimate impact player, so the keeper cost gap doesn't really matter to me. You'll be able to find useful players every week on waivers in a 10-team league.
- Alex: Let me start off by saying Fantasy Football Today is my No. 1 podcast and I listen to your episodes daily. But I am not hearing you guys have honest conversations about a small group of very loud, unvaccinated players. For me, I have highlighted a handful of these players on my rankings list and lowered them from your draft positions. How can I look at a player who hasn't gotten vaccinated and there is a highly likely chance he's going to end up missing games even if it's just related to contract tracing. The guidelines are clear on this.
This is, for obvious reasons, an uncomfortable topic for Fantasy analysts to talk about -- first and foremost because the pandemic is still ongoing and that's ultimately more important than Fantasy sports. I don't want to seem like I'm just punting on the question or that I'm downplaying the issues surrounding COVID-19 at large, here. It's a real factor for this season, given the more stringent isolation protocols for non-vaccinated personnel this season, and we can't just ignore that. But the truth is, it's just one factor among dozens that could impact players. I can't tell you you shouldn't downgrade such players, but it's important to keep perspective that, while they are more likely to have to miss time related to protocols, it's not necessarily likely that any of them will. It's an added risk, and it's not unreasonable to make it a tiebreaker when you are drafting, but it's also a sort of unknowable risk, because we also won't necessarily find out if a player's status changes. It just isn't the kind of situation we can give across-the-board advice on how to handle.
So which sleepers, breakouts and busts should you target and fade? And which QB shocks the NFL with a top-five performance? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy cheat sheets for every single position, all from the model that called Josh Allen's huge season, and find out.