NFL DFS Preseason Primer: Picks, Projected Ownership, and Strategy for Thursday

Our analysts break down the main slate in detail, setting you up for success in your daily fantasy football contests throughout NFL Preseason.

Thoughts on Week 1

This isn’t going to be a long and detailed analysis on the week, but rather a message on what I am seeing on the GPP contests. The field is significantly better at playing preseason DFS, and ownership is highly condensed. There is a careful balance to be had when playing tournaments between rostering high fantasy point expectations and finding leverage against a field of opponents gravitating towards the same ideas.

You’ll want to be identifying not just your favorite raw projection plays for tonight’s slate, but also the pivot options you can place in 3 to 6 spots of your lineup. These differentiation plays will put you in a better position to ascend large field leaderboards.

Week 2 First Look Projected Ownership

With the thoughts from week one in mind, I have decided to put together a projected ownership run for tonight. The ownership projections below will not be updated. For the latest on expected ownership, please join us in the Discord Chat leading up to lock. Important updates and amendments will be discussed there, and we’ll share ideas on navigating this new and more intensely competitive preseason DFS landscape.

*Edit: Projected Ownership Content Removed on 8/16 *

Philadelphia Eagles vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

Game Total: 34.5
Spread: JAC -3

Core Options: Devante Mays, JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Joshua Perkins
Secondary Options: Cody Kessler, Thomas Rawls, Charles Johnson, Eagles D, Jaguars D, Gardner Minshew, Tre McBride
Third Tier GPP: Miles Sanders, Tyre Brady

Carson Wentz is not likely to play, and Nate Sudfeld will not return this preseason. The Eagles will be looking at starting the season with Cody Kessler at backup QB, and there is much work to be done preparing their defacto backup for duty. He’ll operate with a loaded (for preseason, anyway) set of skill players and conveniently facing the team that released him this summer #revenge. I have conservatively projected him for 60% of Eagles pass attempts based on the idea that 4th stringer Clayton Thorson could be used to prevent undue risk of injury to Kessler. Even at this conservative number and with a laughable total of 34, Kessler sits near the top of my QB projections.

Jacksonville QB Nick Foles won’t play, and the expectation for many starters on this team is the same. Marrone said he’s gotten his healthy first-teamers more snaps in practices during the past two weeks to make up for not playing in the preseason games. That means we’ll likely see a half of Gardner Minshew. He had a rough debut, leading his team to the exact same number of punts as first downs. There is absolutely upside for him to have a better night at home, and I’ve seen worse QBs than him find two TDs in the preseason. At his reasonable projected ownership, he’s absolutely on the map for tournaments despite possessing lineup destroying downside.

Philadelphia has 5 projectable backs and at least two unknowns: Sanders / Howard / Adams / Smallwood / Clement / Sproles / Scott / Pumphrey. I would avoid this spot given the crowd. If a somewhat highly owned Miles Sanders sounds good to you, that’s certainly a fine option. Otherwise, we would need news to clear this up for us.

The Jaguars have only three backs who will play in this game assuming Leonard Fournette is held out. One of them is #2 back Alfred Blue, who actually looked ok last week. Doug Marrone could be protective of a player very likely to make the team, and thus we are going to see a lot of 73rd percentile SPARQ athlete Devante Mays and “America’s Next Top Plodder” Thomas Rawls. Rawls isn’t the picture of health, having recently returned from a hamstring that kept him out of last week’s game. That said, there is absolutely a way that he finds the end zone and comes through for tournaments. Mays has at least one reception in every preseason game he’s ever played, and has a very good chance to see the most touches he’s ever seen in a game. You can roster him, but don’t watch the game.

Top Pass Catcher Target Projections

JAC: Tre McBride (4.3), Tyre Brady (3.8)
PHI: Charles Johnson (4.2), J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (4.2), Josh Perkins (Top TE, 2.85)

All 5 players above are viable on this slate, with no reason not to trust that J.J. Arcega-Whiteside will see plenty of action. The only check box you can’t mark is the quality of QB box, but Kessler should provide enough juice for him to avoid a zero. He’s a high end option with high expected ownership. Charles Johnson has an identical target expectation for me and yet comes with a fraction of the own %. He’s a great GPP play as he battles for a roster spot, going so far as to participate vigorously on special teams to help ensure that happens.

McBride will be forced to see the field a lot as the Jaguars will hold out starters, and practice reports are littered with mentions of his name. It’s just a GPP play as the playing time could easily disintegrate and/or his QBs could perish, but presuming it sticks it will be impossible to find a better target projection at low ownership. Tyre Brady fits a similar description and is just a MME dart with bad QBs slinging the rock his way.

Both the Eagles and Jaguars defense can be used, with the Eagles locked into a full game against bad QBs but the Jags coming in at a fraction of the ownership. Knowing that the best QB my defense will see is Cody Kessler is encouraging, and knowing the worst is Clayton Thorson is mouth watering.

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Washington Redskins

Game Total: 41
Spread: WAS -3

Core Options: None
Secondary Options: Dwayne Haskins, Terry McLaurin, Trayveon Williams
Third Tier GPP: Ryan Finley, Tyler Boyd, Jordan Ellis, Case Keenum, Darvin Kidsy, Donald Parham, Robert Davis, Andy Dalton

Andy Dalton will play more in this game with the starters than the 15 snaps he saw last week. I figure that puts him into the second quarter, which is enough run to be a long shot dart. I don’t normally play the starters in situations like this, but I’m old enough to remember when they came out early in a game last year and just smashed (6 of 8 for 102 yards and 2 scores). Good luck if you want to try that slot machine in that casino.

An equally exciting casino game is called Ryan Finley, who projects for more playing time and fantasy point than Dalton. He acquitted himself fairly well in his debut, tossing 13 completions on 18 attempts with 1 TD and 1 INT. There are a few pairing options deeper down the depth chart here, and thus a Finley + pass catcher combo is a potentially satisfying swindle you can pull on 20,000 of your closest friends in the $10 DraftKings GPP. It’s not my favorite way to live, but I can’t say with any certainty you shouldn’t do it.

Washington’s QB situation is easy. It’s all Dwayne Haskins and Case Keenum with McCoy out and recent signing Jalan McClendon in store for a “long process” to learn the offense. Haskins is the upside play despite his poor week 1 performance, but keep in mind Keenum is liable to play the exact same number of snaps. This information on playing time is being kept under wraps by Jay Gruden, and hopefully beat reporters can uncover some intel before lock. For what it’s worth, I think there will be 2 to 4x as much ownership on Haskins. In tournaments, you can sprinkle in a Keenum lineup if you want to speculate. Haskins is otherwise the more optimal solution, as will likely lead this team in pass attempts.

Trayveon Williams injured his ribs in the last game, but was back at practice running goal line work in full pads this week. There is reason to sweat pregame inactives given the injury, but presuming he’s fine he should be in line for 25% or so of carries. He’s a GPP play for me with big upside. The presence of Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon early in the game lowers his outlook compared to Saturday. Jordan Ellis is yet again a nice pivot after delivering a slate winning performance once Williams left the game on Saturday. Williams is already on the risk radar, and he showed some pass catching chops we love in PPR formats.

Top Pass Catcher Target Projections

CIN: Tyler Boyd (3.3), Damion Willis (3.6), Josh Malone (2.9), Drew Sample (TE, 2.6)
WAS: Terry McLaurin (3.5), Robert Davis (3.2) , Darvin Kidsy (3.1)

I don’t mind chasing an early Tyler Boyd barrage of targets. When that first group is operating, he’s a clear focal point and they’ll be out there for enough drives that it becomes plausible he could do some real damage. Deeper into the game with your Finley stacks, you’ll be after guys like Damion Willis or Stanley Morgan. Josh Malone could play with both starters and backups, though he’s a dart throw at best for me. At TE, the Bengals are exceptionally thin and either Drew Sample, Mason Schreck, or both will be getting a lot of work in. At 6’5” 255, you don’t need Derek Carty to tell you that the sample size (#dadjoke) is large enough to play him. He’s going to block A LOT, but his massive playing time expectation gives him a better than average chance to accidentally score a touchdown.

McLaurin played 1 snap last week. How much of a dick do you have to be to put a guy in the game for 1 play? That is concerning to say the least, but this is football and Gruden has to play him at some point. I am currently writing that off and proceeding as if he’ll see the field for a quarter or more in this game. If he does, he’s good enough to see 3 to 4 targets with upside for more. Davis and Kidsy are competing for a spot on the team, and have been performing well as of late. Much was made of Kidsy’s 5 for 86 performance in the first game, but Robert Davis and his 98th percentile speed and burst is just itching to have his day in the sun as he returns from injury. I wouldn’t be stunned if he stole the show.

Green Bay Packers vs. Baltimore Ravens

Game Total: 37
Spread: WAS -4

Core Options: Dexter Williams, Trace McSorley
Secondary Options: Jake Kumerow, Miles Boykin, Ravens D
Third Tier GPP: Justice Hill, Darrius Shepherd, Allen Lazard, J’Mon Moore, Robert Tonyan

I love Tim Boyle, but I can’t project him or any other Packers QB for enough snaps to get excited without some kind of news item. I do have my eyes peeled for maybe an alert that Manny Wilkins won’t play to get Boyle more run. I don’t really expect that, and thus you’re just throwing darts if you want to bet on the scenario that Tim Boyle 1) gets extra playing time 2) succeeds against the super scheme deployed by the Ravens. I’m not interested in a few series of Aaron Rodgers, as I feel you’ll need to run perfect with 2 consecutive TD drives to reach his ceiling… and honestly he’s liable to be pulled if he executes 1 TD drive.

Trace McSorley burned some of us last week with a pitiful fantasy performance and only a sprinkle of the running ability that makes him a premier DFS option. There aren’t many quarterbacks on this slate you can easily project for 1/2 the game or more, and zero that boast his rushing upside. He was able to complete a TD pass to Boykin late in the first half that seemed to be uninhibited by the holding call that erased it from the stat sheet. Such a play would have changed the narrative, and made you laugh at me a lot less for calling him the top QB play on this slate that belongs in our core group of options. He’s the top QB play on this slate that belongs in our core group of options.

Dexter Williams played 28 snaps to the 20 played by Tra Carson last week, and the only new addition to the backfield from the club was FB Tommy Bohanon. Darrin Hall did not see the field much and Keith Ford played 1 snap. I feel confident in calling Williams a core play yet again as they look to develop their young draft selection, and this week he’ll get to do some developing with Aaron Rodgers at the controls for a few series. I expect they’ll hold true to their word of using running backs more in the passing game, which should only serve to bolster the floor for Williams. Carson is a deep GPP pivot option I can’t endorse with vigor, but won’t carry anywhere near the ownership as Dexter and projects to play in the same ball park of snaps.

The Ravens running back situation is crowded, and we can’t trust anyone for volume. If you want to bet on Justice Hill and his electricity on the football field, I have zero issues with that dart throw. Just know the Ravens have some evaluations to do deeper down this chart, and Hill is pretty much a lock for the roster. He may not see the kind of touches you’re hoping for, but I admit any touch he gets is a threat for a huge play.

Top Pass Catcher Target Projections

GB: Darrius Shepherd (3.50), Jake Kumerow (3.40), Allen Lazard (3.2), J’Mon Moore (3.1), Robert Tonyan (2.6)
BAL: Miles Boykin (4.1)

There are upwards of 19 human bodies that I can’t cross off the list entirely for targets on Baltimore, and that spreads the love pretty thin. The rather large exception is Miles Boykin, who has the look of a man being preppedfor a significant year one role in the Ravens offense. Or at least, they are testing him to see if that’s on the table given their ridiculously thin depth chart. If this is a test, he’s passing with flying colors. He’s dominating practices and received 9 targets in week one, though a few of them were dropped and/or off target. However – stop. Think about how consolidated your workload is if you got 9 targets on 21 pass routes. This is not even counting the TD pass that never was thanks to a penalty. He’s a grown ass man who is already commanding the football, and while we won’t see 9 targets… we only need one while he’s standing in the end zone to make him a smash play. He’ll be hugely owned, and your only real reason not to play him is game theory.

The Packers are competing deep down this depth chart for the final receiver spots, but fewer people are honestly behaving in redraft leagues as if there is a competition up top. Ladies and gentleman, there is a storm coming to the Packers depth chart. It’s called tropical storm Jake Kumerow, and this man is for real. He does “all the little things” up to and including being where he’s supposed to be on timing patterns, dragging the toe in the end zone, and knowing how to look for the football when he’s not open on the back shoulder and/or when the defender is trailing in man coverage. When you are in the favor of Aaron Rodgers, good things happen. He’s the number one reason I think Davante Adams scores fewer touchdowns this season, and is absolutely playable in preseason as he should get the chance to compete for that #2 WR spot and dethrone a lack luster and fully boring Geronimo Allison.

As for the other three wideouts I mentioned on Green Bay, they are deeper dart throw GPP options that project for targets but will have to somehow catch them against a tough secondary. Robert Tonyan is the TE who you can use from this team, and there isn’t much more I can say about him in this spot other than he probably won’t get zero targets. The TE situation is thin, and Tonyan is a sick athlete with plenty of speed and burst.

New York Jets vs. Atlanta Falcons

Game Total: 44.5
Spread: ATL -2

Core Options: Russell Gage
Secondary Options: Falcons D, Brian Hill, Ito Smith, Jaeden Graham, Trenton Cannon, Greg Dortch, Ryan Griffin
Third Tier GPP: Olamide Zaccheaus, Marcus Green

The Jets have numerous offensive line issues to the point where I doubt Sam Darnold gets a ton of run in this game, and wouldn’t be fully surprised if he didn’t play at all. We’ll watch for pregame news. That would put the ball in the hands of some exceptionally bad quarterbacks for a very long time in this game. Trevor Siemian is next in line, but I have very little faith in his ability to deliver a slate winning performance in his limited projected playing time. They are competing at the #3 QB spot, which means we’ll see both Davis Webb and Luke Falk throw an interception tonight. I’ll pass on these QBs, though I don’t for sure think we have to avoid the offense entirely.

The Falcons signed Danny Etling from New England, and if they were willing to throw Matt Simms in there right away…. why not play Etling immediately late in this game? There certainly don’t want to be playing 38 year old Matt Schaub big preseason snaps, and not even Phil Simms wants Matt Simms to embarrass himself for too long. I’m off the Falcons QBs.

Elijah McGuire is running with the third team and saw snaps in the late 4th quarter of their week one game. This is a bad sign for his prospects of making the team, as he is not a contributor on special teams. Do you know who is a contributor on special teams? Trenton Cannon. His evaluation for a role on this squad puts him in the mix to see enough time to generate check downs. Sweet sweet check downs. We’ll be seeing a lot of check downs from lower end QBs unable to read a defense with the precision necessary to get the ball out early, and against a scheme that has elements favorable to the pass catching running back (note: there is rumbling of changes here to the scheme, but I won’t overthink this because scheme isn’t the only factor). Cannon is a GPP play well worth your time. He’s not a good offensive player, but he has a chance.

Ito Smith and Brian Hill are in the midst of a heated competition for the #2 RB job. We could see a brief Devonta Freeman cameo tonight, but I’d bank on it being yet another platform for this battle to play out. Quadree Ollison is the only person who can truly rain on this parade with an increase in snaps and/or some dubious TD vulture catastrophe. Otherwise, you can use both Smith and Hill, with Ito being the lower owned option.

Top Pass Catcher Target Projections

NYJ: Greg Dortch (4.0), Ryan Griffin (2.6)
ATL: Russell Gage (3.9), Olamide Zaccheaus (3.5), Marcus Green (3.1), Jaeden Graham (2.7)

The Jets aren’t particularly deep at WR and Dortch has ascended to second team duties. I expect the starters to be out of this game fairly quickly compared to other teams, which will leave plenty of snaps for Dortch to run around and get some high quality steps logged on his Apple Watch. While he’s running around like crazy, I do except 2 or 3 footballs to hit his hands at minimum, and he’s one of the most likely players on the slate to produce a non-zero at the WR position. They have no reason not to run him into the ground. Ryan Griffin benefits from a thin TE room, and appears to have the #2 job in hand. Look for him as a higher quality TE option on this slate, as the rest of the TE group here isn’t a threat to catch passes.

The secondary of the New York Jets is destroyed. The team lost cornerbacks Trumaine Johnson and Kyron Brown to hamstring injuries this week, which means the entire game will very likely be played with sub-standard defensive backs even by preseason standards. Brian Poole is certainly not a guy we’re afraid of. Russell Gage is an absolute beastly option as he puts the final nails into the coffin of Justin Hardy as the #4 option on this team. He’ll get the chance to play with Matt Ryan for sure, and I love the idea of Gage getting deep behind this bad secondary for a big play early in this game. He’s got a decent floor and a massive ceiling. Guys like Olamide Zaccheaus and Marcus Green will get the chance to win a spot on this team via their special teams ability, and at some point along the way they’ll have to show value at WR. This would be a good spot to do it. Green is just returning from injury, but I am expecting quality run for him.

One final note on the Falcons TEs. They traded Eric Saubert this week, clearing the way for Jaeden Graham to play a lot on this game along side Alex Gray. Graham would be the guy who has the best chance to make the final roster, and my only real concern here is that he’ll have to rely on Matt Simms for some portion of his snaps to get him the football. I can still see it working out.

Oakland Raiders vs. Arizona Cardinals

Game Total: 40
Spread: ARI -3

Core Options: Foster Moreau
Secondary Options: Cardinals D, Nathan Peterman, Brett Hundley, Keelan Doss, Chase Edmonds, Andy Isabella
Third Tier GPP: Kyler Murray, Raiders D, DeAndre Washington, James Butler, KeeSean Johnson,

Jon Gruden likes the athleticism of Nathan Peterman and plans to use him on read options. What? Yeah, read options. I heard Coach Gruden tell Jim Miller and Pat Kirwain that on SiriusXM NFL radio yesterday, and it made me curious for his upside if a few rush attempts are on the table. I suspect his ceiling is 50% of pass attempts for the team, and that would be plenty to give him a chance to be a tournament winner yet again on Thursday. I like him a lot better than I did 24 hours ago.

Mike Glennon looks like a hot, melted, and stretched Laffy Taffy. You probably should just play someone else.

Kyler Murray will play “more” tonight, and that’s certainly appealing and mysterious. Is it two drives? Four? We just don’t know thanks to Kliff Kinsbury and his lack of candor. All we know for sure is that Brett Hundley will come in and play a LOT behind him, and I’ve never seen him look better than he looked in last week’s game. To boot, his skill player group is loaded with options. Murray is a roulette wheel you are hoping to land on your number and pay 35 to 1, and roulette is normally a losing proposition. Hundley will hardly be owned and has more potential upside. There is no player I’ve changed my mind on more since I recorded the Rosterwatch Preseason Grind video. He’s a fantastic GPP option.

The Raiders backfield in 2018 featured almost a full game of Chris Warren while Gruden elected to limit anyone of value. This makes me eternally pessimistic on someone like DeAndre Washington, who was touted by some and bailed out by a TD despite being out-snapped by James Butler by a ratio of 3 to 1. You can’t play Josh Jacobs with confidence, as you’re betting on a low probability first drive TD. For me, it’s basically Butler, Washington or pass… unless you feel Gruden will come off his philosophy deployed in week 1 and all of 2018 where anyone who matters just doesn’t play a lot. You can argue DeAndre Washington doesn’t matter, and for this reason I am willing to rubber stamp a GPP dart if you wish to throw it.

David Johnson will play some, but I’ll let everyone else fish for an early TD. It’s just not my style, but I get it. I’d rather throw that similar dart at Chase Edmonds one rung down on the depth chart. He’s a very talented young back who would be the runaway leader for a goal line carry for most of the first half in my eyes. He may get some ownership, and that isn’t exceptionally awesome for tournament play.

Top Pass Catcher Target Projections

OAK: Keelan Doss (4.1), Hunter Renfrow (3.1), Foster Moreau (2.8)
ARI: Andy Isabella (3.6), KeeSean Johnson (3.4), Ricky Seals-Jones (2.5)

Keelan Doss now has some fame thanks to Hard Knocks and a week one TD catch. I expect that fame will lead to ownership, but it’s a high expectation of targets that is causing his popularity. He’s a fine place to turn at a position that is extremely volatile in preseason.

“Moreau is the sleeper of our camp.” That’s what Gruden is saying about his young TE. He only played 15 snaps in the opener, and I honestly don’t expect him to play all that much more today as he’s probably already the starting TE in 12 personnel for the team. That being said, he’s one of the more likely Raiders to receive a TD pass on this slate, and for this reason he should be highly considered for tournament play at a position where fantasy points are always hard to come by.

I could honestly list 6 WRs for the Cardinals, which makes me only want to list two. This situation is very difficult to predict right now, and when in doubt, I just want to stick with the two guys I know need some developmental repetitions. That’s Andy Isabella returning from injury, and KeeSean Johnson projecting as a starter for this team based on his summer to date. Damiere Byrd, Trent Sherfield, and Hakeem Butler could be viable darts… but with so many bodies in play I think the best move is to dabble some in the KeeSean and Isabella business for more optimal constructions. In deep GPPs, these other guys should carry less ownership and make a little more sense. Isabella and Johnson should both carry decent ownership, and aren’t even for sure better plays based on the lack of clarity on the playing time. For all we know, Isabella could get bubble wrapped after a few routes.

I don’t have a lot to say for a team that will sometimes not even use a TE, but Ricky Seals-Jones led this team in snaps last week at the position. This is more of a tournament play for me as I am not certain we can bank on him leading the team again, but anywhere close would give him a chance to produce a meaningful fantasy score.

About the Author

  • Chris Gimino (ChrisGimino)

  • Chris Gimino is a top mind in the DFS industry and one of the primary contributors at RotoGrinders including one of the most accurate ownership projection systems in the industry. A multiple time live-finalist, Chris delivers actionable tools and advice for RotoGrinders Premium subscribers that helps them make informed decisions for their lineup builds.

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