Below, The 33rd Team’s Mark Garcia and Nic Bodiford break down the top six fantasy football storylines from the Thursday-to-Sunday slate of games.
Top 6 Fantasy Storylines
Panthers at Giants
New York utilized tight end Darren Waller all over the formation, including snaps from the slot and out wide. Waller was targeted on Jones’ first three pass attempts and ended with a robust 50 percent targets-per-route-run rate and three receptions for 30 yards on four targets.
The presumed Giants’ starting wide receivers played for two drives (13 snaps). Darius Slayton led the way in snaps with 11, followed by Parris Campbell with 10, Isaiah Hodgins with eight and Jalin Hyatt with three. It’s becoming evident Slayton should lead the team in snaps from the Z spot.
As for the fantasy expectations, Waller, Jones and Saquon Barkley are the only players likely to retain weekly consistency from volume. Slayton is set to provide sporadic spike week scoring through his hefty snap rate and downfield role. Your guess is as good as ours about who is behind those four.
Bengals at Falcons
Let the Bijan Robinson mania commence (or continue?). Robinson handled 80 percent of the carries with the starters and ran a route on 60 percent of plays. He saw one target on nine pass attempts from Desmond Ridder. Also of note, fellow running back Tyler Allgeier played, but veteran Cordarrelle Patterson did not.
Talk from camp prior to Patterson’s injury indicates the veteran is likely to be a utility player instead of seeing the bulk of his snaps from the backfield like in 2022. This preseason game leaves us with an encouraging first glimpse of what to expect from the Atlanta Falcons’ backfield.
Continuing the hype train, Mack Hollins led the Falcons’ starting wide receivers in snaps with 14 (of 17 offensive plays). It’s clear the team values his downfield role, and he should be in lockstep with Drake London for snaps. Hollins is going undrafted in most early drafts.
On the opposite side of the hype coin is tight end Kyle Pitts, who split snaps with MyCole Pruitt and Jonnu Smith on Friday. Out of the 17 offensive snaps, Pitts and Pruitt were on the field for nine while Smith was on the field for seven. That’s not exactly what we want to see from Pitts, the TE6, per early ADP.
Bills at Steelers
Kenny Pickett and the rest of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ starters played two possessions against the Buffalo Bills. Those possessions encompassed all of seven offensive plays as the Steelers scored two quick touchdowns.
Leadback Najee Harris played the first four snaps, none of them on third down. He managed six yards on two carries before giving way to Jaylen Warren on a third-down play. The team converted the third down, and Warren stayed on the field for the subsequent first down. Then, Warren broke loose for a 62-yard touchdown scamper down the sideline. The only other offensive play for the starters was a 25-yard touchdown dart to tight end Pat Freiermuth up the seam, following a 54-yard Calvin Austin punt return.
The big takeaways involve the state of the Steelers’ backfield. Warren appears to be forcing the issue regarding snaps. We expected him to operate in a loose change-of-pace role while also working in for some third downs. His preseason success could place a cap on Harris’ previously massive workload.
Don’t forget about coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s previous tendencies, which have largely consisted of a featured back with a significant body of work. While Warren’s upside is tantalizing, his recent rise in ADP appears a bit extreme considering his coach’s tendencies. View this situation more as a cap to Harris’ ceiling than a boon to Warren’s expectations.
Raiders at Rams
Coach Sean McVay is known for resting established starters during the preseason. After a strong showing from fifth-round rookie WR Puka Nacua in the Los Angeles Rams’ first preseason game, he joined Nos. 2 and 3 wide receivers Van Jefferson and Tutu Atwell among the Week 2 inactives. Demarcus Robinson and Ben Skowronek tallied double-digit snap counts.
Nacua (6-foot-2, 205 pounds) is built similarly to No. 1 wide receiver Cooper Kupp (6-foot-2, 208 pounds) and dominated college defensive backs lining up across the formation, akin to McVay’s deployment of Kupp.
Among 189 FBS wide receivers with at least 65 targets in 2022, Nacua’s 4.2 yards per route run (YPRR) ranked No. 1, per SportsInfoSolutions. His 0.3 broken- and missed-tackles-forced-per-reception rate tied for No. 9.
Nacua’s exceptional talents starkly contrast with those of Jefferson and Atwell’s. Between the two, Atwell’s 1.67 YPRR in 2022 comes closer to the NFL’s ideal 2.0 YPRR rate, and neither has produced even 900 yards receiving in a single season.
Nacua’s rapid ascension to receiving starter treatment indicates he has an earlier-than-expected opportunity to enter Week 1 with a role in three-receiver sets. He can potentially take over as the No. 2 behind Kupp and is a worthwhile late-round dart throw.
Patriots at Packers
Coach Matt LaFleur kept the Green Bay Packers’ first-team offense on the field for three first-quarter drives (17 snaps). Two second-round rookies — TE Luke Musgrave and WR Jayden Reed — are making good on their draft capital, successfully earning Week 1 roles.
Musgrave played all 17 first-team snaps while Josiah Deguara played five and fellow rookie Tucker Kraft played three. Musgrave is now locked in as the team’s full-time starter with usage pointing toward top-12 fantasy relevancy. His 30 percent targets per route run (TPRR) ranks ninth among 30 NFL tight ends with at least four preseason targets. Plus, his 4.67 yards after the catch per reception is tied for 11th.
The 6-foot-6, 253-pound Musgrave led all Power 5 tight ends with 169 yards receiving in the first two weeks of his 2022 collegiate season. However, a Grade 3 MCL sprain suffered before the second game’s final whistle ended his season prematurely. His hot 2023 start confirms Musgrave’s small-sample 2022 success was no mirage.
Musgrave is being drafted outside the position’s top 25 on both ESPN and Sleeper in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues. He is the best late-round bet to produce a top-12 finish.
The 5-foot-11, 187-pound Reed played on nine of 17 first-team snaps and was one of two wide receivers to earn targets. Through two preseason games, Reed has demonstrated the requisite per-route efficiency (28.6 percent TPRR and 2.79 YPRR) to handle No. 3 wide receiver duties.
Green Bay’s final preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks gives Reed one more chance to leapfrog No. 2 wide receiver Romeo Doubs in the pecking order. Doubs disappointed in his 2022 rookie season, earning just 1.5 YPRR, which tied for 48th among 85 NFL wide receivers with at least 50 targets. Surpassing Doubs is well within Reed’s range of outcomes.
Chiefs at Cardinals
This week, coach Andy Reid increased the Kansas City Chiefs’ first-team offense’s playing time from one drive to three, allowing quarterback Patrick Mahomes and co. to play the entire first quarter. Reid also expanded his first-team player pool but kept Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Skyy Moore as the top two wide receivers.
|KC WR First-Team Preseason Snaps||Week 1 (6 Possible Snaps)||Week 2 (18 Possible Snaps)|
|Richie James Jr.||0||5|
Rashee Rice, Justyn Ross and Richie James’ elevation indicates the starting three-receiver isn’t solidified. Those three, along with Valdes-Scantling, are being selected outside ESPN and Sleeper’s top-60 wide receiver PPR ranks.
Valdes-Scantling’s volatile downfield role better lends itself to best ball formats, but Rice and Ross can operate at all three field depths. James profiles as a short-area route runner, though he was unable to earn a target against the Cardinals.
Rice and Ross look like the strongest bets for Kansas City’s perimeter-based, X wide receiver role. The table below ranks, in parentheses, their receiving production among 50 NFL wide receivers with at least seven preseason targets.
|NFL WR Preseason Receiving||Rashee Rice||Justyn Ross|
|TPRR||38.2% (No. 4)||30.0% (No. 13)|
|YPRR||3.71 (No. 2)||1.57 (No. 27)|
|Catch Rate||84.6% (No. 8)||44.4% (T-No. 39)|
|Air Yards/Target||4.00 (T-No. 49)||9.22 (No. 25)|
|Yards/Reception||11.5 (No. 23)||11.8 (No. 20)|
|Yards After Catch/Reception||7.64 (No. 3)||4.25 (No. 19)|
With tight end Travis Kelce turning 34 in October, there is room for a young wide receiver to blossom into Mahomes’ next long-term No. 1 target. Fantasy managers would do well to throw darts at any of the receivers receiving first-team reps, especially the Rice and Ross pairing.