The NFL Preseason ended Thursday with most fantasy-relevant players watching from the sidelines, resting for Week 1 of the regular season.
Barring another shocking development over the next few days in the league that never rests — such as news of Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck’s shocking decision to retire leaking last Saturday night while he was on the sideline during the Colts third exhibition — it seems safe to put this preseason in the books and draw conclusions for your upcoming fantasy football campaign.
While many star players at the top of fantasy draft boards didn’t play any exhibition snaps, such as N.Y. Jets running back Le’Veon Bell or Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, there were notable developments that will impact last-week fantasy drafts or your current roster headed into next week’s regular-season kickoff.
Here are a few notes to consider, along with updated rankings for those drafting in the final week leading up to the Sept.5 regular-season opener.
1. Luck fallout — Andrew Luck’s sudden retirement stunned the NFL and fantasy managers alike, some of whom had selected the expected upper-tier QB1 just minutes before the news broke. His decision to step way, while admirable, is a clear blow to the fantasy expectations for most Colts players. T.Y. Hilton becomes far less exciting as a potential No. 1 fantasy WR, tight end Eric Ebron drops to borderline starter, and secondary options such as Jack Doyle and free agent addition WR Devin Funchess can be removed from last-week draft boards. RB Marlon Mack still figures to deliver starter production, but his upside is now capped in an offense that figures to fall far below initial projections.
2. Duke in the driver’s seat — Houston Texans veteran RB Lamar Miller suffered a torn ACL Saturday night, which should thrust Duke Johnson into a large early-season role. Johnson was utilized solely as a complementary passing-down back during each of his four seasons with the Cleveland Browns, posting 58 receptions per year, but averaged five yards per carry last season (4.3 career) and played a full-time role for the Miami Hurricanes before being selected in the third round of the 2015 NFL Draft. The Texans are likely to add to their backfield before next week’s opener, possibly targeting a potential trade or cut candidate like veterans LeSean McCoy or Carlos Hyde, but the dynamic Johnson, who has played all 16 games in each of his four NFL seasons, appears poised to enter the season with the largest opportunity of his pro career.
3. Conner, workhorse confirmed — Steelers RB James Conner broke out during Le’Veon Bell’s holdout 2018 season in Pittsburgh, finishing as the seventh-ranked RB overall despite missing the final three games of the season due to an injury. Bell’s offseason exit opened the door for Conner to continue the tradition of workhorse fantasy stars in the Steelers backfield, but the late-season emergence of backup Jaylen Samuels and fourth-round draft selection of Kentucky rookie RB Benny Snell had potential investors wary of Pittsburgh shifting gears to a committee approach. If the limited preseason action from Pittsburgh’s first team offense is any indication, those worries seem for naught. Conner played 85 percent of the snaps with the starting unit, including obvious passing situations, while Samuels ran almost exclusively with the second group. Some extra plays off during games to help Conner endure the season should be welcomed by his fantasy managers, but there should be no fear of a full-blown committee taking shape in Pittsburgh.
4. Ekeler entrenched — If L.A. Chargers RB Melvin Gordon’s holdout extends into the regular season, Austin Ekeler is the preferred target in this backfield over second-year back Justin Jackson. Ekeler played on 15 of 23 snaps with the starting offense during the third week of the preseason, per Pro Football Focus, while Jackson handled eight plays with the first unit. That seems to be a better indication of the regular-season share if Ekeler remains healthy, rather than the 50-50 split that was once projected by beat reporters.
5. Darwin rising — Kansas City Chiefs rookie RB Darwin Thompson has risen from draft afterthought to legitimate fantasy asset with a dazzling training camp and preseason. Pro Football Focus charted Thompson with six missed tackles on 15 preseason touches, a rate of 0.40, which ranks second among 88 qualifying RBs. Thompson also recorded a missed tackles per touch rate of 0.35 last season at Utah State, which is the fourth-highest mark in the last five years that PFF has charted for college RBs that now play in the NFL, ranking one spot of Saquon Barkley’s 2017 season at Penn State. Thompson has quickly worked his way to No. 2 status in one of the most profitable fantasy offenses behind incumbent starter Damien Williams, who has yet to handle a full NFL workload and missed portions of training camp due to a hamstring injury.
6. Guice is back — Second-year Washington RB Derrius Guice briefly displayed the form that made him one of the most exciting dynasty prospects of 2018 prior to his suffering a torn ACL in the preseason. Guice endured a complicated recovery that reportedly included setbacks during surgery and recovery, but took his first handoff of the preseason eight yards around the edge, delivering a brutal stiff arm and forcing a missed tackle that sent a clear message. He finished with 12 carries for 48 yards, showing flashes of his rare combination of burst and power. The presence of Adrian Peterson will allow Washington to ease Guice back, but expect the LSU product to take over a featured role when ready.
UPDATED POSITIONAL RANKINGS
TOP 50 RUNNING BACKS
1. Saquon Barkley (N.Y. Giants); 2. Christian McCaffrey (Carolina); 3. Alvin Kamara (New Orleans); 4. Ezekiel Elliott (Dallas); 5. David Johnson (Arizona); 6. Nick Chubb (Cleveland); 7. Le’Veon Bell (N.Y. Jets); 8. James Conner (Pittsburgh); 9. Todd Gurley (L.A. Rams); 10. Joe Mixon (Cincinnati).
11. Dalvin Cook (Minnesota); 12. Devonta Freeman (Atlanta); 13. Derrick Henry (Tennessee); 14. Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville); 15. Kerryon Johnson (Detroit); 16. Damien Williams (Kansas City); 17. Marlon Mack (Indianapolis); 18. Aaron Jones (Green Bay); 19. Josh Jacobs (Oakland); 20. Chris Carson (Seattle).
21. Melvin Gordon (L.A. Chargers); 22. Mark Ingram (Baltimore); 23. David Montgomery (Chicago); 24. Sony Michel (New England); 25. Phillip Lindsay (Denver); 26. Duke Johnson (Houston); 27. James White (New England); 28. Tevin Coleman (San Francisco); 29. Miles Sanders (Philadelphia); 30. Derrius Guice (Washington).
31. Austin Ekeler (L.A. Chargers); 32. Tarik Cohen (Chicago); 33. Darrell Henderson (L.A. Rams); 34. Jordan Howard (Philadelphia); 35. Devin Singletary (Buffalo); 36. Matt Breida (San Francisco); 37. Darwin Thompson (Kansas City); 38. Peyton Barber (Tampa Bay); 39. Rashaad Penny (Seattle); 40. Latavius Murray (New Orleans).
41. Tony Pollard (Dallas); 42. Kenyan Drake (Miami); 43. Royce Freeman (Denver); 44. LeSean McCoy (Buffalo); 45. Ronald Jones (Tampa Bay); 46. Adrian Peterson (Washington); 47. Justin Jackson (L.A. Chargers); 48. Jaylen Samuels (Pittsburgh); 49. Kalen Ballage (Miami); 50.Damien Harris (New England).
TOP 50 WIDE RECEIVERS
1. De’Andre Hopkins (Houston); 2. Davante Adams (Green Bay); 3. Odell Beckham Jr. (Cleveland); 4. Julio Jones (Atlanta); 5. Michael Thomas (New Orleans); 6. Tyreek Hill (Kansas City); 7. JuJu Smith-Schuster (Pittsburgh); 8. Keenan Allen (L.A. Chargers); 9. Mike Evans (Tampa Bay); 10. Antonio Brown (Oakland).
11. Amari Cooper (Dallas); 12. Stefon Diggs (Minnesota); 13. Brandin Cooks (L.A. Rams); 14. Adam Thielen (Minnesota); 15. T.Y. Hilton (Indianapolis); 16. Robert Woods (L.A. Rams); 17. Julian Edelman (New England); 18. Tyler Lockett (Seattle); 19. Kenny Golladay (Detroit); 20. Allen Robinson (Chicago).
21. D.J. Moore (Carolina); 22. Cooper Kupp (L.A. Rams); 23. Tyler Boyd (Cincinnati); 24. Robby Anderson (N.Y. Jets); 25. Calvin Ridley (Atlanta); 26. Chris Godwin (Tampa Bay); 27. Josh Gordon (New England); 28. Mike Williams (L.A. Chargers); 29. A.J. Green (Cincinnati); 30. Sammy Watkins (Kansas City).
31. Curtis Samuel (Carolina); 32. Dede Westbrook (Jacksonville); 33. Jarvis Landry (Cleveland); 34. Alshon Jeffery (Philadelphia); 35. N’Keal Harry (New England); 36. Dante Pettis (San Francisco); 37. Christian Kirk (Arizona); 38. Deebo Samuel (San Francisco); 39. John Brown (Buffalo); 40. Larry Fitzgerald (Arizona).
41. Corey Davis (Tennessee); 42. Will Fuller (Houston); 43. James Washington (Pittsburgh); 44. Courtland Sutton (Denver); 45. Donte Moncrief (Pittsburgh); 46. Marvin Jones Jr. (Detroit); 47. D.K. Metcalf (Seattle); 48. Emmanuel Sanders (Denver); 49. Marquez Valdes-Scantling (Green Bay); 50. Michael Gallup (Dallas).
TOP 25 QUARTERBACKS
1. Patrick Mahomes (Kansas City); 2. Deshaun Watson (Houston); 3. Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay); 4. Baker Mayfield (Cleveland); 5. Cam Newton (Carolina); 6. Russell Wilson (Seattle); 7. Matt Ryan (Atlanta); 8. Carson Wentz (Philadelphia); 9. Lamar Jackson (Baltimore); 10. Kyler Murray (Arizona).
11. Jared Goff (L.A. Rams); 12. Ben Roethlisberger (Pittsburgh); 13. Dak Prescott (Dallas); 14. Jameis Winston (Tampa Bay); 15. Drew Brees (New Orleans); 16. Josh Allen (Buffalo); 17. Jimmy Garoppolo (San Francisco); 18. Tom Brady (New England); 19. Phillip Rivers (L.A. Chargers); 20. Mitchell Trubisky (Chicago); 21. Kirk Cousins (Minnesota); 22. Sam Darnold (N.Y. Jets); 23. Matthew Stafford (Detroit); 24. Derek Carr (Oakland); 25. Jacoby Brissett (Indianapolis).
TOP 25 TIGHT ENDS
1. Travis Kelce (Kansas City); 2. George Kittle (San Francisco); 3. Zach Ertz (Philadelphia); 4. O.J. Howard (Tampa Bay); 5. Evan Engram (N.Y. Giants); 6. Hunter Henry (L.A. Chargers); 7. Jared Cook (New Orleans); 8. David Njoku (Cleveland); 9. Vance McDonald (Pittsburgh); 10. Delanie Walker (Tennessee).
11. Eric Ebron (Indianapolis); 12. Trey Burton (Chicago); 13. Mark Andrews (Baltimore); 14. T.J. Hockenson (Detroit); 15 Austin Hooper (Atlanta); 16. Jordan Reed (Washington); 17. Darren Waller (Oakland); 18. Greg Olsen (Carolina); 19. Jimmy Graham (Green Bay); 20. Noah Fant (Denver); 21. Matt LaCosse (New England); 22. Kyle Rudolph (Minnesota); 23. Benjamin Watson (New England); 24. Chris Herndon (N.Y. Jets); 25. Jason Witten (Dallas).
TOP 25 TEAM DEFENSES
1 Chicago; 2. L.A. Rams; 3. Jacksonville; 4. Minnesota; 5. Baltimore; 6. L.A. Chargers; 7. Houston; 8. Cleveland; 9. Buffalo; 10. New Orleans; 11. Denver; 12. Seattle; 13. Philadelphia; 14. New England; 15. Indianapolis; 16. Dallas; 17. San Francisco; 18. Pittsburgh; 19. Carolina; 20. Kansas City; 21. N.Y. Jets; 22. Atlanta; 23. Tennessee; 24. Green Bay; 25. Washington.
TOP 25 KICKERS
1 Greg Zuerlein (L.A. Rams); 2. Justin Tucker (Baltimore); 3. Harrison Butker (Kansas City); 4. Stephen Gostkowski (New England); 5. Wil Lutz (New Orleans); 6. Ka’imi Fairbairn (Houston); 7. Robbie Gould (San Francisco); 8. Mason Crosby (Green Bay); 9. Marvin Badgley (L.A. Chargers); 10. Adam Vinatieri (Indianapolis).
11. Giorgio Tavecchio (Atlanta); 12. Dan Bailey (Minnesota); 13. Jake Elliott (Philadelphia); 14. Brett Maher (Dallas); 15. Matt Prater (Detroit); 16. Greg Joseph (Cleveland); 17. Jason Myers (Seattle); 18. Graham Gano (Carolina); 19. Aldrick Rosas (N.Y. Giants); 20. Cairo Santos (Tampa Bay); 21. Josh Lambo (Jacksonville); 22. Brandon McManus (Denver); 23. Chris Boswell (Pittsburgh); 24. Stephen Hauschka (Buffalo); 25. Zane Gonzalez (Arizona).