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Preseason NFL DFS: Jamaal Williams and Thursday’s Top Picks

Our first real preseason daily fantasy football slate arrives on Thursday night. The Hall of Fame game was a bit of a joke last week and Wednesday offers up just one game. The real deal isn’t here for a month yet, but a nice 7-game slate still opens the door to plenty of NFL action and a chance for some of us to win big in some GPPs at FanDuel.

Some will say anyone playing NFL DFS contests is a degenerate, but if you avoid using star players that won’t play much and do the research, you can actually gain a very clear edge.

For week one specifically, we want to refrain from starters (unless they’re engaged in an intense position battle) for the most part, while honing in on talented young players with something to prove.

We still want to keep tabs on the latest injuries and general news. Coaches will hold out or limit anyone of value for whatever reason they want and anyone with even the most minor ailment is a threat to sit out. With that, let’s take a look at some of the best players for Thursday’s 7-game NFL DFS slate:

Quarterbacks

When we look at a quarterback in daily fantasy football preseason contests, we don’t just look at starters. We want the most snaps as possible, we don’t care as much about the matchup and hopefully, our passer has some weapons to work with.

The following quarterbacks are probably our best bets:

  • Matt Moore (Miami Dolphins)
  • Jimmy Garoppolo (New England Patriots)
  • Ryan Mallett (Baltimore Ravens)
  • Brett Hundley (Green Bay Packers)
  • Paxton Lynch (Denver Broncos)
  • Mitchell Trubisky (Chicago Bears)
  • Deshone Kizer (Cleveland Browns)
  • Chase Daniel (New Orleans Saints)

There are obviously more situations to dive into, so the idea is to focus on the most talented passer that should spend a good amount of time on the field. Aaron Rodgers isn’t expected to suit up for Green Bay’s preseason opener and guys like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and others are solid bets to either do the same or be extremely limited in week one.

That opens up the door to Hundley starting, which could mean he gets an entire half to run the offense. If that’s to be believed, he might be the best quarterback to use on this slate.

Three other guys stand out, though, as Paxton Lynch is trying to win the starting quarterback gig in Denver and rookie passers like Kizer and Trubisky will want to impress, as well. All three of these guys will come off the bench and are solid bets to see the field for 1-2 quarters on Thursday.

Of that four-pack, Hundley stands out as the best option. He’s operating a great offense at home, has dual threat ability and has shined during preseason play in the past. Just make sure the Packers don’t have sharp restrictions on him.

In the event Hundley is expected to see limited action, Lynch vaults to the top spot.

Running Backs

Trusting in running backs is far more difficult. Quarterbacks usually know they’re playing a handful of series, an entire quarter or an entire half. Running backs can be taken out of the game if they fumble, miss a blocking assignment or accomplish what the coaches wanted them to.

Just as easily, running backs can be in the game and simply get trumped by one of their teammates. All of this is why we normally don’t want to target backs who start in week one. Their role and production are going to be in doubt, while they’re also facing the best defensive unit on the night.

We’re mostly looking at viable and/or talented backups that are going to be given a chance to show what they can do or are in a battle for a specific role. That leads us to the following best bets at RB on Thursday:

  • Dalvin Cook (Minnesota Vikings)
  • Kenyan Drake (Miami Dolphins)
  • Terron Ward (Atlanta Falcons)
  • Samaje Perine (Washington Redskins)
  • Leonard Fournette (Jacksonville Jaguars)
  • Rex Burkhead (New England Patriots)
  • Corey Clement (Philadelphia Eagles)
  • Jamaal Williams (Green Bay Packers)
  • Alvin Kamara (New Orleans Saints)

The big draw here is a slew of talented rookie rushers, with Fournette and Cook leading the way. They could surprisingly see a good amount of action in their pro debuts even though they’re the listed starters, but that role with the first team offense also makes them somewhat risky.

I’m more inclined to take a shot on guys like Kamara, Williams, and Perine. All three of these guys are talented rookie backs who have yet to officially carve out roles. The Packers shouldn’t give Ty Montgomery too much work in his first preseason game, while Adrian Peterson isn’t even expected to suit up for the Saints on Thursday.

For me, that puts Williams and Kamara atop this list and I also rank Perine third as he fights for the second spot behind Rob Kelley in Washington. If Peterson does play, you can flip flop Kamara and Perine. You can try Cook or Fournette, too, but I’m worried they won’t play enough.

Wide Receivers

There is no salary cap in preseason daily fantasy football, so we don’t need to worry about loading up on Julio Jones and the like and then also worrying about money.

But as we’ve suggested, we should probably refrain from the top studs. Yes, they could pay off with a 70-yard score on their lone reception, but that’s playing with fire. I’d much rather try the studs in week two or three. Leave week one to the younger guys who we know will see the field for more time.

That said, there are a lot of directions we could go in. Here are our best bets at receiver for Thursday:

  • Leonte Carroo (Miami Dolphins)
  • Zay Jones (Buffalo Bills)
  • Moritz Boehringer (Minnesota Vikings)
  • Dede Westbrook (Jacksonville Jaguars)
  • Ryan Grant (Washington Redskins)
  • Jeff Janis (Green Bay Packers)
  • Trevor Davis (Green Bay Packers)
  • Jordan Taylor (Denver Broncos)
  • Rashard Higgins (Cleveland Browns)

Wide receiver is understandably the deepest position in NFL DFS preseason contests, but we have to separate the pack somehow. These guys are your best bets to have solid roles and some upside in week one.

Jones and Boehringer both stand out for different reasons. Jones should see the field a little more now that Anquan Boldin has been added as Buffalo’s new #2 receiver, while a Laquon Treadwell injury could open up a little more playing time for the athletic Boehringer in Minny.

Janis is always a preseason threat, while teammate Trevor Davis has drawn rave reviews in camp and could be just as big of a threat. The same goes for big play man Jordan Taylor, who eats up deep balls and has a good rapport with Paxton Lynch.

Ryan Grant could benefit from some injuries in Washington, while Dede Westbrook has impressed throughout the summer. All of these guys are viable, but our favorites of the favorites look to be Westbrook, Janis, and Taylor.

Tight Ends

Be warned: there are not a ton of reliable tight end options in general and certainly even less on Thursday’s NFL DFS preseason slate. We don’t really want starters here either because they shouldn’t play much, so we wanted talented youngsters or guys fighting for their NFL lives.

This position can make or break lineups just because the one tight end who goes nuts will probably end up being 3.4% owned. Rico Gathers was an easy call last week, but do we have an obvious pick in the lot going into Thursday? Here are a few solid options:

  • Logan Thomas (Buffalo Bills)
  • Bucky Hodges (Minnesota Vikings)
  • MarQueis Gray (Miami Dolphins)
  • Seth DeValve (Cleveland Browns)
  • J. Derby (Denver Broncos)
  • Lance Kendricks (Green Bay Packers)
  • Trey Burton (Philadelphia Eagles)
  • Nick Boyle (Baltimore Ravens)
  • MyCole Pruitt (Chicago Bears)
  • Adam Shaheen (Chicago Bears)

Yeah, tight end is garbage on this slate. There could have been a lot of interesting options – namely Browns rookie David Njoku and Baltimore’s Maxx Williams – but injuries should keep both sidelined in week one.

The pickings are slim from there, but DeVale could have a big role with Njoku out and Nick Boyle could see extra time as the main guy for the Ravens. Both are in consideration, but I find myself drawn more to Adam Shaheen, who has been talked up in camp.

The small school product has a lot to prove in Chicago, but he should get every chance to do so. He certainly is big and athletic, but it remains to be seen if he can hack it in the pros. Based solely on the fact that he needs to play to earn work, I think there’s a decent chance he pays off.

A.J. Derby has been a preseason darling in the past (as have Burton and Pruitt) and he should get ample opportunities with Denver’s second team offense. I wouldn’t be too shocked if he and Paxton Lynch hooked up for several passes and maybe even a score.

Logan Thomas is pretty interesting, too. He’s still transitioning from quarterback to tight end, but he has the size to be a red-zone monster. Buffalo should give him field time to prove he can pull the move off.

Kickers

Some of us learned the hard way in the HOF game that kicks can be sat without any notice and that even when a depth chart doesn’t show a second kicker, teams can produce one with ease.

Everyone is in the same boat at this position; nobody wants to use it, but we have to find value where we can. Nobody is really going to stand out above the rest, but avoiding older kickers who could rest is one good move and anyone having to win their job could also bring value.

I would be hesitant to roll with older options like Matt Bryant and others, while also keep in mind some teams have added or will add more legs. Wil Lutz, for example, may be a bit shaky with the Saints recently bringing in Patrick Murray to help out in camp.

These are the situations we should watch for and you should have a better idea as to which kickers you can trust as the games approach on Thursday.

For now, the following kickers look interesting:

  • Dustin Hopkins (Washington Redskins)
  • Justin Tucker (Baltimore Ravens)
  • Caleb Sturgis (Philadelphia Eagles)
  • Mason Crosby (Green Bay Packers)
  • Brandon McManus (Denver Broncos)

I don’t think this completely rules out the other options, but these kickers have arguably the best combination of talent, matchup, and opportunity on this slate.

Kicker looks like one of the toughest positions to gauge in preseason in terms of news on who is playing, though, so be sure to do your best to know your kicker is actually playing.

Team Defenses

Defense is probably the most difficult thing to project most weeks, as even during the regular season it can be incredibly unpredictable. During the preseason, you’re looking for two things; defenses that have a lot of depth and young talent and units that are going up against offenses that usually don’t.

The following defenses have the combination we’re looking for:

  • New England Patriots
  • Denver Broncos
  • Minnesota Vikings

These are my three favorite defenses at first glance, as they all have top shelf talent in their starting units, but then also have solid depth and good matchups. The Pats, Broncos, and Vikings get the Jaguars, Bears, and Bills, respectively, and their first team units could easily end up stifling the opposition.

From there, New England faces a shaky Jacksonville bench, the Broncos take on raw rookie passer Mitchell Trubisky and the Vikes get a weak Bills bench.

A few other teams stand out in terms of how their bench could perform, with the New Orleans Saints possibly being the other big unit to target. Their first team defense has a lot of questions to answer, but they’re still taking on the Browns. With a collection of pedestrian quarterbacks in Cleveland, the Saints appear to be in about as good of a spot as any defense on this slate.

Kevin Roberts: