I try not to overreact to the vagaries of the NFL preseason, at least not when it comes to fantasy football value. I trust my evaluations of both the players and their relative situations, to the point that a player playing with a different set of players tends to leave me nonplussed while the rest of the fantasy football world loses their minds. But, I am not stupid, nor am I stubborn enough to ignore things that are happening right in front of my face. With the preseason now over, and the 53-man roster cutdown looming, let’s take a look at the biggest preseason risers at each fantasy football position.
NOTE: This version of the article removed Washington Commanders’ running back Brian Robinson, Jr. as a riser. He was tragically shot on August 28, and while he is in stable condition, his return to football is currently unknown.
Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia
While Hurts hasn’t played in weeks, his one drive with the starters way back in preseason week one told us all we need to know about the Eagles’ plans for their third-year starter. The Eagles started their 2022 preseason with a seven-play touchdown drive that featured six Jalen Hurts pass attempts, six Jalen Hurts receptions, a called-back Jalen Hurts rushing touchdown, and a nice pass from Jalen Hurts to a wide-open Dallas Goedert for a touchdown. They made it clear in week one: Jalen Hurts is going to throw a ton this year (at least relative to the past) and will be the focal point of the offense. Hurts is currently QB6, but it’s feeling more like that’s his floor than his ceiling.
Justin Fields, Chicago
While Hurts started the preseason with a bang, Fields ended his preseason with one. The Bears unleashed Justin Fields on an unsuspecting Cleveland Browns defense. While Fields struggled in the first couple weeks of preseason (9/14 for 87 yards passing, and two rush attempts for 11 yards), he turned it on in the dress rehearsal. Fields finished preseason week three going 14/16 for 156 yards and three touchdowns while rushing twice for 11 yards. While Fields wasn’t flawless (his two non-scoring drives combined for 21 yards and two punts), he also showed that a lack of talent around him wouldn’t be a massive problem, as passes to Dante Pettis, Ryan Griffin, and Khari Blasingame helped Fields orchestrate his three marches downfield. Fields is currently QB17 by ADP, and it’s looking more like a steal with every passing day.
Dameon Pierce, Houston
It’s hard to have a “risers” article without the running back who is unquestionably the talk of preseason from his performances. While the Texans sat Pierce in week two (apparently the move for presumptive starters in the new-look three-game preseason), he dominated in weeks one and three, showing burst, acceleration, and relentless rushing prowess that the Texans needed to see. He finished the preseason with 86 rushing yards on 11 attempts. While the 49ers were sitting a lot of key players in preseason week three, Pierce still gashed the second-ranked 2021 rush DVOA team, as six of the eleven plays on the Texans’ opening scoring drive (including the touchdown), were all six of Pierce’s carries in his 6/37/1 line. Pierce, who previously ranked outside the top-50 at running back, has made his way all the way up to draft season’s RB36 on the back of these performances.
Isiah Pacheco, Kansas City
While Pacheco was all the buzz at Chiefs’ training camp, he was relatively quiet in the preseason until week three. In the first two weeks of the preseason, Pacheco managed just 9 touches for 35 yards. He struggled in real-game situations, making some wonder if the hot riser was just hot air. Then, in the final tune-up game against the Packers, the Chiefs unleashed Pacheco. He led the backfield in touches, and he finished with ten carries for 52 yards. While Pacheco had a long way to go, he’s risen from essentially undrafted in redraft leagues to RB48 by 4for4.com composite ADP, going in the 12th-round, on average. I have no problems taking a dart with Pacheco in the 12th, especially if he takes the lucrative 2021-playoffs-Jerick-McKinnon role, where he had 315 total yards on 48 touches in three games last postseason.
George Pickens, Pittsburgh
I’ve never seen someone rise for fantasy football through non-fantasy football-relevant highlights as much as Pickens. While he found some of those, it seems like we have become obsessed with whether or not he contains a canine (if he has that dog in him). This has mostly come in the form of two highlights where he etherblocks a down roster defensive back on a rushing play. Which, if you’re facing him, fine, fool me once, shame on you. But, if I get slammed into the earth weeks after everyone incessantly played highlights of the guy slamming someone else into the same earth, then shame on me. The Pickens Hype Train mostly comes from glowing camp reports and a highlight touchdown catch. Outside of that, he had 8 catches for 84 yards on 12 targets across three games, mostly playing the Chase Claypool Role. Of note, the Steelers held Claypool out of the preseason because of a shoulder issue. I’m not super bullish on the fantasy football WR47, but he’s worth a shot in the 11th round just to see what happens.
Romeo Doubs, Green Bay
Speaking of “mostly camp report-based hype without a lot of the corresponding production,” Romeo Doubs had two highlight touchdown catches in the preseason, which had Camp Doubs going off, but it didn’t particularly flesh with what Aaron Rodgers had to say about Doubs. Never mind that day three wide receivers have basically no production their rookie year, Rodgers said he liked Doubs once in camp. Also, ignore the part where he called Sammy Watkins, Allen Lazard, and Randall Cobb his top-three wide receivers. It’s full-speed ahead on the #7 passing option in Green Bay (don’t forget the two running backs and Big Bob Tonyan). I don’t see Romeo Doubs as worth a draft pick in redraft leagues, despite the helium pumping him all the way up to being a 13th-round draft pick.
Isaiah Likely, Baltimore
Likely lit fantasy football Twitter on fire with his preseason week two eight target, eight catch, 100-yard performance. But, that mostly came against backups… also the backups were playing off of the Ravens… and Likely ran curls and just sort of hung out in the flat with nobody within five yards of him. That’s not to take away from the talent; I am a huge Isaiah Likely fan. But, it’s unLikely (tortured pun 1,000% intended) that he matters much for fantasy football this year. After all, the team pretty much will pass enough to support Mark Andrews and Rashod Bateman, and that’s it. But, if the unthinkable happens and Andrews misses time, the Ravens have a competent replacement who should do a lot of work for you in your fantasy football leagues.
Logan Thomas, Washington
Logan Thomas was TE8 in fantasy points per game last season, but a series of injuries capped by a season-ending knee injury in week thirteen limited Thomas to just five games last year (not including his five-snap, no target effort in week four), and had us all writing him off going into this year, as he’s currently the TE25 in average draft position. He didn’t play at all in the preseason, and the Commanders are bringing him along slowly, but the offense is pretty hectic outside of Thomas. The mere fact that we remembered Thomas exists is enough to make him a preseason tight end riser (that and there not being that many to go around).
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