Scouting notebook: From Jordan Love to Juwan Johnson, grading notable preseason performances


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We’re starving for football and now we finall have a game played for every team, even though they’re fake games. But we need to remember that actual game play means far less in personnel decisions than we think. We can mine the games not so much for performance but for real clues about how NFL head coaches currently are ordering their depth charts.

That will be the focus in this inaugural scouting notebook of the 2023 campaign, along with scrutinizing “Hard Knocks” for anything actionable in our game. Let’s apply the tenets of Super Forecasting. Basically, the most important thing is to filter out noise and to not overreact to new information. “Super-forecasters tend to see their beliefs as testable hypotheses that should be revised in response to evidence,” author Philip Tetlock says. “That means they tend to be better belief-updaters… as news comes in and requires either moving a probability up or down.”

Right now, we express probability in rankings. And there is no denying that the games — how players are utilized and their performance — are news. How important is it? Our intrepid editor asked me to rank each nugget here on a scale of 1-to-5, with 5 being most impactful on rankings. But nothing short of an injury should be more than a 2, and even that would be pretty radical. In my rankings, I’m moving select players up or down modestly within their present tier, for now.

Let’s start with the Packers’ Jordan Love. He made some good decisions and manipulated defenders but didn’t execute easy throws. Making good decisions against vanilla preseason defenses means less to me than executing throws, however. I made no change to Love’s ranking. He’s still the last of the acceptable SuperFlex QBs but not a starter in 14-team, one-QB leagues. So I guess it’s a 0 on our scale. Anyone who has a strong opinion on Love should not be trusted.

The big news with the Broncos is that Russell Wilson, in his preseason opener against maybe the worst team in football in the Cardinals, looked like 2022 Russell Wilson. The Broncos couldn’t block Arizona and pass rush is a weak part of their team, we were told. Of course, we’re not as concerned with Wilson as we are about his weapons. I’m sticking with my WR3 rankings for both Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, with Jeudy being only slightly higher. This is a 2 for people who thought Jeudy was a third-round value.

Detroit seems to want to make up for all the developmental time Jameson Williams has missed with injury and will miss with his impending six-game suspension for gambling. He had seven targets.

Jahmyr Gibbs had seven touches and looked very small in pass protection, which could be an issue in a third-down role. (The death of the third-down RB is something we don’t talk enough about in fantasy.) I’m not moving either Lions player and am among the lowest in the market on Gibbs — a low-end RB2 for me given his expected lack of goal-line equity.

The Browns wanting Deshaun Watson to run more and having him do it three times in one series of preseason play gets him an upgrade in fantasy. This is a 2. I moved him up one spot, ahead of Jared Goff.

For the Jets, the most actionable news was moving Israel Abanikanda into the draftable range of rookie RBs despite being a fifth-round pick. He scored a TD in the Hall of Fame game and had this impressive run against the Panthers.

Bryce Young got blasted twice by the Jets’ backup pass rushers, who are unquestionable starters on almost any other team. So I wouldn’t be too concerned about the Panthers offensive line, reportedly the strength of the team. My ranking of Young remains the same — he’s my QB22, between Wilson and Kenny Pickett.

Draft the Jets defense. They could get 70 sacks. They were 29th in turnovers last year despite all the elite efficiency but that’s a fluke (and usually a product of sacks). Remember, the defense is going to be playing in a lot more pitcher counts this year (meaning with a lead).

Man, we’re dying to react to the Eagles backfield. Kenneth Gainwell was benched with the starters. Rashaad Penny’s heavy workload suggested that he’s battling to make the team. But it turned out to be a big nothing burger. Basically, everything will be switched next week and Penny and D’Andre Swift will sit. As for Penny’s preseason action, remember last year when we downgraded Josh Jacobs for his unexpected heavy usage early in the preseason? Let’s not make the same mistake again.

Deuce “Little Coupe” Vaughn has some buzz now thanks to some nifty moves this weekend, but he’s sub-180 pounds. There’s not a back this size who has received more than 31 carries in a season since 1997. I can’t take him seriously. I guess this was a 1 because I at least ranked him now (though not in my draftable range).

I’m not changing Tank Bigsby off his solid day, nor Travis Etienne (who I’m below market on anyway, as my RB15). Etienne did log most of the snaps with Trevor Lawrence. This is a 0.

Joshua Kelley looked really good and now seems even money to beat out Isaiah Spiller, who was also fine, for the No. 2 spot behind Austin Ekeler. This won’t be a straight backup role as Ekeler is capped at 200 carries and the Chargers want more physicality in their offense/running game. So a 0 for Spiller and a 2 for Kelley, since I had him unranked and now he’s in that last-round tier of RBs, slashed basically with Spiller.

Justice Hill got the first touch in the backfield for the Ravens but there is no J.K. Dobbins so I can’t really read much into that. I wasn’t drafting Gus “Ham and Egger” Edwards anyway. This is a 0 for me.

Khalil Herbert was the RB with the starters. D’Onta Foreman with the backups. Both were efficiency monsters last year. Herbert is 25 and has never had more than 155 carries in college or the pros. He’s my RB41 and I know that sounds like I hate him but he’s in the mix with a ton of committee guys and the QB is going to run a lot. RB feels deeper than ever this year, though very light up top.

Here’s what the Bengals official site wrote about Chase Brown after Preseason Week 1: “Brown, the fifth-rounder, came as advertised. Explosive and elusive. He made people miss and then jetted away from the pack on a 21-yard check-down. When he smashed inside to convert two third-and-ones, he also reminded everyone he was durable enough to carry 676 times in college and nearly half of those carries came last season at Illinois.” Brown is my RB57 right now (RB55 in NFFC).

You want to track snaps with the starting QB and it sure looks like Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Skyy Moore are the starters for the Chiefs. I’m not interested in Valdes-Scantling outside of best ball/distance scoring. Moore already was my WR39, way over NFFC market in August (WR47). So Moore’s usage is a 0 for me but maybe a 2 for you.

For the Saints, I’m moving up Juwan Johnson up. I know Foster Moreau got money but Johnson is the hybrid (literally a college WR) who we want in our game at the position. I boosted him three spots to TE13. Johnson is still basically a pocket pick but probably someone you want if you do not invest premium picks in tight end.

Mining “Hard Knocks”

The most interesting thing about the episode is how the Jets apparently nixed all Dalvin Cook coverage (the teams have the final say on what gets included). So forget about Cook going to New York. Remember what a spectacle this was when it was happening,  with social media reports of all the cameras following him around. This is great for Cook speculators, as Cook was ticketed for a relatively minor role on the Jets. His drafters want him signing after a RB injury. As for the fantasy takeaway, yeah, move up Garrett Wilson. But this is a 0 for me as my projection for Wilson was already off the charts. This was the Aaron Rodgers episode, and Rodgers looks very dialed in, happy and motivated. I already had him as QB9. I expect a QB5-to-7 finish (35 TDs) but you have to temper that somewhat for his age (39 until December). This is a 2 if you had him at QB16 market rate.

Here are my current rankings.

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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