The 2015 NFL season gets started on Sunday night, when the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers hit the field. Most people probably think it’ll just be a boring game and won’t mean anything when it comes to fantasy football, but with Draft Kings unveiling their preseason DFS fantasy football games, that’s far from the case.
Instead, there is a point in watching and analyzing this game, and if you intend on putting some money down on games, you might want to get all the info you can. Let’s hit the quick facts and then dive a little deeper into the fantasy analysis to try to pick some stellar plays for the first week of preseason action:
There are no major injuries that are specifically keeping any big names out, although linebacker Anthony Barr and fullback Zach Line will be out for the Vikings. Barr’s absence has Minny’s defense taking a mild hit, while Line won’t be around to block for the running game and also won’t be there to get any rushes or catches. That means plenty of opportunity for Minnesota’s main backfield options, instead.
He’s not on the injury report, but star running back Adrian Peterson is unlikely to suit up in game one. It’s easy to imagine him doing so eventually so he can shake the rust off of sitting out an entire year, but game one might be pushing it. Even if he did play, we probably can’t expect more than a series from him, while the same is probably to be expected for most of the starters on both sides. Teddy Bridgewater could get a couple of series, but he is a great risk to use in DFS preseason games, as are any key starters from either team. We already know Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller will sit game one of the Steelers, while Mike Wallace, Kyle Rudolph and Charles Johnson could all be out or on a rep cap for Minnesota. It’s very possible one or a few of those guys make a huge play and pay off if you use them in preseason fantasy football games, but the risk is obvious.
The Best Bets
Now we get to the meat of the Hall of Fame game, where you’ll find your best shot at fantasy success to kick off the 2015 NFL preseason. It’s all about the backups, and like with any preseason game, you’re going to want to consider three important things: actual talent, playing time and defensive matchup.
Landry Jones might be the most attractive passer in this game, as he’s slated to start the game with Big Ben out. Jones may have a chance at playing the entire game, if not a huge chunk of it. Even though he’s shown very little to this point, the extended exposure could give him a chance to produce some solid fantasy numbers on Sunday night. He’s probably the only Pittsburgh quartebrack to consider, although we could also see some of Tajh Boyd and possibly even seasoned veteran, Bruce Gradkowski. Jones is not a rock solid play, but the opportunity is there in the form of playing time tonight and with preseason DFS, sometimes that’s the most important thing.
On the other side, we’ll probably see Bridgewater briefly and then some kind of combination of backup Shaun Hill, Mike Kafka and Taylor Heinicke. Minnesota knows what they have in Hill, so it’s tough to gauge how long they’ll keep him on the field. It’s very possible Kafka could dominate the reps from the second quarter on, while it’s tough to feel good about an unknown like Heinicke being handed a ton of playing time right away. Overall, Jones is the way to go at quarterback for the Hall of Fame game, but this might not be the best week one preseason game to find your fantasy quarterback from.
Given the shakiness at quarterback, it’s going to be quite a risk to rely on any wide receivers from this game on either side. I’d lean toward favoring the Steelers guys like Markus Wheaton and rookie Sammie Coates, as they have a little more stability with Jones in there, their offense is a little more pass-heavy and they’re also solid talents that should see the field a good amount. Martavis Bryant could be the guy to target here, but an elbow issue makes him a risk to be sidelined or limited. For the Vikings, Charles Johnson could see some solid run if he plays with the second team, but the big guys to target are obviously Cordarrelle Patterson and Jairus Wright. Both have deep speed and regardless of who is throwing them passes, could end up paying off quickly on just one huge play. C-Patt offers the added dimension as a return man, too.
The running game is probably the top position to target in this game, as the Vikings will push out Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata for a good deal of the first half. One could maybe even keep seeing snaps in the third quarter, but it’s impossible to know how Minnesota will rotate their guys. Joe Banyard and DuJuan Harris could also see some touches later in the game, and Harris is probably the more talented of the two. It might be wise to choose between McKinnon or Asiata and cross your fingers, however. McKinnon could play less, but he’s the more explosive back, so he carries far more upside. DeAngelo Williams should start the game for the Steelers but shouldn’t play much, leaving the backfield up to the diminutive Dri Archer, Josh Harris and Cameron Stingily. Archer is hardly a running back, but he’s super explosive and the Steelers need to try different things with him to find out what his regular season role could be.
This wouldn’t be the worst game to try using a fantasy team defense, as neither defense is going up against a deadly offense and starters won’t be in for long. The Vikings probably get the nod here, as they won’t face any top starters at all and just need to stop Landry Jones for much of the game.
Overall, your best bets are going to be Vikings players, but trying out Jones, Coates, Wheaton or Archer isn’t a horrible idea. Most of the initial DFS fantasy football preseason games run through tonight and Thursday night, and for more on those games you can just hit up Taylor Smith’s full week one DFS preseason preview. Check back with us later next week as we breakdown the games from Friday-Monday, as well. Good luck!