Preseason Snap Count Analysis: Five Risers From Week 3 (Fantasy Football)

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The preseason is finally over and we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Injuries happen every year, but the devastating season-long hits to multiple promising running backs in the 2021 preseason felt like something slightly worse than normal. If you haven’t drafted yet you’re probably feeling like you dodged a bullet, and if you had Dobbins, Akers, or Darrell Henderson… you’re probably feeling like you ran into a brick wall. Thankfully, there are no more preseason brick walls in our way. 

Since we have no choice but to move on, we can use the preseason to identify players that are still healthy that may surprise us during the year. Not all preseason snaps are created equal as the guys with higher overall snap counts for a full game are typically the backups fighting for roster spots. The preseason snaps with the starters are the ones that really count. Identifying who is on the field with the starting quarterback can help us predict pass catchers that will see significant target shares, and which running backs are likely to see the most valuable carries. We don’t want to overreact too much to running back usage, but wide receiver rotations are historically very predictive and correlate strongly with target share. This is a list of guys that might not be obvious fantasy picks but should see a lot more usage than expected based on what we’ve seen so far. 

Austin Hooper 

Week Three Snaps With the Starters: 10 

Other Tight Ends (Njoku, Bryant): 4, 2 

Hooper saw more than twice the first-team snaps of any other tight end in Cleveland, and it appears he’s the locked-in starter. Kevin Stefanski’s offense typically works with two tight ends so Hooper will always be sharing the field, but his history as a primary pass catcher and the financial investment involved indicates a second-year leap for him with Baker Mayfield. Hooper is an afterthought in drafts right now, but it wouldn’t shock me at all to see him leap back into the top ten at the position now that he’s had a full year to grow with Mayfield and the Cleveland offensive coaching staff. Consider him with one of your late picks if you decide to punt the position away from the top three. 

Bryan Edwards

Week Three Snaps With the Starters: 0 

This may seem like a bizarre way to present this, but sometimes no action speaks louder than words. Both Edwards and Ruggs have sat out the entirety of the last two preseason weeks, which indicates they’re the top two guys in the offense at their position. It shouldn’t come as a shock that Ruggs will get another run at relevance in 2021, but Edwards is a big-time sleeper that actually has a chance to be the true number one in Vegas. Ruggs is a deep threat who could improve his route running quickly and become a star, but Edwards fits the mold of a top NFL pass-catcher more immediately. He’s a post-hype sleeper in dynasty circles, and someone I’d be targeting with a late pick in most formats. We will know early into the season if the offense can sustain another starting fantasy asset outside of Darren Waller, so there is very little risk to taking a chance on Edwards in drafts. 

Donald Parham 

Week Three Snaps With the Starters: 23 

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Other Tight Ends (Anderson, McKitty): 10, 7 

I have written about Parham in a previous article, but the hype appears to be more real than initially advertised. Parham completely dominated snaps at the position in week three, and there isn’t anyone on the roster who appears to be threatening him as a potential goal-line weapon. Parham is a strong athlete on a Justin Herbet lead offense that should score plenty of points. Both Keenan Allen and Mike Williams will be the first targets in line, but Parham fits the mold of a streamer who could have a 2019 Eric Ebron-like season. Outside of the top six tight ends, there are very few options that aren’t touchdown-dependent. Parham is free in drafts and could be someone who emerges quickly as a favorite of Herbert. He should be added in dynasty leagues everywhere and should be a primary late-round TE option in redraft leagues. 

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Nico Collins 

Week Three Snaps With the Starters: 24

Other receivers (Cooks, Conley, Erickson, Coutee): 24,12,7,7,1 

Outside of the obvious top dog Brandin Cooks, Nico Collins dominated snaps. He had twice as many as the next closest player competing with him, which means he’s the clear #2 receiver and should stay on the field even when Houston runs packages out of 12-personnel. The target distribution in Houston should be very definitive, no matter who is behind center. Obviously, the quarterback play is going to be rough, but they’ll also be playing from behind pretty much the entire ceiling. A higher number of pass attempts should lead to a decent target floor for both Cooks and Collins. He’s not someone I’d have on my roster during week one, but he should be someone to monitor closely as a waiver add. 

Rondale Moore

Week Three Snaps With the Starters: 9 

Snaps From the Slot: 7 

Christian Kirk Slot Snaps: 0 

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Going into this season it looked like Christian Kirk would be next in line for slot work with the departure of Larry Fitzgerald. Through one full preseason, it’s clear that Kirk is going to play second fiddle to Moore in his first year. Both AJ Green and Deandre Hopkins will play in 12 personnel, but Moore should be running routes from the slot on an air raid attack all season long. If Green does fall off as he has in previous years, then Kirk should slide into the outside spot and Moore should retain his role. He’s an explosive player who has moved up my personal rankings all offseason. I was skeptical about his potential role and lack of size, but his targets should be valuable and the Cardinals offense is the perfect environment to maximize his potential. Moore may be a frustrating week-to-week start if you need him at your flex spot, but he could also win you a week in the right matchups. 

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