Well folks, preseason games have come and gone, and we are inching ever closer to Week 1 of the NFL regular season. Even though these exhibition games don’t count toward teams’ win-loss records, they are far from meaningless for fantasy football managers. New coaches, new players, and a new year present a great deal of uncertainty for IDP rosters, but preseason games can give us a glimpse of what to expect for the next 18 weeks. Keeping a close eye on which players are playing, and perhaps more importantly who isn’t playing in preseason games allows us the opportunity to piece together how defensive coordinators plan to use our IDPs and helps us deduce just how large of a role they’ll have.
“But wait, I haven’t been watching these glorified practices! What am I supposed to do now?!” Don’t worry, my friend, I knew you’d be busy enjoying the last few weeks of summer, so I went ahead and paid all the attention for you! Take a look at my Top 100 Overall IDP Rankings below, and read further to see my biggest winner and biggest loser from Preseason 2021.
WINNER: KENNY YOUNG, LOS ANGELES RAMS
When I released my Top 40 Linebacker Rankings at the beginning of training camp, I highlighted the Rams linebackers as one of the top competitions to watch. In my mind, there were five players vying for fantasy relevancy, and it appears Kenny Young has come out on top. Young posted a career high in tackles in 2020, but with only 51 combined stops, he wasn’t featured on any competitive IDP rosters last season. The former UCLA Bruin has apparently impressed new Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris though, and will take the reins as the LB1 in Los Angeles.
Been reporting all camp that Kenny Young has taken a real command of that single ILB in a 5-1/No. 1 ILB in 1-2 ILB tandem role. Reeder also having a really solid camp. Neither of those guys are dressed out tonight.
— Jourdan Rodrigue (@JourdanRodrigue) August 22, 2021
Earning the LB spot in the dime package is important, as the Rams spent 26% of their snaps with that personnel last year, tied for 6th most in the league. To give further credence to these reports, Kenny Young did not play at all in the preseason. Head Coach Sean McVay is very conservative with his starters at this time of year, not wanting to risk injury to players who will have major roles. It’s worth noting that Troy Reeder sat out these games as well, and will likely be the second linebacker on the field for nickel snaps, at least to start the season (rookie Ernest Jones is waiting in the wings). For fantasy purposes, Kenny Young is the only Rams linebacker I’m willing to roster, and you can likely grab him off your waiver wire, but not for long. Pick him up now, and take advantage of what is shaping up to be a career year.
LOSER: JAYLON SMITH, DALLAS COWBOYS
It is unlikely that any defensive player has lost more value this offseason than Jaylon Smith. If you read my most recent article discussing the Cowboys linebacker competition, you know the reasons why, but I’ll give you the cliff notes. Training camp reports, coaches’ comments, and preseason usage all point to the same conclusion: Jaylon Smith will likely play fewer snaps this season than both Micah Parsons and Keanu Neal, since they will be the primary linebackers in the nickel formation. Dallas spent a whopping 71% of their defensive snaps in nickel last season, so you see why this is such a problem for Smith. He played the 3rd most snaps of any inside linebacker in 2020, and much of his production was due to that high volume of snaps. Unfortunately for Smith and anyone counting on him for fantasy, those snaps won’t be there this season. Fewer snaps mean fewer stats, and fewer stats mean fewer fantasy points.
Unless you’re playing in a super deep league, the only real value Jaylon Smith has now is his name value. Seek out the league mate who you know hasn’t been paying attention, and try to trade Smith away before people start to see the low point totals in the first couple of weeks. Trust me, there are those out there who will look at the 2020 stats and jump at the chance to add him to their rosters. You’ll be wanting him off your roster pretty soon, either by trade or waivers, so you might as well get something while you still can.
Thanks for reading, and good luck in the regular season! As always, you can find me on Twitter @CantALoupe_FF.