Over the past week or so, we started to hear reports from Eagles camp that indicated that our assumptions about how that backfield would operate might not be what the team has in mind. And the team's preseason opener against the Ravens seemed to confirm those reports, as Kenneth Gainwell got the night off along with the rest of the presumptive starters Saturday.
Gainwell, who apparently has been running a lot more with the first-team offense than any other back, was resting Saturday, while D'Andre Swift and Rashaad Penny took the field for their first action with their new team. Swift, acquired from the Lions in a trade this offseason and the guy most Fantasy analysts assumed would be the starter in Week 1, did get the start Saturday. According to ProFootbalLFocus.com's excellent breakdowns of the preseason slate, Swift played the first six snaps and then ceded to Penny, who ended up playing a whole lot more.
It sure looked for all the world to see like Gainwell was the starter here, but should you be making that swap in your Fantasy rankings just yet?
I'm not, at least not yet. Gainwell is entering his third season with the Eagles and presumably doesn't have nearly as much to catch up on in this offense as Swift and Penny, is my read of the situation as it stands right now. The fact that Boston Scott, another veteran of this offense, was also on the sidelines for the game seems like decent evidence to that end.
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Which is to say, that while I can definitely buy that Gainwell is the Eagles top back right now, I don't necessarily think it means he's locked in as the clear No. 1 in this offense for the regular season. And I certainly don't think it means he's the back to have in Fantasy. Swift and Penny are better players, at least in my eyes, and Gainwell's incumbent advantage will likely fade as the new guys get more comfortable in the offense.
What this does mean is that there's even more ambiguity in this backfield than we expected. And Gainwell certainly looks a lot better for Fantasy than he did before this weekend, when he was going outside of the top-150 in ADP in NFC drafts over the past two weeks. Now, he probably belongs more in the 100 range, alongside Penny (105.6 ADP), while Swift (73.3) probably moves down into the 80 range or so. The worst-case scenario here would be a full-blown committee because Jalen Hurts' presence is likely to limit how much production the RBs get here anyway, so let's hope someone emerges as the lead back.
If all that comes from this is it makes that eventual someone a better value in Fantasy drafts, maybe we're all winners.
Here's who else looks like a winner after the first week of preseason action:
Justin Fields, QB, Bears
Last season, the Bears didn't have a single play where a receiver picked up more than 35 yards after the catch. On Saturday against the Titans, D.J Moore went for 65 yards after the catch on his long screen touchdown on their very first drive, and then Khalil Herbert closed out their very next drive with 57 yards after catching a dump off for a score. Fields' 3-for-3, 129-yard, two-touchdown box score line doesn't really tell us much about how he played – you could argue it would have been better for research purposes if things had been just a tad more difficult for them – but it might tell us something about how much better this offense is. The theory around Fields' Fantasy appeal this season is largely based around the premise that he'll have significantly improved playmaking around him, and at least for two series in his preseason debut, that's exactly what we saw. Am I moving Fields up in my rankings? No, but this kind of playmaking is exactly what Fields needs to make a leap to elite status.
Khalil Herbert, RB, Bears
We viewed the Bears backfield as one of the most ambiguous in the league coming into Week 1, but we got at least a little bit of clarity, as Herbert played all seven snaps alongside Fields in this one. It's a tiny sample size because of how quickly the offense scored on both drives, so who knows if D'Onta Foreman or Roschon Johnson (the latter of whom looked pretty good in rushing for 44 yards on 12 carries with the backups) would have come in under different circumstances. I'm not shooting Herbert way up in my rankings or anything, but he won the first round, at least.
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Alvin Kamara, RB, Saints
If the Saints were planning on phasing Kamara out ahead of his season-opening, three-game suspension, they sure didn't tip their hand Sunday. Kamara played 10 of 12 snaps alongside Derek Carr and the first-team offense in this one, with Jamaal Williams logging the other two. Rookie Kendre Miller didn't see the field until Kamara was through, and then he left the game with an injury to the same knee he injured at the end of his college career, which could impact his ability to take advantage of Kamara's absence to open the season. We don't know the extent of Miller's injury, but it sure looks like Kamara is going to come back from that injury with a significant role still waiting for him in what should be an improved offense.
James Cook, RB, Bills
I'll admit, I've been pretty skeptical about the hype surrounding Cook this offseason, but it was good to see him play all six snaps with the "starters" – Kyle Allen played QB with Josh Allen sitting out. Cook ran the ball on four of those six plays, picking up 20 yards and a touchdown, and then ceded to Latavius Murray in a clear starter/backup split. The complicating factor here is that Damien Harris didn't play with a minor knee injury, so we don't know quite what the split will be like with those two. It was just one drive, and , but it was a good start for the James Cook Truthers, at least.
Tyjae Spears, RB, Titans
With Derrick Henry and most of the other starters sitting out, Hassan Haskins actually got the start next to Malik Willis in the Titans preseason opener. But Spears ended up out-snapping him 9-3 alongside Willis, and Spears looked like the better of the two backs, rushing for 32 yards on six carries, while Haskins managed just 12 on his six carries; Haskins did score a short touchdown, while Spears was the only one to catch a pass. There's probably going to be almost no room for any other backs to matter here if Henry is healthy, but we've seen over the past two seasons a couple of running backs take advantage of a Henry injury to make an impact for Fantasy. Hopefully, Spears can force his way into being next in line and emerge as a valuable handcuff for the later rounds.
Ty Chandler, RB, Vikings
For now, at least, Chandler looks like he has a leg up on the No. 2 spot in Minnesota. Kene Nwangwu missed this one with an injury, but I think Chandler was impressive enough to think he has the inside track to the backup job after dominating snaps with the starters and rushing for 41 yards on 11 carries (while facing a loaded box on 91% of his runs) and catching four passes for 29 yards. The complicating factor here is that the Vikings hosted Kareem Hunt on a free agent visit Friday, and still seem like a pretty good bet to add a veteran running back. Chandler could change that by continuing to play well, though, and it'll be interesting to see if they give him another audition in their next preseason game to prove himself. He would be worth a late-round pick if he enters the season as the clear No. 2 here.
Malik Davis, RB, Cowboys
You'll see a lot of Deuce Vaughn highlights from this game, and he impressed by rushing for 50 yards on eight carries, including a touchdown, but it's worth noting that Vaughn didn't see the field on offense until the second half. It was Davis who served as the clear top option here, playing 13 of 17 snaps alongside starter Cooper Rush, compared to just four for Rico Dowdle. The Cowboys still seem like a pretty good bet to sign a veteran back as well – Jerry Jones openly discussed the possibility of an Ezekiel Elliott reunion a few weeks back – but if they don't, Davis could have some standalone value as a complement to Tony Pollard, and could be a significant contributor if anything happens to Pollard.
Michael Thomas, WR, Saints
Derek Carr played 12 snaps in his first game with the Saints, and Thomas was right there alongside him. Given how much time Thomas has missed over the previous three seasons, anytime he sees the field and leaves it on his own volition, you have to take it as a win; the fact that the Saints weren't easing him in here is just a bonus. I have no idea how much of Thomas' formerly-elite level he can rediscover after being held to 10 games in three seasons due to recurring lower body injuries, but if he can be even 80% of what he was at his peak, that's a starting-caliber Fantasy option going off the board around the 90th pick in most drafts.
Tank Dell, WR, Texans
Dell played 11 of 12 snaps with C.J. Stroud in this one, the most of any Texans receiver with Robert Woods and Noah Brown getting the night off. He probably isn't at the very top of the depth chart here, in other words, but he certainly didn't hurt his chances of continuing to climb with his performance. He caught five balls for 65 yards and a touchdown, though it's worth noting that he did all of that damage with Davis Mills in the game, as Strout was just 2 for 4 with a pick before coming out of the game. Still, this is one receiving corps where we really didn't know how things stood before, and now it looks like Dell might be the guy to have. I still like a late-round flier on Nico Collins if he goes outside of the first 10 rounds, but I'm more interested in Dell or John Metchie, who handled slot duties with the starters.
Jayden Reed, WR, Packers
The Packers are going all-in on the youth movement (more about which shortly), with Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs the clear top options in the passing game with Jordan Love. But Reed, the team's second-round pick from this year's draft, was the clear No. 3 WR, playing almost exclusively out of the slot and logging seven snaps with the starters to just one for Samori Toure – no other WR saw the field with Love. Reed is a long shot to make an impact with two talented young WRs already on the roster ahead of him, but he'll be worth watching early in the season, just in case this offense ends up being better than expected.
Luke Musgrave, TE, Packers
I haven't given Musgrove much thought this draft season, and seeing his 248.6 ADP since Aug. 1 in NFC drafts, I'm not alone. But, as with Reed, it was surprising to see Musgrave already clearly entrenched at the top of the depth chart for the Packers, playing all 12 snaps alongside Jordan Love. Maybe it shouldn't be that surprising, as his primary competition for playing time is another rookie TE who was taken after him and an undrafted free agent, but still, it was eye-opening. Musgrave has a lot working against him – we have no idea what to expect from Love as a passer, and the history of rookie tight ends in Fantasy is very poor – but Musgrave is a good athlete whose college production was hampered by an injury during his final season, so he could surprise. I'm adding him to my late-round watchlist.
Sam LaPorta, TE, Lions
LaPorta didn't catch his only target in this one, but I'm still calling him a winner because of his usage in this one. Despite incumbents James Mitchell and Brock Wright being active, LaPorta was the clear top option in both the running and passing game, playing 16 of 18 offensive snaps alongside starting QB Nate Sudfeld. He ran nine routes and played every snap in 11 and 12 personnel, according to PFF, a great sign for his chances of playing a big role. I like LaPorta as a sleeper despite the pretty poor track record of rookie tight ends in Fantasy, and the fact that he has seemingly already assumed the top spot on the depth chart in an offense that needs pass-catchers makes him one of my go-to late-round TE targets if I'm passing on the must-start guys early on.