With fantasy football draft season ramping up, let's check in on the risers and fallers after the first full week of NFL preseason action.
George Pickens — Steelers, WR
The Pickens train ride is underway and you better hope you find a spot on it because it's damn near full. The hype is justified after he flashed elite ability in his preseason debut. Pickens was able to secure three receptions, 43 yards and a touchdown on his five targets.
The box score didn't tell the story, it's how he did it. Pickens displayed great route running, hands, body control and awareness on a 26-yard touchdown pass from Mason Rudolph in the first quarter. On his very first play, Pickens was able to get separation on the short hitch and then get yards after the catch. He was effective early and often running with the first-team offense. His teammate, Chase Claypool has already made the claim that Pickens will be the best rookie receiver in 2022. After his first preseason game at least, he's done everything in his power to not make Claypool not look like a liar. When the regular season arrives, Pickens will be a starter. Is he already the Steelers WR1?
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Isiah Pacheco — Chiefs, RB
Pacheco got a chance to show what he can do after all of his preseason practice hype. You know the buzz is real when he is on draft boards of fantasy managers who didn't even watch him play in college. The biggest reason for his rise is him getting opportunities on an offense led by Patrick Mahomes. Pacheco saw two touches on the Chiefs' first drive in his preseason debut. He caught his lone reception in the red zone and showed nice strength and balance.
The rookie is a raw talent who may still have some issues with vision and setting up his blocks, but it's clear that he will have some type of role in the offense. It's a good sign to see him getting first-team reps, but this will be Clyde Edwards-Helaire's backfield to lead. Jerick McKinnon will figure to tap into the workload as well. While Pacheco's stock is rising, it's way too soon to call him a potential “league-winner” at this point.
Dameon Pierce — Texans, RB
Here is where the hype is real. I love myself some Marlon Mack, but Pierce was easily the Texans' best running back in the first preseason game. In fact, he was the highest graded running back according to PFF. In his NFL debut, Pierce took five carries for 49 yards, including a long of 20. What you saw in those five carries was everything you want to see in a runner — vision, cutting ability, power, pop and balance. He also showed ability and willingness in pass protection.
Never a full-time back in college, Pierce comes into the NFL with the skill set to do more. While Mack and Rex Burkhead are currently ahead of him on the depth chart, it would be shocking not to see him heavily involved early in the regular season. Since 2015, at least two rookie running backs have finished as an RB1 in every year except one. If Pierce is the opening day starter like he should be, he'll have a chance to keep that pace in 2022.
Antonio Gibson — Commanders, RB
Houston, we have a problem. Gibson is practicing with the special teams unit. This was preceded by him having an awful 2022 preseason debut. Gibson took four carries for two yards and lost a fumble. This is not what you want a running back doing, especially one you're drafting in the fourth and fifth rounds of your fantasy drafts. All the while, Brian Robinson Jr., a rookie, carried the ball six times for 26 yards, a touchdown and added two receptions for 15 yards.
Gibson was scolded by offensive coordinator Scott Turner for his fumbling issues but they still like him. It's a weird situation in that backfield. To further confuse us, Gibson is taking reps with the first, second and third team offense. If you already drafted Gibson, you can't do anything but sit and wait. Your best hope is for him to score twice early in the season then trade him with a sucker. This is not good.
Ronald Jones — Chiefs, RB
Is Rojo going to make the 53-man roster? Those are the rumors and thoughts after he got reps with the reserves in the Chiefs' first preseason game. Jones has fallen behind CEH, Jerick McKinnon and now Isiah Pacheco on the depth chart. Gaining only a yard on four carries certainly didn't help his case either, especially when most of those touches came with third-string QB Shane Buechele in the game.
At first sight, the Jones signing seemed to be a solid one for the Chiefs. He'd come in to complement Edwards-Helaire and potentially provide goal line value. Now it seems like the clock is ticking on the once-promising back. Still only 25 years old, it was just in 2020 that Jones gained 1,143 yards from scrimmage and eight total touchdowns en route to finishing as the RB16 on Yahoo. He's still being taken super late in drafts as a flyer, but now behind Pacheco. It's not over for Rojo, but it might be in Kansas City.
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Kenny Golladay — Giants, WR
As if his draft stock wasn't already low, this guy is probably the fourth-best receiver on his team in terms of fantasy value. Kadarius Toney and Wan'Dale Robinson present much better values than him in fantasy drafts. These are scary times for a player the Giants signed just a year ago for $72 million. In his first action of the 2022 preseason, Golladay gave us one catch for six yards with a drop on third down.
It has to get better because it certainly can't get much worse after an injury-riddled and unproductive 2021. Not only does Golladay have Robinson and Toney breathing down his neck for targets, Saquon Barkley will command a hefty share. And that's not all, considering the mixed bag that Daniel Jones brings at quarterback is bound to hinder him as well. It was a bad first outing for Golladay, perhaps he can bounce back in Week 2 of the preseason to give Giants fans some hope. It's not looking good for the most expensive player on the Giants.
Treylon Burks — Titans, WR
Simply put, Burks playing into the fourth quarter of his NFL debut has fantasy managers shook. This usually indicates that a player is a backup. Burks ended his day with one target, a drop and a rush for four yards. When you add this with the reports that he's been running with the reserves in practice, it may scare you off. What people tend to forget is that Mike Vrabel is tough on players.
Furthermore, Burks ran a deep seam route from the slot, beat the defender and was wide open, but Malik Willis happened to miss him. If Willis makes that throw and connects with Burks for a touchdown, we'd be talking about him being drafted as a fifth-round receiver in fantasy. Now would be a great time to capitalize on Burks' draft stock being down.