This article is part of our PrizePicks NFL series.
PrizePicks offers a unique twist on DFS play in the form of Over/Under picks for individual players in almost every sport imaginable. You have the opportunity to pick two, three or four players per entry, and the goal is to predict whether the individual player will end up over or under the projected total PrizePicks provides. The legend for NFL scoring in this format is provided on the site, but for the most part, it mirrors typical scoring styles of other DFS formats.
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Today we'll tackle the opening weekend of the preseason with a slate of nine games on Thursday.
If you're at all familiar with NFL DFS, you know that preseason play presents a lot of variance for even the savviest of players. In order to navigate these stormy waters, you need to have a good idea of how each team approaches their preseason games. For the first week, the formula is usually the same for all 32 teams. The sole purpose is to evaluate talent, which leads to designating certain players to the practice squad and making the necessary roster cuts. As a result, outside of a few role players, you won't see first-string talent this weekend unless they are a highly-touted rookie (Kyler Murray, for instance) expected to take the starting job. As each week progresses, we will adjust this column to reflect how we adapt in our approach to each slate.
In order to have any success in preseason DFS, we have to make reasonable projections about how much playing time these backups will receive. Before you make any pick, have a good snap count projection and try to back that up with any local coverage you can find about that player. I've done some of the work for you, but snap count is a stat you'll be revisiting in the regular season as well, so it's good to get into the habit early.
Secondly, we have to look at where the highest variance will be in any given preseason contest. With a lack of pro experience on the field, you're going to see a lot of mistakes on both sides of the ball. I believe that the highest variance lies in the QB-WR relationship, and you can measure that variance based on a few factors. How long has the player been with the team? Is he playing with a new system or coach? Even the more experienced QB's are in the early stages of establishing a rhythm with their pass-catchers, and in this format I'm more likely to single out these two positions as Under candidates. Conversely, I think the RB position is one where I'll consider an Over more frequently. A lot of preseason games are won or lost at the line of scrimmage, and coaches will give a number of backs opportunities to find the holes – the key is selecting the running back who will see the most action. Again, that's something you'll need to do some homework on, but that's what we're here for!
Let's embrace the variance of the preseason and jump in. I'm going to identify three Overs and three Unders for Thursday's slate.
QB Kyler Murray, ARI – 4.9
Cardinals coach Kliff Kingsbury has designated Murray as the starter Thursday with no set plan on the number of snaps he will see, only saying that Murray will be removed after "feeling good about what went on out there." So, we are seeing two potential scenarios. Either Murray will stink it up and he'll stay out a bit longer, or he'll have an excellent drive or two and exit thereafter. Either way, I think it's entirely plausible for him to amass 80 yards and a few rushes, especially when you consider Kingsbury's well-documented history of airing the ball out from his days at Texas Tech.
RB Miles Sanders, PHI – 5.7
To say Philly coaches and fans are excited about Sanders would be an understatement. He's dazzled onlookers in training camp, and the rookie out of Penn State should get plenty of opportunities to show his stuff, especially with Corey Clement potentially in street clothes with an injury. Sanders might not get to 60 yards rushing, but he's flashed upside as a pass-catcher out of the backfield throughout camp.
Olamide Zaccheaus, ATL – 4.0
Wideouts can make or break you in these formats but Thursday presents a special situation for the undrafted rookie out of Virginia. With Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley both sidelined and sixth-round pick Marcus Green out with a hamstring injury, opportunities could open up for other receivers. PrizePicks NFL operates in a PPR format with one point per reception, and while Zaccheaus appears destined for a role on special teams I think he's shown enough in camp to see more snaps at wideout.
RB Myles Gaskin, MIA – 4.8
Miami is filled with controversy at QB and the current RB situation is also hotly-contested. The Dolphins have an embarrassment of riches at the RB position and have added Gaskin and former Bengal back Mark Walton to a stable that includes Kalen Ballage and Kenyan Drake. Gaskin is way, way back on this chart and should see some work in the second half, and to be honest, I think he has a better opportunity to make the team over Walton, who is trying to right his ship personally after three arrests over the course of one year. Despite the potential here, I think there are just too many mouths to feed with a line this high.
TE T.J. Hockenson, DET – 4.0
For most rookie tight ends, it's more important to learn their blocking schemes and they aren't utilized all that often as a pass catcher in the preseason unless you're a Travis Kelce or George Kittle type. The Iowa product came out of a loaded TE class and ended up going 8th in the first round, so the Lions are eager to give him max playing time. But I think it's too early to make a call about his production in the passing game – I'd rather wait until later the the preseason after he's mastered the line of scrimmage.
QB Jarrett Stidham, NE – 8.3
This line jumped out as a little high to me at first glance, but when you consider Tom Brady sitting this one out and Brian Hoyer as the only competition under center, you start to see the logic behind the higher number. Stidham came off the draft boards in the 4th round and the Auburn product has had an excellent camp. Right now, he's the presumed backup, and he's proven his mettle by out-throwing both Brady and Hoyer in practice drills. We have to measure the purpose of these preseason contests, however. The bigger question is Hoyer – does he still have what it takes to make it in the NFL? I think Patriots coach Bill Belichick will play the game with his usual measured style, focusing more on his issues at running back and on defense, which should cut back on Stidham's passing opportunities. I predict he'll play for about a half before yielding to Hoyer, coming just under this line.