The preseason is finally over, and the next NFL game action will be Sept. 9 when Dallas travels to Tampa Bay in the Thursday Night Week 1 opener. Some say the preseason doesn’t matter, but it sure does for the potential sleepers and breakouts on this list — such as Ty’Son Williams, Mac Jones, Trey Lance, and Marquez Callaway — especially in fantasy football rankings and drafts.
Preseason is a time for undrafted players like Williams to show they deserve to make the 53-man roster. Even early draft picks like Zach Wilson and Trey Lance get a chance for invaluable game reps before the start of their careers. In our case, we get to see a sneak peek at how they might be able to help our fantasy teams in their rookie seasons. So, yes, preseason isn’t everything, but as fantasy owners, we should pay attention to everything that gives us more information about the outlook of any given player.
Below, we dive into the top risers at each position and provide you with their current values based on our rankings. Even if they’re not “draftable players,” they’re guys you should add to your watchlists early in the season.
DOMINATE YOUR DRAFT: Ultimate 2021 Cheat Sheet
2021 Fantasy Football Preseason Roundup
QB Riser: Mac Jones, Patriots
Preseason Stats: 36-for-52, 389 yards, one passing touchdown, zero INTs, 97.4 passer rating
Jones has looked NFL-ready this preseason, and the news of Cam Newton being cut by the Patriots means he’ll step in as the Week 1 starter against Miami. Many thought he’d win the job at some point this season, but winning it in preseason seemed like a long shot. He’s now absolutely a factor in two-QB/Superflex leagues. However, don’t rely on him heavily in a traditional single-QB league, as the Patriots are geared to run the ball early and often and will likely start Jones off with training wheels. It’s tough to see him even as a low-end QB2 at this point, but he could obviously reach that status if everything goes right.
Jones has moved up in our rankings to QB28
QB Riser: Trey Lance
Preseason Stats: 19-for 41, 276 yards, three passing touchdowns, one INT, one rushing touchdown, 83.0 passer rating.
While Lance’s completion percentage raises some eyebrows, he showed off his raw talent and rocket arm during the preseason. Simply put, he’s twice the athlete Jimmy G could ever hope to be, and with polishing, he could make a huge fantasy impact right away. It’s always a good sign to see a designed run near the goal line, where quarterbacks can separate themselves in fantasy. His rushing acumen will provide him a solid fantasy floor when he does become the starter, which we assume will be at some point this season.
Lance is our QB23 given the uncertainty about when he’ll start — and the chipped bone in his finger doesn’t help — but he possesses instant QB1 upside when the day comes. He might even have some value in two-QB/superflex leagues if he’s not “starting” based on the 49ers QB rotation in their last preseason game, but you probably don’t want to take that chance until you see him get at least half the snaps in a game.
More QB Risers: Zach Wilson, Jets; Jameis Winston, Saints
RB Riser: Ty’Son Williams, Ravens
Preseason Stats: 24 carries, 130 yards, 5.4 YPC, one rushing touchdown.
You never hope for an injury, but when JK Dobbins tore his ACL, Williams was definitely a beneficiary. He’s flashed in the preseason and was rumored to be on the cusp of making the Ravens’ 53-man roster, but now he’s a lock to be active for Week 1. He profiles as the backup short-yardage RB behind Gus Edwards. Last season, Edwards had 723 yards and six rushing touchdowns in that role. He’s never been the Ravens’ No. 1 RB for any consistent amount of time, yet he’s received at least 133 carries in all three of his NFL seasons. Edwards been a thorn in the side of Mark Ingram and Dobbins fantasy owners over the past two seasons, and who’s to say Williams can’t be the ‘Gus Edwards’ to Gus Edwards — vulturing rushing TDs and precious carries. Behind a high-powered rushing attack, the Ravens can produce more than one fantasy-relevant rusher. Don’t go out and overspend on Williams, but he certainly got a massive boost in value as the Dobbins news came out.
RB Riser: Rhamondre Stevenson, Patriots
Preseason Stats: 30 carries, 216 yards, 7.2 YPC, five rushing touchdowns.
Stevenson takes the nod for the most impressive preseason stats in the entire NFL. Of course, it’s preseason, and he often played against backups, but he clearly showed enough to make the Patriots comfortable with trading away Sony Michel. No, Stevenson won’t be a workhorse back in the Pats offense this year (barring a Damien Harris injury), but he will have value. Like Williams, Stevenson could see goal-line work and even occasionally get a high number of carries. We’ve seen this movie so many times — the Patriots will feature any back on any given Sunday. At worst, he’s a top-tier RB handcuff to Harris.
More RB Risers: Phillip Lindsay, Texans; Devin Singletary, Bills
WR Riser: Marquez Callaway, Saints
Preseason Stats: Eight catches, 165 yards, two receiving touchdowns.
Callaway has the most hype surrounding him as any receiver in the NFL, and he’s unquestionably the biggest winner on the preseason at the position. When Michael Thomas underwent ankle surgery, people quickly focused on Tre’Quan Smith. But the Callaway hype train began rolling ahead, and he became the favorite Saints’ pass-catcher target. He looks to settle in at the X-receiver role in Thomas’ absence, and Jameis Winston winning the QB job only helps his case as a downfield phenom. Since Thomas’ injury news came out on July 23, Callaway’s ADP has risen over 100 spots, per Underdog Fantasy
Callaway is our WR46 in standard and WR43 in PPR leagues. It’s easy to see him greatly outperforming those rankings, especially if Thomas misses a huge chunk of the year. However, his climb has to stop somewhere.
WR Riser, Terrace Marshall, Panthers
Preseason Stats: Nine catches, 181 yards, one receiving touchdown.
Marshall has been impressive in the preseason and looks to be a factor in Year 1 despite presumably being behind D.J. Moore, Robby Anderson, and even Christian McCaffrey in the targets pecking order. It will be tough to know when to start him unless there’s an injury, but his preseason play has made him attractive in best ball and DFS fantasy formats.
Marshall is our WR94 in standard leagues and WR99 in PPR. Of course, those rankings won’t get anyone excited, but as stated above, he’s particularly valuable in some formats. Don’t expect a high floor on a week-to-week basis. In standard redraft leagues, he’s one of the top guys to watch on the waiver wire, especially if Moore or Anderson get hurt.
More WR Risers: Josh Palmer, Chargers; Corey Davis, Jets; Tyrell Williams, Lions
TE Risers: Juwan Johnson, Saints
Preseason Stats: three catches, 80 yards
The converted wide receiver is simply a riser because he’s been getting run with the first-team offense. He’s been out there in two-TE sets, along with Adam Trautman. If he was merely just blocking, it wouldn’t matter for us fantasy-wise. However, he’s running routes, and at such a scarce position in fantasy football, that matters. Trautman was carted off the field during the Saints’ preseason game against Jacksonville, and while his injury isn’t serious, there is a chance he misses some regular-season time or isn’t as effective with the ailment. Johnson still isn’t a guy you want to rush our and get in fantasy drafts, but he’s worth monitoring and will likely be a factor in DFS.
More TE Risers: Chris Herndon, Vikings; Pat Friermuth, Steelers