Throughout the preseason, we heavily emphasize identifying potential impact players throughout the season that others may not recognize as they aren't necessarily "stars". In our 'Preseason Players to Watch' series, we highlight potentially noteworthy players in each night's game(s) that may be impactful for fantasy football, both in the 2022 season and beyond.
Here are our top players to watch for in tonight's preseason action:
Deshaun Watson (QB - Cleveland Browns) - vs PHI, 7:30 PM on NFL Network
We saw a very different Deshaun Watson from last year, given that it was only just one drive. After major rust in the preseason and for the first several games upon his return in 2022, Watson went 3/3 for 12 yards but added another 20 yards on the ground (3 Att) in his lone drive of action, taking the Browns all the way down the field before the running game failed to break through on a goal-line situation.
One shouldn't anticipate much action for Watson again tonight, but we'll be watching to see if he can continue a solid preseason as he transitions to his first full season as the Browns' starter. It'll be particularly interesting to see how involved he is in the rushing attack - something we saw limited action out of in 2022, but something that had provided a solid foundation to his fantasy production back in Houston.
D'Andre Swift (RB - Philadelphia Eagles) - vs CLE, 7:30 PM on NFL Network
Swift saw very limited action in the Eagles' preseason debut, ultimately opening up the game as the Eagles' lead back and producing efficiently when presented the opportunity (2 Att, 24 Yards). Perhaps even more importantly, fellow Eagles' RB Rashaad Penny saw work well into the 2nd quarter, indicating more of a disparity between the two than initially anticipated.
We've yet to see Swift relative to the entirety of the backfield with both Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott sitting out the preseason opener. We know what Scott offers, but Gainwell's absence raises some eyebrows, especially with him receiving a majority of the first-team reps throughout camp.
I'm watching to see if Gainwell plays (and when) as well as Swift's presence within the offense with Gainwell active (if it occurs). It's unclear what the split will be within the Eagles' backfield, but tonight should give us a slightly better idea.
Rashaad Penny (RB - Philadelphia Eagles) - vs CLE, 7:30 PM on NFL Network
The preseason opener raised more concerns than positives for Penny in 2023. He got work - and that's the issue.
Not only did Penny post a rather pedestrian 9 Att for 34 Yards (3.8 YPC), playing second-fiddle to Swift, but Penny also played well into the 2nd quarter. With Kenneth Gainwell seeing the most first-team reps in camp, Swift serving as the top back in the preseason debut, and Penny getting notable work later in the first half, Penny appears closer to the roster bubble than competing for the starting job.
Tonight will be a major indicator of that status, especially if Gainwell sees action. Another instance of Penny playing late into the 1st half (or another average performance) could lock Penny into a secondary/backup role, if not push him to a potential cap casualty.