As the real games get ready to kickoff and your fantasy drafts are completed, it’s easy to quickly close the book on yet another preseason. To fantasy owners the consternation shifts from hoping that 12th round “sleeper” pick is really available in the 12th round to which WR or RB is best for my flex play?
We’ll have plenty of articles (and a few podcasts) here during the season about who to start or who to add in your leagues. Understand, however that before we get there we need to have a grasp of some of the preseason. The “next man up” from your league’s waiver wire, or from your own team’s bench (if you drafted well) is formed in the preseason. So here’s a review of what went down this last month or so….
Things we Know
1.) The Eagles will move the football. I don’t know how many wins they’ll get, or how many games QB Michael Vick will be healthy for, but overall you have to think they’ll be plenty of productive Eagles in fantasy football this year. Guys like Vick, RB LeSean McCoy, and WR Desean Jackson may seem like obvious plays, but as the season goes on and the roles of Chip Kelly’s offense become more defined you may see players like TE Brent Celek, WR Jason Avant, and RB Chris Polk (potential goaline work) emerge as weekly plays. The truth is no one puts their whole playbook on display in the preseason – but the Eagles philosophy was clear in each of their games. I’m attaching the nickname “pace and space” to it, and I think there will be several Eagles who can help out your fantasy team this season.
2.) The Raiders OL is going to cap fantasy production. Sure they have some guys hurt who could return during the season, but right now they are selecting their QB because he can run – not so much run as a weapon – but run from the unblocked pass rush. It is possible that QB Terrell Pryor has some useful fantasy weeks as he breaks off some long runs in garbage time of games the Raiders are behind, but good luck predicting when those will happen. The guy is throwing jump passes whenever I see him – this is not a successful NFL formula. Guys like WR Denarius Moore, WR Rod Streater, and WR Bryce Butler (a rookie with a very nice preseason) could all be weekly teases as well. The weak offensive line is going to make most of the Raiders struggle this season – and I would advocate looking to deal them after they have big fantasy weeks to owners with short term memories.
Particularly valuable in this regard would be RB Darren McFadden. I love McFadden and early in the preaseaon was very happy to take a shot on him as a RB2 with stud potential. But that has changed, and the more I see from Oakland – the OL, the jump pass QB, the coach not revealing the jump pass QB is officially his week 1 starter for “competitive advantage”…it screams trouble. So if McFadden has a good game here and there, or hopefully 2 in a row – it might be good to find an owner in your league who still believes in him. They’ll be one, there always is – and then maybe you can work out a deal for a more consistent player.
3. The Giants don’t currently have a NFL quality backup RB on their roster. This is one to watch, because of the injury to RB Andre Brown. Brown who’ll be out at least 8 weeks, was going to play a key part in absorbing touches this year that the Giants didn’t want starter RB David Wilson to carry. I think the Giants feel Wilson is good for about 15-20 touches a week – he won’t be a grinder and they need to keep him fresh all season. The current next men up on the Giants are RB’s Da’rel Scott and Michael Cox – a very inexperienced duo. Personally I like Cox, but I just can’t see the Giants making him a part of the plan – as a playoff contender they’ll want a steadier option.
So, it’s very likely that your league’s 1st waiver feeding frenzy will be for whomever the Giants sign in Week 2 at RB. In the NFL, if you sign a guy after week 1 the contract you give them no longer becomes guaranteed for the year. This makes it easier for teams to take chances on veteran players: The Giants could bring in RB Michael Turner or RB Willis McGahee – or lesser talent guys that have experience in their system like RB Tim Hightower or Brandon Jacobs.
As for whether it’ll be worth it for you to get caught up in this frenzy – well it depends on who the Giants sign. I mean we’ll be talking about a part time job, for only part time – but if it’s a more talented player it could be an indication that Brown’s injury history (he broke the same leg last season) has worried the Giants enough that his replacement could stick with the team even after Brown returns.
4.) Youth should be served at WR – this rookie class wasn’t very top heavy with super elite talent. What it did have however was useful NFL depth WR’s for 2013, which makes them useful border fantasy starters. DeAndre Hopkins, Kenny Stills, Quinton Patton, Robert Woods, Marcus Wheaton, Kenbrell Thompkins , and Cordarrelle Patterson are the ones I like best. All of them are worth monitoring to some degree b/c many of them can be found on your average league’s waiver wire.
The noticeable absence of WR Tavon Austin and WR Keenan Allen may raise some eyebrows here….but it’s likely Austin was drafted in your league, and if you did it you likely don’t want to hear me rail against him again. Allen is a mix of bad situation and brittle body – he may produce in 2013, but it’s likely that you’ll have to put up with a lot of bad weeks of having him rostered – as opposed to being able to add a guy from the above group as solid depth.
What we don’t know
1.) The Denver running game. If you were hoping the preseason was going to sort this one out, it may have just made things a lot worse. Oddly enough I think the guy best suited to the gig is RB Knowshon Moreno, but the Broncos seemed to have passed on him awhile ago. The current “starter” Ronnie Hillman I don’t think is a full time RB, and rookie Montee Ball is a guy of average talent.
To make things completely insane the latest reports out of Denver is that they may rotate these guys in and out series-by-series. Fantasy owners if you’re looking for one trend to root against with all your might, root against this one – because if this works and becomes a NFL strategy, fantasy football will become impossible.
2.) The Steelers running game – Le’veon Bell was drafted so he could be the bellcow 25 carry guy. He got hurt in camp, then he got hurt 4 plays into his 1st preseason game. So the Steelers went out and made a semi-surprise Jonathan Dwyer cut (he was their leading rusher last year), and instead went out and picked up Felix Jones (Jones had been cut from Philly).
Jones was a hot name for a few minutes, until it looked like the Steelers had settled on slightly banged up RB Isaac Redman to be atop their depth chart. It’s a little bit of a mess at this point. Head coach Mike Tomlin has said that they don’t plan on using a running back committee (yay for the oldschool!) and the starter will get 25-30 carries.
But it’s far from clear that Redman is worth a fantasy investment. For one thing, his injury history is bad- even currently he’s got a pinched nerve. Then there are the reports that Le’veon Bell is trying to come back in week 2 or 3, which would certainly pose a threat to Redman’s job. And the capper to these concerns is that the Pittsburgh offensive line has looked terrible in preseason. Not quite Raiders terrible mind you, but not all that much above it.
I think for now you have to hold whatever cards you have in this game. If you drafted Bell, you should still feel ok with that- albeit discouraged by injury. If you own Redman start him while you can, and trade him if Bell overtakes him to the Bell owner. If Redman is on the waiver he’s worth an add based on potential. Felix Jones is worth an add only if the end of your bench is very weak, and becomes a cut if Bell comes back and he hasn’t surpassed Redman on the depth chart.
3.) The Patriots passing game. There are some things we do know about this situation QB Tom Brady will be fine. Maybe, maybe, not super elite in fantasy – but right in that top 5 conversation. And to do it he’ll get WR Danny Amendola and TE Rob Gronkowski (when he returns from injury) plenty of looks.
Beyond that though, there’s some pretty interesting scenarios. Most popular is the 2 TE “Patriot Way” idea with rookie TE Zac Sudfeld. Sudfeld is a large target at 6’7, but they seem to want to use him as the “move” TE to replace Aaron Hernandez. And this is the plan for him I think from week 1, even without Gronkowski there – which is a little odd to me. Sudfeld is slower than Hernandez, and hasn’t demonstrated that he has the same hands (a fumble in preseason temporarily got him benched) – so I wonder if this “move TE” thing is a fit or if it’s a force b/c they’ll have nowhere else to put him when Gronkowski returns. Sudfeld’s got a lot of hype in fantasy leagues right now, and I think he’ll be a productive player – but you really can’t say whether you’re going to get a guy who’s borderline top 5 at the position (like Hernandez) or borderline top 12 – making him a fringe ffl starter.
Ironically, the rookie Sudfeld might get more looks because of all the rookies at WR vying for time on the outside. WR Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce, and Kenbrell Thompkins were all brought in this offseason to contend for playing time. Right now the winner of the preseason appears to be undrafted FA Thompkins. Thompkins targets remain to be determined – Brady has had players on the outside before like Deion Branch, and David Givens who were much better actual football players than fantasy producers, and it’s unknown if any of these rookies can get in-sync enough to be Brady’s 1st read – with all the plays undoubtedly that will be scripted for Amendola, Gronk, and Sudfeld.
Another wildcard is RB Shane Vereen who could take over a good portion of the Pats’ short passing game on screens and passes to the flat. Vereen is a very talented player and probably worth a flex play in your fantasy lineup.
So there are a lot of mouths to feed, and several Patriots could be fantasy factors in 2013, being patient and taking chances on a few of them despite week to week inconsistencies may be the best strategy.