By: Nelson Sousa
Football is officially here with the start of preseason. After watching the first round of games, here are some of my thoughts on what I have seen:
Although Matt Flynn looks like he will be fine running Seattle’s offense, rookie Russell Wilson showed off some of his skills against Tennessee. At the end of the day, whoever ends up being the starter will probably struggle to be fantasy relevant. With Marshawn Lynch not playing, rookie Robert Turbin got a chance to play and performed well. He is the complete package. Leon Washington also got some reps, and should be the 3rd down back this season. Lynch’s production might take a hit this season if these other RBs can continue to contribute. The WR situation is very difficult to read at this point. Recent signing Terrell Owens didn’t play. Fellow newcomer Braylon Edwards did play and looked decent. Golden Tate also looked good, but it’s still tough to tell how this will shake out. It is worth monitoring throughout the preseason.
Jake Locker is the better fit at QB for this team, as veteran Matt Hasselbeck simply doesn’t have it anymore. Chris Johnson looked fine, although he did have a few drops. At the TE position, both Jared Cook and Craig Stevens got some playing time. This is something to keep an eye on, as Cook was not on the field for every play last year. Nonetheless, he is a physical specimen and should be a playmaker for this offense. Along with Cook and Johnson, the Titans have some more weapons at WR. Rookie Kendall Wright showed off his speed against Seattle while working with the starters. With Kenny Britt facing a suspension, Wright will have the opportunity to play immediately. Additionally, Nate Washington looked good as well.
Andrew Luck got his career off to a good start against the Rams as Donald Brown took a screen to the house on his first pass. Brown showed some serious wheels on that play, while Vick Ballard and Delone Carter didn’t hurt their cases for playing time. Mewelde Moore will be the 3rd down back, while Carter will get the short yardage work for Indy. Going back to Luck, he looks plenty capable of running this offense. He will have his struggles just like any other rookie, but he can make all throws and has a calm demeanor. His favorite WR looks to be Austin Collie, while the TE situation didn’t get much attention against St. Louis. They will run 2 TE sets pretty often, so both Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener should have some chances to contribute. With their not so good defense, Andrew Luck should have plenty of opportunities to showcase his arm in 2012.
With an offense involving a heavy dose of the run game and numerous short passes, Steven Jackson should be quite busy this season. As usual, he looked impressive. On the other hand, rookie Isaiah Pead had a game to forget. He fumbled twice and failed to pick up a blitzing defender, who in turn leveled Bradford. That is not a way to win the confidence of the coaching staff. Steve Smith and Danny Amendola lined up as the starting WRs. Both should have ample opportunities, as the Rams will be playing catch-‐up often. Lance Kendricks featured full-‐time at TE and should be a solid option for Bradford. Rather than blocking, he was releasing on all pass plays, which is a good sign. Youngsters Austin Pettis and Brian Quick clearly have skills, but still need some time to develop. They are worth monitoring, along with the offensive line. Coming off a disastrous 2011 season, they look to have improved some.
One of the biggest stories of the Bills preseason is how many touches C.J Spiller and Fred Jackson are going to get. Spiller looks much improved in pass protection and picking up blitzes, a facet of the game he has struggled with in his first two seasons. If Spiller can continue this, he will gain the confidence of the coaching staff and be tough to take off the field with his big play ability. The Bills ran a spread offense the entire game against the Redskins. Stevie Johnson looks to have started right where he left off last year as he looked quite good. Additionally, Scott Chandler looked pretty good himself. If he can build off an impressive rookie season (6 TDs), whoever wins the #2 WR job will probably not be of much use to fantasy GMs.
Not surprisingly, Robert Griffin III looks like the real deal. Whether it is throwing or running the ball, he does everything so effortlessly. According to a friend of mine who is also a football insider, the Redskins have installed a “Baylor package” in their offense to fit Griffin’s strengths. On the WR end, Garcon and Hankerson both looked strong. Moss featured in 3 WR sets and may not get a ton of looks this year. Fred Davis was not very involved against the Bills, but that won’t be the case during the regular season as he is going to be a big part of the offense. As always, the RB position on a Mike Shanahan coached team is a big question mark. Royster did not show much shiftiness and looked very stiff, granted he had very little running room. Helu had similar issues with running room, but did show nice speed when getting outside. He seems to be a better fit for this team, but who knows with Shanahan. It should be monitored closely throughout the preseason.
It is tough to critique them too much as it rained for a large portion of their game against the Broncos. They clearly didn’t want to do too much with Jay Cutler and Matt Forte as they missed considerable time last season with injury problems. However, it looks as though their offensive line is improved from last season, which bodes well for Cutler’s health.
All eyes in Denver are on Peyton Manning and whether he can return to form after his neck injuries. It’s still early, but it looks like Manning has to put a lot of effort into 15+ yard passes. This was evident on a few passes against the Bears, notably a sideline route to Eric Decker and a few to DeMaryius Thomas. He still has some time to gain strength and get his timing back, but it’s definitely something to watch over the next few weeks. If the Peyton Manning of old shows up, the WRs and TEs could be in line for some big seasons. While Thomas is the most talented player they have, Decker and Jacob Tamme should be PPR monsters. Thomas will do most of his damage downfield, while Decker and Tamme will do their work on short and intermediate routes. Manning’s arm strength will factor in greatly to Thomas’s production, giving this situation even more reason to monitor closely. Furthermore, Willis McGahee looks like he has slimmed down from last season, one in which he often looked sloppy. He also stands to benefit from Manning being under center, as he is a much better passer than Tim Tebow. McGahee is definitely someone to watch and will probably fly under the radar in Denver.
The offensive line is a mess at the moment, but at least they drafted some talent (G David DeCastro, T Mike Adams). Keep an eye on this because if they don’t start to gel, that could lead to some problems. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders both looked good against the Eagles. The RB situation is quite interesting. Redman, Dwyer and Rainey all got some reps. Rainey could be in line for work on passing downs. To put it simply, he is really fast. The Steelers look to have big plans for him. Redman is a solid player, but Rainey could cut into his reps. Even Dwyer showed some shiftiness on a screen pass from Leftwich in his limited time on the field, which was a bit surprising.
The offense was not on the field long enough to see too much, but their offensive line is not very good. LeSean McCoy did not have his usual burst on a run outside. I wouldn’t read too much into it, but it is something to watch (or maybe I just saw it wrong). Dion Lewis looked good and is clearly the backup RB in Philly.
If you were going to pick a candidate for breakout player of the year in 2012, Julio Jones would be a good selection. He was targeted a ton (almost too much) against Baltimore, and capped it with a ridiculous one-‐handed TD reception. Fellow WR Roddy White also played well, while Michael Turner looked a bit slow. Jacquizz Rodgers reminds me a little of MJD, small in height but a thick, strong lower body. This makes me wonder if he will actually get a considerable amount of touches this year. He will be the 3rd down back (also in during hurry up situations). Lastly, Matt Ryan always seems to be looking downfield in his progressions, which could affect Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez in terms of targets.
Torrey Smith is an explosive player and a big time deep threat. Newcomer Jacoby Jones adds another dimension to the Baltimore offense with his speed and athleticism. Veteran Anquan Boldin is just not good anymore.
Overall, the Saints have been pretty vanilla this preseason. The WRs are struggling to get open. As always, it’s still early so there is no reason to panic. The RBs (Thomas, Sproles, Ingram, Ivory) are being targeted often and should see a lot of work. They all bring different qualities to the offense, but it remains to be seen on how the reps will be distributed.
The offense struggled against New Orleans, which is probably good in fantasy terms as some guys may drop in value. LT Nate Solder had a tough night, which is odd judging by his play last season. It’s never a good thing if the player protecting your QBs blindside is struggling, so it’s worth monitoring. Donte Stallworth got some time with the 1st team and showed off his speed and tenacity. With Deion Branch inactive, Stallworth took his opportunity well. He has a shot to beat him and Jabar Gaffney out, so keep an eye on that. Stevan Ridley got all the RB reps with the 1st team. Overall, he looked okay, but did receive a tongue lashing from Brady on a botched screen pass. Brandon Lloyd looks like the real deal. He is a very savvy player, as evidenced by his play on a route near the sideline. He waited till the last second to turn around to keep the defender from turning around. Brady underthrew him on a deep route, but they will have plenty of opportunities to make up for that this season. Shane Vereen only played against the backups, but he did show well. He has speed and confidence to bounce runs outside and get around the corner. Also, he is smooth and comfortable catching balls out of the backfield. With Josh McDaniels back in town as OC, the screen game should return in a major way.
The preseason could not have started any worse for San Diego as Ryan Mathews broke his collarbone on his first carry. Reportedly he will miss 4-‐6 weeks, but simply put he can’t stay healthy. In the mean time, it looks as though Ronnie Brown will take over for Mathews. He looks to have regained some juice in his legs that wasn’t around last season. Curtis Brinkley looks like a viable option as well with his shiftiness and ability to catch the ball. Antonio Gates looks completely different from last season. He has lost weight and is clearly in much better shape. Everything is setting up for him to have a big season. Overall, the WRs didn’t do much against the Packers, but Robert Meachem better look out for Vincent Brown.There have been some reports of Meachem struggling to get on the same page as Philip Rivers. If that is indeed the case, Brown could end up starting over him. Either way, this kid can play and will definitely factor in on 3 WR sets. Lastly, the offensive line looked decent considering the personnel they have at the moment.
Their offensive line is a complete mess, granted they were missing both starting tackles. That made it tough to gauge the offense from any aspect. Signing Cedric Benson shows they do not trust James Starks to be the man at RB. That showed against San Diego as he had numerous mistakes, including a fumble and a botched reception on a screen pass. Alex Green is coming off a serious injury, so he didn’t get too much playing time. It’s going to be tough for Green Bay to run with their O-‐Line issues, so it should be another pass heavy year. Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings look to be locked in as starters, but second year WR Randall Cobb is coming on fast to secure the slot WR spot.
Most of the talk around the Bucs camp has been about the RB position. LeGarrette Blount doesn’t look to be conceding anything to rookie Doug Martin. He ran hard against Miami and even looked comfortable making a catch when lined up wide. Since it was pouring rain for much of the game, it’s difficult to get an idea for how fast some guys are. However, Martin does look like the real deal. He doesn’t dance around. He just makes a move and gets downfield. Martin looks to be a Ray Rice type player and should be a great fit in this offense. The Bucs are going to be a run-‐ heavy team this season, so it’s worth monitoring Blount’s role as well. On two goal line possessions, every play was a run. Regarding the WRs, Vincent Jackson wasn’t involved much, but Mike Williams saw quite a bit of action. Additionally, the TEs look like they will have a role in this offense.
First impressions are always important, and Ryan Tannehill clearly agrees. He looked very comfortable running the offense, one that is basically the same to the one he ran at Texas A&M. This offense will be up-‐tempo with lots of short passes. Davone Bess will benefit the most from this at the WR positon. Anthony Fasano should also see a lot of balls come his way. After watching the 1st episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks and the game against the Bucs, it is clear Chad Johnson is still more clown that football player. On every play, the RBs are releasing out of the backfield, which should result in plenty of receptions. Reggie Bush is underrated and should be very productive in this new scheme. Daniel Thomas, Steve Slaton and Lamar Miller all played after Bush in that order, which is a negative for Miller at this point. The backup RB position is something that should be monitored.
The Giants look to have the usual solid offense that has propelled them to two Super Bowls. Victor Cruz looks good again, but he should see much more attention from opposing defenses this season. Obviously Hakeen Nicks is sidelined with a foot injury, but nothing really stood out with the other WRs against Jacksonville. Reuben Randle came on late and looks to be a promising player. Ahmad Bradshaw played well, as did #2 RB D.J Ware. He had some extra juice in his step compared to last year and is solidly the backup. There is quite a bit of hype around David Wilson. He has the speed and moves, but is buried on the depth chart. It’s very similar to Lamar Miller’s situation in Miami.
Blaine Gabbert had his moments, but also looked hesitant on some plays. If he can continue developing, this team has a chance to do some things as he does have some weapons to work with. Rashad Jennings looks like a real player. He has great vision and quickness. If MJD isn’t around, he will definitely be a top RB. Laurent Robinson had a breakout year with the Cowboys last year and looked good to start this year. Mike Thomas saw some targets playing in the slot, as did Marcedes Lewis at TE. Mike Mularkey’s offense in Atlanta was TE friendly, so that is something to remember. With Justin Blackmon sidelined, Cecil Shorts got the start opposite Robinson.
It comes with no surprise to report Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson will be just fine this season. In other news, Nate Burleson got the start against the Browns with Titus Young out. The RB situation in the Motor City has gotten a ton of attention this offseason. Between injuries and suspensions for Jahvid Best and Mikel LeShoure, it’s been mostly bad news. However, Kevin Smith has shown flashes in the past and did just that against Cleveland. He could prove to be a productive back in one of the league’s most explosive offenses. Keiland Williams, Joique Bell and Stefan Logan all saw time at RB after Smith. Williams and Bell both looked capable, while Logan still has some work to do to become a viable option for Detroit. However, he does possess some pretty good speed.
Rookie Brandon Weeden has been handed the keys to the Browns offense in his first few weeks as QB and looks to be comfortable under center. He can make all kinds of throws and seems to be doing just fine. On the WR end, Greg Little saw only a single target, so it’s tough to gauge him at this point. One guy who did stand out is Travis Benjamin. He entered the game against Detroit after Mohamed Massaquoi left the game and left a good impression. Benjamin has great speed and showed that by making an impressive catch after getting behind the defense. While Josh Gordon has gotten all the hype in Cleveland, Benjamin is a player to watch. Montario Hardesty didn’t show much and will probably not have much relevance unless Trent Richardson’s knee issues continue to affect him. Third stringer Chris Ogbonnaya looked good, although it was against the Lions backups. Another intriguing athletic specimen in Cleveland is TE Jordan Cameron. A former college basketball player, Cameron can create mismatches with his size and speed. He is definitely a player to monitor. And yes, a guy named Smelly did catch a TD.
With regards to their offense, all I can say is wow. It is not good right now. They need to make up their minds on who they want under center and try and get some rhythm before the season starts. Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells both did not play against KC, so it’s tough to gauge the RB position. Andre Roberts is a lock for #2 WR job opposite Larry Fitzgerald. Other than that, there really isn’t anything else of significance to report other than it’s an hour of my life I can’t get back.
Jamaal Charles looks to almost have his explosiveness back, although you can tell he still doesn’t have his feet underneath him yet. Overall, he looked fast and showed good burst on a few occasions. The big question is not his health, but the amount of touches he will receive with Peyton Hillis in town. They were rotating heavily in the backfield (Shaun Draughn even played) and that should lead to plenty of touches for Hillis. The offensive line had a great night, helping the offense get in rhythm and have a good start to the season. Other intriguing developments including Matt Cassel changing plays at the line of scrimmage and Dexter McCluster featuring in the slot. He was running a bunch of Wes Welker like routes and looked very comfortable doing it. The question with him is how many touches he will receive, so this is something to monitor. Jonathan Baldwin looks to have a chance to be a dominant WR, but it’s too early to tell as he only received one target against Arizona. Once Dwayne Bowe returns, he might be a mute point in this run-‐heavy attack.
To put it simply, they ran, ran and ran it some more against Minnesota. Based on their offseason acquisitions, you would expect some more passing. I guess we will have to wait and see. Kendall Hunter is a very good player and should steal some carries from Frank Gore. Brandon Jacobs also looked solid. He has a chance to get some goal-‐line carries if he continues playing well. Overall, Gore and Randy Moss will probably get the raw end of the deal in SF. Throwing deep is not something Alex Smith does very well and Vernon Davis and Michael Crabtree will probably command most of the targets. Davis was quiet against the Vikings, but that won’t be the case most weeks. Another interesting player is Colin Kaepernick. He adds a different dimension to this offense with his size, speed and cannon-‐like arm. However, he still needs to work on reading defenses and improving his awareness.
Christian Ponder looks to be turning into a solid NFL QB. On the WR end, Percy Harvin did not play. Stephen Burton showed good speed on a deep ball, but is still very raw and worth monitoring. Jerome Simpson dropped an easy pass and really needs to focus better. TE Kyle Rudolph could be the man for Minnesota this year. He is a physical specimen and will create serious mismatches. It’s possible he could lead the team in receptions. If the O-‐line can continue improving, this will lead to more opportunities for Rudolph in the passing game, as he won’t have to block as much. With Adrian Peterson still injured, Toby Gerhart is getting his carries. He runs hard, but is going to need volume to put up good numbers.
There is not a ton to report here other than Arian Foster and Ben Tate are good players. Andre Johnson did not play, but Keshawn Martin is an intriguing prospect. Another positive development for the Texans is the return of Owen Daniels quickness. He’s in a tough situation though, being that they have a run-‐heavy offense, Johnson is the undisputed #1 option and the RBs catch a ton of screens. Other than the #2 WR spot, this team is pretty established.
Cam Newton is no doubt very talented, but I still don’t like his body language out on the field. He looks cocky out there, which could affect him negatively this year. On the other hand, the running game looks solid with Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. It’s tough to tell how there touches will be distributed, and that was further complicated with the signing of Mike Tolbert. Surprisingly, Greg Olsen did not get a single look. Steve Smith is the #1 option on this team, but there are still question marks with the #2 WR. Brandon LaFell got the start against Houston, but didn’t see much come his way. An intriguing prospect is Seyi Ajirotutu. He has good size (6’3” 217 lbs), can run and has the skill set to succeed on this team. The potential is there, so he is worth watching.
As usual, the Jets are getting a lot of preseason attention. The offensive line is completely overrated. Shonn Greene is as well, but it looks like he will receive a large portion of the carries. Joe McKnight looks much quicker, but will probably never get a chance to be the lead back in NY. Third stringer Bilal Powell has been getting some positive reviews in camp, but looked just okay against the Bengals. Overall, the passing game is a hot mess. Tim Tebow will be the starter eventually and if you want to win ugly, he is the man for the job.
No surprise here, but A.J Green is damn good. He is going to get a ton of attention this year from opposing defenses, which is a bit worrisome. If Jermaine Gresham could step up, that could take some heat off of Green. Newcomer BenJarvus Green Ellis didn’t do much, and that will probably continue. This team could have some issues on offense this season if A.J Green is the only weapon available.