Fantasy Football 2012: Aaron Rodgers Leads Revelations from Thursday's Action
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Here are a few fantasy revelations from Thursday's three-pack of NFL preseason games.
1. Aaron Rodgers is the top quarterback and No. 47 running back in fantasy circles (sic)
Yes, it was an exhibition game. But Rodgers' performance against the Bengals (206 total yards, two rushing touchdowns) was eerily similar to his six-touchdown effort against the Broncos last year—crisp passes to a variety of receivers, followed by a pair of rushing touchdowns once the pocket collapsed.
Rodgers (4,643 yards passing, 48 total TD) crossed the magical threshold of 300-plus total yards and/or three touchdowns 12 times last season (in just 15 games). And after watching him this month in limited duty, I have every reason to believe he'll reach that number again in 2012.
In other words, I wouldn't say boo to anyone drafting Rodgers at No. 2 or 3 in standard scoring leagues.
2. It's anyone's guess who emerges as the Bengals' No. 2 wide receiver
The fantasy optimist would point to the above statement as more targets or touches for the Bengals' three greatest playmakers: A.J. Green, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Jermaine Gresham. But to me, it's just another warning sign of how GMs shouldn't reach for any Bengals in standard scoring drafts, including Green (65 catches, 1,065 yards, 7 TD in 2011).
While Green certainly has the potential to improve upon last year's output in catches, receiving yards and targets (115), he's also a prime candidate for reductions in touchdowns, red-zone touches and catch-per-target ratio—a byproduct of Cincy not having a formidable enough No. 2 wideout (candidates: Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate, Armon Binns, Marvin Jones) to prevent "rolled" coverages on Green and Gresham.
3. I searched far and wide to see if Joe Flacco set a preseason NFL record against the Jags
It's my nature to forget preseason games roughly two seconds after the final gun. That said, I still cannot recall an instance where an established, entrenched quarterback (Joe Flacco) attempted 36 passes in a single exhibition contest.
Flacco completed 27 balls for 266 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Of equal importance, he targeted Torrey Smith (8 catches, 103 yards) 11 times—another indicator of how Smith (50 catches, 841 yards, 7 TD last season) may be primed for a sizable leap forward in year two.
Regarding Flacco, I still like him as the No. 18 overall quarterback (ahead of Andy Dalton/Mark Sanchez, but behind Ryan Fitzpatrick/Josh Freeman). But at the very least, he'll be a Round 9 consideration in 12-team drafts, as opposed to a middle choice for Round 10.
Regarding Smith, he crossed the PPR-elite threshold of six catches, 85 yards and/or one touchdown five times last year. The next step in his development: hitting those marks in nine or 10 outings.
4. Contrary to preseason evidence, Laurent Robinson will not be a bust this season
There's no defending Robinson's one-catch, seven-yard output in the preseason, so why even go there?
However, I find it funny that fantasy owners are happily trumpeting the touchdown-light potential of Steelers wideout Antonio Brown (69 catches, 1,108 yards, 2 TD in 2011) this summer, but condemning Robinson's fantasy future at the same time.
And that comes on the assumption of Mike Wallace playing a full 16 games with Pittsburgh (although Colts owner Jim Irsay might believe otherwise).
For various reasons, Robinson is getting the receiva non grata treatment in fantasy drafts (standard-scoring and PPR), despite rolling for 625 yards and 11 touchdowns in the Cowboys' final 10 games last season.
Yes, he no longer has Tony Romo throwing him balls in Dallas, or Miles Austin/Dez Bryant as receiving partners. But there are significant reasons to endorse Robinson's big-money, high-pressure experiment with Jacksonville
Those reasons include: explosive rookie Justin Blackmon (4 catches, 72 yards on Thursday), NFL rushing king Maurice Jones-Drew (I'll be shocked if his holdout lasts through Week 1) and new Jags head coach Mike Mularkey, who has a prior relationship with Robinson and can maximize the wideout's effectiveness between the 20s and inside the red zone.
Am I suggesting Robinson will eclipse last year's 11 touchdowns? Uh, no. But it's hard to imagine him straying from a respectable range of 60 catches and seven touchdowns.
5. I gleaned little new info from watching the Cardinals on Thursday
Arizona had 400 yards of total offense, enjoyed a 3-to-1 advantage in first downs and ran nearly double the plays as Tennessee. Yet the Cardinals still lost by five points.
But the final score wasn't as troubling as finding out things that were already known.
First, Kevin Kolb (156 yards passing, 1 TD, 2 INT) has a higher upside and downside than John Skelton in the battle to determine the NFL's No. 31 starting quarterback. In a short window of time Thursday, Kolb engineered a textbook scoring drive (culminating with a TD pass to Andre Roberts) and then threw one of most egregious pick-sixes you'll see all preseason.
Also, kudos to ESPN analyst Trent Dilfer for pointing out how the Cardinals are the only NFL offense built entirely around a wide receiver (Larry Fitzgerald). And kudos to Kolb/Skelton for connecting with Fitzgerald for five catches and 91 yards—the same production you'd expect from a superstar in just two-plus quarters of meaningless action.
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.
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