Don't let the Negative Nancys fool you—the NFL preseason matters.
It matters to hungry young players trying to prove themselves. It matters to key position battles. It matters to new coaches getting their feet wet and working out the kinks in their systems. It matters to players coming back from injuries.
And most importantly for us simple folk, it matters for fantasy football.
Just look at some of the standouts from last year's preseason: Russell Wilson, Alfred Morris, T.Y. Hilton. None were really being talked about—or even starting—before the beginning of preseason, but they all quickly turned into significant fantasy pieces.
It's worth noting that picking out future fantasy steals from a week of preseason performances is almost akin to picking out a future president from a group of 12-year-olds, so you should probably only target these guys in either very deep or dynasty leagues.
Nevertheless, we got a glimpse of some very tantalizing players in solid situations. Let's take a look.
Stephen Williams, WR, Seattle Seahawks
With Percy Harvin out until at least December and Russell Wilson expected to continue to make strides after an unreal second half of his rookie season, there is plenty of room for late-round fantasy production out of Seattle's wide receiver corps.
Golden Tate is the popular sleeper pick, but that only means his draft position is skyrocketing by the minute.
And after that, there are no real proven commodities. Sidney Rice is talented, but last year was just the second time in six seasons he has played in all 16 games. Doug Baldwin took a step back in productivity last year after an encouraging rookie campaign.
Enter Stephen Williams.
The former Toledo star spent three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals after going undrafted. He didn't do much there, but his combination of size (6'5") and speed once enticed Larry Fitzgerald to suggest Williams would one day replace him as the Cardinals' No. 1, via Yahoo! Sports' Doug Farrar.
That's incredibly high praise.
Williams has most of the tools you look for in an outside receiver, he has looked great in camp, and on Thursday, he continued that success against the San Diego Chargers:
Williams caught two deep balls from Tarvaris Jackson for 82 yards and a score. He likely won't start anytime soon, but it appears as though he has locked up a roster spot and could serve as a tantalizing big-play threat.
Stepfan Taylor, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Sticking with the NFC West theme, we move to the Arizona Cardinals backfield.
Rookie Stepfan Taylor is third on the team's depth chart, but free-agent signing Rashard Mendenhall was all kinds of disappointing with the Pittsburgh Steelers last season, and Ryan Williams' health is a major question mark.
Most figured Taylor, who was drafted in the fifth round out of Stanford, would get a chance to prove himself, but it just might take a little bit of time.
Well, it took all of zero weeks—he got a chance to start Arizona's Week 1 preseason game against the Green Bay Packers as he and Alfonso Smith were the only healthy running backs.
On the surface, his line was underwhelming: 20 carries, 64 yards, zero scores, zero catches on one target.
But don't rush to conclusions. It was his first game, and most importantly, he proved he can already handle a full load, taking most of his carries right up the middle into the thick of the Packer defense.
Moreover, in the second quarter, he busted off a 14-yard run to the outside, prompting this praise from Farrar:
Stepfan Taylor just punked the "He's not fast enough to the edge" meme.— SI_DougFarrar (@SI_DougFarrar) August 10, 2013
Taylor isn't flashy. He's a north-south kind of guy with tree trunks for legs. He's hard to take down and is going to grind out a lot of yardage. With Mendenhall being drafted on average in the sixth round and Williams' roster spot being affected by his injury, Taylor is the only one in this backfield I'm willing to take a flier on.
His debut did nothing to change that opinion.
Nick Toon, WR, New Orleans Saints
But when you have a quarterback who pretty much throws for 5,000 yards every season and spreads the ball out, everyone in the offense should at least be on the fantasy radar.
Especially the enticing youngsters with good hands and intriguing after-the-catch ability.
That would be Nick Toon.
When Joe Morgan suffered a season-ending ACL injury, the No. 3 WR spot opened. Toon, Kenny Stills and Steve Breaston all look like potential replacements.
Which of these three will have the best fantasy season?
Toon, however, has looked strong in camp, and his Week 1 preseason performance—four catches, 66 yards—should only further pique interest.
You might want to be weary that all of his production came in the second half against players who really had no business trying to contain him, but this should help open up more opportunities going forward.
With someone like Brees at the helm, and Colston, Moore and Graham serving as legitimate deep threats, Toon could do some serious damage underneath.