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Fantasy Football Takeaways from NFL Preseason Week 1

Andrew GardaFeatured ColumnistAugust 12, 2013

Fantasy Football Takeaways from NFL Preseason Week 1

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    The first week of preseason is in the books, and while in most cases starters only saw a limited amount of action, we still learned a lot.

    First, though, a reminder.

    This is preseason and therefore only a pale reflection of the real season. As happy as we all are for something to distract us that isn't related to PEDs and baseball, we shouldn't forget that a guy who posted large numbers this weekend isn't necessarily the next big thing.

    If someone catches your eye, read up on him. Find out the story from the beat writers; see whether he's been impressing in practice. If the answer is no, then keep an eye on him, and see if he can repeat it or if he starts getting more reps in practice.

    But remember: It's preseason. Plenty of guys end up stars for preseason games and not worth owning come the regular season.

    With that in mind, let's see what there was to learn this weekend.

EJ Manuel Is Still Very Raw, but Probably Your Buffalo Bills Starter

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    With Kevin Kolb sidelined due to an unfortunate rubber-mat injury, rookie EJ Manuel was given the start. He played for the entire first half, and two things became crystal clear.

    First, he's very raw. Second, even raw, he's far better than Kevin Kolb. It's hard to imagine Manuel not winning this starting job.

    What we saw was a very uneven performance. At times, Manuel looked stiff and looked like he was trying to aim the ball rather than throw it. However, we also saw his upside. We saw his fast scrambling, strong arm and patience in the pocket on his 92-yard touchdown drive right at the end of the first half.

    He's nobody you'll want to start on a regular basis, nor is he someone you'd want to run a quarterback by committee with.

    However, if you have a reliable top quarterback you can start every week, having Manuel on the bench could give you the benefit of some really nice upside and maybe some trading value later.

C.J. Spiller Is Going to Be a Fantasy Monster

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    I'll admit, I've been slow to get on board the C.J. Spiller Express, but hopefully there is room now.

    Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett has said he's going to run Spiller a lot, per Mike Rodak of ESPN. While Sunday didn't provide us with a ton of carries by Spiller, what we saw gave us plenty to be happy about.

    Most striking is how different the offense feels when Fred Jackson is in and Spiller isn't. Spiller offers a much more dynamic style of play. When Jackson is in, the offense looks plodding.

    Even in his few carries, Spiller looked fantastic, hitting the hole hard and showing his speed.

    Spiller is going to get a lot more carries than he did Sunday. And he'll do tremendous things with them when he gets them.

Bernard Pierce Is Going to Get Carries

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    The Baltimore Ravens have a problem, but it's a good one to have.

    It turns out that the glimpses of brilliance we saw from Bernard Pierce last season are really the signs of full-blown awesome talent.

    But they already have Ray Rice, who's pretty darn talented in his own right.

    The Ravens are going to have to be creative to take full advantage of what can only be described as an embarrassment of riches. That means some fantasy owners will have the same.

    Somehow, some way, the Ravens will use Pierce enough to give him plenty of fantasy value. Thursday night, he showed why they have to. He may have only had three runs, but he looked sharp on them, one of which was a 20-yard touchdown scamper.

    On that play, he showed good vision as he decided to turn outside, as well as very nice speed in getting to the corner. He also had a great stiff-arm in there on his way to the end zone.

    Grab Pierce as a flex play for sure, but he might end up as a lot more by the end of the fantasy season.

DeAndre Hopkins Looks Very, Very Good

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    Houston Texans rookie DeAndre Hopkins looks just as good as advertised.

    Yes, he saw a lot of time against second- and third-string defenses, but he also did a lot of his work without the threat of Andre Johnson and Arian Foster.

    The rookie from Clemson showed great hands and speed as well as very good route running. It's early, but we were already hearing great things from camp. Another game like this and it's going to be tough to grab him in fantasy drafts. 

    Hopkins is in a great situation and has the skills to take advantage of it with ease.

Cordarrelle Patterson's Value Isn't in His Own Hands

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    I love Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson enough to have him on two different dynasty fantasy teams.

    But I'm worried about him.

    As we just discussed with DeAndre Hopkins, Patterson has tremendous talent. It's undeniable. Sure, he needs to work on his route running and sand off the rough edges of his game, but the talent is there.

    What's going to hold him back is Christian Ponder.

    You know, the guy who threw two passes, one of which was a pick.

    Ponder loves the underneath routes to a fault, so there is hope for Patterson because the one thing you want to do is get him the ball quickly and let him run with it. However, the Vikings spent the money to get Greg Jennings and improve the vertical game, while tight end Kyle Rudolph is Ponder's short-pass target of choice.

    On top of all that, Ponder's 2012 was rife with bad decisions and sloppy technique.

    He has to get better. If he doesn't, the entire passing offense will suffer.

    So while Patterson has the talent to be a great receiver in the NFL, this season he might get held back by the guy getting him the ball.

There's Still Zero Clarity in Green Bay's Backfield

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    So far the new Green Bay Packers backfield looks a lot like the old Green Bay Packers backfield.

    That's not to say they can't move the ball on the groundjust that you never know who will do the job. Group efforts are fantastic for Amish barn raising, but not so much for fantasy football.

    Maybe it was in part because Eddie Lacy didn't play due to a hamstring injury, but the ground attack looked pretty average. Green Bay finished the game with 89 yards on 29 carries. 

    We might get more clarity in the next game, if Lacy returns. But right now, this just looks like the same mess we avoid every other fantasy season.

The Bears Offense Isn't Quite There...Yet

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    Chicago Bears fans have been pretty concerned about their defense, but they might want to check out the other side of the ball.

    It wasn't a disaster, but it wasn't great.

    Keep in mind that with a new offensive scheme, there will be bumps in the road. Therefore, to some extent, this was expected—especially when the offense was without Brandon Marshall and didn't throw to new tight end Martellus Bennett.

    The Bears are already addressing continuing concerns along the offensive line, per Bob McGinn of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which is definitely a contributing factor to the offense's woes.

    Don't panic. This offense will get its act together and guys like Marshall, Matt Forte and Bennett will produce the numbers we expect.

    They're just not there...yet.

Tom Brady Is Just Fine...Thanks for Asking

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    If we were worrying about whether Tom Brady would be able to score with a "lesser known" cast of receivers, we can probably stop now.

    Not that he threw touchdowns with every pass, but he looked just as good with unproven and inexperienced receivers as he has in the past with everyone else.

    This team may run a bit more, but ultimately, Brady is going to be just as effective of a fantasy quarterback as he ever has been.

Don't Get Carried Away with LeGarrette Blount

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    LeGarrette Blount ran for 101 yards and two touchdowns on Friday night, so it's easy to see someone getting excited about the New England Patriots back.

    Blount's 51-yard touchdown run is impressive on paper, but it was also a result of some pretty bad tackling and abysmal angles by the defenders. There were also some really nice blocks.

    Both Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley scored as well, and Ridley added a 62-yard run that showed a lot more speed and acceleration than Blount could muster.

    To be fair, speed isn't Blount's game.

    But when both of the backs ahead of Blount are exceptional runners and can score from anywhere, exactly how do you fit Blount in?

    Knowing head coach Bill Belichick, the team will find a way, but that doesn't guarantee Blount will be remotely fantasy relevant.

    It's fine to stash him on a roster with a late pick. But don't expect too much of him.

Montee Ball, Knowshon Moreno and Ronnie Hillman: Nobody Is Separating Himself

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    Sure, it was against one of the most potent defenses in the NFL, but no Denver Broncos running back did much against the San Francisco 49ers starting defense.

    Not Montee Ball, not Ronnie Hillman. Even Knowshon Moreno's 23 yards came against lesser members of the Niners.

    That's not to say the ball won't move here—just that we still have no clue who will move it.

    We know John Fox has a history of limiting his rookie backs. We also know that as good as he has looked in camp, Hillman was unimpressive in games last season. We know that Ball has struggled at times in camp, just like many rookies.

    If you're going with a back here, Hillman or Ball is your guy. Ball will, as we have mentioned before, get the red-zone carries.

    Neither of them has the look of a No. 1 fantasy back, and this past game did nothing to change that.

    What did you learn from this weekend's games? Share in the comments, and I promise we won't tell your league-mates.

     

    Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at Footballguys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

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