Fantasy Football Takeaways from NFL Preseason Week 3
Preseason Week 3 is considered the NFL's full dress rehearsal for the start of the season. Most of what it does for fantasy football owners is merely blur the image of our draft options.
You should not overrate what you see, and what you saw might have covered up what you didn't.
As everyone continues to laugh at the Jets and their quarterback-battle hilarity, it merely buries the lede: No one cares about the Jets in fantasy football (save for Chris Ivory). We spend our time pointing, laughing and debating whether Rex Ryan should have had Mark Sanchez in the game, but none of it matters for fantasy owners.
It is just another New York media distraction, Tim Tebow style. The Jets will either start bumbling idiot No. 1 in Sanchez, who dropped a snap right to his hands before leaving with a bruised shoulder joint, or No. 2 in Geno Smith, who rolled out right out of the back of the end zone for a safety—and was picked off three times.
That was the NFL version of Dumb and Dumber.
"You're going the wrong way!"
"Well, how do they know where we're going?"
It doesn't matter whom the Raiders start at quarterback either, be it the weak-armed Matt Flynn or former college star Terrelle Pryor. The Jets and Raiders are going to have pitiful passing games that won't make a true fantasy impact, no matter who starts under center.
Kevin Kolb (concussion) might have seen his career come to an end, but that just clinches something we should have already known: EJ Manuel (knee) is going to start for the Bills in Week 1, assuming he is healthy.
So enough of steering you away from the train wrecks that offer mere entertainment value. Here are the fantasy football takeaways from NFL preseason Week 3. You know, the ones that actually matter in terms of fantasy value.
David Wilson Has the Jets to Be True No. 1 Fantasy RB
David Wilson was already exciting, and he has been drafted among the top 20 fantasy running backs. The biggest game-changing news came this week, but not from his breakaway 84-yard touchdown on the Giants' first play from scrimmage: It was GM Jerry Reese declaring him the team's clear-cut starter.
Wilson's draft position was affected by the presence of Andre Brown, who could have stolen some thunder with a timeshare. Brown will serve as a touchdown vulture, but he will be more of the thunder to Wilson's lightning. And that makes Wilson the No. 1 fantasy football takeaway from preseason Week 3.
Reese told The Herd with Colin Cowherd on Friday morning:
We expect [Wilson] to be our starter, and be in the backfield with Andre Brown, who had a terrific season going last year until he got hurt. [Brown's] had the injury bug a little bit since he’s been in the league. But if he can stay healthy, and David Wilson comes on like we expect him too, we think we can have a pretty dynamic backfield.
Everyone loves Doug Martin among the top three running backs in fantasy football. He was drafted one spot ahead of Wilson in April 2012. If there is a 2013 running back breakthrough on that level, it could be the Giants' Wilson.
Wilson stands to be the best fantasy running back picked after Round 2.
DeMarco Murray Responds to Fumble, Benching
Fantasy owners hate injury-risk players. They just don't want to deal with the headaches year after year, game after game.
Count us in on DeMarco Murray in Round 2 of the draft this year.
The headaches Murray creates are going to be those in the skulls of your fantasy opponents. Murray looks primed for a huge breakthrough.
Saturday certainly started with headaches. Head coach Jason Garrett benched Murray after a first-quarter fumble. Even though a teammate recovered it. Garrett wasn't going to tolerate fumbles.
Murray responded in the third quarter, though, rushing eight times for 45 yards. He even showed determination, busting would-be tackles on a seven-yard touchdown reception.
"There’s no doubt in my mind if challenged, he's going to step up and meet that challenge," owner Jerry Jones told The Dallas Morning News. "He met it competitively. That was expected."
Murray left Saturday night without speaking to reporters, perhaps a sign that he plays with a chip on his shoulder. We are going to see that chip this season in fantasy.
Ryan Mathews Is Teasing Us Again
Here is a preseason Week 3 news flash: Ryan Mathews is healthy.
Usually, he never is.
Mathews is peeved about his goal-line fumble, per Michael Gehlken of U-T San Diego, and his concern for perfection is commendable. We as fantasy owners should just be pleased he looks capable of living up to his once enormous potential.
Mathews rushed 14 times for 57 yards and a touchdown, but he wanted that second score. He said the following after the game, per Gehlken:
I didn't want [the first half] to end on that. It just eats me up; it really does. ... I can't do that, plain and simple. Everyone says, "Oh well, it's preseason. It doesn't count." But to me, it counts. I can't let my team down like that because when we get down there and they're calling my number, they've got to be able to rely on me.
Call me an eternal optimist here, but Mathews sounds like he finally gets it. He won't let anyone down at his reasonable fifth-round value this year.
Jonathan Cooper Injury Lowers Rashard Mendenhall's Stock
You never want to hear the word "loose" attached to the description of your running back's knee. That is exactly what Rashard Mendenhall is dealing with.
Reports say the looseness of his surgically repaired knee is a bit overblown. CBSSports' Jason La Canfora tweets Mendenhall still should be on target for Week 1. He is the Cardinals' starter over talented, but equally injury-prone Ryan Williams and rookies Andre Ellington and Stepfan Taylor.
The problem with Mendenhall is not his own health, either, after preseason Week 3. The Cardinals look like they have lost first-round pick Jonathan Cooper to a broken leg, per Kent Somers of USA Today Sports. The Cardinals had the worst running game in the NFL last season, so they couldn't afford to lose a guy they brought in to change that.
Cooper might not be out for the season, and Mendenhall might not miss any time at all. Nevertheless, the combination of both pieces of news should scare you off Mendenhall at his sixth-round draft position.
Kenbrell Thompkins Is No Longer a Fantasy Secret
We knew someone from Tom Brady's reworked receiving corps would emerge this preseason. Danny Amendola has been obvious, but the question was: Which of the rookies would start and take the outside targets after defenses come up to stop Amendola out of the slot?
We officially have our answer: Kenbrell Thompkins.
Thompkins was behind second-round pick Aaron Dobson from Marshall and fourth-round pick Josh Boyce from Texas Christian entering training camp. After all, Thompkins wasn't even drafted out of Cincinnati.
Now, he is locked in as a starter after reeling in eight passes for 116 yards against the Lions on Thursday night. Six of those catches and 93 yards came directly from the hand of Brady.
When—not if—Amendola is out with injury, like he was Thursday night, Thompkins will be a must-start fantasy receiver. That is huge praise for a receiver who might not have been draft-worthy until now.
Reggie Bush Is Very Clearly a PPR Monster
You can doubt the Lions running game. You can doubt whether Reggie Bush will get goal-line touches.
You cannot doubt whether Bush will be a monster in PPR fantasy formats any longer.
Bush looked spry out of the backfield for the pass-happy, Matthew Stafford-led Lions offense, catching five passes for 103 yards against the Patriots on Thursday night, including a 67-yarder. Granted, Calvin Johnson was held out of the game, but unheralded Joique Bell reeled in 52 catches for the Lions a year ago. Bush is a candidate for 80-plus receptions and perhaps more receiving yards than rushing yards this season.
Bush now looks like a second-round pick in PPR drafts.
Bell, by the way, is now the handcuff to Bush over Mikel Leshoure, who has had a disappointing preseason and has fallen to No. 3 on the depth chart.
We Can Breathe a (Temporary) Sigh of Relief on C.J. Spiller
The pause you sensed should have left you with something, though: Spiller is a risk among the top five backs in fantasy. He just hasn't handled the consistent load that the likes of Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch and Ray Rice have. You should even have more confidence in Doug Martin.
This is Spiller's first full season as a feature back now that Fred Jackson is no longer in a real timeshare. You would be better off targeting him after that quintet above.
That is not to mention the uncertainty the Bills have at quarterback with EJ Manuel (knee) and Kevin Kolb (concussion) banged up. The Bills' quarterback situation is so dire that they have had to bring in bust Matt Leinart.
Spiller is absolutely electric, but he is no sure thing because of the supporting cast around him, and his uncertain full-season durability will leave you holding your breath week to week. That's a lot of stress to put yourself under with your early first-round pick.
Ronnie Hillman Not Putting Montee Ball, or the Ball, Away
The Broncos' running back battle will go to the final round.
Ronnie Hillman had every chance to put it away; instead, he has fumbled it away this preseason.
Hillman had another fumble returned for a touchdown Saturday night. He then watched rookie second-round pick Montee Ball and veteran incumbent Knowshon Moreno run well later in the game.
Said Hillman, per Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today Sports:
When you put the ball on the ground, and you have guys like Montee and Knowshon [Moreno] running the ball as well as they did [Saturday], and Lance [Ball], it kind of affects your competition. Those guys did a great job. It's unacceptable, what I did. I just have to work on it.
Hillman is expected to surrender the starting job to Ball before Week 1, but even Moreno is in the mix to start for the Broncos now. Ball is the first Broncos running back to draft, due of his ceiling, but you have to handcuff him with Moreno. Hillman is an enigma and looks better served to be the change-of-pace back.
Kendall Hunter Is Frank Gore's Handcuff Now
Second-year back LaMichael James had an opportunity this preseason to become the leading handcuff for 30-year-old running back Frank Gore, who has had myriad injury issues throughout his career. It was a good spot to be in.
Now, that spot belongs to Kendall Hunter.
Hunter returned from his Achilles tendon tear Sunday night, ripping off a 15-yard run on his first carry. It is a signal we should be targeting Hunter among the top handcuffs in drafts.
Not only is Gore 30 and prone to injury, but the 49ers are a top contender and boast arguably the best running game in football. Even if Gore somehow stays healthy for 16 games—don't bank on it—the backup is going to have his moments for fantasy owners, particularly during the bye season that stretches from Week 4 through Week 12 this year.
James has been unimpressive this preseason, and Hunter looks refreshed and ready to break out.
"A lot of the fellas have been talking about how he seems faster," Harbaugh told the San Francisco Chronicle. "I can't say I disagree with that."
If you draft Gore, you have to make sure you get Hunter as insurance. James is a mere late-round flier as the distant No. 3 now.
Jonathan Dwyer Is Steelers' Top Candidate to Start at RB
This was a busy week for Steelers running back news. First, Le'Veon Bell went from potentially having a season-ending Lisfranc injury to having a foot sprain that will keep him out about six weeks.
Then, the Steelers traded for Felix Jones.
Finally, Jonathan Dwyer had a solid showing against the Chiefs as Isaac Redman missed the game with a stinger. Dwyer looks like the leading candidate to start at running back for the Steelers now—at least until Bell is healthy.
The Steelers face the suspect Tennessee Titans run defense in Week 1—third-worst in fantasy against running backs a year ago—so Dwyer can get himself off to a good start. This makes him an intriguing late-round pick.
Jones still needs to prove he is worth keeping on the roster, but he could emerge as a sleeper, too. Jones is still just 26, and we have to agree Dwyer and Redman have had their chances. Jones could finally take advantage of his.
Preseason Week 3 Closing Thoughts
Here are some of the smaller takeaways from preseason Week 3 that could loom larger as the season wears on.
He proved healthy Saturday night, rushing seven times for 28 yards. It was a mediocre performance against a bad Eagles run defense, but just taking the field after a Lisfranc injury is noteworthy for a running back. Consider MJD a viable third-round pick, albeit a risky one.
One of our favorites for a breakout at wide receiver, Jeffery reeled in seven passes for 77 yards. He looks every bit worthy of a pick after Round 10.
The Dolphins say Daniel Thomas is still in the mix to start, but the numbers suggest otherwise. Miller has 17 carries for 72 yards (4.2 average) and a touchdown, while Thomas has 19 carries for just 52 yards (2.7 average). Consider Miller the Dolphins back to have after the top 20 running backs are off the board. Thomas is nothing more than his handcuff.
With Marques Colston saying he is not 100 percent this week and Joe Morgan (knee) out for the season, the Saints have some opportunities for a receiver to emerge behind Jimmy Graham, Colston and Lance Moore. Nick Toon was supposed to be that guy in his second year, but rookie Stills has stolen the show in the preseason with seven catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Consider Stills a late-round sleeper now, especially in long-term keeper leagues.
Thomas is still starting and broke away for a 51-yard touchdown reception Sunday. That is bad news for Mark Ingram. We still like Ingram as a sleeper and potential breakout, but Darren Sproles is the pass-catching third-down back, Thomas is the starter and Ingram might be limited to short-yardage work if all of them are healthy.
The Chiefs made it clear this week Avery is the No. 2 receiver to Dwayne Bowe, especially after trading former first-round pick Jon Baldwin to the 49ers for another first-round disappointment in A.J. Jenkins. Avery responded this weekend with six catches for 54 yards on a team-high nine targets. Avery is a late-round option in PPR formats, particularly with the accurate short passing Alex Smith figures to do in Andy Reid's West Coast scheme.
Many are down on Arian Foster as a top pick because of his preseason injury woes, so those people must jump on contact-year backup Tate in fantasy. The Texans are going to have a great running game, with or without Foster. Tate figures to be a candidate for a fantasy impact even if he is relegated to mop-up duty. His 11 rushes for 74 yards in Week 3 showed he is a lot healthier this preseason than he has been in years.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report this season. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game. You can also listen to him on his podcast that he deprecatingly dubbed the Fantasy FatCast.