The preseason—it is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth, Neo.
Next to the "draft season," no time of the year lies to you like the preseason because half of what you see on the field is an illusion.
For every player who performs well in the games that don't count and repeats it during the ones that do, there are approximately four billion players*** who wilt under the regular-season spotlight.
Look. Good against remotes is one thing. Good against the living...that's something else.
Some players are great when they're in front of sparse crowds and playing against other guys fighting for a roster spot.
Then the season happens, and they disappear.
As has happened every preseason since we started paying attention to them for fantasy purposes, players have emerged who have captured the fancy of many a fantasy GM.
Everyone has the story of getting burned by a preseason performer, but we go running after them with Ahabian fervor anyway.
To help you avoid the pitfalls we all tumble into from time to time, we've compiled a list of preseason studs we're buying—and those we're selling as soon as we can.
***Estimated number based on watching too much preseason football since birth, subject to adjustment post-sobriety
Hopkins looks like the solution to Houston's longstanding quest to find a receiver opposite Andre Johnson. Johnson attracts the lion's share of the secondary attention, but so far nobody has been able to regularly take advantage of that.
But that's where the former Clemson University wide receiver comes in.
What we saw in the small preseason sample was impressive, though. Hopkins caught a total of six balls for 74 yards and a touchdown.
The touchdown—which came in the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings—was a good example of what the wide receiver is capable of. In single coverage against cornerback Bobby Felder—who admittedly is a depth guy and may not be on the roster come Week 1—Hopkins ran a simple go route towards the end zone.
Felder stayed with him, but as the pass from T.J. Yates came in—a high, lofting ball—Hopkins leapt up, caught it at the high point of his jump and came down. Felder got his hand on the ball a bit but was turned around, and Hopkins held on as they fell to the turf in the end zone.
On the broadcast, announcer Spencer Tillman relayed a story about when he asked Houston wide receivers coach Larry Kirksey if Hopkins could catch in traffic. They said Kirksey simply told them, "There's nothing he [Hopkins] can't do."
Hopkins can take advantage of the space created by his size and frame, while his speed can create separation.
That won't change in the regular season.
This isn't about Thompkins' talent.
This is more about the Patriots offense in general.
While Tom Brady and the offense did key in on Wes Welker a lot, he was the exception. Brandon Lloyd didn't get that treatment, neither have a multitude of players before him.
When he lacks a strong No. 1 receiver—frankly, even when he doesn't—Brady spreads the ball around. It's part of what makes Brady, Brady. He doesn't need an elite receiver—he makes ordinary guys look great. And the strength of the Patriots offense is that it can go to virtually anyone at any time.
Besides, if Brady is going to key in on someone it will be the guy who is expected to fill Wes Welker's role in the offense—Danny Amendola.
As good as Thompkins plays, his college tape shows a guy with average speed and size. Yes, he saw a lot of action from Tom Brady and according to Pro Football Focus (subscription needed) was on the field for 121 snaps in the preseason.
Of course, Amendola was only on the field for 32 of the snaps, and we can be reasonably sure he'll outgain Thompkins despite that.
The snaps figure is misleading. You know what you have in your veterans—you don't know what you have in your rookies or young players. That's why Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce have far more snaps under their belt in the preseason than anyone else.
The coaching staff needed to see them more to know what they could do.
Thompkins is rising up draft boards. His Average Draft Position is up 14 slots to 148 according to the cumulative stats at FootballGuys.com (subscription needed), and perhaps he'll top out before his value gets too high. But even taking him late, be warned that there is a very good chance that his snaps and stats go down once the fur flies in the regular season.
There are an awful lot of weapons Brady and the Patriots will use—Thompkins will be one of them, but probably not in the way he was used this preseason.
And then there was one…
With DuJuan Harris' injury and subsequent placement on injured reserve, the way has been cleared for Lacy to be a legitimate lead running back in the Green Bay Packers offense.
Fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin has struggled, according to the Journal-Sentinel's Bob McGinn—looking far more tentative than he did at the collegiate level.
Meanwhile, Lacy definitely has played as advertised—a powerful workhorse who can shake tackles and truck defenders who get in his way.
There are a few questions fantasy owners face when selecting Lacy though. The book on him in college shows that he was an inconsistent blocker, something that will be a real issue with a Packers offensive line dealing with injuries again.
Assuming he can handle that, the other question is how many carries Lacy will really get. The Packers haven't run the ball a ton the last few years, so you can understand the concern.
On the other hand, if you look at Ryan Grant's carries for the two years he started for the Packers (2008 and 2009), he carried the ball 312 and 282 times respectively.
When the Packers have a guy they can rely on, they will definitely run the ball.
Lacy is going to be that guy both for the Packers and his fantasy owners.
I want to like Tannehill this season. He has Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline. He's got an improved defense. The AFC East is there for the taking.
But that offensive line—the one which allowed 17 sacks in preseason—is going to be his downfall. While Jonathan Martin has improved, the rest of the line as a whole has struggled. The pressure on Tannehill will be immense as he tries to live up to expectations that have been raised very high levels.
The pressure will also be immense coming through the gaps, especially on the right side of the line.
Tannehill has the weapons, but let’s be honest—that won’t matter if he’s on his back.
A lot of people are writing off Cordarrelle Patterson because he's not currently listed as a starter on the Vikings' depth chart.
And it's true: OurLads.com has him behind Jerome Simpson in two-receiver sets.
Of course, that doesn't mean all that much—we've seen a ton of wideouts emerge despite being a No. 3 receiver.
The thing to remember is that Christian Ponder loves to throw short.
When you watch him, you can see it's not just the lack of vertical weapons. Take a look at the preseason games as well, and it's much the same thing, it seems at least partially mental.
He doesn't go deep.
Maybe Patterson isn’t high on the depth chart yet, but don’t worry about that.
So he’s behind Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson. You know, two receivers who do the exact same thing. Two vertical threats.
As much as they will be on the field—and I’m not sold Simpson will stay there anyway—Patterson will be on the field in underneath routes doing what Percy Harvin used to do.
Yes, he’s not a "starter." But in fantasy football we don’t care about that nonsense, and it won’t limit what he can do.
Ponder will look for Patterson and tight end Kyle Rudolph on the underneath routes and get them the ball, which will allow Patterson to be the dynamic run-after-the-catch guy we saw on his game tape in college.
After an incredibly hot preseason, Terrelle Pryor got the start for Week 4 in order to prove he could carry the load as starting quarterback of the Oakland Raiders.
That didn't work out so well.
Pryor did throw a few nice passes but looked largely out of sorts as the Seattle Seahawks were relentless in their attack. It didn't help that the Raiders only ran 19 plays in the first half while the Seahawks had the ball for 20 minutes.
It's hard to get the offense moving when you spend a ton of time on the bench waiting for your defense to get off the field.
Pryor's athleticism and ability to extend the play with his feet has to be an attraction for the Raiders—especially with the read-option taking over the league.
If he can't perform when it counts—and the Seahawks are a huge challenge for anyone—Pryor may prove his doubters right—that his accuracy issues and tendency to pull the ball down and run is more harmful than helpful.
Wilson had a very good preseason, running with power but also showing off his speed on long runs.
He goes from sharing carries with Brown to really having no competition.
That said, this is a team that will need to grind the clock to protect a lead since its defense has some issues, and Wilson will be the choice to do that.
Wilson is a very good runner, just coming into his own as he enters the second season of his career.
He's going to put up some serious fantasy points this season as well.
Christine Michael is extremely talented. He may even be the future of Seattle's running back position.
That future isn't now.
After all, Marshawn Lynch isn't exactly chopped liver. Yes, there is a DUI hanging over his head, but there hasn't even been a date set for the trial, and the longer that goes on, the less impact it will have on this season.
All the talent in the world won't mean much to fantasy GMs if it's left on the sideline.
And that's where Michael will be most of the time this season.
Don't look at his preseason numbers and go nuts. Just file it away for your dynasty leagues and next year's redrafts, and let him sit on the waiver wire now.
He's not going to supplant Lynch this year.
Zach Sudfeld was starting to feel a little overhyped—up until Daniel Fells and Jake Ballard were cut last week, per NFL.com.
Now there's very little in his way to seeing some serious snaps this season.
If Gronkowski isn't available Week 1, Sudfeld will start with Michael Hoomanawanui as the only other healthy tight end on the roster. Hoomanawanui is no threat to take targets away from Sudfeld.
Even when Gronkowski returns, the Boston Herald Jeff Howe says Sudfeld has been tapped to play the "Aaron Hernandez" role in the offense.
The same concern we have for Kenbrell Thompkins also stands for Sudfeld—Tom Brady has spread the ball around before and will again. So maybe Sudfeld is on the field a lot but doesn't get enough targets.
It is a concern, but consider that the team cut more experienced tight ends and kept a relatively inexperienced rookie. More than likely it has plans for him.
A few years back, the Patriots drafted two tight ends, and the NFL thought they were nuts.
They were right then—and I believe they will be proven right again.
I'll admit it—I was driving the Ronnie Hillman train and had the throttle opened all the way up.
And then Hillman fumbled three times in two games, earning himself a special place in head coach John Fox's doghouse and causing the hype train to crash.
Hillman has talent—he ran the ball very well all camp and preseason—but there is very little that will get you benched quicker than not holding onto the ball.
This leaves Montee Ball and—hard to believe what comes next—Knowshon Moreno as the starters in the offense.
Hillman may get another chance to prove himself, but all it will take is a solid game by Moreno/Ball and Hillman will once again be hanging on the bench.
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.