Fantasy Football 2014: Eric Mack's Preseason Takeaways
If you are looking for minute (mi·nute) last-minute (min·ute) fantasy football draft advice, you are too late. Didn't your momma teach you not to cram for final exams?
What you are going to find here in this preseason review of fantasy's top storylines is a snapshot through a wide-angle lens.
Fantasy football, particularly these final drafts, can confuse you if you don't look at the big picture. We do that here, recapping the gainers, decliners, injuries, risks and busts generated from the preseason's myriad turn of events.
LeSean McCoy Overtakes Jamaal Charles for Projected No. 1 Overall Pick
It is quite rare we would be inclined to change our No. 1 overall player from the offseason to the end of the preseason without an injury being involved. LeSean McCoy was just too much of the people's champion over Jamaal Charles, so we had to relent.
Bleacher Report's final big board dropped Charles, who wasn't even second in FantasyPros.com's average draft position, sitting third behind both McCoy and Adrian Peterson. Yes, offensive lines make a difference in fantasy draft value.
Count The Kansas City Star's Sam Mellinger as one of those who is worried about the Kansas City Chiefs' poor preseason. He wrote:
- "The Chiefs' offensive line, in particular, has looked mostly wretched."
- "The running backs never had much to work with—and this was a week after the line was often overwhelmed in the third preseason game against the Vikings."
A drop to seven wins feels realistic. Maybe even six. Five is in play if the offensive line doesn't improve. A disproportionate amount of the outcome will depend on Reid’s ability to maximize strengths and minimize weaknesses, especially on the offensive line and with the receivers.
The offensive line has been hit by the losses of Branden Albert (Miami Dolphins), Jon Asamoah (Atlanta Falcons) and Geoff Schwartz (New York Giants) in free agency and Donald Stephenson, who was expected to start at right tackle, to a four-game suspension, according to Mellinger. Charles has faith his offensive line will come together, telling reporters:
With coach Andy (Reid) in control of this offense and what he can do, it doesn't worry me at all. I don't have any worries about that. Those guys are going to come around. It's just preseason and they need to get all the reps they can. It's going to hit reality when the first game gets here and the crowd, it's packed out and their adrenaline is going to be going and they're going to be pumped.
Sure, that revamped offensive line can improve with time, and Charles is in his physical prime at 27 years old, but there are just fewer question marks with McCoy and the Chip Kelly attack for the Philadelphia Eagles and fantasy owners. McCoy is a worthy No. 1 over Charles.
Charles told Mellinger he places faith in Kelly's Eagles predecessor, Reid.
(Reid) hasn't really called a game yet. The way he goes in the meetings, and puts people in places to make plays, puts people in their strong points, (where) they're in comfortable position to make plays, it's just crazy. When you see the real game plan, and what really goes on, then that's when you can really start worrying—when we're in the middle of the season.
Josh Gordon Roller Coaster Finally Comes to Abrupt Stop...Perhaps Permanently
So much for wishful thinking. Josh Gordon's potentially absolved or reduced suspension never came through. He went from being a boom-or-bust, middle- to late-round pick to being completely worthless as the NFL denied his appeal and imposed the reported one-year suspension.
What's worse, Gordon has the potential to spiral his career and life out of control the way another potentially elite young receiver, Justin Blackmon of the Jacksonville Jaguars, has. What kind of trouble might Gordon find himself in with no NFL job consuming his free time?
Forget any thought of Gordon playing in 2014; we might never see him play again.
We will use the Blackmon case as the precedent here, even if they may or may not be different types of people and circumstances. Blackmon was suspended indefinitely for multiple violations of the league's substance-abuse policy. He was arrested for marijuana possession as recently as this July, according to various reports. That certainly puts any hope for Blackmon on hold.
We have very little to believe Gordon will not wind up like Blackmon, a worthless long-term keeper option.
Gordon will have to pass drug tests, comply with treatment and apply for reinstatement after the 2014 season with commissioner Roger Goodell to resume his career. Mind you, Gordon already has a DWI arrest from the early-morning hours of July 5 to answer to this November, according to The Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot. Consider that yet another strike.
We shouldn't stand by Gordon as a fantasy player, even if head coach Mike Pettine is saying the right things in standing by him as an NFL one, per The Plain Dealer's Tom Reed:
Josh is a Cleveland Brown. We care about him. We want what's best for him, but at the same time we need to move forward...
Our full focus now is getting this team ready. You can't worry about guys you don't have. It was good to see some of those young guys step up, and if we have to be receiver by committee—I've said this all along—you don't replace a Josh Gordon, a top-five NFL receiver, with just one player.
Arian Foster Goes from Rebound Candidate to High-Risk Fantasy Decliner
The Houston Texans had an awful fall from contention in 2013. Their offseason and preseason has been almost as bad as new head coach Bill O'Brien has taken over, with Arian Foster right in the middle of it.
Foster was going to be a 300-touch candidate in O'Brien's rhythmic passing game, perhaps even challenging for 2,000 combined yards and 15 touchdowns in a return to fantasy supremacy. Instead, we've heard Foster talk about contemplating retirement this winter after offseason back surgery, as ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli wrote, and watched Foster get chained to the sidelines in the preseason.
Foster went from being an intriguing pick as early as the middle of Round 1 to being an extreme risk as late as Round 3. He is now just 22nd in FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings.
It is safe to say the 28-year-old Foster is closer to retirement than he is being the No. 1 overall player in fantasy football again, especially for that woebegone Houston Texans team.
We moved Foster from fantasy football's top 10 to just No. 33 overall in B/R's final big board. If you pick him, you'll have to pray he can find some juice before he hangs it up for good.
Houston Texans Wide Receiver Andre Johnson Is Equally Risky
We have to say, we don't hate the Houston Texans' direction. After that Arian Foster slide and this one on Andre Johnson, it might seem like it. We just think the old Texans players are stuck in limbo with the new Texans direction under Bill O'Brien.
Andre Johnson is clearly one of the old guard.
At 33, in fantasy terms, old is the operative word.
Johnson is one of the most overrated players this preseason by both analysts in FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings (36th overall, 13th wide receiver) and Joe Public's ADP (36-14). B/R's final big board has him just 66th overall and 27th at wide receiver.
Only Joique Bell at No. 90 is more overrated by analysts than Johnson among our top 100. No one in the top 45 receivers differs more between us and the consensus.
Why are we so down on Johnson coming off back-to-back monster seasons (112 catches for 1,598 yards and four touchdowns in 2012, then 109-1,407-5 in 2013)?
- Ryan Fitzpatrick.
- Injury history.
- Preseason hamstring issues, per various reports.
- Distrust of the new regime and unhappiness with the direction, despite his dropping a holdout, per Brian T. Smith of the Houston Chronicle.
- Johnson never had a 10-touchdown season, mostly due to poor quarterbacks.
- Ryan Fitzpatrick.
We have concluded Johnson, like Foster, is a dangerous pick in any draft. He just won't fall enough. He might just fall off the fantasy radar in his 12th season.
Stevan Ridley Fumbles His Way to the Fantasy (and Roster?!) Bubble Again
Our staunch belief he can be a fantasy monster seems just as far-fetched right now.
This is a 1,200-yard, 12-touchdown runner just two seasons ago, a potentially elite fantasy running back starting for a quick-strike offense that likes to play run-heavy in the mold of Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles. Ridley might be a mess with ball security, but he has something genetically working in his favor: size.
The New England Patriots are a between-the-tackles power-running team. Likely starter Shane Vereen (by default) is an undersized (205 lbs), overplayed scat back who caught more passes (47) than he had rushing attempts last season (44).
Rookie James White is even slighter in stature at 195 pounds. Brandon Bolden is the one guy who can push the fumbling Ridley for the tough, grinding yards at 220 pounds, but he is too far down the depth chart.
Ridley put himself right back in the Bill Belichick doghouse with his preseason fumbles. He fumbled the first play in the one Patriots practice I attended live this July. He was starting early in training camp but didn't return to a preseason game against the Eagles after he fumbled (which wasn't lost, by the way), as Reiss reported.
Here is the silver-lining in all this: Ridley is going to fall into Round 8, per FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings and ADP. Name another fantasy pick going off the board late with the potential to be a top-five fantasy pick next year. You can't.
Ridley just needs to seize his next opportunity, whenever that might be, and quite literally keep a hold of it tightly.
Wes Welker's Concussion Worries Turn Their Ugly Head
Wes Welker has had a history of concussion issues, having suffered two in a four-game span late last season. There was talk of him considering retirement, as Nick Grote of The Denver Post advised last December.
We couldn't even get to Week 1 of the 2014 regular season without those popping up again. Welker is currently on the NFL's concussion list, as ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold tweeted Thursday, thanks to a hit from Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger in Week 3 of the preseason.
Consider this yet another warning to the physical well-being of Welker and his potential fantasy owners. Welker runs over the middle out of the slot as part of his job description. He takes frequent blows to the head. It won't take much for him to be knocked out both in real life and for fantasy owners. Heck, it can be even worse than that.
You could see Welker's targets going up with a full year of health and the absence of Eric Decker, who departed via free agency. You could be right. Odds are, however, you will be wrong.
FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings place Welker 72nd overall and No. 31 at wide receiver. ADP has him 57th overall and No. 23 at wideout. Fantasy owners love the tried and true. Both places have him too high.
You cannot count on Welker playing Week 1 or finishing the season. Any draft position is not going to be a good value in your draft.
1st Fantasy Rookie off the Board, Bishop Sankey, Isn't Even a Starter
By most accounts, this was a talented 2014 draft class, especially in the skill positions and particularly at wide receiver. This wasn't a year to be jumping on rookies in fantasy drafts, though.
Case in point: The first rookie off the board in your leagues, running back Bishop Sankey, isn't even a projected starter for the Tennessee Titans—not quite a gold mine for talent and point production. Thus, it's tough to count on him as a starter for your fantasy team out of the gate.
Head coach Ken Whisenhunt likes Sankey's progress this preseason but not enough to declare him a starter over veteran plodder Shonn Greene, telling the Titans' official website Friday:
I think that it was obvious that (Sankey's) a talented young man. He ran the ball very well (Thursday) night, very decisive, made good cuts. We;ve seen growth from him, as well. I think, just like with Zach (Mettenberger), we've seen growth with Bishop.
He's gotten better, obviously, at his exchanges with the quarterbacks. His course on his footwork has improved. His vision is good. He's seeing the holes well. His protection, he's done a nicer job with that as he's gone through it, so from a young guy that you're trying to get prepared to contribute during the season, you've seen growth.
You've seen him moving along with that, and that's what you needed to see. I'm happy with him.
We thought a big preseason could put Sankey in the conversation to be a late second-round pick. There are a lot of question marks with the fantasy running backs outside of the top 10. Sankey could have been an answer if he ran away (pun intended) with the Titans' starting job.
Sankey proved he is going to be an impact pass receiver at the very least. He could become one of the NFL's workhorses and a Doug Martin-like smash rookie success story in fantasy.
Right now, he is merely a backup to Greene—who will keep the goal-line work regardless if healthy—and a sixth-round pick in a standard 12-team league, per FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings.
Consider that latter point the good news. Sankey has the potential to be an invaluable fantasy breakout at that draft position, particularly running behind the burgeoning young line stars Chance Warmack (2013 first-rounder) and Taylor Lewan (2014 first-rounder).
The Titans are built to become one of the better rushing offenses in football, assuming Sankey holds on to the ball, puts Greene on the bench and makes good on all of his promise.
Cincinnati Bengals Go All-In with Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill and Running Game
Friday's release of BenJarvus Green-Ellis, as NFL.com's Marc Sessler reports, was ostensibly a forgone conclusion. It's still noteworthy, though, because the Cincinnati Bengals are a top contender pinning their offense on new coordinator Hue Jackson and the power-running game.
Most notably, they are doing it with supreme confidence in raw, young backs.
Undersized sophomore running back Giovani Bernard (5'9", 208 lbs) and supersized rookie bull Jeremy Hill (6'1", 238 lbs) were two of the first running backs off the board in the past two NFL drafts, so the Bengals have to hang their hats on them. They didn't have to cut veteran BGE to do it, but they did so anyway.
BGE would have given the Bengals some veteran insurance for Bernard, 22, who might struggle to stay healthy because of his stature, particularly if he runs between the tackles with the big bodies flying around. Hill, 21, was merely a part-timer at LSU as an early entrant sophomore.
The Bengals are happy with both of their performances this preseason, though. Terence Newman, a 12-year veteran, gave Hill his approval, as Hill told Geoff Hobson of the Bengals' official website:
(Newman) said I'm going to be a force in the league if I keep doing what I'm doing. He said guys aren't going to want to tackle me with a full head of steam. He said, 'Just keep working man. You'll be pretty good in this league.'
Being 6-1, 230 pounds, once I get a full head of steam, guys don't want to see that. Being a big guy, they don't like me coming at them full force. They're not trying to hit me flush. You'll see it on film. Guys weren't really trying to hit me. They just kind of waited until I got past them. They were shoe lacing me down. I have to keep getting better at going through some of their leg tackles. They were trying to get me through the legs.
Hill, a downhill runner and an uphill fantasy talent, is going to be the 10-touchdown threat and the bigger bargain relative to draft position, but both backs can trump their current ADP: Bernard (20th overall, 10th at running back) and Hill (136-45).
Lamar Miller vs. Knowshon Moreno Position Battle Is Still Too Close to Call
We came into the preseason seeking an answer on whether 1,000-yard, 10-touchdown free-agent running back Knowshon Moreno would be a starter for his new team, the Miami Dolphins. We head into the regular season still wondering the same thing.
We received an answer on Moreno's health coming off June knee surgery. He looked good enough to not have to prove himself in the usually meaningless fourth preseason game. We still don't know how the snap split between him and third-year Dolphins incumbent Lamar Miller will go, however.
The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson reports the combo split first-team reps in practices for the final preseason game. Miller started the third preseason game, but Moreno rotated with the first team and "ran the ball well," head coach Joe Philbin told Jackson.
If we had to venture a fantasy guess—and we do, because that is what fantasy analysts do—Miller will start, but Moreno will get all of the important carries...for as long as his veteran, oft-injured body holds up. Moreno should be the goal-line/short-yardage finisher and third-down back because of his pass protection skills, as Jackson wrote.
We ranked Miller and Moreno back-to-back at Nos. 26 and 27 in B/R's final big board. Both have value around Round 5, but we cannot be sure which one (if either) can be a steady fantasy starter. Odds are it will be a tenuous situation week to week if both stay healthy (unlikely).
Rob Gronkowski (Expectedly) Does Not Cement His Health or Fantasy Status
Rob Gronkowski, around eight months removed from reconstructive knee surgery, could have cemented his status as a top-three fantasy tight end and a potential second- or third-round pick this preseason. He will get picked in that range, but that doesn't mean he should be.
As we should have expected and as they always have, the New England Patriots moved Gronk along slowly in training camp, holding him out of preseason action. Gronk told ESPN.com's Mike Reiss in mid-August he expects to play a 16-game season.
Right now, fantasy owners would like to just see him in one game...in Week 1 at Miami. NFL insider Albert Breer tweeted just over a week ago that Gronk's season-opening status is "optimistic, but not certain." That was before the Patriots traded guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for pass-catching, "move" tight end Tim Wright.
Wright's addition doesn't mean anything for Gronk's status, as many reported (Adam Schefter and Ian Rapoport), but don't expect Bill Belichick to be forthcoming with injury updates on Gronk before fantasy lineups are due. You are going to be left waiting for the Week 1 inactives like the rest of us.
That is certainly disconcerting, considering fantasy analysts rank Gronk 33rd overall and second at tight end at FantasyPros.com, while ADP slots him 31st overall and third at tight end. That is a high price to pay for someone so injury prone (back, ankle, arm, knee) in his young career.
He is the biggest high-risk, high-reward pick in the early rounds of fantasy. The preseason has only confirmed that.
Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. 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.