Fantasy Football: 10 Guys to Move Up Your Draft Board After NFL Preseason Week 3
Heading into a fantasy football draft, it's important to make sure your cheat sheet is a living document. Injuries, holdouts, signings and preseason performances should have some level of influence over your rankings up until the moment you're on the clock.
Any savvy fantasy football player knows NFL preseason Week 3 provides the most relevant and valuable info that can be gained before draft day. The challenging part is deciphering which performances to take note of and which to dismiss.
Anyone going to their draft with a magazine's ranking from months ago is already miles behind the vigilant fantasy player who has been keeping his or her finger on the pulse of the NFL. All that work won't translate into fantasy glory, however, if you put too much stock into the wrong statistics.
As a general rule, I won't downgrade any player for a preseason performance. I will only move a guy down due to injury, holdout or changes on the depth chart.
Here are 10 players moving up my draft board after their performance in preseason Week 3.
Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens
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Pretty much everybody already had Ray Rice as one of the top running backs, but his work inside the 5-yard line has me seriously considering Rice as the No. 1 overall player.
Thursday night against Washington, Rice scored a three-yard touchdown and racked up 84 total yards. With goal-line duties secure, Rice is a true all-around back. He can run, he can catch and he can score touchdowns.
What more could you ask for?
Throw in the fact that he's fully healthy heading into the season, is running behind Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach and has a relatively soft schedule (minus the two games against those darn Steelers), and Rice becomes quite possibly the most attractive back in fantasy.
With question marks surrounding Arian Foster's hamstring and Chris Johnson's contract, the furthest Rice should drop is to third overall behind Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles.
Jermichael Finley, TE, Green Bay Packers
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Jermichael Finley has been a fantasy darling for years now, but I've never hopped on the bandwagon.
I've kept the 6'5" tight end lower than most on my rankings once again this season because I'm still waiting to see an elite season out of him. In three years, Finley's career numbers (82 receptions, 1,051 yards, seven TD) aren't even as good as Jason Witten's 2010 season alone (94 receptions, 1,002 yards, nine TD).
Finley shined against the Colts Friday, catching four passes for 41 yards, including an 18-yard touchdown. Perhaps more importantly, Green Bay's ground game was terrible, gaining just 35 yards on 17 attempts.
A balanced attack generally helps an offense achieve maximum fantasy potential, but the Packers struggled to run the ball last year, and things seemed to work out for the defending Super Bowl champions. With question marks surrounding the rushing attack, Aaron Rodgers could be poised for another monster season.
While I'm still hesitant to move him to the top of the tight ends, Finley clearly belongs in the elite class. With Finley finally looking healthy, I've moved him above Dallas Clark on my cheat sheet to No. 3 amongst tight ends, behind only Antonio Gates and Witten.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers
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At this time a year ago, Ben Roethlisberger was one of the most difficult players to rank and was passed up in many leagues due to his four-game suspension. A year later, Big Ben is slated to start Week 1, but is still one of the toughest quarterbacks to project in 2011.
Saturday against the Falcons, Roethlisberger completed 11-of-16 passes for 214 yards, including touchdown passes of 77 and 44 yards to Antonio Brown. Since he only played in 12 regular season games, it's difficult to compare Roethlisberger against guys like Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan or Eli Manning, but I'm willing to bet the Steelers will be a pass-first offense with Big Ben at the helm in 2011.
With so much uncertainty surrounding Peyton Manning's injury, I have moved Big Ben up to seventh in my QB rankings, behind the usual suspects (Michael Vick, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Tom Brady and Tony Romo). Mike Wallace is ready to establish himself as one of the game's elite receivers, Hines Ward and Heath Miller are reliable veterans and Emmanuel Sanders, Brown and Jericho Cotchery are ready to step up.
Think what ever you want about the guy and his off-field issues, there's no doubting Roethlisberger has the potential and the supporting cast to put together a special fantasy season.
Felix Jones, RB, Dallas Cowboys
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Like with Ray Rice, I'm enthusiastic about Felix Jones' potential because of what he's doing near the goal line.
Jones only had five carries for 20 yards against the Vikings Saturday, but he did pound in a tough five-yard touchdown.
Jones is going as the 19th back in ESPN fantasy drafts. I have moved Jones all the way up to 12th on my running back rankings, just behind former college teammate Darren McFadden and Steven Jackson but just ahead of the aging and injury-plagued Frank Gore and Matt Forte, who has to compete with former Cowboy short-yardage specialist Marion Barber for goal-line work.
Even with limited opportunities last season, Jones ranked ninth among backs with 48 catches and 11th with 450 receiving yards. With a few more carries and some work around the goal line, Jones could yield some serious value in fantasy drafts.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints
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Sean Peyton is becoming the new Mike Shanahan, torturing fantasy players by never really settling on a lead back, but even if that's the case in 2011, rookie Mark Ingram should have considerable fantasy value.
The 2009 Heisman Trophy winner scored 44 touchdowns in three years at Alabama and is already showing a knack for finding the end zone in the NFL. Ingram scored another touchdown last night against the Raiders, giving him a score in all three preseason games so far. His yardage totals haven't been anything to write home about, but Ingram could be a fantasy force based on touchdowns alone.
Pierre Thomas scored 20 touchdowns from 2008-09, 2010 team leader in rushing Chris Ivory is still in the mix and Darren Sproles will see action on passing downs, but Ingram's upside is enough for me to bump him up my board.
Ingram is currently the 28th back picked in ESPN leagues, but I have him at 21, behind Knowshon Moreno and ahead of Ryan Mathews.
Anquan Boldin, WR, Baltimore Ravens
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We're supposed to learn from our mistakes, but I'm willing to give Anquan Boldin another shot after he helped sink my fantasy team in 2010.
Boldin was supposed to finally step out from behind Larry Fitzgerald's shadow in his first year away from Arizona but had his worst season since 2004. This preseason, Baltimore newcomers Lee Evans and rookie Torrey Smith have stretched defenses, allowing Boldin to do what he does best.
Thursday against the Redskins, Boldin had five receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown. The ninth-year vet is currently the 20th receiver selected in ESPN leagues, but I've moved him up to 16th on my board, behind Marques Colston and ahead of Santonio Holmes.
Owen Daniels, TE, Houston Texans
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Another one of my favorites, another one who killed my 2010 season. I'll forgive Daniels for missing much of last year with injury and capitalize on the fact that most fantasy players forgot how good this guy was at the end of the year.
Daniels averaged nearly 10 points per game over his final four games and has been one of the better tight ends in terms of racking up receiving yards for a while now. In 2008, Daniels had the third most yards (862) among tight ends, but has missed much of the past two seasons.
Daniels played in just 19 games from 2009-10, but gained 990 yards and scored seven TDs over that span. Now that he's proved his health, I'm comfortable locking him in as my No. 6 tight end and would even consider drafting him above Vernon Davis considering how much better his quarterback is.
Tim Hightower, RB, Washington Redskins
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Just as with Mark Ingram playing under Sean Peyton, it's going to be difficult to gauge Tim Hightower since he plays under Mike Shanahan.
Hightower is gaining steam after a big game against Baltimore Thursday. The former Richmond Spider ran for 56 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries.
Hightower has looked good in Washington, the team liked him enough to traded for him and he has both a 10-touchdown season and a 60-catch season under his belt. Not many running backs can make that claim.
I have Hightower as my No. 25 running back, but I'm secretly hoping he's off the board by the time I'm ready to pick him. There's no denying the upside, but I don't know if I can handle the anxiety that comes with owning a Shanahan back.
Willis McGahee, RB, Denver Broncos
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I am a believer in Knowshon Moreno's ability, but there comes a time to know when to fold 'em.
Denver was searching for a compliment to Moreno and just when it looked like the former Georgia Bulldog was going to have another uncontested shot as the No. 1 back, Willis McGahee became available.
McGahee was been busy this preseason, scoring three touchdowns, including a two-yard run Saturday against Seattle. New Broncos head coach John Fox likes to use a two-headed running attack, which means McGahee is one of the more valuable reserve running backs on a week-to-week basis.
McGahee has always had a nose for the end zone, scoring 59 touchdowns in seven seasons between the Ravens and Bills.
Matthew Stafford, QB, Detroit Lions
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No doubt, the hottest player this preseason has been Matthew Stafford.
After impressive performances in his first two games, Stafford lit up the Patriots Saturday, going 12-of-14 for 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns. In total, Stafford has completed 24-of-31 passes (77.4 percent) for 356 yards and five touchdowns against zero interceptions this preseason.
The talent is there and he's got Calvin Johnson to throw to, but the only question is if Stafford can stay on the field.
The No. 1 overall pick of the 2009 draft, Stafford beat out Daunte Culpepper for the starting job his rookie year. He started the first four weeks before suffering a knee injury. He went on to start six more games that year before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.
It was much more of the same last season, when Stafford missed all but three games due to injury. In all, the Georgia product has played just 13 games, throwing for 2,802 yards (an average of 216 per game) and 19 touchdowns to go with 21 interceptions. Not exactly the resume of a hot sleeper.
With his history, it would be foolish to count on Stafford as your starting fantasy quarterback, but he'll be one of the most sought after backups. If you wait for a QB and end up with a starter who doesn't excite you, say Eli Manning or Joe Flacco, make sure to grab Stafford.
Jets vs. Giants Tonight
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Many fantasy players were burned by Greene last year and have exacted revenge. Greene is currently being drafted 26th among running backs in ESPN leagues, but a big game could realistically catapult him into the top 10 conversation.