Fantasy Football 2014: Takeaways from NFL Preseason Week 3
Here comes the "told you so": When the going gets tough, the tough get injured.
We predicted as such last week in Bleacher Report's review of the running back position. Preseason Week 3 rendered some catastrophic fantasy injuries as we foresaw, namely the St. Louis Rams losing Sam Bradford (torn ACL) for the season. Now the Rams (and fantasy owners?) are forced to put their faith in veteran backup Shaun Hill (pictured).
This slideshow breaks down all of the top fantasy takeaways from the pivotal third week of the preseason and provides analysis on what are likely to be the last major developments affecting fantasy rankings before you draft.
Sam Bradford's Loss Will Have Trickle-Down Effect on All St. Louis Rams
Those banking on the St. Louis Rams in fantasy because of a long-awaited Sam Bradford breakthrough need to find a new set of sleepers. Bradford is out for the season, and head coach Jeff Fisher has to hope the supporting cast the Rams put around the franchise quarterback is good enough to overcome his loss.
Fisher told Mark Maske of The Washington Post it is time to help prop up veteran backup Shaun Hill instead.
We move forward as a football team. Shaun's our guy. We brought him here. He's got experience. We've got all the confidence in the world in him. We have around our quarterback position right now probably as good of talent as we've had since we came here.
You have to move Tavon Austin, Kenny Britt, Brian Quick, Chris Givens, Jared Cook and perhaps even Lance Kendricks into the late-round flier category now. You just cannot be sure of what Hill will do for them.
Zac Stacy, on the other hand, becomes as important as ever. The Rams look like they will have to open the season as a team focused on three yards and a cloud of dust. Stacy thrived in that high-volume role a year ago.
We should expect Stacy to average close to 20 touches per game, with Benny Cunningham his first substitute right now and rookie Tre Mason getting work as a change-of-pace guy. You might not like Stacy holding up for a full season, facing eight men in the box, but he will give you No. 1 starter numbers in touches and be the Rams' primary touchdown threat.
Ignore Hill as a fantasy quarterback outside of two-quarterback leagues, and consider all of his targets picks in even later rounds than you did before.
We Get Further Signs Josh Gordon Is a Complete Waste of a Pick
In Bleacher Report's review of the wide receiver position last week, we wrote it was an ominous signal the Cleveland Browns don't expect to get anything out of Josh Gordon anytime soon when they played him into the fourth quarter of preseason Week 2. Starters just don't do that in exhibition games.
Even worse, Gordon didn't play at all in preseason Week 3, which is the full dress rehearsal for teams before the season opener. Take note: Gordon, awaiting word on his appeal of a season-long suspension, is headed for some kind of ban and likely a long one.
Head coach Mike Pettine told Nate Ulrich of the Akron Beacon Journal:
I wasn't sending a message. Knowing that the decision is looming, that we're fairly certain that we're not going to have him for at minimum some part of the year, we wanted to make sure that we were getting repetitions with the guys that were going to be out there early.
Clearly, the Browns needed to take a look at players they are going to be counting on, and Gordon is not one of them. Don't pick Gordon anytime before the late rounds and only if you're willing to wait a long time for his return.
If you're looking for a Brian Hoyer target to take a flier on, the Browns line up their wide receivers with Miles Austin and Andrew Hawkins as the starters. Nate Burleson (hamstring) is the likely third receiver. Austin and Hawkins are mere late-round picks, while tight end Jordan Cameron projects to be one of the most frequently targeted tight ends in football. The news Hoyer is starting over rookie Johnny Manziel gives Cameron the potential to go off the board among the top five tight ends.
Knowshon Moreno Does Enough to Keep the Door Open Versus Lamar Miller
Knowshon Moreno (knee surgery) needed to prove healthy and productive to make a late push to unseat incumbent Lamar Miller as the Miami Dolphins starting running back. He hasn't shown enough to decide things, but he has at least left this an unsettled battle.
"We haven't released anything," head coach Joe Philbin said, via James Walker of ESPN.com. "We're still evaluating right up until we name our starter. I thought [Moreno] played well."
Moreno rushed 10 times for 64 yards in his Dolphins debut, showing "good vision, burst and the ability to finish runs," according to Walker.
Moreno explained, per Walker:
I can't control where I am on the depth chart. That's all about the coaches, and they have to do those things. I just have to come out and prepare and get ready for each games. I think all us running backs are prepared to be No. 1.
We should fully expect both Miller and Moreno to impact fantasy football this season, but they are going to have to do it at different times. It makes both mere backup options among running backs in standard leagues.
We moved Moreno all the way up to No. 27 among fantasy backs, one spot behind Miller. Both look like high-upside fifth-round picks in fantasy.
Shonn Greene Appears to Have Held off Bishop Sankey as Starter...for Now
Shonn Greene looks as if he might have won one of fantasy's biggest position battles of training camp. He started over Bishop Sankey this past weekend and is expected to open the season as the Tennessee Titans feature back and goal-line option.
Consider it an early indictment on Sankey's draft value. If Sankey cannot beat out the plodding Greene, do you really trust picking him before Round 5 in the coming days?
Greene has done everything asked of him this month, including getting his weight down to where Ken Whisenhunt wanted it, the head coach told John Glennon of The Tennessean:
He looked good (Saturday) night running the football. He had a couple good runs. He's gotten to the weight that we asked him to and he's working hard in practice. I think you're seeing the results in how he's running the football.
We had written earlier this preseason Sankey had the potential to move up to being a second-round pick. While the rookie has shown flashes and managed to improve his ball-security issues and footwork, Sankey is difficult to trust as a fantasy starter out of the gate.
He will be the first rookie picked in all drafts still—and a factor as a pass receiver—but you have to move Greene up into top-40 consideration at running back even if the top-25 Sankey will eventually be the bell cow.
Wes Welker's Concussion Questions Prop Up Sooner Than Expected
After yet another concussion, Wes Welker should probably reconsider retirement. ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold tweeted Monday afternoon that hasn't been discussed, but fantasy owners should be worried for Welker.
We knew the concussion question mark would turn its ugly head with Welker this season. We didn't figure it would before the season even gets underway.
Move Emmanuel Sanders up on your draft boards as a burgeoning No. 2 option to Demaryius Thomas in Peyton Manning's offense. Welker is now a mere No. 3 fantasy wideout, barely ranking in the top 30, while Sanders should be picked soon after. Sanders (thigh) was outstanding in his Denver Broncos debut, catching five passes for 128 yards and two touchdowns.
Also, of note, veteran Andre Caldwell was getting time with the first team before rookie Cody Latimer. Caldwell is now a potential late-round flier to take among the top 70 fantasy receivers.
Both Sanders and Caldwell will benefit when, not if, Welker misses time this season amid repeated concussions. Sanders will operate out of the slot when Welker is out, with Caldwell playing opposite Thomas on the outside, according to Troy E. Renck of The Denver Post.
"We have a next-guy-up mentality around here," Sanders told Renck. "But we want to make sure Wes is good, because we all want to get him back."
As unfortunate and serious as Welker's concussion issues are, it does create some significant value for Sanders as a No. 3 wideout and Caldwell and/or Latimer as late-round fliers. Manning's offense is going to be productive, and wideouts are going to benefit, no matter who it is.
Bernard Pierce Concussion Adds Question Mark for Run-Heavy Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens already have to deal with being without Ray Rice (suspension) for the first two games of the season. Now, fill-in starter Bernard Pierce is dealing with a concussion, albeit "mild," according to ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley.
Pierce tweeted Sunday: "If anyone was wondering, I'm fine," as Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun reported.
If you know anything about fantasy and concussions, you know they are bad news, particularly for a running back who takes repeated blows to all parts of the body, including the head. Concussions are more frequent and severe as they add up.
Pierce is a mere handcuff back outside of the top 30 fantasy running backs, while Rice—the expected Week 3 starter—is getting picked just inside that range. The combined issues of the Ravens backs might force Rice and/or Pierce owners to consider Justin Forsett and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro as late-round options. The Ravens are going to be a team that starts with the run and stays stubborn with it. Someone is going to have to emerge from this group in fantasy.
Doug Martin Should Slide Up in Round 2, If Not into the Late 1st Round
An injury-plagued 2013 for Doug Martin had him falling from being a top-three fantasy pick a year ago to barely a consideration in the first three rounds this year. We need to stop questioning this 25-year-old's potential to be a stats monster for a run-friendly Tampa Bay Buccaneers team.
New head coach Lovie Smith is focused on defense and ball control, so expect Martin to be one of the most heavily used feature backs in all of football. He is a bargain at his current No. 23 overall ranking in FantasyPros.com's average draft position (ADP).
Smith is ready for a big year from Martin, the coach told Fred Goodall of The Associated Press.
He's a key guy. With Mike James going down with an injury and with Charles (Sims) going down, those guys need to play at a certain level. They're both good players, but Doug is our bell cow. He likes that role. He's had a good camp, hasn't missed a beat.
A tough runner, doesn't complain. He's going to rush for a lot of yards for us this year.
Bobby Rainey will open the season as Martin's backup after the rookie Sims needed surgery to repair a torn ankle ligament, according to the Tampa Bay Times' Rick Stroud. Sims is expected to be out until at least Week 10, so don't consider him outside of long-term keeper formats. Rainey is the Martin handcuff now.
But, it is Martin who we will really care about. He has 1,200-yard, 10-touchdown potential that will be on the board in Round 2 in most leagues. You might even consider reaching up to pick Martin before a top-five wide receiver late in Round 1. The Bucs are going to lean on Martin heavily.
Guard Geoff Schwartz (Toe) a Costly Loss for the New York Giants Offense
The New York Giants offense was a mess last season, particularly Eli Manning and the running game, and most of it was blamed on the injury-hit offensive line. The Giants added West Coast guru Ben McAdoo as offensive coordinator—to mediocre results early in the preseason—and run-game mauling offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz via free agency.
Schwartz was about as close to a savior as a lineman could be. Now the guard is going to be out "a long while, probably," head coach Tom Coughlin told Ebenezer Samuel of the New York Daily News, after Schwartz dislocated his big toe. That "long while" is anywhere from six weeks to the entire season, NJ.com's Jordan Raanan speculated on Twitter.
It sure puts a damper on the enthusiasm of McAdoo's revamped offense, particularly the fantasy prospects of Manning and incoming free-agent running back Rashad Jennings and rookie Andre Williams. The trio looked like potential sleepers. Not having that veteran guard should cut into their collective intrigue.
Manning is no better than a backup fantasy quarterback in standard leagues, or a low-end No. 2, amid his poor preseason learning McAdoo's new system. Jennings is a backup fantasy back, particularly at the advanced age of 29, while the rookie Williams is no better than a middle-round reserve running back flier.
Julian Edelman Looking Like Tom Brady's Go-to Man, Fantasy Bargain
Somehow the fantasy hype hasn't hit Julian Edelman after his breakthrough 105-catch, 1,056-yard season at age 27. Edelman is just 30th in FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings.
We understand some skepticism Edelman can be that good again, but after his eight-catch, 99-yard performance in preseason Week 3, we shouldn't question who Tom Brady's go-to receiver is. Edelman is a huge bargain at his value right now, particularly in points-per-reception (PPR) leagues.
Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Brandon LaFell and Kenbrell Thompkins have some sleeper potential—and tight end Rob Gronkowski (knee) will be the red-zone monster when healthy—but we should be considering Edelman a fantasy starter even in two-receiver formats. Edelman looked physically more mature than ever when I saw him live in training camp this July. He is capable of having a Wes Welker-like season of 120 catches, 1,100 yards and as many as eight touchdowns.
You can make a case Edelman should be a top-15 PPR option with those projections.
Rookie Class Has Bad Dress Rehearsal, Save for Panthers WR Kelvin Benjamin
This has been an awful preseason for fantasy's rookie class. The good news is it will keep most of you from overrating the rookies in drafts.
The quarterbacks—Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel and Teddy Bridgewater—are all opening the season as backups, so don't draft them outside of keeper formats. We already featured Bishop Sankey as a reserve to Shonn Greene in this slideshow, and he is the No. 1 rookie running back. Sammy Watkins (ribs) was held out of the third preseason game, and Buffalo Bills quarterback EJ Manuel has struggled this preseason anyway.
Carolina Panthers rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin was one of the lone bright spots among fantasy's rookies this past weekend. Benjamin was a frequent target of quarterback Cam Newton (broken rib), and Benjamin looks capable of being a No. 3 fantasy wideout out of the gate. Brandin Cooks (stomach virus) was held out of action, by the way.
Benjamin is a solid value as the No. 39-ranked wideout in FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings. We have him one spot (37th) behind Watkins (36th) among wideouts, and we hate rookie receivers, who tend to be overrated. Move Benjamin down the pecking order if Newton's fractured rib is more than the Panthers are letting on.
ESPN.com's David Newton reported the Panthers are planning to have Newton start the season opener against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at this point. Fate sure is doing its best to muck up the value of fantasy's rookies.
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.