In Jimbo's third installment of WEEK IN REVIEW he talks about his first impressions from preseason...
WEEK IN REVIEW:
First Impressions and Fantasy Implications
Questions, doubt and position battles have a tendency to creep in every offseason, so even if your team didn’t have any high-profile rookies on the field for a test lap last week, there’s always a story in the offseason.
Last weekend marked the beginning of the 2012 season for everyone but the Saints and Cards, so most fans caught just their first glimpse of their teams since at least February, depending on their team of choice.
To review last week’s action, let’s go division by division and break down potential rookie breakouts and position battles with fantasy implications.
Cedric Benson is now a Packer. In what was likely the biggest news item out of the old ‘black and blue’ division from the last week, former Bear first-rounder got picked up by the Pack after James Starks fell flat on his face in his 2012 preseason debut. Starks didn’t hit holes and coughed up the ball in first-quarter action against San Diego and is now slowed by painful turf toe. Packers’ head coach Mike McCarthy was forced to cut practice short a few days ago due to a lack of healthy, available running backs on the roster, so the Benson move is a logical one for more reasons than one. Through early injury and ineffectiveness, Starks appears to be losing his job to the capable and healthy Benson.
In Detroit, life is good for receiver Titus Young. Young has just returned to camp following the birth of his son and the Detroit media is heaping praise upon the 22-year-old prospect, citing his outstanding athleticism and strong effort in training camp. Young missed the Lions’ preseason opener against the Browns to be there for the birth of his son, so rumors of his dramatic improvement will have to wait until this weekend to be put to the test. After Young put up comparable numbers last season to Nate Burleson, his competition for the #2 receiver spot, Lions’ head coach Jim Schwartz figures to reward Young with the position at some point in the season to help him develop into a prime target for Stafford opposite Megatron.
While the Saints’ bounty scandal was the talk of the league for most of the offseason, the growth of the Tampa Bay Bucs might be the big story from the division following their preseason debut. Freeman looked sharp, completing 4 of 5 passes, and both LeGarrette Blount and Doug Martin scored rushing touchdowns in the game. Receiver Vincent Jackson is said to be the most impressive player in Bucs’ camp right now and figures to be a fantasy impact player at wide receiver this season.
Cam Newton didn’t show much in six throws for Carolina last weekend, but we did get a quick look at recent Panther signee Louis Murphy. Murphy is a tall, fast receiver who figures to be a nice option for Newton as the team braces for the decline of Steve Smith, who manages to be a pleasant fantasy surprise each season despite self-predictions for his own demise. Murphy is a little far down the depth chart, as Brandon LaFell appears to have locked up the #2 receiver slot, but should anything happen to LaFell or Smith, Murphy could prove to be a nice handcuff.
In Atlanta, the biggest fantasy story of the offseason is the predicted breakout of Julio Jones. Projected as high as the #3 receiver overall in some fantasy circles, Jones looks the part. He’s huge, athletic, and is making waves in early preseason action. His one-handed, highlight-reel touchdown catch in the team’s first preseason game has further fueled wild predictions for a monster year. For now, those rumors seem to be holding up well.
RG3 has landed. While he was one-dimensional in his preseason debut, Robert Griffin III has Redskins fans juiced up after his touchdown drive sealed by a quick slash to Pierre Garcon that turned into a 58-yard touchdown. Griffin looked athletic, sharp and confident in early action, but perhaps even more important is the fact that he appears to have a prime target in Pierre Garcon. Both players looked great against Buffalo. If you’re an owner of either, get excited.
The ‘other’ uber-dynamic quarterback in the division is perennial headline hog Mike Vick, who raised the collective blood pressure of the Eagles’ fan base after bashing his thumb on his center’s helmet on the follow-through of one of his throws. Vick left the game immediately and was obviously in pain, though x-rays of his hand showed no break or fracture. Vick resumed practice this week and says that while he’s feeling some soreness, he considers himself healthy and ready to play.
DeMarco Murray ran twice and gained no yards in the Boys’ preseason opener at Oakland, but Dallas’ media is outrageously high on him. Bold predictions of a 1,200 yard seasons and proclamations of his elite speed and strength represent the bulk of recent Cowboys-related editorial in Dallas. Homer-ism is to be expected from local media, but it’s still exciting for Murray’s fantasy owners. Remember that the bulk of Murray’s production last year came in three explosive outings against the Rams, Seahawks and Bills, so Murray has yet to develop a record for consistently high production.
Despite a strong, albeit unremarkable, season last year by Alex Smith, the 49ers’ quarterback seems to be catching a lot of flak this offseason. Colin Kaepernick shoveled some coal onto that fire by pulling off a 78-yard touchdown run on an option read after he took over at quarterback from Smith after the first quarter, but Smith is still the starter here. Don’t draft Kaepernick because of that run; he’s still the backup and your roster would be better suited by using that spot to host some of this year’s abundant receiving talent.
The other big story of this division is the supposed quarterback controversy between Matt Flynn and Russell Wilson. Matt Flynn will be the Seattle starter moving forward, but Wilson will receive an extended look in second-half play in the Seahawks’ subsequent preseason games. Flynn was efficient in his Seahawk debut, completing 11 of 13 passes. Wilson also impressed, especially on a 39-yard deep ball to Braylon Edwards that the recent signee came down with for a touchdown. The Seahawks have also added Terrell Owens to the receiving mix, so the Hawks appear to have strong receiving talent this season. Neither Owens’ nor Edwards’ roles within this receiving unit are cemented yet, so this weekend’s game will help to clarify that picture somewhat.
Brandon Weeden did not look good in his preseason debut with the Browns. Weeden appeared sloppy and tentative, tossing two picks to the Lions’ hungry defense. Trent Richardson will be sitting out for the bulk of the preseason as he rehabs his knee following a minor surgery, but remains on schedule to return by the regular season opener.
The Ravens’ passing game reportedly enjoyed a very strong training camp. After putting on a strong rookie season with 841 yards and 7 touchdowns, Torrey Smith figures to be a major fantasy factor as a #2 receiver and worked to make that case against Atlanta last weekend. Smith brought in 3 receptions for 43 yards, looking solidly in place as Flacco’s second read in passing situations. Anquan Boldin is still slotted at the #1 receiver position, though his production will likely be very similar to Smith’s if not lower despite the order of the depth chart.
The Bengals brought in former Patriot Benjarvus Green-Ellis this offseason and are confident in his ability as a feature back, but the Bengals’ poor preseason debut didn’t do much for the Green-Ellis bandwagon. Poor offensive line play and an injury to Travelle Wharton slowed Green-Ellis to a crawl, bogging his fantasy stock until the Bengals can figure out their line issues.
Andrew Luck’s NFL debut is the big story out of the division, rightfully so. Luck looked great in early action, as Donald Brown took Luck’s first NFL pass 68 yards to paydirt on a quick screen pass. For historical context, Peyton Manning’s own first NFL pass in 1998 also went for a touchdown on a quick strike to Marvin Harrison. Luck completed passes, threw touchdowns, ran for extra yards when necessary and moved the offense efficiently. Coby Fleener and Reggie Wayne figure to be nice options for Luck, who looked well-polished in his first appearance. On a less positive note, Luck was under intense pressure for most of his time on the field due to the Colts’ patchwork offensive line.
After a tough foot injury robbed Matt Schaub of most of his 2011 season, Schaub looked very sharp in early action against Carolina. Schaub could be a nice, late-round discount pick and will be helped out by the outstanding balance the Texans have thanks to Arian Foster and their zone running scheme.
The Titans are full of fantasy questions thanks to a rough 2011 by Chris Johnson, a quarterback controversy and some turmoil at wide receiver. While the future of Kenny Britt is very foggy thanks to his legal issues, rookie Kendall Wright looks poised to capitalize. Wright is a strong and athletic prospect with great potential in 2012, especially if Britt misses extended time to injury or indiscretion. After Matt Hasselbeck started last weekend, Jake Locker will start this weekend for the Titans, proving that the quarterback battle is ongoing and as yet unresolved.
All eyes were on the Brandon Lloyd – Tom Brady connection last weekend, but what ended up being the story was Tom Brady’s intimacy with the ground. Brady got smacked by the Saints’ Will Smith on an extended play in which he was forced out of the pocket. Brady wasn’t hurt by the hit, but Belichick pulled him from the game shortly after as a precaution. Patriot running backs Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley platooned their way through their game against the Saints, foreshadowing a season-long platoon affair from New England’s backfield.
Chad Johnson, thought by many to be a fantasy bargain and a lock for decent production at wide receiver, just screwed himself and his fantasy owners following a spat with his wife. Married for only 40 days, Chad Johnson headbutted his wife during an argument and was arrested shortly thereafter. Tired of the distraction, Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin decided to cut Johnson this week, meaning that the Dolphins’ questionable receiving corps is even more of a mystery than ever. Legedu Nanee and Davone Bess figure to he the primary targets, though neither has a very established professional resume just yet. Considering how strong Ryan Tannehill looked in his preseason debut, both could prove to be unbelievable fantasy bargains this season. Tannehill was confident and accurate with his throws, raising eyebrows around the league and giving him an early edge in the three-way quarterback competition between him, David Garrard and Matt Moore.
Last year was a bit of a downer for Philip Rivers, though a strong finish restored him to fantasy relevance. Scouting reports on his early season performances in 2011 noted a noticeable drop in velocity and some questionable decision making. Rivers threw a career-high 20 interceptions last year, including 14 in the first 8 weeks of the season. Rivers started off the 2012 preseason in that same sluggish form, tossing a quick pick to Tramon Williams in the Chargers’ preseason opener against Green Bay. That particular pass was a combination of bad decision making and poor ball placement that hinted at a continuation of the regression that Rivers experienced last year.
In a division loaded with strong running backs, there were plenty of ups and downs last weekend. Chargers’ running back and top fantasy prospect Ryan Mathews went down with a broken clavicle that will result in a lengthy recovery process, likely keeping him out for several weeks of the regular season. Jamal Charles and Peyton Hillis both look strong for Kansas City, as both played well in Friday’s game against Arizona. Oakland’s Darren McFadden stretched 2 carries into 20 yards, hinting at a strong return from the foot injury that limited his 2011 production. McFadden and Charles are elite prospects among running backs who appear to be making full recoveries from the injuries that cost them time last year.
By Jimbo Slice