What We’ve Learned this Preseason
Last week, my colleague Brad Behrens (@_BradBehrens) wrote an article titled “5 Things We’ve Learned This Preseason.” While the regular NFL fan views watching preseason football as an exercise in futility, experienced fantasy owners know that the four-week stretch of warmup games provides a plethora of information. With three weeks of the preseason completed, the regular season dress rehearsals are now in the books. Accordingly, fantasy owners should have a clearer picture of who is going to start, which fantasy studs are performing well and which are showing signs of decline. With all of this in mind, let’s take a look at seven more things we’ve learned this preseason.
Running Back by Committee is becoming a norm in the NFL
In the not so distant past, drafting a Carolina Panthers’ or New England Patriots’ running back in fantasy football was frustrating due to the lack of a clear-cut starter. In 2015, there are 14 potential running-back-by-committee (RBBC) backfields in the NFL. While some teams such as Arizona, Dallas, New England, Cleveland, Atlanta, and Tennessee are pretty obvious due to lack of a feature back, Houston and St. Louis will likely be RBBCs due to injuries to Arian Foster and Todd Gurley. San Diego is also a likely time-share backfield due to Melvin Gordon’s slow development in the passing game and his tentativeness running the ball.
On the other hand, several teams acquired quality running back talent through free agency including former starters and passing downs specialists who will play in situational roles. It is pretty clear that Philadelphia will be utilizing free agent acquisitions DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews as a one-two punch while complementing their skills with those of Darren Sproles in the passing game. The signing of Shane Vereen by the New York Giants could mean less third-down work for Rashad Jennings, who will also share goal line work with second-year back Andre Williams. While New Orleans Saints’ coach Sean Payton has proclaimed a change in offensive philosophy, C.J. Spiller is more of a third-down back who will fill in during passing situations, once he returns from injury, and accumulate a share of the targets left by the departure of Jimmy Graham. The emergence of Ameer Abdullah in Detroit pretty much guarantees that projected bell-cow back Joique Bell will be in a time share. In addition, the Week 3 performance of undrafted free agent Zach Zenner and the presence of Theo Riddick further muddies the waters in an already-unclear running back picture in Detroit. In the offseason, San Francisco acquired Reggie Bush, another passing-downs back with high upside in PPR formats. While Bush is going to get plenty of work in the passing game in place of Carlos Hyde, Hyde will get the lion’s share of rushing attempts. Bush will have value in PPR formats, but little or none at all in standard scoring leagues.
Philadelphia is going to be an offensive dynamo
Through three weeks of the preseason, the Eagles’ offense has led the NFL in total yards per game (429.7), rushing yards per game (150.7), points per game (38.3), and total points (115). The Eagles have also been second in passing yards per game (279). Though it is only preseason, the plan in Philadelphia is the same as it has been since Chip Kelly’s arrival; move fast, rack up yardage and score points early and often. Though Philly has replaced several key contributors on offense, it appears that Kelly’s roster experiment is going to work. In limited play, Demarco Murray and Ryan Mathews have averaged 4.1 and 5.4 yards per carry, respectively. While the Eagles’ ground game has been impressive, their air attack has been extraordinary as well. Second-year wide receiver Jordan Matthews has seven receptions for 115 yards and no touchdowns. His counterpart, rookie wide receiver Nelson Agholor, has been electric through three preseason games. In the first preseason game, Agholor made an impressive one-handed, Odell Beckham-like catch on an overthrown pass from Mark Sanchez. So far this preseason, Agholor has nine receptions for 117 yards and one touchdown. Darren Sproles, who has been lining up in the slot quite frequently, has four receptions for 56 yards and one touchdown. While Zach Ertz has been recovering from sports hernia surgery, tight end Trey Burton has also been part of the passing game by contributing seven receptions for 57 yards and two touchdowns. Most importantly, Sam Bradford, who is injury prone, looked very comfortable in Week 3 where he went a perfect 10-for-10 for 121 yards and three touchdowns in one quarter. Potential fantasy sleeper/stud? I think so. If Bradford stays healthy, look for big things from Eagles’ wide receivers and running backs.
Golden Tate looks like a fantasy stud
So far this preseason, Golden Tate has led the Detroit Lions in receiving with seven receptions for 169 yards and two touchdowns. In Week 3 of the preseason, Tate amassed 91 yards and one touchdown on three receptions. You read that correctly, three receptions for 91 yards and one touchdown. Though it was against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tate’s performance is another example of what he can do without Calvin Johnson on the field. While he is considered second fiddle to Megatron, Tate proved in 2014 that he can produce like a high-end No. 1. After Johnson went down with an ankle injury in Week 5, Tate caught seven receptions for 134 yards and one touchdown. While Johnson was out in Week 7, Tate caught 10 passes for 154 yards and one touchdown. In Week 8, Tate had seven receptions for 151 yards and one touchdown. With Johnson typically drawing double coverage, Tate should thrive if Matthew Stafford targets him on both intermediate and deep routes. At his current ADP of 49th overall, Tate could be a draft-day steal thanks to Calvin’s injury history.
Allen Robinson is going to be a target monster
When you think of teams leading the NFL in the passing stats category, one that does not come to mind is the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, through three preseason games, the Jaguars are fourth in passing yards per game (249.7) behind perennial passing leaders Green Bay, Philadelphia, and New Orleans. Allen Robinson has lead all Jaguars wide receivers in targets with 16, which he has turned into seven receptions for 103 yards and 14.7 yards per reception. Last season, Robinson came on strong with 48 catches for 548 yards and two touchdowns before a stress fracture in his foot ended his campaign in Week 10. While it appears that Blake Bortles has improved his game from last year, Robinson’s health will be just as much of a determining factor for his value as will be Bortles’ development. While he may not carry much value in standard scoring leagues, he could be a quality option in PPR formats.
Doug Martin is back
During the offseason, Doug Martin dropped nearly 15 pounds, which has translated to some great preseason performances. So far this preseason, Martin has 20 carries for 118 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and one touchdown. In Week 2 versus a stout Cincinnati defense, Martin had six carries for 59 yards and one reception for nine yards. The most impressive play came on a 30-yard run where it looked like Martin got stuffed at the line of scrimmage. At his current ADP of 61st overall, Martin is the 29th back coming off the board. If he can stay healthy, the “muscle hamster” will be in for a repeat of his rookie year (1,454 yards and 11 touchdowns and 49 receptions for 472 yards and one touchdown), which makes him an RB3 with RB1 upside.
Steve Smith Sr. isn’t done yet
You have got to love a guy who promises to “wound, damage and puncture people” on his way out. While Steve Smith Sr. announced that 2015 is going to be his last season, it appears that he plans to go out on top. Week 3 of the preseason demonstrated that Smith Sr. still has some juice in his legs. In the first quarter, Smith Sr. caught a 14-yard pass on an out pattern and turned it into a 63-yard touchdown by blowing by Redskins defenders. While this play made up the bulk of Smith Sr.’s preseason stats (6 receptions for 104 yards and one touchdown), it shows that he can still get the job done. Last season, he finished as a WR2 or better five times despite the presence of deep threat Torrey Smith. With Torrey gone and rookie Breshad Perriman nursing injuries, the only other options in the passing game are Justin Forsett and one of Crockett Gilmore or Maxx Williams. If he can avoid injury, Smith Sr. could be quite the bargain at his current ADP of 86.
Jarvis Landry is going to be a PPR stud
In 2014, Jarvis Landry converted 112 targets into 758 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie. He played all over the formation, though a majority of his production came from the slot. This preseason, Landry is playing in the slot full-time and has led all Dolphins’ wide receivers in receptions with 11. Over the course of three weeks, Landry has 11 receptions for 115 yards and one touchdown. Although the departure of Mike Wallace in the offseason helps Landry, Miami traded for Kenny Stills, signed Greg Jennings, and drafted DeVante Parker. However, Landry should man the slot all season, which makes him a great bet for 100 catches as Ryan Tannehill’s hot read against blitzes. At his current late 6th round ADP, Landry could be a decent WR3 with WR2 upside in PPR leagues.