The key third week of NFL preseason action almost has a bow tied around it. Most starting units played into the third quarter, as coaching staffs treated the game as their last official warm-up for the regular season.
Fantasy football players were given more than a cameo look at many of this year's top options. Some NFL players didn't disappoint at all, while others still seem like they could use another four or five preseason games to get it right. Then there were teams like the Philadelphia Eagles and San Diego Chargers, who marched most of their second-string players onto the field at the start of the game to play it safe.
So far, it doesn't appear there will be any game-changing injuries to worry about, although Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (hand) briefly gave us a scare. He should be fine, which is music to the ears of many.
If you're curious on what thoughts I came away with from Week 1 or Week 2 of preseason play, don't hesitate to check them out as well.
Alfred Morris' strong showing adds more complication to Washington backfield
Redskins rookie running back Alfred Morris impressed the hell out of me. Sure, the Colts aren't known for staunch run D, but Morris picked his holes, was patient when he needed to be and simply lowered his shoulders when needed. It was his second consecutive preseason start. A sixth-round draft choice shining for Mike Shanahan in the running game? Hmm, haven't we seen that before? Devil's advocate says: Roy Helu and Evan Royster missed the game with injury and Tim Hightower (5-28-0) showed some spark later in the game. This situation is a mess, but Morris should be given a flier pick later in your draft.
Rashad Jennings continues to look like an NFL-caliber starting running back. He banged out 57 yards on 13 carries against the Baltimore D. Maurice Jones-Drew should be taking note, because he might return (if he ever does) to a time-share situation. Ideally you handcuff the two, but I won't be afraid to take Jennings as a RB4. Keep in mind his value drops as soon as MJD returns.
Torrey Smith, of the Baltimore Ravens, had eight catches for 103 yards against the Jaguars. I'm all in. Smith has made great strides since last year and looks every bit the part of a No. 1 receiver. He'll probably be just borderline WR1 for fantasy purposes if he keeps this up, but I like him much better as a WR2 with a very high ceiling.
Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall. Cutler to Marshall again ... and again. We became used to hearing that when they were with the Denver Broncos. Get used to it now that they are reunited with the Chicago Bears. These two are clearly on the same page. If the O-line can do Cutler any favors, he and Marshall are in for a very productive fantasy football season.
New England second-year runner Stevan Ridley looked fantastic against the Buccaneers, who haven't proven they can stop much on the ground. Ridley quickly knocked out 87 yards rushing on 16 carries, including a short touchdown. He also had three receptions for 17 yards. The important thing here is he hasn't fumbled on 37 touches this preseason, which is building confidence in the coaching staff. I want to believe. I really, really want to because Ridley always looks the part of a very talented back. Historically, though, the Patriots are a heavy committee team. If you grab him, it's likely as your RB3. There is plenty of upside here, but also plenty of risk.
Andrew Luck continued to impress. He hit 14 of 23 passes for 151 yards and a touchdown against the Redskins. His poise is much better than that of a typical rook; I'm really looking forward to following this guy's career. If the preseason means anything, he is every bit as good as advertised -- maybe even a little better. He still should be no higher than QB2 material during your draft.
Packers newly added runner Cedric Benson didn't have a lot of touches (just six carries), but he rushed for 38 yards and showed some life in his legs. Biggest worry here is the Packers may never give him his required 20-plus touches each week. He did, however, show enough to move into RB3 territory in my mind. It's been fun, James Starks (turf toe).
I'm trying not to be wacko for Flacco, but Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens' passing game looked real sharp against the Jaguars. Flacco went to the air 36 times, hitting 27 of them for 266 yards, two touchdowns with one interception. The team is going to be more balanced and not a pass-first mentality, but Flacco is playing for a contract....
As someone who drafted Pittsburgh Steelers running back Isaac Redman in a lot of leagues, it was good seeing him back on the field against the Bills. He carried 12 times for 24 yards, including a 2-yard touchdown run. The big thing here will be that his hip injury doesn't flare up in the coming days. With Rashard Mendenhall (knee) off the PUP, I'd now rather have Redman as a RB3 than RB2, but I expect him to produce like a high-end second back for at least the first half of the season.
I'd like to have a do-over on my dynasty league draft so I could take Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson in it. He hit 13 of 19 passes for 185 yards and two touchdowns while starting the key third preseason game. There is talk of a minor injury to Matt Flynn, but my conspiracy theory meter is off the chart right now. Wilson looks fantastic; some players just have that 'it' factor and he is one of them. He scrambled twice for 58 yards, continuing to show his legs are a big factor in his game, too. I'm going to be shocked if he's not the starting quarterback early in the season for Seattle. For fantasy football purposes: He's a rookie, even if he doesn't look
the part in the preseason. There are going to be growing pains and he is no better than a QB3 at this point. His mobility, live arm and control of the offense are pretty to watch.
Justin Blackmon changed my opinion of him in the last two weeks. The Jaguars rookie hauled in four passes for 72 yards. He's a big target (6-1, 210) and is showing he knows how to use his strength on the field. His after-the-catch moves and speed have really impressed me. Is he third receiver material for your fantasy team? I'm not sure I'm that on board yet, but I love his upside.
I've mentioned Matt Schaub in this space recently. He had another strong showing, hitting 15 of 18 passes for 194 yards and one touchdown. Everyone likes to say the Texans are going to mostly rely on Arian Foster and the ground game, but they're quick to forget Gary Kubiak wants a balanced offense and Schaub has more than a strong enough arm and the right weapons around him to get the job done. He's a borderline QB1 who isn't getting any love; you can draft him as your backup at a great value this year.
Speaking of Foster, he looked in mid-season form against the Saints. He rushed for 32 yards on eight carries, including a 6-yard touchdown run. Ben Tate was given a first quarter touchdown run, but I wouldn't read into it.
New York Giants running back David Wilson is a playmaker. I mentioned the 'it factor' with Seattle's Wilson, and this Wilson has it, too. If you can snag him as a depth player on your fantasy football team, you'll be happy you did. He had 49 yards rushing on just five carries and tacked on another 26 yards receiving on two catches.
You've listened to me drool over Matt Ryan for a few weeks now, so I'll save you some reading. This guy has a chance at being in the upper tier of fantasy quarterbacks this season. He finished 18 of 26 for 220 yards and a touchdown. That Julio Jones (4-90-0) character is going to be pretty darn good this year, too.
Davone Bess continues to last way too late in fantasy football drafts. Use that to your advantage. He is going to lead the Dolphins in receptions this year. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has an eye for him and the two seem to have built an early rapport. Bess hauled in four passes for 59 yards. Draft him as your fourth or fifth receiver, he'll provide a much higher return than that.
I'm warming up a bit to Doug Martin. He carried the ball 13 times for 53 yards and scored his second touchdown of the preseason. His yards-per-carry has gone up each preseason game, topping out at 4.1 yards. The Bucs offensive line did take a big hit, losing guard Davin Joseph (knee) for the season with a torn patella. Martin is still going higher in fantasy football drafts than I'm willing to dive in, but I think he'll be an OK RB2. LeGarrette Blount had seven carries for 22 yards and I see him really cutting into Martin's numbers this year.
I've never been a big believer in Pierre Garcon, but I think I'm going to miss not having him on any of my fantasy football teams this year. Robert Griffin III has an eye for him and the Redskins are showing they will put Griffin's rocket arm and Garcon's speed to use often this year.
Antonio Brown showed last year wasn't a fluke, hauling in two touchdown receptions against the Bills. Mike Wallace should be back soon, but Brown may actually be the first read often early in the season due to Wallace's holdout. Really dig him in PPR leagues as a low-end second receiver, but I'd rather have him as a WR3.
Rod Streater (5-56-0) looked good again for the Raiders and his five catches pushed his preseason total to 18. Injuries have plagued the Oakland wide receivers in training camp, which could open the door for Streater to see time right out of the gates. He's no better than WR6 material, though.
Hat tip to Dallas receivers Kevin Ogletree (5-75-0) and Dwayne Harris (3-118-2), who had to step up with Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten sidelined with injuries. I wouldn't invest a draft pick in either today, but those are names to keep an eye on entering the year as potential early season waiver options.
I've been a big Dexter McCluster fan the last couple of years. I love his versatility. He had seven catches for 61 yards and a touchdown for the Chiefs. Not ready to spend a draft pick on him and I think his numbers will be very erratic, but showings like this could force the team to make sure he gets more snaps.
Michael Turner isn't much of a "Burner" anymore....
Jake Locker looked better in his second preseason start, but it wasn't anything to write home about. He hit 11 of 20 passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. His accuracy wasn't where it needs to be, but that's never been a strong point. He is, however, fluid on his feet and is going to improvise some big plays this year -- I won't be surprised at all if Kendall Wright is on the receiving end of many of those.
In three preseason games, Michael Turner has averaged 3.5 yards per carry or less in every game. He doesn't have a carry longer than seven yards. He hasn't looked noticeably slower, but it's time for "The Burner" nickname to be retired. Don't dismiss him on draft day like a lot are. He's not a 1,300-yard back anymore, but he should still top the 1,000-yard plateau and see close to double-digit scores. There just won't be a lot of big performances along the way.
Daniel Thomas showed a bit more of what I was looking for. The second-year back for the Miami Dolphins rushed six times for 29 yards. He'll be in the weekly equation and could turn out to be a decent value-pick later in your draft.
A real nice showing out of Seahawks runner Robert Turbin, who had 92 yards on 14 carries, including a 25-yard touchdown run. Look for him to see plenty of work if Marshawn Lynch's Beast Mode is suspended.
Christian Ponder looks improved, which should be enough to squash any quarterback controversy. However, improved still won't be good enough for fantasy football consideration.
Lions running back Kevin Smith (ankle) hurt his ankle against the Raiders. He says it isn't a high-ankle sprain, but this is a painful reminder of how brittle Smith is. He has moved up the draft board this summer mostly due to the weak Detroit backfield, but don't dismiss Smith's long injury history.
The San Diego Chargers rested most of their starters, which was disappointing but understandable due to injuries on the offensive line. I really was hoping to see the rotation they'd use at running back in case we have to wait several weeks to see Ryan Mathews (clavicle) on the field. Unfortunately, the mystery continues....
Terrell Owens caught some passes that went his way this week, hauling in two balls for 41 yards. I'm not sure it'll be enough to earn a roster spot now that Sidney Rice (shoulders) is back in action. UPDATE: TO has, indeed, been cut by Seattle.
For as good as Andy Dalton and the Bengals' offense has looked at times, it was equally horrible against the Pack. He hit just 5 of 17 passes for 40 yards. He doesn't drop down the board any from the showing, but it's just a reminder he's a second-year quarterback and the erratic play will still be part of his game.
and the Ugly
Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady both need better offensive line play
A month ago, I was digging the upside of Carson Palmer this year. Three preseason games later and I don't know if I can run away from him fast enough. Palmer just doesn't look sharp in a timing-based offense, which Oakland has deployed this year. Against the Lions, which was his "best" preseason outing of the year, he still threw two interceptions. He did hit 65.4 percent of his passes, which is a positive compared to where he was in his first two games. Palmer has completed 33 of 56 passing attempts and thrown four picks this preseason without tossing a touchdown pass.
The Packers offensive line still worries me. They're not opening the holes they need to and need to do a better job on both run and pass blocking.
The Patriots offensive line falls into the same category as the Packers. I really hoped I'd see massive improvement over the last few weeks. Unfortunately, that hasn't been the case.
Nothing about the Arizona Cardinals passing game has impressed me. Kevin Kolb looked better, hitting 17 of 22 passes for 156 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions against the Titans. The offensive line has looked miserable and isn't going to do any favors for Kolb or John Skelton. Speaking of Skelton, he had a forgettable night. His first two plays were a sack and a pick-six. He finished hitting just 4 of 10 passes for 41 yards.
Sticking with Arizona, Beanie Wells (knee) returned. He didn't seem to have much pop to him. Couple that with the offensive line woes and Ryan Williams playing a factor and it's starting to seem to me that Beanie is a player I'd rather avoid at all costs this year.
I just keep waiting and waiting to see something special from Sam Bradford. I might be waiting for quite some time. He hit just 6 of 17 passes for 64 yards in his worst showing of the preseason and he took his first two sacks of the year. The Rams have a lot of work to rebuild the confidence of this third-year pro. I don't have the patience for him to be on any of my fantasy rosters this year.
The Browns are tough to say we know exactly who they are, as Trent Richardson (knee) didn't play again. However, from what I've seen of Brandon Weeden thus far I cannot say I'm impressed. Weeden hit 9 of 20 passes for 117 yards. He just looks overmatched often. In his defense, Richardson hasn't been out there and a great running game can quickly take pressure off a young quarterback. Not in his defense: The Browns still need a massive upgrade at wide receiver, although I was pleased with rook Josh Gordon, who finished with 50 yards on three catches.
Now that three weeks of the NFL preseason are in the books, which players really moved up or down the draft board in your opinion? Is there someone high on your target list? Share your thoughts below.
Be sure to check out our free fantasy football draft guide and don't forget Week 1 of the regular season is right around the corner, so our weekly fantasy football rankings will be released soon to help you with all of your difficult Week 1 lineup questions.