NFL preseason games have returned. Third-, fourth- and fifth-string players are trying to earn a roster spot while veterans try to shake off the rust before the regular season begins in just a few short weeks.
Fantasy football season is also upon us, as drafts are in progress. I have two under my belt already this summer and probably another dozen or so to come.
With preseason games upon us, it's time to start picking apart the games and making notes of what has impressed, what hasn't and what looks to be disastrous.
The first week of preseason action is rather weak when it comes to starters and playing time, so many will be given a pass due to their lack of snaps. It is also important to take the preseason games with a pound of salt, as teams are working with vanilla schemes on both side of the ball and aren't willing to open up their bag of tricks.
Fantasy football tidbits
Even in limited play, Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles still touched the football eight times - five carries for 13 yards and one touchdown and three receptions for 27 yards. In Andy Reid's offense, Charles is going to be fed the ball on the ground and through the air. It's tough to argue against him being selected No. 2 overall in fantasy football drafts. Seeing him as the goal-line back on a 1-yard plunge was also positive.
The Atlanta Falcons' offensive line needs to do a better job opening holes for Steven Jackson. The new Atlanta starting tailback had just eight yards rushing on five carries, finding little room to run. Plenty of time to fix these problems, and Jackson continues to be a borderline RB1.
Speaking of opening holes, the Tennessee O-line looked fantastic, which helped running back Chris Johnson look the same. They even helped Shonn Greene look good! Johnson looked a lot like the Johnson of old, busting off a 58-yard touchdown scamper where he made the Washington defense look silly in the process. I'm feeling a bit better about Johnson after watching this game; he remains in consideration for a low-end RB1.
Houston Texans rookie receiver DeAndre Hopkins had a beautiful 34-yard touchdown reception, leaping over the defender at the goal line. He did have a drop, too. The Texans have been looking for a solid option opposite Andre Johnson for quite some time; Hopkins might finally fill the need. He finished with four receptions and 52 yards receiving. Take him as a WR4 or WR5.
With all of the changes in New England, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has plenty concerned for the upcoming season. He helped quiet the concern, leading the team on two 80-yard touchdown drives in his limited playing time. There was a heavy dose of running from Stevan Ridley, but Brady hit 7 of 8 passes for 65 yards and a pretty 13-yard touchdown to runner Shane Vereen. Brady doesn't have a lot of weapons, but we've seen him do more with less previously. He's still QB1 value.
Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller looked good in his limited action against the Colts, rushing for 36 yards on just four carries. Spiller is quickly climbing draft boards, especially after the recent quote that he's going to be given the ball until he vomits. He has the talent and is a strong RB1 entering this draft season.
I've been keeping a close eye on Cordarrelle Patterson, a rook receiver with the Minnesota Vikings. He's had a strong training camp and hauled in four passes for 54 yards against the Texans. WR5 or WR6 draft value here in fantasy football leagues, but he should push for regular playing time early.
Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard showed some of his explosive speed against Atlanta. He finished with 28 yards on 10 carries, including a 1-yard touchdown. Showing his versatility, he also chipped in 16 yards on three receptions. Bernard is looking like a promising RB3 this year, but he'll be sharing time with BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden looked sharp in Norv Turner's offensive system, hitting 10-of-13 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown. He seems poised for an improved sophomore year. Weeden is no better than QB2 territory.
Dez Bryant looked strong, carrying over the hot hands he had to close out the '12 season. In very limited play, he hauled in three Tony Romo passes for 55 yards and dominated the Oakland first-string defense. If he can keep his act together, he may be able to push Megatron for the top receiver in fantasy this year.
Carson Palmer finished 4 of 6 for 77 yards and a touchdown to receiver Andre Roberts. He looked solid in his limited showing, and the new Arizona Cardinals quarterback spread the ball around well to his top receivers. Plenty of sleeper potential here as a QB2 in fantasy football drafts.
Touchdown, Dustin Keller! Everyone is forgetting about this guy on draft day and that is a mistake. Keller, who caught a 22-yard touchdown from Ryan Tannehill, is poised for a breakout season after vanishing into the Jets' black hole a year ago. With the deep speed on the outside, Keller will find plenty of room over the middle of the field, just as he did on his touchdown in this game. He finished with two receptions and 46 yards. Snag him late in your fantasy football draft and you won't be disappointed.
The battle at quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles continues. Michael Vick looked pretty good and was aggressive with the ball, yet didn't make mistakes. He played with a sense of urgency, which was nice to see. What do they say about backing an animal into a corner? Too soon? He had a perfect quarterback rating, hitting 4 of 5 passes for 94 yards, including a bullet 47-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson. Nick Foles, his top competition, went 5 of 6 for 43 yards. I keep tempering my expectations on this whole situation because Vick can't stay healthy and Foles just doesn't impress me that much. However, I couldn't argue taking a flier pick on Vick as a QB2 late in your draft.
The hype around Mark Ingram continues in fantasy football circles. I love his talent, just not on the New Orleans' offense. He needs 20-plus touches a week and the Saints don't use running backs that way. Ingram had 12 yards on three carries. Let someone else waste a draft pick on him.
I continue to be high on Dolphins running back Lamar Miller, but I'd like to see more than the two carries for six yards on the ground. He did have one reception for six yards, too. He's worth the risk as a weak RB2 around the fourth or fifth round of your fantasy football draft.
Continuing to fuel the conspiracy theory that Bernard Pierce will cut into Ray Rice's production this year, Pierce looked explosive on a 20-yard touchdown run. He bounced outside, racing past the Bucs' defenders. He finished with 21 yards on three carries. Pierce continues to be handcuff material with upside, it's possible he'll see enough action to justify the occasional flex play.
Some things never change: Matthew Stafford only completed three of his eight passes. They all went to Calvin Johnson, who finished with 58 yards before exiting.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith looked comfortable. He completed 7 of 8 passes for 68 yards. Tough depending on him as anything more than a backup option, but in Reid's offense he's going to throw the ball a ton more than he ever has. Plus, the chip on his shoulder this time around isn't the type that is fixed medically. QB2 territory, but we could be surprised this year.
LeGarrette Blount may not be so buried on the New England Patriots' depth chart after a 101-yard, two-touchdown showing against the Eagles. He had a nifty 51-yard touchdown run, which was part solid effort from him and part dismal defensive play by Philadelphia. I don't see him pushing Stevan Ridley out of a starting role, but we all know how the Patriots love to change personnel often in games.
I'm still waiting for the St. Louis Rams to let rookie receiver Tavon Austin explode. The rook dropped a third-down pass against Cleveland, and failed to record a catch during the game. Look for that to change soon. Teammate Chris Givens continued to show his big-play ability, hauling in a 59-yard reception and finishing with three catches for 82 yards, including a 3-yard touchdown. Givens may be a tad under-valued this year in fantasy football circles. Both of these guys should be considered WR4 with upside, as Sam Bradford (5 of 8, 102 yards, one touchdown) looked more comfortable.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers only played one drive, but he hit 5 of 6 passes for 45 yards and seemed more patient than recent years. He was OK taking the short, underneath options. Rivers has fallen out of QB1 fantasy value, but shouldn't be completely forgotten on draft day.
It's almost a requirement to mention Tim Tebow on the internet these days. Tebow looked like Tebow. He ran well and threw horribly. Ho hum; did you expect it to be any different? I didn't think so. Do not draft him in your fantasy football leagues. Please. Just don't do it.
The quarterback battle between Mark Sanchez and rookie Geno Smith (ankle) will continue, but watching the Jets' offense this year - regardless of the starting quarterback - will require a lot of alcohol. There simply are not enough playmakers - or talent - on this team.
James Jones had a nice 50-yard reception for the Green Bay Packers. He's another guy I feel many are missing the boat on this year by undervaluing; don't be afraid to take him as a WR3.
It's a new year, but it's the same ole' Blaine Gabbert. The Jaguars quarterback only completed five of his 10 attempts, "good" for a measly 19 yards with an interception. The leash has to be getting shorter. Chad Henne, an old favorite of mine from his days at Michigan, threw for 87 yards while completing 8 of 11 attempts. Either way, there is little excitement for fantasy football owners here.
What stood out to you during the first week of preseason action? What will you be paying closer attention to in the upcoming weeks of action? Let me know in the space below or tweet me @RyanBonini.