The NFL season inches closer; are you ready for your fantasy football draft?
Some situations in the preseason frustrate me because they make it difficult to get a read on a team when star players are held out or play a cameo role. For example, it's tough to gauge the Kansas City Chiefs without running back Jamaal Charles, just like it is difficult to put a grade on Christian Ponder and the Vikings offense without Adrian Peterson in the Minnesota Vikings' backfield. The list goes on and on, which is why it's always important to focus on the big picture when watching any preseason play.
The second week of NFL preseason is in the books, so it's time to take another spin through the league to see what caught my eye over the last few days and how it translates to fantasy football in 2013.
It is a horrible break for Miami Dolphins TE Dustin Keller (knee), who blew out his knee in an ugly injury. He's done for the year, which is disappointing because he had great value late in the draft - I've already drafted him a few times this summer. It'll be interesting to watch the next two weeks to see if any other tight ends on roster step up.
I really wanted to see more of Colin Kaepernick, because I still feel like I really don't know who he is on the field, but the San Francisco 49ers instead wanted to see more of their backup quarterbacks after just a few snaps for CK. Maybe next week....
Oakland's offensive line looked absolutely horrible. Assuming Matt Flynn is the starter, I hope he has a healthy life insurance policy. The Saints D was all over him. Amazingly, Flynn was 12 of 16 for 124 yards with an 18-yard touchdown to Denarius Moore. I'm avoiding Flynn this year, but I'm happy to snag Moore, who finished with two catches for 29 yards and the score, as a WR4 or WR5.
I've avoided drafting Danny Amendola. I feared he wouldn't have a quick rapport with Tom Brady, which would translate into a slow transition into the New England offense. I also feared his durability. One of those fears disappeared Friday evening, Brady and Amendola hooked up often early and were very much on the same page. I still don't know if I'm willing to buy Amendola at his current ADP around the fourth round, but I'm no longer intentionally avoiding him on draft day. As long as he's healthy, he should post WR1-type value in PPR leagues. He finished with six catches for 71 yards and a touchdown.
I've quickly warmed up to Cincinnati Bengals rookie running back Giovani Bernard. He has a cool name to begin with. He had seven carries for 37 yards and a score, plus he chipped in another 22 yards on one reception. The days of BenJarvus Green-Ellis in the starting lineup may be very short lived. Snag Bernard as your RB3 and he might be in your starting lineup early this year.
Ronnie Hillman's 13 carries for a paltry 34 yards rushing were overshadowed by being credited for two fumbles, with one lost. Rookie Montee Ball logged 28 yards on just six carries. This situation is likely to remain a committee approach, but Hillman needs to put forth a better effort - and hold onto the darn ball. Neither back is any better than a RB3 territory on draft day.
Continuing thoughts on running back battles, the New York Jets had Chris Ivory on the field. He rushed six times for just 13 yards. Bilal Powell kicked in 68 yards on just seven carries, highlighted by a 37-yard run. The Jets are likely to be awful this year, but don't totally dismiss these two on draft day. I'd take a flier on Ivory as a RB4 and Powell as a RB5, but I may reverse those a week from now.
Dolphins running back Lamar Miller did score on a 4-yard touchdown run, but five carries for 10 yards isn't anything to write home about. He also had two catches for three yards. I've been snagging Miller as a RB2 in quite a few leagues; so far, I'm starting to worry about those picks. The Dolphins need to find ways to utilize his speed more effectively.
Apparently, Le'Veon Bell doesn't want us to get a good look at him. The Pittsburgh Steelers rookie running back started against the Washington Redskins Monday night, but he appeared to suffer a leg injury after just four carries. Of all the rookie backs this year, he is in the best situation. His body, however, isn't cooperating or helping his fantasy football value so far. He's a low-end RB2 and quickly dropping from my perspective.
Brandon Weeden impressed me for the second consecutive week. He looks comfortable in Norv Turner's system, is pushing the ball down field and had an eye for tight end Jordan Cameron, who caught two touchdown passes, in the red zone. Weeden should be considered as a QB2 in deeper leagues, and Jordan should be on your radar if he wasn't already. The Browns' offensive brain trust knows a thing or two about making the tight end a vital part of the offense.
I'm really digging the Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton connection. Luck was solid, hitting 9 of 13 passes for 107 yards and two scores, including one to Hilton. Hilton finished with two grabs for 36 yards and has high-end WR3 - or better - potential this year.
Speaking of the Colts, Reggie Wayne had three receptions for 37 yards and a touchdown. Two of those three grabs, including the 28-yard touchdown, were highlight worthy. He looks poised for another strong year despite getting long in the tooth; I'm still happy to take him as a WR2.
Green Bay Packers rookie running back Eddie Lacy looked pretty sound, rushing eight times for 40 yards against St. Louis. Provided he can stay healthy, it looks like Lacy is going to run away with the starting running back duties. Unfortunately, this is the Packers so that may not mean anything more than low-end RB2 territory.
St. Louis Rams rookie Tavon Austin finally was worked into the mix, catching four balls for 28 yards. I still worry he's being overvalued during fantasy football drafts, but he should be a decent source of PPR production this year.
Chris Johnson looked good for the Tennessee Titans for a second consecutive week. Do I dare say he's looking like CJ2K again? Look for him to solidify a spot at the end of the first round of fantasy drafts.
Dallas Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant has to also be working his way up fantasy football draft boards. He played sparingly once again, yet still managed four catches for 74 yards. You don't need me to tell you he's a WR1 this year; but if you want him, don't expect to see him last past the 16th or so pick.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill looked sharp again, hitting 10 of 15 passes for 141 yards and a 9-yard touchdown to Mike Wallace. Wallace, new to the Miami Dolphins, had three receptions for 58 yards and the score. Tannehill should be considered as a low-end QB2, as growing pains will continue, but his progress has been positive.
Drew Brees looked fantastic. The New Orleans Saints quarterback finished with 202 yards and a touchdown while hitting 14 of 18 passes. Mid-season form and he should be the first quarterback off draft boards this year.
Speaking of looking fantastic, Tom Brady (knee) was only supposed to see a handful of plays after an injury scare earlier in the week. He stuck around longer than expected and hit 11 of 12 passes for 107 yards with a touchdown to Amendola. Brady, like Brees, seems to be in mid-season form despite a lot of turnover in players around him. He's still a rock-solid QB1 and his days of falling this year are likely over - I recently snagged him with the first pick in the seventh round in a Fantasy Sports Writers Association draft.
Receiver Chris Givens had another big grab, his only of the preseason game, for 57 yards. Consistency won't always be there, but, of all of the Rams' receivers, he's who I would target in my fantasy football draft. The dude is a big play waiting to happen. Consider him as a fourth receiver in yours.
Need a late-round flier? Give receiver Kenny Stills, a rookie for the Saints, some consideration. He had four catches for 64 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown from Brees. The Saints are trying to find their third receiver and Stills is showing some flashes during the preseason.
Broncos tight end Julius Thomas flashed some of his talent we've been waiting for. Four catches and 70 yards wasn't a bad day at the office for this third-year tight end. Even then, there are too many weapons in Denver to give him more than a passing look late in your draft.
Rashard Mendenhall didn't look horrible for the Arizona Cardinals. He had seven carries for 32 yards before calling it a day. Mendenhall hit the outside edge with some speed. I'm still not convinced he's the long-term answer in Arizona, but he should be on your radar if you're desperate for a starting back in the middle rounds of your fantasy football draft.
Blaine Gabbert (hand) looked better, but that didn't take much considering his previous outing. He went 13 of 16 for 165 yards and a score. Plus, it was against the New York Jets, so take that for what you will. We won't see Gabbert again until Week 1; he has been named the starter but you shouldn't consider him on draft day.
The Detroit Lions need Calvin Johnson to stay healthy all season. Without him on the field, the team doesn't seem to know what to do. Quarterback Matthew Stafford looked average again, but Megatron didn't play. He hit 11 of 16 passes for 74 yards.
I'm still waiting for Joseph Randle to step forward and put a strangle hold on the No. 2 job in the Dallas Cowboys backfield. His 16 yards on eight carries didn't do it, at least not from my view. Lance Dunbar showed some flashes, catching two passes for 61 yards but just carrying the ball once. Dunbar did, however, lose a fumble. With DeMarco Murray's injury history, this situation is worth keeping an eye on.
The "offensive weapon" known as Denard Robinson wowed (and frustrated) University of Michigan fans. Will he be able to do the same for fantasy players? The Jaguars had him carry the ball 11 times for 29 yards against the Jets and he caught two passes for 16 yards. I haven't drafted him yet, nor have I seen him taken at all, but I am tempted to pull the trigger on him in the last few rounds in a league or two soon.
That's a wrap for this week; check back next week after I cover the key third-week of NFL preseason action. Which situations are you paying close attention to? Has anyone stood out and changed your opinion of them thus far? Let me hear it in the comments below or tweet me @RyanBonini.