5 winners, 5 losers from preseason Week 3
The third, and most important, week of the preseason schedule is in the books. We’ve likely seen the starters for the last time until Week 1 kicks off, save for a few possible warm-up snaps in preseason Week 4.
After grading every snap taken in preseason Week 3, let’s take a look at the biggest winners and losers:
1. Chiefs GM John Dorsey
You only need to go back in time 12 months to find stories about Eric Fisher losing his left tackle job in Kansas City. Since then, he had the best year of his career (albeit, only 37th among tackles at PFF last year, with a grade of 72.5), had his fifth-year option exercised, and then signed a four-year, $63 million deal that raised plenty of eyebrows. Fisher hadn’t really shown much to justify that kind of investment, but had a near-perfect day against the Bears this week, keeping a clean sheet in pass protection and putting together the best preseason of his career to date. 2016 second-round pick Chris Jones was also a force against Chicago, notching three hurries and the best grade of the game in just 16 snaps. Suddenly, Kansas City GM John Dorsey’s recent decision-making looks very well-reasoned.
2. Ezekiel Elliott’s fantasy owners
We finally got to see the first glimpse of Ezekiel Elliott running behind the best offensive line in football, and it was everything people hoped it would be. The Cowboys’ line was able to open big holes with ease, and Elliott brought the value added on top of that we were expecting, fighting for additional yards after contact and taking the hurt to Seattle safety Kam Chancellor, a player used to being on the other end of the pain train. The Elliott hype is for real, folks, and anybody that went big on him in a fantasy draft is likely to be rewarded in 2016.
3. Giants GM Jerry Reese’s all-in offseason gamble
If nothing else, you have to admire the size of the gamble Jerry Reese took this offseason in rebuilding the Giants via a colossal free-agency spending spree and a first-round draft choice that seemed like something of a reach. This week, at least, Reese looked to be right on the money. NT Damon Harrison, DE Olivier Vernon, and CB Eli Apple—all new additions—were among the highest-graded Giants players against the Jets, with Vernon and Apple, in particular, impressing in their roles. Apple was targeted three times but didn’t allow a catch, while Vernon led the team with five hurries in just 22 pass-rushing snaps.
4. Seahawks RB Christine Michael believers
They have been in it from the beginning, clinging to the athletic talent and telling us all that one day, one day, Christine Michael would prove it on an NFL field. So far, this is the preseason to get them all giddy. Michael gained 58 yards on seven carries (8.3 per carry) this week, forcing a pair of missed tackles. He now leads all running backs in preseason yardage with 157 on just 24 carries. Seattle’s backfield is crowded, and they are still waiting on the return of Thomas Rawls from injury, but Michael may finally be ready to repay the faith of those that stuck closely all this time.
5. Minnesota Vikings fullbacks
Fullbacks in today’s NFL are an endangered species. Go back to 2006, and the league was full of them in their natural habitat—the power-I formation—blasting linebackers and taking names, but those days are gone. That is, of course, unless you play for the Minnesota Vikings. Adrian Peterson is known for preferring to run behind a fullback, so while he took in the game against San Diego from the sideline, Minnesota deployed a fullback on 27 of its 65 offensive snaps, and looked like an offense transported in time from a decade ago. The position remains a rarely-used one in today’s NFL, but maybe not for the Vikings.
1. Tony Romo’s medical premiums
Tony Romo isn’t just getting hurt more, but the frequency at which it is happening seems to be increasing, and the severity of the hit needed to cause injury is getting less intense. This week, he was injured against the Seahawks on a relatively innocuous hit, as Cliff Avril jumped him from behind as he slid down, trying to force a fumble in the process. It was later confirmed that Romo had a fractured bone in his back and would miss six to eight weeks, forcing the Cowboys to lean immediately on preseason sensation Dak Prescott. The Cowboys know they need Romo in the short term if they want to go anywhere, but his injuries are becoming less of an inevitable speed bump somewhere down the line, and more of a completely insurmountable problem that makes him a non-viable NFL starter at this point.
2. The ability of the passer rating stat to quantify Cam Newton
NFL passer rating isn’t a bad metric; it just doesn’t necessarily quantify what it intends to. It’s a pretty good evaluation of how the passing offense as a whole produced, not necessarily of the quarterback. Take Cam Newton this week. He threw for just 100 yards on 29 attempts, had a pair of interceptions, and a passer rating of just 25.1—but he actually played pretty well. The first thing passer rating won’t tell you is that he suffered five drops, one more than any other QB this week. Ted Ginn alone accounted for three of them, and if you add on just the air-yardage from the passes dropped, he would have had another 87 yards, and that’s not counting the ample run-after-the-catch yards some of those throws would have produced. Newton wasn’t at his best in this game, but he also wasn’t anywhere close to as bad as a 25.1 passer rating would suggest.
3. Achilles tendons
Injuries struck once again this week, with Ravens TE Benjamin Watson and Chargers RB Branden Oliver going down for the year with torn Achilles tendons. Sadly, those weren’t the only serious injuries from this week’s games, or the rest of preseason, as several other players have already seen their 2016 season evaporate before even taking the field in action that counts. Every time an injury of that magnitude hits, there will be calls for the preseason to be shortened, changed, or even abandoned entirely, but there is a large section of people that believe it a necessary evil to get people in game shape before things start for real, especially in this day of limited practice time and reduced hitting in training camps.
4. QBs facing Denver’s defense this season
Denver’s defense last season was one of the best the game has ever seen, built on the ability to go three-deep in man coverage at the cornerback position and get pressure from several places along the front. Their top three corners return, and even with the loss of Malik Jackson via free agency, they may be even better up front. Against the Rams, twelve different players generated pressure, seven of them notching multiple pressures. In Dekoda Watson (86.6), Shaquil Barrett (84.7), and Von Miller (84.5), the Broncos owned three of the top four edge-rusher grades for this week, while Shane Ray added four hurries and DeMarcus Ware wasn’t even suiting up. Things aren’t going to be a whole lot easier against this Broncos’ defense in 2016.
5. Bears QB Connor Shaw
We touched on injuries a few times already, but Connor Shaw’s was particularly unfortunate. The Chicago QBs before him (Jay Cutler and Brian Hoyer) had ranged from awful to poor against Kansas City, and it wasn’t until Shaw came in that the offense showed any sign of life. Shaw completed five of his six pass attempts for 68 yards and a touchdown for a passer rating of 153.5, and added 15 yards on the ground with two scrambles before being brought down in an ugly manner by Chiefs DL Rakeem Nunez-Roches. With the ball gone, Nunez-Roches leapt on Shaw, and the break happened as the two collapsed to the ground. Shaw subsequently tweeted—and then deleted—that the hit was “cheap BS,” and you can certainly see his point. Either way, for a guy to play that well in comparison with the rest of his position group, and then lose his season the next snap, is a shame.