What To Watch For: Friday 8/21
Preseason game number three is known as the dress rehearsal. The games are as close to the real thing as players will experience prior to Week 1, and the run-up to those contests is marked by simulated regular season structure and game plan implementation. For fantasy football it’s well-timed for drawing more concrete conclusions from personnel, formations, and increased snaps for players that we will draft over the next several days.
Carolina at New England
Carolina’s offensive line earned negative PFF grades across the board in the opener. Last week all three interior linemen earned positive marks, but tackles Byron Bell and Nate Chandler (now hurt) struggled again. Garry Williams will replace Chandler. Watch for more consistency from the unit.
Jonathan Stewart’s averaged 6.5 yards and two scores on four carries, including a sweet 15-yard burst off of the left end last week. DeAngelo Williams has the starting role as of now but a healthy Stewart can overtake him. Also keep an eye on undrafted free agent Darrin Reaves.
Cam Newton’s ankle didn’t appear to hamper him. Watch for further signs that he’s not diminished in that area, as his rushing scores, yards, and attempts trended down last season. Also keep an eye on his burgeoning connection with rookie Kelvin Benjamin, who he overthrew on a deep route.
It’s getting close to now-or-never time for Josh Boyce. A fourth-round pick last year, he has appealing tools but hasn’t yet made an impact. With the top of the depth chart solidified, he needs to hold off challenges from, among others, PFF’s highest-graded preseason receiver Brian Tyms (+5.5).
Stevan Ridley is averaging 4.3 yards per carry, 2.9 yards after contact per attempt, and has already forced four missed tackles. He also fumbled last week and it traditionally has affected his workload. That may mean more touches for Shane Vereen, New England’s upgrade on the Saints’ Pierre Thomas.
Tom Brady was not only dealing with a lack of weapons in 2013, he didn’t have his usual five layers of protection. The interior offensive line was an issue and remains unsettled at center and right guard. Keep an eye on Dan Connolly, Josh Kline, Ryan Wendell, Jordan Davey, and Marcus Cannon.
New York Giants at New York Jets
Eli Manning needs to build momentum against an undermanned pass coverage unit. In 19 dropbacks he’s only attempted two passes aimed 20 or more yards downfield, and three between 10 and 19 yards. He hasn’t competed any.
With Larry Donnell atop the tight end depth chart, Rueben Randle is the only logical red zone target on the Giants when the collective size of Victor Cruz (6’0”), Odell Beckham (5’11”), and Jerrel Jernigan (5’8”) is considered. But keep an eye on undrafted sleeper Corey Washington (6’4”).
Other than right tackle Justin Pugh, the Giants’ offensive line has been lacking. Getting Will Beatty back at left tackle helped because it removed turnstile Charles Brown from the equation, but it’s past time for the shuffling to stop and a starting five to solidify.
Another summer of hope for Stephen Hill is trending toward a disappointing fall, as he struggles to beat out David Nelson for the number two wideout role. The Jets want him to take the job, but he’ll need to flash against the Giants to secure it before Week 1.
Eric Decker sat out last week (quad) but will be good to go against the Giants. Geno Smith has been solid so far (70% completions), but fantasy owners want to see him connect a few times with his number one target before the bullets are live in two weeks.
The Jets offensive line took a step forward after struggling in the opener. Chris Johnson was the beneficiary (6.3 yards on 10 attempts), but Chris Ivory will return from injury against the Giants. Keep a close eye on how the Jets distribute backfield touches while the starters are in.
Jacksonville at Detroit
Rookie Brandon Linder will take over at right guard and, paired with Zane Beadles, may mitigate the damage inflicted by overwhelmed center Mike Brewster. Austin Pasztor’s broken hand means Cam Bradfield will play, and he was a disaster last season (-17.8 pass block; -11.9 run block grades).
Blake Bortles has received increasing practice reps with the first team this week after back-to-back impressive preseason performances. The party line is still that veteran Chad Henne will be the starter despite his struggles. The Jaguars’ have a very accommodative schedule for fantasy quarterbacks.
Running back Toby Gerhart showed burst up the middle, but when he went outside appeared to be running gingerly. Watch to see if he looks better, along with who of Denard Robinson, Jordan Todman, and Storm Johnson flash when they get their shot later in the game. His backup will matter this year.
Right tackle LaAdrian Waddle was solid last year, but didn’t start but in the opener. He got the nod last week and promptly face-planted. Corey Hilliard was lacking both as a starter and a reserve. Whoever starts tonight will battle a tough defensive left side of Andre Branch and Sen’Derrick Marks.
We should get our first look at a fully operational Lion’s offense, with Matthew Stafford sharp as ever and Calvin Johnson making his 2014 debut. Watch where he lines up and how well he’s moving. Rookie tight end Eric Ebron’s starting points in the formation are also noteworthy.
See how often the Lions have two tight ends on the field, as well as when fullback Jed Collins plays with the starters. Formations will vary often, New Orleans Saints-style, and the presence of extra backs and tight ends are obstacles to Ryan Broyles. He won’t pile up stats as the number three wideout.
Oakland at Green Bay (8:00 pm; CBS)
Look for Matt Schaub to attack downfield more aggressively, as he has only attempted three passes beyond 10 yards in two games – completing none. It would help if he wasn’t being pressured on 38.1 percent of his drop-backs, but he didn’t try a single 10-plus yard throw in 12 attempts last week.
If Schaub continues to dink-and-dunk, James Jones and tight end Mychal Rivera may be the best bets this year for fantasy. Depressing, indeed. However, Andre Holmes and Rod Streater’s athleticism seems destined to be underutilized. Rookie Derek Carr is sitting out tonight due to banged-up ribs.
Latavius Murray is as buried behind Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden as one can be buried under 12 inches of snow. Watch for signs that Murray will be able to hit the ground running once the veterans’ inevitable injuries prompt a midseason thawing of the Oakland backfield.
After seeing no targets in eight snaps during the opener, Randall Cobb hauled in all three last week for 34 yards (18 yards after catch). Fantasy investors would be comforted by more of this, as his ADP is still quite expensive and it’s been a long while since we’ve seen him on the same page with Aaron Rodgers.
When Evan Dietrich-Smith departed Green Bay in free agency, there was a concern over who would replace the solid veteran. Second-year center J.C. Tretter has stepped in and through two preseason games the Packers haven’t skipped a beat. Watch as he goes for his third positive grade in a row.
It appears that Richard Rodgers is the Green Bay tight end to own in fantasy, at least for the short term. Brandon Bostick is already questionable for Week 1, and Andrew Quarless is Andrew Quarless. However it remains to be seen how fantasy-relevant Rodgers, or any Packers’ tight end, really are.
Chicago at Seattle (10:00 pm; NFL Network)
Josh Morgan has competition for the third receiver spot in the form of newly-signed veteran Santonio Holmes. It’s not an especially fantasy-relevant role, as most of Jay Cutler’s passes are aimed at the top two wideouts, tight end, and running back – but it’s well worth monitoring.
Ka’Deem Carey hasn’t hit the ground running and is trailing Shaun Draughn in the race to be Matt Forte’s backup. He’s also more talented than Draughn and should eventually get his act together. Watch how things shake out once Forte leaves, as his backup remains a high-leverage fantasy role.
Despite this being the dress rehearsal, don’t expect Cutler, Forte, Brandon Marshall, and Alshon Jeffery to play for too long, as their reserves are highly questionable. Martellus Bennett might get a little time with Marc Trestman’s new whisperee, Jimmy Clausen, since the Black Unicorn missed the opener.
Christine Michael is still running behind Robert Turbin on the depth chart, but if Marshawn Lynch went down for an extended period, it’s doubtful that it would remain that way. Lynch likely won’t play much, so watch for Michael’s talent to shine against the Bears – no matter when he enters the game.
After the opener, when he only attempted six passes and one of more than 10 yards downfield, Russell Wilson shined last week against San Diego – albeit predominantly on short throws. Look for him to set his sights further downfield, perhaps on rookie Paul Richardson, in his last big Week 1 tune-up.
One of the reasons for the quick, short passes is Seattle’s offensive line, comprised mostly of backups, was a disaster in the opener. It improved last week with three projected starters playing, and should continue to get better when Russell Okung and Max Unger make it a complete unit tonight.
Pat Thorman is a Lead Writer for PFF Fantasy and was named 2013 Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can follow him on Twitter at @Pat_Thorman