What To Watch For: Friday 8/8
The initial batch of preseason games are usually marked by how quickly the starters are pulled, or if they even play at all. Yet there is still useful information to be gleaned, and not just from the opening series. It’s our first opportunity to see rookies that were dutifully dissected all spring take the field as pros, and perhaps our last chance to see what those at the end of rosters can show before they’re ushered up to Canada. Most importantly this will also be our first serving of a relatively full slate of football games in over seven months. Enjoy!
Just try to pace yourself, and keep those Hot Takes lukewarm – at least for another week or so.
Dolphins at Falcons
Eyes will be trained on Ryan Tannehill, Lamar Miller, and how offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is reshaping Miami’s offense. All of that is interesting, especially if Tannehill tries a deep ball or two, but also watch how the line holds up in a new blocking scheme that will incorporate more cut blocks than last year. Their attack won’t rebound without an offensive line turnaround. Keep track of exciting rookie running back Damien Williams, if Mike Gillislee’s strong camp carries over into a game, and note how young tight end Dion Sims handles blocking duties (Charles Clay will sit out).
Watch how rookie running back Devonta Freeman pass blocks, as it was an unpolished skill coming out of college. He won’t see the field over Jacquizz Rodgers if he can’t tidy up this area, and will get plenty of work with starter Steven Jackson nursing a hamstring injury. It will be interesting to see how they deploy tight end Levine Toilolo, whose size at least makes him a red zone option. Neither Julio Jones nor Roddy White will play much, if at all. There are a gaggle of wideouts trying to land on the back of the receiver depth chart, and Geraldo Boldewijn is a big target with deep sleeper appeal.
Bills at Panthers
Buffalo is already on their second preseason game and they, along with everyone else, are looking for increased accuracy and awareness from starting quarterback EJ Manuel. Keep an eye on if Robert Woods takes the field with the starters, as the Bills’ presumptive number two wideout played with the second team in the opener. Hopefully we’ll see signs that the Bills plan to get C.J. Spiller into space, instead of aiming him toward his linemen’s rear-ends. Starting tight end Scott Chandler is set to play after missing Sunday’s game. It will mean fewer snaps for high-upside youngster Chris Gragg, but how he handles them still warrants monitoring.
This one is mainly about who will stand out of the goulash that is the Panthers’ wide receiver corps. Kelvin Benjamin’s connection with Cam Newton will get most of the buzz, but Carolina needs someone to step up outside of their first round pick, and veterans Jericho Cotchery and Jason Avant. Yet Newton may not even suit up, in which case we get Derek Andersoned. Backup running backs Darrin Reaves and Kenjon Barner are players to note. With Jonathan Stewart already hurt, and DeAngelo Williams fairly uninspiring, this backfield is not as crowded as it seems at first glance. What is concerning is if their offensive line can open enough holes for that to matter.
Buccaneers at Jaguars
Tampa Bay will have its starters on the field for roughly a quarter during Josh McCown’s Buccaneers debut. The unit has looked sharp in practice but this new offense is marked by an abundance of fresh faces on the field and coaching staff. Bobby Rainey appears to be battling Mike James for a single backfield backup spot behind Doug Martin and rookie Charles Sims. High-upside rookie tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins has turned it around after a slow start and is a must-watch, even with Mike Glennon behind center. Glennon is underrated in his own right. Last year’s rookie tight end surprise, Tim Wright, has been seeing some snaps from the slot. A potential mismatch in that role, and with fantasy tight end eligibility, it’s a situation worth watching.
The Jaguars won’t dress their big free agent acquisition, running back Toby Gerhart, but we’ll see a couple of their high draft choices. Marqise Lee will get his first game action with quarterback Chad Henne. He’s set to continue starting once fellow rookie Allen Robinson and veteran Cecil Shorts return from their hamstring strains. Lee’s a candidate to lead all rookies in catches, so keep a watchful eye. First-round pick Blake Bortles, who has looked sharp in practice, needs to make the most of the only live snaps he’ll see this season if things go according to plan (yeah, right).
Raiders at Vikings
With fantasy sleeper David Ausberry sidelined by knee surgery, Mychal Rivera’s path to the starting job is clear. If he clicks with tight end-friendly passer Matt Schaub, the second-year player could be someone to stream in September. Andre Holmes and Rod Streater are smartly atop the receiver depth chart, so watch if free agent signing James Jones can make himself happy by doing something about it. He will likely be fielding targets from rookie Derek Carr, whose ability to handle a pass rush is a concern. With two well-worn veterans in the backfield, bank on significant snaps for Latavius Murray – who many observers are anxious to see after a lost rookie year.
Veteran quarterback Matt Cassel is going to start, but there’s a good chance rookie Teddy Bridgewater gets some first-team reps. Running back Adrian Peterson will sit out, but that means more reps for rookie freak Jerick McKinnon and that’s something to get excited about. It will also be interesting to see how Cordarrelle Patterson is used, and if offensive coordinator Norv Turner will show any of those 10 special plays he drew up for the raw wideout. On the other side of the ball, rookie linebacker Anthony Barr is listed as a starter and it will be fun to see what kind of heat he can bring off the edge.
Eagles at Bears
Wideout Riley Cooper won’t play and they Eagles might play it safe with Jeremy Maclin as well. That means that second-rounder Jordan Matthews will get an extended look with the first team offense. Starters are expected to play 10-14 plays, and it will be interesting to see how Chip Kelly deploys his new weapon. Zach Ertz’s progress and usage will also be of interest, as will rookie wideout Josh Huff – who knows Kelly’s system and should have a shallower NFL learning curve than most. An extended look at buzz-worthy backup running back Chris Polk may serve to open some eyes in Fantasyland. Don’t turn this one off early, because between backup quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Matt Barkley something will happen that’s worth witnessing.
We’ll get to see who takes the first step toward Chicago’s now-vacant third wideout spot. Hopefully Marquess Wilson’s collarbone heals quickly – but for now the Bears are left to sort between the likes of Josh Morgan, Eric Weems, and maybe Willie Gault. Get well soon, Marquess. It also looks like we’ll have to wait until next week to see The Black Unicorn uncaged. On a more hopeful note, Ka’Deem Carey will take the field for the first time as a pro and Fantasyland is anxious to check him out. Perhaps most interesting is how much Chicago’s backup passers (Jordan Palmer, rookie David Fales, and the illustrious Jimmy Clausen) have improved after extended quarterback whispering sessions, via Lord Trestman.
Saints at Rams
Drew Brees likely won’t suit up since he’s nursing an oblique injury, and it doesn’t help that the Saints are having short-term injury issues on the interior offensive line. Rookie wideout Brandin Cooks will be the focus of everyone’s attention when he’s on the field, and it will be nice to get our first live glimpse of how he’ll be deployed by head coach Sean Payton. How things will shake out in the backfield is also a question, as well as what level of contributions to expect from undrafted free agent backs Travaris Cadet and Tim Flanders. Watch Cadet’s work in the passing game, in particular.
Starting quarterback Sam Bradford will not be playing, which means we’ll get plenty of Shaun Hill – which is fun. Kenny Britt is supposedly rejuvenated now that he’s again playing for Jeff Fisher and will attempt to solidify his unofficial spot atop the depth chart. See if St. Louis can effectively get the ball to Tavon Austin (also listed as a first-team wideout) out in space. Late in the game, note how third-string passer Austin Davis performs, and keep an eye on how rookie running back Tre Mason handles blocking duties – since passing game work will be his shortest path to playing time.
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