What to Watch For: Thursday 8/7
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.
Colts at Jets
A series or two from the starters, sans Reggie Wayne, will offer a peek at how the weakest part of Indianapolis’ attack is progressing. The offensive line, particularly the interior, will have its hands full against arguably the best three-man line in the NFL. Don’t expect miracles or more than 3.2 yards per carry from Trent Richardson. New York’s secondary, however, is a major concern and they’ll be without first-round safety Calvin Pryor.
Once the starters depart, unofficial number four wideout Donte Moncrief will make his Colts debut and fortunately has a competent backup (Matt Hasselbeck) targeting him – so he, as well as Da’Rick Rogers, should get a couple of good looks. Also keep an eye on 6-5, 220-pound former basketball player Erik Swoope. He didn’t play a down of college football, but is getting positive reviews as he attempts to climb a crowded tight end depth chart.
The Jets running back “committee” will face a historically suspect Colts run defense, although the addition of defensive end Arthur Jones and more playing time for nose tackle Josh Chapman should help. Yet the main focus will be on if Geno Smith can start strong and hold off Michael Vick, who is scheduled to play one series with the starters. This will be our first chance to see if positive camp reports on Stephen Hill are warranted, and if Jace Amaro can catch a pass in Chinese.
Patriots at Washington
These teams will be well acquainted after participating in what are increasingly common joint practices. Hopefully it’s a trend that continues, as these get-togethers are constructive for coaches, interesting for players, and season ticket holders aren’t forced to shell out regular season prices to observe them.
We will get more acquainted with the much-talked-about Ryan Mallett, who will start and take the majority of New England’s quarterback reps. Keep an eye on 6-8, 277-pound rookie Justin Jones as he gets a chance to make his mark on a thin tight end depth chart. New England’s top running backs and wideouts won’t play much and it will afford an extended look at rookie running backs James White and Stephen Houston, plus depth receivers Kenbrell Thompkins, Brandon LaFell, and Josh Boyce – not all of whom will make the final roster.
Washington’s top two receivers won’t dress, and their other starters will reportedly see roughly 10 snaps. But watch for running back Chris Thompson. He has potential as a passing-down back, but needs to show he can handle pass protection duties before he threatens Roy Helu’s snaps. Sixth-round rookie Lache Seastrunk is also connected to that role but has hands like feet (more drops than receptions at Baylor).
49ers at Ravens (NFL Network; 7:30 pm ET)
San Francisco’s running backs and receivers are banged up enough that we’ll get a longer look at players like Carlos Hyde, Jewel Hampton, Stevie Johnson, Quinton Patton, and Bruce Ellington than we otherwise would have. Hyde, especially, will have everyone’s full attention as he’s one Frank Gore injury away from RB2 status in fantasy. The more live reps that Johnson can get with Colin Kaepernick the better, so Michael Crabtree and Brandon Lloyd getting dinged up has a small silver lining. We will also begin to get clues as to how the 49ers’ revamped secondary and interior offensive line will take shape
The Ravens’ upgraded offensive line won’t get as stern of a test as one would expect from San Francisco, but it would still be nice if Baltimore’s big uglies got off on the right foot in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking scheme. Similarly, we’ll begin to see what Joe Flacco will be doing differently, including more of the rollouts and play action passes on which he excels. A glimpse of a rejuvenated Bernard Pierce would be nice since he’s set to lead the backfield during Ray Rice’s two-game slap on the wrist. Running backs Cierre Wood and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro also warrant waiting around for.
Bengals at Chiefs
Andy Dalton, Cincinnati’s new $155 million dollar man ($17M guaranteed), will only play one or two series, and rookie A.J. McCarron is sitting out with a weak tired arm. Hopefully Dalton connects a time or two with potential breakout tight end Tyler Eifert before the game gets Jason Campbelled. Watch for how the Bengals use fullback Ryan Hewitt in new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson’s run-heavy offense. He’s been turning heads in camp and has gotten plenty of reps as tight end Jermaine Gresham recovers from a back injury. The more Hewitt plays, the less room there will be for a second tight end or third wideout.
Gresham, number two receiver Marvin Jones, and offensive tackle Andre Smith are also on the list of Bengals who will watch this game – so be sure to temper any major takeaways. Rookie running back Jeremy Hill should get plenty of action, as will veteran Benjarvus Green-Ellis. The Law Firm is fighting for a roster spot, and even if he plays well the Bengals may cut ties and save $2.5 million, opening the door for Hill to receive the 10-15 carries per game that some have projected.
The Chiefs are expected to play each of their quarterbacks for roughly a quarter, so we’ll get a look at Alex Smith running the (mostly) first team offense. Watch to see if he’s on the same page with super-sleeper tight end Travis Kelce, and how running back/receiver De’Antony Thomas is used, as coaches have been trying to figure out ways to get his speed on the field. Wideout Junior Hemingway has been nursing a hamstring injury and won’t play, giving buzz-worthy rookie Albert Wilson a shot to continue making his mark. Unfortunately toolsy wideout Mark Harrison is also dealing with a sore hamstring and won’t suit up.
Seahawks at Broncos
Head coach Pete Carroll was cryptic about who will and who won’t be playing, yet it’s all but a lock that Marshawn Lynch won’t see action. That presents a golden opportunity for Fantasyland to see if their backup running back Messiah, Christine Michael, looks as good on the field as he does in their greediest dreams. Spencer Ware, and of course Robert Turbin, are also a pair of backs who will get plenty of preseason run in a Seattle backfield brimming with possibilities.
While the Seahawks passing game will likely remain low-volume, it will be good to see rookie speedster Paul Richardson in his first action as a pro. Luke Willson is a high-upside tight end who has the talent to leapfrog veteran Zach Miller, and will be one to watch against Denver. Another high-upside tight end is the Broncos’ Gerell Robinson. The former wideout has the size, speed, and athleticism to shine – but jumping over Julius Thomas is a far bigger leap than surpassing Zach Miller.
Denver will go with Ronnie Hillman in place of starting running back Montee Ball, who is out after an appendectomy. C.J. Anderson has gotten most of the fantasy love as Ball’s backup until this point, but Hillman has the talent, time, and youth (22-years old) to still be heard from. If he can hold onto the ball, he’s got a sneaky shot of grabbing the fantasy-relevant number two running back role. We’ll also get an extended look at Peyton Manning’s heir apparent, Brock Osweiler. Dynasty leaguers will certainly be taking note, as Osweiler (or Zac Dysert) potentially has a ready-made juggernaut waiting to be led.
Cowboys at Chargers (NFL Network; 10:00 pm ET)
Perhaps a heaping helping of Brandon Weeden will be enough for Tony Romo to get the credit he deserves? Either way, Romo won’t play and Weeden will. Also sitting out will be DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten, and even fantasy favorite Lance Dunbar. The offense will be as cover-your-eyes ugly to watch in this one as Dallas’ defense promises to be for the rest of the season. However, briefly open your peepers when tight ends Gavin Escobar and James Hanna, as well as rookie receivers Devin Street and Chris Boyd are involved. One or all of them may be fantasy relevant sooner rather than later.
Chargers head coach Mike McCoy was not revealing much about who will suit up for the preseason opener. However rookie cornerback Jason Verrett will probably sit this one out, so we’ll have to wait to get our first look at what he can do for San Diego’s paper-thin secondary. Sophomore Manti Te’o is again healthy and has looked good in camp, so he bears watching. When the offense takes the field, keep an eye on how Ladarius Green is used. Ideally we will see him release into more pass routes and be utilized as a blocker less often than last year. Running back Marlon Grice, and wideout Tevin Reese are two rookies to take note of as well.
Happy Football, folks.
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