Football is officially back, and whoever told you the preseason doesn’t matter clearly doesn’t play fantasy. Every year sleepers are unearthed and talent is confirmed, while poor fits and lost steps become evident. As such, The Wolf will review the tape and recap all the meaningful fantasy stock waves to begin every week so you have the most up-to-date cheat sheets and Big Board for draft day. Find out who’s flashing on the tape and rising up our fantasy football rankings, or who’s struggling and falling fast.
Wow, Robert Griffin III put on a show Thursday night, completing 6/8 passes for nearly 100 yards and two TDs in less than a half of action. His deep balls were complete dimes, floating the rock to the exact spots where only Terrelle Pryor (50 yard bomb) and Gary Barnidge (29 yard beautiful ball) could catch it. Moreover, he flashed what truly makes him a tantalizing fantasy product: his legs. RGIII added three carries for 36 yards, flashing tremendous speed but most importantly sliding before defenders laid him out. Avoiding contact would represent a major step in RGIII’s development and significantly reduce his injury risk, and he’s reportedly been drilled with this in practice.
If this elite level of play carries over into the regular season, Griffin could truly be a season-winning type of fantasy lottery ticket. Terrelle Pryor has looked very legitimate, and his consistent practice highlights are starting to translate onto the field; with rookie Corey Coleman also “scintillating” in scrimmages and Josh Gordon rounding into form, RGIII will boast a WR trio of long, athletic freaks who can all take the top off the defense. Add in another size/speed monster in seam-stretcher Gary Barnidge, plus a dynamic pass-catcher out of the backfield in Duke Johnson, and RGIII’s weapons cupboard looks very stacked and a perfect fit for his gun-slinging ways.
Moreover, head coach Hue Jackson has always maximized his talent, and his offensive assistant Pep Hamilton oversaw Andrew Luck’s #1 QB season in 2014. When explosive players meet the perfect play callers, fantasy fireworks can happen…yes, even in Cleveland. RGIII leaps up to my QB16, behind guys like Tyrod Taylor, Jameis Winston, and Kirk Coursin; yet, if I’ve already secured a safe #1 guy, Griffin carries more upside than any of those names and would be my top option for a back up. According to Fantasy Football Calculator’s ADP, Griffin’s going in Round 14 as the QB23. No one can match his ceiling this late.
For all this committee talk leading into the preseason, Jeremy Langford has very much looked like an every down workhorse through two preseason games. He’s seen every single snap with the first team offense in both contests, including third down and red zone work; most importantly, he’s thrived in all three phases. As a converted receiver, Langford has always excelled in the pass game, but he was running with more power, vision, and patience on Thursday. Coach John Fox was also highly impressed, calling the game a “step forward” for Langford. If he receives this type of work all year, Langford has a very real shot at RB1 numbers.
Though red flags were raised after Langford was spotted in a walking boot after the game, this has all since blown over. Langford enters the dress rehearsal week ready to roll, and if he continues showing a stranglehold on first team touches and looks just as strong in Week 3’s extended showing, Langford stands for another massive leap. Perhaps John Fox has a brain, and a heart, after all.
I’ll admit it, I was beating the Foster drum quite hard earlier this offseason. Yet, I’ll also maintain that I always said I needed to see him play before shoving my chips all in. Well, we’ve gotten game action, and it wasn’t pretty. In fact, his performance was a nightmare.
Despite being active, Foster was still clearly behind Jay Ajayi. As unimpressive as Ajayi has been, Foster was worse, totaling minus five yards on two totes. Yes, overreacting to two meaningless carries is unadvised, but Foster lacked any sign of explosion and struggled to get to the edge when he bounced a run outside. Perhaps he was just shaking off the rust, and Foster does profile as a better fit for Gase’s system if he can find his form. Unfortunately, this seems unlikely, and Arian’s glaring talent + volume question marks make him impossible to trust as anything more than a stash. Foster cannot be drafted ahead of Ajayi any longer.
Shady’s rapid rise up the Big Board continues as his three-down workhorse status was emphatically confirmed on Saturday. First, Karlos Williams was released, giving Shady a clear path to Buffalo’s goal line carries all season. Moreover, Shady flashed his third down skills against the Giants, absolutely dusting their coverage for four catches, 58 yards and a TD. The scoring catch, shown below, was a bullet that Shady made a beautiful adjustment on. He’s scheduled for one of the highest workloads in the league in Greg Roman’s run-obsessed scheme, and is now a highly viable RB1 option with the work coming on all three downs. If you’re getting him anywhere in the middle of Round 2, you’ve landed a steal.
5. Speaking of RB1s, you can feel better about Devonta Freeman (Big Board: #19; RB Ranking: #8) and Eddie Lacy (Big Board: 22; RB Ranking: #11) as your top guy…
Though Eddie Lacy still looks quite big, he definitely has regained some explosion. The absolute load is in far better form than last year, rumbling to 45 yards and a TD on nine carries; his burst through the hole is far improved, and Lacy has always been a load to bring down. Moreover, the team has been feeding him early and often, and his TD upside is huge in this explosive offense. If I landed a top-flight WR in Round 1, Lacy provides serious upside for the RB spot.
Devonta Freeman also had a highly impressive showing in Week 2, ripping off 42 yards and a TD on only four totes. His vision and wiggle in the hole were far better than in Week 1, and Freeman was again in for every red zone, third down, and short yardage carry; the team clearly trusts Freeman more for the important work. Despite the team’s insistence on using Tevin Coleman, Freeman looks so much more natural in the zone blocking scheme. No, he might not have Coleman’s long speed, but Freeman’s vision, balance, and power are all far superior. He’s going to receive all the valuable third down and red zone work, and likely 60% or more of the rushing load, and maybe Coleman’s presence will keep him fresher for the stretch run.
The Detroit passing attack has widely (and appropriately) been expected to take a step back following Megatron’s retirement. Yet, if Marvin Jones can continue making insanely acrobatic catches, such as the one below, this attack should stay afloat just fine:
No, Jones isn’t Calvin Johnson, but he’s no slouch either. He’s been reportedly building a strong rapport with Matthew Stafford all summer, and the back shoulder fades and two-tapping sideline wizardry highlighted this chemistry against the Bengals, with Jones racking up 4 catches for 65 yards in under a half of run. Jones also led the team with five targets, bringing credence to reports that he’s emerging as the true #1 WR in Detroit. He’s one of the draft’s biggest bargains as the WR38 and 96th overall pick, according to FantasyPros Consensus ADP.
I also love the pace the first team offense played at, hurrying to the line and rarely huddling. Speaking after the game, offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said an up-tempo, no-huddle attack is what they’re aiming for, and that he’d like to play even faster. More plays = more chances for fantasy points, and this should benefit the entire offense, especially Stafford. While Stafford isn’t a guy I’m exactly targeting, he’s certainly a draftable QB2; the strong-armed signal caller finished 2015 on fire, completing 70% of his throws once Cooter took over and finishing among the top 10 fantasy QBs over that span. He’s gone 12/17 in his first two preseason games, again over 70%. There’s guys with higher upside I’ll likely take over him, but Stafford has more ceiling than he’s generally given credit for.
7. C.J. Anderson (Big Board: #28; WR Ranking: #12) might just be the RB1 we thought we were getting last year
Given Gary Kubiak‘s wildly successful zone-blocking scheme and C.J. Anderson‘s torrid finish to 2014, most experts forecasted a massive RB1 season. Conditioning concerns and injury rendered Anderson wildly ineffective to begin 2015, but he once again finished the season strong, leading to a fantasy bounce back narrative I still wasn’t entirely buying.
Yet, Anderson reported to camp at 217 — the lightest of his career– and seemed to be taking this opportunity far more seriously. Saturday’s strong preseason debut further confirmed he’s ready to start much faster in 2016. He operated as the clear-cut #1 guy, taking 6 carries for 30 yards and a TD, and looked in mid season form doing so. With Ronnie Hillman now a non factor and Anderson’s conditioning no longer worrisome, the bowling ball is growing on me again. I just can’t quit the Denver RBs.
I’m still hesitant to jump aboard full time and declare Anderson a must own. His line is still weak, and rookie Devontae Booker has had a strong preseason. Yet, with a horrid QB situation, Kubiak will likely return to his pound-the-rock roots, and every factor that created RB1 value last season still exists. Anderson is more ready to finally deliver, and going in Round 3 instead of the first.
8. Hell, maybe Jeremy Hill (Big Board: #52; RB Ranking: #20) will rebound too
In his sophomore campaign, Jeremy Hill was a shell of the powerful rookie runner that won people titles (myself included). He was far more hesitant hitting the holes, and in the rare moments he got to the second level, Hill didn’t have the same open field burst to outrun defenders which severely capped his yardage output. This led to a severe drop from his 5.1 YPC down to only 3.6, and a wildly disappointing campaign overall.
Fast forward to 2016, and Hill was reportedly highly motivated to bounce back. Beat writers reported him looking in far better shape, helping him gain a little bounce back steam:
Looked really good during offseason program on the field and handled it all pretty well off. I expect huge year. https://t.co/dmk8epjfBx
— Paul Dehner Jr. (@pauldehnerjr) July 25, 2016
Though the sample size is small, Hill’s explosion to the hole seems much closer to his rookie year form. Through two contests, he’s collected 32 yards and a TD on six carries and looked more spry in the process. Cincy’s line is a top five unit in the league, and with so few weapons on offense, there’s a real chance the offense runs through Hill and the power run game.
9. More Rookie WRs come out to play. Welcome to the flier list, Will Fuller and Tajae Sharpe.
Last week, popular rookie WRs Sterling Shepard and Michael Thomas flashed their upside. In preseason Week 2, some lesser recognized first-year players whipped a little something out and immediately joined the late round flier radar.
Let’s start in Houston, where Will Fuller is emphatically arriving as the #2 option. Fuller lost a little steam after Jaelen Strong was pushing him for Hopkins’ second fiddle, but in Week 2 the Notre Dame alum was the clear cut guy and didn’t disappoint in his opportunity. Fuller hauled in four passes for 73 and a beautiful 19 yard TD. He had three more red zone looks that went unconverted, but his speed was as advertised and he dusted corners on out routes:
Meanwhile, Titans rookie WR Tajae Sharpe may be less recognized, but has perhaps an even clearer path to fantasy relevance as the potential #1 WR in Tennessee. When blurbs emerged that Sharpe was running with the first team offense in OTAs, most assumed the team was trying to motivate the talented but troubled Dorial Green Beckham. Well, DGB has since been traded to the Eagles, and how did Sharpe respond?
Catching all six of his team leading targets for 68 yards and looking like Marcus Mariota’s go-to guy when in trouble. Sharpe made two terrific leaping grabs, gaining 20 and 16 on the receptions. The 20-yarder helped Marcus Mariota convert a third-and-14. The UMass product now has 8 grabs for 103 yards in about one full half of football, and his quarterback and head coach have only glowing things to say:
“He makes it easy,” Mariota said of Sharpe, per the team’s official website. “He is a very versatile athlete, and he’s done a lot for us already. He creates separation in and out of his routes and we are going to continue to expect these kinds of things out of him.”
“There’s a big trust level,” coach Mike Mularkey said of Mariota and Sharpe. “What you’re seeing (from Sharpe) is what he basically does in practices. He’s made some big catches that we haven’t had here in a while. … Tajae has been a pleasant pick. … He’s consistent.”
Both rookie wideouts should be firmly on your late round radar. Before you just go and pick a defense for the hell of it, add some more talent and opportunity to your squad.
10. Hey! Rookies aren’t the only worthwhile late round WR fliers
Several off-the-radar WRs made some impressive plays throughout preseason Week 2. Let’s quick-hit them:
- Terrelle Pryor (Cleveland Browns): The former quarterback has been shining this preseason, currently ranking third in preseason receiving yards thanks to a 49 yard bomb in Week 1 and 50 yard TD catch in Week 2. More importantly, Pryor dusted Marcus Trufant, 2015’s least targeted CB due to his cover skills, by a solid few steps on his TD catch. His deep ball chemistry is strong with RGIII, and at 6’5″ with a 4.38 second 40 yard dash, Pryor carries some significant upside. He might turn out to be a strict deep threat that’s tough to trust, but there’s a ceiling for far greater. At minimum, it’s another weapon for my boy RGIII.
- Kenny Stills (Miami Dolphins): The Stills Hype Train was rolling this offseason, but no one was choosing to ride it. Coach Gase revealed he wanted to trade for Stills while running the Bears offense, and as such planned to “definitely” involve him more heavily in Miami’s 2016 offense. Stills himself also said he had a “a huge chip” on his shoulder and wanted to prove his down 2015 was a fluke. Then reports started emerging that Stills was a camp standout, consistently making plays and primed for a huge impact. Which leads us to Preseason Week 2, where Stills corralled 3 passes for 70 yards and 2 TDs. And yet, still no one is paying any attention. With Rishard Matthews gone and Stills in a contract year, he could feast in 2016. For a last round pick, I’ll find out.
- Chris Conley (Kansas City Chiefs): In a class of talent like Kevin White and Amari Cooper, it was Chris Conley who ran the fastest 40 (4.35), posted the highest vertical (45 inch?) and broad jump (139 inch) at 6’2″. Sure, he could just be a workout warrior, but he definitely looked smooth on his 3 catches for 66 yards this weekend. I’m not sure this ball-control offense yields enough aerial volume for consistency, but Conley possesses the athleticism for some blow-up performances. Why not chuck him on a deep bench?
11. Don’t sleep on Patriots RBs James White and LeGarrette Blount.
Both Patriots RBs have flashed serious upside this preseason, which is especially important in light of Dion Lewis’ second surgery. In both games, James White has totaled impressive catch-and-runs down to the goal line, and is now up to three receptions for 72 yards. He’ll spend the majority of 2016 as the team’s primary third down back, which has always played a role (albeit unpredictable at times) in the Patriots offense. White scored double digit PPR points in five of eight games without Lewis, including three above 18 points. He’ll be a useful RB2 most weeks.
Meanwhile, LeGarrette Blount has looked very powerful in the first two weeks of preseason action. Week 2 was particularly impressive, as Blount seemed to have run away with the big back role, posting 69 yards on 11 carries (6.3 YPC); this brings him up to 20 attempts, 89 yards, and 2 TDs in the preseason thus far. More importantly, after both Brandon Bolden and Tyler Gaffney failed to convert multiple goal line attempts, Blount pounded in his first chance in emphatic fashion. If he indeed has a stranglehold on the “goal line back” role, Blount will be a fair bet for a weekly TD.
I’m a PPR baller, so White is of greater personal interest, but both backs need to be on your fantasy radar. Yes, the Patriots will use a committee and be unpredictable at times, but that gets overblown; both backs should yield double digit points, whether it’s receptions for White or TDs for Blount, more often than they don’t.
12. Washington RB Matt Jones is approaching DND Territory
Yes, I understand Matt Jones is expected back for Week 1 of the regular season after suffering an A/C joint sprain in his left shoulder. No, I don’t like seeing a back break down this early when his main path to fantasy value is supposed to be his workload. Plus, this is the same type of injury that seemed to hamper Randall Cobb for much of 2015, and Jones will take hits with far greater frequency. The Redskins should be an explosive overall offense, and so far no one else on the roster has shown anything to threaten Jones; there’s still a fairly high ceiling here for the right price. Yet, where Jones typically goes, there’s almost always another player I’d rather select. I doubt he’ll work his way on to any of my rosters, unless he completely free falls. I’ll also be paying close attention to the workload distribution in the team’s dress rehearsal game, as this handcuff could carry some serious weight if the talent is high enough. Early reports suggest UDFA Rob Kelley will get the first crack at the gig.
- If you haven’t added Christine Michael to your late round flier list, go do so immediately. He was impressive yet again, turning 10 carries into 55 yards in Week 2. Even more encouraging, Michael caught a pass while split out as a wideout, suggesting he has featured back upside. He continues to rapidly climb this list, and would shoot up even higher if Thomas Rawls’ recovery continues chugging along slowly. I have a feeling this guy will win people some games in 2016.
- Blake Bortles continues ascending up the QB rankings, completing 8 of 11 throws for 85 yards and two TDs. In less than a half of football, Bortles now has gone 14 of 18 for 190 yards and two scores. On his beautiful 24-yard throw to Allen Hurns, Bortles looked off the defense before delivering a strike where only his receiver could get it. Meanwhile, he looked comfortable and mobile in the pocket, and his line has been giving him fantastic protection all preseason. He rises to my QB7, above Carson Palmer and Ben Roethlisberger.
- Speaking of QBs on the rise, both Tyrod Taylor and Marcus Mariota are confirming they’re both high-end QB2s with QB1 upside after their strong Week 2 preseason efforts. Taylor went 7-10 f0r 132 yards and a TD, including a highly impressive play where he spun to avoid a sack and then delivered a 59 yard strike down the field to Charles Clay. Meanwhile, Mariota completed all but one of his 10 attempts for 104 yards and a TD. He’s converted multiple long third downs, and looks far more composed in Year 2. Given the team’s plans to utilize his legs more, Mariota offers some real upside.
- So much for being underwhelming and uneven. After weeks of overblown training camp reports, Andrew Luck was magnificent in his return to the field. He completed all 8 of his attempts for 69 yards, while adding two rushes for 12 yards (which he slid on). Luck could push for the 2016 league-lead in passing TDs, and makes a great mid-round pick if you’re underwhelmed by the RB or WR options during your selection.
- Cincy rookie WR Tyler Boyd again flashed, making another diving catch for 26 yards and finishing the night with two catches for 38 yards and a TD. The team still claims Boyd will be the No.3 option behind Brandon Lafell, but there’s only so many drops you can stomach when this exciting talent is rotting away. Keep Boyd firmly on your late round radar.
- Cowboys RB Alfred Morris was impressive, churning 85 yards and a TD on just 13 carries. The Dallas line can clearly make anyone look solid, and Morris was hitting the gaping holes hard. If the former Redskin secures the #2 gig, he’d offer high-end RB2, perhaps even low-end RB1 value if Elliott were to miss time. You can do worse with a late round stab.
- Perhaps I’m not giving Atlanta WR Mohammed Sanu enough fantasy credit. He flashed his run-after-the-catch skills Thusday night, turning three catches into 45 yards with impressive open field speed. I feel like I’ll always be able to find a guy who excites me more, but the #2 WR in this attack carries some weight; a less impressive Leonard Hanerson was on pace for 68 catches, 964 yards, and 8 TDs before crumbling to injury and ineffectiveness after the first four weeks, and the team didn’t throw $32.5 million at Sanu for nothing.
- If you’re in the deepest league that’s ever existed, 49ers TE Vance McDonald continues to flash the same late-season chemistry with Blaine Gabbert we saw to end 2015. He’s up to 5 catches for 92 yards and a TD in under a half of preseason action, and could be a viable TE2 option if you wait hard on the position. Owning any piece of a Chip Kelly offense brings at least some excitement to the table.