Every year supposed hardcore fantasy players claim preseason football is largely meaningless, a long, boring evaluation period that's more important for real, not virtual GMs.
They couldn't be more wrong.
To the serious gamer, exhibition play showcases subjects in the testing phase. Though the sample sizes are small, particularly in Week 1, the information gleaned can be invaluable, uncovering potential sleepers and undervalued commodities. Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster and Victor Cruz, to name a few, are players who offered a glimpse of their future greatness before seeing a regular season snap. Owners who paid attention scored a sensation. Those who didn't missed the boat on a season-defining stud.
This preseason, like any other, is brimming with fascinating fantasy storylines. Will Peyton's head remain attached? Is Robert Griffin III for real? Does Doug Martin deserve early-round consideration? How will Lucifer Shanahan creatively screw over the fantasy masses this time?
With football (Finally!) in full swing, here are six must-watch players this preseason:
Peyton Manning, Den, QB
Y! ADP: 50.7, QB7
Why Watch? Camp reviews on elder Manning have been largely positive. In the short-field, he's delivered passes with vintage crispness and precision. However, observers continue to doubt his deep ball, noting he's often missed targets. His durability also remains a big question mark. The former concern may not undermine his value completely if improvement isn't shown. At this point in his career, he could transform into a Kurt Warner-type, a signal caller who consistently dissects defenses within 20 yards. The latter, though, is the primary curiosity. Will his neck disintegrate on first contact? If he pops up immediately after absorbing a blind side hit, expect his stock will rise sharply. All goes right and a 4,000-yard, 25-30 TD bounce back is in order.
Evan Royster, Wash, RB
Y! ADP: 130+
Why Watch? The devilish deeds of Lucifer Shanahan are well-documented. He is the master of RB head games. His latest mind (expletive): List Tim Hightower as the No. 1 then make people believe Royster is the initial starter while relegating his most talented rusher, Roy Helu, to third-down work and telling folks unknown rookie Alfred Morris remains in the mix. Utter madness. Still, Penn St's all-time leading rusher is in position to assert himself as the 'Skins back to own. Kyle Shanahan, impressed by Royster's open-field wiggle and tough interior running, foresees him as a three-down workhorse. Recall he finished 2011 with consecutive 100-yard games, opening the eyes of many. A solid performance Thursday versus Buffalo could wipe away the mud. Then again, probably not. Somewhere in Washington a high-end RB2 lurks.
Is Lloyd the second-coming of Moss? (USP)Brandon Lloyd, NE, WR
Y! ADP: 54.2, WR 23
Why Watch? The hype machine has worked overtime pumping out seemingly exaggerated predictions about the former Pro Bowler. More than one industry "expert" has stated Lloyd could flirt with Randy Moss' historic numbers from 2007. Though that seems farfetched, he will likely be better than advertised. Yes, there are several mouths to feed, but the setup is fantastic. He has a legendary quarterback, immersed in a pass-first, pass-often offense, throwing him the pill and his biggest ally, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, is calling the shots. The ex-Illini has repeatedly wowed onlookers with one acrobatic catch after another in camp. Do it over the next couple weeks in front of the cameras, and his ADP will likely vault into Round 3.
Robert Griffin III, Wash, QB
Y! ADP: 79.9, QB11
Why Watch? Bold predictions, including those spewed by yours truly, have been made about "Bob Griffin" this summer. The reigning Heisman winner has all the tangibles and intangibles needed to promptly excel at the next level. His Vick-like scoring duality, in particularly, presents plenty of fantasy upside. If he exhibits the polish and poise in Shany's redesigned bootleg offense this preseason, the sky's the limit. The weapons around him are better than advertised and if the 'Skins struggle on defense, he will be gifted ample scoring opportunities. As stated previously, there is no passer available in the middle rounds with more upside. Put it together, and he could very easily finish as a mid-level QB1 in 12-team leagues.
Doug Martin, TB, RB
Y! ADP: 51.2, RB17
Why Watch? With Trent Richardson's value heading south in a hurry, Martin may soon become the most valuable rookie rusher to own. He was listed behind "Lazy" LeGarrette Blount on the Bucs' initial depth-chart, but he continues to receive first-team reps in practice. He should. His blend of vision, power and versatility should thrive behind one of the finest offensive lines in the league. Most importantly, he could net upwards of 20 touches per game in Greg Schiano's conservative scheme. But it all boils down to how he performs in exhibition play. Seize the moment, and he'll enter 2012 as a borderline top-10 RB, especially in PPR formats.
Jacquizz Rodgers, Atl, RB
Y! ADP: 122.8, RB44
Why Watch? A transformation is underway in Atlanta. Michael Turner, who slowed considerably after Week 12 last year (The Tampa game was the lone exception), is not slated to get his customary 18-22 carry per game workload. Instead offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has redesigned the backfield structure, featuring his RBs more in the pass game. Because Turner would struggle reeling in a beach ball covered in Krazy Glue, Rodgers, and to a lesser extent Jason Snelling, will be leaned on. Of course, this is all in theory. Until it's put into practice, prognostications of 200-plus touches for the fire hydrant is nothing but speculation. Hopefully, Atlanta's opening game against Baltimore will shed some light on the situation.
Others Worth Watching: Jamaal Charles, KC, RB, Adrian Peterson, Min, RB (If he plays), Alex Green, GB, RB, Ryan Mathews, SD, RB, Titus Young, Det, WR, Davone Bess, Mia, WR, Eric Decker, Den, WR, Ryan Williams, RB, Ari, Andrew Luck, Ind, QB, Jake Locker, Ten, QB, Alshon Jeffery, Chi, WR
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