There's a large contingent of football fans that staunchly believe preseason games are completely inconsequential. To these naysayers, they're nothing more than an evaluation phase for head coaches looking to comprise the best 53-man roster possible. However, most fanatics would vehemently disagree. Exhibition action gives owners the opportunity to gain invaluable insight into potential sleepers and busts. Alfred Morris' breakout preseason two years ago is a prime example. In an attempt to decipher the meaningful from the meaningless, here are the top Flames and lowly Lames from Preseason Week 2.
PRESEASON WEEK 2 FLAMES
Justin Hunter, Ten, WR – JH Drool Fest 2014 sold roughly 10,000 tickets Friday night. Talked up incessantly by several fanalysts over the past few weeks, the sophomore receiver showcased why so many are excited when in his virtual presence. On a finely placed jumpball from Jake Locker, the 6-foot-4 target climbed the ladder, plucked the ball out of the sky and kept his feet in bounds for what looked like an easy touchdown. (WATCH IT HERE) Later on with the second team, he caught a deep-crossing strike from backup Zach Mettenberger then sprinted to the end zone untouched for a 64-yard score. Overall, he was effective everywhere – on the sidelines, between the hashmarks, at the goal-line. There’s no doubting his attractive measurables and baseline talents. However, Locker’s gross inconsistencies, particularly on deep-ball throws, should temper expectations. Keep in mind, the QB has completed a hideous 23.3 percent of his attempts beyond 20 yards in his career. Hunter, for now, remains a bargain at his 125.5 Yahoo ADP, but with his perceived worth climbing at an exponential rate, orthopedic surgeons will soon work overtime repairing outstretched arms. There’s 7-9 TD, 800-plus yard appeal here, but Locker must prove he can deliver the goods accurately downfield.
Matthew Stafford, Det, QB – Negative words written about Stafford's inflated fantasy value are laughable. The infrastructure around him is strong, he's produced at an elite level before and he spent the entire offseason greatly improving his mechanics. The results thus far are very, very encouraging. Though he faced an exploitable Raiders secondary, the former No. 1 pick looked like a QB on the precipice of a career year. On a pair of surgical drives, he threw crisp, accurate passes, carved up the Raiders' secondary and guided his team to a pair of touchdowns. On the night, he was nine-of-10 with 88 yards and two TDs. And that was sans Calvin Johnson. Yes, his numbers, despite a beefy volume (1,361 attempts), have been a bit hollow the past couple years, but in a New Orleans-styled offense and with Golden Tate in tow, it's conceivable he could get back to the 5,000-yard, 40-TD level from three years ago. After the big three – Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers – he's the next best thing. You're not the sharpest knife in the drawer if you believe he's overvalued at his current 49.4 Yahoo ADP.
Marqise Lee, Jac, WR – Down Cecil Shorts and Ace Sanders, the "Missing U" took advantage of exclusive work with the first team Thursday night in Chicago. A key cog on three Jacksonville scoring drives, he caught all four targeted passes for 27 yards and a touchdown. His routes were clean and fluid throughout the first half, a great sign he’ll likely contribute immediately once the regular season gets underway. Lee was a bit enigmatic his senior year at USC. Nearly uncontainable the season before, his production fell off precipitously last fall, prompting many to question his long-term appeal. Still, the former team captain is a hard-working, playmaking talent who is very dangerous on slants and crosses. He doesn’t possess breakneck speed (4.52 40-yard time), but his short-field acceleration and wiggle allows him to gain appreciable yards after the catch. The Jags will be largely conservative on offense and Shorts should be back for Week 1, but Lee, who’s had a great camp, could post Terrance Williams-like numbers (44-736-5) in his rookie campaign. Target him in the double-digit rounds.
Jordan Matthews, Phi, WR – Last week Matthews couldn't catch botulism if he tried. Targeted seven times he dropped three passes. However, after his sensational effort Friday, last week's debut was obviously due to a case of the yips. The rookie was brilliant working with ones and twos in New England. He caught all nine balls thrown his way finishing with a game-high 104 yards (SEE HIGHLIGHTS HERE). The Vandy Dandy owns the tools necessary to make an immediate fantasy impact. He's big, sure-handed, a polished route-runner and slated to man the slot in Chip Kelly's offense. Philly is still a run-first team, but the Old Chipster is sure to weave short crossing routes and bubble screens for Matthews into the weekly playbook. He should see substantially more targets than Jason Avant did as the Eagle's slot man a year ago (76). At this point, it's no stretch to think the rookie is the second-most valuable Philly WR next to Jeremy Maclin. Yes, Riley Cooper is terribly overrated (102.2 ADP, WR41).
Kyle Rudolph, Min, TE – Leaner, quicker and confident, the plus-sized target has "breakout" stamped on his forehead. Utilized in various ways against visiting Arizona, he registered four receptions for a game-high 89 yards, including a 51-yard deep-post connection with Matt Cassel for a TD (SEE IT HERE). Rudolph, who reeled in nine touchdowns two seasons ago but has never crossed the 500-yard mark in a season, is every bit this year's Jordan Cameron. Norv Turner's offense, which previously helped launch Jay Novacek, Antonio Gates and Cameron into the stratosphere, is tailored to maximize his performance. Given his size, soft hands and increased speed, he's destined to finish well inside the position's top-10, possibly flirting with the top five. Alongside Jordan Reed, Zach Ertz and Charles Clay, there isn't a more attractive option at the position after the big boys (from Vernon Davis on) fall off the board. Bank on at least a 65-800-8 campaign.
PRESEASON WEEK 2 LAMES
Stevan Ridley, NE, RB – Once again, The Riddler lived up to his nickname. He played 12 snaps, ran the ball effectively between the pipes (9 atts, 45 yards, 5.0 ypc) and, predictably, fumbled, forcing Bill Belichick to immediately banish him to solitary confinement. Wash. Rinse. Repeat. When he secures the football, Ridley is one of the better between-the-tackles grinders in the league. He gets downhill quickly, plows through piles and has a nose for the end zone. Unfortunately, his nine career fumbles (six lost) in 46 games has created trust issues and placed him on Belichick's doghouse. His latest setback only muddied the waters in an already indecipherable New England RBBC. Ridley, Shane Vereen, James White and Friday night standout Brandon Bolden (three carries, 21 yards) will likely be involved in a painfully unpredictable rotation, eerily similar to New Orleans' backfield. If you relish migraine headaches, by all means invest. If not, aim for Lamar Miller, Terrance West or Bernard Pierce around the same price point as Ridley's (69.7 ADP).
Zac Stacy, StL, RB – At this time last year, there was no bigger Stacy apologist than yours truly. His burly frame, better-than-advertised versatility and limited competition screamed breakout candidate. Though he exceeded even my lofty expectations, I did not renew the fan-club membership. The Rolling Beer Keg was rarely foamy as the starter, pumping out a top-10 line from Week 5 on. However, under the surface, his production was far from RB1 worthy. Nearly 32 percent of his touches went for one, zero or negative yards. Overall, his 26.6 elusive rating ranked No. 24 among eligible backs. Ugly runs were again the norm Saturday against Green Bay. Four of his six attempts were for 1-yard or less. On the day, he totaled a ghastly six yards on six carries. Tre Mason and Benny Cunningham have looked good working with the B and C teams, but Stacy remains in the catbird seat, for now. Still, unless Sam Bradford morphs into Kurt Warner '99, stacked boxes will be common. The risks attached are rather significant, different from other RB2s Andre Ellington, Gio Bernard and Doug Martin (now sans Charles Sims).
Christine Michael, Sea, RB – It might be time for the Michael enthusiasts to take the ice-bucket challenge. Their burning love for the second-year rusher needs to cool off. As stated previously, Michael is a highly explosive, talented runner who has a bright future ahead of him. Many in the fantasy community believe he's destined to wrest away 8-12 touches per game from Marshawn Lynch this year and develop into a RB1 as soon as 2015. But don't gloss over Robert Turbin. Michael did run the ball well on his eight attempts (45 yards, 5.6 ypc) versus San Diego, but it was the former Utah St. star who stole the show. He pinballed off tacklers, powered through holes and moved the chains en route to 81 yards and a TD on 12 carries. His sick cut-back move, which burst him into the open field, led him to a 47-yard scamper, the highlight of his night (WATCH IT HERE). Deceptively fast, versatile and a bulldozer in a crowd (62.5 yards after contact percentage in '13), he's a vastly underrated rusher who will continue to play a prominent role in this offense. Despite Michael's ongoing fumbling issues, owners will continue to snap tendons for him, but Turbin, a superior pass-blocker, might be the true Lynch handcuff to own.
Le'Veon Bell, Pit, RB – At this point last year, Bell was in a state of fantasy purgatory. Suffering a mid-foot sprain in the Steelers' first preseason game, his ADP dipped rapidly, making him a value pick in the later rounds. Though healthy this time around, he's again experiencing a major downturn. His performance in Pittsburgh's clash with Buffalo didn't warrant panic, however, post-game comments he told CBS' Dave Richard did. Bell admitted backfield compatriot LeGarrette Blount "probably will" get the goal-line carries this fall. His "co-starter" label Saturday night also fueled buyer concern. Most will downgrade Bell dramatically over the next couple weeks, possibly sliding his ADP into Round 3 of 12-team drafts. Despite the discouraging news, I'm still buying. Bell is a better fit for the no-huddle tempo Todd Haley is trying to accomplish. He's an effective pass-blocker, a terrific zone-blocking runner and a superior receiver (Read my full Bell argument here). And don't assume the competition is a stronger hammer at the goal line. Bell was 7-for-19 (36.8 percent) in TD-scoring carries inside the five last year. Blount, from the same distance in his career, is an identical seven for 19. I'm sliding Bell to the 11th best RB, but no farther. The 20-25 touches per game he routinely logged last year will be few and far between, especially with speedster Dri Archer also in the mix, but I fully expect him to tote at least 16-18 per game, including a few GL looks. Let the discount shopping begin.
Mohamed Sanu, who caught two passes for 56 yards and a TD versus the Jets, could make a WR3-level impact with Marvin Jones sidelined the first five weeks of the regular season. Cincy will feature the run more under Hue Jackson, but when Andy Dalton turns to the air, Sanu should rack numerous targets. Defenses, as always, will key on A.J. Green, leading to complementary single coverage for Sanu. The overlooked wideout shouldn't go undrafted in 12-team leagues... Blake Bortles cranked up the heat on Chad Henne, though against Bears second-teamers. Quite possibly the most impressive rookie passer in the preseason thus far – Jimmy Garoppolo also has a strong case – Bortles stood tall in the pocket, delivered strikes and looked every bit a future franchise QB, finishing with 160 yards on 11 completions (9.4 ypa). Defensive-minded Gus Bradley will continue to stress ball control, which hinders Bortles' upside, but he has QB2 appeal in dynasty leagues. The Jags will remain prudent, for now ... Kenbrell Thompkins, the darling of last preseason, has ventured into post-hype sleeper territory. Tom Brady will spread the wealth, but the wideout, going largely undrafted in Yahoo leagues, could be a sneaky good WR3/4 in deeper formats. Brady noted post-game he has great confidence in him. Aaron Dobson is slowly working his way back after missing the entire offseason recovering from a foot injury and with Gronk on the field, Thompkins should see many favorable coverages. KT's 4-3-32-1 line playing with the first team against the Eagles might be a harbinger of valuable performances to come ...
Sitting on a dull blade while slowly rotating. That's what watching the Raiders' first-team offense feels like. Oakland has talent, particularly at WR (Andre Holmes, Rod Streater), but Matt Schaub looks charred. The first-string O-line does too. With the exception of Holmes late, I'm avoiding MJD, Darren McFadden and every other Raider at all costs ... Eddie Lacy was a rabid pitbull in one series in St. Louis. On seven touches he totaled 47 yards, showcasing demoralizing power, speed on the edge and dependable hands. He should be the last top-tiered RB drafted before the Megatron, Jimmy Grahm, Peyton dilemma begins ... Bishop Sankey is WAY overvalued. His main competition, Shonn Greene, ran hard inside tallying 46 yards on nine carries in 'Nawlins. Worse, Dexter McCluster replaced Greene on pass downs in the first-team lineup. The rookie's fumble lost also did him no favors. He's not a top-50 pick folks. Not even close ... Disdain for Gio Bernard is laughable. He's like a buttered turkey in the open field – short, stocky and incredibly slick. His 3.1 ypc was bland, but he was the primary, first-team rusher at the goal-line versus the Jets, finding the end zone once. Jeremy Hill's impact appears to be overblown ... Bad back? Crippled? Ready for retirement? Tony Romo silenced his critics, exuding vintage elusiveness and accuracy while going 4-of-5 for 80 yards and a TD against Baltimore. Because of Dallas' probable bottom-dwelling defense, he should land inside the QB top-10 for the seventh time in eight years. You're robbing fools blind at his 75-plus ADP ... While everyone salivates over Hunter, the Steelers' Markus Wheaton, who had three catches for 15 yards and a TD on a beautiful corner route against the Bills, is another second-year wideout to monitor. He's locked in as WR2 opposite Antonio Brown, a position Emmanuel Sanders posted a 112-67-732-6 line in last year. He should notch occasionally useful numbers as a WR4/WR5 in 12-team leagues ...
Hakeem Nicks did something worthwhile? Armageddon is near. Motivated against his old team, he caught all five targeted passes for 53 yards, working primarily in the short-field. I will say it again, for some sick reason I believe there's gas left in the still-only-26-year-old's tank ... Eli Manning is 2-for-9 for six yards through two preseason appearances. Uncle Rico has a better chance of completing 70 percent of his attempts throwing a football "over them mountains." I still feel Victor Cruz will bounce back and finish as a high-end WR2, but temper expectations for Rueben Randle. He will be wildly erratic ... Jonathan Grimes is the appropriate handcuff for Arian Foster, but keep close watch on Alfred Blue. The rookie from LSU, who trucked over Falcons working with the Texans' first-team inside the red-zone, has the size (6-foot-2, 223 pounds) and brutalizing running style to be a highly effective goal-line back ... What's scarier: Sammy Watkins injuring his ribs or E.J. Manuel again looking like re-fried garbage? Regarding the former, the receiver revealed post-game he should be "fine." However, the latter inspires minimal confidence. Through three exhibition games, the vanilla QB has completed a mere 59.5 percent of his attempts with one pick and zero TDs. Again, Watkins is a dynamic weapon, but the Bills' reserved offense and Manuel's inadequacies are substantial knocks. The WR is not worth a top-75 pick ...
Interesting note, Brandon Lloyd was the third WR ahead of Steve Johnson with the first team. The 33-year-old, who chose a zombie role in a straight-to-DVD movie over football last year, was targeted three times, catching one pass for seven yards. His ball-adjustment and downfield skills are still rock solid. Keep an eye on his snap count next week ... If the preseason is any indication, Peyton and Demaryius Thomas may connect 367 times this year. No. 18 has been locked in on the AFC's best target. Come year's end, odds are favorable DT will be fantasy's most valuable WR ... Jonathan Stewart carried the rock mulitple times and didn't shatter into a million pieces? Crazy. The fragile rusher ran tough, churned the legs and totaled 26 yards on four carries with two TDs against KC. His 125-plus ADP leaves plenty of room for profit, but he'll find a new, inventive way to break your heart.
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