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 3.
PRESEASON WEEK 3 FLAMES
Doug Martin, TB, RB – You've won me over, Muscle Hamster. Earlier this month, the Tampa rusher, expected to be logjammed in an unknown RBBC in Jeff Tedford's offense, ranked outside my RB top-15. Now entrenched as the three-down bellcow with Charles Sims out for the next 10-12 weeks, he's regained trust as an RB1. In Tampa's final first-team tuneup, he looked every bit the 15-20 touch back. His 3.2 yards per carry didn't move the meter, but he totaled 65 yards on 12 grips, working all three downs. Tampa's offensive line isn't the most rigid, however, Martin's projected volume favors a major rebound year. Having Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson to stretch the field greatly benefits him. If you've yet to draft, he's worth strong consideration in the mid-second. A 1,400-total yard, 10-12 TD line seems completely reasonable.
Matt Ryan, Atl, QB – The bitter taste of 2013 has been washed away. Ryan, who posted commendable numbers a season ago (QB9) despite Julio Jones' absence and an ankle-handicapped Roddy White, might be on the verge of a career year. The loss of O-lineman Sam Baker hurts, but Julio has looked unstoppable in the early season and White again has a pep in his step. Equally important, Atlanta's defense should again give up oodles of points, thrusting Ryan into high-volume shootouts. Throw in a questionable rushing attack and a fantastic third option in feminine-scented Harry Douglas and the ingredients are in place for the passer to serve up a bountiful feast. Approximately 4,900 yards and 32-35 touchdowns are in my fearless forecast. Next to Matthew Stafford, he may possess the highest upside of any QB after the big three (Peyton, Brees and Rodgers).
Allen Hurns, Jac, WR – Football's 'Hitman' has started to turn heads in Fantasyland. Undeniably the most consistent Jags receiver throughout training camp, he's grabbed 13 receptions for 230 yards and a touchdown through three preseason games, including a 113-yard effort Friday against the Lions. He isn't a blazer, but at 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, Hurns, who is very familiar with OC Jedd Fisch's offense after playing for the coach at Miami, has the size, route savvy and hands to disrupt defenses. He's more than the underneath, zone-only target most NFL scouts tabbed him as. The rapport he's built with Chad Henne and Blake Bortles should do him wonders once the regular season commences. Marqise Lee and Cecil Shorts have received the most love in drafts, but the diamond in the rough has legit shocker special potential, even in Gus Bradley's conservative offense. Facing a vulnerable Eagles secondary Week 1, he could be the hottest waiver add of the early season.
Eric Decker, NYJ, WR – Yes, going from Peyton Manning to Geno Smith is akin to choosing a Newark vacation over the Caribbean, but, as stated repeatedly in this space, Decker is terribly undervalued. The guy is really the only game in town. Logging extensive time against the Giants, the coveted off-season acquisition was the apple of Geno's eye, catching three passes for 34 yards and a touchdown. Given his superb size and red-zone capabilities, Decker is one of the league's finest weapons inside the 20. Sure his QB would struggle splashing the ocean from 10 yards out, but he will most certainly be a targets hog. It's not inconceivable he lures 140-plus looks this year. Off a 1,288-yard, 12-TD campaign in Denver, his fantasy worth is sure to decline, but don't anticipate a dramatic one. His WR4 price tag (91.7 ADP, WR37) is absurd. Decker will be a top-30 WR at a minimum, finishing in the range of 75-900-9.
Shane Vereen, NE, RB – The training camp buzz generated by James White complicated what was an already hard-to-pinpoint New England backfield. Whispers surfaced the rookie would slide into the 'big back' and 'Kevin Faulk' roles, poaching touches from Stevan Ridley and Vereen. However, relatively ineffective in preseason action, it doesn't appear he will pose a significant threat. Vereen, deployed in various pakages as a rusher/receiver, was brilliant Friday night against a rigid Carolina defense. On 13 touches he racked 75 yards from scrimmage finding the end-zone twice. Surprisingly, he out-snapped Ridley 26-to-8 over two-plus quarters of play. New England will have a committee backfield. But because of Vereen's unique skill set and open-field explosiveness, he's sure to lead the team in touches this year, notching possibly 12-15 per game. His ADP has mysteriously dipped a full round over the past month, making him a bargain buy around pick No. 50 overall. View him as a discounted version of Reggie Bush, 100-percent pure PPR gold.
PRESEASON WEEK 3 LAMES
Cam Newton, Car, QB – The popular QB1 was a train-wreck in his second preseason effort. Against an underrated Patriots defense, he held onto the ball too long and appeared rusty. In the lopsided affair, he threw for 88 yards on 12 attempts without a TD and chipped in 12 rushing yards. Kelvin Benjamin again showed the skill set of a reliable weapon, catching five of six targets for 47 yards, a promising development. If the rookie and Greg Olsen can become reliable options, there's hope Newton will retain his top-five value. However, his downward trending rushing stats and Ron Rivera's conservative offense raise question marks. The Panthers' transparent offensive line and his reported hairline rib fracture escalates concern. His stock has plummeted in recent drafts, bottoming out in the low-80s ADP-wise. At the slashed rate, he's only a moderate risk, but unless circumstances improve rapidly, he could land outside the position's top-10 for the first time in his career. Give me Jay Cutler or Tony Romo in Round 7 instead.
Pittsburgh Steelers D – Mark Sanchez (7-of-9, 85 yards) sliced a Steelers first-team as though it were a bagel being prepped to toast. That essentially sums up what was yet another miserable preseason for the 'Soft Curtain.' On the night, the Eagles averaged 6.1 yards per play (5.2 yards per carry). Long gone are the days of Joe Greene, Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd and Joey Porter. There's promising talent on the roster, particularly rookie Ryan Shazier, who could be an unstoppable tackling machine as early as this year. But in many spots inexperience and advanced age are greatly harming this unit. It's fundamentally flawed, getting dominated at the point of attack and is generally ghost-like. Not only was Pittsburgh's effort laughable against Philly, it also surrendered a 73-yard TD scamper to Rashad Jennings two weeks ago, the lone bright spot this summer for an equally pathetic Giants offense. Steely McBeam conceded a respectable 4.07 yards per carry to RBs last year, but ranked No. 12 in fantasy points per game allowed to the position. Based on the early results, it may finish substantially higher in that category. Unless rapid improvements are made, count on Ben Tate and Bernard Pierce to roll up some nice numbers against it in Weeks 1 and 2.
Andre Williams, NYG, RB – Just three weeks ago, the rookie from Boston College was the belle of the fantasy ball. His hard interior running and chalk-sniffing display in the Hall of Fame game sent draftees into a tizzy, shooting the greenhorn's ADP into Round 9 of 12-team drafts. Since then, his sex appeal has diminished. Rashad Jennings, superior to Williams in several key categories, is the clear-cut leader in this backfield. Friday against the Jets he totaled 14 touches in the first half, working almost exclusively with the 'A' team. Williams, meanwhile, garnered only one carry during that stretch. He will wrest away some goal-line totes, tallying roughly 6-8 carries per game, but Jennings is and will continue to be the mailman in Ben McAdoo's offense. The veteran is far more trustworthy in blitz recognition and as a receiver. At Williams' current 105.4 ADP according to Fantasy Football Calculator, he's nothing more than a glorified handcuff. Don't overreach.
Trent Richardson, Ind, RB – A one-eyed Chihuahua with a cataract may have better vision than T-Pain. Once again, he's not making the right cuts, choosing to initiate contact instead of squeezing through tight spaces. And he's not exactly breaking through brick walls. Through three exhibition games he's carried the rock 20 times for a wretched 55 yards (2.55 yards per carry) forcing only two missed tackles. It's becoming increasingly obvious his rookie season, a year in which he finished as a RB1 in 12-team leagues, was a complete aberration. Some still believe he can deliver RB2 level numbers with Andrew Luck by his side, but draft him and he'll slowly crush your soul. Keep in mind earlier this summer Chuck Pagano suggested he would implement a three-back RBBC if Richardson flopped. Already trending that direction, Ahmad Bradshaw and Boom Herron could start stealing carries sooner rather than later. Give me Pierre Thomas or Maurice Jones-Drew at his current price point (58.7 ADP).
Wes Welker, Den, WR – Head scrambled yet again, the slot man has ventured into dark territory. His unsettling history of concussions should have owners seeking alternatives or avoiding him altogether. It's unknown what his status will be for Week 1, but with his availability in doubt and given his advanced age, it's time to slide Welker down your ranks. At his 43.2 ADP (WR17), he's damaged, unsafe goods. Emmanuel Sanders, off his finest showing to date (5-128-2), is a more trustworthy option. Of course, when one door closes another one always opens in this next-man-up league. Cody Latimer, a splashy player with a Decker-like frame who's turned heads this summer, or Andre Caldwell would be pressed into first-team duty in the event of an extended Welker absence. It may take a few weeks for the former to get comfortable with the system, but he has enormous promise as a red-zone weapon. At some point, the second-round pick will make a WR3 impact, possibly as early as midseason.
The Dr. Dre and Snoop of the NFL, Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, worked as they always do, in tandem. Over two plus quarters, Bell touched the rock 10 times for a meager 26 yards, Blount 10 times totaling 46 yards. At this point, it’s safe to assume a 60-40 timeshare will be implemented to start the season with Le’Veon handling the heavy side. And don’t freak about the sophomore’s YPC. His likely 15-17 touches per game, many of those coming via the pass in a no-huddle offense, should lead him to top-15 RB numbers. Fantasy is a volume game folks. Buy on the bear … Jeremy Maclin dodged a bullet when his right leg buckled awkwardly. He was able to return almost immediately, finishing with a game-high six receptions for 47 yards. This is a reminder of his fragility. Draft/own at your own risk … Maurice Jones-Drew turned back the clock, bursting through the tackles and into the open-field on 40-yard TD gallup against Green Bay. He's still more RB3 material, especially given Matt Schaub's putridity and Oakland's suspect O-line, but MJD is well ahead of Darren McFadden. Count on the Oompa Loompa to be occasionally serviceable in 12-teamers this year ... Negative comments about Eddie Lacy need to cease. A rolling boulder in limited first-team action, he's averaged an obscene 5.54 yards per carry this preseason. He's worth every penny inside the overall top-five ...
Emmanuel Sanders, who recently missed practice time with an undisclosed injury, was force fed by No. 18 in his return to the lineup, torching the Texans for five receptions, 128 yards and a pair of end-zone strikes. He's sure to best his totals from last year in Pittsburgh, but don't go overboard. Denver, which wants to emphasize the run with an enhanced defense, remains a spread-the-wealth offense, with or without Welker. Anticipate final numbers in the range of 75-1050-7. He's a top-flight WR3 in 12-team leagues ... Sticking around the dispensary, Montee Ball, just a couple weeks removed from an appendectomy, earned a surprising start and looked fairly good given the layoff. Most heartening, he grabbed four balls for 21 yards. The man is no Andre Williams people. He's an effective pass catcher who should snag 35-plus passes this fall. Ball is cemented as my No. 6 RB. The Broncos have supreme trust in him as a three-down workhorse. So should you. Remember RB starters playing alongside Peyton have averaged 1,600 combined yards and 10.4 TDs per year ... Travis Kelce's breakthrough preseason continued. The uber-athletic TE caught four passes for 49 yards, though he again played behind Anthony Fasano. With few explosive vertical weapons, Andy Reid must find creative ways to get Kelce on the field. For now, he's a late-round stash in 14-team and deeper leagues ... Bishop Sankey's updated yards per carry: 3.2. The rookie again ran with the second and third teams, was largely average between the pipes and resembled anything but a viable RB2. If you like to spend picks frivolously, by all means invest in Sankey. An aneurysm is more appealing than picking him at his 48.2 ADP (RB23). If his knee doesn't disintegrate, Shonn Greene will be the most valuable Titans rusher in the early season ...
Mark Ingram's stupendous preseason kept rolling. Rushing eight times for 46 yards at Indy, he ballooned his exhibition YPC to 7.05. To be fair, he's looked fantastic, but nothing in New Orleans has changed. This is still a rotational backfield that will feature Pierre Thomas and Khriy Robinson heavily. Ingram should be viewed as nothing more than a bye-week filler with 4-6 TD potential. In other words, fool's gold ... Steve Smith proved why age is nothing but a number. The thirtysomething reeled in six passes (7 TGTS) for 80 yards and a TD. He'll only be sporadically useful this year, but with defenses keying on Torrey Smith, he'll creep into the WR3 class when blessed with a favorable matchup ... A slim and trim Knowshon Moreno was terrific in his Miami debut, recording 64 yards on 10 carries. Lamar Miller is still the presumed starter, but Joe Philbin is noncommittal on who will get the call Week 1. The veteran is nothing special, however, Miller has done little to inspire confidence. If the incumbent tanks against New England in the opener, Moreno will overtake him in short order. Miami's porous offensive line inspires pessimism, but Knowshon's ultra-cheap ADP (110.4) makes him a nice late-round stab ... Sam Bradford's re-tearing of his ACL is unfortunate news, but don't immediately downgrade every receiving Ram. In previous stops, particularly Detroit, newly stamped starter Shaun Hill has performed adequately. In 26 career starts, he's posted a 41-23 TD-INT split. Still, with or without Bradford, no owner should be banking on WR3-type production from Tavon Austin or Kenny Britt. Both have numerous fleas ... Antonio Gates gimps around as though he's a haggard septugenarian, but evident in his effort against the Niners, he still has a spring in his step. The Chargers will run many two-TE sets, but breakout expectations for LaDarius Green should be tempered. The upstart is more TE2 than TE1 in 12-teamers.
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