Thompkins' sleeper label just expired. (USAT)
When asked "How meaningful is the preseason to you?" the majority of Roto Arcade readers, nearly 60-percent, chalked up exhibition play as nothing more than a string of worthless dress rehearsals. But here's two words that suggest the contrary: Alfred Morris. Last year, the Redskins rookie put the league on notice in Week 3 of the preseason by trampling the Colts, a performance that propelled him to fantasy greatness. Yes, much of the exhibition slate lacks substance, but real, tangible takeaways can be made, valuable insights that give owners a winning edge. This month, from Weeks 1-3, the Noise will attempt to decipher the meaningful from the meaningless.
FLAMIN' HOT CHEAT ... OHS!
Kenbrell Thompkins, NE, WR – Barely a mention on the TV crawl when signed as an undrafted free agent a few months back, Thompkins is quickly becoming to receivers what Alfred Morris was to rushers a season ago. Terribly underused at Cincinnati, the rookie has made seismic waves this preseason. He's not the biggest, strongest or fastest target, but he might be the savviest. His ankle-breaking cuts and superb route-running skills are quite possibly New England's best, even better than Wes Welker-clone Danny Amendola's. With the veteran unavailable Thursday in Detroit, Thompkins took the opportunity to showcase his wares. The lone highlight on an otherwise abysmal night for the Pats (four turnovers), he was targeted a team-high 12 times, hauling in a game-best eight receptions for 116 yards. The youngster again ran sharp, precise routes executing flawlessly on designed sideline outs, streaks and posts across the middle. Most impressively, he humiliated corners Chris Houston and Darius Slay off the line, hitting the juke button to beat press coverage. It can't be overstated, the kid has not only locked down the 'X' role in an explosive offense, he possibly could emerge as the most coveted rookie, regardless of position, this season. Keep in mind the guy throwing to him, Tom Brady, is still one of the league's most accurate quarterbacks (65.6 completion percentage since '07). At this point, he may exceed my original 65-800-5 fearless forecast. Confidently reach for his services a round or two early (110.6 ADP, WR44).
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Reggie Bush, Det, RB – Coerce a random person. Force him/her to sit firmly on a hot poker within eyeshot of a swimming pool. Then release the adrenaline-rushing hostage into the wild. That’s what Bush looked like Thursday against New England. On designed screens and swings, which the Pats bought into hook, line and sinker, Matthew Stafford torched the blitz, connecting with Bush numerous times in the short-field. On his biggest gain of the night (67 yards), he showcased vintage elusiveness and explosion. As stated previously, Bush, assuming he staves off the injury imp, will finish inside the RB top-12 in PPR formats. His TD total probably won't surpass 6-8, but at least 1,400 total yards and 75 receptions are in the offing. If you're in a receptions-friendly format, don't let him escape Round 2 (20.1 ADP, RB16).
Christine Michael, Sea, RB – The depth Seattle has at running back is an embarrassment of riches. Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin and the electric rookie from Texas A&M are all able-bodied rushers capable of shouldering sizable workloads. Taken in the second round of last April's draft, Michael, pound-for-pound, might be the purest runner from this year's rookie class. He's well-built (5-foot-10, 220-pounds), highly explosive, decisive and undeterred. Though he's faced mostly scrubs this preseason, his 6.8 yards per carry average on 27 totes has definitely stirred the drink. Without question Lynch will run until the Skittles stop flowing, but if derailed by injury, Michael would likely leapfrog Turbin into the starting lineup. Under that scenario, a top-10 RB output wouldn't be far-fetched. Keep in mind the 'Hawks' offensive line is one of the league's best. Mark my words, in the very near future Michael will be in contention for a rushing title. He's that ridiculous.
David Wilson, NYG, RB – If you plan to purchase Wilson sometime in the near future, you may need to prostitute yourself on the nearest street corner to raise funds necessary to afford his services. After ripping off an 84-yard TD scamper on his first carry of Saturday night's scrimmage against the Jets, his value instantly marched northward. Still, slow your roll. The sophomore rusher is a star-in-the-making, but don't automatically assume he'll morph into an every-down man-crush. Andre Brown, who's a superior pass-blocker and receiver, will keep Wilson somewhat under wraps. View him as the NFC's version of Chris Johnson. When he's hitting home runs, he'll be spectacular, but when he's not, he'll post rather mundane fantasy totals. His explosiveness is alluring, just don't overspend in non-keeper formats (ADP: 30.3, RB19). Roughly 1,300-1,400 total yards with 5-7 TDs are in my fearless forecast.
Justin Blackmon, Jax, WR – Generally overlooked by the average drafter, the mouthy wide receiver again stood out of the crowd, this time against Philly. Targeted a team-high seven times, he pulled in four receptions for 50 yards. His night was punctuated with a 17-yard TD grab from Chad Henne. Ignoring his prima dona attitude, Blackmon is an extremely talented receiver who can run every route in the tree. Though he lacks an extra gear, his physicality at the point of attack and sharp breaks allow him to gain separation. Because of his four-game suspension and unappealing QB situation, he's heavily discounted in all formats. However, if sipping margaritas in your free agent pool anytime after pick No. 120, toss him a line. Once eligible to return, he should pay a handsome dividend. Recall he was the sixth-best fantasy WR from Weeks 11-17 last year.
Knowshon Moreno, Den, RB – Breathe. That's all that was necessary for Moreno to reenter the starting running back competition. Over much of the first quarter, Ronnie Hillman was a man on a mission. He ran aggressively, found cut-back lanes and consumed sizable chunks of real estate (9 touches, 49 yards). Unfortunately, he fumbled yet again, his third of the preseason. Montee Ball, though effective in the pass game, inched his way to lackluster numbers. He did bull into the end-zone against Rams backups in the third quarter, but his uninspiring 3.1 yards per carry once again left a lot to be desired. Moreno, meanwhile, didn't enter the game until the second half, but proved productive. Overall, he tallied 75 yards from scrimmage on just eight touches. His knees may be held together with chewing gum and duct tape, but the passed over veteran is back in contention. Terrific in pass pro, reliable as a receiver and occasional impactful between the tackles, he may just be the most well-rounded RB currently on the Broncos roster. His experience and quality play in six starts last year (110.8 typg, 3 TDs) may elevate him into the captain's chair. Time will tell, but considering his cheap price tag (ADP: 147.2, RB54), you have little to lose.
You may want to think twice before signing D-Will. (USAT)
BLAME IT ON THE LAME
DeAngelo Williams, Car, RB – Admittedly, I'm a Williams fanboy. Ever since the 'Little Napoleon' conquered opponents in 2008, he's owned my admiration. However, bold declarations claiming he'll be a reliable RB2 this season need to cease. Used sparingly this preseason, he's appeared sluggish, well-aged and generally unexciting. His 49 yards on 17 carries (2.8 ypc) is Exhibit A. Jonathan Stewart's murky early-season availability is a plus, but don't expect D-Will to suddenly turn back the clock. Under new offensive coordinator Mike Shula, who coached QBs in Charlotte last year, the offense will change little. Mike Tolbert will fill the Stewart void and Cam Newton will call his number often inside the 10, leaving only in-between-the-20s scraps for Williams. An uptick in touches from last year (11.6 per game) is probable, but he won't be a 20-carry workhorse – 12-15 touches per game seems realistic. Worse yet, Carolina opens at home against run-stiff Seattle. Unfortunately, Williams is nothing more than a marginal FLEX back in 12-team and deeper leagues.
Stevie Johnson, Buf, WR – With E.J. Manuel recovering from minor knee surgery, Kevin Kolb was gifted an opportunity to state his case for the starting gig against Washington. Naturally, the quarterback, who embarrassingly got hurt slipping on a practice field mat earlier in camp, exited stage left with concussion-like symptoms. Given the rash of setbacks impacting Buffalo QBs, it's entirely possible third-stringer Jeff Tuel, an undrafted rookie out of Washington St., could take first-team snaps Week 1 versus New England. Tuel flashes solid mechanics and touch, but would be a deer in headlights against a strong blitz. If Bill Belichick gets the opportunity to throw the kitchen sink at him, you know he will, likely limiting Johnson's value as a receiver. Because of the Bills' ongoing defensive woes, Stevie has reasonable odds of tallying his fourth-straight 1,000-yard season. However, even with the changing of the guard at head coach, red-zone targets (16 in 2012) and subsequently TDs for the receiver will be a rarity. Spend your draft picks elsewhere. Golden Tate, Mike Williams, Chris Givens and the aforementioned Thompkins are more attractive options going some 15-20 picks after Johnson (86.7 ADP, WR34).
Miami HC Joe Philbin/ GM Jeff Ireland – Sherlock Holmes would agree, the guys calling the shots in Miami have no bleeping clue. As reported late late week, rumors of a full-blown RBBC on South Beach made the rounds in Fantasyland, a mind-blowing development. On Saturday against Tampa, Lamar Miller clearly showed why he deserves to tote the lion's share. As he's done often this preseason, he displayed better speed, cutting ability and vision than the vanilla Daniel Thomas. Overall, he averaged 4.4 yards per carry. Thomas, meanwhile netted a whopping 0.4 ypc. Inspiring. The latter could see action on third-downs, but if Philbin and Ireland pull-head-from-posterior and figure out the remedial math, the former should dominate early-down and possibly goal-line work. Miller has logged a number of touches inside the five in exhibition play. That happens and he would emerge a fringe top-20 RB. Joe and Jeff, please, do the right thing.
Chris Ivory, NYJ, RB – No shock to anyone, the Jets are again the laughing stock of the league. Geno Smith is going all Dan Orlovsky in the back of end-zones. Mark Sanchez is dealing with a bum shoulder, grizzly toenail and sprained cranium. And Santonio Holmes has the pain threshold of a Brooklyn hipster. For the harsh local media, the Jets' on-field depravity is the gift that keeps on giving. Unfortunately, that's not the case for Ivory. Used only sporadically this preseason, the ex-Saint, who the Jets paid a fourth-round pick to acquire last April, hasn't moved the meter. Bilal Powell, meanwhile, has. The 'backup' rusher has outgained, outplayed and generally run circles around Ivory this summer. Given the alleged starter's injury-ridden past and ineffectiveness in the pass game, his role could be smaller than you think. New York's run-blocking should again be good, but against fully stacked lines second-tier runs will be few and far between. Shane Vereen, Andre Brown and Ben Tate, all going after Ivory in average drafts, are better options.
Arizona Cardinals O-Line – The Cards' trench hogs, ramrodded continuously by the media and fantasy community last year, underwent an offseason makeover under new head coach Bruce Arians and freshman GM Steve Keim. Sadly, the most prized piece of that rebuilding project, rookie guard Jonathan Cooper, suffered a broken leg against San Diego, ending his season. Prior to Cooper's exit, the line showed measurable improvement, particularly in run-blocking. Blocks were held. Lanes were created. And on 13 carries Rashard Mendenhall resembled the top-seven fantasy rusher from 2010 (79 yards, 6.1 ypc). Not all hope is lost. Backup Paul Fanaika has reportedly had an outstanding camp, but the veteran lineman, playing for his fourth team in three years, has enormous shoes to fill. Because of the expected high-volume, Mendy is still a top-notch value pick in the middle rounds (66.1 ADP, RB31), but he remains more FLEX than RB2 material.
QUICK HITTERS: As the fantasy community mourns the loss of Le'Veon, another Bell, Joique, who's gained much praise from Jim Schwartz this preseason, is quietly making a strong sleeper case. Mikel Leshoure, who tallied the most rush attempts without a 20-yard run a season ago, worked behind the Wayne St. product for the third-straight week. Bush's true backup totaled 101 yards on just seven touches, displaying excellent burst, interior toughness and versatility. If Reggie goes down, he will be a top-20 RB in PPR ... Bernard Pierce may want to erase Thursday's misstep against Carolina from his collective memory. His 10 carries for seven yards and an awful fumble lost were puke-worthy. Tag-team partner Ray Rice, meanwhile, was respectable totaling 62 yards on 16 carries. He also punched in a one-yard score. Better days are ahead for Pierce, who should net 10-15 touches per game, but Rice is unquestionably in the driver's seat, including goal-line touches ...Terrell Pryor (7-9, 93 yds, TD, 37 rush yds, TD) is quickly becoming a passer of interest in two-QB setups. His dual-threat abilities and improved polish were impressive against a mixture of Bears regulars/second-stringers. Similar to E.J. Manuel, he's worth a flier in challenging formats. Sitting duck, Matt Flynn, is an abomination and will be lucky to stave off the Grim Reaper before Week 5. Plus, given how atrocious the Raiders are defensively, Pryor could become a legit Garbage Time All-Star ... C.J. Spiller scared the bejesus out of prospective investors after dropping to the ground and grabbing his knee post-TD. Thankfully it was merely a flesh wound (spike to knee). The consensus top-three pick reentered the game against Washington finishing with 40 yards on eight carries. Fred Jackson, meanwhile, looked every bit of 32-years-old ...
Similar to Michael, Roy Helu is quickly rising up the handcuff ranks. Finally healthy, he was sensational against the Bills exhibiting marvelous cuts and acceleration in the 'Skins' zone-blocking scheme. In total he compiled 86 yards on 14 touches. If the incumbent suffered a devastating injury, he would be a strong candidate to notch RB top-15 numbers ... Add Julius Thomas to the long list of upside TEs. Local beat-writers have sung the his praises in recent weeks predicting a breakout season. Based on his terrific blend of size, speed and athleticism combined with Peyton Manning's growing confidence in him, Broncos scribes could be onto something. Targeted six times against St. Louis, his time may indeed be now. Deep leaguers, circle the late-round lottery ticket on your cheat sheet ... As discussed previously, Chip Kelly's offense is tailored perfectly for Michael Vick's skill set, but the real reason why No. 7 will reascend to fantasy greatness: Philly overly generous defense. A blind basset hound could rack substantial yards on that unit. Jordan Todman's gaudy numbers Saturday are proof (8-105-1). Shootouts are a foregone conclusion for Vick this year ... Maybe he wasn't pressing the issue, but Jamaal Charles looked a step slower against Pittsburgh (9 touches, 14 yards). The next two weeks will be a godsend for his tender foot ...From the 'Please don't seduce me again' file, Ryan Mathews is teasing the fantasy community to the best of his ability. Though he lost a fumble at the goal-line, the rusher pounded the line of scrimmage, sprinted through holes and showed renewed nimbleness against Arizona. Including Saturday's clash in the desert, he's averaged a stout 4.6 yards per carry this preseason. Behind an improved offensive line, in run-blocking terms, he remains one of the best bargains in the biz (ADP 48.5, RB26). Bury the hatchet.
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