Will the season just get here already. It seems like we've been stuck in training camp mode for an eternity, but the light at the end of the tunnel is getting larger. Last night we had the final dress rehearsals, final cuts are coming this weekend, and Labor Day is on Monday. At this time next week, the season will have already started.
Of course, there are still plenty of fantasy drafts scheduled for this weekend, so let's get you up to speed on all of the news from around the league on a busy Thursday.
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In a somewhat odd story out of Dallas, Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told ESPN that Adrian Peterson called Jones in June to tell him that he’d like to play for the Cowboys after his tenure with the Vikings. It wouldn’t be a huge shock if the Texas native wanted to play for his home team, but the whole story is a bit strange. Peterson later downplayed the story saying it was a “casual conversation” and that he never said he wanted to leave the Vikings organization. Regardless of what the true story ultimately is, Peterson is under contract until 2017.
Now let’s move to some news with actual substance. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said on Thursday that “if Benny Cunningham isn't challenging Zac Stacy for the starting job, he's certainly pushing him for playing time.” This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this about Cunningham as similar statements surfaced on ESPN earlier in the preseason. While Stacy will hold the starting job entering the season, the leash is obviously shorter than most in the fantasy community realize. However, this news shouldn’t come as a shock. While Stacy put up strong fantasy numbers last season, his stats were more the product of volume, as his 3.9 yards per carry and 5.4 yards per catch suggest. It’s not time to panic just yet for Stacy owners, but I’d be very uncomfortable entering 2014 with Stacy as my RB1.
Likewise, I’d be uncomfortable starting the season with Robert Griffin III as my quarterback. While the prospects of Jay Gruden’s offense were exciting, Griffin’s lackluster preseason play has failed to inspire confidence in his fantasy stock. ESPN’s Ron Jaworski remarked on Thursday that Griffin’s mechanics have regressed, which is another alarming red flag. Griffin is currently the No. 12 quarterback in ADP at pick 9.02. I’d much rather go into battle this season with someone like Jay Cutler, who’s going a full two rounds earlier than Griffin.
With a decision finally being reached in the Josh Gordon appeal and his suspension being upheld, we heard rumblings on Thursday that Gordon is exploring the possibility of playing the rest of the year in the Canadian Football League. Of course, Gordon would need the Brown’s permission to do so, but this isn’t an unprecedented occurrence. LaVon Brazil actually just signed with the Toronto Argonauts on Wednesday. However, Brazil is currently a free agent and Gordon is not. It’s extremely unlikely the Browns allow Gordon to suit up north of the border.
Gordon’s absence from Cleveland this season obviously opens things up for Jordan Cameron to have a bigger role in the offense. When Gordon was suspended for the first two games last season, Cameron racked up 14 catches for 203 yards and a score. This is a situation when Cameron will likely be the No. 1 receiving target, with Andrew Hawkins, Miles Austin, and Nate Burleson behind him in the pecking order. Cameron is still a click behind the Big 3 at tight end this year, but the gap just got a little bit closer. Cameron’s high ceiling makes him an ideal tight end to target after Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Julius Thomas are off the board.
Moving to Thursday night’s preseason contests, we saw Blake Bortles continue to impress for the Jaguars. The No. 3 overall pick went 4-of-6 for 86 yards and a score against the Falcons on Thursday. Bortles had a rock solid preseason, continually looking the superior player to Chad Henne. It’s going to be very tough for the Jags to execute their plan of “redshirting” Bortles.
We also saw another rookie quarterback look sharp in Oakland, as Derek Carr completed 11-of-13 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns. Granted, some of it wasn’t against Seattle’s starters, but Carr passed the eye test. With Matt Schaub showing poorly in the preseason and currently dealing with an elbow injury, the door is open for Carr to take the Raiders’ starting job.
It wasn’t just rookie quarterbacks who showed well on Thursday nights, as we also saw some impressive performances out of the rookie running backs. Jeremy Hill served as the Bengals’ workhorse, racking up 160 total yards on 26 touches. While these are eye catching numbers, let’s not forget that they came against the Colts’ reserves. The more important takeaway here is that Hill wouldn't likely have gotten this amount of work in the fourth dress rehearsal had he been a core player. While it’s not clear what Hill’s role will be in the regular season, this is likely some solace for those worried Hill would eat into Giovani Bernard’s touches this season.
In Cleveland we saw UDFA Isaiah Crowell rush 13 times for 102 yards and a score. Crowell has an impressive pedigree, but off-field baggage caused him to go undrafted back in May. He’s been buried on the depth chart throughout the preseason, but his performance on Thursday will make it almost impossible for the Browns to sneak him onto the practice squad.
While the Browns have a difficult decision to make with Crowell, their decision has already been made regarding Johnny Manziel. In case you’ve been under a rock for the last month, Brian Hoyer will open the season as the starter. Manziel did little to sway that decision on Thursday completing just 6-of-17 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown. Yep, that’s a Tebow-esque 35.3 completion percentage. He also did what JFF does, improvising and running four times for 55 yards. No, his play certainly didn’t win him the job, but Hoyer’s play wasn’t a revelation this preseason either. I fully expect to see Manziel under center sooner rather than later. That could come as early as Week 5.
Bad news in Buffalo, as Sammy Watkins reinjured his ribs on Thursday after a poorly thrown ball from E.J. Manuel caused Watkins to take a forearm from Lions LB Ashlee Palmer. It’s unclear the severity of the injury, but this is another reason to knock Watkins down a bit on your draft board. While he offers loads of upside, the nagging injury and Manuel at quarterback don’t bode well for Watkins’ 2014 fantasy stock.
Good news for those who have already drafted Wes Welker. The Broncos receiver was spotted warming up on the sideline before Denver’s preseason finale in Dallas on Thursday. Welker has obviously worked his way through the league concussion protocol enough to be cleared to fly with the team and get some work on the field. He’s still not fully cleared, but this is a positive sign for his Week 1 status.
For those keeping tabs on Tim Wright, the newly acquired Patriot was in at the “move” tight end position on Thursday, catching 4-of-6 targets for 43 yards. Wright is buried in deep pass-catching corps in New England, so he’s unlikely to make much of an impact early. However, he’s a skilled receiver who fits well in the move position. Snag him as a back-end TE2 and you should get a nice return on investment later in the season.
In kicker news, it looks like Cody Parkey could have run Alex Henery out of a job in Philadelphia after Parkey went 3-of-3 and banged home two from 50-plus on Thursday night. Henery’s leg has lacked juice and accuracy in pro career, so Parkey could be the answer to the Eagles’ kicking woes. Those looking for value at the kicker position should pay close attention to final cuts in Philadelphia.
To wrap things up for this edition of the Dose, I’d like to say kudos to Roger Goodell and the NFL for stiffening the penalties for domestic violence. The league will now institute a six-game ban for a first-time offense and a “lifetime ban” for a second offense. However, a two-time offender can petition for reinstatement after a year. This is a positive move, as domestic violence is now penalized more severely than marijuana.
It’s still unclear how this new policy will affect Panthers’ DE Greg Hardy, who was found guilty of assault on a female and communicating threats in July. Hardy is currently appealing with a trial set for November. The league has said they will address each case individually, so we’re not certain if the new policy is retroactive. Hardy is currently Rotoworld’s No. 4 defensive lineman, which would obviously be downgraded if a suspension were issued. However, at this point it looks like one is not imminent, so those in IDP circles can keep Hardy at or near that top tier of defensive linemen.