Preseason Flames/Lames: Ryan on another planet, Locker crashes back to Earth

Throughout Fantasyland emergency rooms are overrun with patients. Dislocated shoulders and snapped tendons are epidemic. Drafters, seduced by extraordinary preseason performances, are outstretching arms to acquire commodities seemingly destined for greatness.

So is the case with Atlanta's Matt Ryan.

Peering through rose-colored glasses, the fifth-year passer is on the precipice of joining the game's elite. Through two exhibition games, he's bombarded opponents with an onslaught of completions, going 27 of 34 for 329 yards, two touchdowns and a pick. Very comfortable and composed within Dirk Koetter's retooled no-huddle, three-wide offense, he's looked nothing short of spectacular. As a result, owners are sacrificing first borns to secure his services. Take a look at his ADP trend below (From Fantasy Football Calculator):

Over the past week, Ryan has graduated from mid-round sleeper to early draft must-own triggering wild, dangerous predictions by industry "experts" — 4,500 yards, 35 … 37 … 40 touchdowns.

Jump to Conclusions mats are in short supply.

To be fair, the Atlanta offense looks Usain Bolt-fast. With Julio Jones, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and, arguably the most salacious name in the virtual game, Harry Douglas, on roster, it should. The impressive arsenal will tax defenses. That's a given. But it doesn't mean Ryan is bound to finish alongside or ahead of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Matthew Stafford or even Eli Manning. Remember last year, the Falcons tallied the fourth-most pass attempts in the NFL (594). Unless the Falcons defense is one of the league's worst, it's unlikely that number swells well-over 600 this season, reducing Ryan's chances for a huge statistical leap. Yes, he could be more efficient, but he executed at a high-level last year posting a 29:12 TD:INT split. And though Michael Turner has looked like a fossilized slug, Atlanta won't completely abandon the run. Jacquizz Rodgers, Jason Snelling and The Burner should have their number called roughly 45-48 percent of the time. Put it altogether and modest, not mammoth, gains are likely for No. 2 this year.

Don't let the QB's scorching start burn a hole in your pocket.

Fearless Forecast (16 games): 262.5 passing yards per game, 30 passing touchdowns, 13 interceptions, 73 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown, QB9


Chris Johnson, Ten, RB — For one night, the statistical giant reawakened. Against a Tampa defense that ranked dead last against the run a season ago, CJ2LAME looked legit. He was assertive and forthright, attacking the line with vintage burst and flair. In the end, his 10-46-2 performance was very encouraging. Though the opponent was soft, the Titans offensive line, which couldn't open a hole for a cockroach last year, appeared much improved. If the hogs up front continue to excel and Johnson maintains a mean streak, he should bounce back with a vengeance, even with a reduced workload. Chris Palmer is taking a less-is-more approaching with the former rush king. The current game-plan is to give him roughly 15-18 touches per game. That may discourage some, but if all falls right, production similar to what Jamaal Charles achieved in 2010 is on the horizon.

Doug Martin, TB, RB — The rookie took a major step forward in securing the starting gig. LeGarrette Blount suffered a relatively mild groin strain, a setback that looked much nastier in real-time. However, the injury is expected to keep him sidelined for Tampa's dress rehearsal next week against New England, paving the way for Martin to drive one more nail into the coffin. His final numbers versus Tennessee were uneventful (7-23-0), but he exhibited the slashing ability, vision and versatility that made Bucs scouts drool at the Combine. Clearly, he's the best back on roster. Assuming he's named the starter Week 1, Martin is more than capable of 1,400 total yards and 7-9 TDs this season, making him a value grab anytime from Round 3 on in 12-team drafts (34.1 ADP, RB18).

Greg Little, Cle, WR — Cleveland's execution on offense hasn't exactly jacked the juices, but because of Brandon Weeden's tunnel vision for No. 15, the receiver has excellent odds of emerging as a high-volume target in 2012. After a rocky debut, Weeden was much improved versus Green Bay going 12-of-20 for 118 yards and zero turnovers. Four of his completions were to Little (for 45 yards), a sign of what could be numerous connections to come. Without much competition and lighter, stronger and more polished than he was a season ago, the wideout is on the verge of busting out. Don't be shocked if he finishes in range of 75-1050-7. With a 114.4 ADP (WR45), he's a bargain basement buy in the beer-hazy hours of your draft.

Rashad Jennings, Jac, RB — Jacksonville's unrelenting attitude toward Maurice Jones-Drew is based on two reasons: 1) Shad Kahn's unyielding personality, 2) The upside of Jennings. The Liberty product once again showcased high-end potential running around and through various Saints tacklers. Finishing with 62 yards on 11 carries (5.6 ypc), he has compiled 118 yards on 23 attempts (5.1 ypc) as a first-teamer this preseason. As expressed before, the drop-off from MJD to Jennings isn't that steep. The 27-year-old, who has averaged 5.4 yards per carry over his two-year career, is a powerful, versatile tank capable of tallying top-flight RB2 numbers in 12-team leagues. If thrust into a featured role to begin the season, he could deliver sensational numbers. Two of the Jags' first three matchups (at Min Week 1 and at Ind Week 3) are quite favorable. Keep taking candy from babies at his current 105.6 ADP (RB44).

Justin Blackmon, Jac, WR — After a tumultuous June/July which included a high-speed booze-doggle and late signing, Blackmon finally returned to what he does best, catching TD passes. In his preseason debut, he hooked up with Blaine Gabbert four times for 48 yards and a score. Overall, he displayed the superb route-running techniques, soft hands and brute strength that made him the most sought after receiver in last April's draft (Watch highlights here). Most promising was the play of Gabbert, who looked very poised and comfortable, especially with his reads and progressions. If the QB continues to mature, Blackmon's chances of turning in a strong WR3 line increase substantially. At this point, a 70-950-7 season is well within reach. And that could be a conservative estimate.

Matthew Stafford, Det, QB — Roaring out of the gate against the Ravens, Stafford was in midseason form. The popular early round selection terrorized the Baltimore secondary hooking up with Calvin Johnson five times for 111 yard and a touchdown. Many fanalysts have questioned Stafford's legitimacy as a Tier 1 QB after throwing 663 times last year, the third-most in NFL history. But without a top-notch running presence and due to the ongoing shortcomings of the Lions secondary, another heavy workload is in the offing. If you bypass Rodgers, Brady and Brees in Round 1, Stafford is one fine consolation prize on the comeback (13.6 ADP, QB4). Everything is in place for another 4,800-plus passing yards and 35-40 TDs.

Ryan Williams, Ari, RB — With news Beanie Wells is still struggling with cuts, Williams, coming off a standout effort versus Oakland, continues to gain momentum in the late-middle rounds. Against the Raiders, the second-year back, nearly fully recovered from a patella tendon injury, exhibited an excellent blend of balance and power, pushing his way to 25 yards on five carries, including a 3-yard end-zone plunge. Wells may return to limited action next week, but with his viability still in question, Williams could have a leg up on the competition. Even if he soon loses ground, bank on the youngster seizing control of the timeshare by midseason. He's prime sleeper material in the middle rounds (92.8 ADP, RB38).

Danny Amendola, StL, WR — Promoted heavily by yours truly this time last year, the slot machine is back at full-strength after a gruesome elbow injury. Giants and Eagles castoff Steve Smith has generated some buzz in recent weeks, but Amendola is the Rams receiver with the greatest odds of overachieving in 2012. Wrecking havoc on the Chiefs secondary, particularly Javier Arenas, he displayed strong route-running skills and tacky hands en route to a 3-58-1 evening. If the O-line can keep Sam Bradford upright, little Danny could generate Wes Welker-lite totals this year, even in a run-heavy system. Presumed No. 1, rookie Brian Quick, hasn't exactly been a quick-study, which makes Amendeola late-round gold (145.9 ADP, WR50) in PPR formats.

Kendall Hunter, SF, RB — Jim Harbaugh's declaration that Hunter is bound for big things this season may not be so nutty after all. Through the first two weeks of the preseason, the sophomore rusher is unquestionably the team's best looking back. He's bulldozed his way between the hashmarks showcasing terrific burst and break-tackle ability. Including his eye-opening effort against Houston, he's totaled 70 yards on 11 carries (6.4 ypc) thus far. With Brandon Jacobs, who suffered a significant knee injury Saturday, out of the picture possibly for several weeks, Frank Gore rapidly aging and rookie LaMichael James slated for pass-catching duties, Hunter has "Shocker Special" written all over him (144.2 ADP, RB58). Highlight his name on your cheat sheet.

Donald Brown, Ind, RB — After badmouthing Brown for the past couple seasons, I'm warming to the idea he'll finish inside the RB top-24. Matched against one of the league's powerhouse run Ds, Pittsburgh, he displayed considerable assertiveness and slashing ability, skills he's only occasionally flashed since entering the league in '09. With full support from Chuck Pegano, he should produce quality RB2 stats in 12-team formats, provided the Colts can remain at least semi-competitive. Currently the 26th back off the board in average drafts (62.1 ADP), his stock should continue to rise as the regular season draws near.


Jake Locker, Ten, QB — Gifted an opportunity to sew up the starting job, Locker deposited a flaming pile of disappointment  at Raymond James Stadium. On a 21-yard scramble, he showcased Vick-like athleticism, but excessive overthrows, including one on a horrific rollout pass that resulted in a red-zone pick, tainted his overall performance. In total he completed just four of 11 attempts for 21 yards. Despite his abysmal effort, Mike Munchak reiterated Saturday there's still plenty of time for Locker to prove he's the guy. Because of his scoring duality, the second-year QB remains an intriguing wee hour grab, but, unless he shows substantial improvement next week, he could be on the outside looking in. All of us, including The Noise, need to take a chill pill. Matt Hasselbeck, the door is ajar.

Michael Turner, Atl, RB — Dropping Vincent Wilfork from a plane at 10,000 feet is akin to The Burner's fast-sinking value. Against the Bengals, he looked incredibly slow and old rushing for an embarrassing minus-three yards on three attempts. However, he did contribute in the pass game hauling in three receptions for 14 yards. Shocking. Point blank, Atlanta's uptempo pace is too blistering for the veteran. Jacquizz Rodgerswho Mike Smith stressed again is a "three-down back," is the better system fit. I'm sticking to my guns. This year, Turner will be lucky to average 15 touches per game. Smart drafters not obsessed with track-record, keep stealing Rodgers in the later rounds (95.0 ADP, RB43).

C.J. Spiller, Buf, RB — After earning several brownie points with the fantasy community late last year, Spiller is starting to sour. Swallowed whole by a sea of purple, he failed to finish in the black against Minnesota, tallying minus-eight yards on three touches. He was terribly unimpressive, looking like the timid back we saw during his forgettable rookie campaign. Fred Jackson, meanwhile, resembled the unstoppable beast that dominated during the first 10 weeks of 2011. He finished with 41 total yards on eight touches, highlighted by a 20-yard gallop. Chan Gailey hasn't shed any new light on the carries distribution, but through two exhibition games, it appears the rising Jackson (22.7 ADP, RB15) will tote at least 60-percent of the load.

Matt Forte, Chi, RB — Michael Bush will be a thorn in the side of Forte investors this season. It's clear. Saturday versus Washington the incumbent gave way to the bulkier back twice inside the 10, an occurrence that will likely happen often once meaningful games get underway. Forte's execution near the goal-line has deteriorated in recent years. Only two of his past 13 regular season scores came inside the five. At this this point in his career, he's really Jamaal Charles, a revered rusher who will operate almost entirely between the 20s. Due to the high number of uncertainties at the RB position, he's still RB1 material in 12-team formats, but double-digit TDs are far from a guarantee. Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson are more desirable.

Jonathan Stewart, Car, RB — Someone, anyone, please free Stewart. In Carolina's clash with Miami, the recently extended RB, as usual, split the load with DeAngelo Williams. Unfortunately, D-Will outpaced Stewart 52 total yards to nine. The latter rusher did find the end-zone, but the near even timeshare is an indication the story will remain the same in Charlotte. With Mike Tolbert also vulturing touches and Cam Newton's presence at the goal-line, it seems unlikely Stew Beef will graduate from the RB3 class (71.9 ADP, RB31). He did blossom into a complete back last year totaling a career-high 47 receptions, but a major injury must fell DeAngelo for him to turn a profit. Don't reach.

Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG, RB — The Giants rusher must be constructed from fine china and tissue paper. The man simply can't stay healthy. Saturday's early exit offered more evidence. After the first quarter, the back underwent X-rays after feeling a pop in his right hand. Luckily, the results were negative. A burst cyst (Ewwww...), which had been bothering him for weeks, explained the discomfort. Though he should return in short order, the brief setback is just another reminder of how delicate Bradshaw is. It's entirely possible he misses several games at some point this year. When that inevitably occurs, D.J. Ware, and not David Wilson, could net the most touches. The rookie has shown flashes this summer, but his poor grasp of the playbook and suspect blitz pick-up have him down on the depth-chart.

Vincent Brown, SD, WR — The near consensus industry "sleeper" pick fractured his ankle Saturday versus Dallas, an injury that will keep him sidelined for at least eight weeks. It's a bad break for Brown who looked like a receiver primed to take a quantum leap in production. Due to the nature of the setback, he could be limited even when activated, greatly diminishing his break out prospects. Obviously, Antonio Gates is the Chargers target to own, but Malcom Floyd, Robert Meachem and overlooked slot man, Eddie Royal, each stand to benefit from Brown's absence.

All New York Jets — I'm not entirely sure what's more painful, suffering through two hours of "Dirty Dancing" or enduring even one Jets offensive series. No matter if it's Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow under center, this is a team that makes the Rams look like the Pats in terms of fantasy prowess. Outside of Shonn Greene (59.7 ADP, RB25) and Santonio Holmes (109.2 ADP, WR42) there is no Jet worth owning. And those guys foster a great deal of apathy. Poor protection, misreads, overthrows, turnovers, three-yard plods and many more miscues are crippling this team. Rex Ryan, your days are numbered. If there's one rule to live by in drafts this season, it has to be "Don't draft Jets."

Austin Collie, Ind, WR — The much discussed PPR sleeper, who has struggled with recurring concussions, took another head shot Sunday night in Pittsburgh, a sad development. Initial tests revealed concussion-like symptoms, but the severity of the setback remains unknown. Given his injury-ridden history, this is the worst possible outcome for Collie. Brilliant in his first preseason game against St. Louis, it appeared he was blazing a comeback trail. Now, unfortunately, he could be sidelined for an extended period of time. He's still a decent flier around pick No. 100 (98.8 ADP), but don't slap the wallet too hard.

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