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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 1.
PRESEASON WEEK 1 FLAMES
Carlos Hyde, SF, RB – With Frank Gore resting his weary bones, the former Buckeye was given an opportunity to work with the first team. Boy, he took advantage. On five carries against the Ravens he totaled 39 yards, displaying the inside power, vision and edge burst that helped him tally a jaw-dropping 7.1 yards per carry last season in Columbus. His most impressive run of the night was a 19-yard off-tackle dash in which he showed quickness to the near sideline (WATCH IT HERE). Old Man River will continue to tote the lion’s share, but reports Hyde will be worked in right away bears much weight. From the get go he should log roughly 8-10 carries per game. The armored tank is one Gore tendon tweak away from becoming a legit RB1. His 121.6 ADP in Yahoo leagues is highway robbery.
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Johnny Manziel, Cle, QB – Get your $20 bills ready. The much publicized party animal is about to make his mark on the fantasy sports world. Really?! Yes, really. Seeing extensive action with the second team in Detroit, Manziel exhibited noticeable pocket poise, a strong, accurate arm and his trademark scrambling ability (7-for-11 63 pass yds, 27 rush yds). As expected, he worked almost exclusively out of the shotgun, running a read-option base at times. Despite a couple of errant throws (and devastating drops, Miles Austin), Brian Hoyer was adequate functioning with the first team, but it's clear he doesn't possess the improvisational skills, zip or athleticism of his understudy. Whispers from Browns central have Manziel now ahead of Hoyer. If that holds true, the rookie could make a RGIII-like impact this season, with or without Josh Gordon. His effectiveness on the ground should not be overlooked. Recall, even a woefully pedestrian Terrelle Pryor was a top-16 fantasy producer among QBs as a starter last year. How? Rushing stats. A top-12 campaign for JFF (127.2 Yahoo ADP) isn't some whiskey-induced illusion. He could be a significantly cheaper version of Cam Newton.
Rashad Jennings, NYG, RB – Five carries, 85 yards and a 73-yard touchdown. Silence haters. For the past couple weeks, a social media war regarding Jennings' draft day worth has raged. Andre Williams' emergence in the Hall of Fame game only ramped up disagreement. However, his sterling production against Saturday versus Pittsburgh should quell the anti-Jennings crowd, for now. Yes, Jabba the Hutt could've fit through the hole on his 73-yard TD gallup, but the acceleration and breakaway speed he exhibted opened eyes (WATCH IT HERE). Again, for the millionth time, he is a viable RB2 in 12-team leagues. If that's not obvious, you're living in a fairy tale land of talking dogs, flying pigs and All-Pro Tebows. Williams will replace him at times inside the red-zone, but the veteran's strong marks in pass-blocking, receiving and ball security has him on a very long leash in Tom Coughlin's mind. Scrawl it in blood, he will be a 17-19 touch per game workhorse finishing in range of 1,350-1,450 combined yards with 6-8 touchdowns. At his 60.3 Yahoo ADP, he's still outrageously cheap.
Bernard Pierce, Bal, RB – When Pierce came out of Temple in 2012, many scouts compared him to Arian Foster. His ability to plant, cut and accelerate upfield labeled him a prototype zone-blocking back. Involved in a traditional power scheme his first two seasons he never really showcased his RB2 potential. However, Thursday night against San Fran, he had the look of a top-20 rusher. His final numbers weren't spectacular (10-37-1), but when working behind the Ravens' first-string offensive line, his high comfort level in Gary Kubiak's one-cut-and-go scheme was clear. With Ray Rice suspended the first two weeks of the regular season, Pierce will have every chance to secure the upperhand. If he continues to run well, it's quite possible he, and not Rice, will tote the heavy side of a likely 60-40 split, including goal-line touches. Don't expect his sale price (125.1 Yahoo ADP) to last much longer.
Jay Cutler, Chi, QB – Surgical precision. Not to inflate His Smugness' ego any more, but that description is fitting for his brief, yet sensational performance against the Eagles. Cutler was marvelous on his 13 attempts, completing nine passes for 85 yards and a TD. He spread the ball around, made smart decisions and resembled the QB many are predicting could flirt with top-five numbers at the position this year. His situation is quite favorable. Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett and Matt Forte make up arguably the deadliest arsenal in the league. Add that to a still sketchy Bears defense, and it's entirely possible this will finally be the year he delivers. Then again, Cutler does tend to find new, creative ways to underachieve. Still, for those who choose to follow a patience approach at QB, he's well worth the minimal risk (100.2 Yahoo ADP, QB14).
Brandin Cooks, NO, WR – Before he logged a single preseason snap considerable hyperbole was written about the Mighty Mouse. After his initial performance, the build up was completely warranted. Though he clashed with mostly second and third-string Rams, the receiver displayed the versatility, field awareness and speed many in Saints camp have been awestruck by. The highlight on his five-catch, 55-yard night came on a simple out route. He caught a well-placed Ryan Griffin pass, cut on a dime, sprinted toward the end-zone and left corner E.J. Gaines in the dust en route to a 25-yard touchdown (WATCH IT HERE). This cannot be overstated, Cooks will make a sizable immediate impact as a WR3 in 12-team leagues. His 111.8 ADP in Yahoo leagues is laughable.
John Brown, Ari, WR – He shares the same name as a violent abolitionist best known for making Kansas bleed. Soon, the latest, and slightly less crazy, version will gash NFL defenses. According to local reports, the unheralded rookie has put on a show in Cardinals training camp. Though he lacks size (5-foot-10, 180-pounds) his blazing 4.34 speed, fluidity and route polish have greatly impressed Bruce Arians and his staff. Seeing action on both first and second teams – Michael Floyd and Ted Ginn were in street clothes – the bursty target grabbed a team-high five passes for 87 yards against Houston. He's still fourth on the depth-chart, but his consistency, unfazed demeanor and wheels should elevate him to No. 3 behind Larry Fitzgerald and Floyd in short order. In an underrated Cardinals offense, he will be at least deep-league rosterable at some point this year.
PRESEASON WEEK 1 LAMES
B.J. Sankey, Ten, RB – In terms of fantasy purposes, the rookie's end game line was actually respectable (75 total yds, TD). However, his 2.8 yards per carry, primarily against soon-to-be unemployed Packers, left a lot to be desired. Sankey is a terrific receiving back who, alongside Dexter McCluster, should inflict damage in the pass game. In PPR leagues, he will be FLEX worthy at a minimum. But Shonn Greene, who ran for 20 yards on four carries including a 13-yard TD, is entrenched as Ken Whisenhunt's short-yardage and goal-line back. If the youngster continues to underwhelm between the hashmarks, it's likely the veteran will control early-down work too. There's still plenty of time for Sankey to convince coaches he deserves to be the lead back, but he must exude more toughness on interior runs to do so. For now, he's nothing more than a bench worthy option immersed in a muddy RBBC. You're snapping tendons for his services anytime before Round 6 in 12-team leagues.
Nick Foles, Phi, QB – After witnessing his dreadful performance in real time, it was shocking to find out Foles wasn't wearing a blindfold. Twice in the face of Bears pressure, he chucked the ball off his back-foot and found navy blue jerseys. Yes, it was a couple series in the first preseason game, but his wretched performance (6-9, 44 yds, 2 INTs) only adds fuel to the 'Don't Draft Foles' fire. His 9.1 yards per attempt and 27:2 TD:INT split in 13 games last year is unsustainable, especially in a run-first offense. Many won't be deterred, but counting on him for top-10 numbers is a futile exercise. At his 65.3 ADP (QB9) in Yahoo leagues, he likely won't turn a profit. Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers are better options, each going some 40-60 picks later. You've been warned.
Ryan Mathews, SD, RB – Old habits die hard for the Charger. Though he ran the ball fairly effectively against a mostly transparent Dallas front line, his moronic and completely unnecessary leap toward the end-zone marred his night. Instead of staying on the ground and powering the pigskin in for six, he left his feet, collided with a pair of Cowboys short of the goal-line and coughed it up. Because of his previous fumbling issues inside the red zone, the blunder was particularly unnerving. Equally frustrating, it appears McCoy will keep Danny Woodhead heavily involved in all situations, including goal-line sets. Couple that with Donald Brown's arrival, and Mathews will likely be a wildly erratic fantasy producer this fall. He'll set the pace in carries among Chargers backs, but it's becoming increasingly difficult to justify his top-40 ADP (37.0, RB17). And this is coming from one of his staunchest supporters.
Teddy Bridgewater, Min, QB – Fan clamoring for 'Touchdown Teddy' was quickly squashed Friday night. Cutting his teeth with the second team, he looked very green at times. He held onto the ball too long, made poor reads downfield and was generally timid against an Oakland defense that should be relatively soft defending the pass. On the night, he completed just six of 13 attempts for 49 yards (3.7 ypa). Teddy will log plenty of work over the next couple weeks, but he's well behind Matt Cassel in the battle for the Vikings' starting gig. If stark improvements aren't made, expect the franchise to coddle him. Slow your roll on thoughts of 23-25 touchdowns from the rookie this year. Odds are reasonable he may not start until Week 5 or later.
QUICK HITTERS: Bill Lazor's debut as Miami's offensive coordinator was certainly a memorable one. Operating in a spread-based scheme, Ryan Tannehill played brilliantly going 6-for-6 for 62 yards and a TD. Atlanta's D is atrocious, but there could be some nice fantasy juice with Tanny, Lamar Miller, Charles Clay and Mike Wallace this season ... Deep-leaguers, store Juwan Thompson to long-term memory. The undrafted rookie RB, a standout in Broncos camp, transitioned seamlessly from practice to preseason field. He showed surprising quickness and power totaling 59 yards on only six carries. Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman are the clear-cut RB1-RB2 in Denver, but if the injury imp bites, the kid from Duke could get the call, not C.J. Anderson ... Jordan Matthews had a debut to forget. Targeted seven times he dropped three passes. Yuck. Hopefully he'll dip his hands honey prior to Friday's tango with New England ... If C.J. Spiller scores eight or more touchdowns this year, the rapture will begin. He looked faster and more assertive compared to two weeks ago, but Fred Jackson continues to supplant him inside the 20. He's quite possibly the most overvalued RB currently in drafts (36.0 ADP, RB16) ... Houston's abominable display on offense partially explains why it was cooked in the desert, but Arizona's suffocating D might be the full reason. The Cards applied ample heat on Ryan Fitzpatrick, played terrific coverage downfield and flat-out smashed the Texans. From top to bottom it might be the nastiest unit in football, which, based on its bargain basement ADP, is why reaching for the Seattle D is airheaded.
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