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!
Matt Forte, Chi, RB – It’s been stated and restated, but to reiterate, Forte looks scary good in Marc Trestman’s offense. The mainstream media will focus on Jay Cutler being the most critical piece of the Bears puzzle, but it’s without a doubt No. 22. Wearing beaming white shoes that echoed Sweetness’ Kangaroos, he unplugged the Chargers Thursday showcasing trademark burst, vision and cut-back ability. His highlight: Exploding left side for 58 yards off a beautiful block thrown by future porn star Jermon Bushrod. Most importantly for fantasy purposes, he finished runs inside the five, punching in a touchdown. If that trend continues, Forte could be a steal in the early second round of most drafts (13.2 ADP, RB12). Keep in mind last year he logged just 13 carries inside the 10, less than one-third what category leader Arian Foster tallied. Couple that with Trestman’s designs to utilize him in the slot, out-wide and in-motion as a receiver, which should push his receptions total into the 65-75 range, and he could be a Bear with quite the bite, particularly in PPR formats.
Ryan Mathews, SD, RB – On the other end of the pigskin in Chicago, Ryan Mathews looked fantastic. Can I quit him? Against a ferocious Bears first-team defense the top-seven rusher from 2011 made a cameo. He charged downhill quickly, churned his legs and shed tacklers totaling nine carries for 45 yards (5.0 YPC). In an otherwise disastrous performance for his offensive starters, Mike McCoy showered his running back with praise post-game stating Mathews was "outstanding" and overall "efficient." The Chargers' offensive line, one of the league's worst a season ago, was manhandled in pass-blocking, but did execute well establishing running lanes. If Mathews continues to see open spaces, he's sure to cash in on the post-post-post hype. The talent has always been there, it all boils down to health and opportunity. Danny Woodhead, who's been limited by an undisclosed injury, will see ample action on passing downs, but given Mathews' incredibly affordable 55.3 ADP (RB27), he's absolutely worth the minimal investment. Get pass the shattered collarbones and ineptitude, the once fawned over rusher has the look of a back on the brink of cashing in. And, yes, I proudly paid $28 for his services in a 12-team PPR auction Thursday night. Admittedly, my outward disdain toward him disguises my disgusting love. Eat your heart out, Sigmund Freud.
Jordan Cameron, Cle, TE – As stated on ‘Fantasy Football Live,’ please overpay for Rob Gronkowski, I’ll confidently take Cameron some 80 picks later (120.3 ADP, TE12). The Brown's bark is getting louder with each passing week. His two-TD performance against the always generous Hello Kitties of Detroit is ironclad proof. At 6-foot-4, 265-pounds, the ex-BYU hoopster sticks out like a sore thumb to Weeden, particularly inside the red-zone. His blend of size, body control and ladder-climbing abilities would be attractive to any passer. In man-on-man situations, he's similar to another Jordan whose memory Cleveland fans and Craig Ehlo simply can't drink away. Some still consider him raw, but remember, tight ends under Norv Turner's direction have thrived historically. Jay Novacek was studly in Dallas and Antonio Gates averaged 9.4 fantasy points per game in standard leagues under Norval's guidance. Buy a ticket on the hype train.
Atlanta Offensive Line – After a vomit-inducing preseason opener, it was obvious Mike Smith wanted to make Steven Jackson an integral part of the Falcons’ first-team game-plan against Baltimore. Looking old, sluggish and cooked a week ago, the elder rusher got downhill and chewed up impressive chunks of yards via ground and air. Yes, he’s clearly lost some lateral agility, meaning stretch plays will be very unkind, but he can still gain tough yards and will be heavily involved in underneath pass game. For the veteran to finish inside the RB top-12, the Whopper crushers up front must maintain consistency. Overall, the interior offensive line improved greatly in gap execution against Baltimore, shoving around the Ravens defensive front on basic up-the-gut draws. If the seventh-worst run-blocking unit from a season ago continues to grow and mature, there should be little concern about Jackson's value. He will score a minimum of 12 touchdowns, period.
E.J. Manuel, Buf, QB – Against the Vikes, Kevin Kolb made Christian Ponder, adventurous in his own right, look like Fran Tarkenton. For much of the first quarter, he couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, unless it was colored purple. Running with the first team he went 1-for-4 for 10 yards and a pick during that frame. Manuel, meanwhile, appeared calm, cool and collected operating with the second-team. Off a stellar first impression, he's 26-for-33 (78.8-percent) for 199 yards and two TDs through two exhibition games. He's also chipped in 29 rushing yards. There's no RGIII in this year's draft class, but if the cards fall right, Manuel could be Russell Wilson-lite. He must make great strides in downfield progressions and reads, however, his versatile skill set and comfort level on short throws are attractive qualities, especially in an uptempo offense featuring arguably the most explosive running back in the game (C.J. Spiller). Though the rookie underwent minor knee surgery Saturday, he could be available for the Bills' opener against New England. Doug Marrone, if you don’t anoint E.J. your starter come Week 5 I will drive to Buffalo, slather you in Frank's hot sauce and drown you in blue cheese. Don't be a CHICKEN!
Giovani Bernard, Cin, RB – With BenJarvus Slow-Ellis watching from the sidelines, the rookie gained the start and flashed the same skill set that convinced Cincy to make him the first running back taken in April's NFL Draft. He displayed excellent vision, open-field jets and tacky hands. In total, he gained 59 yards on just eight touches, including a one-yard TD plunge. Greatly undervalued in drafts (58.9 ADP, RB29), it's not a matter of if, but when the Bengals coaching staff realizes it must give the youngster at least 60-percent of the workload. Jay Gruden hinted early in camp the duo was expected to begin the regular season locked in a 50-50 timeshare. However, if Bernard outshines the veteran in next week's dress rehearsal at Dallas, Marvin Lewis and cohorts will be hard-pressed to keep him off the field half the time. Regardless what his workload is to start the season, it appears Cincy is prepping him for goal-line work, an area BJGE struggled mightily last year. So far, Gio is two-for two in goal-line opportunities. That role is the mechanism needed to release Bernard's inner top-20 RB beast. Too well-rounded. Too good. Too cheap. Bernard is the prettiest rusher typically available in the middle rounds.
BLAME IT ON THE LAME
Darren McFadden, Oak, RB – When it comes to fantasy, the 'Black Hole' is an appropriate description for Oakland. No player associated with the franchise will finish inside their respective position's top-20, not even McFadden. LT Jared Veldheer's loss was apparent Thursday in New Orleans, as replacement Alex Barron was used and abused in pass and run-blocking. Matt Flynn, who could meet St. Peter by midseason, was relentlessly pummeled by the blitz, sacked five times. DMC, meanwhile, averaged just 3.4 yards per carry against a Saints unit that yielded a pathetic 5.3 yards per carry to RBs last year. Oakland's power scheme is a plus for McFadden. Recall two seasons ago he tallied a top-10 per game line in a similar system. However, Flynn's likely shoddy protection and generally suspect skill set combined with McFadden's lengthy track-record of missed games screams unreliability. You're walking on millimeter-thin ice if you select him anywhere close to his 32.1 ADP (RB20). Avoid like the plague.
Bryce Brown, Phi, RB – Labeled by many pundits just weeks ago as one of the middle round's finest sleepers, Brown's value continues to slump. He's executed poorly in pass pro drills and missed Philly's clash with Carolina due to a quad injury. His missteps have cleared a path for sophomore rusher Chris Polk to wrest away the backup gig behind LeSean McCoy. Polk isn't particularly explosive and runs a bit upright, but he pounded the Pac-12 while at Washington just a couple seasons ago. Chip Kelly, who watched the punisher obliterate would-be tacklers while head coach at Oregon, is very familiar with what he brings to the table. Polk's lost fumble against the Panthers and overall mediocre performance (3.4 YPC in preseason) did him no favors, but he's clearly not going away quietly. In order to regain 'hand,' Brown needs to move the meter Saturday against Jacksonville. For now, Ben Tate, Bernard Pierce and Danny Woodhead are more attractive bench backs.
Isaiah Pead, StL, RB – The love affair some 'experts' have for Pead has likely ceased. Gifted an opportunity to showcase his wares with the first-team and push Daryl Richardson for carries, he floundered greatly, totaling a mere 31 yards on 12 touches (2.5 ypt) against Green Bay. He looked timid, sluggish between the tackles and outmatched. Suspended for Week 1, Pead may open the season third in the pecking order behind Richardson and rookie Zac Stacy. For now, it appears D-Rich has distanced himself from the pack. Point blank, he's more assertive, explosive and, because he has the best hands of the trio, better-suited for the Rams' newly installed spread. At this point, he's in line for at least 15 touches per game, making him an attractive mid-round RB3 in 12-team drafts (64.3 ADP, RB31). Pead, meanwhile, is nothing more than a late-round flier.
All GB rushers not named Eddie Lacy – Two weeks ago Lacy was a beluga whale. Now, he has the look of a top-20 battering ram. Dipping his toe in the preseason waters for the first time, Jellyroll Tide displayed the devastating power and burst that made him a standout at Alabama. On eight carries he averaged a robust 5.0 yards per clip, steamrolling Rams. He also chipped in an 11-yard reception. The last time the Packers produced a top-10 fantasy rusher, Ryan Grant in 2009, people actually watched 'American Idol.' However, Lacy, the clear-cut frontrunner to lead the team in carries, has reasonable odds of breaking Green Bay's putrid RB streak. The offensive environment is very nourishing and the youngster has minimal competition for touches. Jonathan Franklin, who I really thought would be a wonderful fit for the Pack's zone-blocking scheme, has come along very slowly. And Mike McCarthy's listing of DuJuan Harris atop the team's initial depth-chart was nothing more than a motivational ploy. Make no mistake, Lacy starts Week 1 and likely accumulates at least 15-18 touches per game from that point forward. Roughly 1,200-plus total yards and 8-10 TDs are entirely possible. He's a bargain at his current 45.1 ADP (RB24).
Ronnie Hillman/Montee Ball – After Saturday's mistake-filled 'effort' in Seattle, it appears no running back in Denver wants the starting job. Thanks for clearing that up fellas. Hillman (92.7 ADP, RB37) earned the start and at times ran effectively, displaying solid burst, vision and improved toughness between the tackles. However, his night was marred by a controversial goal-line fumble (On replay it looked like the ball broke the plane before it was jarred loose), which sparked a 100-yard Brandon Browner touchdown sprint in the opposite direction. As for Ball (48.7 ADP, RB25), he too occasionally looked good running the ball, exhibiting decisiveness and brawn. Unfortunately, he again whiffed badly against the blitz, a major no-no. The un-dynamic duo's uninspiring performance begs the question, what's worse: coughing up the rock at the goal-line or acting as a ghost in pass protection? Peyton Manning would tell you it's probably the latter. Knowshon Moreno, anyone? I'm still convinced Hillman will be the primary carrier in Denver's opener against Baltimore, but next week's battle with the Rams should prove very telling.
QUICK HITTERS: The Michael Vick Back From the Dead Tour rocked another house Thursday. The Eagle, allegedly still in competition with Nick Foles for the starting gig, tamed the Panthers going 9-for-10 for 105 yards and an INT. Now 13-for-15 for 199 yards in preseason play, he's "fallen in love with football again" playing in Chip Kelly's offense, which explains his soaring confidence. It's doubtful terrific he'll run for crazy yardage (Kelly has always said he wants his QB to run only occasionally), but if the O-line's sensational protection carries over, he will deliver top-10 QB numbers on a per game basis ... Brandon Weeden is another QB changing perceptions. The septuagenarian stood tall in the pocket and threw numerous strikes. His best throw was a beautiful back-shoulder toss to Josh Gordon for 34 yards. Now a stupid 18-for-25 with 229 yards and three TDs through two games, he is thriving in Turner's offense. If you're in a two-QB league, give him a cheat-sheet promotion ... Reggie Bush will be Larry Centers circa '95. In limited action, much of it out of the slot, he hauled in five receptions for 44 yards. The way the Lions sling it, he’s bound to grab at least 75 receptions. In other words, he’s pure PPR gold. FYI trivia buffs, Centers holds the record for most single-season receptions by a RB/FB (101) ... In his first action of the season, Rashard Mendenhall resembled the top-7 rusher from 2010, gaining 32 yards on seven carries (4.6 ypc). If Arizona's o-line can generate consistent push, he will be a reliable RB2 in 12-teamers. Stepfan Taylor may sporadically supplant him near the goal-line, but the ex-Illini is in line for at least 300 touches. Better yet, you can steal him on average around pick No. 70 overall (72.3 ADP, RB32) ... If Jags management could forcibly remove Justin Blackmon's tongue, he would be a highly useful WR2. His size, sticky fingers and route-running craftiness are Pro Bowl caliber. Against Antonio Cromartie and the Jets he grabbed a team-high four catches for 46 yards. Slipping in drafts because of a four-game suspension (130.8 ADP, WR51), he could pay major dividends when the bye weeks start kicking in ... Dustin Keller is the injury imp's latest victim. Confirmed Sunday, he suffered a season-ending knee injury. The Fins are expected to look outside the organization for a replacement ... According to the Houston Chronicle, Arian Foster's back pain is now shooting down his legs. He recently received injections to combat the issue, but his Week 1 availability is sounding increasingly sketchy. If he doesn't bounce back quickly, Ben Tate's 94.7 ADP will explode ... Tim Tebow apparently likes working in reverse. Against Buccaneer scrubs he went 1-for-7 for -1 yard. Please Canada take him. We'll even cover shipping.
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