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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. In an attempt to decipher the meaningful from the meaningless, here are the top-five Lames from Preseason Week 2.
DeMarco Murray, Phi, RB – Awwww heck no! The ol' Chipster is once again up to his devious ways. Fantasy's newest Lucifer Shanahan is a slippery, wildly unpredictable fellow. Against the Ravens, DeMarco (10 snaps), Ryan Mathews (6) and Darren Sproles (8) formed a turnstile backfield with the first team. Murray and Mathews posted near identical stats, both finding the end-zone, but the implemented rotation substantiates the "it takes a village" comments Kelly and OC Pat Shurmur have mouthed all summer. As everyone should've expected, Murray won't sniff the 497 touches, playoffs included, he logged as a Cowboy last year. I've speculated since he signed with the Eagles months ago he would be a 15-17 touch per game RB, surrendering occasional goal-line work to Mathews and Sproles. This week's dress rehearsal should be telling, but it appears my gut, for once, isn't leading me astray. He'll string together a number of highly useful performances, but to call him a sure-fire RB1, which is what people are paying for, would be unwise. Draft him, and headaches are sure to follow. Throw in his 'Curse of 370' downside (71 percent of RBs that registered 370-plus carries the year before missed at least one game the next season) and he's dripping with risk at his current 13.8 ADP (RB9). I'll gladly let someone else punch walls.
Cam Newton, Car, QB – Crashing in Carolina. After losing top target Kelvin Benjamin to an ACL tear, that is precisely what's happened to the QB's fantasy value. In the Panthers' second regular season tuneup, Newton resembled a lost dog foraging for food. Out of sync with his receivers and generally sluggish, he completed 4-of-10 passes for 42 yards and a pick. His ghastly performance could be a harbinger of underachievement to come. Benjamin was a physical menace. Despite owning mediocre speed and buttery hands, his lengthy frame, brute strength and adjustment skills brutalized DBs. Devin Funchess, who didn't see action last weekend, possesses the physical tools to fill the massive void, but the very raw rookie is far from even a partially finished product. Meanwhile, other options, Jerricho Cotchery, Ted Ginn and Philly Brown elicit little excitement. Greg Olsen is still a fixture, but I doubt he'll suddenly take on 12 targets per game. Unless someone steps up, Cam could experience a dramatic reduction in pass numbers. Granted much of his value (26.9 percent in '14) is tied to his ground contributions, but if the Panthers' offense repeatedly bogs down, red zone opportunities could be few and far between. An increased reliance on Jonathan Stewart could also lessen his worth. If Funchess can quickly pick up the slack, Newton's season will be salvaged. However, if the rookie flops, Superman will stay trapped in the phone booth. At this juncture, a finish outside the QB top-12 is entirely possible. Give me Tony Romo, Eli Manning or Ryan Tannehill over him.
Isaiah Crowell, Cle, RB – Name any M. Night Shyamalan movie since 'Signs' (Sidebar: A flick about a scary 'Na-Na' lowers the bar of ridiculousness) and that's the level of 'bad' the Browns backfield situation currently is. To be fair, Terrance West has played fairly well. He's shown good downhill lean, broken tackles and gained 71.2 percent of his yards after contact. Crowell, however, has channeled Trent Richardson. He's gotten blown up on blitzes, ran softly (2.2 yards per carry) and generally looked awful, a far cry from the violent runner we witnessed this time last year. The coaching staff has tried to motivate the sophomore, calling him out in the media, but their ploys haven't worked. If buzzy rookie Duke Johnson, who's slowly working his way back from a hamstring injury, kicks open the door this week at Tampa, Crow could fall to third on the depth-chart. Couple that with Mike Pettine's commitment to an RBBC and Cleveland's dreadful passing 'attack,' and he's 100 percent avoidable at his 78.0 ADP (RB33). Cheaper backs Tre Mason (80.9), Mathews (82.4), Shane Vereen (88.0) and Tevin Coleman (84.6) are more attractive options.
Everyone in Washington not named Matt Jones – Meteorologists and local sports mouthpieces alike are predicting endless misery this fall in the nation's capital. Why? Here's a stat that presents a bleak outlook: On RGIII's eight dropbacks against Detroit he was hit six times, sacked thrice and suffered a concussion, we think. Suffice it to say, the vultures are already circling D.C. If the offensive line doesn't mesh quickly, raptors will soon pick at Griffin's bones elevating Colt McCoy or Kirk Cousins into the starter's role. Until we see the line stand up oncoming rushers and/or we see RGIII get rid of the ball quickly, it's sage to downgrade the QB and home-run hitter DeSean Jackson. Pierre Garcon, however, could become a bigger focal point. This offeseason he moved to the 'Z' position to erase last year's nightmarish memories. Operating as the grease man underneath, he should net more looks on shallow crosses and slants. Jordan Reed, if healthy, could too. It's farfetched to think Garcon replicates his monster 2013 totals (182-113-1346-5), but something in the ballpark of 80-1050-5 is attainable. Presently, he and Jones are the only interesting fantasy options on Washington's roster. Seek liquid therapy 'Skins fans. Lots of it.
Alfred Blue/Chris Polk/Jonathan Grimes, Hou, RBs – Outside running into a couple goal-line walls, Blue has run hard this preseason. His place on this list is completely unrelated to performance. According to Houston Chronicle writer Bob McClain, one of the foremost authorities on all things Texans, Arian Foster (hernia) likely won't be tagged IR/designated to return prior to the regular season. If the four-time Pro Bowl selection experiences zero hiccups in rehab, he could tote the rock as early as Week 4. Bombshell. Originally, Foster was slated to miss upwards of 3-6 months. Blue was semi-competent in the star's absence last year. He ran decisively, gaining over 60 percent of his yards after contact. However, he's nowhere near the former rush king's caliber. Once activated, Foster will regain his workhorse role within Houston's offense, provided Bill O'Brien is confident in his health. It's possible he could be eased in over a week or two, but come Week 6-7, he should shoulder his customary 20-touch workload. Behind a Texans line that should rank top-10 in run-blocking, he's likely to churn out RB1-level value once in uniform. Equipped with remarkable vision, patience and hands, he's still an elite fantasy producer. Recall last year, he ranked behind only DeMarco in standard league per game average. If he falls into the Round 5-6 range in 12-team exercises ... POUNCE! Do so, and make sure to 'cuff Blue roughly four rounds later.
There is nothing more annoying when people use long runs as an argument against a running back. Last I checked, all stats count. Those with 'boom' potential should be treasured because they're capable of explosive, dominating performances at any time. Barry Sanders had numerous 2-3 yard carries to go along with the big gains. Guess we should've written him off. This is why breakaway percentage is a telling stat. FYI, Justin Forsett set the pace in the category last year according to Pro Football Focus ... Despite what some would lead you to believe, C.J. Anderson's job isn't in jeopardy. Ronnie Hillman has looked fabulous running with the 'B' team (16 tchs, 131 tyds, 7.5 ypc), but he's not about to unseat the incumbent. Historically, Gary Kubiak has been a one-RB kind of guy as evidenced by the workload's Arian Foster and Forsett tallied. If anything, Hillman is Anderson's insurance policy, replacing a largely ineffective Montee Ball. C.J. is still a top-eight RB folks ...
Josh McCown, who was a complete dumpster fire against the Bills (7/10, 52 yds, 0 tds, 2 ints), would make Tim Couch look like an All-Pro. Johnny Manziel is still rough around the edges, but he deserves serious run with the ones, if his tender elbow allows. What do the Browns have to lose? Prediction: After a 1-3 start, JFF gets the nod Week 5 at Baltimore ... Reggie Wayne was a name-brand WR three years ago. His skillset rapidly eroded the past two years. His signing with New England is a tire-kick move or intel grab by Belichick, nothing more. Unless he swims laps in the Fountain of Youth, he only warrants rostering in 16-team or larger leagues. If anything, Wayne's arrival could be a statement about Brandon LaFell's health. He remains on the PUP list with a foot injury ... Among ginger QBs past and present, Andy Dalton ranks somewhere between Brandon Weeden and Todd Marinovich, at least based on his 'resplendent' 46-0-2 effort under the lights (SHOCKER!) Monday night. With A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert and a viable ground duo of Jeremy Hill/Gio Bernard, he should tally midrange QB2 numbers, at a minimum. No excuses.
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