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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 Flames from Preseason Week 3.
Doug Martin, TB, RB – The past two seasons Martin’s fantasy value rested gently in a dark recess on the ocean floor. Up to 20 carries for 118 yards (5.9 ypc) this preseason (9-40-1 vs. Cleveland Saturday WATCH TD RUN HERE), the raised running back has finally resurfaced. He’s looked fast (No. 7 preseason in breakaway percentage), short-field quick and slippery (No. 4 in elusive rating), shades of the first-year rusher who occasionally mystified defenses and carried owners en route to the sixth-greatest rookie campaign by a fantasy RB ever. Tampa’s offensive line continues to emit a putrid odor in pass protection, but the unit, which ranked No. 8 in run-blocking last year according to Pro Football Focus, has opened up ground holes fairly well. Jameis Winston could occasionally poach at the goal-line, but the QB’s presence combined with the field-stretching capabilities of ‘Dunkaneers’ Vincent Jackson, Mike Evans and Austin Seferian-Jenkins should greatly aid Martin’s efforts. Blessed with a pair of favorable matchups to begin the season (vs. Ten and at NO), the Muscle Hamster could morph into a mutant rodent out of the gate. Profit margins are rapidly shrinking (August 1 ADP: 69.5, Current: 44.2), but with Charles Sims firmly fixed in a change-of-pace role, Martin should net 15-20 touches per game. Yaaaaarrrr ….
Sam Bradford, Phi, QB – When Bradford’s name is mentioned in casual conversation questions about his durability immediately follow. Investors worry a rudimentary jumping jack would rupture a knee tendon. Though the injury concerns are justified, the former No. 1 overall pick proved in Philly’s dress rehearsal why the risks are completely worth it. Bradford was flawless against Green Bay, literally and figuratively, completing all 10 of his attempts for 121 yards and three touchdowns (WATCH HIGHLIGHTS HERE). Whether working in shotgun or from under center he delivered passes on time and accurately. His best throw of the night was a 27-yard sideline strike to a well-covered Jordan Matthews. Considering his warehouse of weapons, the Eagles’ strong ground game and offensive line and Chip Kelly’s uptempo, vertically-aggressive system (Fifth-most pass attempts in ’14) and it’s easy to see why many in the fantasy community have sung the ‘sleeper’s’ praises this summer. Circumvent the scalpel and Bradford should finish close to 4,200 yards and 30 touchdowns. Recall last year, Eagles QBs combined for 4,581 passing yards and 27 scores.
Jarvis Landry, Mia, WR – Of all the wide receivers drafted on average in the WR3 tier, none possess more WR1 potential than Landry. None. Overshadowed by other much-publicized rookies Odell Beckham, Kelvin Benjmain, Evans and Matthews, the LSU product was spectacular in his first year. Operating almost exclusively out of the slot, he enticed 24.2 percent of the team’s targets, caught 80 percent of those looks and totaled the fifth-most catches (84) by a first-year WR in NFL history. His lack of yards (755) and touchdowns (5) confined his worth to PPR leagues, but his inaugural effort was admirable nonetheless. Expect him to build on that. Late last week, Miami beat writer James Walker wrote a glowing piece on the receiver, suggesting Landry’s red-zone role (14 targets in ’14) will likely grow. Add that to his sterling preseason Week 3 performance (6-5-84-0) versus Atlanta and owner exuberance is completely warranted. Jordan Cameron could be a bugaboo at times near the goal-line, but a 90-1000-9 tally isn’t some wacked-out hallucination. Ryan Tannehill absolutely loves the guy. Owners who steal him at or near his current 54.6 ADP (WR25) will feel the same way too.
Jeremy Maclin, KC, WR – The Chief’s Twitter assault on the fantasy community was a classic case of “don’t bite the hand that feeds you,” an all too familiar viewpoint based in ignorance. But looking past the softheaded comment, Maclin might be one of the more underrated targets in the virtual game. Last season’s wide receiver TD drought in KC and Maclin’s change of scenery from Philadelphia’s high-flying offense explain his slashed ADP. However, fanatics, including yours truly, have greatly underestimated the veteran. Yes Alex Smith tossed only 18 TDs and posted a yawn-worthy 7.0 yards per attempt in 2014, but Maclin should benefit from being one of the only games in town. Without much competition, he and Travis Kelce should account for over 50 percent of the team’s targets. Granted KC only attempted 464 passes a season ago, but 140-160 looks are attainable. A favorite of Smith this preseason, Maclin has been targeted 34.9 percent of the time and caught 11 passes for 99 yards and two scores. Currently going in the Sammy Watkins/Nelson Agholor/DeSean Jackson tier, he’s a largely viewed WR3 with far more potential. If he fell short of an 80-1050-7 output it would be a shocker.
Martavis Bryant, Pit, WR – LeGarrette Blount (pre-Patriots), Le’Veon Bell and now Bryant – Pittsburgh might as well be dubbed the ‘Chronic Capital of the NFL.’ The sophomore receiver’s pending four-game suspension is rather unfortunate. If upheld, he would miss 30 percent of the fantasy regular season. As a result, his fantasy ADP has nosedived in recent days sliding from the mid-40s to the low-70s in recent drafts, a boon for those of thrift mind. Getting extensive PT in Pittsburgh’s fourth regular season tune-up, Bryant did what he does best, burning Buffalo’s first-string secondary on a couple explosive pass plays. All in all, he totaled an absurd 138 yards on three catches, highlighted by 46-yard TD haul from Landry Jones. His 63-yard connection with Michael Vick was equally brilliant (WATCH HIGHLIGHTS HERE). It could be argued Bryant is one of the game’s preeminent home run threats. His ridiculous speed and lanky 6-foot-5 frame give defenses nightmares. Antonio Brown is clearly the heart and soul of Pittsburgh’s vertical attack, but I’m still confident No. 10 will outperform suddenly buzzy Markus Wheaton once activated. Remember, no 2014 WR netted more fantasy points per snap (0.45) than Bryant. Take advantage of the skittish.
Allen Robinson generated much hype throughout the offseason and training camp but his accomplice, Allen Hurns, deserves similar praise. A favorite of the much-improved Blake Bortles, he snagged four passes for 42 yards and a TD against Detroit. Useful in a pinch last year, Hurns should meet or slightly exceed his 51-677-6 rookie line functioning as the Jags' No. 2 ... Same game different name, the Zach Zenner slobber fest continued. The pride of South Dakota St. bulled his way 85 yards and a TD on just eight carries. Though he worked in with the starters, much of his production came on a 41-yard defender-dragging run against Lions backups. He's a great story and should make the team, but expectations need to be tempered. Unless Detroit's very crowded backfield is decimated by injury, he'll only see sporadic action out of the backfield ... Granted it was against a transparent Atlanta defense, but Ryan Tannehill continues to look like a certifiable QB1. On target often, he was 15-for-19 for 145 yards and a touchdown. Recall last year he finished No. 9 in total fantasy points at QB. With the added weapons around him and given his experience in Bill Lazor's offense, it's entirely likely he'll at least repeat what he accomplished a season ago. For the later-round QB crowd (88.0 ADP), he remains a primary target ...
Steve Smith's original NFL contract may have been scribbled on ancient papyrus, but the geriatric can still get it done, evidenced by his 63-yard TD reception versus Washington. His ejection for fighting also showed how hot the fire still burns. With Breshad Perriman hurt, the crafty veteran may match the top-15 numbers he strung together over the first half of last year. Aside from check-downs to Justin Forsett, who else is Joe Flacco going to throw to? ... From old to young, Ty Montgomery appears to have a leg up on the WR3 gig in Green Bay. On an over-the-middle slant against Philly, the rookie grabbed a Brett Hundley dart and exploded upfield for a 52-yard gain. His muscular build (6-foot-2, 221-pounds) and yards-after-catch potential are very attractive. He's the better flier over Jeff Janis. At this point, Montgomery deserves a roster spot in 12-team and deeper leagues ... Undoubtedly, Ronnie Hillman has won the backup job behind starter C.J. Anderson in Denver. The slender RB is a liability in pass protection, but his off-tackle burst and reliability in the pass game are excellent qualities. Anderson is locked into a 20-touch per game workload, but Hillman could be sprinkled in some 6-9 times per game. Acquire him for bench depth in challenging formats ...
Wide receiver Leonard Hankerson, despite a fantastic August, continues to fly way under the radar. On 11 targets, he's caught seven passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. Given Roddy White's advanced age and recent elbow surgery, Hankerson is a player to watch. In Atlanta's opener against the Eagles, he has 'Shocker Special' potential. Jump all over him at his $10 price tag in Yahoo's Week 1 Daily Fantasy game ... Washington youngster Matt Jones might carve out a larger initial role than originally anticipated. Splitting time between first and second teams he racked 74 yards on eight touches against Baltimore. A tough-to-tackle, forward-leaning rusher with plus hands, he has the look of a future three-down stud. Alfred Morris will open the season as the primary early-down RB, but it's only a matter of time before Jones is featured some 10-12 times per game. He's a magic elixir for a team with serious pass blocking issues ... Five years from now if Amari Cooper hasn't played in at least a pair of Pro Bowls California finally broke off and fell into the Pacific. Displayed against Arizona, he's already a polished route runner with all the necessary after-catch skills to make an immediate impact. On roughly 150 targets, he totals 70-75 catches for 1,000-1,100 yards and 5-7 TDs this year.
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