Dose: Thumbs Up in Philly

Jeff Ratcliffe
Evan Silva analyzes the matchups for every fantasy-relevant player in Week 12

Cue the Europe, because it's the final countdown of the preseason. This weekend we'll get our full (or at least to half-time) dress rehearsals, and finally get a glimpse at what we can expect in the regular season. The weekend kicked off last night with the Steelers taking on the Eagles, so let's recap the key stories from the game and around the league on Thursday.

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The Eagles dodged a potential bullet in their preseason win over the Steelers after X-rays on LeSean McCoy’s thumb came back negative. He left the game in the first quarter. The good news is McCoy showed no signs of a reported minor turf toe. He was just as explosive as ever, rushing four times for 24 yards and catching two balls for 26 yards and a score. Fortunately, there’s nothing to see here and McCoy remains the No. 1 fantasy running back.

With McCoy out, Darren Sproles got work between the tackles, reaffirming Chip Kelly’s view on Sproles as a running back first-and-foremost. While it’s interesting to see Sproles serving as McCoy’s primary backup, this does little for his redraft fantasy stock. Sproles is still an RB4 in standard leagues, and his pass-catching ability bumps him up to a FLEX option in PPR leagues.

The Eagles also had another scare of sorts after Jeremy Maclin went down without contact after his surgically-repaired right knee appear to give out mid-route. After a few tense moments, Maclin managed to walk off the field under his own power. He returned to the game in the next series and looked fine. Maclin saw a healthy eight targets, catching six of them for 43 yards. His injury history isn’t desirable, but Maclin has WR2 upside with a current WR3 ADP price tag.

Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount ended up playing for the Steelers on Thursday, just one day after the pair was arrested for allegedly possessing 20 grams of marijuana. Bell was also popped for DUI. In a somewhat odd series of events, Bell didn’t travel with the team charter, but did pay his own way to Philadelphia. He started the game, rushing nine times for 23 yards adding one catch for three yards.

Blount didn’t get any action until the second series, but fared slightly better with seven carries for 32 yards and three catches for 14 yards. What’s perhaps most interesting about Bell and Blount is both players played well into the fourth quarter as an apparent “punishment” for their transgressions. An official punishment from the league will likely be forthcoming, but don’t expect a suspension to be handed down any time soon.

Bell’s fantasy stock isn’t looking as strong as it did three months ago, but he’s still the clear No. 1 back for the Steelers. I don’t know if I’d be comfortable with him in the second-round, but he’s fine in the third. Blount’s presence will eat into some of Bell’s work for sure, but it’s extremely rare for teams to use just one feature back. If last night was any indication, we’re almost certainly going to see a timeshare situation in Pittsburgh giving Blount RB3 fantasy value.

In the Thursday morning Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Ben Roethlisberger said second-year WR Markus Wheaton is “going to surprise a lot of people.” Antonio Brown also said in the piece that Roethlisberger and Wheaton were “definitely on the same page.” Apparently, Brown and I define the word “definitely” differently, as the duo showed no chemistry on Thursday night. There’s no doubt Wheaton has impressive raw athleticism, but his performance against the Eagles might warrant us pumping the breaks slightly on his fantasy sleeper hype. He remains in the boom-or-bust WR4 territory.

Moving to another upside wide receiver who actually has shown well in the preseason, Justin Hunter has been “unstoppable” on goal-line fades at Titans camp. This isn’t a huge shocker from of the 6-foot-4 receiver, but it is another reason to like Hunter to have a breakout season. Don’t just assume you can pull the wool over your league mate’s eyes and snag Hunter late. His ADP has crept up into the tenth-round, so you’ll likely have to pull the trigger a round or two earlier if you really want him.

Robert Woods is another receiver getting a lot of buzz for his performance in camp. called Woods the MVP of camp. While you have to like the positive words, don’t get too carried away here. Woods is still behind Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams in the pecking order. He’ll see his share of snaps in three-wide sets, but Woods’ fantasy value is capped in the WR5/6 range.

We’re also hearing positive words out of Seattle regarding Christine Michael. Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll called Michael the “most-improved player on the team.” This comes after Michael has been running as the team’s No. 3 running back behind Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin. While the mid-summer hype surrounding Michael has faded, he still has the potential to make an impact in 2014.

Moving to New Orleans, Pierre Thomas said he expects his role in the Saints’ passing game to expand this season. Of course, with both Darren Sproles and Lance Moore out of the mix, there are more balls to go around. However, Thomas did catch 77 passes in 2013. So the question is how much more can he actually be involved? The more pressing matter for fantasy owners is whether Thomas is more involved in the running game. Right now, Thomas is best suited as an RB3, which is reflected in his early-seventh-round ADP. The much better value in New Orleans is Mark Ingram, who is going in the late-tenth. 

Of course, I can’t get through a Daily Dose without mentioning Johnny Manziel. Browns head coach Mike Pettine said Thursday that there are no plans to develop a package of plays for JFF. It’s a wise move to avoid the Steve Spurrier quarterback rotation. Brian Hoyer appears to be on track to open the season as Cleveland’s starter. How long he remains in that role is certainly up for debate, though the smart money would say that we won’t see Manziel until at least after the Browns Week 4 bye.

For those in IDP circles, you’ll want to take notice of what’s going on in Dallas. Fourth-rounder Anthony Hitchens took all the first-team reps at middle linebacker in Thursday’s practice and will start in Saturday’s preseason game. Dallas wasn’t comfortable with Justin Durant in the middle, so he’ll move back to the weak-side. The ripple effect could send Bruce Carter off the field, as Kyle Wilbur has been firmly entrenched as the strong side linebacker. It’s not yet clear how the Cowboys will deploy their subpackage snaps, but Hitchens’ redraft stock is rising quickly. Check back with us after the game for more on this situation.

Of course, the news wasn’t as positive for Cowboys LB Devonte Holloman. In fact, it was downright terrible, as the second-year man’s career is likely over following a neck injury he sustained in last week’s preseason game. Holloman flashed at the end of last season when he started two games at middle linebacker. He was in the mix to replace Sean Lee, but sadly it looks like it wasn’t meant to be for Holloman.

The prognosis isn’t nearly as bad for Anthony Spencer, though I can’t say it’s particularly good either. Spencer is hoping to avoid the reserve/PUP list, but remains unclear on when he’ll return. While Spencer offers loads of IDP value when healthy, this is a dicey situation that should be avoided.

I don’t know if I can make the same recommendation for Tyrann Mathieu. While it initially looked like we wouldn’t see Mathieu until October, the defensive back has been cleared for 11-on-11 drills and could potentially play in Week 1. While the Cards will err on the side of caution with Mathieu, the optimism surrounding his situation is cause enough to move him back up our draft boards. He’s back in the front-end of the DB2s.

Those looking for linebacker value at the Minnesota middle linebacker spot may be best served to place their chips elsewhere. Jasper Brinkley has started both preseason games for the Vikings with Audie Cole running with the second team. However, head coach Mike Zimmer said both players are very close, so it sounds like there’s no clear-cut favorite to win the job. We could ultimately see Brinkley and Cole rotate base and subpackage snaps, meaning neither will have IDP value.

Of course, Chandler Jones will have plenty of IDP value. He’s currently Rotoworld’s No. 3 defensive end, and his fantasy prognosis got even better on Thursday. With the Patriots planning to deploy more three-man fronts this season, Jones will see snaps at outside linebacker. Keep in mind that this will really just be an edge rushing position in a two-point stance, but it could help pad his already impressive tackle numbers. With his high tackle floor and explosive sack upside, Jones is behind only J.J. Watt and Robert Quinn as a fantasy option at defensive end.