What I Learned In Preseason Week One
By Jeff Tefertiller
August 18th, 2011

After watching A LOT of football last weekend, I wanted to pass on my observations that WILL impact fantasy drafts.

Do not be fooled by the statistics of Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb. While he connected on four of his seven passes (for 68 yards), the numbers are deceiving. Superstar Larry Fitzgerald caught two of those passes for 60 yards on "jump balls" where the receiver made incredible catches. Otherwise, Kolb was merely average ... a big uptick from Derek Anderson and the 2010 group of Cardinal passers. But, Kolb is still a far cry from a fantasy starter.

Andy Dalton was afraid of taking chances down the field. He completed an impressive 11-of-15 passes but for only 69 yards, adding an interception on his first pass attempt. Dalton played a lot and grew in confidence as the game wore on. He needs to air it out to A.J. Green and Jerome Simpson instead of checking the ball down. Possibly, it was an overreaction to the early pick but he needs to relax and trust his receivers.

Many are looking at the box score and thinking that Denver quarterback Tim Tebow had a good game. While he did complete six of his seven pass attempts, including a long connection to Matt Willis, there were several "ducks" thrown. After the game, Broncos coach John Fox analyzed the situation this way, "Quarterbacking-wise, I thought Kyle (Orton) was sharp and I thought Tim is a work in progress ...[he] made some things happen. He's learning." The so-called quarterback competition is OVER. Orton will be the starter and Tebow is losing the support of the coaches.

The Seattle Seahawks have made a mess out of their quarterback situation. After anointing Tarvaris Jackson the starter, he summarily flopped in the preseason opener while Charlie Whitehurst played well. Jackson connected on just three of his five pass attempts for a meager 13 yards. He looked AWFUL. Whitehurst, while not great, looked awesome in comparison. He completed 70% of his 20 passes for 115 yards. Whitehurst is not a 70% passer but it was a good showing. Fantasy owners of the Seahawk receivers should hope for Whitehurst to earn and keep the job.

While numbers only tell part of the story, Alex Smith actually looked worse than his statistics, and they were not flattering. Smith only completed 2 of his 7 passes for a whopping 10 yards. The New Orleans defense brought the heat often and Smith caved ... like usual. The entire pass offense for San Francisco played poorly. This situation could get very ugly, very quickly. For those wondering, rookie Colin Kaepernick did nothing to take advantage of Smith's poor play. Coach Harbaugh had this to say about his quarterbacks, "We're evaluating it daily. It's mindset of letting guys compete for it." This could indicate that Smith does not have a strong hold on the starting job. The coach went on to say that their would be open competition to begin the season under center.

The Patriots have two strong backups to Tom Brady. With the veteran sitting out, the reserves played great. Brian Hoyer played the first half, completing 15 of 21 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown against the sieve called the Jacksonville defense. Rookie Ryan Mallett completed 12 of his 19 pass attempts for 164 yards and one touchdown. Both chewed through the defense in a Brady-like fashion.
New England sure knows how to "hit" on quarterbacks with Brady, Hoyer, Mallett, and Matt Cassel.

Do not look now, but Carolina castoff Matt Moore could overtake Chad Henne in Miami. Moore completed 11 of 18 passes for 123 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Henne continued to showed he should be a backup in the NFL. The ex-Michigan Wolverine completed half of his eight pass attempts for 77 yards (44 on a touchdown pass to Hartline) and two interceptions. Let's remember that several members of the current Dolphin coaching staff knows Moore from their days in Dallas. Moore played well for the Cowboys during the preseason his rookie season, then the team tried to sneak him on to the practice squad. Carolina swooped in and signed Moore. He was signed by Miami during this summer's free agency period.

Philadelphia Eagles reserve quarterback Mike Kafka looked sharp in his appearance. Kafka looks to be the third stringer for the Eagles, but could be an interesting play after Vince Young's one-year deal is over. Kafka completed 13 of his19 passes for 132 yards and a pick against the stout Baltimore Ravens defense. The second-year player has the look of an Andy Reid West Coast Offense passer. He is athletic and possesses good accuracy, just not a strong arm.

In the preseason opener for the San Diego Chargers, Mike Tolbert started over Ryan Mathews. This left many asking "why?". The San Diego Union-Tribune suggested Tolbert started because the coaching staff was trying to send Mathews a "message". This is difficult to believe after the glowing reports of Mathews' tearing up training camp. He only touched the ball three times and looked "ok" but nothing near the high expectations of fantasy owners. Tolbert scored on a short reception and could be the back to own in what looks to be a backfield by committee.

Tim Hightower started the Redskins' preseason opener and looked good behind the Washington offensive line. Coach Mike Shanahan has always emphasized a strong running game and Hightower could be the starter all season. He looked strong as a runner and in the open field, but also picked up the blitz well, something rookie Roy Helu has struggled with in his short time on the team.

I have been a big Stevan Ridley fan since his days at LSU. It was no surprise that he ran hard in the New England thumping of Jacksonville. The third round pick gained 64 yards on the ground and another 47 through the air, but let's remember it was against Jacksonville. I still see him above fellow-rookie Shane Vereen in terms of talent but that is one crowded backfield with BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead still around. So, give props to Ridley, but let's not go overboard after a strong showing, including three touchdowns, against one of the worst defenses in the NFL.

Many pundits were fawning over Cowboys running back Lonyae Miller coming into the weekend. He looked slow and void of vision. Miller just ran into the backs of his linemen. Calvin Watkins of ESPN Dallas opined that the youngster "just ran into piles and didn't make anybody miss". For the game, he accumulated 11 yards on nine carries. Miller had a great chance to seize the opportunity with Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray sidelined, but those two backs are expected back very soon after missing the last two weeks.

San Diego Chargers rookie running back Jordan Todman looked quick and was able to make plays. He is the favorite to step into the role vacated by Darren Sproles. Todman gained 30 yards on six carries and gained another 21 yards through the air. The rookie is a versatile back, able to run inside and catch the ball adeptly out of the backfield.

Santana Moss caught seven of his nine pass targets for 64 yards and a touchdown. He still is able to get open and make a play after the catch. The presence of veteran Jabar Gaffney on the other side should help Moss's production. After a very good 2010 season, Moss is still criminally undervalued. He benefits with the strong, but erratic arm of Rex Grossman more than the noodle-arm of John Beck. But, let's keep in mind that Moss has been a fantasy factor with Jason Campbell and Donovan McNabb under center. He will produce.

After the departure of veteran wideout Lee Evans, Donald Jones started opposite of Stevie Johnson in last Saturday's preseason game against the Chicago Bears. Jones is a relative unknown to many outside of Buffalo. He was an undrafted free agent out of Youngstown State last year and had 18 receptions for 213 yards in the 15 games he played last season. Jones is a big receiver (6'0/214 pounds) and very athletic with a 4.47 time in the forty-yard dash. But, he is still raw and learning the professional game so do not expect much from him this season.

Dallas Cowboys rookie wide receiver Dwayne Harris was known for his speed and play-making ability at East Carolina. He exploded against the porous Denver Bronco defense for 127 yards and a pair of scoring grabs. The Cowboys now have a slot receiver for the future. While Harris will not see many pass targets most weeks, he will be able to exploit defenses when Dallas spreads out the field. One thing to note is that Jason Garrett ran a lot of two-receiver sets while the starters were in the lineup. It could be just a matter of a basic set early in preseason, but something to note.

Quick Hits

Tampa Bay backup quarterback Josh Johnson will have a future as a starting quarterback. He will be a hot commodity when his contract expires. Johnson could be better than all of this year's rookie class of passers when it is all said and done.

San Francisco tailback Frank Gore is finally healthy after hip surgery. He started the preseason opener and rushed for 20 yards on four carries. Gore looked like we are accustomed to seeing the superstar ball carrier, strong running with quick cuts.

Dallas Cowboys runner Felix Jones had three carries for 23 yards and one reception for 16 yards in limited action against the Denver Broncos. He could surprise fantasy owners with some big games. Dallas will need to utilize Jones' speed and get him on the edge of the defense.

Rookie running back Daniel Thomas does not look good. He looked slow to the hole and is a bigger back who wanted to run like a scat back. Miami beat writer Omar Kelly has this to say, "I personally leave the Phins exhibition opener SUPER concerned about the offensive line. Either they can't run block or these backs are weak." Thomas' five yards on four carries against the Falcons were a rude introduction to the NFL.

The Detroit running game will struggle without Mikel Leshoure in the lineup. Jahvid Best, Jerome Harrison, and Mike Bell combined for 25 rushing yards on fifteen carries against the Bengals. It could get ugly. Of the three, I love the value of Harrison late in fantasy drafts. He should improve after only signing a couple of days before the game.

Kendall Hunter is the reserve back to own over Anthony Dixon in San Francisco. Dixon had a great preseason last year but has put on weight and looks slow. The rookie will see time in a change of pace role and be a deep sleeper to stash given Gore's injury history.

Rookie Julio Jones is looking like a sleeper in redraft leagues. While many avoid rookie wideouts in redraft leagues, and rightly so, Jones has the look of the "real McCoy" and could vastly outplay his ADP.

Oakland Raiders rookie receiver Denarius Moore has been the star so far in training camp. He parlayed the camp momentum with three receptions in the preseason opener against the Arizona Cardinals. Moore makes plays. He even had a 57-yard punt return called back due to penalty. Expect Hue Jackson and company to get the ball into Moore's hands as often as possible. Moore, Jacoby Ford and Darren McFadden will make some big plays this season.

Arizona rookie wide receiver DeMarco Sampson could emerge this year as a sleeper in all leagues. He has little competition for the starting spot opposite Larry Fitzgerald. Andre Roberts and Early Doucet are not talented enough to hold off a viable player ... and Sampson could be the guy.

Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta looked great. He is very athletic and should start over Ed Dickson, making him a very intriguing fantasy option considering the poor quality of the Baltimore wide receivers.

With the offseason now in effect, please feel free to email me at tefertiller@footballguys.com with any suggestions or comments. Also, I am on Twitter, so feel free to ask me questions there. I will also be active in the "wannabee" thread in the assistant coach forum.

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