Preseason Situations To Monitor - AFC
By Jeff Tefertiller
August 21st, 2011

It is hard to believe that the NFL preseason is already upon us and fantasy drafts are starting. With the training camps in full swing, and games starting, there are several situations for fantasy owners to monitor. We will look at the questions that fantasy owners need answers in order to draft the best team possible. As you watch the preseason games, keep a close eye on these teams and players listed below. This article will only include the situations capable of making a fantasy impact for the teams in the AFC.

  • New England Patriots
    The Patriots have plenty of star players, including MVP Tom Brady. But, who will he throw the ball to? Wes Welker finally looks back to full health and Brady has Deion Branch as a stable and consistent weapon. Chad Ochocinco was signed to provide a spark to the passing game. Can his career be revived in New England? With three strong receivers, fantasy owners need to keep an eye on how the young tight ends are used. The position accumulated over 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. Can Gronkowski build on a great rookie season to be a startable fantasy option? How will Hernandez respond? Will they negate each other in terms of fantasy numbers? Also, the Patriots have a very crowded backfield. How will the carries and receptions be distributed? There is value for fantasy owners, but it means picking the right ball carrier. Overall, the Patriots will put up loads of fantasy points. Outside of Brady and Welker, there are plenty of questions and value to be had for those that choose the right answers.

  • New York Jets
    Oh my, will there be pressure on quarterback Mark Sanchez this season. He loses the big play ability of Braylon Edwards and Brad Smith. Can Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason fill the void? Both are going very late in fantasy drafts. How will it impact the speedy Santonio Holmes? Shonn Greene is expected to carry the ball 300+ times. Can he hold up under the workload, be productive, and avoid the fumbles that have plagued him? This is the biggest hurdle for the Jet offense. The team has plenty of depth at the position but want, and need, Greene to step up. Sanchez needs a strong run game in which to flourish.

  • Buffalo Bills
    The Buffalo passing game is miles ahead of last year in Chan Gailey's second season at the helm. Ryan Fitzpatrick is entering his second year in the pass-happy system. He was a passable fantasy starter in 2010. Can he improve further? His favorite receiver is Stevie Johnson. The youngster came out of nowhere to pace the Bills pass attack. Are any of the other receivers worth drafting? At this point, it does not look positive, but that is why we need to watch preseason. Running back Fred Jackson has put together consecutive strong campaigns. Will Gailey continue to give Jackson the ball or will second-year player C.J. Spiller see the field with more regularity? The Bills are an underrated offense for fantasy owners. There is plenty of upside at great values.

  • Miami Dolphins
    Talk about a team with few offensive weapons. Chad Henne might be passed by Matt Moore in the coming weeks. He only has two wide receivers worth noting, Brandon Marshall and Davone Bess. Marshall is slipping down draft boards and could surprise with a big season. Hopefully the coaching staff and quarterback, all of whom are playing for their respective jobs, will find ways to get the ball into the play-maker's hands. Bess is a possession receiver with little upside. At running back, the position has turned over completely. Rookie Daniel Thomas may lead the team in carries but he has not looked good so far in camp. Can he turn it around with more reps? How will Reggie Bush perform and what will be his role? While Thomas is overdrafted, Bush is slipping FAR in drafts. Can he be productive in any role outside of screens and draws? Time will tell.

  • Pittsburgh Steelers
    Pittsburgh has plenty of weapons for an offense many think is conservative in nature. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is a star with good young receivers to target in Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders, and Antonio Brown to go with the veteran Hines Ward. As long as "Big Ben" can stay healthy, this is a potent passing game. At running back, the Steelers have Rashard Mendenhall leading the way. His backup is Isaac Redman. Both looked awesome against the Eagles Thursday night. This is a great offense for fantasy owners.

  • Baltimore Ravens
    Baltimore has an offense that fantasy owners need to watch closely. Quarterback Joe Flacco has not lived up to fantasy expectations and the loss of Mason to the Jets will only hurt his chances of improvement. Yes, the Ravens traded for Lee Evans but he is not at the pinnacle of his career. Todd Heap also left the team in free agency, and signed in Arizona. Can Evans and young tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta be productive fantasy players? The jury is still out ... WAY OUT. It might be best to stay away from all three until you see more. Running back Ray Rice is the lone offensive weapon for the team. He is a solid performer, worth his mid-first round draft status. His backup, Ricky Williams, makes for a great late-round stash.

  • Cincinnati Bengals
    The Bengals have rebuilt their entire offense outside of Cedric Benson, and he still is a mediocre NFL and fantasy player. Avoid him unless you see signs of improvement. Bernard Scott is his backup and has potential if given the opportunity. Rookie Andy Dalton will be under center and has plenty of room to grow as the club misses Carson Palmer. He will have two young and inexperienced wideouts to target. Jerome Simpson and rookie A.J. Green will look to make plays after the catch. Overall, it is best to avoid all of the Cincinnati offense this season as there will be plenty of heartache for fantasy owners.

  • Cleveland Browns
    Colt McCoy played admirably as a rookie last year. He has looked good so far in preseason but still is FAR from the fantasy radar. He has a below average group of wide receivers in which to target, thus limiting any upside. Stay away from all. Tight end Ben Watson could surprise again this season but it is best to wait until the last few rounds to draft him ... if at all. Peyton Hillis is the lone Brown fantasy factor. If he can be durable once again, Hillis is a bargain in drafts. But, his health is always in question. Stay away from Montario Hardesty until his knee looks healthy.

  • Indianapolis Colts
    Peyton Manning is expected to miss most, if not all, of the preseason after another neck surgery. Can the offense be productive if he misses regular season action? In other MASH unit topics, can Dallas Clark and Austin Collie play the entire season for a change? If not, the Colt passing game will sputter no matter who is under center. The club re-signed Joseph Addai to anchor the running game. He is the only rusher to consider drafting and is at a good price. Keep an eye on how Indianapolis uses backup tight end Jacob Tamme and receiver Blair White as they could each surprise again this season, especially is Clark and/or Collie miss time.

  • Jacksonville Jaguars
    Jacksonville is a team to monitor in preseason action. The quarterback position is competitive with rookie Blaine Gabbert trying to unseat David Garrard as the starter. He has a fighting chance. Mike Thomas is a possession receiver. Watch the games to see if he is able to make plays after the catch. If so, he could be a great value play with Mike Sims-Walker now with the Rams. If not, steer clear. Tight end Marcedes Lewis will be the security blanket once again this season. The Jaguars have so few weapons in the air attack. Maurice Jones-Drew says he is healthy and will need to prove it. He is falling all of the way to the second round in drafts and could be a great value play if the knee holds up. Rashad Jennings is a strong handcuff for Jones-Drew owners. He has been great in small sample sizes. The running backs and tight end are likely the only positions to draft for this middling team.

  • Houston Texans
    The Texans are primed for a playoff run once again. Can they get there this time? Matt Schaub is being drafted way too high in many leagues (fifth round) and only becomes worth the pick a round or two later. He needs star pass catchers Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels to not have the injuries that both have battled the past few years. These two players are great fantasy options. Also, Arian Foster will look to build on a MONSTER 2010 season. Can he even get close to the 2010 numbers? Foster is usually drafted as one of the top two picks in the first round. This is a high-powered offense with plenty of weapons. Situations to watch are Schaub's level of play and Foster's return from a training camp tight hamstring.

  • Tennessee Titans
    The Titans do not look the same with Javon Ringer in the lineup while Chris Johnson holds out for mega money. Watch to see how Ringer looks. He could provide a great value play after the tenth round with Johnson out of the lineup. Even if/when the speedy back returns to the team, history is not kind to players who hold out of training camp. Johnson is way too risky with a pick in the top three spots. Kenny Britt is the only viable wide receiver on the team, especially for fantasy owners. Tennessee signed veteran Matt Hasselbeck to guide the offense and mentor rookie Jake Locker. Hasselbeck is not a fantasy option. Tight end Jared Cook will be a sleeper in fantasy leagues. Pay attention to his preseason performances. He can easily be a Top 6 player at his position.

  • San Diego Chargers
    The Chargers have a great offense led by quarterback Philip Rivers. His two receivers, Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd, are bargains compared to their respective draft positions. Both are big play receivers. Antonio Gates is expected to be back to full strength before the regular season commences. His health is always a concern, but his production is immense for fantasy owners. The running back position is intriguing for those in fantasyland. Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert are both good players. San Diego wants Mathews to be the primary rusher but he needs to prove durable. It is the lone item standing in his way of stardom. Mike Tolbert is a big back who is able to be a fantasy starter at a great price. If both runners look good, having the handcuff of both provides a relatively cheap fantasy RB2 or RB3.

  • Kansas City Chiefs
    Jamaal Charles is the lone star for the Kansas City offense. He will be a top pick in many drafts. But, quarterback Matt Cassel is a player to avoid. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is coming off of a breakout campaign but can he put up big numbers again with Cassel under center? The chances are slim. There are no other fantasy-viable players. Tight end Tony Moeaki does not get enough targets to be on the fantasy radar. Same goes for the newly signed receiver Steve Breaston. Both are better NFL players than in world of fantasy football.

  • Oakland Raiders
    In larger leagues or ones that start two quarterbacks, Jason Campbell could surprise. He has a good complement of weapons to target in Jacoby Ford, rookie Denarius Moore, and Kevin Boss. All three are underrated fantasy options and are likely not fantasy factors this season in most leagues. But, together they can help Campbell put up decent numbers. Darren McFadden is coming off a huge season and will need to stay healthy in order to repeat. The backfield tandem of McFadden and Michael Bush will provide value for owners as Oakland likes to run the ball. There is a lot of speed on the offense and it will translate into some huge games.

  • Denver Broncos
    What a mess the Broncos have become since Elway retired. Kyle Orton is now the starter and Tim Tebow is buried deep on the bench. With John Fox installed as the coach, Denver will throw much less frequently than when Josh McDaniels was running the show. Brandon Lloyd is the only wide receiver to consider until Eddie Royal shows that 2008 was not a fluke. The success of the running game will hinge on Knowshon Moreno and he has yet to prove worthy. This could be the season. Moreno is still young. Willis McGahee was signed to be the short yardage runner. This team will struggle and so fantasy owners with many Broncos rostered.

  • 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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