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Beware the Preseason Hype

The NFL preseason always brings a little unwarranted fantasy hype for some players. Beware!

The NFL preseason is like sitting through a fast food commercial while dealing with hunger pangs. You can almost smell the savory aroma of that fried chicken or grilled burrito subverting your consciousness. Like an apparition, you fly to your nearest purveyor of processed poison, unaware or uncaring of the consequences to come.

For fantasy football owners, that temptation hits hard for some players hits hard after a solid preseason. Tantalizing as they may be, you might want to steer clear of these guys in any remaining drafts, at least as they are currently valuated.  

Zach Zenner, RB, Detroit Lions

It was all about Ameer Abdullah in Detroit during training camp. The rookie out of Nebraska reportedly impressed throughout, and it showed in his first preseason action when he ripped a 45-yard run on his third NFL touch. Things have cooled for him a bit since then, however, and he has passed the torch. Now it’z Zach Zenner’s turn to be on fire.

The undrafted rookie out of South Dakota State has heated up by virtue of two big preseason performances, to the point where he is being discussed as a viable fantasy option for the 2015 season. While that could certainly happen, it would take an injury or two to get him there.

Out of sight is out of mind, or so the aphorism goes. That’s why fantasy owners have all but forgotten about Joique Bell. That would be the man Detroit inked for a $9.5 million extension—one of the biggest new deals at his position at the time—just a year ago. Sure, he hasn’t been able to do much of anything all preseason due to a balky calf, but he will be back soon enough. The Lions aren’t going simply going to abandon Bell after their investment, even if it’s just a few million for this season. With Abdullah’s emergence and the presence of pass-catching option Theo Riddick on the roster as well, how will Zenner get on the field?

It’s possible the Lions consider Bell a sunk cost and move on. But how often does a NFL franchise exercise such sound investment principles?

Jeff Janis and Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers

No fantasy debate has more sound and fury than that surrounding Packers receiver Jeff Janis. The trouble is that it may signify nothing.

The Janis hype train is nothing new. He is a small-school receiver with outstanding measurables whose draft stock is immune to bad training camp reports. Whereas it was niche even a few weeks ago, however, now it’s fully loaded. That’s because of the unfortunate injury Jordy Nelson suffered in Week 2 of the preseason.

Nelson’s torn ACL created a massive void at receiver, one theoretically filled by second-year man Davante Adams. His ADP has skyrocketed into the fourth or even third round these days, an absurd climb for a guy who is not nearly as good as Nelson. Granted, he will have some big games thanks to MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but consistency will be a problem whereas it wasn’t for Nelson.

Which brings us back to Janis, who could be third in line for targets. Or fifth, depending on whether Ty Montgomery jumps him on the depth chart and Eddie Lacy gets a bump. Or sixth if the Packers employ more two-tight end sets.

Hype and reality just don’t mix with Janis. If he winds up becoming the true heir to Nelson, great. Odds are much higher Janis will be fantasy-relevant in a handful of games at most. He has raw upside that guys like Jared Abrederris—another receiver who could muck things up for Janis—but there are many more obstacles to serious opportunity for him than some would have you believe.

Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills

It’s all fun and games until Tyrod Taylor plays a regular season game.

The speedy Bills quarterback lit the NFL on fire during the preseason, winning the starting job and fostering a fantasy frenzy in the process. He is the second coming of Randall Cunningham and Steve Young.

Or, perhaps, he faced some pretty bad defenses. His outing against Pittsburgh in what was the “dress rehearsal” for the season looked great, but the Steelers looked like bullfighters on defense. ¡Olé!

This isn’t 2010. The NFL has seen the advent of running quarterbacks and the read-option, and starting defenses are better prepared. What will happen when the real bullets start flying?

Now, the good thing about Taylor is his ADP puts him as a borderline QB2, despite the hype. The fact the Bills named him the starting quarterback after his performance against the Steelers will give some people cute ideas to take him as their starting quarterback, though. Let them take on that risk.

David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals

We get it. Andre Ellington had a terrible 2014 season during which he averaged an abysmal 3.3 yards per carry. It doesn’t matter that he was 20th in fantasy scoring in just 12 games, his foot injury was just another sign that he can’t carry the load, right?

Perhaps. Or, maybe, the Cardinals want to utilize him exactly like they did a year ago and hope an improved offensive line and good health will get Ellington closer to what he looked like as a rookie.

Those who doubt Ellington may have bought into the David Johnson hype. Despite a slow start thanks to a hamstring issue, Johnson exploded onto the preseason scene with a massive Wee 2 showing. That fired up his hype train once again. But is it warranted?

Johnson is, by and large, a pass-catching specialist going up against a starting running back who saw 64 targets in 12 games last season. We saw what he could do in the first two games he played this preseason, catching four passes for 40 yards and a score against the Raiders in Week 3. So, yes, he could get some looks on third down. But Ellington has been far from a slouch in that department.

Then there is the fact that Arizona signed Chris Johnson off the recycling heap. While that may have been more of a hedge against Robert Hughes and Stepfan Taylor being JAGs, the Cardinals evidently have a logjam behind Ellington.

Devin Funchess, WR, Carolina Panthers

Devin Funchess talk isn’t nuclear hot like it is with Jeff Janis, but he has also gotten a major bump after Kelvin Benjamin’s season-ending injury.

Funchess has injured his hamstring twice now this offseason. He wasn’t even next in line for a starting role—Ted F. Ginn was ahead of him on the depth chart at the time of this writing—and there is little reason to think he'll suddenly jump into a starting role.

Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Perhaps the Doug Martin love is proof that neuralyzers do exist.

Tampa Bay’s starting running back has gotten a whole lotta love in recent weeks thanks to positive training camp press and a couple of impressive preseason showings. By all accounts, Martin has turned things around after abysmal second and third years in the league. Should we expect big things from him, finally?

Perhaps. He certainly looks spry during the preseason, but we have already discussed the nature of preseason defenses. Will he be worth the rapidly rising price tag? Martin is creeping into the fourth round of drafts these days, and he well could go higher if your league values running backs like most fantasy traditionalists do.

This is a guy who has averaged 3.6 yards per carry over the past couple of seasons and has really only had a couple of big games in his career.