We are almost there! All the hype, the study, the hours (for most of us at least) of research is about to be put to the test. After waiting months for real football, we are all going to be anxious to say the least. The one important bit of advice heading into week one; do not overreact to anything that does or does not happen. We all think we have the answers. We have convinced ourselves our sleepers can't miss and everyone we drafted in the first ten rounds are studs. Hopefully all of your guys will hit. That rarely happens for me though. There are always some players who fail to meet expectations. There are also, always players who simply fail to have a big game in the opener but are going to be fine for the rest of the season. I and the rest of the IDP crew will do our best to digest what we see and get the info out to you soon as possible. Meanwhile; trust your own eyes. If a player fails to produce, figure out why before dumping him for what could turn out to be a one week wonder. There are is never a shortage of those as well. Walk lightly through the mine field that is September in fantasy football and remember if a proven player flops this week and you can find no good reason for it, chances are it was a fluke. As we like to say among the Footballguys IDP team; one week is a fluke, two is a trend. Then there is that other line that goes; there is a thin line between patience and stupidity (when it comes to holding onto high upside players).
In years past I have done a preseason week three recap and a week one article even though there is generally little going on in the league between the two. This year I am going to roll the two pieces into one. There were a few surprises in the third round of warm-up games.
The Cardinals were one team showing some interesting decisions in preseason week three. Kevin Minter remained on the field for most if not all nickel package snaps, and he looked very good doing so. His coverage appears to be much improved over what we have seen in the past and Minter made a lot of plays. He is on the waiver wire in a lot of leagues and is definitely a player to watch in week one.
Tony Jefferson continued to work in a three down role but he was not in a strong safety alignment all the time. He was there in the base alignments but shifted to free safety when Tyvon Branch came on as an extra DB in many sub packages. Tyrann Mathieu did not take the field during the preseason so we really know little more than we did a couple of weeks ago about how playing time will ultimately break down in the Cardinals secondary. Jefferson is a player I and there is no doubt he will have a significant role, but there is some risk he will not play full time.
Back in July I really though Karl Joseph would be the fantasy game's top rookie defensive back. The more I see of Keanu Neal the more he is changing my mind. On the second play against Miami he tackled the tight end after a short catch. On play three he tackled the running back after a reception in the flat. On the next two plays he met the back in the hole and stopped him for short gains. In all Neal was credited for 5 solo tackles though he seemed to make a lot more. For most defensive backs 5 tackles would be a full day's work. Neal did it in the first twelve minutes of the game. He left the field after a non-contact knee injury with three minute to go in the first quarter. The injury looked bad at the time but turned out to be fairly minor. Neal may miss a game or two after having a minor scope and looks like he will be a box score stud.
We expected the Falcons third preseason game to provide some answers at linebacker. After the game things are clear as mud. They opened in a nickel with Deon Jones and De'Vondre Campbell on the field. The first time Atlanta lined up in their base 4-3 it was Vic Beasly on the strong side, Paul Worrilow in the middle and Campbell on the weak side. A little bit later in the opening quarter when both teams were still playing starters, it was Sean Weatherspoon in the middle, Phillip Wheeler on the strong side Deon Jones on the weak side. Either the coaching staff is still evaluating their options or they intend to use a lot of players at the position. It would be a good idea to avoid all of them until we get a more definitive look in week one.
Atlanta added Dashon Goldson as insurance at safety. Goldson is a quality veteran player who would be a solid option for both the Falcons and fantasy owners if he were to get on the field in starting role. It would not be a surprise if he pushes Ricardo Allen for the free safety spot before long.
Zach Orr has worked in a two down role at inside linebacker throughout the preseason. He has put nothing on film to suggest that should change. In fact Orr has looked rather solid and should prove to be a quality add for fantasy owners as at least quality depth.
Terrell Suggs got back in action in the third preseason game and never missed a beat. He should once again be an excellent option for owners in big play based leagues.
The Bills did not show us much in the third matchup. In fact they elected to sit a few starters. There is no reason to believe Zach Brown will not continue as the defensive signal caller and best fantasy option among Buffalo's linebackers. I am not sure what to expect from the Ravens as a match up though. Their running game has not been impressive during the preseason.
Chances are Preston Brown will also be a three down inside backer as he was in most situations over the preseason. That said if you have other quality options it may be a good idea to play it safe.
The Panthers have given us no surprises over the preseason so we know what to expect from their mainstay players. Luke Kuechly is an obvious must start against anyone and Thomas Davis will be in a lineup in most leagues as well. Denver will not hesitate to throw the ball with their new quarterback under center but they have made it clear the running game will be emphasized. That spells a lot of opportunity for the linebackers and safety Kurt Coleman as well.
James Bradberry led the Panthers in tackles with a 4-1 mark in the third warm-up game. Corners can be fickle but this young man has caught my eye. His play and production may make both Panthers fans and fantasy owners forget Josh Norman rather quickly.
While I am not excited about any of the Bears defensive backs, it is worth mention Harold Jones-Quartey was in front of the camera often and had his name called a lot against the Chiefs. He is on my radar for a closer look in week one.
Nick Vigil made a lot of noise throughout the preseason including a look at strong side backer with the starters. Against Jacksonville he was back in the role of backup middle backer. Vigil continued to impress including an impressive interception in the final warm-up game. He has a bright future but on a team loaded with quality players at the second level, Vigil may have to wait for next year to land a significant role.
Against the Jaguars, Cincinnati lined up with Karlos Dansby on the weak side, Rey Maualuga in the middle and Vincent Rey on the strong side in base packages. In the nickel it was Dansby and Rey which is basically what we anticipated all along. What we still do not know is who will go where and when once Vontaze Burfict returns from suspension in week four.
Margus Hunt was expected to move up the depth chart at end this summer. Not only did he do so, he is also seeing significant playing time at tackle in both base and sub packages. It is hard to tell from the preseason is Hunt will have enough opportunity to make a serious fantasy impact but he has sure turned some heads with his play. Add him to your week one watch list.
George Iloka was the Bengals starting strong safety last year and worked at that position early in the preseason as well. In game three Shawn Williams lined up at strong safety often with Iloka seeing action at free safety early. Late in the first quarter Iloka was on the sideline with Derron Smith working at free safety. Iloka is a player who has never impressed me. Williams is better suited to play strong safety while Smith is a natural free safety. The fact he was sharp while working with the starters is reason to believe there could be a changing of the guard in motion. It will not be a surprise to see Iloka in a third safety role as early as week one.
Cowboy’s fans and Sean Lee owners had a little scare when Lee recently missed some time with a sore knee. Lee says he is fine and will be on the field for the opener. This is great news for everyone concerned but does not change the fact Anthony Hitchens is in line for a lot of opportunity and likely a big season.
Todd Davis has settled in as the starting inside linebacker next to Brandon Marshall but he has not been seeing playing time in sub packages. As a two down guy he will be hard pressed to make much fantasy impact. The player who benefits from this is safety T.J. Ward who has been pushing up into the linebacker spot on passing downs. Denver is missing some talent from last year's front seven and the extra in the box snaps are a big plus as well for Ward. He was a marginal fantasy option last season but I expect more from him going forward.
One of the most interesting twists of preseason week three was the Lions starting Tavon Wilson over Rafael Bush at strong safety. This one basically came out of the blue. Bush was not injured and got on the field after the starters were done. Wilson played like a man trying to win a starting job, finishing with 5 solo tackles. He was flying around making plays all over the place. If you picked up Bush late on draft day and were thinking of starting him, it would probably be a bad idea. If you have a need at the position and your league has a week one waiver, this might be a golden opportunity to slip Wilson onto your roster. I have a feeling Detroit's strong safety is going to be busy this year.
The Colts are another team that threw us a curve late in the preseason. Against the Eagles, Indianapolis used a 4-3 on most if not all the first team snaps. In this alignment Eric Walden was at strong side linebacker with D'Qwell Jackson in the middle and Nate Irving on the weak side. Irving continued to stay on the field with Jackson in some nickel situations so it was a shock to see him released on Saturday. Sio Moore does not seem to be in the plans so it looks like rookie Antonio Morrison will be the guy. Morrison has played well and was expected to eventually claim the job, just not so quickly. All we need to see now is how the Colts will approach the sub packages.
T.J. Green will step in as the week one starter next to Mike Adams if Clayton Geathers is not ready. As of Friday Geathers remains on the PUP making it seem unlikely he will be available for week one. Foot injuries tend to linger beyond expectations so it may yet be a while before we see him. Green has made a strong showing and may prove to be a quality add if Geathers continues to miss time. The last thing we heard from the team was on August 24th when he was said to be week-to-week.
Jalen Ramsey and Prince Amukamara were the Jaguars starting corners against Cincinnati. This should be the case against the Packers in week one as well, making Ramsey a strong sleeper start. He was in on several plays against Cincinnati and Aaron Rodgers has a history of picking on rookie corners.
Against the Bengals both Sheldon Day and SenDerrick Marks saw time at tackle with the starters. About the only thing we can count on from Jacksonville's interior line is Malik Jackson having a three down role. Myles Jack came on at middle backer with most of Jacksonville's starter late in the second quarter. In the fourth contest he saw time on the weak side. I am unsure what to read into all this other than the coaching staff taking a look at all their options.
Kansas City Chiefs
Kansas City also gave us some unusual looks in preseason week three. They rarely lined up in their normal 3-4 if at all. Instead the Chiefs showed a base nickel package 3-3-5 with Dee Ford and Justin March at the outside backer spots (Josh Mauga went on IR) and Derrick Johnson in the middle and Daniel Sorenson as a the nickel back/outside linebacker hybrid. In their other nickel package Kansas City went with two linemen and had Sorensen at linebacker with Johnson. The moral of this story being Sorensen is a player to keep an eye on. He may be the Chiefs version of last year's Mark Barron, a linebacker with the positional designation of safety. If he has a strong stat line in week one it will likely not be a fluke.
March could also have some value. He was on the field in some but not all sub packages and made a strong impression as a run defended.
Los Angeles Rams
In terms of fantasy revelations there was nothing noteworthy with the Rams in the final two preseason games. There was one interesting twist however. The team has Mark Barron on their NFL.com roster as a linebacker/safety. For their game against Denver, Barron was listed as the starting weak safety with Alec Ogletree and Akeem Ayers as the linebackers. If you happened to catch this, there is nothing to be concerned with here. They can call it whatever they like but Barron is lining up as a three down weak side linebacker. The only reason I bring it up is the potential impact of a "new" weak safety position along with all the other hybrid schemes.
New England Patriots
Once again the Patriots may have teased us with Dont'a Hightower. He was a three down linebacker against Carolina but lined up on the strong side in base packages. Hightower is a good enough run stuffer to put up decent numbers in this role but he would have a lot more opportunity from the middle. Elandon Roberts was the base package middle backer in this game. Projected starter Shea McClellin was nowhere to be seen in the first quarter.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints continue to run with Tyeler Davidson and Nick Fairley as their starting tackles with Cameron Jordan and Kasim Edebali at end. There is good potential here even beyond Jordan but it is worth mention the Saints used a lot of bodies in the first team rotation.
New York Jets
Darron Lee is finally getting on the field as a nickel linebacker. David Harris is working through a sore shoulder but it was Erin Henderson coming off the field for Lee. Henderson was not out of all sub packages so this may have been another case of a coaching staff getting a look at a young player. Henderson is not worth the risk unless you are in a very deep rostered league.
All summer we have expected Mychal Kendricks to be a fantasy factor from the weak side linebacker position. Upon watching the Eagles game against the Colts it became evident those expectations were misplaced. It is Nigel Bradham lining up on the weak side most of the time and staying on the field with Jordan Hicks in nickel situations. Kendricks was on the field as a strong side backer in base packages. Bradham has been written off by a lot of people and is available in a lot of leagues. If you have a need, this is one I would probably not wait until week two before moving on.
That is going to do it until after week one. Best of luck in the opener!