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The New Reality No.67 - Preseason Week 2 Aftermath

Digesting and distilling the NFL action from Week 2 of the preseason

We are days away from the all-important Week 3 preseason tune-up for NFL teams. Week 2 saw some players continue their upward or downward trajectory from Week 1. For my preseason viewing, I focus on depth chart clues and skill traits. Here are the notes from preseason Week 2:

QUARTERBACKS

Robert Griffin III was a highlight player in Week 2. In addition to showing early-career mobility, Griffin stayed safe by sliding after his forays outside the pocket along with deep accuracy. With a boosted collection of weapons, the Browns are a potential passing game on the rise from one of the worst in the NFL last year to average or better in 2016.

Paxton Lynch's play has been up-and-down, as expected, through two weeks. Sacks populate Lynch's game when the primary read is not there. However, Lynch shows qualities unavailable to other Denver quarterbacks Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian. Lynch converted a deep out route on third down, a power NFL throw. Lynch eluded imminent pocket pressure and turned the play into an eight-yard scramble gain. Finally, Lynch converted in the red zone with a rollout laser touchdown. Lynch may still be rough around the edges, but there are enough flash moments to project him in play for the Week 1 starting job.

Another week, another poor showing from 2017 free agent-to-be Ryan Nassib. Week 2 was a horrific performance, including inaccuracy, poor pocket navigation, and a fumble. Even in quarterback-premium formats, it is tough to recommend holding Nassib into the season.

Trevone Boykin was largely accurate this week but still needs footwork refinement at the top of his drops. He logged a horrible interception late in the fourth quarter. With another comeback drive opportunity (one he converted in Week 1), Boykin got Seattle into the red zone but was high on a slant throw and then took an unforgivable sack to thwart his efforts.

RUNNING BACKS

After noting a few positive plays from Elijah Penny in Week 1, he was back to looking like 'just a guy' this week. I doubt he makes the roster for Arizona.

All the Atlanta running backs excelled this week, mostly due to the poor Cleveland rush defense at the point of attack. The Browns front seven ceded multiple yards of ground before the running back even hit the line. Cyrus Gray and Brandon Wilds are in a competition for the No.3 role. Gray's balance and lateral explosion stood out of the two this week.

The Baltimore running backs are a weekly puzzle. This week, Javorius Allen was the second back on the field. However, Kenneth Dixon and Terrance West, the two backs logging most of the snaps in the second half, were by far the best performers on the depth chart. Dixon beat half the Colts defense with balance, vision, and quick feet to convert a third-and-long screen pass on his first snap of the game. West exhibited strong cuts during his time in the game. It seems like Baltimore is limiting Dixon's snaps intentionally, but not due to poor play as his results have been exemplary. Week 3 will provide another critical data point as this backfield has four viable starters. 

This was the second week of pessimism for Cameron Artis-Payne. He was buried in the second half of Carolina's game and Brandon Wegher plainly looked better. If still rostering Artis-Payne as a handcuff or deeper dynasty stash, cut bait for a better flyer.

Jeremy Langford was used exclusively on the Bears' first drive. Jacquizz Rodgers was the second back. Jordan Howard, the dynasty name to know for Chicago, did not enter the game until the third quarter. Of all the Bears options, Howard shows the most interior skills to run through arm tackles, churn through contact, and he even found a cutback lane in this contest. Howard is looking like a mid-to-later season arrival if/when Jeremy Langford misses time or falters.

Rex Burkhead was the third running back into the game for Cincinnati and looked outstanding this week. With a thin depth chart beyond Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill, an injury to either starter is an uptick for Burkhead. In terms of playing style and traits, Burkhead is in the zone of a poor man's Danny Woodhead with interior willingness, strong hands, and balance.

Darius Jackson continues to impress in Dallas' backfield. Jackson, along with Alfred Morris, saw first-team reps this week. Morris is the veteran, but Jackson is worth stashing in leagues beyond 25 roster spots. Any running back one injury away from playing time behind Dallas' offensive line is viable.

Devontae Booker continues to strengthen his hold on the primary backup job to C.J. Anderson. Ronnie Hillman is not even a lock to make the Broncos' 53-man roster. Booker was the second back in the game and consistently ran through arm tackles.

Dwayne Washington looked much improved from last week. Washington saw some snaps over Stevan Ridley in the second quarter - a stark change from a week ago. I noted a better feel and balance for Washington as he could be the No.4 Detroit back for opening day.

The juggling of Colts' running backs beyond Frank Gore continued this week. Robert Turbin, despite a lackluster performance in Week 1 (and this week) logged No.2 snaps. Ferguson saw time with the second team. It was an up-and-down game for Ferguson, who held on through a big hit post-reception in the red zone and stoned a blitzer on a fourth-and-down conversion. However, Ferguson also whiffed in pass protection on a two-point conversion. Jordan Todman played well but was buried as the No.4 running back into the game.

Paul Perkins appears buried on the Giants depth chart. Andre Williams played over him in Week 2 and saw some first team reps. Perkins is more buried than many projected back in May.

George Atkinson was a highlight player in Week 1 but was back to pumpkin status this week for the Raiders. Atkinson played without impact in the fourth quarter and clearly behind DeAndre Washington and Taiwan Jones.

Brandon Oliver was the clear No.3 back in San Diego this week. Dreamius Smith was buried late in the game and did nothing beyond lowering his head and trying to move the pile. Smith is a cut candidate.

Christine Michael continued his exceptional play this week. In addition to quality pad level, power, and cutting on the ground, Michael also ran routes as a split out receiver, including a comeback route reception. Thomas Rawls owners should be concerned about Michael's rise this offseason.

The 49ers running backs beyond Carlos Hyde looks to be a tightly contested race. DuJuan Harris performed well this week with a nice stutter-step on one notable carry. However, both Harris and Mike Davis had fumbles in the game.

Malcolm Brown was a strong preseason performer as a rookie 2015 and continues his strong play this year. Brown trucked a defender in the hole and made a one-handed reception on a flat route touchdown. Brown, not Benny Cunningham, is my bet for early down work (at a minimum) if Todd Gurley were to miss time.

Peyton Barber showed interior prowess as the No.4 back in Tampa Bay. Mike James has been a quality performer in the preseason as well. Barber saw plenty of work in the second half with good pad level and strong legs.

After strong play in Week 1, Bishop Sankey did not play until the final minutes for Tennessee. His best chance for a value uptick remains outside of Tennessee.

Keith Marshall has failed to do much through two games. He dropped a pass this week and has been largely outplayed by Rob Kelley in Washington. I have yet to see the gaudy measured athleticism from Marshall translate to the NFL field.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Jaron Brown made a quality high-point reception with Arizona's first-team offense this week, a reminder Brown is a talented, but completely blocked receiver on the Cardinals depth chart. Similar to J.J. Nelson needing John Brown to miss time to unlock more playing time, Jaron Brown would trasition from a longer-term watch list player to potential pick-up if Michael Floyd or Larry Fitzgerald were out of the lineup.

While ideal for best ball leagues, Terrelle Pryor flashed again this week for the Browns. Pryor won with late separation on a deep route against Desmond Trufant, one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL. The Browns receiver corps is crowded, but Pryor has shown he belongs with positive reports this offseason and translating to the preseason field through two weeks.

Brice Butler had an impressive game for Dallas this week. He showed outstanding ball skills on a high touchdown catch, wiped away by a questionable offensive pass interference penalty. Later, Butler logged a back shoulder goal line touchdown. Butler is a strong athlete with prototypical traits. Without a strong stable of outside options beyond Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, Butler's viability continues to rise for deep-roster formats.

This week marked the coming out party for Will Fuller. Houston featured their first round pick and Fuller took full advantage. The full spectrum of skills was on display as Fuller easily won on a long sideline touchdown on the opening drive. He also logged yards-after-the-catch following a hitch route and a deep in-cut reception. 

Chris Hogan showed well this week for New England with a deep corner route reception and supplying the key block on a LeGarrette Blount cutback run.

Michael Thomas was a mainstream standout rookie in Week 1. However, his follow-up performance included a lackluster effort with the first-team Saints offense. Thomas was outmuscled for inside position on a slant route, resulting in an interception from Drew Brees. Monitor Thomas in Week 3 to see how much time he gets with the first team.

Robbie Anderson (Jets) had one of the flash games of the preseason. Quality routes and ball skills were on display late in the game. At best he would be No.5 on the depth chart to open the season.

Sammie Coates had a lackluster preseason start in Week 1 but rebounded well this week. Coates showed quality hands and concentration through full extension to convert a third down slant route. Later, Coates had full extension and a toe-tap on a sideline grab - a highlight play which needed replay to count in the box score. Coates is a primary watch player for Week 3 to continue his upward trajectory.

Kenny Britt logged two quality plays early in the game for the Rams, including a deep defensive pass interference penalty. Britt is a dirt-cheap investment with no clear challenger to outside receiver snaps to open the season.

TIGHT ENDS

Crockett Gillmore was back for Baltimore, in for the opening drive. His movement, which has never been a strength, was stiff and clunky. Also, Gillmore logged a drop in his appearance. More than anything, Gillmore could limit Ben Watson's production this season if in a committee or challenging for a glut of snaps.

After playing with the first-team Denver offense in Week 1, Virgil Green continued his stranglehold on the starter job over Jeff Heuerman this week. Green was featured early in the game, showing off his smooth movement and 10 yards after the catch on a designed tight end screen. Green not being the Week 1 starter would be a surprise at this point.

A.J. Derby is a long-term dynasty name to know. The Patriots stockpile tight ends like candy for kids around Halloween. This was Derby's second strong game of the preseason, playing earlier in the game and having two highlight moments. Derby hauled in a contested touchdown in the first half, then a 'wow' catch down the sideline, holding on through a huge hit. While of minimal consequence when all of the Patriots tight ends are healthy, missed time from Rob Gronkowski or Martellus Bennett could be all Derby needs to rise to relevance.

This is a critical year for Jace Amaro and he continues to underwhelm. On a nice out route run with the first team Jets offense, Amaro had a drop.

Blake Bell was buried as the No.3 tight end for the 49ers. With Vance McDonald playing well as the starter, Bell is a deep tight end premium league hold only.

Austin Seferian-Jenkins flashed with multiple highlight receptions, one a full extension grab this week. Reports point to Seferian-Jenkins working his way out of the proverbial doghouse in Tampa Bay and the starting role to open the season still a possibility for the talented tight end.