Real football, okay the preseason, has begun and the NFL will be front and center from now all the way through the Super Bowl. It is a glorious time to be a football fan and even more, a fantasy and dynasty league owner. It is full-steam ahead with new data and film on young players that have limited NFL experience. Along with the actual preseason games comes the analysis. Some of it is important, like players rising up the depth chart with quality play, but other aspects like coach speak interviews and stars being held out, have little significance in my opinion.
On to the games and some of my observations from Week 1 of the preseason:
Michael Makes Waves
The Seahawks had two down-the-depth-chart players flash their abilities to open the preseason. Christine Michael is the elephant in the room. He received plenty of work with Marshawn Lynch out of the lineup and showed why he is a future lead back in the NFL. Michael showed power and the ability to churn out yards with nothing but a crease between the tackles and he shook a defender in the open field en route to a big gain. Also, Michael leveled a blitzing linebacker in pass protection, which enabled Russell Wilson to escape the pocket for a nice scramble. The hype has built behind Michael since the early days after the NFL draft and for good reason. He has been drafted in the seventh round of startup drafts recently, around the cost of RB30-35. This game and continued strong play through August will only support and enhance Michael’s future value. On the flip side, this is not a positive for Robert Turbin, who was thought to be the backup-to-own in Seattle. Just a year after selecting Turbin in the middle rounds, Seattle splurged with the selection of Michael in the second round as a best player available-type move. If Lynch were to miss time, I think Michael would get the nod for a windfall of usage, not Robert Turbin.
Stephen Williams is a name that had some deeper dynasty value a year or two ago, but had disappeared for a span of time. Williams had mired down the depth chart in Arizona and when he got on the field it was with a disappearing act under center. Williams is a tall and angular receiver with ball skills to make plays down the field. In his first action of the preseason, Williams had a strong connection with Tavaris Jackson en route to two big receptions. Jackson’s boldness was noteworthy allowing Williams to make the pair of plays. Williams is worth adding to dynasty watch lists as a flyer in leagues with 25-30 rosters spots.
Another player that flashed was San Diego running back Michael Hill. He showed some lateral agility combined with ruggedness beneficial to between-the-tackles work. Ryan Mathews is still the lead back, but the Chargers running back depth chart is hardly set in stone going forward. Danny Woodhead could have situational value in PPR leagues this season, but is not a future lead back on the team. Outside of Mathews, Hill is the best young talent San Diego has on the roster, which could present some value in the next 12-18 months. Like Stephen Williams, Hill would require 25 or more roster spots to warrant picking up at this stage, but dynasty owners should monitor this depth chart to see if Hill is making a move up the ranks.
The two Cincinnati rookies of note saw plenty of playing time against the Falcons. Giovani Bernard, the top pick in a number of rookie drafts this offseason, showed plenty of burst, balance, and Cecil Lammey’s favorite running back phrase ‘foot frequency’ out of the backfield. When the field was spread out, Bernard looked ideal for the short passing game and draw-based run game. Incumbent starter Benjarvus Green-Ellis looked even more pedestrian and stiff than I even built up in my head over the offseason. By midseason the transformation of the Cincinnati offense to a spread attack with Bernard seeing a glut of opportunities could be complete. Given the lack of quality young dynasty backs, that bodes well for Bernard to be viewed as a consensus top-15 option, which is more the outlier at the present time.
On the other side of the coin, Tyler Eifert looked rather non-descript in his first game action of his career. While not lauded for his oozing athleticism, I expected to see a little more ability to separate from linebacker coverage. He looked like most other backup tight ends in the league. The caveat to taking this information and running with it is that this was a very small sample size and tight ends are historically very slow to grow into fantasy-viable options. It will be 2015 before owners really know what they have with Eifert as Jermaine Gresham’s future in Cincinnati will have been decided at that point and Eifert will have plenty of NFL tape on him.
Is the Jackson Express Slowing Down?
Another small sample observation, but Steven Jackson did not look like the championship-fueling Band-Aid that many dynasty owners have had him penciled in as since the move to Atlanta. Let’s remember that Jackson has been around the NFL running back average in terms of yards-after-contact per attempt over the past three seasons. Like many power backs, the drop-off can be a swift one with little warning. Another caution flag is Jackson’s 4-year removal from his peak. Since logging 18 points-per-game in 2008, Jackson has 16, 15, 15, and 12 PPG in his last four seasons. That spells short-term, one year maybe two, RB2-type production based on that pattern of decline. The move to Atlanta should help his scoring chances near the goal line from his St.Louis days, but his individual play was still lacking in the small sample size against Cincinnati this week.
Will Being ‘Raw’ matter?
Cordarrelle Patterson looked the part of big-time offensive weapon in his first NFL game action. At his size, he should not be able to move with the lateral explosion of a much smaller receiver. He was electric on special teams and, as advertised, was a man among boys with the ball in his hands on offense. Patterson was thought to be a long-term project, but could even be a viable starting option this season if used in the former Percy Harvin role in some capacity.
Right On, Rogers
Da’Rick Rogers saw some playing time later in the game against Indianapolis. He scored a touchdown and looked the part in his action on offense. This should be no surprise as Rogers fell all the way to undrafted free agent status because of his off-the-field concerns, not his play on the field. Robert Woods looked solid with the first team as a possession target and Marcus Easley was the main producer when the reserves saw the field, but Rogers has more pure upside than either one. Rogers is on a very short leash in terms of his behavior, so he will need to mind his manners to gain trust with the team over time. That said, his price tag is very affordable in the late second round of rookie drafts and outside the top-125 in startup drafts. In his cost range, few match Rogers’ potential payoff.
Strategy thought of the week
While it is easy to react strongly to the short-term oscillations of the preseason buzz and small sample sizes, it is paramount to remember a player’s overall skillset and athletic profile. This week, Christine Michael and Giovani Bernard are two examples of rookies performing in the role anticipated around NFL draft time. Just because Aaron Dobson, Justin Hunter, or Geno Smith for example has not set the NFL on fire through mid-August is not a reason to bail from an investment made just a few months ago. Patience is one of the most important aspects to a successful dynasty owner’s DNA. Remembering why you invested in a player to begin with can be just the trick to avoid the pitfall of selling for a loss early in a player’s career.