The Hall of Fame game was canceled, delaying the much-anticipated start of the 2016 NFL season. The Colts and Packers will have to wait for their preseason debut. Here is the key player or situation to monitor this week as rosters are deep and many fringe roster talents look to carve out their 53-man roster status over the next month:
With much of the skill position depth charts without question, I want to see more Matt Barkley for QB-premium potential down the line. Drew Stanton is a veteran retread and Barkley is a free agent following 2016. Barkley has just 50 regular season passes in his three-year NFL career, making preseason reps important to build his profile.
Austin Hooper is likely to start the year as the backup to veteran stopgap tight end Jacob Tamme. I want to see flashes of the ball skills at Stanford from Hooper. Rookie tight ends are fantasy non-factors, but those taking Hooper in the Round 2/3 range of rookie drafts want to see some Clive Walford-type moments in 2016 to offer promise of TE1 upside in Year 2/3.
Cameron Artis-Payne did little to cement his primary backup status behind Jonathan Stewart as a Day 3 rookie last year. He is a lunch pail-type runner, but I want to see more urgency from Artis-Payne this preseason. Beau Sandland is a solid metric prospect at tight end without much news this offseason. Ideally, Sandland beats out ho-hum Ed Dickson to become Greg Olsen's backup this season for dynasty owners.
Jordan Howard is the shallow dynasty name to watch to kick off the preseason for Chicago. Howard has a good chance to be in an even committee (or better) by midseason. Can he show more than an interior bruiser? Like Carolina, the backup tight end in Chicago is out metric interest with Ben Braunecker. Zach Miller is no lock to keep the starting spot all season and Braunecker has shades of Rob Gronkowski to his game. Rob Housler and Tony Moeaki are the veteran speed bumps in Braunecker's path to a roster spot and more prominent role.
The preseason may be the only time we see running back metric star Darius Jackson on the field. Track Jackson for the athletic juice to translate to the NFL as he may end up on the practice squad, or another team by Week 1 of the regular season.
The 'power back' role is up for grabs with Stevan Ridley, Zach Zenner, and Dwayne Washington all the in the mix. At a minimum one of them is likely to be practice squad (or cut) bound in a few weeks. Ridley, if healthy, has the inside track, but Zenner is a metric stud and Washington has size-speed intrigue.
Malcolm Brown flashed last preseason, then like many fringe roster players, saw just five offensive touches during the regular season. Brown has a chance to seize the No.2 role behind Todd Gurley as a top high school recruit and early collegiate phenom. Now is the time to hit the gas pedal for Brown if he is to rise up the depth chart with Tre Mason's errors.
The wide receiver corps is liquid. The name I want to see the most is Charles Johnson. He flashed in 2014, but last season was a lost one for the metric freak. Johnson may not have much upside in Minnesota with Diggs and Treadwell there, but resurfaces elsewhere in 2017 (as a restricted free agent) is a possibility.
I want to see if C.J. Spiller has a rebound in him. Now in his late 20s, Spiller is coming off a lost first season with the Saints, just 80 touches in 13 games and a career-low 3.1 yards-per-carry.
New York Giants
Roger Lewis is a deeper dynasty name poised to get plenty of playing time in the second half of preseason games. He may be practice squad-bound at best this year if he sticks on the Giants, but has enough metric appeal to warrant monitoring.
Wendell Smallwood and Kenjon Barner are the most likely interior running back options on the roster behind oft-injured Ryan Mathews. I did not see enough acumen from Smallwood in college to project that NFL role but am open to changing my mind with more sample size.
Does Bruce Ellington have WR3 or better fantasy upside? I have not seen much potential from Ellington to-date in college or the NFL, so this preseason is critical as the 49ers lack any proven options behind Torrey Smith heading into the preseason. Also, DeAndre Smelter looks to get on the field for the first time after a redshirt rookie season.
Can Paul Richardson Jr emerge from the ashes to carve a role? The former Round 2 NFL Draft pick is back with a shot at the No.4 or better role in the receiver corps.
Peyton Barber could be the most talented running back on a practice squad to start the regular season. Can he beat out Mike James for the No.3 job behind Doug Martin and Charles Sims? I dig Barber's tape, but the situation is blocked at the outset.
Keith Marshall has rarely been healthy for long in his college career. The physical talent is overt, but showing enough and staying available will be key to being the bullpen call if Matt Jones falters with the projected lead role. Marshall, like Jones a year ago, could be a Round 1 rookie pick market asset by October with a good preseason and by supplanting a struggling Jones early in the season.
The running back group is a cluttered mess with five viable options. Tracking who is getting playing time when during preseason games is a key to how the depth chart will stack up to begin the season. Javorius Allen is a lost name with Kenneth Dixon drafted and Terrance West getting recent buzz as a potential starter.
The No.2 wide receiver role is wide open, but without a bright lights name for dynasty owners. Robert Woods is a low-upside placeholder and most of the other names have had multiple opportunities to carve an NFL role. Dezmin Lewis might be the best option for an upside uptick.
With Tyler Eifert and Tyler Kroft on the shelf, the Week 1 starting tight end spot could be relative unknown C.J. Uzomah. He could go from lightly owned to owned in most medium (or deeper) dynasty leagues with a splash preseason game or two and the promise of a Week 1 role.
Terrelle Pryor has had dynasty buzz before. Is this the season he carves a role and finally transitions to the wide receiver position? The first month of the season is a golden opportunity with Josh Gordon out of the lineup.
Bennie Fowler has been reported as the likely No.3 to open the preseason. Can Cody Latimer finally challenge for regular playing time? This may be his last chance as his dynasty market value is running on fumes.
Stephen Anderson has a few very strong supporters around the fantasy football water cooler. Houston has been a relative wasteland for tight end production in recent seasons and Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fiedorowicz are also in the mix.
There is not much up for grabs on the Jacksonville depth chart on offense. However, the split and usage of T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory is worth monitoring. Both are affordable as many expect a near even split of production, but Yeldon seeing more goal line work or Ivory adding receiving reps could tilt the scales.
While unlikely to be more than a bye week or flex option, the No.2 receiver role is worth tracking for the Chiefs. Chris Conley performed reasonably well as a rookie, Albert Wilson has received good reviews this offseason (and is a quality metric prospect), and Rod Streater has hung around NFL depth charts after flashing in Oakland. Tyreek Hill has blazing speed and his usage on offense is worth tracking as well.
Can Leonte Carroo bypass Kenny Stills for the No.3 role? Carroo has strong metrics and Ryan Tannehill has his best collection of weapons to-date with DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry at the top of the food chain.
Aaron Dobson and Chris Hogan reside down the Patriots wide receiver depth chart. Hogan was signed as a mid-career free agent from a division rival (Buffalo) and Aaron Dobson has mired through doghouse visits and injuries over the years in New England. Beyond Julian Edelman, there is value here on the depth chart, but adding Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola, there are a bevy of options to clarify through the preseason.
New York Jets
Jace Amaro is on his last chance (at least with the Jets) to justify his Day 2 draft position years ago. The tight end position has been a wasteland for the Jets of late, but reports have pointed to promise for Amaro this offseason.
Sammie Coates Jr has a golden opportunity in 2016 with Martavis Bryant out and glowing reports through the offseason workout schedule. He offers more upside than Markus Wheaton, but needs to continue to momentum of progress. Jesse James is also worth tracking with Ladarius Green's injury status on a productive offense.
Branden Oliver and Dreamius Smith are flyer-range running backs to receive ample playing time for the Chargers in the preseason. Smith may be practice squad bound or a cut, but Oliver (depending on health) is likely to make the roster. With Melvin Gordon III posting a questionable rookie season, either could be stash players this year.
The wide receiver depth chart is wide open for the Titans. Put the top-4/5 into a jar and any drawn order could be the Week 1 pecking order. Sharpe has garnered good reports. Dorial Green-Beckham has been on both ends of the spectrum this offseason. Rishard Matthews was signed from free agency. Kendall Wright and Andre Johnson are low-upside veteran placeholders. The viability of the entire group hinges on Marcus Mariota's health and progression in Year 2.
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