Teams often use their third preseason game as a “dress rehearsal,” playing their starters big minutes and revealing telling clues about how players will be used in the regular season. This year was no different, with Week 3 providing a laundry list of storylines that will affect fantasy relevant players. Here are ten of the most important.
Knowshon Moreno is a real threat.
After Knowshon Moreno reported to camp hurt and out of shape, the general consensus was post-hype sleeper Lamar Miller would run away with the Dolphins’ starting running back job. That consensus crashed to the floor Week 3.
Miller started the Dolphins’ third preseason game, but rotated almost evenly with Moreno. In the 45 snaps played by Ryan Tannehill, Miller was on the field for 20 of them, while Moreno was on the field for 17. Neither player played after the first-team offense exited the game.
Coach Joe Philbin mentioned before the game he wanted to see Miller and Moreno play on a “rotational basis,” but whether that meant just for one game or the entire season is unclear. What is clear is Moreno will have a decent size role in Miami’s offense, and that role will come at the expense of Miller.
Miller is still the favorite to receive the majority of touches, but Moreno’s recovery makes Miller a risky pick in the sixth round.
Wes Welker suffers another concussion.
Wes Welker suffered his third concussion in less than 10 months during the Broncos’ third preseason game. It is a scary situation, and we obviously hope he has a speedy recovery and wish him nothing but the best of luck in whatever he decides to do.
That should be the end, but unfortunately, there are some fantasy implications to consider.
The first is what to do with Welker. He is reportedly not considering retirement, but there is no guarantee that will remain the case. The long-term implications of multiple concussions are well known, and Welker’s apparent disposition to head injuries makes his return to the field very dangerous. Even if he returns there is still a very real possibility he suffers another head injury at some point this season.
Welker was not a particularly appealing fourth round pick to begin with, and this injury only makes him riskier. Even with his depressed ADP Welker is not a recommended pick.
The second fantasy implication to consider is how Welker’s absence would affect the other Broncos’ wide receivers. The player who gains most from Welker missing time is obviously Emmanuel Sanders, but his ADP has already climbed past the point of real value.
The best value in light of the Welker news is rookie Cody Latimer, who is currently going undrafted in standard formats. He is behind Andre Caldwell on the Broncos’ depth chart right now, but Latimer is the superior player and a better fit for the Eric Decker role in the offense. Latimer should surpass Caldwell at some point this season, and would be in line for an increased workload if Welker were to miss time.
Shonn Greene needs to be taken seriously.
I never thought I would write that sentence either.
The reason Greene needs to be taken seriously is because he is currently the starting running back in Tennessee. Greene has started all three of the Titans’ preseason games, while Bishop Sankey has yet to take a snap with the Titans’ first team offense.
Greene is an uninspiring running back, but at the moment he is clearly ahead of Sankey for the lead back duties in Tennessee. In fact, even Dexter McCluster has a bigger role in the Titans’ offense than the one currently occupied by Sankey. That reality is unlikely to persist, but it throws into sharp focus the absurdity of Sankey’s current fifth-round ADP.
It also calls into question how useful Sankey will be when he does eventually ascend to the top of the Titans’ depth chart. Even if he does become the “No. 1,” it is not guaranteed he will get the workload necessary to become a usable fantasy asset. Greene will have a role as long as he is healthy, and that role will likely include goal-line work.
That makes Sankey’s non-injury ceiling this season lower than his current draft position. Let someone else draft him.
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Russell Wilson may finally be unleashed.
Russell Wilson has been one of the most efficient fantasy quarterbacks in the league the past two seasons, posting back-to-back, top-10 fantasy years despite only averaging 400 passes a season. This efficiency has prompted many to fantasize about how good of a fantasy player Wilson could be if given a bigger opportunity. Based on his usage this preseason, it appears that opportunity may finally be at hand.
Wilson has attempted 33 passes in his last four quarters of preseason work. That number would have matched Wilson’s season high for pass attempts in a single game from last season, and would have been the fourth most passes he has ever thrown in a single NFL game. All of this in preseason games that for the most part Seattle was winning by double digits.
It is obviously preseason, and there is little reason to believe Wilson will suddenly become a 550+ attempt quarterback. Even a 450 attempt season, though, could see Wilson enter into the 300-fantasy-point tier, making him a huge value at his current 10th round ADP.
Shane Vereen will lead Patriots’ running backs in snaps.
There was much hand wringing after Shane Vereen saw limited first-team snaps and only one carry through the Patriots’ first two preseason games. Those concerns were washed away in Week 3.
Vereen played 30 of the possible 44 snaps while Tom Brady was on the field Friday, which was far and away the most by a Patriots’ running back. He carried the ball six times, and caught all five of his targets for 57 yards and two touchdowns.
It is not like this usage came out of nowhere, either. Vereen played 47% of the Patriots’ offensive snaps while he was healthy last season. He is a big part of this offense, and should continue to be a big part of the offense as long as he remains healthy.
With James White disappointing and Stevan Ridley not even a lock to make the roster, there is a great chance Vereen leads the Patriots’ backs in touches this season. He is a solid flex play in standard formats, and an RB2 in PPR leagues.
Robert Griffin III was not that bad.
The main narrative surrounding Robert Griffin III following his Week 3 performance has been about how “awful” he was against the Ravens. While his stats were certainly cringe-worthy, many people are overstating just how bad Griffin was on Saturday night.
The bad was easy to see against the Ravens. Time and again Griffin stood for too long in the pocket seemingly unable to decide where to go with the football, and once he finally decided what to do, the decision was often wrong. His indecision led to three unnecessary sacks, and his poor decision making led to one interception and at least one more pass that should have been picked.
Those are all mental issues, though. Physically Griffin actually looked just fine. His ball placement and accuracy was better than last season, and his rushing ability looked similar to the rookie we saw running all over the field two years ago. If both of those things continue to be the case, Griffin will find success at some point this season.
Griffin is unsurprisingly struggling to learn an offense that does not suit him very well. That is a concern, but it does not mean Griffin will never find success in Gruden’s offense. As long as the physical tools are there, Griffin should be just fine.
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Doug Martin is being under-drafted.
Doug Martin's fantasy stock could not have been much lower entering training camp. He was coming off a sophomore season in which he struggled before being injured in the sixth game of the year, and the Buccaneers had just spent a third-round pick on rookie RB Charles Sims. It was right to question both how much work he would get in Tampa Bay’s offense, and how effective he could be with that work. Both of those questions may have been answered this preseason.
The first was answered by injury. Sims tore a ligament in his ankle during practice in mid-August, and is expected to miss at least the majority of the season. In the wake of the injury, coach Lovie Smith called Martin his “bell cow” back, and gave Martin 14 touches in only one half of work on Saturday.
If the work is going to be there, the question becomes how effective Martin will be with the work, or perhaps how effective will Tampa Bay’s offensive line allow Martin to be? There is improvement on that front as well. On Tuesday, the Buccaneers acquired former All-Pro LG Logan Mankins from the New England Patriots. A great run blocker, Mankins should immediately solidify an offensive line that looked atrocious early in the preseason.
The workload looks like it will be there for Martin, and the offense around him appears to be improving. Both of those things should make him an exceptional value in the third round.
A.J. Green will continue to soak up targets.
The biggest concern surrounding A.J. Green this season was opportunity. He is obviously one of the best talents in the league, and he has been a stellar fantasy player for his entire career.
Despite his success, though, Green has not always been the most efficient fantasy player. His fantasy points per target last season were 1.17, which is considerably lower than his other elite peers, and his career average is 1.22.
This inefficiency was not a concern while Green was piling up some of the highest target numbers in the league, but with new OC Hue Jackson brining in a “run-first” offensive approach, it was fair to worry if a decrease in targets could lead to a disappointing fantasy season for Green.
Those concerns appear to be unfounded. Green saw eight targets in only 38 snaps in the Bengals third preseason game Sunday, and now has 13 targets in basically a full game’s worth of work this preseason. Green is still going to be a target monster in the Bengals’ offense, and is a top-five wide receiver in fantasy.
Andre Ellington is going to be fed.
Like Green, the concern surrounding Andre Ellington was also about workload. No matter how often coach Bruce Arians said he was committed to Ellington as his primary rusher, people could simply not accept the Cardinals would give a big workload to a 199-pound back. After Week 3, it is time to accept it.
According to Rotoworld’s Adam Levitan, Ellington played 26 of the Cardinals’ 29 first-team snaps against the Bengals Sunday. He rushed the ball nine times for 46 yards, and was targeted twice in the passing game.
Ellington is not going to get the “25-30” touches a game Arians jokingly promised in May, but 300 touches is well within the realm of possibility if Ellington remains healthy. He is a high-end RB2, and a good pick in the third round.
Zac Stacy situation is probably nothing, unless it isn’t.
Benny Cunningham surprisingly started over Zac Stacy in the Rams third preseason game Saturday, out touching Stacy six to five. Coach Jeff Fisher downplayed Cunningham’s start after the game, and the reality is it probably meant nothing. But then again, maybe it did.
Fisher’s excuse for starting Cunningham rang hollow. He said he wanted to give Cunningham a chance “behind the first offensive line.” That in itself seems reasonable, but it still does not answer the question of why Cunningham had to start? The first-team offensive line played well into the game Saturday, and if Fisher really wanted to get Cunningham involved, he could have brought him into the game in the second series, like he did Stacy.
More interestingly, Fisher continued by saying, “We know what Zac can do.” The Rams do already know what Stacy can do, and it is not particularly special. He is a good back that can get what is blocked and create extra yards after contact, but he is not the type of player that can carry a good offense. To be fair, Cunningham is likely not that player either, which is why Stacy still remains the favorite in the Rams’ backfield.
The most likely outcome of this situation is Stacy leads the Rams’ backfield in touches this season. That outcome, however, is not as sure as it was one week ago, and that small amount of doubt is enough to bump a player as workload dependent as Stacy a few spots down the draft board.