The third full week of exhibition games serves as a final dress rehearsal before teams encase their starters in bubble wrap and await the start of the regular season. So more than any other week, this set of stats tells us how players will be used—and more importantly, how effective they’ll be in those roles. With that in mind, here are 10 stats that stood out from games of the penultimate week of the preseason.
Andrew Luck vs. Redskins, 14-23-151-1; Robert Griffin III vs. Colts, 11-17-74-1 – All eyes were on the marquee matchup between the top two picks in the 2012 draft, and while the lopsided 30-17 final score favored the Redskins neither quarterback disappointed. Both rookie QBs played into the second half, both threw touchdown passes, and both looked ready to live up to the hype. Luck can use Indy’s rebuilding defense to his fantasy advantage, as he’ll be playing plenty of catch-up this season; Griffin should see more opportunities in an offense that has ranked in the top five in passing attempts each of the past two seasons, and once the regular-season switch is flipped he’s bound to provide more this week’s five rushing yards as well.
Tony Romo vs. Rams, 9-13-198-2 – Starters usually play into the third quarter, and the Cowboys’ plan was to get Romo 25 snaps or so of work. Romo had something different in mind, using 22 plays to direct three first-quarter scoring drives and donning a baseball cap well before halftime. No Miles Austin or Dez Bryant? No problem; Dwayne Harris (3-118-2) and Kevin Ogletree (5-75) combined for 139 yards of Romo’s total, allaying concerns that Romo’s productivity might fall off sans the Cowboys’ regular receivers.
Russell Wilson vs. Chiefs, 13-19-185-2 passing, 2-58 rushing – When camp opened the third-round pick was an afterthought in the Seahawks’ quarterback competition; Friday night’s showing solidified the rookie’s claim on the starting job. Wilson helmed the first team for seven drives; the Seahawks came away with points on six of them, a missed 51-yard field goal the only blemish on his record. The rookie sports the highest passer rating in the preseason and has also mixed in 150 rushing yards as well; his four rushes of 20+ yards are twice as many as any other runner this preseason. At present he’s out-RG3-ing RG3; he doesn’t have to be drafted nearly as early, and his combo platter of skills offers similar fantasy upside.
Stevan Ridley vs. Buccaneers, 16-87-1 rushing, 3-17 receiving – The Patriots let BenJarvus Green-Ellis walk with the expectation of letting a pair of 2011 draft picks battle for his touches. While Shane Vereen hobbled off after losing three yards on two carries, Ridley continued his solid preseason with another strong showing. Ridley’s one-yard TD plunge demonstrates he’s capable of filling the 24-score shoes vacated by Green-Ellis, and the 104 yards from scrimmage on 19 touches are indicative of what he can do with the bulk of New England’s backfield workload.
David Wilson vs. Bears, 5-49 rushing, 2-26 receiving – After impressing against backups, Wilson got a crack with the first team due to Ahmad Bradshaw’s hand injury and did not disappoint. Three of his seven touches went for 15 yards or more and the first-round pick averaged better than 10 yards every time he handled the ball. If Wilson continues to improve his pass protection and understanding of the offense, he’ll not only inherit the workload vacated by Brandon Jacobs’ departure but also carve into Bradshaw’s touches as well.
Alfred Morris vs. Colts, 14-107-1 rushing, 1-6 receiving – Oh joy, yet another back in Mike Shanahan’s rotation. With Roy Helu and Evan Royster sidelined with injuries and would-be starter Tim Hightower slowly working himself back from an injury of his own, the rookie capitalized on his opportunity. The sixth-round pick out of Florida Atlantic averaged 7.6 yards per carry, scored the game’s first touchdown, and broke off three runs of 17 yards or longer. Hightower produced 29 yards on six touches in limited work and may not be ready to reassume the role Shanahan is reserving for him. That means Morris could start for the ‘Skins in New Orleans in Week 1—and when it comes to Shanny’s backfield rotation, possession is nine tenths of the law.
Cedric Benson vs. Bengals, 6-38 rushing, 1-10 receiving – Benson looked reasonably good in his first action as a Packer, drawing praise from the Green Bay coaching staff. Before visions of Benson following the blueprint of Corey Dillon (exit Cincy, reinvigorate career with a Super Bowl contender) cloud your judgment, know that Mike McCarthy plans on using Benson and speedy Alex Green in a rotation. John Kuhn looms as a goal line factor, and don’t forget about Aaron Rodgers; he led the Packers in rushing for the second straight game and also swiped two red-zone rushing scores.
Eric Decker vs. 49ers, 4-38-2 – Peyton Manning’s first two touchdown tosses as a Bronco both went to Decker, who stuck around to catch a couple balls from backup Caleb Haney as well. Denver’s leading receiver across the board this preseason is still tracking about 14 picks behind Demaryius Thomas in average draft position (ADP), but all signs point to Decker being Manning’s go-to receiver. And the 10-12-122-2 Peyton posted against the Niners suggests that despite the change in uniforms, Manning’s favorite target is a fantasy must-have.
Torry Smith vs. Jaguars, 8-103 receiving – The Ravens rolled up 48 points at home against Jacksonville, and while four of their touchdowns came after the regulars had left the game the first-team offense looked just fine. Joe Flacco (27-36-266-2-1) threw more passes in three quarters than he did in 13 of Baltimore’s 18 games last season; 11 of them—more than twice any other receiver—were directed at Smith. Anquan Boldin (3-39) and Vontae Leach caught Flacco’s touchdown tosses, but Smith remains the big-play receiver and is muscling Boldin aside as the Ravens’ top fantasy target.
Kendall Wright vs. Cardinals, 4-44-1; Justin Blackmon vs. Ravens 4-72 – A pair of first-year receivers in the AFC South, both with sophomore quarterbacks, are battling for the right to be the first rookie wideout off the fantasy draft board. Wright continued to demonstrate chemistry with Jake Locker (11-20-134-2), and after playing with Robert Griffin III in college knows how to improvise a route and make a play for his quarterback. Blackmon was targeted eight times by Blaine Gabbert, more than any three other Jaguars combined. He’s also capable of making his quarterback look good, and with Jacksonville’s offense somewhat unsettled pending the arrival of Maurice Jones-Drew at team facilities Gabbert is going to need all the help he can get.