The NFL preseason has finally begun. With Week 1 games behind us, we finally get a chance to make some fantasy football analysis for current games instead of years past.
Of course, this is just the preseason. As exciting as it might be to have football back, we can only glean so much from the meaningless contests. Savor football now that it’s back, but take this inaugural look at targets, touches and throws with a healthy dose of salt.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
5 targets—4 receptions, 52 yards, 1 touchdown vs. Vikings
As rookie options go at wide receiver, none might be better than DeAndre Hopkins at this stage.
Hopkins hopped over the competition at the position with a great performance against the Vikings, hauling four catches including a beautiful 34-yard grab for a touchdown. Hopkins very much looked the part as Andre Johnson’s right-hand man at wide receiver, a promising sign for the Texans and fantasy owners alike.
The best part about Hopkins might be his value in drafts. He can be had in the teen rounds right now as your fourth or fifth receiver. Granted, if he makes this much noise throughout the preseason things will change. He is certainly one of the top dynasty rookies this season.
Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Minnesota Vikings
8 targets—4 receptions, 54 yards @ Texans
If Cordarrelle Patterson’s target count was any indication, he is going to give Hopkins a run for his money as the top rookie receiver.
Patterson was targeted eight times—tied for second-most for Week 1 of the preseason—in less than two quarters of work. Granted, that was all with the second-team offense, but he flashed what he could do while he was in the game.
Mind where he lands on the depth chart, however—unlike Hopkins, Patterson doesn’t have the No. 2 job waiting for him. It looks like he will have to supplant Jerome Simpson. That might not sound hard, but the Vikings might want to have Patterson develop further down the depth chart while bringing his electrifying skills to the kick return game.
Leonard Hankerson, WR, Washington Redskins
5 targets—4 receptions, 38 yards, 1 touchdown @Titans
Aldrick Robinson, WR, Washington Redskins
7 targets—2 receptions, 28 yards @ Titans
Josh Morgan, WR, Washington Redskins
3 targets—3 receptions, 39 yards @ Titans
The Redskins have plenty of question marks at receiver after Pierre Garçon. Josh Morgan, Aldrick Robinson, Leonard Hankerson and Santana Moss are all vying for playing time.
It looks like Hankerson got off to the best start of them all against the Titans. The third-year pro was sure-handed in his first game out, avoiding drops and getting into the end zone on a screen.
Whoever comes out of this competition as the No. 2 receiver could put up some nice fantasy numbers. It’ll take more than one good performance from Hankerson to take that job, but perhaps he is starting to realize that potential in his third season. Keep up with him in the next few weeks, you might have a nice late-round pick in store.
Dustin Keller, TE, Miami Dolphins
2 targets—2 receptions, 46 yards, 1 touchdown @ Jaguars
The Dolphins had a busy offseason, making a flurry of big moves they hope will translate to more victories. One of the smaller moves might make the biggest fantasy impact of them all, however.
Dustin Keller signed a one-year deal intent on proving he is worth a bigger one next season. He replaced the ever-pedestrian Anthony Fasano, who is now underwhelming the great people of Kansas City.
Keller had a nice debut with the Dolphins, catching both his targets for 46 yards and a touchdown. After Ryan Tannehill’s shaky start, he settled down with Keller’s help. The talented tight end could become Tannehill’s safety blanket, which would make him a valuable PPR commodity if he can stay healthy.
Chris Givens, WR, St. Louis Rams
3 targets—3 receptions, 82 yards, 1 touchdown @ Browns
All the buzz in the St. Louis wide receiver corps surrounded electrifying rookie Tavon Austin this offseason. Chris Givens was all but forgotten, even in the analyst community.
Well, he made everyone remember him against the Browns.
Givens made the most of his time on the field, catching all three targets from Sam Bradford, including a 59-yard strike over the middle of the field. He parked himself in the back of the end zone a few plays later for his touchdown catch.
The second-year receiver could be Sam Bradford’s top target this coming season. Givens flashed his upside as a rookie last season, quickly becoming St. Louis’ deep threat. A more well-rounded game and top billing in that receiving corps could lead to some big-time fantasy action for Givens.
Christine Michael, RB, Seattle Seahawks
16 touches—16 carries, 89 yards @ Chargers
As rookies go, Christine Michael has gotten zero buzz as a fantasy option. He has, however, made some noise in Seattle as the potential heir to Marshawn Lynch’s throne.
Robert Turbin has been nursing an injury, and there had already been chatter that Michael looked better than he did all of last season. He put that on display against the Chargers in Week 1 of the preseason with a fancy 5.6 YPC average.
There is no chance Michael supplants Lynch, but it will be interesting if he catches Turbin. That would make him one of the more valuable handcuffs in the league, and a nice dynasty league stash.
LeGarrette Blount, RB, New England Patriots
11 touches—11 carries, 102 yards, 2 touchdowns @ Eagles
This is what you’re going to want to do after LeGarrette Blount’s massive performance: find your league-mates in the coming week, rave about how good Blount looked while maintaining an impregnable poker face, and profit.
Philadelphia apparently decided they were going to forego tackling against New England last week, as evidenced by the 248 rushing yards the Eagles gave up. This was no more obvious than when Blount took an outside zone handoff to the left, reversed field like a dump truck at a rally race, and sped downfield for a 51-yard touchdown score.
Make no mistake, the top two running backs in New England are Stevan Ridley—who had a fantastic game himself—and Shane Vereen. If Blount makes the team, his upside might be BenJarvus Green-Ellis’ old role. But it’s more likely he won’t do much on the field.
Evan Royster, RB, Washington Redskins
14 touches—14 carries, 62 yards @ Titans
Roy Helu, RB, Washington Redskins
13 touches—13 carries, 57 yards @Titans
The backups were on display for Washington with Alfred Morris sitting out the preseason opener. There was nothing spectacular to show for it, but both Evan Royster and Roy Helu had pretty good nights.
Both averaged 4.4 YPC, which seemingly means neither has created separation for the No. 2 job. Helu had been making noise through training camp, though, which could be the reason why he got the starting nod over Royster. He also played 11 more snaps.
This is a camp battle worth noting for handcuff reasons. Should Morris get injured or falter early, Helu could step in and have a potentially big season. Mike Shanahan has never been a committee guy, however—there isn’t much value in Washington’s backup running back outside being a handcuff.
Ryan Mathews, RB, San Diego Chargers
3 touches—3 carries, 19 yards vs. Seahawks
It was a brief appearance for Ryan Mathews, but already he has had far more success than he did in the 2012 preseason. Namely, he didn’t break a bone after his first carry, the biggest victory of the night for the third-year running back.
He actually looked spry against the Seahawks, albeit in limited action. He was on the field for just six, three of which he toted the rock. He averaged over 6.0 YPC on those carries, but it’s hard to get excited about that kind of production on such limited playing time.
Mathews is trying to fend off newcomer Danny Woodhead for playing time. The latter appears to have the inside track to the third-down role, but Mathews should be a fine fantasy option if he can stay healthy. After all, he was the 10th-best fantasy back in 2011. Sadly, his brutal 2012 campaign was like a MiB-style neuralyzer for his fantasy owners.
Daryl Richardson, RB, St. Louis Rams
6 touches—4 carries, 24 yards; 2 receptions, 20 yards @ Browns
St. Louis is hosting arguably the best preseason camp battle at running back between Daryl Richardson, Isaiah Pead and rookie Zac Stacy. Richardson appears to be winning.
He wasn’t on the field for very long, but he made the most out of his appearance. Richardson averaged 6.0 yards per carry and came up smelling like roses. It helped that Isaiah Pead fumbled the ball away on his first carry of the night.
Richardson has plenty of upside, the question is whether he can hang on to the job or if it will be a “hot hand” approach in St. Louis. He has appeal as a pass-catching threat, and he can certainly hit that homerun out of the backfield. If he wins the job, he should be a big blip on your fantasy radar.
Brandon Weeden, QB, Cleveland Browns
13 throws—10 completions, 112 yards, 1 touchdown vs. Rams
Brandon Weeden looked... good?
The second-year quarterback has been the butt of many jokes. You would be too if your grandson played in the league with you.
Kidding aside, there is some upside here for the 29-year-old sophomore. Weeden has some nice weapons at his disposal—when Josh Gordon isn’t being suspended at any rate—and a coaching staff that is proven on the offensive side. Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner could actually turn the Browns into a good offense, and his performance against the Rams was an intriguing look.
Whether that look was into a crystal ball or a bucket of fool’s gold remains to be seen, but keep Weeden on your radar. He isn’t draftable unless you play in a two-quarterback league, but he could certainly be a serviceable bye-week fill-in if this wasn’t a fluke.
Sam Bradford, QB, St. Louis Rams
8 throws—5 completions, 102 yards, 1 touchdown @ Browns
The excuses are over for Sam Bradford. He is in his fourth year, and he finally has some weapons.
He looked sharp in his first outing, particularly on a pretty 59-yard ball he threw to Chris Givens on the money. It was a promising start for Bradford, who even did his damage without utilizing his new toy, Tavon Austin.
Bradford is in a muddled group of quarterbacks with upside as potential top-12 fantasy players. That is to say, he isn’t worth drafting as your starter, but he could be a fine backup or second quarterback in a two-quarterback league. The better he looks during the preseason, the higher he will start to go in drafts.
EJ Manuel, QB, Buffalo Bills
21 throws—16 completions, 107 yards, 1 touchdown; 3 carries, 28 yards @ Colts
It was an auspicious debut for rookie EJ Manuel as he appears to have taken the reins in Buffalo. A strong camp combined with Kevin Kolb’s struggles has elevated Manuel to the starting gig.
Of all the good, relevant preseason performances, however, Manuel’s might need the biggest grain of salt. He showed off his athleticism, but he did most of his damage against Indianapolis’ second- and third-team defense. That salt is named Jeff Tuel, who threw for 212 yards and two touchdowns with far more efficiency in relief of Manuel.
Still, it was a positive showing for an uncertain starter. Manuel has some upside, especially considering the offensive pace that was on display for Buffalo. It wasn’t quite the frenetic pace Chip Kelly brought to the Eagles, but more plays mean more opportunities to score fantasy points for Manuel.