Teams not named the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints will play their first preseason game this weekend, but that does not mean there are not stories around the NFL. Here are some injuries and players to keep an eye on as teams open their preseason schedule.
1) Do not go all in on Cleveland Browns RB Montario Hardesty – The news about starting RB Trent Richardson is depressing, no one wants to see a stud running back having his knee operated on in August. Keep in mind, according to ESPN.com Chris Mortenson; the procedure was to remove a “hang nail particle” that was irritating the knee. Fortunately, this is minor knee surgery and Richardson could be ready by Week 1.
Keep in mind the Browns play the Eagles at home and the Bengals on the road to open the season. The Eagles have an explosive offense and could be ahead early and often in that game. Their run defense should also be much improved over last year. The Bengals were 10th in rushing yards allowed last year, so there is not that cupcake opponent in the first week or two that make Hardesty an attractive play; his value will plummet when Richardson returns. Hardesty would be worth no more than a flyer in the very late rounds, the Browns offense is not so good that you want any running back that starts there.
2) Sell on Arizona Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb doing anything, ever – I am done hoping that Kolb will realize his potential. The guy does nothing but suffer injuries. It took one preseason game and he already suffered a rib injury. In two preseason games, he is just two for nine for 25 yards and an interception. It does not appear that he can handle the pressure of a quarterback competition, which makes it hard to believe he can handle a starting job in the NFL, if he can stay healthy.
I thought Kolb would win this job, but I am not convinced anymore. I think John Skelton is going to earn the nod in Arizona. He is tougher than Kolb and the Cardinals won six of eight games last year with Skelton as the starter. Skelton is nothing spectacular, so Kolb could very well enter Week 1 as the starter. Expect him to be hurt by Week 2 and for Skelton to win the job by injury. It is a depressing situation, which is preventing WR Larry Fitzgerald from being the slam-dunk second wide receiver in fantasy football. I have Fitzgerald ranked sixth due to the inconsistency of the people he depends on to feed him the ball.
3) Do not become caught up in the New York Jets hype – It is easy to think the Jets are a relevant team with all the hype they receive. It seems a player or commentator calling QB Tim Tebow worthless is a daily occurrence, even though he is only the backup quarterback. You hear things such as, he should not be in the league, he is running shirtless, he beat starting QB Mark Sanchez in a wind sprint; at a certain point the commentary becomes mindless nonsense for the sake of increasing hits, listeners, or viewers. I may very well be guilty of that by writing about him in this article, although this is not a commentary on Tebow’s fantasy value or the Jets quarterback situation. It is a commentary on the value of the Jets players in fantasy football.
If the media were not so busy fawning over the Sanchez and Tebow story, the story of Jets camp would be that their offensive line is abysmal. The Jets used to have a stellar offensive line, which is one reason they made the AFC Championship Game in 2009 and 2010. Those players aged and what is left is All-Pro C Nick Mangold, LT D’Brickashaw Ferguson and three other offensive lineman that are struggling to find their way. They struggle to protect the quarterback and opposing defenses can load up against the run with the lack of elite speed players at the skill positions. The Jets were an average offense last year. They ranked 13th in points scored and 25th in yards gained. Who quarterbacks there is a story, but the bigger story is that the offensive line makes the Jets skill position players people to avoid in fantasy drafts unless the price is right in the later rounds. RB Shonn Green is their best fantasy player, and he is a flex play at best most weeks. The other players provide depth in case the people you want to play most weeks suffer injuries or have their bye week.
4) Where to draft two former elite receivers – There are two former elite receivers in new places this year. WR Randy Moss landed in San Francisco this off-season and WR Terrell Owens landed in Seattle. Both are well past their prime, but figure to be on the field this year. The question becomes where do you draft these former stars and which one has the higher ceiling. The problem is that neither plays with a great quarterback. The Seahawks have three quarterbacks competing for the starting job; that fact alone speaks for itself. The 49ers have QB Alex Smith, an average quarterback who lacks the ability to stretch the field.
I like Moss a little better than Owens at this point, as Moss is surrounded by playmakers. TE Vernon Davis is an elite tight end and RB Frank Gore is a respected running back. Moss has won over the locker room in San Francisco; he signed his contract and went to work. An intramural football team did not waive Moss this year, which is something that Owens cannot claim. Moss has also been with San Francisco the entire off-season. I have Moss ranked 34th, projecting him for about 600-700 yards and eight touchdowns. I have Owens ranked 39th, projecting him for about 550-650 yards and five touchdowns. Neither of them should be anything more than WR4s that can play during bye weeks and against easy match ups. They may have been elite at one time, but those days are behind them.
5) What to make of the release of Chad Johnson – Chad Johnson received a raw deal in Miami, if you still look at him as the elite player he was back in 2007. Johnson had never been arrested in the NFL. Johnson was released on a $2,500 bond, which does not make the incident minor, but shows that this was not the fight of the century. There was an argument about a receipt for condoms found in the car and a head butt was exchanged. It is not clear who initiated the head butt and what will probably happen is that his wife will eventually say the whole thing was blown out of proportion and the charges will be dropped. I cannot see this going anywhere and given that Johnson was never arrested in his NFL career, I do not expect the league to suspend him for this incident.
The problem for Johnson is that this is not 2007; it is 2012. In 2007, he was coming off an All-Pro season where he led the league in receiving yards (1,369) and scored seven receiving touchdowns. In 2012, Johnson is coming off a season where he had just 15 receptions for 276 yards and one touchdown. Johnson was on a zero tolerance policy and the Dolphins could cut him without owing him a dime, which is what they chose to do. Johnson will probably sign another contract, but it will be when a receiver suffers an injury. In Miami, he could have been a starter, now he is probably looking at a third or fourth receiver role. This incident destroys any chance of him becoming a star receiver again and makes him a player to avoid in your fantasy leagues if he signs with another team. Johnson does not appear to be starting receiver material in 2012, and he may have to take up that second career in porn that he joked about sooner rather than later.
6) What does the signing of Cedric Benson mean in Green Bay – The Packers signed 29-year old RB Cedric Benson to a one-year contract for $825,000 with Green Bay. It is too early to tell if he will be the starter there, but it is a clear sign that RB James Starks is not showing his 2010 NFL playoff form when he appeared to be the Packers running back of the future. He has had a poor camp and had an even worse opening preseason game in which he dropped a pass and fumbled the football. He also has a turf toe injury that is creating doubt about his future availability. It also means that RB Alex Green has not shown enough coming back from ACL surgery that the Packers feel comfortable giving him the starting job. Furthermore, RB Ryan Grant has to be viewed as completely washed up if the Packers were not willing to sign a player the same age as Benson that would know the playbook from Day One.
Best-case scenario for Starks is that he turns it around and Benson is used as the short yardage and goal line running back. Worse case scenario, Benson becomes the starting running back with Starks and Green used as a change of pace. I had Starks ranked at the 38 spot anyway, which is where I will probably insert Benson and move Starks out of my rankings if Starks does not recover from turf toe and poor play. The Packers running back spot is a position to avoid this year; it will be a committee situation in an offense featuring the passing game of league MVP, Aaron Rodgers.
7) Keep an eye on Steve Smith this year – When you first read that sentence, you were probably thinking that Smith is already on your radar, because he plays with QB Cam Newton in Carolina and is coming off a terrific season. The problem is that I am not talking about him; I am talking about the former New York Giants player that is now in St. Louis. People forget that Smith had 107 receptions for 1,220 yards and seven touchdowns in 2009. A complicated microfracutre surgery on his knee took two years from him.
The word out of St. Louis is that Smith looks impressive. ESPN’s John Clayton was very impressed with Smith and feels that Smith could be in store for a rebirth. It is not a wild goose chase, as the Rams have a young quarterback in Sam Bradford with no other weapons. Smith does not have to beat out a slew of Pro Bowl receivers, and is only 27-years old; this is not a 35-year old player trying to comeback from a devastating injury. I have not moved Smith into my rankings yet, but I expect him to be there by the end of preseason, provided he can stay healthy and secure the top spot on the Rams offense. He is a player to watch and will be worth a late round pick.
8) Andrew Luck looked like a star in his debut – Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck was the cream of the crop in this year’s draft class and in the opening weekend of preseason. He went 10 for 16 with 188 yards passing and two passing touchdowns in a 38-3 victory over the St. Louis Rams. While it does not put the Colts in the Super Bowl this year, this game confirms that Luck is probably the most NFL ready quarterback to enter the NFL since QB Peyton Manning, especially from the mental side of the game. That is not to take anything away from Newton in Carolina, but Newton is a freakish athlete that scored 14 rushing touchdowns last year. Newton had never played in a pro offense and had to rely on his immense physical gifts while he learned the nuances of the pro game without the benefit of an off-season program due to the lockout. Luck does not have the physical talents of Newton, but looks like a player that has been running NFL offenses for years.
Luck looks ready to be a fantasy contributor in his rookie season. I currently have him ranked 14th, even if he plays like this through preseason I do not think there is anything he can do in preseason to move into the Top 12 of my fantasy rankings. He is still going to struggle once the regular season arrives and teams start game planning for him. In 2013, he should be poised to crack my Top 10 rankings not only for that year, but also for years to come.
9) The Other Rookie Quarterbacks Impressed this Weekend - Luck was not the only rookie quarterback to make an impressive debut. Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III completed four passes in six attempts for 70 yards and a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills. Miami Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill was 14 for 21 with 167 yards and a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Only Cleveland Browns QB Brandon Weeden failed throw a touchdown pass going three for nine for 62 yards and an interception against the Detroit Lions.
While preseason is meaningless, it is very possible that all four quarterbacks could be starting Week 1 this season. The only one that is in doubt right now is Tannehill, but with starting QB David Garrard out with a knee surgery, Tannehill may very well beat out QB Matt Moore for the starting job. Luck is highest on my draft board at 14th and Griffin III comes in at 19th and may jump a little in my rankings by the end of the preseason. He has been having problems picking up the blitz in practice, which gives me pause as to how he will do early in the regular season. The other two are to be avoided in seasonal leagues playing on weak offensive units. They are worth flyers in dynasty leagues that could produce in a couple years when both they and their skill position talent are improved. It is rare that four rookie quarterbacks are the opening day starters for their team, but with the success that Newton had last year, teams appear more willing to throw their first round picks into the fire and let them learn on the job.
10) Houston Texans rookie WR Keshawn Martin is ascending up the draft chart – For those of you in seasonal leagues, you can probably stop reading right now. Even when QB Matt Schaub passed for 4,770 yards in 2009, the third leading wide receiver on the team (Jacoby Jones) had only 437 yards and six touchdowns. Now the Texans are a run oriented offense; a third receiver is not going to have a ton of value. Martin had two receptions for 24 yards and one rush for 12 yards in his first preseason game against the Carolina Panthers.
However, WR Andre Johnson is 31-years old and the Texans are not stellar at tight end. Martin is a good dynasty value that may warrant a waiver wire pickup later in the season. He is a rookie to keep an eye on, but probably not one to draft unless you are in a dynasty league.