This is the most important week of the preseason, as teams not named the Arizona Cardinals and New Orleans Saints are playing their third preseason game. That means that teams will play their starters into the third quarter, which makes this the one preseason game that most closely resembles a regular season game. Here are some injuries and players to keep an eye on as teams approach their most important preseason game.
1) The Tennessee Titans make the right call on Jake Locker – My philosophy on quarterbacks is very simple. It is always painful to start a young player over a veteran player that has had success in the NFL. Inexperienced players make mistakes and the experienced player always give the team the best chance to win on paper. The time to play the younger player is if the team is not a Super Bowl contender and the veteran player is too old to ever be a Super Bowl contending quarterback. All playing an above average veteran quarterback accomplishes is stunting the growth of a young quarterback while the team has no shot of being a serious Super Bowl contender.
The Tennessee Titans were (9-7) and missed the playoffs last year. Last year’s starting QB Matt Hasselbeck is a very fine quarterback that has been to Pro Bowls and started in a Super Bowl. The one Super Bowl start was in the 2005 season, the last Pro Bowl was in the 2007 season. He also turns 37-years old in September and is not a Super Bowl caliber quarterback at this point in his career. This is not a future Hall of Fame QB, such as Denver Broncos John Elway or Pick Your Team Brett Favre at the end of their careers playing at a MVP level. This is a good NFL quarterback that started 16 games and finished 14th in passing yards (3,571), tied for 15th in passing touchdowns (18), tied for 10th in interceptions (14), and 16th in QB rating (82.4). It is time to go with the younger Locker and see if they have their franchise quarterback of the future. They have no shot of winning a Super Bowl this year with Hasselbeck, starting him only stunts Locker’s development, who already has sat on the bench for a year learning from Hasselbeck.
2) The Miami Dolphins made the right call on starting rookie QB Ryan Tannehill – This is the same commentary with a slightly different twist. If Hasselbeck were on the Dolphins roster, I would say they should start Hasselbeck. Tannehill is a rookie and Hasselbeck would give the Dolphins the best chance to win while they develop their rookie quarterback. Tannehill could learn a lot watching Hasselbeck play the position. It is always better to go with the veteran early and replace him with the rookie later in the season than the other way around.
The problem for Miami is they do not have Hasselbeck on their roster; they have an injured David Garrard and journeyman Matt Moore.
I am not convinced that Tannehill will be a Pro Bowl level quarterback and I thought he was drafted more because he looked the part of a NFL quarterback than he played like a NFL quarterback at Texas A&M. Once the Dolphins made the decision to draft him, it is foolish to play washed up quarterbacks or never-will-be quarterbacks.
The Dolphins have a young team; the time to find out what they have is now. Tannehill will not learn anything watching the other two start and would be best served begin thrown into the fire and given the chance to be the starter. He has played well enough in camp to earn that right.
3) If you were looking for a sign not to draft Philadelphia Eagles QB Michael Vick, you have seen two of them– I am not going to feel sorry for fantasy owners that take Vick in the third round and are upset that their prized fantasy asset is hurt by midseason.
He has played two preseason games and left both with injury. One was an injury to his throwing hand and the other was a rib injury. He is a player with a history of injuries that cannot finish a preseason game right now.
I do not put a lot of stock in preseason games; Vick could stay healthy in 2012 if he was going to be playing behind a different offensive line once the regular season begins. I do not think the preseason is an indication that Vick is not in the right frame of mind to play a style that protects his body as much as I think it is an indication that the Philadelphia Eagles are average when it comes to pass protection. Vick is going to take a lot of hits this season and if he is already struggling to make it through a preseason game, wait until NFL teams start game planning to put pressure on him. He will put up two or three amazing games this year and he will miss at least 3-4 games with injuries. He is not worth a high draft pick.
4) Sell on Detroit Lions RB Jahvid Best ever being a good NFL player – I loved Best’s potential coming into the league and he had 268 yards from scrimmage and five touchdowns in his first two NFL games back in 2010. He has not played a game since Week 6 of the 2011 season due to concussions. Usually concussions are not so serious that a young player like Best misses an entire season with them. You would think with no contact since October of last season, he would be ready to go this season. Instead, the Lions are talking about putting him on the PUP list, which means another six weeks of missed games.
Sometimes we become so caught up in our fantasy leagues that we forget these are real people with real injuries. While I am concerned about my fantasy team, I am also concerned about this guy’s future after football. He needs to retire before something serious happens that cannot be fixed. If he still cannot find clearance to play a year after suffering a concussion, he is a prime candidate to suffer another concussion his first game back. I hope he makes the right decision and if he decides to play, I hope he has a long career full of good health. He is not worth putting on your fantasy roster because you hope it will work out for him. His medical condition is more than troubling. The back to own in Detroit is RB Kevin Smith, although he also has durability issues and plays in an offense that is likely to throw the ball twice as much as they run it. Smith is a flex play at best in good match ups.
5) Do not buy into the early activation of Pittsburgh Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall – This move was made for two reasons. The Steelers are a mess at running back and are not sure if they have a running back on their roster that can make it six weeks this season. That is the number of games Mendenhall would have to sit if he started the season on the PUP list. Just because they activated Mendenhall from the PUP list does not mean they cannot put him back there once the regular season starts. It means they are optimistic he could play somewhere between Week 4 and Week 6 and are going to try to use the rest of preseason to see if they can make that happen.
The Steelers are going to be a committee at running back this year. RB Isaac Redman will start the season as the top back, if his hip and groin are healthy enough to allow him to start. RB Jonathan Dwyer will fill in for Redman if his shoulder holds up. RB Chris Rainey could be a third down back that is a change of pace from the other two backs. Mendenhall will work his way into the mix when he is fully recovered from his ACL tear. This is a situation to avoid in your fantasy leagues. I envision Redman being the top fantasy back for this team, although will be a flex option early in the season that loses value as the other backs eat into his playing time.
6) Pittsburgh Steelers WR Mike Wallace’s holdout is concerning – Kansas City Chiefs WR Dwayne Bowe finally showed up at camp, which means that he has time to work himself into football shape, learn the new offense and be ready for Week 1 of the NFL regular season. Pittsburgh Steelers WR Mike Wallace has not followed his lead and the Steelers also have a new offense. Wallace is one of the two most prominent NFL players still holding out, I will address Jacksonville Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew next.
There has been a buzz around training camp that he will be back; the question with him is, what will his attitude be like once he returns? Will he be sour about the Steelers decision to offer him a $2.72 million tender while they extended the contract of WR Antonio Brown, giving him a six-year deal worth $43.04 million? I think Wallace makes it before the start of the regular season, but he needs to learn the playbook and not have a bad attitude if he is going to be a successful player for the Steelers and in fantasy football. I have him as a WR2 right now, but that could drop if he continues to miss more time or has a poor attitude when he does show up.
7) Jacksonville Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew’s holdout is at catastrophic status - MJD is a different story.
He has no leverage, as he has two years left on his deal and RB Rashard Jennings is impressing in camp. However, this holdout has never been about rationality. It is about a 27-year old that led the league in rushing and has outperformed his contract. He feels this is his last chance to renegotiate a new one and he is going to holdout, even if he is not holding any cards.
I think he misses regular season games. He will not miss the whole season, as he needs the season to accrue time towards NFL service. This feels a lot like WR Vincent Jackson back in 2006, who played only five games while he was in a contract dispute with the San Diego Chargers. I am selling MJD by the day and am starting to view him as nothing more than the third running back taken in your fantasy draft. You cannot take him in the first five rounds when you may not be able to play him for half the season.
8) San Diego Chargers WR Vincent Brown’s Injury Closes One Door and Opens Another – Brown was looking like a potential sleeper player, but a broken ankle is likely to cost him half of his season. He is no longer worth drafting in your fantasy leagues; he may be worth a waiver wire addition later in the season. However, Brown earned a chance to compete for the third receiver spot when WR Eddie Royal suffered a groin injury. The Chargers were raving about Royal before his groin injury and he is likely to return to practice this week and should be ready for the regular season.
Royal is back on the fantasy radar and is a sleeper that could produce big things this year. He was a rookie fantasy star on the rise when he played in Denver with QB Jay Cutler. Since then, he has been playing with quarterbacks that have noodle strength arms. That is about to change this year playing with QB Philip Rivers in one of the best deep ball offenses in the NFL. Royal is one of those late round flyers or waiver wire additions that could explode in fantasy this season. His chances improved when Brown’s ankle caused him to leave the crowded receiver picture.
9) Keep an eye on Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson – I am not sure what is going on in Seattle, because QB Matt Flynn started the first two preseason games and was viewed by many to be the eventual starter. However, Wilson has completed 22 of 33 passes for 279 yards, three touchdowns and one pick. He has also added eight rushes for 92 yards and a touchdown. That has earned him the start in the Week 3 preseason game, which is usually the game that NFL teams use as a dress rehearsal for the regular season.
The Seattle Times speculated that the move might be a chance to give Wilson a shot with the starters out of fairness. The NFL is not a fair league, teams do not start a backup in Week 3 unless the starter is injured or the backup has a chance to become the starter. Flynn probably still wins the job, but the Seattle starting quarterback spot is still not settled. If Wilson blows up with the starters this week, he could end up binge the Week 1 starter in Seattle.
10) Dez Bryant’s Patella Tendinitis is Good for Fantasy Owners – Normally injuries headed into Week 3 of preseason are not good things, but I think Bryant is poised for a big season. He reported to camp in very good shape and was having an excellent camp. All indications are that he will be fine for Week 1 and that this injury should not linger into the regular season, provided he rests and does not come back too soon and aggravate the injury.
The reason this is good for fantasy owners is that some people are going to jump off the bridge and are going to downgrade Bryant. Being able to take a fantasy star a round later is always a good thing. I think Bryant is poised for a breakout year and the sky is the limit for him this year. This injury will allow you to obtain that production at a discount, which is always great in fantasy football.