Preseason may not be officially over until the Week 4 games have concluded, but for all intents and purposes, the preseason ends this week. Teams rarely play their starters in the final preseason game, as they do not want to risk a major injury to a start in the final preseason games. Here are some thoughts I have from Week 3 of the preseason and how they impact your fantasy teams.
1) Time for Your Weekly Hold Out Update – There are two holdouts that have the attention of the NFL and Fantasy Football World. Jacksonville Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew still believes he can force the Jaguars to bend on their refusal to renegotiate the two years left on his deal. Pittsburgh Steelers WR Mike Wallace thought he could negotiate a new contract away from training camp, even though the Pittsburgh Steelers have a firm policy of not negotiating with camp holdouts.
Let us start with MJD. This is the most foolish holdout in the history of holdouts. He has no leverage. His backup, RB Rashad Jennings is averaging over 5.0 yards per carry in preseason. The team only won five games in arguably the weakest division in the NFL. The Jaguars know they can lose with MJD; they are not willing to pay more money to him when they have not been winning with him in recent years. He has already accumulated over one million dollars in fines for not being at training camp. It is not happening, if he did not like this deal, he needed to think about that when he signed it. He is 27-years old and there is no way the Jaguars will renegotiate that contract. He needs to decide if he is willing to make the money he is owed or sit out and make nothing.
Wallace on the other hand finally finally decided to report. He was supposed to report on Monday, but he delayed that decision until Tuesday. Because of the collective bargaining agreement, he cannot practice with the team until next week. He has very little time to learn a new offense and who knows if he is in good enough shape to make an impact early in the season. ESPN analyst Jerry Rice, a Hall of Fame wide receiver, does not think Wallace will be up to speed for 4-5 games. I would expect an inconsistent start for Wallace that will pick it up in the second half of the season. I would value him as a low WR2 to WR3 this year that you will need to sit at the beginning of the season.
2) San Diego Chargers RB Ryan Matthews Believes He is Ahead of Schedule – I had to laugh when he was quoted by the North County Times as saying, “I’ve always been a fast healer, and that’s proving true right now.” Fantasy Owners that have seen him miss 10 starts the last two years would disagree. They would say the reason Matthews is an expert on his healing powers is that he is constantly injured. I wish that I would not know how fast he heals and would instead know that he is going to stay healthy for an entire season.
I have moved Matthews down to a high RB2. He is too good to not to have on your fantasy roster, but you do not want to rely on him as your RB1. While the sky is the limit on his potential, it is also very likely that he will return in Week 1 and be hurt by the end of Week 1. Fantasy success is about drafting good players, which Matthews clearly is. It is also about having healthy players; fantasy points cannot be scored from the trainer’s room. As long as you do not take him as a RB1, you should have the depth to survive another Matthews’s injury. I think he is a late second round to third round selection.
3) The New York Jets are a Mess on Offense – This offense does not just have one problem, it has many problems. They appeared to fix the problems on the right side of the offensive line when they benched RT Wayne Hunter and started journeyman RT Austin Howard. I would caution making a rush to judgment in one preseason game against a Carolina team that was tied for 25th in sacks last year (31). The fact is that a new offensive lineman could not change the fact that the Jets have not scored an offensive touchdown this preseason. The last team to go two games without an offensive touchdown was the 2003 Kansas City Chiefs, which ironically led the NFL in scoring that season. Still, the Jets defense even gave the offense the ball at the Carolina 12-yard line and the Jets could not score a touchdown. I do not expect the Jets to be a repeat of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012.
The easy factor is to focus on the quarterback; there is a fascination about whether backup QB Tim Tebow can overtake QB Mark Sanchez for the starting position. The troubles on the offensive line have been covered in depth. However, I think the most telling thing was when CB Antonio Cromartie made the proclamation that he would be the second best wide receiver on this team. I do not necessarily agree with his observation, but I think it is a telling statement about what the defensive back thinks about his receivers. Other than WR Santonio Holmes, there is no one on that offense that scares defenders, whether it be Cromatrtie or a defender on another team. The problem with Holmes is that he is just as likely to take himself out of the game with his attitude as an opposing defender blanketing him; the Jets cannot depend on him.
There just are not a lot of players on this team that are both fast and can play football. TE Dustin Keller is an athletic tight end with an injured hamstring (does not appear to be serious) and I already talked about Holmes. RB Shonn Greene is good between the tackles, but does not possess burner speed. A lot has been made about the offensive line and the quarterbacks, but I am utterly unimpressed with the skill position players either. The Jets were just 25th in yards gained last year, I see an offense that is going to continue to struggle to move the ball most weeks. It could be a very long football season in New York, and I would avoid their skill position players until you are in the middle to late rounds of your fantasy draft. They keep looking more mediocre by the week.
4) Indianapolis Colts QB Andrew Luck vs. Washington Redskins QB Robert Griffin III was impressive – The game was a little over hyped, it was not exactly Bird vs. Magic in the 1979 NCAA Finals. Still, it was fun to see the top two picks in the NFL Draft go against each other. Luck was 14 for 23 with 151 yards passing and a touchdown pass to rookie WR T.Y. Hilton. RGIII was 11 for 17 with 74 yards passing and a touchdown. Neither rookie threw an interception.
It is too early to know if either quarterback will make an impact in the league, but they both look the part. I have said it before and will say it again, barring a substance abuse problem or a career ending injury, Luck should be the best quarterback in the league in five years, with Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers being the one player that could have something to say about that. Luck is mentally the most NFL ready player since QB Peyton Manning came into the league in 1998. Griffin looks ahead of the curve too and while he has not run NFL offenses for as long as Luck has run them, he looks very poised behind center. I think both teams hit a home run and hopefully we next see these guys in a prime time regular season game or in a Super Bowl. If you thought they hype was unbelievable for a preseason game, you are not going to want to see the hype if these two play in a Super Bowl. For now they are QB2 options for your fantasy team, not home run hitters that you want to rely on each week. In dynasty leagues, you can safely build your future around both of these talented signal callers.
5) Seattle Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson becomes the fifth rookie starter – Elias Sports Bureau has cited that there have not been more than two rookie opening day starters at quarterback since the leagues merged back in 1970. This year there are going to be five of them. This was a very strong rookie quarterback class, but it is surprising to see so many teams go with rookie quarterbacks. I think one reason for that is that Carolina Panthers QB Cam Newton and Cincinnati Bengals QB Andy Dalton had so much success last year. The NFL is a copycat league and if two teams have success with rookie quarterbacks, other teams with bad veteran quarterbacks are certain to follow.
In the case of Wilson, the team wanted to go with free agent QB Matt Flynn, who they signed in the off-season. The problem is that Flynn played like an established veteran that had the job secured. Wilson played like a man possessed that was on a mission to win the job. I am not certain that Wilson will have a great year or lead the Seahawks to the playoffs. What I am certain of is that he did everything in his power to win that job and clearly outplayed Flynn in the preseason.
Wilson left the coaching staff no choice but to go with the rookie. To have denied him would have sent a message that contracts and experience matter, not performance. Wilson has been doubted at every level, because of his 5’ 10” height. I hope he succeeds, because he has a great story and it is always cool to see the underdog prove the establishment wrong. He may be worth a waiver wire addition if he has a hot start to the season. Given that the Seahawks do not have an impact fantasy wide receiver, I would want to stay clear of him as my QB2 until he shows he can elevate the play of the receivers around him. In dynasty leagues, I think he is a more intriguing option as he has a lot of upside as he learns to play the NFL position.
6) The Pittsburgh Steelers Suffer a Huge Blow to Their Offensive Line – Preseason does not matter unless a team suffers a devastating injury. That may have happened to the Steelers when rookie OG David DeCastro suffered a dislocated kneecap, torn MCL and partially torn patellar tendon in his right knee. The Steelers decided not to put him on IR, meaning that he could comeback at the end of the season. Castro was their first round pick and was expected to make big contributions at the guard spot. Last year’s starter, Ramon Foster takes back his old job.
The Steelers needed to rebuild their offensive line to help with their run blocking and protecting QB Ben Roethlisberger. Castro looked every bit as advertised, a solid rookie that could start right away and develop into a Pro Bowl guard. This is not a career ending injury, but you have to wonder how much better the Steelers offense would be if he played all year. It is another challenge the Steelers must overcome if they want to make the playoffs again. It is another reason to avoid the running back by committee situation in Pittsburgh; my suspicion is that they are going to struggle mightily to run the football, especially with their talented rookie guard now injured.
7) Former St. Louis Rams T Justin Smith Needs a Hug – I usually do not talk about offensive tackles in a fantasy article, but this warrants discussion. It is bad enough to be the second pick in the 2009 NFL Draft and already be on the roster bubble in 2012. It is another thing to be so bad that a team would rather have New York Jets T Wayne Hunter over you. The Rams swapped Smith for Hunter, which shows just how far Smith has fallen since being the second overall pick. This is not swapping one trouble young player for another. Hunter was a third round pick in the 2003 draft and is now playing for his fourth team since being drafted by the Seattle Seahawks.
This is one of the reasons the Rams continue to win 2-4 games per year. Other than 2008, where the Rams selected DE Chris Long, none of their high draft picks in recent years has established himself as a viable NFL player. Why I worry about this story from a fantasy end is that QB Sam Bradford and RB Steven Jackson depend on their offensive line to earn fantasy points. If the Rams figure that Hunter can help them more than Smith can, it does not say much about this offensive line. It is a reminder that this is one of the most fragile offenses in the NFL and that it is probably not realistic to expect massive improvement this year. Jackson and Bradford may be able to put up good yardage seasons, but I expect this team to struggle to score touchdowns.
8) The Dez Bryant Strip Club Prevention Plan – The Cowboys have taken personal conduct to a new level. In an effort to keep Dez Bryant from facing a league suspension, they have put a number of rules in place. He is not allowed to stay out past midnight, he cannot attend any strip clubs, he can only go to clubs approved by the Dallas Cowboys and he has his own personal conduct policy. It will be interesting to see if the NFL Players Union files a complaint against the Cowboys. The NFL is an employer, not a military school. Bryant would be well served to respect the wishes of his employer, they are good rules to live by and he is an arrest away from being out of Dallas. He has not shown that he can make the right decision on his own since joining the Cowboys.
This may work for a season, in the end Bryant has to decide that he wants to live his life in a way that he can remain in the NFL. It may be easier to keep him in line during the season, but once the off-season comes around, he may want to stay out until 12:30 am or even 1:00 am. The last player the Cowboys tried this with was CB Adam “PacMan” Jones. He ended up trying to beat up his security detail during the season. This is not enough to concern me for 2012, but in dynasty leagues, it is very concerning. You have wonder if Bryant will be able to survive an off-season under “Jerry’s Rules.”
9) The Arizona Cardinals Demonstrate that Two QBs equals No QBs – The Cardinals still have not decided on a starting quarterback and if I were head coach Ken Whisenhunt, I would not want to make that decision either. Keep in mind that the last head coach to announce his starting quarterback in 2011 was Washington Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan. That decision came down to Rex Grossman or John Beck. That is a similar decision to the Cardinals, who must decide between Kevin Kolb and John Skelton. There is a reason the Cardinals are late to the party and it is never good to be the last team to announce a starting quarterback.
My prediction is Skelton, although it really does not matter. If they go with Kolb he will be injured or ineffective by Week 3 and they can go back to Skelton. The main fantasy concern is what does this do to their skill position players, most notably All-Pro WR Larry Fitzgerald. The weak quarterback situation has not dramatically impacted his yardage. He has 90 receptions for 1,137 yards and 80 receptions for 1,411 yards in the two years since QB Kurt Warner retired. The difference is the touchdowns. He led the NFL in touchdown receptions in 2008 and 2009 with 25 combined touchdowns; he has 14 touchdowns over the last two years. He probably finishes somewhere between the fifth and 10th ranked fantasy receiver with poor quarterback play impacting his touchdown production.
10) Cut down day may mean the end for Seattle Seahawks WR Terrell Owens and Buffalo Bills QB Vince Young – I would not read too much into the early releases of these two prominent veterans. Many teams will release veterans now that do not fit into their plans as a courtesy to allow them to catch on with another team. If the Hawks knew they were going to release Owens, releasing him after the fourth preseason game would have only hampered his ability to catch on with another club. The same goes for Young. Releasing him now allows him to explore his options. It does not mean that the players that survived the cut down date are better players.
I think Young will see another chance. I think his days as a starter are over, but sadly there are not 64 quarterbacks that are better than he is at this point in his career. Some team is going to suffer an injury and give Young a look. There is speculation that Young may have to revive his career in Canada, it may be a little early for that extreme measure.
Owens on the other hand appears to have hit a dead end. There was not a tremendous amount of interest in Owens; it was a surprise the Seahawks took a gamble on him. Two big drops in the preseason did nothing to help his chances. Injuries are always the wild card and if a team suffers numerous injuries at wide receiver, they may be tempted to go with the veteran. Do not expect either player to catch on with a team until some team suffers injuries in the regular season. The days of these guys helping your fantasy team appear to be over.