Gauging a player’s fantasy worth off of preseason performance can be a double-edged sword for fantasy owners. For every head-turning performance turned in by a Ben Tate, as in the 2011 preseason, there is a Cedric Peerman or Anthony Dixon, circa 2010, who put up three and four touchdowns, respectively. Then the regular season rolls around and neither is a factor for fantasy purposes, rendering their preseason feats useless for evaluation purposes.
The same perilous situation affects the defensive side of the ball as starters are rested and kept to very limited action, allowing names to jump off the stat sheets who are not normally thought of as fantasy relevant. A better example would be a look at the top two running backs this preseason, Cyrus Gray (Kansas City) and Joique Bell (Detroit). Do we really expect to see either of these players among the Top 50 fantasy producing players at their position? Didn’t think so. So, let’s delve into the defensive side of the ball and examine some preseason darlings to date and their chances to actually contribute once the ‘real’ season begins.
Jordan Senn, OLB, Carolina:
After being allowed to check out his worth on the free agent market, Senn re-signed with the Panthers as mainly a special teams player. He leads the NFL this preseason with 17 total tackles and actually has had some moderate success when called upon for extended playing time. He amassed more than 70 total stops last season and forced three fumbles while filling in on an injury ravaged Carolina linebacking corps. As the kickoff of the 2012 season nears, the Panthers are once again nursing some nicks and bruises among their linebackers. Jon Beason has yet to suit up for a preseason contest while recovering from an Achilles injury and oft-injured Thomas Davis is dealing with a calf problem. Davis is also attempting to comeback from three ACL surgeries and is far from a lock to make it through the season unscathed. Senn is undersized at 5-foot-11 and 225 pounds but is the primary backup to both Beason and Davis, so he could hear his name called again to step in and contribute for Carolina in 2012. His preseason success is less of a ‘red herring’ and more of a reminder to fantasy owners that he can get the job done if given the opportunity.
Stewart Bradley, ILB, Arizona:
Bradley was a huge disappointment last year, his first in Arizona, as he failed to unseat Paris Lenon in the Cardinals defense and put up only 31 total tackles. Entering his second season in the desert, Bradley is making a strong play to surpass Lenon on the depth chart and return to fantasy relevance. He has put up 14 tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery, while patrolling the middle for Arizona this preseason. Bradley struggled last season to pick up the Arizona defensive scheme and having an entire offseason to learn the ropes has paid off as he looks to return to his 2008 form, when he amassed 108 total tackles while in Philadelphia. A torn ACL cost Bradley the entire 2009 season and he has yet to reach the potential he displayed in winning the starting inside linebacker job for the Eagles. Lenon tweaked an ankle in the first preseason game for Arizona, opening the door for Bradley to gain valuable playing time and a chance to impress the coaching staff. Keep a close eye on how many snaps he gets when Lenon returns to the field. He is a proven fantasy producer that just may get one more chance to shine.
Alex Albright, OLB, Dallas:
Albright has 13 total tackles this preseason and finished last year, his first in the league, with 11 total stops. A special teams player, he has also been taking some snaps at the tight end position with Jason Witten nursing a spleen injury. Albright will probably make the 53-man roster due to his size and versatility, but has no fantasy worth to speak of. Should the Cowboys find themselves needing to play the kid from Boston College for more than a handful of defensive snaps, it means they will have suffered massive injuries to their linebacking corps.
Doug Hogue, OLB, Detroit:
Hogue spent his rookie season with the Lions as a special teams standout and looks to see more snaps at linebacker in 2012. The Syracuse alum is still learning the pro game but has looked solid thus far, racking up 15 combined tackles in the preseason. The Lions let Bobby Carpenter walk in free agency and are looking for Hogue to step up into a reliable reserve role. While he has been participating in training camp, Stephen Tulloch has been dealing with some tendinitis in his knee and may see a reduction in snaps in 2012. Hogue is gaining valuable experience this preseason. While he will be behind veteran Ashlee Palmer, he figures to be well ahead of rookies Travis Lewis and Tahir Whitehead as a primary, backup option for the Lions in 2012.
Jerry Hughes, OLB, Indianapolis:
The Colts have switched Hughes from defensive end to an outside linebacker position entering the 2012 season under new defensive coordinator, Greg Manusky, who likes to employ the 3-4 formation. The Colts are hoping that Hughes can fulfill the potential they saw when selecting him in the first round back in 2010. He has been a disappointment to say the least, with barely 20 tackles and a single sack during his first two seasons in Indianapolis. The switch to a pass rushing edge specialist plays more to the skill set that Hughes flashed at TCU and has helped him to amass three preseason sacks already. He will be primarily backing up Robert Mathis to begin the season, but if he continues to pressure the quarterback as he has so far in 2012, Hughes could finally payoff for the brave fantasy owner who decides to take a flyer on him late in drafts.
Phillip Hunt, OLB/DE, Philadelphia:
I mentioned Hunt in my ‘fantasy handcuffs’ article and he has had a great preseason. Coming over from the Canadian Football League prior to the 2011 season, he has provided solid defensive line play for the Eagles. As Jason Babin and Trent Cole recover from injury and are saved for regular season action, Hunt has staked a claim to more snaps in the Philadelphia defensive line rotation. He will absolutely improve on the two sacks he racked up in 2011. Hunt is actually a late-round fantasy draft option with nice upside, especially if Jason Babin or Trent Cole should go down for an extended period of time.
Aaron Morgan, DE/OLB, Jacksonville:
Morgan makes this list simply due to the 2 1/2 sacks that he has put up in the first two-preseason games. He appeared in seven games as a rookie back in 2010 and then missed all of 2011 with an injury. He is a pass rushing specialist on a team that is sorely lacking at that particular position. Any player on the Jaguars that can get to the quarterback deserves a mention, even if it is only the preseason. Andre Branch and Jeremy Mincey are going to need all the help they can get along the defensive front, and look for Jacksonville to give a long look at the third-year kid from Louisiana-Monroe. Any port in a storm is the basic philosophy when mentioning Morgan. He is not worth drafting but monitor his preseason workload moving forward.
Derek Wolfe, DE/DT, Denver:
It is time to show a little love to the defensive tackle position, and with a rookie to boot! Actually the 2012 second-round draft selection of the Broncos kicks outside as a defensive end in the base defense and then becomes a tackle in the nickel defense, so he’s not a pure defensive tackle. He has made a name for himself with a strong training camp, and a two-sack performance against Chicago in his first preseason action. At 6-foot-6 and nearly 300 pounds, the kid is a handful for offensive lineman. He will be part of a rotation along the Denver defensive front. Should he continue to shine as he has thus far, he could garner a few extra snaps once the regular season starts. As with all rookies, he has a learning curve to overcome and can be controlled and pushed off his lanes, but will still make plenty of plays based on his size and strength. He is a dynasty grab for sure and his impressive 2012 preseason will see some owners take a chance on him in re-draft formats.
Bill Bentley, CB, Detroit:
The Lions enter the 2012 season with pretty much the same problem that they ended the 2011 season with. Detroit suffers from a lack of quality players in the defensive secondary, leading to a susceptibility to getting beat through the air. Bentley was taken in the third round last April out of Louisiana-Lafayette, and with the release of the troubled Aaron Berry, got the nod to start in the Lions’ first preseason game. Bentley nabbed an interception in his pro debut, and that alone is reason enough to put him on this list. Of course he also got beat for a few catches, but, in the Lions’ case, beggars can’t be choosers. The NFC North has become a passing division, and Detroit is rolling out the likes of Jacob Lacey and Alphonso Smith to try and stop Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers twice a year. Chris Houston is the best the Lions have to offer at the cornerback position, and Bentley should see plenty of time on the field in 2012. Whether or not he can make the most of it will determine his fantasy worthiness. For now, just keep his name in mind as an early season, waiver wire possibility.
Ron Brooks, CB, Buffalo
: Brooks is currently tied for the league lead with four passes defended in the preseason. The Bills rookie has also added an interception. He also has six solo tackles and is looking to crack the defensive back rotation for the Bills after backing up the likes of Patrick Peterson and Morris Claiborne while at LSU. Brooks is a special teams ace, has blazing speed, physicality and the athleticism to develop into a quality NFL defensive back. He needs to refine his skill set and will get the opportunity to do that as he currently is behind fellow rookie Stephon Gilmore, Aaron Williams, Leodis McKelvin and Terrence McGee in the Buffalo secondary. Every snap he gets in the preseason will speed up his ascension to a bigger role on the Buffalo defense, but for now he is purely a wait-and-see player and will be mainly a special teams contributor.
David Sims, FS, Cleveland:
Sims has bounced around a bit since finishing his college career at Iowa State and now finds himself with two preseason interceptions for the Browns. He has also returned one of those picks for a touchdown and actually could find himself No. 3 at the safety position heading into the regular season. Usama Young has been injured since early August and Sims has taken full advantage of his extended playing time, amassing the two picks and five total tackles. T.J. Ward and Eric Hagg are penciled in as the starting safety duo, and Sims can secure the No. 3 spot in the rotation if he continues his solid preseason play. He is not worth considering on fantasy draft day but is an injury away from being a starting safety in the NFL. That means potential fantasy production.
So, there is a quick look at some of the preseason statistical leaders after two games and their fantasy potential moving forward. Numbers can of course lie, though, as a number of these preseason darlings will move back to the bench and onto special teams, continuing to bide their time. After all, if preseason stats counted towards the Hall of Fame, they would be carving out Jim Sorgi’s bust already.