For most coaching staffs around the NFL, the third week three of the preseason is considered the official tuneup for the battle ahead. For fantasy owners, this is our chance to observe a number of factors altering our draft plan, including projected starting lineups, young players beginning to emerge and/or veterans returning from injury. This article utilizes the preseason games to uncover those players who are on the rise, and those who should be falling off our draft board.
Please note that it would be easy for me to write about the same players covered in the mass media. We know
Kenbrell Thompkins is going to be a breakout candidate.
Eddie Lacy should be a solid RB2 after his primary challenger,
DuJuan Harris, reinjured his already fragile knee. Rookie sensation Gio Bernard continues to make BenJarvus Green-Ellis look like
Shonn Greene. The
Jermichael Finleys and
James Jones’, these players are obvious. I’ve tried to dig a little deeper to reveal those players still undetected.
On The Rise
Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Indianapolis
When the Colts originally signed Heyward-Bey, many (and by many I mean myself) thought he would be a nice complement to
Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. The speedy wide receiver was projected to fill the “
Donnie Avery role.” Apparently, Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton had other ideas. Playing exclusively with the starting offense, in three quarters of preseason football Heyward-Bey has racked up eight targets good for seven receptions and 75 yards. Of course, the concern has been the equally productive Hilton cutting into Heyward-Bey’s playing time. However, recent reports indicate the Colts want to be a more balanced offense, preferring Hewyard-Bey’s superior size as a blocker in the running game. With an average draft position in the 12th round, Heyward-Bey is sandwiched between
Brian Hartline and Denarius Moore in the draft rankings. I’m taking my chances on Heyward-Bey as a solid WR4.
, WR, New Orleans
Throughout the preseason,
Kenny Stills has been a one-man show, totaling seven reception for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Displaying top-end speed, excellent body control and super-glue hands, Stills is poised to become the downfield threat vacated by Devery Henderon and
Robert Meachem. On any other team the third-string wide receiber would be an afterthought. But as a member of the high-flying Saints, Stills should see enough opportunity to warrant WR5 consideration. Currently without an average draft position, Stills has solid upside with the last pick of your draft.
, QB, Arizona
In every draft I’ve completed, live or mock, you’ll likely find the name of Palmer. The union of coach Bruce Arians, Larry Fitzgerald and Palmer looks to be a fantasy trifecta. The development of second-year wide receiver
Michael Floyd also adds fuel to the fire. Continually selected in the late 12th round, Palmer is the best of the backups with the potential to become a top 10 quarterback (can you say trade bait?).
, TE, St. Louis
This past offseason the Rams front office dug deep into their pockets, signing Cook to a five-year, $35 million deal. It only stands to reason they did so under the “recommendation” of head coach Jeff Fisher. What Fisher knew then, and what I know now, is Cook is cut from the same cloth as the league’s best tight ends. For a man standing 6-foot-5 and 254 pounds, Cook has shown freakish athleticism, bust out speed and amazing body control. Although he’ll never challenge the top-tier tight ends, going in the middle of Round 9, Cook is a safe bet to finish the season inside the top 10.
On The Decline
Torrey Smith, WR, Baltimore
This posting could encompass the entire Ravens passing game. To put it nicely, Joe Flacco has been gosh awful. Besides an 80-yard catch-and-run by
Torrey Smith, the Ravens have shown little-to-no efficiency to sustain drives and put points on the board. Even before the loss of
Anquan Boldin and
Dennis Pitta, Flacco wasn’t considered worthy of a roster spot. I’m a huge Smith supporter, but I’m not convinced he’s ready to take over as the Ravens’ No. 1 wide receiver. With an average draft position in the mid-fifth round, I’d rather reach for the likes of
, QB, Chicago
– Strictly based on talent,
Jay Cutler ranks just below the greats in the game today. Cutler has all the tools
– a rocket launcher for an arm, gritty toughness, excellent mobility and Pro-Bowl caliber accuracy. He proved that years ago playing in the SEC for lowly Vanderbuilt. He became the first rookie QB since
Peyton Manning to finish in the top 12 in fantasy scoring. His upside is the same reason I select him every year in the 12th round, but I won’t be burned again. Sure, many are jumping all over his preseason Week 3 performance including 142 yards and a touchdown. Problem is he played the semi-pro Oakland Raiders defense. Also note the Bears defense supplied five, count them five, turnovers. With
Brandon Marshall’s hip becoming an issue, Cutler’s nothing more than an emergency QB2 with limited spot start potential. Give me
, RB, Arizona
After undergoing knee surgery this past January, Mendenhall made his triumphant return to the gridiron in preseason Week 3 against the San Diego Chargers. As always, Mendenhall put on display his shiftiness, excellent hands, solid blocking skills and downhill power. But in the mid-second quarter Mendenhall would re-aggravate his knee injury. In a post-game interview he described his knee as “loose.” I’m no physician, but that doesn’t sound good for an NFL running back. Still being selected in the early sixth round, his risk greatly outweighs his reward.
, RB, Oakland –
Let’s start with the obvious,
Darren McFadden is injury prone. And by that I mean he is a red flag injury risk of epic proportions. With most injury prone players you simply handcuff his backup and ride that player if necessary. Unfortunately, the Raiders’ No. 2 running back is plodder, Rashard Jennings, who would have minimal fantasy value if called upon. We must also recognize a Raiders offensive line that couldn’t stop a group of girl scouts. Next, the talent around McFadden is amongst the league’s worst. Let’s not forget the Raiders defense is equally bad meaning, despite coach Dennis Allen’s best intentions to install a running offense. Unless this is the Todd Haley-led Kansas City Chiefs, the Raiders will need to pass the ball in order win games. All told I can’t condone spending a late third-round pick on a player whose upside is a low-end RB2.