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FANTASY OBSERVATIONS: Preseason Week 2 – Part 2

Here are some fantasy related takeaways and gut reactions from the NFL preseason Week 2 games played this past Saturday.

Tennessee 34, Carolina 27

Tennessee – Key Takeaways

Quarterback: Marcus Mariota did not have any of his top three wide receivers active, but that didn’t stop him from going 6-of-8 for 61 yards and a touchdown in about one quarter of game action. Nothing else really to see here, as Mariota is locked in as a Top 1o fantasy quarterback with the upside to finish within the Top 5.

Running Back: DeMarco Murray did not play, so Derrick Henry was the next man up playing with the first-string offense. Henry did not have much room to operate, rushing for just 36 yards on 16 carries, but scored two touchdowns. One of Henry’s scores was on a nifty sweep play where he easily shook off two would-be tacklers behind the line of scrimmage and motored 17 yards into the end zone. Henry also caught 3-of-4 pass attempts for 17 yards. Murray will still be the starter, but Henry will have role in this backfield, would be a Top 10 fantasy option should Murray go down with an injury.

Receiver: Tennessee starting receivers Eric Decker, Corey Davis and Rishard Matthews all did not play, leaving third-round rookie Taywan Taylor and third-year man Tre McBride to run with the first-string offense. McBride ended up led in receiving, catching 4-of-5 targets for 73 yards, but you aren’t drafting either him or Taylor in fantasy. Tight end Delanie Walker caught 1-of-2 targets for a 4-yard touchdown, and will be an integral part of the passing attack, although his usage projects to be dialed back a bit this season.

Carolina – Key Takeaways

Quarterback: Cam Newton is still recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, so Derek Anderson got the start, going 7-of-12 for 88 yards and an interception. By all accounts, Newton is expected to be ready in time for Week 1, so there’s nothing to discuss here. If for whatever reason Newton suffers a setback, Anderson’s presence would only represent a slight downgrade to the Carolina pass-catchers in my opinion.

Running Back: Jonathan Stewart started the game, and did virtually nothing, amassing just 8 yards on four carries. The star of the show was first-round rookie Christian McCaffrey, who dazzled in his limited action, totaling 72 yards and a score on just five offensive touches (three rushes, two receptions). McCaffrey highlights included a 17-yard counter run the he took to the house, and a screen pass where he weaved between blockers for 38 yards. While Stewart is Carolina’s starter in name, McCaffrey is really giving this offense another dimension.

Receiver: Starting receiver Kelvin Benjamin caught both his pass targets for 31 yards, including a 20-yard strike where Benjamin leaped over one defender while taking a big hit from another. Benjamin is looking like a bargain as a WR2/3 at his average draft position of 50. Benjamin’s counterpart, Devin Funchess, also had an eventful afternoon, but for the wrong reasons. Funchess fumbled his lone reception (on three targets), resulting in a Carolina turnover deep in its own territory. Tight end Greg Olsen failed to catch his lone pass target, but at this stage of his career, we aren’t terribly worried about Olsen’s preseason performances.

 

Houston 27, New England 23

Houston – Key Takeaways

Quarterback: Tom Savage ran with the first-string offense, played about a quarter, and finished 8-of-9 for 98 yards and a touchdown before giving way to DeShaun Watson. Watson was not particularly efficient against the New England second-stringers, going 3-of-10 for 102 yards (half those yards came when D’Onta Foreman caught a short pass over the middle and did most of the work after the catch), but he did tack on rushing score. Right now it seems Savage has a firm grip on starting duties, but Watson brings the element of rushing threat that cannot be ignored.

Running Back: Lamar Miller ran as the starting tailback, amassing just 18 yards on seven carries. Third-round rookie D’Onta Foreman was the third running back off the bench (behind Alfred Blue and Tyler Ervin), and rushed seven times for 17 yards and a score, with two catches on two targets for 66 yards. One of Foreman’s catches was particularly impressive, as he caught a short Watson pass and eluded four arm-tacklers en route to a 63-yard gain that took Houston down to the goal line. In my opinion, Miller appears to be trending the wrong direction as he appears to lack the elusiveness that was on full display when he was in Miami, while Foreman continues to make big plays in the preseason.

Receiver: With DeAndre Hopkins (hand), Will Fuller (collarbone), and Braxton Miller (ankle) out with injuries, the Houston starting receivers were Bruce Ellington and Jaelen Strong. Ellington, who has been with the team less than two weeks, ended up leading the team with four catches on five targets for 93 yards, including a 37-yard gain where he leaped over starting New England cornerback Malcolm Butler (who had Ellington covered) and plucked the ball out of the air. Strong hauled in just two passes for 11 yards, but one of them was a score from Tom Savage (of which Butler was also the victim). Fuller is not expected to return to the lineup until October at the earliest, so the short-term No. 2 receiver role is up for grabs in Houston. Whomever that ends up being, though, I’m not interested for fantasy purposes.

New England – Key Takeaways

Quarterback: Tom Brady played the first couple offensive series, and it was business-as-usual, as he went 6-of-9 for 67 yards and a score. Despite Brady’s advanced age (he turned 40 this month), his ability to still play at a high level and his embarrassment of receiving riches dictate he will be the second quarterback taken in fantasy drafts after Aaron Rodgers.

Running Back: Mike Gillislee is still sidelined (hamstring), so Rex Burkhead got the start and made the most of his limited action with 70 total yards (7 rushes, 20 yards; 3 receptions, 50 yards, TD). Burkhead’s touchdown reception was particularly impressive as he roasted Houston linebacker Zach Cunningham from the slot and waltzed into the end zone untouched for 22 yards. James White was sprinkled in with the first-team offense, catching his only target for four yards and not receiving any carries. Dion Lewis played exclusively with the second-stringers and rushed seven times for 34 yards with an additional 9 receiving yards on his only target. As of this writing, Burkhead appears to be the favorite for consistent touches in the New England backfield. White figures to be gameplan specific as he has been in the past, while it is still unclear what Bill Belichick plans to do with Lewis and Gillislee.

Receiver: The New England starters only played a few series, so there weren’t really any standout performances aside from Burkhead. Newcomer Brandin Cooks caught one pass for 7 yards, while Julian Edelman was targeted on two passes, but failed to come up with either of them. Rob Gronkowski played, but was not targeted at all. None of these performance should affect the outlook of New England’s top receivers.

About Will Weiler

An NFL Red Zone addict and all-around data nerd, I've been obsessed with the NFL and stats ever since I started playing the virtual pigskin game in 2005.