Fantasy Football 2014: Takeaways from Preseason Week 2

Eric MackFantasy Football Lead WriterAugust 18, 2014

Fantasy Football 2014: Takeaways from Preseason Week 2

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    Vincent Pugliese/Associated Press

    You don't think preseason games are important in fantasy scouting? Ask Le'Veon Bell. Ask Jonathan Stewart. Ask Blake Bortles, Jordan Matthews, Mohamed Sanu, Robert Turbin, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, Hakeem Nicks and Tony Romo.

    Ask their fantasy owners. Their head coaches. The players themselves.

    Like winning to Vince Lombardi, preseason isn't everything, but it's often the only thing for us fantasy owners to go on before making our picks later this month.

    Let's break down the top takeaways from this Week 2's preseason action, highlighting those aforementioned names for how they might have changed the game and their fantasy name.

Steelers' Le'Veon Bell Giving Up Carries, Goal-Line Work to LeGarrette Blount

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    Don Wright/Associated Press

    We didn't need this: Le'Veon Bell is not only sharing touches and first-team snaps with LeGarrette Blount, but Blount also looks like he will be the short-yardage and goal-line back, as Bell told CBSSports.com's Dave Richard on Saturday. If this holds true through the remainder of the preseason, we probably need to cross Bell off fantasy's dwindling list of potential late first-round running backs.

    Blount ruined Stevan Ridley a year ago (ultimately it was Blount, although Ridley's fumbles hurt, too). Now, Blount is threatening to take a significant chunk of value out of Bell.

    Bell and Blount have split time with the Pittsburgh Steelers first team this preseason, and head coach Mike Tomlin told Ray Fittipaldo of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Blount is going to "be used in more than just red-zone situations":

    They're both going to get their share. In terms of the details, no, we'll deal with that on a game-by-game basis based on the plan, based on the health of the men and a lot of other variables. We have a great deal of confidence in both guys. Both guys will be central reasons why we're successful. That's the plan and I think they're open to that.

    It looks like Bell will lose more than just goal-line carries to Blount.

    This is news damaging enough to keep from Bell from being considered a first-round pick in fantasy drafts. Bell is currently the No. 10 running back in both FantasyPros.com's analyst consensus rankings and average draft position. You have to consider a wide receiver over Bell late in Round 1 and early in Round 2 now. You might even move smaller starting backs like Giovani Bernard, Andre Ellington and C.J. Spiller over Bell in the second round.

    Bell needs the promise of 10 touchdowns to be considered a No. 1 fantasy running back. Kiss that goodbye. Blount deserves a look in the late rounds for his potential to score 10 TDs. We moved Blount up to No. 37 in our latest running back rankings, making him one of the better handcuffs to consider right now.

    Here is how we line up fantasy football's top 15 running backs:

    2014 Running Back Draft Rankings—Eric Mack
    RankRunning BacksTeamECRvs. ECR
    1Jamaal CharlesKC10
    2 LeSean McCoyPhi20
    3Adrian PetersonMin30
    4Matt ForteChi40
    5Eddie LacyGB50
    6DeMarco MurrayDal60
    7Marshawn LynchSea8+1
    8Doug MartinTB14+6
    9 Zac StacySTL12+3
    10Montee BallDen7-3
    11Alfred MorrisWas13+2
    12 Le'Veon BellPit10-2
    13 Giovani BernardCin9-4
    14Andre EllingtonAri15+1
    15C.J. SpillerBuf17+2
    Expert Consensus Rankings (ECR) from over 100 experts provided by FantasyPros.

Carolina Panthers' Jonathan Stewart Shows He Still Has Juice

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    We didn't necessarily need to see Jonathan Stewart score two touchdowns in the Carolina Panthers' preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night. We just needed to see him on the field and not limping off.

    His four-carry, 26-yard and two-TD performance was eye-opening. Most important, neither his chronic ankle woes nor preseason hamstring strain were an issue.

    "It felt good; it's been a while since I've touched the end zone," Stewart told Joseph Person of the Charlotte Observer. "It's preseason, so it's good to get my feet wet and get back in the groove of things."

    You cannot count on Stewart staying healthy for a full season. He has played less than 16 games the past two seasons combined. But starting running back DeAngelo Williams is past the age of breakdown (31) and Cam Newton has a completely revamped receiving corps. Head coach Ron Rivera is going to focus on defense and controlling the clock with the ground game.

    Stewart can prove valuable to the Panthers and fantasy owners—particularly at his present-day value. He is out of the top 150 players overall and the top 50 running backs in FantasyPros.com's analysts consensus rankings. He is merely 237th overall and the 66th running back in their ADP.

    Stewart is a huge value. He is also in his prime at age 27, so he might even be a better bet to stay healthy than the starter Williams. Move Stewart up your list of handcuffs after the top 40 running backs are off the board. We moved Stewart up roughly 10 spots to No. 46 after this performance.

Jacksonville Jaguars' Blake Bortles Might Be Forcing His Way into Early Action

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    No one is expecting Blake Bortles to impact fantasy football outside of being a long-term keeper selection or a deep stashee in two-quarterback formats. The Jacksonville Jaguars don't even want the No. 3 overall pick this past May to play this season.

    Bortles is turning a lot of heads with his preseason performance, though. He might be changing minds, too.

    Bortles is going to get some first-team reps in practice now and play some with the first-teamers in Friday's third preseason game, according to Ryan O'Halloran of The Florida Times-Union.

    Chad Henne's backup went 11-of-17 for 160 yards in his second consecutive impressive outing this past Thursday night. There is growing excitement even the Jags might not be able to contain. Bortles has been the most impressive rookie quarterback this preseason, even if he was the only one guaranteed to serve as a clipboard holder for a year.

    You still cannot draft Bortles yet in redraft fantasy leagues, but you should be watching him more closely in those two-quarterback formats this Friday now.

Jordan Matthews Has Another Busy Week; This One More Successful

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    Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jordan Matthews has been a star of training camp, but it didn't quite translate into success in his preseason Week 1 debut. He struggled with drops and had just 14 yards on his four receptions.

    Matthews' performance Thursday night was a different story. He reeled in all nine of his targets for 104 yards. Head coach Chip Kelly was impressed, telling Philly.com's Jimmy Kempski:

    (Matthews) was a little overexcited playing in his first NFL football game against Chicago, and the Jordan that we've seen in practices is the Jordan that you kind of saw (Thursday night). I think he had nine targets, nine catches. He did a good job with the run after the catch. It's the same thing that we've seen when we've been at our training sessions at the NovaCare is what we finally saw (Thursday night). He's just such an emotional guy and plays at such a high level that I think he was probably just ramped up a little bit too (much) in the Chicago game, so I'm glad with what we saw (Thursday night).

    Matthews' performance is particularly noteworthy amid growing concern about Jeremy Maclin's recovery from a major knee reconstruction and preseason hamstring issues, which NJ.com's Eliot Shorr-Parks chronicled. Matthews was going to be a frequent target out of the slot, but he is potentially an answer if Maclin proves to be as injury prone as he has been throughout his career.

    Matthews was already getting a lot of love in the FantasyPros.com analysts consensus rankings (56th receiver and 137th overall) and ADP (60-177), but he is a borderline top-50 fantasy choice at wideout right now.

Cincinnati Bengals' Mohamed Sanu Seizes Big Opportunity Right Away

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    Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Mohamed Sanu certainly showed how to seize a great opportunity during the second week of the preseason.

    With Marvin Jones (foot) potentially ruled out until Week 5, according to NFL insider Albert Breer, Sanu popped off for a 43-yard touchdown on a perfectly placed Andy Dalton pass.

    Sanu was already going to be a sleeper as a third-year wide receiver. Jones was a 10-touchdown receiver last year. Sanu might be one this year.

    As a receiver getting slotted 81st in FantasyPros.com analysts consensus rankings (219th overall) and not appearing in their top 80 ADP wideouts, Sanu is a huge value relative to draft position. This might not last long if he continues to make plays like the one Saturday night.

    It has been a long-held fantasy mantra that receivers in their third season can break through. Sanu is the perfect example of that category of sleeper. You will love the production out of him as a reserve wideout, especially with offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's run-heavy scheme that will force the safeties up in the box and allow rangy guys like Sanu to get over the top.

Seattle Seahawks' Robert Turbin Proving He Shouldn't Be a Forgotten Man

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    It is happening again. Everyone is in love with Christine Michael and overlooking the Incredible SeaHulk Robert Turbin.

    Neither proved worthy of real fantasy consideration a year ago, but with Marshawn Lynch now 28 and likely to surrender more reps and touches, one of Michael or Turbin will prove valuable as a handcuff. Michael has decidedly been the choice of FantasyPros.com's analysts consensus (ECR) and ADP.

    Here is how the two are slotted currently:

    • Michael ECR: 48th running back, 136th overall
    • Michael ADP: 50-149
    • Turbin ECR: 74-228
    • Turbin ADP: 62-NR (246+)

    Hey, folks, Turbin is still the Seattle Seahawks' No. 2 running back to Lynch right now. There should not be so dramatic a discrepancy between the two in fantasy.

    Turbin received the bulk of the first-team work behind Lynch on Friday night, rushing for 81 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries (one reception for five yards). Michael was held to 45 yards on eight carries (one reception for eight yards).

    Russell Wilson, Turbin's roommate on the road since their rookie year, is impressed, telling Clare Farnsworth of the Seahawks' official website:

    Robert Turbin works so hard every day—catches the ball extremely well, he protects extremely well, obviously we runs extremely well, too. He's really in a groove right now. So watching him run the football is really exciting.

    Turbin is the far better value right now as a Lynch handcuff outside of the top 50 fantasy running backs.

Sam Bradford Makes Preseason Debut, Proves Healthy, Productive

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    Fantasy readers are telling us all about Sam Bradford this preseason. "He is a breakout candidate," they say, etc., etc.

    Here is the problem: When you are a prospect for so long, you become a suspect.

    We are going to buy into the hype just slightly after his preseason Week 2 performance that saw him go 9-of-12 for 101 yards and a touchdown. Bradford, coming off reconstructive knee surgery, proved healthy in his 2014 exhibition debut...and productive, too.

    St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher told Howard Balzer of Fox Sports Midwest:

    Anybody that had questions about Sam's physical condition, I think they were answered (Saturday). I'm very pleased with his performance, and you can see he has his fastball. Those were great throws to Brian (Quick) and Lance (Kendricks). I'm happy with his game. He's excited and things are clearly behind him. Now we can move forward, so that was encouraging.

    Bradford is a legit injury-risk sleeper in two-quarterback formats, even if he will go undrafted in redraft leagues.

Teddy Bridgewater Still a Backup, but He Plays a Lot Better in Take II

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    Teddy Bridgewater's debut performance earned mixed reviews. This was not the case in his second preseason game.

    He was decidedly on the right side of things Saturday night, going 16-of-20 for 177 yards and two touchdowns, including a game-winning drive that culminated in a last-minute TD pass.

    "I told Teddy, I think that drive made him the man of the city," receiver Cordarrelle Patterson told USA Today's Tom Pelissero.

    It wasn't enough to get Bridgewater picked in redraft leagues—he needs to win the starter's job over Matt Cassel still—but it was the start of something potentially intriguing.

    Bridgewater, and Patterson for that matter, have plenty to be excited about now.

Hakeem Nicks Gets Feet Wet with Indianapolis Colts, Andrew Luck

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    Chris Howell/Associated Press

    Hakeem Nicks has had a run-of-the-mill training camp, according to Stephen Holder of The Indianapolis Star, but his performance against his former New York Giants team Saturday night was anything but. Nicks had five catches for 53 yards with Andrew Luck feeding him passes.

    Luck told Holder:

    A couple of guys on the team asked me that too. (They said) 'You were giving it to Hakeem on purpose, huh?' I think you give it to the open guy on purpose. It was just the way the game played out. ...

    It'll be fun for folks to get to watch when everybody's on the field at the same time.

    Nicks once looked like a 1,200-yard, 10-touchdown threat. He could be that again with a full season of health and a breakout quarterback star like Luck feeding him the ball.

    Nicks is just the 48th receiver in FantasyPros.com's consensus rankings and 130th overall in their ADP. His talent and situation trump those modest draft projections. Consider him a legit sleeper, particularly if he can stay as motivated as he was against the Giants.

Dallas Cowboys' Tony Romo Proves Healthy, Productive

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    There have been some concerns and question marks surrounding Tony Romo's recovery from offseason back surgery. They weren't apparent Saturday night.

    Romo was a crisp 4-of-5 for 80 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown strike to Dez Bryant. That sure didn't look like preseason rust and limitations post-surgery. It looked like regular-season form.

    "He looked good," Bryant told David Moore of the The Dallas Morning News. "His mind was right, he was poised and went out there, knew what he wanted to do, and did it. He wanted to show the world he is '9' and he's a baller."

    A healthy Romo is no sure thing coming off back surgery at age 34, but he is one of the quarterbacks who is a ridiculously good way to wait on the position in fantasy drafts. Romo is roughly a sixth- to seven-round pick, according to FantasyPros.com, but one capable of elite quarterback numbers of 4,000 yards and 30-plus touchdowns.

    Watching him play smoothly and remain healthy in the preseason is important, arguably among the most important things we gathered in preseason Week 2.

     

    Eric Mack, one of the giants among fantasy writers, is the Fantasy Football Lead Writer for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter, where you can ask him endless questions about your team, rip him for his content and even challenge him to a head-to-head fantasy game.