Week one is here at last! These are my notes from the third preseason game and the craziness that surrounded final cuts.
Veteran Karlos Dansby played little during the preseason but he was his normal productive self in the dress rehearsal game. Rookie Haason Reddick also started that game as he did the other three, but there is some question about his status as a starter for week one. Reddick has shown considerable improvement during the preseason and I believe he will eventually be an excellent three down starter on the inside, but he is not yet looking completely comfortable in the new position. He was expected to start at least a few games right out of the gate while Deone Bucannon continued to recover from ankle surgery. Bucannon was activated from the PUP on August 28th and has begun working his way back into practices. He could still miss some time early but it now looks as if he will be back on the field sometime in September. Chances are the coaching staff will find a way to get Reddick on the field after Bucannon is back but he may not have a full-time role.
Duke Riley seems to have replaced De'Vondre Campbell at weak side linebacker. Riley started the second and third preseason games going the distance with the starters in the third. He stayed on the field in sub packages and was solid against both pass and run. I would not trust him as a starter until we see a real game but Riley is near the top of my week one pickup list.
With the trade of Reggie Ragland, the Bills linebacker questions are resolved. Preston Brown is the middle backer and the top fantasy target but he may not be the only one. After spending his first two years as a part time player and backup for the Saints, Ramon Humber is going to get his shot at a starting job. He has been working in a three down role on the weak side and has been much better than expected. Humber has shown solid coverage skills and has done a quality job against the run.
Micah Hyde has quietly performed well as the Bills strong safety. He continues to get relatively little love from fantasy owners but if you have a need, he is a good target.
Cincinnati let Wallace Gilberry and Will Clarke go among their final cuts. That is a good sign for youngsters Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis. After an impressive preseason that included a sack in every game, Willis now takes over as the third man at end. If he can add some muscle and play a little tougher against the run, Willis will push Michael Johnson for the starting job in 2018. Dynasty owners will want to move on this young man if you have room for a taxi stash.
The Bengals are calling Lewis an outside linebacker because he is working as a backup on the strong side in base packages. He is, however, getting on the field as a rush specialist in some sub package situations. He may never develop into a fantasy factor but is worth keeping an eye on.
There is a chance the Bengals will be without both starting safeties in week one. George Iloka is recovering from a sore knee and Shawn Williams is making good progress after dislocating his elbow on August 19th. Neither player has been ruled out for week one but there is a good chance we will see Derron Smith at free safety and Clayton Fejedelem at strong for at least a game or two.
After taking over in the middle for the injured Tank Carder, Joe Schobert wasted no time making in impression. He was someway involved in about seven of the first ten defensive plays in game three. Tackles, assists, pressure, batted pass, it seemed he was in the middle of the picture at the end of every play. This is a player I have been high on since he was drafted and now that he has an opportunity, I expect he will become a mainstay for the Browns. Schobert even saw some sub package snaps at the expense of Jamie Collins Sr. I seriously doubt they will consistently pull Collins on third down but this is certainly something we need to pay close attention to.
The release of Joe Haden makes Jamar Taylor and Jason McCourty the undisputed starters at corner. When healthy McCourty has been among the better fantasy options at corner since 2011; that trend should now continue.
Cleveland seems to have settled on Jabrill Peppers and Derrick Kindred as their starting safeties. Peppers has the title of strong safety though the team is not using a traditional strong and free. Both Peppers and Kindred are seeing snaps near the line at times and both lined up deep on some plays during game three. Peppers looked better in game three but thus far I have not been impressed with his play or production.
The knee injury suffered by Anthony Hitchens is not as bad as initially thought but he is going to miss some time. According to Jerry Jones, the Cowboys will accelerate the progress of Jaylon Smith with the hope of putting him in a significant role. Reading between the lines this probably means Jones wants Smith to be the starting middle linebacker week one. Smith got on the field during the preseason but never played more than two or three series. He came through healthy but that does not mean he is all the way back and it certainly does not mean he is ready for a full-time role. That said if he does start and plays well for a few games, Hitchens may be a backup when he returns.
Money was a big part of the decision to trade T.J. Ward but the presence of 23-year-old Justin Simmons probably had even more to do with it. Simmons will take over the strong safety job and should be used the same way Ward was. That means a lot of time in the box with run support priority and probably duty as the nickel linebacker as well. If you have a last waiver run before the weekend, Simmons is a guy you should target if there is a need or just an available spot.
Tahir Whitehead left the August 25th preseason game with a knee injury and has not been back on the field since. There have been no definitive reports on the nature of the injury but Jim Caldwell implied the injury is not serious. The assumption here is a sprained knee which could still mean a few missed games. Even if he makes it back for week one there is no guarantee Whitehead will play full time. Rookie Jalen Reeves-Maybin had performed well and will start if Whitehead is out. If both are available Reeves-Maybin could have a sub-package role at the expense of Whitehead.
The Lions parted ways with Antoine Williams who was the projected starter at strong side backer. Paul Worrilow will probably get the call at that spot but is almost certain to work in a two down role.
Tavon Wilson missed some time with a shoulder injury so Miles Killebrew logged most of the playing time as the starting strong safety early in the preseason. Wilson returned and started the third game, logging 40 snaps and coming out healthy; he appears locked in as the starter. Killebrew played well and may eventually push for the job, but right now he will serve as the third safety. Expect him to see some sub package opportunity early on.
Ezekiel Ansah has been activated from the PUP and is expected to play in week one. It is unclear if he is completely healthy so there is a chance he will be on a limited snap count.
Green Bay Packers
There is good reason for optimism when it comes to Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan. In the second game, Green Bay started using a nickel set that pulled one of the linemen and left both inside backers on the field. They continued to use it as their primary nickel set against Denver in game three. The other sub package they showed had Morgan Burnett and Josh Jones at linebacker depth with Martinez lined up as an outside pass rusher. The Packers had good success in this alignment so it stands to reason we may see it carry over into the regular season.
Brian Cushing continues to start at inside linebacker for now but the writing is on the wall. If the oft injured veteran misses time again this year it will open the door for rookie Zach Cunningham who has turned heads all summer.
I was struggling to figure out how the Colts coaching staff could possibly be playing Jon Bostic ahead of Edwin Jackson after the first preseason game. On Saturday they answered that question by putting Jackson on IR. This move makes Antonio Morrison the player to target for fantasy production. He was short of outstanding this summer but played well and was clearly the better of the Colts remaining options. All that is left now is to see if rookie Anthony Walker gets the call over Bostic as the other starter. Walker was up and down during the preseason but made some good plays while Bostic looked like he was playing on roller skates most of the time. The Colts are already beaten up on defense and have questions at quarterback. It looks like a long year coming for their fans and a lot of opportunity for Morrison and whoever starts next to him. My money is on Walker for that spot.
Clayton Geathers will miss at least six games and possibly a lot more with his neck injury and Malik Hooker is dealing with a bad shoulder so the Colts will start Darius Butler at free safety and Mathias Farley at strong. Butler is a converted corner with good cover skills but is not the most physical of safeties. Farley, on the other hand, has done a great job, especially in run support and has been making a lot of plays. There is a good chance Geathers misses the entire season so Farley could be a nice addition.
The Jaguars have made a lot of investment in their defense but they did not look good during the preseason. Someone needs to tell Myles Jack the goal is to avoid blockers, not to run right into them. He made a few plays in game three but for the most part, has closely resembled a blocking dummy. Jack has already been moved out of the middle. He is still in a three down role and will have a ton of opportunity but will line up on the strong side on early downs. If you are still sitting on Paul Posluszny I would suggest continuing to doing so. At worst he is going to be a decent spot play and I will not be surprised if he is back in a full-time role by October.
Yannick Ngakoue has added some muscle and is working as a three down end opposite Calais Campbell. Dante Fowler has claimed a significant role as the third end but the Jaguars have still not been able to generate the pass rush they are searching for.
Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs trade for Reggie Ragland makes a lot of sense. His skill set is perfect for the strong inside linebacker position in a 3-4 scheme. At a glance, this looks like terminal news for Ramik Wilson who has been working at the position all summer, but it the long run it may be a plus. If you have been reading my work for a while you know I like Wilson. You may also remember I questioned his fit as a strong ILB and suggested he may be a long term replacement for Derrick Johnson. In his current two-down role, Wilson was not going to be much of a fantasy factor. If/when Ragland takes over the starting spot; Wilson becomes the top backup at both positions. Johnson will be 35 in November, has finished two of the last three seasons on IR and is coming off a torn Achilles suffered in week fourteen. If Johnson struggles or is injured, Wilson is in line to take over a position that has produced 90+ tackles a year for most of the last decade. Hang onto Wilson if you have room and see how this pans out.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers are going to be without Denzel Perryman for about half the regular season and possibly more. Korey Toomer will hold down the fort while Perryman recovers and could prove to be a decent in season add. He made some good plays during the preseason and was seeing action in some sub package situations. Keep him on your radar this week and know that if he puts up good numbers it is not a fluke.
Melvin Ingram III has performed well in his transition from outside linebacker to 4-3 end. It will not be a surprise if he is a 40 tackle and double digit sack guy this year.
Los Angeles Rams
With Aaron Donald still holding out and Dominique Easley on IR, the Rams are going to be thin up front. Ethan Westbrooks and Tyrunn Walker are the probable Week 1 starters at end with Michael Brockers the lone nose tackle on the roster. Rookie Tanzel Smart should provide breathers for the starters. Playing without Donald is a huge loss for the team and will make life tougher on the linebackers as well.
Rookie first round pick Charles Harris has not seen many opportunities with the starters so far but he seems to have carved out a niche as an interior pass rusher in sub packages.
Recent addition Rey Maualuga is expected to take over as the Dolphins' starting middle linebacker at some point but his late signing could make it week two or three before he is ready. Regardless when he takes over, Maualuga is going to be a two down guy with no value in most leagues.
Xavien Howard has been a standout at the corner position and is locked in as the team's number one cover man. With Tony Lippett on IR, the rest of the pecking order at corner is in question. Byron Maxwell has been starting but is reportedly getting pressure from Alterraun Verner. Both players have a history of quality fantasy production so keep an eye on this situation if you have to start a couple corners.
New England Patriots
Experience tells us never to trust anything we see during the preseason when it comes to the Patriots, so I would advise against starting any of their defenders in week one with the possible exception of Trey Flowers. New England traded Kony Ealy to the Jets then acquired Cassius Marsh from Seattle to replace him. With Derek River on IR, Marsh will be in the mix for playing time right away and could end up starting ahead of Lawrence Guy, Geneo Grissom, and Deatrich Wise Jr. Guy is currently listed as the starter but it is a safe bet these guys will all see action in some sort of rotation until/unless someone steps up and clearly claims the job.
Dont'a Hightower was activated from the PUP on August 22nd but did not play in the preseason. With Shea McClellin on IR, there is a good chance we will see Hightower on the strong side with David Harris in the middle and Kyle Van Noy weak. In the third preseason game, New England had Harris in the middle with both he and Kyle Van Noy playing full time. Van Noy was moving around a lot in much the same way Jamie Collins Sr had in previous years. One interesting note being Van Noy was wearing the communications helmet and calling plays in the huddle. Because he is a two down player we know Hightower will have little or no fantasy value regardless where he lines up. We will have to see what the plan is for Harris and Van Noy.
New Orleans Saints
The linebacker position in New Orleans has been high on the watch list this summer. The Saints appear to have made huge strides defensively and the linebacker position has been the key to their improvement. Providing they stick with what has been working they will look like this; in the base, Manti Te’o is the middle backer with A.J. Klein on the strong side and Alex Anzalone weak. Klein and Anzalone are the nickel backers and both have looked great. In the third preseason game, New Orleans used the nickel as their base and did not get out of it until five minutes into the second quarter. It is hard to say if the coaching staff was experimenting or if they really plan to use nickel as their base scheme much of the time. Either way, it looks as if Klein and Anzalone are both going to be fantasy factors here.
They did use some variations of the nickel with personnel changes in the secondary but most of the time it was Kenny Vaccaro playing closer to the line in run support with Vonn Bell and or Marcus Williams deep. On short yardage, they were bringing two safeties up in the box and playing single high with Bell as the deep man. Vaccaro is poised for a big year and Williams could be a factor as well.
New York Giants
I am highly optimistic the Giants will finally give us a quality fantasy option at the linebacker position. When they made B.J. Goodson their starter in the middle early in the summer I was less than sold but Goodson has been impressive. He does a good job avoiding blockers while sifting through traffic, has been a sure tackler and has been solid in coverage. Most importantly he has not come off the field while the starters have been in the game.
New York Jets
Darron Lee is still listed as the Jets starting weak side linebacker but he has struggled. In the third warm-up game, he had a hard time getting off blocks and was beaten like a drum in coverage on the first series. Lee's struggles led the coaching staff to give rookie fifth round pick Dylan Donahue a look with the first unit. It is hard to say where they will go from here, but in my eyes, Donahue performed better. The rookie is on my watch list going into week one.
The other big new out of Jets camp is the trade of Sheldon Richardson to Seattle and the addition of Kony Ealy. New York is running a 4-3 base scheme now but their personnel up front were not a great fit. With these moves, they gained some cap room and added a true edge rusher while making some room to get him on the field. I think we will see Leonard Williams line up with Steve McClendon on the inside while Ealy and Muhammad Wilkerson play end.
After the first two preseason games, it looked like the Raiders had settled on Marquell Lee at middle linebacker and Cory James at weak. They threw us a curve ball in game three starting Tyrell Adams at middle backer and Jelani Jenkins at weak. Jenkins looked good, leaving us wondering who would be on the field come week one. The good news here is we have a clear answer. The bad news being it came due to injury. As I have been saying all along, Jenkins is probably the team's best linebacker but he has not been able to stay healthy. Along with their final cuts, Oakland placed him on IR, making James the clear cut starter.
I thought Lee out played Adams for the MLB job but we will have to wait and see if the coaching staff agrees. Lee is still listed as the starter on the team's web site which is a good sign. The bad sign is he was coming off the field in sub packages after the preseason opener. At this point, I am pretty confident about starting James week one but would suggest getting a look at the rest of them in week one before putting Lee in your lineup.
Obi Melifonwu's development was impeded by injury over the summer and early in the preseason. He did get on the field with the backups in the later games but it was not enough to tell what the coaching staff may have planned for him in the future.
Jordan Hicks and Brandon Graham rested the last two weeks of the preseason while recovering from minor injuries. Both are expected to be ready for week one. Najee Goode played middle linebacker while Hicks was out and looked pretty good. The most interesting note from this situation, however, is that Mychal Kendricks stayed in his part time role on the weak side while Goode joined Nigel Bradham in sub packages. Kendricks is fantasy friendly when he gets a chance but it looks like he will have to escape Philadelphia if he is ever to be a factor again.
Derek Barnett started for Graham in the dress rehearsal game. Barnett left no doubt about his ability to get after the passer but will need to improve against the run before he can challenge for a starting spot. Meanwhile, Vinny Curry is playing well after a forgettable 2016 campaign.
Vince Williams is set to make his debut as a starter. This is a player I was fairly high on early but he has not impressed during the preseason. Hopefully, the light will come on this week but I will have him on the bench until/unless he shows something.
The Seahawks made a lot of moves up front this week. They sent Cassius Marsh to the Patriots, cut Rubin Ahtyba and traded for Sheldon Richardson. Taking Marsh out of the mix at end is a big plus for Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and especially Frank Clark. One less mouth to feed means more opportunity for everyone. Clark saw a specialist about his wrist last week but the team is saying he will be ready for the season opener. If this were not the case I doubt they would have dealt Marsh.
Richardson presents somewhat of a dilemma in that he was a defensive end with the Jets and will probably be a tackle for Seattle. At this late stage in the process, most hosting sites are not going to be changing positional designations so we will ride out the season with him as an end. For owners in tackle required leagues, however, keep in mind that he will likely be changed for next season and will probably be among the top tier at that position. Make Richardson a trade target this year and stash him if you can.
San Francisco 49ers
Eric Reid has been working in the "Kam Chancellor" role all summer and has been impressive. If he can stay healthy a top five finish could be in the cards for him. Meanwhile, Jaquiski Tartt has been filling in for Jimmy Ward at free safety while Ward recovers from a hamstring injury. Ward was activated from the PUP in late August but did not see action in the preseason. History tells us Tartt can be highly productive when he gets on the field. He is not scheduled to be a starter but with Ward already questionable and Reid's history of injuries, I am hanging onto Tartt in leagues where I can afford the roster spot.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers were already my favorite sleeper defense this year and the addition of T.J. Ward makes them even better. As a newcomer to the team he may not have a full role in week one but by week two Ward should be ready to make an impact both on the field and in the box scores. Keep in mind Bradley McDougald was 78-13-0 as the strong safety here last year.
The news of Su'a Cravens possible retirement came from nowhere and was a shocker. This is a player with a promising future if he decides to continue playing. The bashing he is taking from social media trolls shows the worst side of humanity. Only those close to him know what is really going on. We here at Footballguys would love to see Cravens on the field but in the grand scheme of things our biggest hope is for him to get his life back on track.
With Cravens expected to miss at least a month, the Redskins have a big hole at strong safety. Rookie fourth round pick Montae Nicholson is listed as the backup at the position and should get the first opportunity as the next man up. DeAngelo Hall could be a factor after he returns from the PUP in six weeks or so.
That does it for this week's offering. Best of luck to everyone in the opener!