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For many first- and second-year players in the NFL, the preseason will be the most playing time they receive. When the regular season gets underway, these young talents are buried on depth charts, on a practice squad, or searching for a tryout when injuries pile up across the NFL. Pivotal veterans are also included in this list. Here are positional notes from week one of the 2014 preseason:
Ryan Tannehill looked sharp and, more importantly, the offensive line gave him more protection than most of 2013. Tannehill as a results was on-target, sharp in his progressions, and a dual threat with his pocket movement.
Garrett Gilbert had a promising showing for the Rams with a strong arm and accuracy on display. With Sam Bradford one of the NFL starters with a tenuous hold on a job, Gilbert is one of the more attractive deep quarterback names to know that could see 2014 playing time.
Logan Thomas was one of the highlights of week one of the preseason. His athleticism and rushing ability was never in question. His accuracy and passing ability, however, was a major concern. Thomas was hyper-accurate while showing off his usual power arm. With even decent passing numbers, Thomas would be a top-15 fantasy option on a weekly basis at a minimum. His profile resembles Cam Newton as a prospect, placing him firmly on the watch list in one-quarterback leagues and a target player in quarterback premium formats.
Carlos Hyde received plenty of work with the San Francisco starters and looked every bit the part of a starting NFL running back. His combination of power and unexpected lateral explosion jumped off the screen. His play led to a scoring drive for the 49ers in the first quarter. Hyde also picked up a blitzer or two in the passing game. Any chink in the armor for Frank Gore could lead to a full-blown committee backfield or even tilt towards Hyde in 2014.
Ray Rice looked more like his 2012 self in limited action. His burst, which had been lacking in 2013, was back and the former fantasy stud was light on his feet. Even with the two-game suspension that opens the door for Bernard Pierce to open the season, Ray Rice offers elements in the passing game that two-down options in Pierce and Lorenzo Taliaferro cannot offer the Ravens offense. If regaining his form, Ray Rice will have at least a 50-50 backfield role, if not 60-70% of the work.
Lorenzo Taliaferro confirmed what my projection model outlined as his skillset: he is a two-down option in the NFL with straight-line skills. Rarely will Taliferro be able to stick his foot in the ground and win in the open field against an unblocked defender. He did show decent burst and willingness to win collisions between the tackles. Taliaferro is more of handcuff to the two-down role of Bernard Pierce (or replace if/when Pierce leaves Baltimore) than to a rejuvenated Ray Rice on passing downs.
Silas Redd had a limited resume coming out of college with poor athleticism and limited use in the passing game. In his first game action, however, Redd looked capable showing agility and decisiveness to and through the hole. His pre-draft physical measurements were solid, but Redd appeared undersized for any potential lead role. The odds are against Silas Redd developing into even a strong committee option in an NFL backfield, but monitor his development the next few weeks.
Bishop Sankey showed everything one would want in his first NFL action. His balance, vision, and hands out of the backfield were all on display. One flash play came at the end of the first half. On a busted passing play on third-and-long, Sankey worked his way back to the quarterback, caught a sideline route, broke a tackle, and eventually gained the first down. Multiple times Sankey had shades of early-career Ray Rice in his play. Later in the game, Sankey easily beat linebacker coverage on a red zone flat route for a touchdown.
As a whole, the Green Bay running backs looked outstanding. With Eddie Lacy sitting out, James Starks and long-time Packer favorite Dujuan Harris both showed burst, winning at the point of contact, and vision at the line of scrimmage. Raijon Neal looked the least impressive of the bunch as a lumbering straight-line runner. Practice squad may be a best-case scenario for Neal. The Packers appear loaded at a once-destitute position.
Jacquizz Rodgers ran with the first team, with Steven Jackson out, for a majority of the snaps. Rodgers was shifty between the tackles, but rarely moved a defender backwards for yards at the end of a run. On a play or two that broke outside, it was clear Rodgers did not have the speed to break the big gain.
Antone Smith flashed big-time burst and speed in the open field. While his agility is lacking, that speed is a needed element in Atlanta’s backfield. Smith received snaps ahead of Devonta Freeman, playing behind Jacquizz Rodgers.
Devonta Freeman piled up yardage to open the preseason as one of the most productive running backs around the league. However, much of his yardage came on a third-and-34 draw play to close the first half and a busted coverage on a wheel route for a long reception. Freeman was clearly behind Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith in the running back rotation and even Josh Vaughn got snaps ahead of Freeman regularly.
Damien Williams was one of the more intriguing free agent signings at running back and he saw significant work in the second half for Miami. His receiving skills were on display, one of the stronger elements of his college profile, but Williams’ lateral agility was lacking on the ground. In addition, Williams was carted of the field in the fourth quarter after a defender rolled up on his ankle. Any injury for a fringe roster player is a critical setback, so monitor Williams’ status if stashed in a deep dynasty league.
Orleans Darkwa is a deep dynasty name to know. He was being mixed in with Damien Williams in the Miami backfield in the second half and for the most play outplayed the more well-known Williams. Darkwa showed veteran patience as he picked his way through the interior of the defense and had the burst to flash at the second level. With Damien Williams carted off the field late in the game, Darkwa is a name to monitor on the Dolphins running back depth chart.
Storm Johnson did not show well in his first NFL action. The big-bodied running back was not laterally explosive and took far too long to throttle down and change direction. When the initial running lane was clogged, Johnson rarely got back up to speed at a new angle. Johnson’s struggles give Terrance Cobb more life as a dynasty name to monitor. Cobb saw action for Jacksonville late in the game and ground out yards after contact with regularity. The small school production was very productive and has NFL-level athleticism. Monitor Cobb if Johnson continues to struggle.
Charles Sims made a quality NFL debut. As expected, Sims was used regularly in the passing game with success. In addition to his natural hands, Sims got north-and-south as an interior runner in a hurry and found daylight outside when the line of scrimmage did not present a hole.
Ka’Deem Carey got into the game in the first quarter for Chicago, one of the earliest showings for a rookie around the NFL in week one. Carey was not overly impressive in his time, but the Bears lack much competition for Carey as the primary backup to Matt Forte with Michael Ford being the likely number three running back.
Mark Ingram was one of the top veteran performances of the week. He looked healthy and was running with power and consistency. The sizzling hot expectations are gone from his rookie season and now Mark Ingram is a quality upside play in 2014. In addition to Ingram, Khiry Robinson was also impressive in the Saints backfield, showing good burst and a punishing style after contact. When healthy, the duo provided the New Orleans with a quality one-two punch of power runners.
Tre Mason looked impressive as runner with burst between the tackles and solid leverage at the point of contact. I only saw Mason in pass protection one time, his glaring skillset hole at this juncture, and the quarterback got rid of the ball prior to seeing if Mason could hold his own. As a runner, Mason looks as talented or moreso than incumbent starter Zac Stacy, but the pass protection variable will be key for Mason’s 2014 progression.
Andre Williams continued his strong preseason showing with burst and running hot between the tackles. His rushing ability was not a question mark entering the NFL, but rather his lack of receiving skills. The passing game will be the aspect of Williams’ game to monitor, otherwise his fantasy upside is tempered greatly.
Mike Leshoure was looking his best since his rookie year injury. He is a pure power back, with decent hands, but still the third or fourth option on the Detroit depth chart. Once again there are trade rumors that Leshoure may be on the move, but the odds are stacked against him gaining a significant backfield role outside of a injuries.
Latavius Murray showed good push on inside runs, quality hands in the passing game, and was split out wide on occasion. One knock is he ran into the back of his offensive lineman on a couple of occasions. Murray threw in a one-handed reception as well. A quality showing as he lost his rookie season due to injury.
Jerick McKinnon has overt athleticism and his physical traits were obvious even running against first and second team NFL defensive players. He was a little hesitant with decision-making, but had the lateral explosion and burst to still gain yards once he picked a lane.
Joseph Randle showed well and much better than his time during the 2013 regular season. Explosiveness and being able to make the first defender miss were the most noteworthy qualities with Demarco Murray out of the lineup.
Ryan Williams is back! His signing with Dallas was under-the-radar but his lateral agility is a welcome sight for the former second-round NFL draft pick. While a long-shot, Williams is the most talented back on Dallas’ roster behind Demarco Murray.
Branden Oliver was getting the Darren Sproles comparison across twitter after his performance this week. Wearing number 43, being short, and having a high foot frequency certainly help his cause. The San Diego backfield is loaded, but Danny Woodhead would be the main hurdle for Oliver to see change-of-pace work.
Trent Richardson still appears sluggish and an injury to the Colts starting center will not help matters.
Stepfan Taylor was running hard and looked like a favorite for the power option behind Andre Ellington. There is value to be had in the Arizona backfield if Ellington is not the 20-touch per game option that has been the buzz of the offseason. Jonathan Dwyer’s highlight moment came on his very first carry when he ran over a defender in a one-on-one situation. Taylor is a more well-rounded running back, but Dwyer is likely the better between-the-tackles option in a vacuum.
Alfred Blue looked like a long-strider, similar to Houston teammate Arian Foster. Blue eats up ground in a hurry with each stride, but did not show much agility. If the hole is there, Blue found it and got up to speed. Without a clear running lane, Blue struggled to create his own yards or break down defenders.
Jeremy Hill exhibited a lower pad level than the games I observed in college. He had the look of a better version of Benjarvus Green-Ellis previously in the Cincinnati offense.
De’Anthony Thomas has smooth speed and showed it in the return game. On offense, carving out a significant role may be difficult, but entertaining the watch.
Charcandrick West, a name rarely mentioned even in the deepest of dynasty leagues, exhibited strong skills late in the Chiefs game. West’s best traits were his burst and balance through contact. While the practice squad is likely the best case for West in 2014, his profile was one of the better ones for undrafted running backs in the this year’s class.
James Wilder, a forgotten name, was running hot and showed nice hands on a tough outlet pass late in the Bengals game. While buried on the depth chart for now, Wilder has the ability for a larger role if he strings together health, which eluded him in college.
C.J. Spiller looked back with a healthy ankle and showed the ability to change direction and leave defenders flat-footed. A healthy Spiller is an automatic start each week, while as fantasy owner know, a hampered Spiller is a question mark in terms of expectations.
Bryce Brown was impressive when he had a free running start to a carry and was allowed free access to the ‘corner store’ as Matt Waldman likes to say. Brown had more explosiveness than Fred Jackson, but lacks the innate running back skills to be a dependable option from play to play.
Aldrick Robinson saw plenty of playing time and has the profile of a strong deep threat in the NFL. While his play has been inconsistent up to this point, upside remains in the cards. The signing of DeSean Jackson hurts Robinson’s chances tremendously in Washington, but monitor Robinson in case of injury or a new team in the future.
Ryan Grant has had some camp buzz coming out of Washington and received plenty of snaps to open the preseason. His frame is very thin, but he showed decent hands and crispness in-and-out of his breaks. He could stick as one of the final wide receivers on Washington’s depth chart.
Davante Adams fumbled a punt, but showed good route-routing awareness and footwork in his time on offensive. Adams has been rising up the Green Bay depth chart over the summer. While many were earmarking his fantasy arrival for 2015 and beyond, he may have value in the second half of 2014 at this rate.
Robert Herron made a great reception on a throw that was clearly behind him. Overt athleticism is not Herron’s strong suit, but sticky hands are one of his strengths. The depth chart in Tampa Bay after Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans is wide open for a slot receiver. Chris Owusu is likely Herron’s stiffest competition.
Josh Huff made plays on offense, even in the red zone, and added a big return on special teams. Huff is one of the forgotten top-100 draft picks from the 2014 class and has ties to Chip Kelly from Oregon.
Jordan Matthews had obvious drops to open the preseason and also did not haul in a contested catch down the seam. His play on the field did not match his surprising combine times and his build was on the thinner size. Matthews is likely to see plenty of playing time as a rookie, but a crowded passing game in Philadelphia, plus a run-game base, could make it difficult for Matthews to emerge into a top-40 fantasy receiver in year one.
Brian Quick was not able to get much separation in his limited playing time this week. While running with the first team for much of the offseason, his buzz will cool quickly with another invisible week or two in the preseason.
Brandin Cooks flashed his cheat code-like change of direction on his touchdown reception. On a simple out route, Cooks left multiple defenders in the dust as he jumped backwards and darted to daylight. Cooks is looking like one of the few rookie receivers to potentially have weekly redraft value in 2014.
Brandon Coleman saw playing time very late in the game for New Orleans and contributed a bad drop. Inconsistency and not playing up to his size were concerns coming out of college.
While the receptions did not come, Martavis Bryant was a tough cover for the Giants defensive backs. The Steelers rookie receiver drew two defensive pass interference penalties, but also fumbled in his up-and-down debut. Bryant was playing with clear backups on offense.
Ryan Broyles was back in action, a welcome sight after numerous serious injuries. The Lions have added to the passing game with Golden Tate and Eric Ebron this offseason, so a rebound to fantasy starter status appears blocked for the time being.
The big question mark for Cordarrelle Patterson is his development as a pure receiver. Those skills were on display early as Patterson ran traditional routes and made playing on the ball in the air. Greg Jennings was the chain-mover to Patterson’s big-play ability.
Hakeem Nicks did not look healthy, which will be the main roadblock to rekindling his former fantasy glory. Donte Moncrief did not see much offensive action, but did work in on returns. DaRick Rogers beat a defender on a go route for a long gain in the first quarter. The Colts receiver depth chart is one to monitor.
Tevin Reese did not show the type of speed (his best asset) I expected. Reese is very thin and a situational-deep threat is likely his best chance to stick on a roster.
Devin Street made a nice reception on a comeback route, securing a low throw. He is a sneaky receiver to monitor with few hurdles to becoming Dallas’ third receiver.
John Brown had been tearing up Cardinals camp all summer and the preseason was no different. Brown was in with the starters and showed silky smooth route-running and ball skills. The game looks easy for the small school product and also drew a defensive pass interference penalty. Best preseason announcing quote I heard all week was about Brown: ‘I bet if you measure Marvin Harrison’s femur and John Brown’s femur, they would have the exact same femur.’ The other broadcaster paused and responded with ‘we will do that in between this game and our next one, okay?’ Nicely done.
Albert Wilson, a metric-favorite prospect, broke a long kickoff return in the first quarter, plus a few nice receptions throughout the first half. Wilson also dug out a low throw on a comeback route. The Chiefs passing game is wide open outside of Dwayne Bowe. Albert Wilson is one to monitor.
Walter Powell got loose for a long gain between defenders for the Cardinals in the first half. Between John Brown and Walter Powell, the Cardinals have been stocking the cupboard behind Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd of late.
Kelvin Benjamin hauled in a diving touchdown as his lone play of relevance. Stephon Gilmore, one of the Bills’ starting cornerbacks, was in coverage, but stared into the Carolina backfield most of the route. Did Benjamin actually beat Gilmore on the route? We will never know. It was good to see Benjamin be physical with the run-blocking responsibilities. There were numerous occasions where the defender wanted no part of Benjamin’s hulking tight end-like frame.
Ted Bolser saw some action in the second half for Washington and found the end zone. While a late-round option and not even on the radar for tight end-premium owners, Jordan Reed’s concussion history does carry risk on the depth chart in front of Bolser. On one hand the passing game has far more competition for targets than 2013. On the other, DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon clearing safeties would maximize Bolser’s space to operate if Reed were to miss time. Bolser is still a long-shot for fantasy relevance, but made the most of his first game action.
Taylor Thompson, the once-trendy fantasy sleeper and a converted college lineman, flashed his athleticism and natural ball skills getting loose down the seam. Delanie Walker is clearly ahead of him, but Thompson’s development could push Tennessee to more two-tight end sets.
Levine Toilolo showed more of the same from 2013: he is an oversize, but movement-challenged tight end. Think Joseph Fauria with less ball skills. Atlanta has little competition to challenge Toilolo, but even as the starter, Toilolo appears to have TE15-20 upside at best.
Austin Seferian-Jenkins did not see much action in the passing game until the fourth quarter. His flashes were impressive, however, with a swim move over a flat-footed defender en route to a long catch-and-run. At the end of the play Seferian-Jenkins stiff-armed a defender to the ground. His combination of size and movement skills should dominate against NFL reserves and Seferian-Jenkins did just that. Brandon Myers is nothing more than a veteran place-holder temporarily ahead of Austin Seferian-Jenkins on the Tampa Bay tight end depth chart.
Jace Amaro was basically invisible during his playing time. The tight end in a wide receiver’s role looked like a slow traditional tight end more routes than not - worth monitoring for those anticipating early returns from the Jets rookie tight end.
Travis Kelce was one of the more discussed and hyped players from this week. He broke a long catch-and-run touchdown that has been replayed over and over. The play itself did little with the analysis hat on as the linebackers were sucked into the line of scrimmage, the safeties were nowhere to be found, and Kelce lumbered to the end zone. While good to see Kelce healthy after a lost rookie season, the defenders all looked at each other giving the ‘I thought you had him, I did not have him’ dialogue as Kelce scored.
Brandon Williams was a popular deep dynasty add this week after his touchdown and flash play or two against Buffalo for the Panthers. Williams has the look of one of the more athletic seam-stretchers at tight end in the NFL, but has been away from the game for a while. Plus Greg Olsen is not going anywhere. Williams’ highlight touchdown plus another significant reception both came in the final minutes of the game against defenders on or beyond the roster cut line for Buffalo.
Look for updates on these players and additions in the upcoming preseason weeks.