There’s a large contingent of football fans that staunchly believe preseason games are completely inconsequential. To these naysayers, they’re nothing more than an evaluation phase for head coaches looking to comprise the best final roster. However, most fanatics would vehemently disagree. Exhibition action gives owners the opportunity to gain invaluable insight into potential sleepers and busts. In an attempt to decipher the meaningful from the meaningless, here are my top Flames from Preseason Week 2 (Updated throughout the weekend).
Dalvin Cook, Min, RB (39.1 ADP, RB16) – Cook is no bumbling Swedish Chef. He explodes through creases, decisively evades would-be tacklers, churns his legs through contact and owns dependable hands. With Latavius Murray still working his way back from a prolonged siesta, the greenhorn is firmly planted atop the Vikings’ depth chart. And it’s very unlikely anyone threatens his standing any time soon.
Showcasing his wares against Seattle’s first-string defense Friday night, Cook routinely sliced and diced his way through traffic. On eight touches (one reception) he rolled up 50 total yards. His 15-yard downhill dart through the left side highlighted his best run.
Speaking objectively, Cook’s situation is far from impeccable. Minnesota’s revamped offensive line, which ranked bottom barrel in run-blocking last season per Player Profiler, is transitioning from a power to a zone scheme. Encouragingly, it showed some nastiness Friday. Complicating matters is the looming Latavius question. Once healthy, will the former Raider wrest away goal-line touches? Frankly, there is no definitive answer.
At this juncture, Cook is virtually locked into at least a 250-touch workload. If the pieces of the puzzle come together quickly, it’s entirely possible he, and not Leonard Fournette, Joe Mixon or Christian McCaffrey, emerges as the rookie RB to fawn over. His ADP has spiked 17.2 spots since July 22 and will only climb higher. Expect a top-15 campaign at a minimum.
Doug Martin, RB, TB (81.7, RB31) – Springy, elusive and quick through the hole, Martin resembled the running back of 2015, a campaign in which he totaled 1,673 combined yards, seven touchdowns and the eighth-most valuable per game RB output. On five carries versus Jacksonville, he totaled 30 yards and a TD. He also chipped in two catches for 13 yards. At his ADP, owners are salivating at his prospects post-suspension. However, caution needs to be exercised.
Remember how abominable Martin was last year? The ‘Muscle Hamster’ barely spun the wheel ranking RB54 in yards after contact per touch, RB60 in juke rate and RB28 in per game scoring. Even more eye-gouging 36.8 percent of his runs went for 1-yard or less. The offensive line looks much improved and DeSean Jackson’s presence will only tax defenses, but overreaching for his services isn’t recommended. There’s no guarantee Martin returns Week 4 to a voluminous workload. Jacquizz Rodgers starts hot and a full-blown RBBC unfolds. Take a chill pill.
Christian McCaffrey, Car, RB (33.3, RB14) – Chunk gains. That’s what the CMC Football Factory cranks out. Evident Saturday in Tennessee, the mislabeled and misunderstood Swiss Army Knife cut through Titan defenders and chewed up real estate effortlessly. On five touches, the rookie amassed 73 total yards and a TD. McCaffrey easily navigated tight spaces between the tackles and sprinted past defenders as a screen receiver in the open field. His combination of elusiveness, vision, hands and speed are special. Said ad nauseam since the NFL Draft, he isn’t Danny Woodhead the sequel. Yes, he’s a white guy, but his skill set and multidimensionality remind me of throwbacks Charlie Garner and Reggie Bush.
Jonathan Stewart limits McCaffrey’s ceiling, but it’s very likely the youngster earns 12-14 touches per game from the onset. And before you ask, yes, Cam Newton will throw to him, often.
For now, Fournette, Cook and Mixon rank slightly higher in standard leagues. However, in PPR, McCaffrey could eclipse a number of quality rushers, finishing inside the position’s top-12. At the current moment, I refuse to budge off my original fearless forecast – 153 carries, 632 rushing yards, 61 receptions, 512 receiving yards and 5 total touchdowns.
Rex Burkhead, NE, RB (182.9, RB61) – Though currently hampered by a bothersome hamstring injury, Mike Gillislee is a bullish prospect in the eyes of many fantasy drafters. His incredible per touch efficiency shown previously in Buffalo, outstanding secondary stats and opportunity sans LeGarrette Blount, who scored 18 TDs and lead the league in goal-line rushes (21) in 2016, point to fruitful production. However, it might be time to rethink those expectations.
“Carpe Diem” is a phrase Burkhead adheres to. Whether in his prior stint with the Bengals or now with New England, he’s a rather opportunistic fellow. Sans Gilly in Houston, Burkhead took advantage and racked 70 combined yards with a touchdown on 10 touches. Nifty in the open field and sinewy on interior runs, he was the all-downs option with the first team. And he looked every bit suitable for the part.
The Pats shelled out a pretty penny to acquire Burkhead this offseason – he’s the highest paid New England RB since 2010 – and it appears Bill Belichick, who is enamored with the guy, has every intention of using him. His performance Saturday night may only be the beginning.
Recall last year the rusher finished RB13 in juke rate, totaled the third-best catch percentage among all RBs and is playing alongside Tom friggin’ Brady. Sure the backfield is overcrowded (Dion Lewis and James White slink) and may be a revolving door, but if he thrives in the dress rehearsal at Detroit, he could dominate snaps in the regular season opener against KC. Basically a freebie at his current ADP, Burkhead needs to be targeted late.
Quick Hitters: Evident Thursday, Jay Cutler brought his gunslinger mentality to South Beach. He repeatedly chucked it deep downfield zeroing in on buzzy camp standout DeVante Parker. The pair only connected twice on four targets, but the hype surrounding the receiver as a potential WR2 seems warranted. Recall Cutty posted a 120.1 passer rating on throws beyond 20 yards last year and netted 7.6 yards per attempt two years ago. Cutler-to-Parker could be a deadly connection, provided the bare-backed QB remains upright, and clothed … If Jameis Winston cuts down on the turnovers, he looks every bit a top-seven fantasy QB. Yes, I’m that bullish. Against the Jags he completed 72.4 percent of his attempts for 196 yards in one half of play. With DeSean Jackson in tow, his downfield inefficiencies last year (QB26 in deep-ball cmp%) should turn around quickly. Anticipate close to 4,200 passing yards with 31-33 total TDs. … Seattle’s Kasan Williams and Jacksonville’s Dede Westbrook need to be on deep dynasty league radars. The former jumped off the screen for the second straight week. Following up a 119-yard performance Preseason Week 1 he made acrobatic catches and scored a TD working with the first team. The Oklahoma product, meanwhile, carved up job-fighting Buccaneers en route to a 6-131-0 evening. With Marqis Lee unhealthy and Allen Hurns practically a footnote, he could climb the depth chart quickly. Jacksonville’s chuckle-worthy QB play though …
… Premium backup Derrick Henry displayed why he’s a highly coveted fantasy draft pick in the middle rounds. With DeMarco Murray nursing a tender hammy, the former Heisman winner trucked over Panthers as the Titans’ all-purpose rusher (16-36-2, 3-17-0). Despite the marvelous effort, Henry needs a significant Murray setback to earn 40 percent or more of the opportunity share. …. We see you, Bruce Ellington. Hyped briefly with San Fran before tearing his hamstring last year, the recently signed Texan was thrown immediately into the mix against New England. Unexpectedly, he detonated. Working with the first and second teams he tallied four receptions for 93 yards. With Houston down Will Fuller, opportunity knocks for Ellington. Watch his progress next week … Once freed, Pat Mahomes will be a fantasy star. Brilliant and in command with the Chiefs second team, he bombarded Bengals finishing 10-of-14 for 88 yards and two touchdowns. His rocket arm and versatility (29 rush yards Saturday) exhibited only solidified my belief he’ll eventually be the finest QB from the 2017 class. Alex Smith’s days are numbered … Same game, different name, Kareem Hunt turned up the heat on Spencer Ware. Inserted into the lineup with the first team after he barely appeared in the Preseason opener, the pumped up rookie didn’t disappoint. On 11 touches he notched 63 yards demonstrating considerable burst, elusiveness and power. Ware, who looked good last week, is still in the catbird’s seat, but his leash may have shortened. …
… Mark my words, Cooper Kupp is going to lead the Rams in receptions this year. Yes, over Sammy Watkins. The rookie, all the talk of Rams camp, delivered for the second straight week. Whether on underneath slants or deep corner routes, his chemistry with Jared Goff is budding and apparent. In Oakland, the duo synched up six times for 70 yards and a long TD. The scoring play came on a blown-coverage whiff by the Raiders. A 70-catch, 875-yard, 5-7 TD campaign is doable for Kupp. He’s more than a lottery ticket at his 176.8 ADP (WR69). … De’Angelo Henderson is still a bit off the grid (200+ ADP, 1% drafted in Yahoo), but people need to wake up and smell the stats the bowling ball is about to score. The Maurice Jones-Drew clone is extremely shifty, balanced, incredibly versatile and fleet-footed. This play registered in San Francisco summarizes what he brings to the table. Behind C.J. Anderson on the depth chart, Henderson is rapidly rendering Jamaal Charles obsolete and is knocking at the No. 1’s door.
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