By Dalton Del Don
Jay Cutler Despite playing through an undiagnosed case of diabetes, Cutler turned in an impressive sophomore campaign last year, finishing with a 63.6 completion percentage with 7.5 YPA. Feeling healthier than ever, Cutler has carried that over into this year, as he's completed 24-of-30 passes for 237 yards and a 110.7 passer rating through two preseason games. There might not be a quarterback with a stronger arm in football. He's going to be a star.
Michael Turner While we try not to read too much into preseason stats, Turner's performance during Atlanta's second game (four carries, 113 rushing yards) was hard to ignore. It should be noted it came against a Colts defense that's been getting gashed by the run this preseason, but Turner is one of the rare backs in the league set to get the majority of touches in the backfield. The Falcons don't look great on paper and are likely to be starting a rookie under center, but wideout Roddy White is an emerging star, and Turner has the physical ability to make the most of his situation.
Josh Morgan Character issues and lackluster production meant Morgan fell to the sixth round of the draft, but he's been playing like a first rounder since. With Bryant Johnson sidelined due to injury, Morgan has had a chance to start at San Francisco's X spot, and it's resulted in big time production, including a five-catch, 144-yard performance against the Packers on Saturday. Morgan, who is 6-foot-1, 220, has also impressed during all of training camp, and his physical gifts are apparent. Expectations should be limited for any rookie wide receiver, but he has the system (Mike Martz) and possible starting job in his favor.
Matt Schaub Again, preseason stats need to be taken in context and with a giant grain of salt, but Schaub's outing against the Saints (14-of-16, 187 yards, 11.7 YPA, 2 TDs) was just a glimpse of a possible monster 2008 on the horizon. New Orleans hardly has a lockdown secondary, but also consider this performance came without Andre Johnson at Schaub's disposal. Durability remains a concern, but Schaub worked hard over the offseason to better prepare his body to play a 16-game schedule. Last year's weak touchdown total was a fluke considering the gaudy 7.8 YPA mark.
Ted Ginn Someone has to catch the ball in Miami, and it looks like Ginn is No. 1 on the depth chart. His specialty (speed) isn't a great fit for new quarterback Chad Pennington, but the two did show a nice rapport during their first action together Saturday. With such lackluster options around him in the passing game, Ginn should see quite a few targets this season. The clichι is the third-year leap, but often receivers take giant steps during their second year in the league.
Steve Slaton Someone has to carry the ball in Houston. With Ahman Green's future status as a Texan cloudy at best, and Chris Brown nearly as injury-prone, there's a big opportunity for a runner to emerge in Houston's backfield. Chris Taylor is being moved to fullback, and Darius Walker is being virtually ignored. Slaton isn't built like a true workhorse, but he's going to get work with the ones next preseason game, and he could be looking at significant touches come the regular season.
Ray Rice While Willis McGahee's availability for Week 1 remains murky, Rice continues to shine, rushing for 77 yards (9.6 YPC) and a touchdown against a typically stout Minnesota run defense Saturday. It came against the starters during the first quarter and continues a trend of Rice impressing since the minute he was drafted. Since McGahee may be slower to recover because he showed up to camp out of shape in the first place, and he has no ties to the new coaching regime in Baltimore, Rice could be looking at plenty of touches, at least early on.
Chris Henry Hypocrisy aside, Cincinnati really is a fine re-landing spot for Henry. Sure, he won't be a starter, but both Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh are injured, and the Bengals throw the ball frequently thanks to a poor defense and mediocre running game. Plus, he obviously knows the system well. Henry will miss the first four games of the season while suspended, and there's no guarantee he stays out of trouble, but this is a receiver with significant upside.
Chad Johnson The Bengals say they fully expect Johnson (shoulder) back for Week 1, but the fact they immediately re-signed Chris Henry after previously stating otherwise raises some doubts and screams desperation. The injury is being termed a sprain, but there's also reason to believe Johnson's shoulder was briefly dislocated, so there's cause for concern, as those types of problems can often recur. It's a situation well worth monitoring.
Marc Bulger After a horrible 2007, Bulger has been even worse during the first two preseason games in 2008, completing just 43 percent of his passes for 3.7 YPA and three interceptions. It's not a large sample size, but he's learning a completely new offensive system and has an aging WR corps at his disposal. Additionally, after being ravaged by injuries last year, the offensive line has already lost two backups for the season. With Steven Jackson's status also questionable due to a holdout, Bulger and the Rams' offense could be looking at yet another miserable season.
Joey Galloway Galloway defied the odds last year, gaining a remarkable 10.35 YPA at age 36. In fact, his 17.8 yards-per-catch mark was the second highest of his career. However, he suffered a serious shoulder injury late last year, resulting in offseason surgery. Galloway also didn't even step onto the field until finally returning to practice Tuesday because of a hampering groin ailment. Since he'll be 37 this season, there's every reason to be cautious and expect a decline in production, and it might even be a significant one.
Reggie Brown Brown was a major disappointment in 2007, but at least he ended the year on a positive note, giving hope for a bounce back 2008 campaign. However, he's followed that up by missing most of the preseason with a hamstring problem. It's only a strain and not considered overly serious, but rookie DeSean Jackson has really impressed as his replacement, so Brown could be looking at fewer targets even if he's able to return to health.
Brodie Croyle Croyle seemingly has the No. 1 quarterback job locked up, but there's still very little reason for optimism; he got just 2.9 YPA on 13 pass attempts Saturday. He's also learning a new system this season, and the rebuilt offensive line took a hit when Branden Albert suffered a sprained foot that will keep him out for the entire preseason. Croyle offers very little upside.
Javon Walker Not sure how much more Walker can get downgraded at this point, but he's approaching rock bottom. Physical limitations have prevented him from getting separation from defensive backs, while his mental state is hardly healthy either. Despite lackluster efforts in practice, coach Lane Kiffin had remained in Walker's corner, defending the high-priced acquisition unconditionally. That changed recently, as Kiffin has expressed his concern, which is a major red flag.
Tatum Bell Bell has burnt so many fantasy owners in the past, he's hardly on the top of anyone's radar, especially with rookie Kevin Smith getting most of the hype out of Detroit. Still, Bell was given every chance to become the starter, but he's disappointed yet again, including last week's effort in which he gained a paltry nine yards on five carries. Worse, the Detroit media has stated fears Bell has completely lost interest in the game of football, looking aloof and uninterested. Stay far away.
Steven Jackson Rarely do holdouts last into the season, but at this point, there's serious concern, as both sides seem stubbornly unwilling to relent. The regular-season opener is also fast approaching. Running back isn't a position that needs a ton of time to get ready for, but Jackson will need at least a couple of weeks, as he's also dealing with a new offensive coordinator. Additionally, even if he signs on the dotted line before the regular season, there have been numerous examples of extended holdouts leading to serious injury. Whether that's causation or correlation is undetermined, but it's another reason to knock down the uncertain Jackson a couple of pegs.
Article first appeared 8/20/08