Despite being obsessed with the NFL during the regular season and post-season, I spend remarkably little time following the preseason, for a variety of reasons. First, the preseason is a tremendous tease - similar to dating a really hot chick who refuses to do anything but hold hands. You want more action, but you know you're not getting it. Second, most of what happens in the preseason is totally irrelevant. Yes, there are certain things that matter, and I mention a few of these, below. For the most part, though, if forced to choose between putting too much emphasis on the pre-season or too little, I'd choose too little. In other words, 90% of what happens in the preseason doesn't matter.
Before I profile some waiver-wire players, though, I thought I'd share a few random, "against the grain" thoughts ... players or teams I like more or less than the industry.
- For much of 2010, I thought the Chargers and Packers were the NFL's best teams. The Packers came through whereas the Chargers ... not so much. This year, I'm sticking to my guns. I see Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers replacing Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as the best tandem of QBs, starting in 2011, and their respective teams are my picks to meet in the Super Bowl.
- If the Packers and Chargers are as good as I think, then some individuals will have career years. Expect Vincent Jackson and Jermichael Finley to break through. For Jackson, all the pieces are in place (elite QB, elite team, wants a contract), for 80 catches, 1,300 yards and 12 TDs, making him a top-5 fantasy WR. As for Finley, he will soon be recognized as the NFL's most unguardable target, posting stats superior to those of Antonio Gates in his prime.
- The Colts will miss the playoffs. Even if Peyton Manning starts in Week 1 (a serious question given the Kerry Collins signing), they'll start slowly out of the gate, and they don't have enough talent to offset the slow start.
- The Giants will be a carnival for fantasy purposes all season - fun for all - as Eli Manning leads the league in passing yardage and Hakeem Nicks is fantasy's best wideout, while the injury-riddled defense struggles and gives up huge games week after week. I see a handful of 35-31 games on their schedule this year.
- Brandon Lloyd proves to be a one-year wonder, much like many of the boy bands Chris Liss likes.
- Pierre Thomas will out-produce Mark Ingram and all other Saints RBs, while former Saint Reggie Bush surpasses Daniel Thomas in Miami.
Now for players who may be available on waivers who have caught my eye this pre-season.
Vince Young, QB, Eagles: If you're in a shallow league, feel free to move on. In deeper leagues, though, if Michael Vick is your starter, forget about a bye-week fill-in; handcuffing Young is more important given Vick's injury propensities. Yes, there's a lot of uncertainty here, but if he winds up starting, Young has more upside than half the QBs in the league, maybe more.
Tim Hightower, RB, Redskins: With the number of timeshares and uncertain situations at running back in today's NFL, any RB who may have a starting job merits attention. Hightower is a bit of a retread, but Mike Shanahan's one-cut system can make stars of marginal talents.
Derrick Ward and Ben Tate, RB, Texans: I was going to profile Ward and Tate before Arian Foster left the last preseason game with a hamstring injury of unknown severity. Even if Foster is OK for Week 1, these two are still worth a look. After all, if Foster went down, Ward or Tate would step into a tremendous situation with a coach who prefers to use one guy as a feature back. Ward seems to be higher on the depth chart now, but Tate is younger and probably has more upside. Remember, the Texans traded up to draft him in 2010.
Ronnie Brown, RB, Eagles: LeSean McCoy has only missed one game in two seasons, but his size and the normal rigors of the running back position make him a better-than-average injury candidate. If that happens, Brown will have a feature role in a high-scoring Eagles offense.
Lee Evans, WR, Ravens: Evans' trade to Baltimore doesn't make him a WR1 or even a WR2, but you have to like him now a bit more than you did with Buffalo. Evans should see fewer double teams than he did in Buffalo (especially with Anquan Boldin on the other side), and while he's inconsistent, he should post 900 yards and 6 TDs in Baltimore, making him a WR3 or bye-week fill-in.
Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers: Last year, I profiled James Jones and Jordy Nelson so frequently that some people accused me of having a man-crush. The parallels for Brown this year are scary. Last year, I saw Jones and Nelson as talented backups with an elite QB (Aaron Rodgers) and a starting WR getting up there in age (Donald Driver). This year, Brown is a talented backup with an elite QB (Roethlisberger) and a starting WR getting up there in age (Hines Ward). There could easily be a point in the 2011 season when Brown duplicates what he's been doing in the preseason (2 TDs last game).
Seyi Ajirotutu, WR, Chargers: Yes, Ajirotutu is buried on the depth chart right now in San Diego. But Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Jackson have had injuries in the past and Patrick Crayton is nursing an ankle injury right now. More importantly, Ajirotutu showed he could perform last year if given the chance, even if Philip Rivers deserves most of the credit.
Johnny Knox, WR, Bears: Roy Williams is currently the starter, but it's hard to imagine the Bears keeping the younger, more talented Knox on the bench all season. If anything, Knox's demotion may make for a good buying opportunity. No matter how things look now, Knox still has the most upside of all Bears WRs, and for waiver purposes, upside is what matters.
Dead to Me:
All Bengals except Cedric Benson: Sorry, Jeff Erickson - it's going to be a long year for the Bengals. Benson deserves a fantasy roster spot simply because any starting RB in the NFL deserves one. Other than Benson, though, it's a wasteland in Cincinatti. Andy Dalton is going to struggle as a rookie QB, particularly with the lack of talent around him. Things are so bad that, who knows, Mike Brown might come out of this smelling like roses, as the Bengals might be so bad that they get to draft first overall in 2012 and take Carson Palmer's replacement - Andrew Luck.