Saturday Preseason Blog: Starting Quarterbacks Shine

Saturday brought a robust slate of preseason action, as most teams allowed their first-team units a longer leash in terms of playing time. While the second preseason game still typically pales in comparison to the third contest– which is typically termed the regular-season “dress rehearsal” — in terms of the snaps afforded projected starters, there is often at least a quarter of action for some of the bigger names. In a few cases Saturday, some of that actually extended to a full half of play, as several clubs look to build rapport between quarterbacks and new pass-catching options, for example.

Without further ado, let’s dive in to a few highlights for each club in terms of notable performers:

Panthers-Titans

  • With Cam Newton (shoulder) sitting once again, the big story was Christian McCaffrey, who wowed with a nifty 17-yard rushing touchdown that showcased his speed and posted a 33-yard rushing effort overall. The talented rookie added another 39 yards through the air and looks every bit the part of a game-changing first-rounder.
  • Meanwhile, McCaffrey’s backfield mate Jonathan Stewart turned in four carries for eight yards and has just 12 yards on six rushes overall in his first two exhibitions. While McCaffrey isn’t seen as a bell-cow back and therefore likely needs a timeshare partner, Stewart has looked rather pedestrian thus far.
  • Newton could play in the Panthers’ third preseason tilt versus the Jaguars next Thursday. However, he might be just as likely sit out the two remaining contests, as head coach Ron Rivera is already on record stating he’s comfortable having his star quarterback skip the exhibition slate entirely in order to ensure his health for Week 1.
  • The Titans’ Marcus Mariota continued his strong comeback from last season’s leg injury by completing six of eight passes for 61 yards, including a four-yard score to Delanie Walker.
  • Derrick Henry stood out with two rushing touchdowns with DeMarco Murray (hamstring) sitting out once again. Henry only totaled 36 yards on 16 rushes but added three receptions.
  • In addition to Murray, other notable absences included Eric Decker (ankle) and first-round pick Corey Davis (hamstring).

Chiefs-Bengals

  • Kansas City had its way with the Bengals secondary, with Alex Smith, Tyler Bray and rookie Patrick Mahomes throwing for a combined four touchdowns. Smith found Demetrius Harris for his score, while Mahomes connected with Harris and De’Anthony Thomas. Bray wrapped up the night with a fourth-quarter connection to Seantavius Jones.
  • Mahomes was impressive for a second straight week, completing 10 of 14 passes for 88 yards and adding 29 yards on the ground.
  • In his first taste of preseason action, Travis Kelce made his one catch count, as it went for 36 yards.
  • Not to be outdone, Mahomes’ fellow first-year teammate Kareem Hunt made a strong case with eight carries for 40 yards and three receptions for 23 yards. However, it was Charcandrick West who lay claim to the best night out of the backfield, ripping off a game-long 50-yard run on his way to a 113-yard rushing day.
  • Speaking of running back competitions, the one between the Bengals’ Jeremy Hill and promising rookie Joe Mixon was rather muted Saturday. While Hill led the way for Cincy backs on the night, he did so with just eight rushes for 28 yards, while Mixon countered with 16 yards on his six carries but added one reception for 15 yards. Expect both backs to share early-down work early on, with Mixon’s elite talent potentially allowing him to gain some separation as the season unfolds.
  • Andy Dalton and A.J. Green got their work in once again, with the latter seeing six targets and hauling in three for 39 yards.
  • Tyler Boyd, looking to take another step forward after a promising 2016, tallied a team-high 45 receiving yards on his pair of receptions.

Colts-Cowboys

  • While Colts fans and management naturally continue holding out hope for Andrew Luck (shoulder) to be ready for Week 1, at least backup Scott Tolzien offered a sliver of a reason for optimism Saturday. The journeyman completed 10 of 14 passes for 70 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. While it was a solid performance, Tolzien averaged just five yards per attempt, and the team naturally hopes the only time they see him take a regular-season snap in 2017 is in the victory formation at the end of a blowout win.
  • Interestingly, third-stringer Stephen Morris turned in a second straight solid effort (11 of 15 for 111 yards and a touchdown) and head coach Chuck Pagano indicated after the game he may be “reviewing” his quarterback depth chart.
  • While no one can justifiably discount the ageless Frank Gore, rookie Marlon Mack is certainly providing a bright glimpse of what the near and distant future might hold for the Indy ground game. Mack rattled off 45 rushing yards on just five carries and added a pair of receptions for 14 yards.
  • T.Y. Hilton couldn’t bring in either of his two targets, but fellow wideout Phillip Dorsett secured both of his for 15 yards. Both players overcame recent hamstring ailments to take the field.
  • The news was much better for the Cowboys passing game, as Dak Prescott (7-for-8 for 106 yards) connected with Dez Bryant (two receptions for 55 yards) for a 32-yard score. The second-year signal caller and veteran receiver both looked to be in mid-season form against a vulnerable Colts defense.
  • Darren McFadden wasn’t too shabby in his own right, ripping off 59 yards on nine rushes and adding a catch for four yards. A red-zone fumble did serve as a blemish, but McFadden’s overall effort lends some credence to the fact that he could reprise his above-average 2015 production while Ezekiel Elliot serves out a suspension that could be as much as six games.
  • The Cowboys appear prepared to get it done in the backfield by committee in Elliot’s absence if necessary, as Alfred Morris (nine rushes, 49 yards) and the promising Rod Smith (seven carries, 53 yards) ensured there was no drop-off after McFadden exited the contest.

Packers-Redskins

  • Aaron Rodgers served notice that he’s primed and ready to go, completing six of eight passes for 37 yards and a touchdown in an impressive opening 15-play, 75-yard scoring drive. Rodgers capped off the possession with a three-yard touchdown to new tight end Martellus Bennett and also had a key 13-yard scramble.
  • Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and Davante Adams also encouragingly notched receptions from the arm of Rodgers during the drive. The trio will once again constitute the core of Green Bay’s passing attack in the coming season.
  • It wasn’t a bad night for the young yet somewhat experienced Packers backup wideouts either, as Jeff Janis paced the team with three catches for 63 yards, while Geronimo Allison tallied two for 32 yards.
  • Kirk Cousins couldn’t match Rodgers’ smooth start, but he finally got it together on the Redskins’ fifth possession. Cousins fired a four-yard score to Jamison Crowder on that drive, and also completed passes to Terrelle Pryor, Vernon Davis, Chris Thompson and Ryan Grant during his two quarters of play.
  • The backfield situation got a bit more interesting Saturday, as presumed starter Rob Kelley struggled once again and rookie Semaje Perine made up for a lackluster opener a week prior. Kelley mustered just nine yards on nine rushes, while Perine countered with eight rushes for 45 yards and an impressive 29-yard reception. Kelley has just 12 carries for 11 yards in his first two exhibitions, and another night of similar performances next week could prompt head coach Jay Gruden to begin contemplating a true timeshare at tailback to start the regular season.

Jets-Lions

  • With veteran Josh McCown taking a seat, it was Bryce Petty who saw the bulk of the work, completing 15 of 24 passes for 160 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, as well as a six-yard rush. Christian Hackenberg was pulled after four series and just two completions on six attempts.
  • Matt Forte continues sitting with a hamstring injury, which opened the door for a solid effort from Bilal Powell (nine rushes, 32 yards and two receptions for 14 yards). Powell proved he could carry the load as a lead back late last season, so he could certainly see a bump in usage this season as the Jets look to preserve Forte’s veteran body.
  • Robby Anderson is presumably the defacto No. 1 receiver in the wake of Quincy Enunwa’s season-ending neck injury, but he disturbingly failed to catch the sole target he saw Saturday. Myles White (three catches, 43 yards) and rookie ArDarius Stewart (two receptions, 23 yards) were more productive, although it’s anybody’s guess who might step up weekly in New York this season.
  • Matthew Stafford was sharp (8-for-10 for 84 yards with one touchdown), leading Lions scoring drives in two of the three possessions he helmed.
  • The starting duo of Golden Tate and Marvin Jones acquitted themselves well, combining for six receptions and 68 yards during their relatively brief time on the field. Jones brought in Stafford’s five-yard score.
  • The Lions’ backfield was solid in their own right, with Dwayne Washington (eight rushes, 24 yards) and Ameer Abdullah (four rushes, 16 yards) working well as a 1-2 punch. Each player also added a reception, but both will have their overall fantasy value capped by the cast of thousands the team seems to have at the running back position, a group that also includes Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner and Matt Asiata.

Patriots-Texans

  • Tom Brady picked up right where he left off in the second half of the Super Bowl, completing six of nine passes for 67 yards and a 22-yard touchdown to offseason acquisition Rex Burkhead. Despite not completing a pass to Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan or Rob Gronkowski, Brady looked razor-sharp and has a seemingly endless supply of weapons to choose from.
  • The running back portion of that arsenal is headlined by a trio of pass-catching mavens in Burkhead, Dion Lewis and James White. The first two made their presence felt Saturday, with Burkhead posting 50 receiving yards overall and adding 20 rushing yards, and Lewis countering with 34 rushing yards and another nine through the air. It’s hard to project how the touches will be distributed each week, and that’s not even factoring in presumed bellcow Mike Gillislee.
  • Noted offseason acquisition Brandin Cooks did notch his first official catch from Brady, bringing in a seven-yard reception on his only target of the night.
  • There’s been plenty of hype surrounding Texans’ first-round rookie Deshaun Watson, but Tom Savage made sure no one forgot who’s still the odds-on favorite to open the season as the starter. Savage enjoyed another sharp night (8-9, 98 yards, one touchdown). He enjoyed solid rapport with the recently-signed Bruce Ellington and also connected with Jaelen Strong for a two-yard score.
  • Watson still turned some heads, but completed only 30 percent of his 1o attempts. A 63-yard catch-and-run by fellow rookie D’Onta Foreman helped pad his passing total, and Watson did score his second rushing touchdown in as many exhibitions when he took it in from two yards out two plays later. The struggles through the air do hint at a need for further seasoning, although the rookie’s raw ability is undeniable and likely to push the issue for playing time at some point this season.
  • Speaking of Foreman, he continues making a strong case with both his practice and preseason effort. Lamar Miller (seven rushes, 18 yards Saturday) is still the lead back, but Foreman could be prying open the door for more playing time than perhaps initially expected if he continues generating performances of the caliber of the first two exhibitions.

Bears-Cardinals

  • Mike Glennon (13-for-18 for 89 yards with one touchdown and one interception) did connect with Kendall Wright for a seven-yard score but averaged just a bit over seven yards per completion overall. First-round pick Mitchell Trubisky completed six of eight passes for 60 yards and a six-yard touchdown to Benny Cunningham against much lesser competition.
  • With Jordan Howard (eye) and Jeremy Langford (ankle) sitting, fourth-round pick Tarik Cohen opened some eyes with 11 carries for 77 yards. The 5-foot-6, 180-pound rookie brings plenty of pass-catching prowess and ability in space, and he could be setting himself for a sizable passing-down role in his first season.
  • In addition to Wright’s touchdown, Cam Meredith was solid with two receptions for 26 yards to pace the Bears receivers, while Kevin White also mustered two catches but only totaled two yards. Zach Miller does seem to be recovering nicely from last season’s Lisfranc injury, posting two receptions for 17 yards.
  • Carson Palmer and Blaine Gabbert combined for 241 yards passing for the Cardinals, with the latter compiling 174 of those. However, head coach Bruce Arians still projects Drew Stanton as Palmer’s primary backup for the time being.
  • Top backs David and Chris Johnson combined for only seven carries, so Andre Ellington had a chance to showcase his bid for a roster spot. He gained only 11 yards on five rushes but added two receptions for 14 yards. His main competition for the spot, Kerwynn Williams, didn’t log a carry but returned a kickoff for 31 yards.
  • Larry Fitzgerald was shut out of the stat sheet again, and projected starter Jaron Brown brought in one of two targets for eight yards.

Rams-Raiders

  • The Rams may want to bottle whatever got into Jared Goff on Saturday, considering the second-year quarterback was near perfect and turned in his best showing overall as a pro. Goff completed 16 of 20 passes for 160 yards and showed excellent command of the offense against the Raiders’ first-team unit. While the usual preseason caveats certainly apply, it’s certainly encouraging for the team and fantasy owners alike to put on this smooth of a showing after last season.
  • On the receiving end of six of Goff’s completions was third-round pick Cooper Kupp, who is quickly making a name for himself and is already a popular late-round flier in deeper drafts. While the recent acquisition of Sammy Watkins may serve to knock his prospects down a notch, Kupp has been impressing since being drafted after setting a multitude of NCAA receiving records at Eastern Washington. He paced all receivers with six catches for 70 yards and a 23-yard touchdown in which he got wide open Saturday.
  • Todd Gurley put on a show in his own right during his time on the field, averaging 4.8 yards per rush on his way to 38 yards overall and adding a 12-yard reception. The 2016 first-round pick was often bedeviled by up to nine-man fronts last season, but with Watkins’ recent acquisition and Goff’s potential improvement, he should find some relief while also reportedly seeing a lot more third-down work.
  • The Raiders’ Derek Carr appears ready for the regular season with two more preseason games to go, as he completed seven of nine passes for 70 yards with two touchdowns and one interception. He connected with Michael Crabtree and Lee Smith for the scores.
  • All top three projected backs saw action. Marshawn Lynch played four snaps in his debut and gained 10 yards on two carries, while DeAndre Washington (four rushes, 14 yards) and Jalen Richard (three rushes, 18 yards) were neck-and-neck in their continued battle for the top backup job. Realistically, both players could end up as “2” and “2A” in terms of touches.
  • Amari Cooper and Carr look to already be on the same page, with the former hauling in three of four targets for 46 yards.

Fantasy Football Draft Duels: Tight Ends

This fantasy football season, drafters will face many tough decisions among multiple players at certain positions.

Rankings and sleepers lists can’t always tell the full story: Sometimes, it makes sense to take a risk. That’s why fantasy football players could use input from numerous sources. 

We’ve gathered some RotoWire personalities to give their opinions on which fantasy tight end they’d take when posed several matchups — or in some cases, make some mini-rankings.

QB | RB | WR | TE

(Note: We used our NFFC PPR rankings to compare players.)

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Training Camp Notes: Bells will ring

There were plenty of developments on the field Thursday night, but the biggest news of the day involved arguably fantasy’s biggest star: Le’Veon Bell. Bell will return to action before week one, according to ESPN. Bell has not yet signed his franchise tender, and while everyone expected him to return before the start of the season, managers who already drafted him inside the top two are sleeping easier tonight following this update. He has not been with the Steelers yet this preseason, and there is still no indication of when, exactly, he will return.

As for the rest of the league, here’s the rundown:

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