It’s the calm before the storm. So many storylines to unfold over the course of the upcoming regular season, and we’re only a week away from “dress rehearsal” games getting underway in Week 3 of the exhibition slate. We find ourselves entering the depths of “draft season” in the fantasy football community, at the turn of the second and third full weeks of August. Which seventh-round rookie will rise to fantasy glory? Which household names will fall off the map? We know that the 2018 postseason only contained five of 12 teams from the prior year’s tournament, so which teams will drop out of the playoff picture and which will jump from worst to first? Many of the clues are unearthed right here, in the preseason. Are you ready for some football?
The Los Angeles Super Chargers defense took a shot across the bow this week, with All-Pro safety Derwin James (the first rookie All-Pro in franchise history) suffering a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his right foot, and being recommended for surgery with Dr. Robert Anderson. It is expected that last year’s No. 17 overall pick will make a full recovery, but the procedure and subsequent rehabilitation is projected to hold him out until at least mid-November. Despite the profound skill and depth that the Chargers possess on that side of the ball, this is a loss that could have serious implications on not only the defense’s ability to slow down the pass, but perhaps its ability to operate as a whole. James is one of the NFL’s most complete safeties, and simply-put, a phenom. On the NFL Network’s “Top 100 Players of 2019,” James was voted by his peers to be the 31st-best overall player in the entire league — before turning 23-years-old. As a rookie he contributed in all facets of the game, amassing 105 tackles, six QB hits, and 3.5 sacks, as well as four tackles for loss, 13 pass deflections and three interceptions. Yup, a phenom. He’ll be sorely missed in the interim, but Los Angeles will patch together a safety pairing of Rayshawn Jenkins and Adrian Phillips (a utility defender who earned a Pro-Bowl nod himself in 2018) while praying to get James back for the stretch run.
Another perceived Super Bowl Contender, Philadelphia, had breaking news come out Saturday as well, but theirs was of the positive variety. Josh McCown elected to put his career as an ESPN analyst on hold, retracting his retirement from football and returning for an 18th NFL season. He’s 7-31 as a starter over his past five seasons with the Buccaneers, Browns and Jets, but is just two years removed from posting a 67.3 percent completion rate,18:9 TD:INT season for Gang Green. The Eagles were desperate for a competent backup quarterback, with Cody Kessler leaving Thursday’s preseason game against the Jaguars due to a concussion, and Nate Sudfeld out for another five weeks or so after undergoing wrist surgery Aug. 9. McCown can keep a talented roster like Philadelphia’s in the playoff hunt if Carson Wentz were to miss time with injury for a third straight season, but here’s hoping that it doesn’t come to that. Even if McCown never were to see the field this year, he’s considered one of the league’s most valuable “film room minds” – with multiple respected NFL analysts have stated that he should consider going into coaching after his playing days are over. On top of that, he’s proven to be a model teammate, as reflected by his reaction to a season-ending hand injury in 2017.
In actual preseason, on-the-field news, Indianapolis-Cleveland kicked off the Saturday slate of games, as Andrew Luck continued his sideline stint. The soon-to-be 30-year-old signal caller was, thankfully, able to work out prior to the game, and showed off some decent mobility during the session. Flashbacks of 2017 come to mind with Luck’s health issues suddenly growing in severity. A calf injury had reportedly held the reigning Comeback Player of the Year out for all but a handful of preseason practices, but early this week, team owner Jim Irsay hinted that Luck is dealing with a “small little bone” issue. Later on in the day on Tuesday, general manager Chris Ballard clarified that Luck has been afflicted with a high ankle sprain in addition to his injured calf.
The Colts, of course, want their star quarterback on the field for a tough Week 1 bout against the Chargers, but Jacoby Brissett will get the starting nod if he is unable to go. Brissett was impressive in Saturday’s 21-18 loss to the Browns, completing eight of 10 pass attempts for 100 yards and a touchdown, while adding an 11-yard first-down scramble. The touchdown pass went to — who else? — Eric Ebron. In 2018 the former No. 10 overall pick amassed 13 receiving scores, tied for the third-most all-time for a Super Bowl-era tight end behind Rob Gronkowski (17 in 2011) and Jimmy Graham (16 in 2013).
Which AFC South quarterback — Luck or Deshaun Watson — would you rather build a franchise around for the next decade? It’s an unsettled debate to his point, but the case is getting stronger for Watson headed into 2019, despite past injuries of his own and a shoddy offensive line. Watson looked good in limited work against Detroit on Saturday night, leading Houston on an 11-play, 75-yard drive that culminated in a four-yard touchdown pass to DeAndre Hopkins. Watson is especially lethal in fantasy given his ability to rack up points with his legs, last year becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, while also rushing for 500 yards and five touchdowns in a single season. The third-year signal caller was held to 11 or fewer fantasy points (standard scoring) in three of his first seven outings of the year, but went on to eclipse 15 points in eight of his final nine with 22.8 points per game during that stretch — a pace that would have ranked second behind Patrick Mahomes had he been able to maintain it.
On the other side of the ledger, Detroit’s T.J. Hockenson recorded his first preseason reception, picking up a 22-yard gain on the Texans defense before a Josh Johnson fumble foiled the drive. The No. 8 overall pick has a chance to snap a streak of fantasy football futility for first-year tight ends, with Evan Engram being the only rookie tight end since 2014 to finish top 12 at the position in PPR scoring. Reports out of camp indicate that Hockenson could deliver on speculation of him being the best tight end prospect of the past decade. He’s capable of paying immediate dividends as a red-zone target for Matthew Stafford, who had averaged 28 touchdown passes per season between 2011 and 2017, before back issues derailed what could have been a more statistically-productive 2018.
Tennessee quarterbacks were solid in facing off against New England, as Marcus Mariota and Ryan Tannehill combined for a 65 percent completion rate with 147 yards, two touchdowns and zero turnovers committed.
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Entering a make-or-break fifth NFL campaign, Mariota hopes to build upon the positive aspects of his 2018 showing, while reverting the negative. The good — he completed a career-high 68.9 percent of his pass attempts and led the Titans to a winning record for the third straight year. The bad – it’s just not an explosive passing offense with Mariota leading the attack. He’s never eclipsed 3,500 passing yards, and in 2018 he managed only 11 passing touchdowns in 14 appearances. The ugly — Mariota’s injuries, most recently a cervical neck stinger that kept him out of a do-or-die Week 17 matchup with the Colts.
For Tennessee’s opponent, and coach Mike Vrabel’s former team, Damien Harris was the story. He continued his streak of absurd efficiency as a rusher; gaining 5.8 yards per carry for the Patriots in a 22-17 win Saturday after averaging 6.8 yards per carry over his final three seasons with the Crimson Tide. Harris was sparingly utilized as a pass catcher during college, with fewer than 10 receiving yards per game for his career. In his NFL debut he demonstrated potential to become more versatile in that regard, catching four passes for 23 yards.
In what could be a sleeper pick for an upcoming AFC championship matchup, Kansas City faced off against Pittsburgh. After an hour-long storm delay, we didn’t see much of the starting offense for the Chiefs, with Patrick Mahomes getting two drives of work and completing two of five attempts for 11 yards. His second drive was cut short by a Carlos Hyde fumble, a bad omen for what seemed to be a mounting case for the 28-year-old back to field a hefty workload this season. His play has dropped off over the past two seasons during stints with Cleveland and Jacksonville, with his per-carry clip dropping to 3.7 from an average of 4.2 in four years with San Francisco. Damien Williams still seems like the guy you want on your roster — and a potential top-12-to-15 play at the position despite him never having more than 50 carries in a season — but Hyde is a worthwhile value in the latter rounds of drafts while participating in what is certain to be a prolific offense.
The night cap offered a rematch of a 2018 NFC divisional round game between the Rams and Cowboys, with the teams meeting up in Honolulu for a preseason showdown. Dak Prescott was a perfect five-for-five on his pass attempts, leading Dallas down the field for a score after the defense forced a punt on the Rams’ opening possession. Fourth-rounder Tony Pollard capped the monster, 97-yard drive with a 14-yard scamper. Jared Goff, meanwhile, did not make the trip as coach Sean McVay elected to keep a number of the starters at home while evaluating second and third-team options.
Until next time, folks — stay safe, enjoy Erik Siegrist’s Saturday breakdown, and remember if drafting this week to stack depth at running back and receiver instead of investing a mid-round pick in D/ST. According to Matthew Berry’s Draft Day Manifesto, there has not been a single unit to repeat as the No. 1 unit in standard-scoring formats at any point this millennium. Additionally, the difference between the No. 2 and No.12 D/ST in 2018 was only 1.7 points per game.