That feeling when you draft your first fantasy football team of the new season – does it get much better than that? All the research, film study, analysis of advanced analytics and consideration of changes in coaching staff and circumstance – it all culminates in comprising a roster of your favorite players, and looking forward to another season of experiencing this beautiful game. It's all in front of us.
But right now! What is going on in this mad, mad NFL world? We've got one of the game's brightest stars deciding to hang up his cleats before turning 30 because of lingering injuries, Houston's starting running back believed to have suffered a torn ACL, and an abundance of preseason action that requires immediate analysis. We've got it all for you right here, on this penultimate edition of the Saturday Rotowire Training Camp Blog.
Last week a question was posed on this very forum – which AFC South quarterback would you prefer to build an NFL franchise around for the next decade, Andrew Luck or Deshaun Watson? It would be reasonable to project the Colts' four-time Pro Bowl quarterback and reigning Comeback Player of the Year to have at least five years left in the tank. Indianapolis possessed one of the most enviable rosters in the league. A team that appeared poised for a long run of postseason success along with the likes of the Chiefs, Eagles and Rams. What Chris Ballard and the Colts have been building over the past few seasons is not completely dismantled by the shocking news of Luck's retirement, but it's undoubtedly a massive blow. Jacoby Brissett pieced together an admirable 13:7 TD:INT ratio campaign with nearly 3,100 passing yards in Luck's injury-induced absence during 2017, but the Colts limped to a 4-12 finish that season, and finished a mediocre 8-8 in 2015 when Luck missed nine games with a muscle tear in his abdomen.
In an emotional press conference Saturday night, Luck said that constant and debilitating injuries have taken away his love for the game. "Honestly (this is) the hardest decision of my life," Luck explained. "For the last four years or so, I've been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab, injury, pain, rehab, and it's been unceasing, unrelenting both in-season and offseason, and I felt stuck in it. The only way I see out is to no longer play football."
In other terrible AFC South news, Texans starting running back Lamar Miller suffered what is feared to be a torn ACL during Saturday's 34-0 exhibition loss at the hands of the Cowboys. Appearing in a game for the first time this preseason, Miller absorbed a hit from Maliek Collins just moments into Houston's opening offensive drive and had to be carted off of the field on a stretcher. Miller had been tremendously durable since being selected with a fourth-round pick out of Miami, suiting up for 13-plus games in each of his seven pro campaigns, and averaging 15 appearances per season between 2012 and 2018. Last year was one of the best of his career, as Miller accounted for 1,136 scrimmage yards and six total touchdowns, while earning his first Pro Bowl nod as the workhorse back for the AFC South Champs. In his absence, new arrival Duke Johnson's fantasy value skyrockets. He's never been entrusted with more than 104 rushing attempts in a single season, but in a now-barren backfield he projects to be moderately involved in the Texans' ground attack, in addition to what is sure to be a substantial pass-catching role.
Breaking news indicates that the Dolphins may soon be moving on from one of the franchise's defensive staples of recent years, as Barry Jackson of the Miami Herald reported that Reshad Jones is not anticipated to serve in an every-down defensive role this season, and could be traded in the near future. Jones has made two AFC Pro Bowl rosters over the past four seasons and started in 12-plus games for the Dolphins in seven of the past eight seasons. With Brian Flores coming in as the new head coach, however, Jones may no longer be a fit for what Miami aims to do defensively, and becomes especially susceptible to being dropped because of his $47.3 million cap hit over the next three years.
The Falcons have serious question marks revolving around the placekicker position, with unproven Giorgio Tavecchio having missed four of eight field-goal attempts thus far this preseason. Concerns about his preparedness to take on the starting role led to the signing of former Vikings and Seahawks kicker Blair Walsh. A sixth-round pick of Minnesota in 2012, Walsh was named an All-Pro as a rookie by knocking down 35-of-38 field-goal tries and 36-of-36 PATs. In five seasons since, though, Walsh has only converted on 79.9 percent of his field-goal attempts – most notably chunking a 27-yard attempt that sent Seattle on to the divisional round of the 2015 playoffs.
Transitioning to on-the-field action, Minnesota advanced to 3-0 this preseason despite Kirk Cousins having a dismal outing. The $84 million man was sacked twice, and completed just three of 13 pass attempts for 35 yards. Thankfully the running backs showed up, with Dalvin Cook tearing off an 85-yard run on the Vikings' second offensive drive of the evening. A Garrett Bradbury penalty on the first play of the drive backed Minnesota up to its own 15, but the very next play Cook burst up through the center of the line, going untouched for nearly 20 yards before high-stepping a Cardinal and outpacing the rest of the Arizona defense for the home-run touchdown scamper.
The Colts-Bears matchup didn't exactly bring the heat, with a number of starters sitting for each side. Coach Frank Reich entrusted Chad Kelly with the starting nod for Indianapolis, and the 25-year-old had an up-and-down showing, leading three first-half scoring drives but surrendering a 91-yard pick-six to Deon Bush to allow Chicago back into the game. He was 'Mr. Irrelevant' in the 2017 draft class, but not because of lack of ability – solely because of questionable decision-making and erratic off-the-field behavior. Kelly has proven capable of competing at the highest level of college football, leading Ole Miss to one of its most successful seasons of the past five decades in 2015, conducting a 10-3 campaign with a 31:13 TD:INT ratio and 4,042 passing yards. He flashed in preseason play last year for the Broncos, but was ultimately cut after being arrested on criminal trespassing charges.
In the Meadowlands everything came up roses for the Saints' and Jets' passing attacks, with Drew Brees and Sam Darnold each leading first-half touchdown drives. Brees got New Orleans on the board immediately, beating the Gang Green defense with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Michael Thomas on the eighth play of a 72-yard opening drive. Brees was benched right there for second-stringer Teddy Bridgewater, but Darnold got six drives in total – with his final set being the first to yield points. He hooked up with Ty Montgomery for a two-yard score, after Montgomery coughed up a fumble on New York's first drive.
Patrick Mahomes looked sharp in two drives of work during the Chiefs-49ers game, completing eight of 10 passes for 126 yards and one touchdown – including a 62-yard touchdown to running back Damien Williams on Kansas City's third play from scrimmage. On the other side, Jimmy Garoppolo bounced back from what had been a shaky start to the preseason, playing throughout the first half and coming up with points on three of his five drives.
Garappolo's one touchdown went to Matt Breida – a lobbing 20-yard throw that the running back had to lay out to catch in the front left corner of the end zone. The 24-year-old Breida has seen his average draft position elevate in recent weeks, due both to promising preseason performance from his end, as well as Jerick McKinnon's lingering knee injury keeping valuable touches available for the taking.
The Broncos and Rams had a west coast slug fest, with Los Angeles prevailing by a 10-6 count in a game in which virtually no starters made an impact. Darrell Henderson had a less than inspiring outing for LA, logging 28 rushing yards on 11 attempts to go with one reception for four yards. John Kelly was slightly more efficient on the ground, tallying 32 yards on 10 totes, while adding one catch for 12 yards. Neither has had a performance to write home about thus far this exhibition season, collectively averaging 2.7 yards per rush – though Henderson's eight receptions for 37 yards is enough to hint at regular-season relevancy in PPR formats.
Wrapping with the Seahawks-Chargers night cap, Seattle prevailed 23-15 as Russell Wilson went back in time and provided some sorely-missed rushing production in collecting 31 yards on three carries. He averaged 608 rushing yards and three rushing scores per season over his first four pro seasons, but over his last three has dipped to 407 rushing yards per 16 games, with 1.3 rushing touchdowns per year. Getting that component integrated back into his repertoire would go a long way in helping his finish as a top-three fantasy quarterback for the fourth time in six seasons.