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Run 'N' Shoot: Do Nothing

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa has been sharing his fantasy insights for Rotowire since 2007. Mark is the 2010 and 2012 Staff Picks champion (eat your heart out, Chris Liss) and won Rotowire's 14-team Staff League II in consecutive seasons. He roots for the Bills and has season tickets on the second row, press level to the Rays.

Do nothing. It's tough advice to follow. We're all junkies looking for any advantage we can get, so we want to respond/react when Michael Vick looks good in Chip Kelly's flashy new offense. We feel like we should move Pierre Thomas up our lists when he looks terrific this preseason. That's what the experts are doing, so why not follow suit?

I'm not criticizing anyone in particular, certainly not anyone on RotoWire. That said, I often think some fantasy analysts want so badly to have new things to talk about in a long, slow preseason that they overreact to preseason events that mean nothing. With Vick, for instance, one analyst who I respect now ranks Vick above Tom Brady. He didn't before the preseason, but he does now - based on the preseason. I find this shocking ... and wrong. At this point in his career, we know what Vick is. Sure, he's an electrifying runner. But he's also an erratic, inaccurate passer who can't read defenses, can't feel pass rush and constantly gets hurt. Similarly, Thomas is entering his seventh season with the Saints. On a per-play basis, he's often looked like a Pro Bowl-caliber running back. But his light workload (never as many as 150 carries in a season) and frequent injuries have prevented Thomas from obtaining fantasy stardom.

These fantasy analysts know Vick and Thomas are established veterans for whom preseason means little, yet they can't resist moving Vick and Thomas up their lists. Don't fall into this trap. Vick and Thomas look good this preseason? That's good to know ... but it's not a needle-mover in fantasy-land.

Some events from this preseason do matter. You may recall, before the preseason started, I listed 10 things I'd be watching for this preseason. With an eye toward that list, here's my take on what's happened this preseason that matters in our fake football universe. Yes, the final preseason games are still coming, but with most starters resting, the preseason is essentially over. Here's what we learned ...

1. Backfield uncertainty remains in Denver, Pittsburgh and New York.
I hoped the preseason would give us clarity on which running backs to own on the Bronocs, Steelers and Giants. Unfortunately, we continue to have more questions than answers.

The Broncos wanted Montee Ball to win the job, but he struggled all preseason with pass protection. Ronnie Hillman had a chance to capitalize, but he was just as bad with ball security. Knowshon Moreno is probably the best pass protector of the three, but lacks explosiveness, averaging just 3.8 YPC last year despite having Peyton Manning as his quarterback - yikes. Barring injury, I can't see Hillman or Moreno being a regular fantasy starter, so let's hope Ball can improve his pass protection during the season. If he can, I remain optimistic that Ball's fifth- or sixth-round price tag will make him a common denominator on lots of championship teams.

In Pittsburgh, Le'Veon Bell looked like he was set up for a feature role before suffering a dreaded Lisfranc injury. Word is he may only miss a few weeks, but since when does anyone return quickly from that injury? For me, this is reminiscent of Maurice Jones-Drew in 2012, when it constantly sounded like MJD was going to return soon, yet he never did. I'm no doctor, though, so I have no idea when Bell will return or how effective he'll be if he does. Meanwhile, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman look set to resume the RBBC they shared in 2012. Unless Bell returns sooner than expected, I fear the Steelers backfield may be a fantasy wasteland again.

I kept a close eye on the Giants backfield this preseason, yet I didn't really learn anything. It still looks like David Wilson will play on first and second down and between the 20s, with Andre Brown set to get most of the goal-line carries. I see Wilson as a solid RB2 (translated: put him in your lineup and leave him there) with RB1 upside if/when Brown gets injured again. In deeper leagues, I'd be fine starting Wilson and Brown, even on the same team.

2. Eddie Lacy and Giovani Bernard are moving up.
We might not have learned much about the backfields in Denver, Pittsburgh or New York, but we learned plenty about Green Bay and Cincinnati.

For the Packers, DuJuan Harris is out for the year and Johnathan Franklin has failed to impress. If only by default, Eddie Lacy looks like the clear guy to own on an elite Packers offense. As I ponder Lacy's upside, I can't stop thinking about how few goal-line targets the Packers top receivers got last year - James Jones, nine; Jordy Nelson, five; Jermichael Finley, three; Randall Cobb, two. Those numbers suggest the Packers like running inside the 10, and if that's the case, Lacy could have a huge season.

Giovani Bernard looked spry for the Bengals this preseason, and his supporters had to like seeing a one-yard touchdown plunge. I worry BenJarvus Green-Ellis will steal some of the short touchdowns, and I like Lacy more than Bernard, but Bernard's stock has risen in the last few weeks.

3. Maurice Jones-Drew looks healthy.
Strong preseasons from established veterans mean nothing, hence my pans of Vick and Thomas, above. But when an established stud like Maurice Jones-Drew gets back on the field after missing most of 2012 with a Lisfranc injury, it's big news. No, MJD didn't have any highlight-worthy plays this preseason, but the mere fact that he's back on the field raises his value.

Ironically, THIS was the veteran who the industry should have been upgrading the past several days, not Vick or Thomas. I'm still cautious given MJD's age, workload and awful supporting cast, but it's impossible not to rank him higher than I did a few weeks ago.

4. Jonathan Cooper's injury is a brutal blow for the Cardinals.
I was so optimistic the Cardinals offense would be better this year that I devoted an entire section of my preview article to Arizona. Much of that optimism was predicated on an improved offensive line, highlighted by Cooper, the Cardinals seventh overall draft pick.

Cooper's broken leg throws a bucket of cold water on those hopes. Yes, Carson Palmer should upgrade the offense, but if the line is still bad, Arizona might look closer to the 2012 version than we'd all hoped.

5. I'm warming to Rob Gronkowski, but he's still risky.
The preseason hasn't shed too much light on Gronkowski's health. Rumor has it he'll avoid the PUP list, and that's warming me up to the prospect of rolling the dice. You know the upside here as well as the risks, so let's move on.

6. Kenbrell Thompkins emerging in New England.
Undrafted Kenbrell Thompkins has been Tom Brady's favorite target this preseason, outshining second-round pick Aaron Dobson. Thompkins' lack of speed limits his upside (he was undrafted for a reason), but particularly in PPR formats, Thompkins has justifiably become a trendy pick. Draft accordingly.

7. Rookie quarterbacks: Update.
Everyone is burying EJ Manuel and Geno Smith since it looks like each will start the season on the bench. But you weren't using these guys in Week 1 anyway, so what difference does it really make if they open the year as the starter? If anything, Manuel and Smith starting the year on the sideline ensures they cost virtually nothing to obtain in our fake game. Plus, Manuel in particular should be starting by Week 2, or, at worst, by the time the bye weeks arrive.

The biggest preseason story among rookie quarterbacks might be in Oakland, where Terrelle Pryor now looks like the favorite to start for the Raiders. Oakland looks like the worst team in the NFL, but that matters little for fantasy. Pryor could rack up garbage time stats, particularly with his legs.

I'd rank them Pryor, Manuel and Smith, and each has top-15 upside (if not for the season, then on a per-game basis, anyway).