A countdown of the fantasy numbers of note from the opening 17 games of the exhibition season:
237 – Week 1 league-high number of rushing yards for the Baltimore Ravens on Thursday night in a 23-3 win over the San Francisco 49ers. Paced by the 71 yards on 13 carries by third-string rookie RB Lorenzo Taliaferro, the Ravens averaged 4.9 yards on their 48 attempts and picked up 13 first downs against what was the fourth-ranked rushing D of a season ago. There’s a new offensive coordinator (Gary Kubiak) in charge now in Baltimore, and his track record as the Houston Texans’ head coach and the Denver Broncos’ offensive coordinator – which features no fewer than 12 top-10 team rushing finishes in 19 years – strongly suggests that the Ravens’ 30th-ranked rushing attack of a season ago is in for some major improvement.
107 – Yards from scrimmage on only 11 touches for Atlanta Falcons rookie RB Devonta Freeman on Friday in a 16-10 win over the Miami Dolphins. With aging vet Steven Jackson shelved with a hamstring issue (sound familiar?), the fourth-pick out of Florida State made the most out of his turn in the ATL RB rotation, rushing 10 times for 50 yards and turning his only reception into a 57-yard gain. Jacquizz Rodgers and Antone Smith are also in the RB mix, but Freeman is definitely the Falcons’ back to watch – and to own – if Jackson’s injury issues linger into the regular season.
69 – Length in yards of a TD reception by Kanas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce, who took a second-quarter slant pass from backup QB Chase Daniel on Thursday night and sprinted untouched through the heart of the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense and into the end zone. Kelce, a 2013 third-round pick who missed all of last season due to a preseason knee injury and ensuing micro-fracture surgery, currently is being drafted as a low-end TE2, but he has the size (6-5, 255) and speed (just watch the TD catch and run again) to give Alex Smith the over-the-middle pass-catching threat he was lacking last season.
25.0 – Passer rating for new Tampa Bay Bucs starter Josh McCown on Friday night in a 16-10 loss to the cross-state Jacksonville Jaguars. The 35-year-old Windy City import was 2-of-4 passing for 20 yards, and his two incompletions were interceptions, one taken back 68 yards to the house for the first score of the game. McCown, playing for his seventh NFL team in 13 seasons, didn’t get much in terms of protection, getting sacked twice, but he’s going to have to show better than this or the calls for last season’s starter, second-year player Mike Glennon, will intensify. Glennon, by the way, was a tidy 11-of-19 for 140 yards and a TD in the contest.
22.2 – Interception percentage for Philadelphia Eagles’ QB Nick Foles in a 34-28 loss to the host Chicago Bears on Friday night. In fact, the QB’s two picks in nine passes in the game were as many as threw all last season in 13 games and 317 attempts (0.6 interception percentage). Now sure, fantasy analysts have been warning of the impending Foles TD-to-interception ratio regression all offseason, but those fantasy GMs currently spending a fifth-round pick on the QB are certainly hoping that the fall doesn’t go too far or happen too fast.
13 – League-leading targets so far in a pair of exhibition contests for Buffalo Bills WR Robert Woods, who also leads all preseason pass-catchers with eight receptions (for 80 yards and a TD). All the hype and hullaballoo in Bills’ camp has surrounded No. 4 overall pick Sammy Watkins and – to a much-lesser extent – trade-acquisition Mike Williams from Tampa Bay, but don’t discount a marked improvement from Woods, the 2013 second-round pick who hauled in 40 passes for 587 yards and a trio of a TDs as a rookie. Woods is battling Williams for the starting gig opposite Watkins and so far is easily outshining both the vet and rookie in live action.
6.8 – league-worst yards per play allowed by the Dallas Cowboys’ defense Thursday in a 27-7 beatdown out on the Left Coast. The ‘Boys were particularly putrid against the pass, allowing S.D. quarterbacks to complete 14-of-16 attempts for 243 yards and a TD without recording a sack. This is really nothing new as the Cowboys ranked among the league’s worst in defensive yards-per-play, total yards allowed, passing yards surrendered and total sacks a year ago, and losing the likes of DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee and Jason Hatcher since essentially ensures that the Dallas D will remain one of the most favorable fantasy units to face.
3 – Number of touchdowns for the Chiefs’ defense/special teams in the 41-39 win over the Bengals. K.C. brought back a pair of interceptions for scores and also got an 80-yard punt-return TD from electrifying fourth-round rookie De’Anthony Thomas. The Chiefs easily led all D/STs with 185 fantasy points and 11 return TDs last season, and if this opener is any indication, more may be in store for 2014.
1 – Fumble for Chargers’ RB Ryan Mathews against the Cowboys. It wasn’t just any fumble, however, as it was a lost first-quarter handle at the goal-line, taking potential points off the board for the Bolts on their opening drive of the game. Mathews is coming off arguably his best season (1,444 total yards, 7 TDs), but he’s lost 14 fumbles in four seasons and the Chargers now boast more backfield options than recent years with Danny Woodhead on board, and the free-agent signing of Donald Brown. The bottom line: A return of his costly miscues will cost Mathews some touches.
0 – Points (as in none) for the Houston Texans on Saturday night in their 32-point loss to the Arizona Cardinals. It was the second-worst exhibition loss in the 13-year history of the franchise – a performance dubbed as “terrible,” “unacceptable” and “bad football” by new head coach Bill O’Brien – and while top overall pick, LB Jadeveon Clowney, earned some rave reviews in his Houston debut, the debut of new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick (6-of-14, 55 yards, 2 interceptions) didn’t go quite so swimmingly. If things don’t improve in a hurry, the fantasy values of all offensive Texans, including those of past fantasy studs Andre Johnson and Adrian Foster, will start to sink as well.