Counting down the fantasy numbers of note from the exhibition season and what they project going forward into Week 1 and beyond:
407 – Combined rushing yards this preseason for the Giants’ Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams. The veteran Jennings (212) and the fourth-round pick Williams (195) ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in the league this preseason while combining to average a robust 5.6 yards per carry. Overall, the G-Men ranked fifth and sixth, respectively, in terms of average rushes (32.8) and rushing yards (134.6) per contest – way up from their 2013 regular-season averages (23.8 & 83.3) – and could rely on the ground game to carry them through the early part of the season while Eli Manning and the passing attack attempt to shake off their August struggles.
193 – Receiving yards for the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce – the most among league TEs in August. The second-year player, whose rookie campaign was lost to a preseason knee injury, also ranked fourth among all TEs in targets (14) second in receptions (11), tied for second in TD catches (2) and first in total fantasy points (31.3). Technically, Kelce is listed second on the depth chart behind starter Anthony Fasano, but have little doubt that he’ll be targeted early and often by QB Alex Smith given the dearth of passing-game options beyond RB Jamaal Charles and WR Dwayne Bowe, who’s suspended for the opener in any case.
102.7 – Preseason league-leading passer rating for Patriots’ quarterbacks, who combined to throw for 1,064 yards, nine TDs and only two interceptions in 136 attempts. Those numbers included a strong showing from rookie second-round pick and new second-stringer Jimmy Garoppolo and were accomplished with nary a target for the team’s top target, TE Rob Gronkowski, whose focus has squarely been on getting himself rehabbed and ready for Sunday’s opener in Miami. If pass-catching RB Shane Vareen can also remain relatively healthy, don’t be at all surprised if Tom Brady returns to the fantasy QB top five.
39.5 – Fantasy points for the non-QB skill-position player who paced all rookies this preseason. Quick, was it Bishop Sankey? Brandin Cooks? Try the Giants’ Corey Washington, an undrafted WR out of Division II Newberry College, who had a team-leading 10 catches for 155 yards and a league-best four TD grabs. It was impressive enough to earn “Preseason MVP” honors from one NFL.com scribe, but will it be enough to earn the rook some regular-season looks from Manning? At 6-foot-4 and with first-round pick Odell Beckham’s stubborn hammy issues, stranger fantasy things have happened. In any case, definitely a name to keep in mind for dynasty and deeper leagues.
25 – Touches for RB C.J. Spiller this preseason, which ranked fourth among Bills backs. There are no shortage of fantasy concerns surrounding the Buffalo offense (see Manuel, EJ) heading into the games that count, and this is one of them. Yeah, true, the coaching staff may be taking it easy with Spiller whose 2013 season was hampered by an ankle issue, but just realize that when spend that early-round pick on Spiller (current ADP sitting around 40th overall) that the workload is going to be divvied up as long as Fred Jackson, Bryce Brown and even Anthony Dixon, are around to comprise one of the league’s deepest RB corps.
21.2 – Fantasy-point differential between the Raiders’ top two quarterbacks in August. However, it was second-round pick Derek Carr (30-of-45-326 yards-4 TDs-1 INT) on the top end of the spectrum and not veteran Matt Schaub (24-of-47-218-0-1). And even though the unproven rookie was certainly facing lesser competition late in games, Schaub’s continuing struggles despite the change of scenery and his current elbow issues made it a relatively easy choice when it came to picking the Silver & Black’s starting quarterback for Sunday’s opener in East Rutherford, N.J. After all the hype over Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles, not many predicted that a second-rounder from the Mountain West Conference would be the lone rookie QB slated to start on the opening weekend. That said, though, even the best first-year QBs struggle when the lights come on for keeps, and defenses opposing the Raiders remain strong fantasy starts for at least the first half of the season.
14 – Sacks allowed by the Colts this preseason, tying for the fourth most in the league. Indy has fared just about as well in other offensive-line metrics – seventh-worst in yards-per-rush (3.4), fifth-worst in tackles-for-losses allowed (26) and fifth-worst in QB hits surrendered (20) – over the last month, and one glance at the Colts’ injury report, which includes five O-linemen dealing with various maladies, explains a good deal. In short, though, it’s anything but good news for fantasy GMs banking on a bounce-back season from Trent Richardson or having QB Andrew Luck afforded enough time to deliver to his impressive stable of pass-catchers.
13.2 – Combined fantasy points in August for the Steelers’ top two RBs, Le’Veon Bell (20 touches-69 yards) and LeGarrette Blount (19-63). Neither back found the end zone this preseason – in fact, no Steeler did on the ground – and the team brought up the NFL rear in both rushing attempts (78) and yards (269) this preseason. What Bell and Blount did find was their names on the police blotter following their Aug. 21 arrest for marijuana possession only hours before the team’s third preseason game. While that untimely incident isn’t likely to result in any suspensions or missed playing time, just be wary of the Steelers’ overall commitment to – and effectiveness in – the ground game. Keep that in mind if you’re counting on Bell to be your no-doubt RB1 or Blount as that must-have handcuff back.
9.2 – NFL-best points per game allowed by the Broncos’ defense in its four exhibition contests. The Denver D also allowed the fewest rushing yards (72.3 per game) in the league this preseason while recording nine sacks and forcing seven turnovers. Almost quietly – in the sizable shadow of Peyton Manning and the high-scoring offense – the Broncos have rebuilt the entire defense, adding DeMarcus Ware, T.J. Ward and Aqib Talib to go along with Von Miller’s return from a lost 2013 season. In all, the team very well could start only a trio of players in Week 1 who started in the Super Bowl only seven months earlier. The new-look Broncos’ D is definitely a fantasy defense to watch and also presents an opening night challenge for visiting Indy and its offensive-line woes detailed above.
8 – Exhibition receptions for Steelers’ TE Heath Miller on 10 targets last month. Miller is entering his 10th season, and while he’s not among the fantasy elite at his position, he’s a don’t-forget-about-me vet who’s a reliable standard-league TE2 or starting deeper-league option – especially considering the questions surrounding Antonio Brown’s youthful and unproven supporting cast in the WR corps.
3 – Rushing attempts in four preseason games for the Saints’ Pierre Thomas, who, meanwhile, also gathered in seven receptions. Of course, that upside-down ratio begs the fantasy question: Is Thomas the new Darren Sproles in the Big Easy? As it was, Thomas did lead all NFL RBs with 77 catches last season with Sproles battling health issues. Now, Sproles – who averaged 14.6 more receptions than rushes per season during his three years in New Orleans – has taken his game to Philly, leaving Thomas as a potential PPR monster in the Saints’ backfield.
2.7 – Yards per carry this preseason for Browns’ rookie RB Terrance West, who gained 88 yards on 31 carries. The third-round pick put up mind-blowing numbers last fall at FCS Towson, rushing for an FCS single-season record 2,509 yards and 41 TDs in 16 games, helping him land on more than a few preseason fantasy sleeper lists. Many also expected the rookie to make a run at the Browns’ starting job, but Ben Tate has solidified his spot atop the depth chart as August wore on. West, meanwhile, appears to have taken a step back “There were some times where he made plays, and then he made rookie mistakes some other times,” Cleveland coach Mike Pettine told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. “. . . He can catch the ball. He’s shown that in camp. We’re pleased with where Terrance is, but it’s something . . . he just needs to continue to get better. Some guys kind of say, ‘OK, I made it. I’m on the roster,’ but to me, they need to accelerate, not decelerate.” The bottom line: Temper your early-season fantasy expectations for West and expect more from Tate on one of the league’s few aerially-challenged, run-first teams.