So we’re halfway through the 2016 preseason, and what have we learned?
Dak Precott, George Atkinson and Rashad Ross are going to be the breakout fantasy studs of 2016, right?
Yeah, hey, we’ve all been there and had our attention grabbed by gaudy exhibition stats countless Augusts before, and it seems that knowledge hasn’t exactly translated into big dividends come the games that count. That said, we still need to pick and choose among the fantasy figures currently jumping up at us, add a grain of salt and top them off with a dab of perspective.
That’s the recipe for our mission as we count down some numbers of note 32 games into the 2016 preseason:
187.5 – Average rushing yards allowed per game so far by the Browns’ defense, which – not surprisingly – ranks last in the league. There are few things more predictable (or profitable) for a fantasy general manager than seeing a pillow-soft defense ahead on the schedule for one of their fantasy studs, and once again, it looks like the Browns will be playing the part of the fluffy stuff. Cleveland ranked 30th in the league a season ago in surrendering 128.4 rushing yards per game, and so far this August, the Packers and Falcons have each ground out more than 150 yards against the Browns, with Atlanta rolling up 224 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 41 carries this past week. And unless the Brownies can tighten things up considerably over the next two weeks, it’ll be fantasy GMs, start-your-RBs-against-Cleveland time – without much of a second thought.
100 – Completion percentage for the Colts’ Andrew Luck this past Saturday against the Ravens, in going 8-for-8 for 71 yards and directing two long drives in his first game action since Week 9 of last season. Luck also rushed for 12 yards on a pair of attempts, wasn’t sacked and seemed to take his offseason promise of playing with less reckless abandon seriously – at least for one exhibition into his comeback. It’s a good out-of-the-gate sign for Luck owners and owners rostering Luck’s Indy weapons after the fantasy numbers declined straight across the board a season ago when Luck played only seven games. A return to the top of the fantasy QB leaderboard likely is too much to ask of Luck this season, but a high-end QB1 campaign looks to be well within reach if he stays relatively healthy.
68, 66 – Rushing-yard totals for the Rams’ Malcolm Brown so far this preseason as the second-year undrafted back out of Texas currently ranks as the league’s leading preseason ground gainer with 134 yards on 20 carries. He’s also added 20 yards on a trio of receptions. Brown only totaled 17 yards on four attempts as a rookie last season, but now with Tre Mason absent from the team and showing up on police reports instead of stat sheets, Brown is looking like he’ll be the Todd Gurley handcuff to target in drafts.
25 – Team-most touches to date for Patriots RB Tyler Gaffney, who’s turned them into 113 total yards and a TD. Gaffney is a third-year back who’s spent his first two regular seasons on the New England injured-reserve list, but suddenly he’s in the mix for the Patriots’ pass-catching back role with weekend reports surfacing that oft-ailing RB Dion Lewis is going to require another knee procedure and will be sidelined indefinitely – likely well into the season (sorry early drafters). That leaves James White, who had a breakout season (40 catches for 410 yards and four scores) a year ago after Lewis went down – and Gaffney as the primary candidates to complement ever-present big back LeGarrette Blount. It is New England, though, where predictable personnel roles are as elusive as rare Pokémon Go characters, but Gaffney certainly belongs on fantasy radar screens for the time being.
8 – Team-high targets so far this preseason for Titans rookie WR Tajae Sharpe. The fifth-round pick out of UMass has generated consistent buzz all offseason, and now it’s translating to the stat sheet as the first-year player also leads Tennessee in receptions (eight) and receiving yardage (103). The slender Sharpe (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) caught all six of his targets for 68 yards this past weekend against the Panthers and suddenly looks like he’ll be in the running for the Titans’ No. 1 WR role with Kendall Wright battling more hamstring issues and 2015 second-round pick Dorial Green-Beckham being dealt last week to the Eagles.
8 – Sacks allowed by the Seahawks so far this preseason, a figure which is tied for the second most in the league. The issue was especially glaring last Thursday night when starting QB Russell Wilson seemed to be under constant harassment and was brought down four times by the Vikings in less than a half of play. Wilson never could get in a rhythm, finishing 5-of-11 for 71 yards. With nearly 300 rushing yards in two games and the Seahawks averaging 5.03 yards per carry, there’s been little wrong with the Seattle run blocking this preseason. But like early last season, the pass protection in the Pacific Northwest has been less-than-ideal so far, and that could lead to some fantasy ramifications if the Seahawks can’t shore things up along the front.
7 – Team-high targets to date for Broncos TE Virgil Green, who has reeled in all seven for 83 yards. With Owen Daniels’ release this offseason, Denver is still searching for a reliable pass-catching tight end in Year 2 of Gary Kubiak’s TE-friendly scheme. Most of the offseason hopes had been pinned on second-year tight end Jeff Heuerman, a 2015 third-round pick whose rookie season was scuttled by a rookie-camp ACL tear. But Heuerman (one catch for six yards this preseason) has been slow in coming around and is now dealing with a balky hamstring while offseason acquisition Garrett Graham has done even less, leaving Green as the clear front-runner. Entering his sixth season, Green only has logged 35 career receptions for 379 yards and a pair of TDs, but it’s looking like he’ll easily surpass those totals this season if he continues to build on his solid August start.
2 – Receiving touchdowns – one in each game – so far for Cowboys wideout Dez Bryant(4-74), who appears primed to rebound after foot issues resulted in a career-worst 31-401-3 stat line in 2015. A year ago, Bryant was near the top of every fantasy GM’s WR wish list after averaging 91 catches, 1,312 yards and 14 TDs over the previous three seasons, but his disastrous 2015 has caused a few more owners to look elsewhere for their WR1 this August as Bryant currently owns the sixth-highest average draft position among wideouts at 12.44 overall. Bryant, though, has showed some strong early chemistry with the rookie Prescott, who’s connected with the WR for two of his four TD tosses, and you know Tony Romo is eager to re-establish one of the league’s most formidable pitch-catch combos come Week 1. Don’t hesitate over that Dez draft button.