So Week 3 – by far the most important (and telling) week of the NFL preseason – is in the books. And what have we learned after getting an extended glimpse – aside from (unfortunately yet again) Cowboys star-crossed QB Tony Romo – of most of the starters and front-line players who will be fantasy factors come a couple weeks?
Glad you asked. Here are some of the more meaningful stat lines that grabbed our attention over the weekend:
1. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys – 7 carries, 48 yards, O TDs
Of course we need to start here with the NFL debut of the fourth-overall pick and highly coveted back who currently owns the third-highest average draft position among all RBs. The raw numbers are impressive in themselves, but factoring in how and where they were accumulated adds even more luster. After battling a hamstring issue early in preseason, Elliott ran with impressive power and determination from carry No. 1, and he did it on the road against the first-teamers on what’s been the league’s consistently best defense over the last five seasons. Hulking Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor can attest after getting the lowered shoulder and stiff-arm treatment from the rookie on the end of a couple of carries. And then a few days later, we learned the severity of Romo’s back injury, meaning Dallas could be forced to rely on Elliott and the ground game even more than it was already planning.
2. Christine Michael, Seattle Seahawks – 7 carries, 58 yards, 0 TDs
Yeah, we know we’ve seen this in preseasons past from Michael only to be burned when we’ve tried to trust him for any extended fantasy stretch. But he’s ran impressively and leads the league in rushing (157 yards) in August so far while presumed starter Thomas Rawls recovers from a broken ankle suffered late last season. Before the injury, Rawls’ two monster games convinced many that he was indeed Beast Mode II, but it was still only a limited sample size for the 2015 rookie, and don’t forget it was Michael who filled in with 290 scrimmage yards in the next four games after Rawls went out. The bottom-line question, going by current ADPs, is do you want to spend a fourth-round pick on Rawls or a 15th-rounder on Michael?
3. Josh Gordon, Cleveland Browns – 2 receptions, 87 yards, 1 TD
Gordon, as we well know, has fallen off the fantasy (and reality) map since his spectacular 2013 season. He was only targeted twice Friday night against the Bucs, but they resulted in high-flying 44- and 43-yard receptions, with the latter resulting in a touchdown. They were Exhibits A and B, if you will, why a number of fantasy general managers aren’t discounting the prospects of a fruitful revival of the Robert Griffin III-Gordon connection from their college heydays at Baylor once the wide receiver serves his four-game suspension.
4. Cam Newton, Carolina Panthers – 13 completions, 29 attempts, 100 yards, 0 TDs, 2 interceptions
The 2015 NFL regular-season and fantasy MVP is still atop most everyone’s QB draft board, but Newton’s first extended action since being shut down in Super Bowl 50 produced the above ugly stat line from Friday’s preseason loss to the Patriots. Cam looked flustered and decidedly out-of-sync, overthrowing receivers and gifting a pair of picks to the Pats. Now certainly this is among the worst-case scenarios for Newton’s weekly numbers, but then again it’s also a not-so-subtle reminder not to overpay in drafts for Newton’s sure-to-regress 45-TD total (passing and rushing) from last year, either.
5. Chris Hogan, New England Patriots – 5 receptions, 62 yards, 1 TD
Gronk didn’t play, and Julian Edelman looked rusty (one 6-yard catch on three targets) in his first game back this month, but new outside wide receiver Chris Hogan picked up the slack, reeling in five of his team-high six targets. Hogan, the former Buffalo Bill, did a lot of his damage after Tom Brady came on in relief, and the two looked as if they’d been doing this for years on their deft 33-yard TD hookup in the second quarter. Always be wary when relying on N.E. fantasy pieces apart from the aforementioned Brady, Gronk and Edelman, but don’t automatically write off Hogan as another 2015 Brandon LaFell, either.
6. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers – 8 touches, 58 total yards
Bell was another regular making his 2016 debut – also in between a 2015 injury and a looming suspension – and he showed well in the Big Easy against the Saints, averaging seven yards per rush and catching all five of his targets out of the backfield. Bell, of course, has slipped from many first rounds due to the injury uncertainty and pending three-game ban to start the season, but if you can weather the first few weeks, there’s a good chance you’ll be rolling with fantasy’s best back from Week 4 on, provided Bell avoids further issue.
7. Chicago Bears offense – 18 first-half plays, 20 total yards, 2 first downs, 0 points
Chicago entered the preseason with ample offensive red flags – a banged-up offensive line, no Adam Gase, Matt Forte or Martellus Bennett – and the exhibition numbers so far haven’t exactly alleviated any of the angst, with the Windy City crew being shut out in the preseason opener and then putting up a brutal first-half bagel Saturday against the visiting Chiefs. There will be better days of course, but there is legitimate reason right now to lower any and all Bears – from Jay Cutler to Alshon Jeffery to Jeremy Langford – across your draft board.
8. Donte Moncrief & Phillip Dorsett, Indianapolis Colts – 13 combined targets, 9 receptions, 107 yards, 0 TDs
T.Y. Hilton is the Indy fantasy wideout in most demand with his current late third-round ADP, but there are middle- and later-round WR values to be had in an offense expected to be noticeably rejuvenated by Andrew Luck’s return. That notion was reinforced in Saturday’s matchup against the Eagles as Moncrief and Dorsett combined to command almost half of the Colts’ targets against the Eagles and finish as the team’s two most productive pass catchers. Luck and the Colts should be forced to air it out frequently with the team’s suspect defense, and Moncrief and Dorsett are in line to put up career-best figures even if Hilton does again finish as the team’s No. 1 WR.
9. Brock Osweiler, Houston Texans – 11 completions, 13 attempts, 146 yards, 1 TD, 0 interceptions
The Texans’ $18 million man and the offense struggled in Week 1 of the preseason, but they’ve put together two solid to strong outings since. Against the Cards on Sunday, Osweiler guided the Texans to scores on three of his four drives, including a 26-yard TD pass to first-round WR Will Fuller in the second quarter. With elite wideout DeAndre Hopkins and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong already entrenched and the Texans adding Fuller, fellow-WR Braxton Miller and RB Lamar Miller in the offseason, Houston’s new QB has ample weapons at his disposal, and if you’re looking for a low-end QB2 with upside, Osweiler certainly fills the bill.
10. Minnesota Vikings defense – 3 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery, 2 sacks, 10 points allowed
We’re not proclaiming that the Purple People Eaters are back – yet – but the Vikes’ D has stood out all preseason, capped with Sunday’s impressive outing against the visiting Chargers. Overall, Minnesota ranks in the league’s top five in points allowed (12.3 per game), interceptions (six), sacks (10) and passing TDs surrendered (1) and has collected seven takeaways in all against some decent offenses in the Bengals, Seahawks and Bolts. Throw in the potent Minnesota return specialists, and this has the makings of a possible No. 1-overall fantasy team defense.