Friday, August 24, 2012

Preseason Week 3: Thursday

Week three of the preseason is easily the most important week, because the starters play at least one half (with the exception of some high-risk players), and this is their last dress rehearsal before the regular season starts. Here is what I noticed from watching and taking notes on the first half of each game. Just as a note, I didn't put any faith in the second half of the games because half of the personnel on either side of the ball were likely to have switched. This is important for the Cardinals, because Kolb did pretty well in the second half. I don't care. You can count it if you want to; I'm not going to.

Green Bay Packers at Cincinnati Bengals

Aaron Rodgers: Rodgers looked pretty good passing the ball, but his ability to scramble is what puts him ahead of guys like Drew Brees and Tom Brady. The Packers offensive line looks suspect at this point, and I don't know how much Mike McCarthy can do to improve it at this point in the preseason. The truth is that Rodgers will probably digress in terms of passing touchdowns while throwing about twice as many interceptions this season. You just can't always throw a great pass with pressure in your face, and you can't always escape the sack. He still looks like a top-5 selection depending on your formatting, and his lackluster performances during the first two preseason games should be thrown out after watching him return to form in the third game. Rodgers is still Rodgers; the defenses should be more prepared this season.

Andy Dalton: Andy Dalton looked terrible when he was under pressure, and he was under pressure a lot. The offensive line didn't look great in run or pass blocking schemes, but they did look better than the Packers line. The biggest issue for Dalton was that he could not make the quick read. There were so many times when I could see the pressure coming before the snap where he didn't check to a quick read and ended up scrambling or getting sacked. When Dalton did have time, he just didn't look accurate. He had some overthrown balls and some wild throws from a fully planted position, but he could at least locate an open receiver when he had some time to survey the field. The Bengals MUST work on getting some quick throws into the offense, but I just don't think Dalton is going to take a step forward this season. He will probably top out at 15th, but will most likely put up ~18th-20th numbers amongst quarterbacks. Only draft him in 2QB leagues.

Cedric Benson vs. Alex Green: This on was easy. On the first drive my description of Green was, "Alex Green terrible bcv (ball carry vision)/drops the ball, runs right into defender." I never changed my opinion of him throughout the game, and never wrote anything good about him. He just couldn't find the seam to get that extra 2 yards that is the difference between an average running back and a great running back. Benson, on the other hand, looked amazing. He ran strong, and he could make something out of seemingly nothing on multiple draw plays. He wouldn't break them for huge runs, but he could find the crease between defenders so that he could slip through and fall forward instead of getting stuffed for a 2 yard gain. As the game went on, my praise of Benson got higher, and his explosion really stood out to me. The Packers finally have a starting running back. Unfortunately, he still might be held to 10-12 carries during most games just based on the Packers offense and philosophy. I think that 200 carries would probably be a good estimate, with an additional 40 catches. 1,200 scrimmage yards is reasonable, but I don't think he will have too many touchdowns. Rodgers is so good at the pass-run option by himself that he doesn't need a running back to drive the ball in. They might try to use Benson at the goal line to protect Rodgers, but 7 total touchdowns is my estimate for him. Those numbers are respectable, and Benson should be a nice flex play. I think his ADP will move toward 100-120, while Green and Starks go undrafted.

The Bengals Running Backs: Both Benjarvus Green-Ellis and Bernard Scott are both injured. The offensive line didn't look great in run blocking for the Bengals, but their offense should provide ample opportunities for BJGE to prove himself valuable. I think he has approximately the same value as Benson, but he is being drafted much higher. I really doubt that Bernard Scott will have much value, especially after his broken hand. I don't know exactly when he will be back, but he should only be considered in extremely deep leagues. Leonard wasn't any good. He danced around way too much. BJGE doesn't have that problem.

Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson: These are the obvious top receivers for the Packers. They run good routes, have great instincts, and get yardage after the catch. They are both much more explosive than they appear and should be absolutely wonderful this season. They should both be shooting for 1,200+ receiving yards and 10+ touchdowns, and you should be comfortable starting both of them concurrently. I believe it will be a rare week when this pair doesn't have 20+ fantasy points, and I think they will both average ~12 points per game this season. I originally thought that Greg Jennings was going to be the guy to own this season, but everything I've seen from Nelson has been great. They both have stellar hands, and there is a definite possibility for both of them to be startable every week on your team.

Randall Cobb: Be very careful about taking Cobb. Right now, Diver, Jones, and he are all in about the same place on the depth chart. I saw Rodgers look to Cobb as his 3rd or 4th read on most plays, and he really didn't get the ball much with the first team offense. In fact, he hasn't gotten the ball much all preseason. There are reasons to believe he will have a good season, but there are very few reasons to believe he will have a great season. He still looks like a dynamic kick returner and punt returner, so feel free to draft him in those types of leagues...just don't expect him to move off your bench.

A.J. Green: Dalton looked for Green on plenty of plays, but Tramon Williams played him really tight for most of the game. Furthermore, Dalton did not look like he was capable of getting the ball to Green on a regular basis. I know Green is one of the rising stars in this league, but the connection just hasn't been there this preseason, and wasn't there this game. I have a really hard time seeing A.J. Green as a top-5 WR or even a top-10 WR this season. I know he was great last year, but Dalton just doesn't look talented enough or decisive enough to get him the ball regularly. I'm not going to drop him far, but I don't know if he is a 3rd round pick for me anymore. I think he is a solid WR2, but I just have difficulty relying on him to be my WR1 this season. I could be wrong, and I will absolutely admit it if I am. Late third round is when I would draft him.

Here are my note from the Packers-Bengals game. There is some strong language, and it isn't nicely written. It is mostly broken up by drive.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Baltimore Ravens

Joe Flacco: Flacco was on target and efficient, but certainly not special. He threw the ball 36 times, which is probably about how much he will throw in some full, regular season games. There are games he will throw less. The Ravens offensive line gave him time, and he definitely proved that he could throw the short ball effectively. His deep ball was suspect, but that is no surprise. Joe Flacco just isn't the best QB in the league. The Ravens are fine with that. Fantasy owners know that. He will probably be around 16th overall, maybe pushing up a little from that position this season thanks to Torrey Smith. There were a few times when i needed to see Flacco make a decision about really zipping the ball to the receiver where he failed to do so.

Blaine Gabbert: Gabbert impressed me again. The Jaguars offensive line is weak, but he at least stood in and faced the pressure instead of running away every time. He was proficient about getting the ball to Justin Blackmon, but he wasn't especially good at anything else. He isn't worth starting in any league (even 2QB leagues), and will only be drafted in 2QB leagues for bye-week reasons. Gabbert has the tendency to be a bit inaccurate and to run backwards away from the blitz. This is bad for the Jaguars offense.

Ray Rice: He looked good in his one series. Easily the second best player to draft this season.

Rashad Jennings vs Maurice Jones-Drew: Well I'm not surprised that the Jaguars aren't trying to get MJD back on the field; Jennings is a startable running back. He might not be great, but he showed the ability to break tackles and find holes in the defense to run for. I actually hope that MJD does get traded because Jennings provides another starting running back for fantasy owners. I will be drafting him 1-2 rounds ahead of his ADP in any league until MJD comes back, because he just looks like a valuable piece of the Jaguars offense. He could easily run for 1,200+ yards in a full season. Watching Rashad run makes me want to own MJD if he comes back to the Jaguars, because Pocket Hercules should be better than Jennings, which is encouraging for the Jaguars' running game.

Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin: Both of these guys looked sharp. Torrey Smith has the raw ability to get open on any route, but I am frustrated with his pass catching ability. He just doesn't catch some easy passes that come his way. I find that he loses the ball when he is running a deep route and tries to run right under it instead of letting it fall over his shoulder. This makes it very difficult for him to get a good read on the ball. That being said, it is obvious that Flacco has built a great rapport with him, and he should be valuable in both PPR and standard leagues. Smith does not look like a great red-zone target, which could keep his touchdowns down. Anquan Boldin, on the opposite spectrum, has amazing hands and is a better red-zone target. I think that Boldin might be able to push towards 1,000 yards receiving for the first time since becoming a Raven, but I have a hard time believing he will reach that mark. On the other hand, I think that 8 touchdown receptions is completely reasonable and attainable. I like both of these guys in the upper-teens of all WRs, but Torrey Smith definitely has the better ceiling.

Justin Blackmon: He either has great instincts or has built a great rapport with Blaine Gabbert. Either way, I can see Blackmon averaging about 10 points per game this season. He should be a great flex play. He gets more good looks from Gabbert than any other offensive player on this team, and I love his potential in this offense. He is the only good receiver on the team and Gabbert likes him. Those are the makings of a great rookie season. He should be a top-20 wide receiver.

Laurent Robinson: I have never liked Robinson, but I might like him more than the Jaguars fans. This guy doesn't have the hands to be a presence on this offense, and he isn't on the same page as Gabbert. If he finishes in the top-50 of all wide receivers, I would be extremely surprised.

Lardarius Webb: Draft this guy as your DB in IDP leagues. He was all over the place during this games and was making tackles left and right. I love his intensity and ability. He has really come into his prime after a good 2011 season.

Here are my raw notes from the Ravens-Jaguars game.

Arizona Cardinals at Tennessee Titans

I came into this game a few minutes late, but I don't think I missed anything (from looking at the play-by-play).

Kevin Kolb and John Skelton: Skelton is terrible, Kolb is bad, but the Cardinals offensive line is worse. Honestly, I saw absolutely nothing good out of the offensive line. Skelton makes quick throws, but they are short and prone to being off-target. Kolb is a slower thrower, so he takes more hits, but he does make better throws when they happen. Neither player was good about getting the ball to Fitzgerald and they are both prone to interceptions. Kolb probably won the job, but I just don't see him doing anything worth-while behind that terrible offensive line. Both tackles were absolutely atrocious. The best thing that the offensive line did all game was when Colledge caught the batted ball and ran 3 yards for a first down. It was a sad, sad game.

Jake Locker: Locker was better, but the Titans offensive line also struggled. Locker is mobile, but he doesn't throw the ball well while he is moving. I don't think he is worth a draft pick, but he is, at least, better off than the Cardinals quarterbacks. He has the ability to scramble, but he isn't as good as Dalton or Rodgers in that respect. He doesn't have the best decision making, but he isn't terrible. I think he, Ponder, and Gabbert will all be on about the same level this season around 20th best QB.

Beanie Wells vs Ryan Williams: It is impossible to judge these guys because the Cardinals offensive line was so bad. Neither one of them looked the least bit impressive, and the Cardinals are going to struggle this season on the ground. I wouldn't draft either of these guys, and I can't see them combining for more than 1,200 yards rushing. They might catch a few passes, but the screens they ran were bad and the dump off passes were worse; there was just no blocking. It is a tough situation, but I wouldn't draft either one of them.

Chris Johnson: Johnson looked bad, but so did the offensive line. I don't think this drops him down, but I would be wary of taking him at this point. He isn't someone I want running the ball for me. I don't think defenses respect Jake Locker, so they tee-up on this lackluster offensive line and eat CJ alive. I think he has enough raw talent and speed to have decent production, but I'm not going to want to draft him. Right now I am debating about whether I rate McFadden or Johnson higher. There is definitely something to be said for the durability of Chris Johnson, but he doesn't look to improve on 2011 by much. I still think he will be a top-10 running back, though, just based on raw talent.

Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts: People need to stop drafting Michael Floyd. He does not know enough of the offense to be involved this season. He might have a touchdown or two this season, but he isn't playing much with the first team for a reason. Larry Fitzgerald is great, but these QBs just can't get him the ball. Unless he falls to the bottom of the second round, I just can't support drafting him. Andre Roberts, on the other hand, has the potential to be borderline valuable as a 15th+ round pick. He has hands and ability, but the quarterbacks are terrible and the offensive line is terrible. I think that there are much better options here (Brandon LaFell comes to mind), but it is obvious that he will have significant looks in this offense. I think you could do a lot worse than drafting Roberts...especially if it means you are avoiding Floyd. I think Roberts will be better in PPR than in standard leagues. I don't think Fitzgerald can challenge for the top WR this season, but I think Roberts could be top-25.

Nate Washington and Kendall Wright: I think Nate Washington is the guy to own here. I know Kendall Wright had a good game, but I just am not impressed with him at this point. This is just a feeling (he looked neither good nor bad in the preseason game), so I would respect anyone who decided to draft him. I just don't think he carries any value and I doubt he will crack the top-30. Nate Washington, on the other hand, will be decent as the #1 receiver in this Titans offense. I liked his ability to sit down and wait for Locker to find him. He made good adjustments on the ball, and I think he will be top-20 IF (and this is a big 'if') Kenny Britt plays poorly this season. I really can't decide about Britt. There are times when I think the 12th round is great value and other times when I can't imagine owning him. I am scared by players who have multiple knee injuries whilst having multiple arrests on their record. There is just so much risk associated with him and an unknown upside. I don't know if his knee can hold up this season, but we will find out. Try to grab him if the price is right.

Jared Cook: Locker loves targeting him, but he just isn't coming down with the ball. This can be blamed mostly on Locker, but there is absolutely potential here. Cook should be around the top-10 of all TEs this season. He gets fewer catches with a higher yard-per-catch than most tight ends.

Here are my short notes for the Titans and Cardinals. They are short because I didn't just want to write about the offensive line.

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