Believe it or not, we're now halfway through the preseason. Next week's "dress rehearsal" is the real test for NFL teams, though, as the starters will likely play at least the first half and probably well into the third quarter. Offenses taking this last chance to fine-tune schemes and installments before the season will offer us plenty of insight into the upcoming fantasy season.
However, Week 2 of the preseason merits attention as well. Several new storylines cropped up, while others entered a new, more convincing chapter. As with last week, it's important to remember a few rules of thumb as we dive into analyzing what are essentially televised practices:
1) Quarterback play isn't indicative of what we'll see in the season.
2) Listen to the drum beat.
3) Don't discount running back production.
Eddie Lacy is back, deal with it
I know, I know, Eddie Lacy burned you last year. Heck, we even named him our biggest disappointment on NFL Fantasy LIVE. However, slimmed down and playing for a new contract, Lacy once again looks like the back who finished as a top-six scorer in 2013 and 2014. His vision, patience, acceleration, and power are all evident in his preseason film. His ADP is hovering around the back end of Round 2 and could rise as more people come around on Lacy's return.
Mohamed Sanu primed for a breakout; Devonta Freeman is an RB1 so stop worrying
When the Falcons signed Mohamed Sanu to a five-year, $32.5 million dollar contract this offseason, the move was widely panned as over-paying for a gadget wide receiver. However, once the hot takes had time to cool off and give way to more sound analysis and reasoning, the move started to make sense. NFL Media's Chris Wesseling chose Sanu as one of his "Making the Leap" players for 2016, and based on early preseason returns it looks like Wess could be on the money in foretelling a breakout season. Sanu looks good so far operating in the shadow of Julio Jones, using his excellent after-the-catch ability to rack up yards and move the chains. The Falcons offense struggled last year as Roddy White faded and Leonard Hankerson kept getting injured. A healthy Sanu could be in line for a solid workload and makes for a late-round fantasy bargain. At the quarter mark of the 2015 season, Leonard Hankerson was on pace for 68 catches, 964 yards, and eight touchdowns. Sanu is a better player than Hankerson and could race past those numbers if enough targets come his way. With a Round 14-15 ADP depending on the site, it's time for fantasy players to take notice and start drafting Sanu.
Last week I highlighted how Devonta Freeman was still getting the more valuable red zone touches over Tevin Coleman, and this week was another example of why. Freeman is simply a better runner than Coleman. He boasts superior vision, balance, decision-making, and cutting ability. Their running styles are a stark contrast when watching Falcons tape. Freeman might lose some work from his insane 338 touches last year, but he'll once again be an RB1 in fantasy and is a safe pick in the second round.
Tyler Boyd deserves some attention; Is Jeremy Hill a bounce-back candidate?
Tyler Boyd isn't letting an underwhelming combine performance slow down his entrance into the NFL. The rookie keeps making splashy plays this preseason, even if he isn't finding a ton of separation on a route-to-route basis. With Brandon LaFell attempting to play through a torn ligament in his hand, Boyd could ascend from slot wide receiver to starter in this offense alongside A.J. Green. He isn't totally worth a pick in standard 10-team leagues yet, but needs to be monitored in deeper formats. He also has the potential to be a waiver-wire darling early this season, so stay tuned.
After a monster rookie season, Jeremy Hill emerged as a first- or second-round pick in fantasy drafts last year, only to fall far short of expectations. While he scored 12 total touchdowns, his yards per carry plummeted from 5.1 to 3.6 and he scored fewer than seven fantasy points in standard leagues eight times. Hill ran timidly and lacked any of the burst or aggression that characterized his rookie season. Fast forward to the 2016 preseason, and Hill seems to have studied the tape and come back with a vengeance. The sample size is small, but Hill is showing the decisiveness that allowed him to attack opposing defenses so well in 2014. He and Giovani Bernard figure to be one of the most effective and productive backfields in the NFL this year, and they could be even more dangerous if Hill does recapture his rookie form. With a roughly fifth-round ADP, Hill looks more and more like a bargain the closer we get to the regular season.
Clouds form over the Ravens backfield
Just last week we thought Terrance West could be pulling away from the pack in the Ravens backfield, but then he played third-fiddle this weekend. Justin Forsett ran with the first team, and Buck Allen came in next. West did look good, for what it's worth, but this serves as yet another sign that investing anything other than a double-digit round pick in a member of this backfield is an extremely risky proposition until we gain more clarity.
Marvin Jones the No. 1 wideout in Detroit?
The Lions are trying to find a way to replace Calvin Johnson this year, and the answer might be Marvin Jones. The team spent much of the offseason hyping Jones, even going so far to say that he could be in a 1a-1b split with Golden Tate. Well, early returns this preseason hint that Jones could be in line for a big season. He showed a rapport with Matthew Stafford on a couple big throws this week, and could inherit plenty of Megatron's vacated 149 targets. While Tate might be the better bet to lead the team in targets, Jones possesses tremendous upside in a Lions offense that turned a corner in the second half of 2015 under new offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. His Round 8 ADP on fantasyfootballcalculator.com looks like a total bargain for someone who should at worst be a locked-in WR2 in fantasy.
Matt Jones' hype-train derails
Matt Jones didn't exactly have a stellar preseason debut this year and things went from bad to worse when he suffered an AC joint sprain in Week 2. The team hopes he'll be ready for Week 1 of the regular season, but this is a worrisome injury. The AC joint is part of the shoulder, which is a pretty crucial part of the body for running backs when it comes to absorbing contact. Even if Jones heals up before the season, there's risk of him reaggravating the injury. Randall Cobb suffered the same injury in the preseason of last year, and it dogged him all season long as a wide receiver. Jones was already in danger of losing passing down work to Chris Thompson, and this latest development makes Jones look like even more of a risk at his Round 6 ADP.
Alfred Morris looks good in Dallas
This is a minor point because a healthy Ezekiel Elliott will dominate the touches in the Dallas backfield, but Morris looked really good Friday night running behind the Dallas offensive line. He's likely taken the No. 2 job away from Darren McFadden, and could be on the radar for running back needy teams as a trade option ... like Washington.
LeGarrette Blount could be a huge draft value
Between the news of Dion Lewis needing a second surgery on his surgically repaired knee and LeGarrette Blount's impressive performance on Thursday night, Blount suddenly looks like the back to own in New England. If Lewis misses significant time (his timetable for recovery is currently a murky "two months") James White will do his best to fill in, but he's less of a threat to Blount for carries than Lewis is. Blount will remain New England's between-the-tackles hammer as well as the goal-line threat. He is a steal at his 11th-14th round ADP.
The Tajae Sharpe hype in Tennessee is real
All offseason we've been hearing the drumbeat around fifth-round rookie Tajae Sharpe. First, he was lining up with the first-team. Then the Titans traded away former second-round pick Dorial Green-Beckham. And finally, Sharpe made a splash in the second week of the preseason. It's looking like it'd be a massive upset if Sharpe isn't at least the second wide receiver in this offense. We don't envision the Titans operating a pass-heavy offense, but Sharpe is now firmly on the fantasy radar as a late-round sleeper.
The Jaguars backfield continues to take shape
Last week we wondered if the Jaguars had offered us a sneak preview at how they'd split the workload between Chris Ivory and T.J. Yeldon in the backfield. Once again, it appears as if the team will use Ivory as the primary rusher, especially near the goal line, while Yeldon works in between the 20s and as the primary pass-catching back. Yeldon scored on a 14-yard touchdown catch, which will be what he has to do in the regular season to find the end zone. Still, this is looking like a committee that could provide fantasy owners with some solid production.
Jeremy Langford clear lead in Bears committee
We've been sweating the potential committee in Chicago all offseason, with initial reports from camp making it sound like Jeremy Langford, Ka'Deem Carey, Jacquizz Rodgers, and rookie Jordan Howard would all get into the mix. Well, Langford worked almost exclusively with the first team this week and looked good in the process. While this could still be some sort of multi-back approach, Langford's dual-threat ability should have him in the driver seat. He was in walking boot briefly after the game, but it came off already and looks to have been a clearly precautionary measure.
The Browns' offense might be fun (and fantasy relevant)
For the second week in a row, quarterback-turned-wide receiver Terrelle Pryor caught a deep bomb from Robert Griffin III, this time for a 50-yard touchdown over Desmond Trufant. There's no reason to overreact to this and start over-drafting Pryor, but it does speak to the Hue Jackson-effect on this offense. Once Josh Gordon returns from his four-game suspension, the Browns will boast one of the most athletic receiving corps in the league to go along with a dynamic backfield combination (Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson) and clutch tight end (Gary Barnidge). It's encouraging to see RGIII displaying the accuracy and touch on his deep ball we saw during his rookie year, as he dropped an absolute dime to Barnidge after his touchdown to Pryor. No one should get crazy with the Browns on draft day, but this offense will be one to monitor early in the season as there could be pieces to pluck from the waiver wire or stream in the right matchups.