Week 1 of the preseason is in the books. And while I generally agree with Philip Rivers in that the preseason is widely overanalyzed, there certainly are storylines worth paying attention to as far as fantasy football is concerned. Yet, before we dive into the results from these games, it's beneficial to remember three important rules of thumb:
1) Quarterback play isn't indicative of what we'll see in the season. This is a tough one to abide by, because everyone is excited to see quarterbacks on new teams and rookies facing off against NFL defenses, but preseason passing attacks are a mirage. The offenses and defenses are running vanilla schemes, allowing players like Sam Bradford to look god-like (as we saw last year). Now, even with that being said, we can't overvalue poor play either. Teams and quarterbacks will try things out to know what works before it really counts. Cam Newton looked rough in the preseason last year, and we all know how that played out.
2) Listen to the drum beat. Many shy away from preseason analysis because they don't want to buy the hype on players performing against backups, and I get that. But there are certain situations where the production is a sign of things to come, and that's when what a player does on field is a continuation of the "drum beat," a term Matt Harmon helped spread through the NFL Fantasy Stronghold. The drum beat refers to when praise for a player is consistent from the coaches to teammates to beat reporters, and the high-level of performance carries over from the practice field to the preseason field. These situations aren't simply preseason hype, but a building of momentum fantasy owners would be wise to follow.
3) Don't discount running back production. While the schemes might be vanilla in the preseason, the players aren't, and when we see running backs breaking tackles, demonstrating quick feet, and showing excellent vision, we cannot discount it. This has happened a few years in a row now, when Chris Wesseling helped highlight Mark Ingram's renaissance, and then when Doug Martin showed up big last year. These are traits for running backs that translate to the regular season, and are worth paying attention to -- even if against backups.
All right, with those out of the way, it's time to get to the fantasy nuggets from Week 1 of the preseason that have the NFL Fantasy Stronghold buzzing.
Lamar Miller looks like the real deal; Jaelen Strong drum beat grows louder
Four carries is nothing to get too worked up about, but it is encouraging to see Lamar Miller getting off to a fast start in Houston. If Brock Osweiler's erratic and uninspiring start (4-of-7 passing for 27 yards) becomes the norm this season (though there's no reason to panic yet, see Rule 1 above), the team will need Miller to be a true workhorse. If Bill O'Brien continues calling plays as he has thus far in Houston, Miller could be looking at 18-plus touches a game. He'll be a bargain if he stays at his second-round ADP.
Jaelen Strong is doing everything possible to convert the remaining non-believers. Hauling in four catches for 42 yards on six targets is a solid start for the sophomore trying to prove the No. 2 wide receiver spot in the offense belongs to him and him alone. He'll be worth watching in the coming weeks to see if he continues to build steam.
Exotic smashmouth charges ahead in Tennessee
We finally got a glimpse of Mike Mularkey's "exotic smashmouth" offense in Tennessee with the thunder-and-thunder combo of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, and the early returns are positive. Murray shot through San Diego's defense for a 71-yard score, though no one seemed to be trying all that hard to take him down. Meanwhile, Henry still looks like a man among boys in the NFL, and showed the same good feet and power he displayed at Alabama. This could be a frustrating committee as the season wears on, though, so fantasy fans should tread with caution before investing too high of a pick in either Murray or Henry.
Carlos Hyde panic might be overblown
Yes, the 49ers were facing a Texans front seven missing J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Brian Cushing, but the rushing attack's performance shouldn't be ignored. A slimmed down (who isn't, these days?) Carlos Hyde looked explosive and decisive behind San Francisco's line, while Mike Davis also showed some heretofore unseen burst at the NFL level. The game scripts figure to tilt against Hyde this season as the 49ers are still rebuilding, but he did see two targets early in this game, indicating he could be in line for more passing work than some expected. If he's able to do enough damage early on in games, while also getting valuable red-zone touches and targets, he could be a solid RB2 this fall.
The truth is out there, and its name is Christine Michael
I know it might be hard for some of you, but it's time to believe in Christine Michael. Matt Franciscovich eloquently explains why in his impassioned article here, but those theories are becoming a reality on the field. Michael was great for the Seahawks in Week 17 and the playoffs last year, and looked sharp in early preseason action. While Thomas Rawls will be the guy if fully healthy, that's still a huge question given the severity of the injury from which he is recovering. Word in Seattle now is that Michael and Rawls could form a 1-2 punch this season as the team looks to replace Marshawn Lynch's dominant production. Like it or not, Michael is finally going to be a thing in fantasy. All you have to do is believe.
The Eddie Lacy redemption story is off to a good start
Eddie Lacy's weight loss and bounce-back attempt is one of the biggest stories this offseason, and so far all signs are pointing in an upward trajectory. Lacy looked like his old self in Lambeau on Friday night, breaking through tackles and accelerating to the second level and beyond. Lacy was a top-six fantasy back in each of his first two seasons as a part of the high-powered Green Bay offense. Our friends at Around The NFL have Lacy pegged as one of their top candidates to be this year's Doug Martin, for what it's worth. Don't let the recency bias of his 2015 campaign dissuade you too much on draft day.
Sterling Shepard furthers case to be the Giants' No. 2 wide receiver
With Victor Cruz continuing to battle injuries as he fights to return to the field, rookie Sterling Shepard showed why he is ready for a big role this year in the team's first preseason game. Shepard only made one catch -- a diving 24-yarder -- but he found space consistently and was open more than he was targeted. If Cruz can't get over these injuries and Shepard keeps making plays like this it's entirely possible that the youngster sees 100-plus targets in 2016. That'd be more than enough volume for him to merit consideration later in fantasy drafts.
Jaguars RB split becomes clearer; Allen Robinson balls out
As we discussed on last week's podcast, the Jaguars might have offered us a glimpse into their running back rotation in this first preseason game. T.J. Yeldon got the start and did a lot of damage between the 20s, but Chris Ivory also worked in and received the valuable touches near the goal line (where he scored a touchdown). This looks to be close to a 50-50 split for now, maybe a touch in Yeldon's favor, but Ivory's usage in the red zone will make him the more valuable fantasy asset in standard leagues. Both backs represent a fine value in fantasy right now, as they can be scooped up as the rounds start approaching double digits. As for Allen Robinson, he's been a hot topic among the regression-nauts in the fantasy community, but he is trying to put an end to that narrative. The team has gushed over Robinson's development this offseason (a crazy notion considering his performance last year), but Robinson backed up that talk with a couple of magnificent plays on Thursday night. Again, it's preseason, but Robinson has the look of an ascending player -- one whom fantasy fans shouldn't fear taking in the second round.
Melvin Gordon ends touchdown drought
Few names evoke as many impassioned takes as Melvin Gordon in the fantasy community as we approached the 2016 season. Opinions range from, but are not limited to:
"Wouldn't touch him with a 10-foot pole."
"Best draft value!"
And so on, and so forth
After undergoing offseason microfracture knee surgery, plenty were scared off of the former Wisconsin back. However, we were told the surgery was among the least invasive of its kind, helping to Gordon's more advanced recovery timetable. So far, so good on that front, as Gordon looked solid in limited action against the Titans. He averaged four yards per carry on three attempts and scored on a 44-yard touchdown reception where he bowled over Rashad Johnson on his way into the end zone. That level of physicality and confidence is a great sign for a young player not only recovering from offseason knee surgery but trying to shake off the dreaded first-round "bust" label. The team wants to give Gordon every chance to succeed, and if he continues making plays like this in the preseason fantasy fans will need to take notice and adjust draft boards accordingly.
Broncos quarterback battle is far from over
While no one will be drafting Mark Sanchez or Trevor Siemian in standard fantasy leagues, this quarterback battle is worth watching for determining the draft stock of Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Both came out of the first preseason game essentially tied for the starting job, per Gregg Rosenthal. Why fantasy fans should pay attention is to see which wide receiver, if at all, each quarterback favors. Both Thomas and Sanders only saw time with Sanchez in Week 1 (each recording two catches on two targets), but that could change next week if the coaching staff wants to see Siemian work with the first team. All told, this battle won't have a drastic impact on the draft stock of either Thomas or Sanders, but it's worth watching just in case.
Michael Thomas makes a splash in New Orleans
The subject of countless puff pieces this offseason, rookie Michael Thomasshowed the world why when the Saints took on the Patriots. Thomas will certainly merit some late-round fantasy consideration if he continues making plays like those, but fantasy owners should tread with caution before reaching too highly for Thomas. Drew Brees boasts a wealth of pass-catchers this year, and given his propensity to spread the ball around, it might be hard for all of them to stay fantasy relevant on a weekly basis. Thomas will have his weeks, but will have to battle past Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead, Coby Fleener, and Mark Ingram to earn those necessary looks.
Washington running backs open season in troubling fashion
It's one game, so again, there's no reason to hit the panic button, but we can't overlook when the starting trio of Matt Jones, Chris Thompson, and Keith Marshall manage all of zero yards on eight carries. Matt Jones figured to have a tenuous hold on this starting job as is, but it wouldn't be surprising at all for head coach Jay Gruden to revert this backfield into a committee not unlike what we saw in 2015 (Morris - 202, Jones - 144). If that were the case, Marshall could slide into that No. 2 role and have some usable fantasy weeks. This remains a backfield to watch as the preseason unfolds.
Devonta Freeman keeps the valuable backfield touches
All offseason the Tevin Coleman has been trying to pick up speed, but it looks like the Devonta Freeman remains a formidable road block. While Coleman was featured regularly in the early parts of the offensive attack, as the team approached the red zone it was Freeman seeing all of the work. This is a large reason why we've been trying to urge people to not panic about this projected "committee." Even if Coleman eats into Freeman's touches, his role in the passing game and red zone will make him a weekly starter in fantasy wife a safe, but lower floor.
Terrance West manifests new destiny?
In recent weeks, a steady drum beat could be heard out of Baltimore from the coaches, players, and beat reporters about Terrance West's revival as a player. Many scoffed at this notion after West washed out of the Browns organization, but as West demonstrated on the field last week the Ravens weren't blowing smoke. This is certainly a different player than we last saw, and one who seems to have the early lead in a crowded Baltimore backfield. We'll need to see if West can build on this early momentum, but right now he's looking like the player to own from the Ravens running back room.