We are two full weeks into the preaseason and a few things are starting to round into shape on NFL rosters. One thing is becoming clear -- this year's group of rookie running backs will have a hard time living up to the standard set by last year's group. In 2013, Eddie Lacy, Le'Veon Bell, Giovani Bernard and Andre Ellington all finished among the top 25 at their position and were worthy of being in starting fantasy lineups on a consistent basis.
In 2014, we're still looking for an equivalent. Bishop Sankey was the first running back selected in the NFL Draft, but the rookie from Washington has struggled with pass protection and ball security and finds himself behind Shonn Greene and Dexter McCluster on the depth chart. Greene's injury history and coach Ken Whisenhunt's propensity to use multiple backs means Sankey should see some opportunities, but the rookie is no longer the must-have rusher we thought he'd be back in May.
Last week, I was keen on keeping a close eye on James White. Now that I have, I wish I was more optimistic. In his two games this preseason, the running back from Wisconsin has looked tentative and sluggish in hitting the hole. His ability to catch the football is certainly encouraging, but White isn't likely to push Shane Vereen out of his third-down role anytime soon.
It's not all doom and gloom around rookie running backs. Andre Williams has generally shown well this preseason. Jeremy Hill looks like a nice complement to Bernard in the Bengals backfield and Dri Archer is a big play waiting to happen in Pittsburgh. But perhaps the most intriguing back is Devonta Freeman. The former Florida State rusher has 16 carries for 81 yards in his first two preseason contests.
The difference hasn't just been in the stats, but in the performance. Freeman has looked a lot more decisive about where to go with the football. As Steven Jackson continues to miss time with his hamstring injury, Freeman could play his way into more snaps as we get into the regular season. He will certainly be one to watch in the third preseason game this week against the Titans.
» During the preseason, the Steelers have pretty regularly rotated their top two running backs, Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount. Judging from the talk coming out of Pittsburgh, that's not likely to change in the regular season. Head coach Mike Tomlin says the team is still trying to figure out the exact split in touches, but says he'd like both backs "to have the lead dog mentality." Even more worrisome is Bell admitting that Blount is likely to see the team's goal-line carries this season. This has all the tell-tale markings of a running back committee. It's time to move Bell down into the second round, provided you didn't have him there already.
» Once upon a time, there didn't seem to be any way that the Jaguars were going to let Blake Bortles play during the regular season. Then Bortles played in the preseason. Now the rookie's role with the team isn't "set in stone," according to offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. That's because Bortles has looked poised in both of his preseason appearances. For owners in standard re-draft leagues, there isn't much immediate upside with the young signal-caller -- except maybe as a third option. But his value in dynasty leagues is growing by the day.
» After leading the Vikings to a game-winning drive against the Cardinals on Saturday night, Teddy Bridgewater's fortunes are looking a little more positive. But the starting job in Minnesota still belongs to Matt Cassel. Coach Mike Zimmer made that much clear when he announced that the veteran will start the team's third preseason game. Cassel has looked comfortable in Norv Turner's offense and has done enough to make the coaches believe he is a suitable option until Bridgewater is ready. Nonetheless, you should think twice before making the move to draft either of them.
» The Packers might have found their new tight end. According to Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, Richard Rodgers appears to have gained control of the starting gig, jumping ahead of Andrew Quarless. However, Rodgers isn't likely to fill the role the way Jermichael Finley did in the past which means it's not worth spending a draft pick on Rodgers. If he becomes a bigger part of the Green Bay offense, we can re-visit Rodgers as a waiver wire option.