It's said that this week is seen as a dress rehearsal for the regular season as it's usually the preseason game in which teams play their projected starters for the longest period. Coaches are really ironing out their strategies and seeing how things are shaping up on both sides of the ball. Week 3 of the preseason kicks off tonight live on NFL Network as the Steelers take on the Eagles in Philadelphia, and both squads are loaded with fantasy players who should be on your radar for draft day. Here's a look at who we have our eye on Thursday night.
Both backs are with their team in Philadelphia, and are expected to see playing time despite the recent incident, so we'll be watching to see how much of a committee is truly shaping up in the backfield based on some things that we learned earlier this week. The main thing to pay attention to is who gets the goal-line carries.
Rookie Dri Archer made a couple of big plays in each of the Steelers' previous games (both on passing plays), and flashed his speed and ability to elude defenders in open space. The only problem is that he isn't built like a workhorse back capable of bearing the load like Bell and Blount have proven they can. Archer could be an interesting late-round flier as Pittsburgh plans to use him in some "creative ways" throughout the season.
Ben Roethlisberger completed eight of 11 passes last week against the Bills and threw two touchdowns -- one to fantasy stud Antonio Brown and one to second-year breakout candidate Markus Wheaton. We know what Brown is capable of, but we'll be keeping an eye on Wheaton who is a popular sleeper pick in fantasy circles this season. Since he's currently going undrafted in NFL.com leagues there's virtually no risk taking him at the end of your draft and he has lots of upside. Big Ben recently said that he believes Wheaton is going to "surprise a lot of people" this season and that he's "key" to the Steelers offense. Look for Wheaton to be very involved in the Steelers aerial attack tonight against Philly.
Thursday will be the first time all preseason that the Eagles top three receivers will be on the field together and we'll be watching to see how quarterback Nick Foles splits up his targets. Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper and Jordan Matthews are all set to play and all three of them are currently being drafted in the 11th round or later in NFL.com leagues, which is surprising considering that the Eagles are one of the fastest-moving and most high-octane offenses in the NFL under coach Chip Kelly.
Maclin has had his share of setbacks this summer, the latest of which is a hamstring injury that kept him limited in practice earlier in the week, although he still expects to play.
Cooper, who was seen in a walking boot earlier this summer returned to practice this past Sunday for the first time in two weeks. He had been nursing a foot injury but will also be a go Thursday.
Matthews bounced back against the Patriots last week catching nine balls for 104 yards, after struggling in the Eagles' first preseason game. He is carving out a role as Philadelphia's slot receiver and could prove a very valuable late-round acquisition for fantasy owners this year. In a recent draft, I was able to snag Matthews with my Round 14 pick but he'll probably ride my bench until he proves he's worth at least a flex later in the season.
Earlier in the week, it was reported that LeSean McCoy was bothered by a toe injury which led to him missing a Sunday practice session. It's unclear if Shady will get any reps Thursday night, and the Eagles would be wise to hold him out if he's still dealing with the toe issue. This is something to monitor as the regular season approaches, as McCoy is a lock as a top-four fantasy draft pick this year.