Preseason Battles with Fantasy Implications
So if you’re a big fantasy player and have time in your schedule to tune in to preseason football the next few weeks, here’s what you should watch for:
Brady’s New Favorite Wideout?
Brady’s pretty much a lock for 30 touchdown passes, and even 35 to 40 is within practical reason. While Danny Amendola is the favorite to receive the most looks from Brady this year, it’s doubtful the 5’11” target who has only 7 touchdowns in over 40 career games is going to be Brady’s favorite red-zone threat.
Apart from Rob Gronkowski - whose playing time is still much in question for the season - there are two frontrunners for Brady’s new touchdown target: second-round pick Aaron Dobson and undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins.
Both players caught every pass thrown in their direction in New England’s first preseason game - Dobson: 2 for 35 yards, Thompkins: 4 for 23 yards - so the battle is pretty neck-and-neck for now. The Patriots invested more in Dobson, the former Marshall standout who was drafted 59th overall in this past draft, but word out of training camp is that Brady has developed a nice connection with Thompkins. Stay tuned.
Bradford’s Backfield Mate
This is quite possibly the most important battle to watch. Even though the Rams face both the 49ers and Seahawks twice this year (as is the case every year), there’s a lot of young talent in St. Louis and whoever gets the bulk of the handoffs from Sam Bradford could very well be in for a top-20 running back sort of fantasy season.
Right now, second-year back Daryl Richardson is the clear favorite. He averaged nearly 5 yards a carry last season, running the ball 98 times in 16 games, without making a start. In the preseason opener, he rushed the ball four times for a healthy 24 yards.
Fellow sophomore Isiah Pead did little to contribute last season and fumbled the ball in one of his three carries in the preseason opener.
Rookie 5th rounder Zac Stacy is the other plausible candidate, but he too struggled to get things going against the Browns, rushing for 23 yards on 7 carries.
Move Richardson up your drafting charts for now.
Givens or Austin?
Another big question in the St. Louis offense this year lies at the receiver position. If you’re drafting in a keeper league, Tavon Austin is too attractive a pick to pass up, and if you have the choice between the two players in a non-keeper league, I can’t recommend drafting Chris Givens over Austin, but adding both to your roster as insurance may not be a bad idea.
Givens came out of nowhere last year to have a surprisingly productive season, at one point going 5 straight games with a catch of at least 50 yards. Austin should be more consistent, offering more of a move-the-chains ability to go along with his gamebreaker speed, so don’t doubt the former Mountaineer, but keep Givens in the back of your mind come sleeper drafting time.
Bengals Feature Back
Everyone was so down on the Law Firm last year, but for me as my number 3 running back, he did pretty much everything I needed him to. From week 11 to 15 BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for at least 100 yards in all but one game with a touchdown in three of those outings. And on the season, he tallied 1,094 yards for his personal career best.
This year he has a bit more competition in the backfield with rookie second-rounder Giovani Bernard gaining a lot of fantasy buzz. The former Tar Heel couldn’t do too much in his first preseason outing with only 28 yards on 10 rushes, though he did punch in a touchdown to liven up the statline, but he’s a quick, strong back that has all the tools to become a feature NFL running back.
But for this season, Green-Ellis is my bet to be the better fantasy back. He’s only 28 years old without too much wear-and-tear on his legs. Obviously things are different if you’re playing in a keeper league where Bernard is a great option. Either way, keep an eye on how both backs progress this preseason.