Amazingly, we are three preseason games in yet we have been graced by a relatively injury-free August. There have been some bumps and bruises along the way but nothing that will require anyone to miss an extended period of time. Hopefully I didn’t just jinx the entire league and everyone comes out of the last week of exhibition games unscathed. Even without injuries, we have risers/fallers, ADP sleepers emerging, busts in sight, rookies to scout, players looking like PPR gems, and much more.
We’ve also reached a point in the preseason where quarterback battles have been decided. Last week we learned that the Cleveland Browns have decided to roll with Brian Hoyer for week one so we’ll try to get through an entire article without mentioning that “other guy.”
Matt Cassel has won the starting gig in Minnesota which means, as expected, Teddy Bridgewater’s fantasy relevance is moot, at least for now. It’s possible that Cassel struggles early and Bridgewater gets a shot to prove himself. Either way, I don’t think there’s much of a difference between Cassel and Bridgewater in terms of how it affects the other fantasy options on the Vikings. You’re still drafting Adrian Peterson in the top three overall, Cordarrelle Patterson remains a trendy sleeper, and Greg Jennings has sneaky value for where he’s going in drafts.
There were other pseudo-battles for the starting job on the Jaguars and Jets but we kind of already knew who was starting the whole time. The Jags had been planning to start the season with Chad Henne and they stayed true to their word despite Blake Bortles having a strong preseason. The Henne news is kind of irrelevant as the biggest fantasy option in Jacksonville is running back Toby Gerhart
Most predicted the Jets wouldn’t decide to give up on Geno Smith after just one season even with the presence of Michael Vick backing him up. Smith could actually be usable in two-quarterback formats. He’s looked solid enough throughout the preseason to consider him as a low-end QB2.
1) Julio Jones, WR - Atlanta Falcons
After suffering a season ending foot injury during the 2013 season, Julio Jones has fully recovered and is ready to return to form for what should be a much improved 2014 Atlanta Falcons team. The crux of the anti-Julio Jones argument has been whether or not his now twice surgically repaired foot will be able to hold up for a full season. While that is a totally fair risk to be concerned with, you should realize that Jones had one of the most exciting plays of the preseason in week three with a 52 yard touchdown reception in which he broke one tackle and spun out of another.
This explosive playmaking ability is precisely what put Jones on the fantasy radar in the first place, so it was certainly reassuring to see him back to his healthy elite self. As a mid-seond round pick, Jones could possess some nice value given that he has first round upside. Granted, he certainly has more risk attached to him than some other around his ADP, but if you’re in the business of a high-risk, high-reward draft pick, Julio Jones is your guy for the second round.
2) Rob Gronkowski, TE - New England Patriots
Another player that has had injury concerns in the past, Rob Gronkowski has begun participating in 11-on-11 drills for the Patriots. This is huge news given his torn ACL last year and his integral role in the New England offense. Gronk has had several surgeries in the past few years so the risk attached to him is even greater than that of Julio Jones but the upside is astronomical. The key to winning any fantasy matchup is to acquire as many advantages as you can and a healthy Rob Gronkowski is about as big of an advantage as you can acquire at tight end outside of Jimmy Graham. The fact that he has started participating more in practice indicates he should be ready for week one.
Problem is, the Patriots are notorious for withholding as much information as the NFL will allow so despite the presumed positive news we still need to be careful. The news of Gronk’s return should bump him up to the third round in fantasy drafts. The smartest way to go about drafting Rob Gronkowski would be to load up on as many running backs and wide receivers as you can, while waiting on QB, since you’re using a third round pick on a tight end, and then “handcuffing” Gronk with guy like Heath Miller of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Heath is going crazy late in fantasy drafts and was already an automatic bye-week fill in candidate.
If Gronkowski were to end up missing any time, Miller is a decent enough replacement level player. It’s a non-traditional handcuff strategy for sure but you can’t head into the regular season with a fragile Rob Gronkowski as your only tight end. Much like Julio Jones, a clean bill of health boosts Gronkowski’s fantasy value bit time.
3) Tom Brady, QB - New England Patriots
This name may come as a surprise but when you consider that Tom Brady has been ranked as a borderline top 10 quarterback there is plenty of room for his fantasy stock to rise. The reason for his recent bump up draft boards isn’t related to his own personal play on the field but rather the reevaluation of the weapons around him. The news of Rob Gronkowski returning to practice and the expectation that he will start week one improves the entire offense, especially Tom Brady.
Despite finishing the 2013 season with 4,343 passing yards, good enough for 6th best in the NFL, Brady’s touchdown numbers were down with just 25. If there’s one thing Rob Gronkowski is known for within the Patriots offense it’s being a touchdown machine. In the two seasons prior to Gronkowski’s torn ACL, the monster tight end averaged just over one touchdown per game. That’s 17 TDs in 16 games in 2011 and 11 TDs in 11 games in 2012. It’s no secret Gronk is a huge part of the offense in New England so as long as he’s on the field both him and Brady mutually benefit one another.
On top of supergronk, there's also Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, Aaron Dobson, Shane Vereen and even Kenbrell Thompkins. Net net, Brady has an array of weapons who will all be very productive if Gronk remains healthy and can free up space.
1) Cam Newton, QB - Carolina Panthers
I mentioned earlier that we have been fortunate enough to get this far into August without major injuries that would cause players to miss a significant time. There are, however, some minor hurdles players will have to overcome in order to get back to their usual self. One of those hurdles is Carolina QB Cam Newton’s recent rib injury. Despite having off-season ankle surgery, it had been expected that Cam would be fine for week one and the ankle actually hasn’t been a major concern. The rib injury is much more recent and has resulted in Cam plummeting in drafts.
From my own experience, I saw Cam Newton fall all the way to the 9th round in a recent keeper league draft I participated in so I took the gamble that he’ll ultimately be healthy enough to be the spectacular fantasy player we have come to know. While the rib injury is concerning, it isn’t something should cause him to miss any regular season games, but he just might not be himself right away. I wouldn’t advocate avoiding drafting Cam Newton entirely but I would definitely lower him in fantasy rankings a bit and would even consider starting someone else over him in week one just in case he isn’t right. I’m sure he’ll be fine in the long term but for now caution is key.
2) Le’Veon Bell, RB - Pittsburgh Steelers
After hearing the initial reports that both Pittsburgh running backs Le’Veon Bell and LaGarrette Blount were arrested for marijuana possession (and in Bell’s case, a DUI as well), many began to fear a suspension was looming for the 2014 season. As it turns out, reports indicate that the NFL will not act that swiftly and would rather allow the full case to play out before deciding on what penalty, if any, will be handed down. Presumably that would mean a suspension wouldn’t be dealt out until the 2015 season so for now we’re going to operate under that pretense until we hear otherwise.
The reason Bell’s fantasy stock is falling however, is more due to the appearance of the Steelers offense thus far. Bell and Blount could very well make up a much more committee driven rushing attack rather than a traditional starter/back-up combo. Bell is still the main guy in Pittsburgh so he should receive a majority of the touches but it looks as if Blount’s role in the offense is much bigger than anticipated.
I would bump Bell down from his expected value as a boarder line top 10 RB to the mid teens. It’s only a few spots but it is significant enough when you’re weighing your options in terms of a second round pick. If anything, Blount’s value actually increases a bit due to his presence as a potential goal-line threat.
3) Robert Griffin III, QB - Washington Redskins
Robert Griffin III simply does not look very good on the field this pre-season. It really is that simple. While the buzz around Redskins camp has offered up some talk that Kirk Cousins actually looks like the better passer on the team right now, it’s difficult to put too much stock into that since there is no indication Washington would consider making a quarterback change. The worry that RG3 has regressed, however, is completely legitimate.
Respected NFL analysts have stated that Griffin doesn’t look like himself and it’s easy to pick up on in just watching some of his pre-season play. I’m avoiding RGIII at all costs in most leagues, as there are quarterbacks with much higher floors than RG3. Guys like Tom Brady, Matt Ryan, and even Jay Cutler possess similar fantasy floors to Griffin this year, and higher ceilings, and in most cases they are being drafted later. You were probably going to need to burn a roster spot on a solid backup in drafting RG3 anyway due to his proneness for injury but with his shaky play thus far he could end up being a fantasy backup himself.
While it’s unlikely the fourth week of the preseason features many starters, there will undoubtedly be roster moves and football news to cover. Until then, good luck in your upcoming fantasy football drafts RotoBallers - and stay as plugged in as you can.