Preseason Fantasy Challenge: Under-the-radar players we’re watching in Week 1
The NFL’s preseason does not lend itself well to fantasy football, given the rapid lineup changes and bloated rosters in use through August.
Our two Audibles writers, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar, will be going head-to-head in a miniaturized fantasy football competition for each week of the preseason. The format is basic: Each owner drafts one QB, two RBs, two WRs and one TE, with rosters resetting after the completion of each week’s games. Scoring will follow basic fantasy football guidelines. The prize? Uh … as yet undetermined. (Suggestions welcome!)
The only other rule in place is that the players selected cannot be listed as starters on their teams’ respective depth charts. The goal here was to find a few under-the-radar guys with something to prove and an opportunity to see some preseason playing time. Our resulting rosters are a mix of rookies and veterans, all fighting for jobs.
The six-round draft (and explanations for each pick) follows, with the full rosters at the end of this post. Let the preseason games begin …
Burke: Dion Lewis, RB, Cleveland.
No Trent Richardson and no Montario Hardesty for the Browns this week, which means a chance for Lewis to keep pushing up the depth chart. He has had a strong camp so far and should see at least a quarter’s worth of carries against the Rams. After trading for him in April, the Browns will want to see what they have in Lewis, who could be a pretty solid change-of-pace guy if given some touches.
Farrar: Stephen Williams, WR, Seattle.
The Seahawks know that they have Sidney Rice, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin as the core of their receiver group. What they don’t have with Percy Harvin injured is a deep threat who can force safeties to back off. Williams was a star at Toledo who made a huge splash in Cardinals training camp in 2010 before injuries derailed his career. Through the early part of training camp he’s looked like a true starter (he beat Richard Sherman over the top with a one-handed catch during one red zone drill), and the Seahawks want to see how well he can fit in.
Burke: Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, Patriots.
Reporters allowed to watch this week’s joint practices between the Eagles and Patriots have not stopped raving about the undrafted rookie. And, oh lookie here, those two teams are playing on Friday night. It’s no secret that the Patriots are working to uncover some weapons out wide for Tom Brady during training camp and the preseason. If nothing else, Thompkins at least seems to be angling toward a roster spot.
Farrar: QB Tyler Bray, Chiefs.
At Tennessee, Bray alternated between the occasional “Did you see that?” throw and howling bouts of inconsistency. He has several mechanical kinks, but there are few coaches better qualified to help him than Andy Reid. Bray is trying to beat Ricky Stanzi out for the Chiefs’ no. 3 quarterback position, and if he’s to do that and more, he’ll need a strong and prolific preseason. Reid has expressed interest in Bray’s abilities, so look to see him a lot early on.
Burke: Josh Johnson, QB, Bengals.
Johnson has sort of walked the tightrope of NFL anonymity since starting four games for Tampa Bay his rookie season. He’s on his fourth team in three years, but Cincinnati appears to be his best fit yet. The Bengals’ coaches have come away impressed with what they’ve seen so far. Johnson still finds himself in a battle for the backup job with John Skelton, so each guy could see extended time Thursday in Atlanta. Give the edge in that race to Johnson.
Farrar: Stepfan Taylor, RB, Cardinals.
Many said that Taylor lacked the speed to hit the edge in Stanford’s offense, but I saw a quick lateral mover during his Senior Bowl practice reps. He looks like a potential starting back to me. Bruce Arians is dealing with injuries to projected 1-2 punch Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams, and Taylor needs to get time in the backfield after missing OTAs due to the NFL’s graduation rule. He must get up to speed on Arizona’s protection concepts, and you don’t want him doing that in the regular season when Carson Palmer is under center.
Burke: Joseph Fauria, TE, Lions.
During a chat with ESPN.com on Wednesday, Lions receiver Nate Burleson said that Fauria has been making catches in camp “that absolutely no one on the field can get to except Calvin [Johnson]“. That speaks to Fauria’s abilities at 6-foot-7 — the type of abilities that could put further heat on Tony Scheffler’s roster spot. I’m doubling down on UDFAs here, but bonus points for Fauria because I’ll be covering the Jets-Lions game for Audibles. As any fantasy owner knows, it’s always more fun to see your players in person.
Farrar: Nick Kasa, TE, Raiders.
The Raiders have liked to use tight ends as primary targets over the last few years (see Zach Miller and Brandon Myers), and Kasa could benefit from that mindset. Head coach Dennis Allen anticipates that the converted defensive end will play a role in his offense. Kasa had just one full season at the position for Colorado, but his size-speed combination is intriguing, and given the Raiders’ quarterback options this year … well, the more safety valves, the better.
Burke: Jordan Todman, RB, Jaguars.
Friday’s game against Miami could be a real opportunity for Todman. Jacksonville’s playing it very safe with Maurice Jones-Drew, Justin Forsett injured his toe last week and Denard Robinson is hardly ready to handle extended duties at running back. That leaves Todman atop the pecking order. He rushed for 1,695 yards in his final season at UConn, back in 2011. Todman runs hard — maybe too hard for a 5-9 back — and he might make the most of this chance.
Farrar: Aldrick Robinson, WR, Redskins.
Robinson was Emmanuel Sanders’ successor as SMU’s deep threat, and there were times last year when he showed the same kind of explosiveness. He caught two bombs against NFC East opponents – a 68-yarder against the Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day, and a 49-yarder against the Eagles the previous week. Robinson has been a standout in camp, and even though Kirk Cousins doesn’t have RGIII’s downfield arm, expect to see him heave a few to Robinson this preseason.
Burke: Armanti Edwards, WR, Panthers.
Has the light finally gone on for the former Appalachian State quarterback? Ron Rivera said earlier this month that Edwards is right in the mix for the team’s No. 3 receiver spot, with Domenik Hixon and Ted Ginn. The winner of that battle ought to see plenty of action when the Panthers spread the field. If Edwards truly has figured out how to play receiver, his athleticism makes him dangerous.
Farrar: Christine Michael, RB, Seahawks.
Michael fell into Kevin Sumlin’s doghouse last year at Texas A&M (presumably, he left it move-in ready for Johnny Manziel), but the Seahawks took him in the second round despite the fact that they were loaded up at the position with Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, and Michael Robinson. In camp, Michael has reminded me a bit of Ricky Watters with his slashing style at the line and breakaway speed downfield. He’d only see serious time in the regular season if Lynch is injured, but Pete Carroll can’t wait to see what Michael can do when the hitting is real.
QB: Josh Johnson, Bengals
RB: Dion Lewis, Browns
RB: Jordan Todman, Jaguars
WR: Kenbrell Thompkins, Patriots
WR: Armanti Edwards, Panthers
TE: Joseph Fauria, Lions
QB: Tyler Bray, Chiefs
RB: Stepfan Taylor, Cardinals
RB: Christine Michael, Seahawks
WR: Stephen Williams, Seahawks
WR: Aldrick Robinson, Redskins
TE: Nick Kasa, Raiders