Posted August 22, 2013

Preseason Fantasy Challenge: Under-the-radar players we’re watching in Week 3

NFL Preseason
Joique Bell had 52 catches out of the backfield for the Lions last season.

Joique Bell had 52 catches out of the backfield for the Lions last season. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Though the NFL preseason nears its height of tedium about this time each year, Week 3 of the exhibition slate actually provides a pretty important glimpse into how each team will line up come September.

Next week, teams must trim their rosters from a maximum of 90 down to 75. By the end of the month, that number must be all the way down to 53, meaning that there are plenty of tough decisions to be made in the coming days. This weekend’s games are a chance for those guys on the bubble to either stake their claim to a spot or show another franchise they’re worth adding.

Teams also tend to ride their starters a little longer this week, even into the second half in some cases, while Week 4 of the preseason is an exercise in keeping key players healthy. So the players selected in the third edition of our preseason fantasy challenge are mostly guys who have put some talent on display at some point in the previous two weeks. Maybe they’ll be key factors for their teams in the regular season; maybe this will be their high-water mark for 2013.

The competition is even through two rounds. Chris Burke took Week 1, while Doug Farrar bounced back for a decisive 28-13 victory last week.

A look at the Week 3 teams:

Round 1

Farrar: Case Keenum, QB, Texans.

Texans head coach Gary Kubiak has said that Keenum is pushing T.J. Yates for the backup job behind Matt Schaub, and it’s easy to understand why … at least, after two preseason games. Against the Minnesota Vikings and Miami Dolphins, Keenum has completed 24-of-36 passes for 275 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Kubiak has said that Schaub will get the majority of reps against the Saints on Sunday, but don’t be surprised if the second-year veteran, who spent the 2012 season on the practice squad, gets enough reps to keep his coach thinking.

Burke: Pat White, QB, Redskins.

I actually picked Geno Smith here initially, only to realize that Smith is 100 percent not under the radar. White, meanwhile, has not exactly solidified an NFL roster spot — he was 3-of-6 passing against Pittsburgh’s deep bench guys last week, though he did run for 24 yards. But RGIII’s out and Kirk Cousins too, so White should see plenty of action this week.

Round 2

Farrar: Spencer Ware, RB, Seahawks.

Hidden in the backup halfback battle between Robert Turbin and Christine Michael is Ware, the rookie from LSU who was selected in the sixth round to play fullback behind Michael Robinson. He’s shown the power you’d expect from a 5-foot-10, 228-pound back, and he’s surprised with his speed and elusiveness. He gained 54 yards on nine carries against the Broncos last week, and he’d be an ideal red zone specialist when the Seahawks take on the Packers this week.

Burke: Joique Bell, RB, Lions.

Bell was an absolute find for the Lions when they plucked him away from New Orleans in 2011. He provided some nice minutes last season, and this year appears to be on the verge of bumping Mikel Leshoure as Reggie Bush’s backup. The main reason: Bell’s style is not far removed from Bush’s, meaning the Lions can drop him in for a few plays without missing a beat; Leshoure tends to clog things up. Bell has a chance to put up some numbers Thursday vs. New England.

Round 3

Farrar: David Gettis, WR, Panthers.

He’s had his share of injury issues throughout his NFL career, but Gettis is showing once again that he has pro-level talent when healthy, grabbing eight balls for 138 yards in the Panthers’ first two preseason games. “I’m very excited for David. He stepped up and played a very good football game, and I told the players I thought it was a very inspirational effort he gave,” head coach Ron Rivera said of Gettis’ five-catch performance against the Eagles last week. When your coach talks about you like that, you’re going to get more time on the field.

Burke: Deji Karim, RB, Texans.

Karim has been impressive in two preseason games, taking advantage of Arian Foster’s absence and limited duty for Ben Tate. Houston brought in a trio of talented undrafted rookie RBs to push for the No. 3 job — Ray Graham, Dennis Johnson and Cierre Wood. But the 26-year-old Karim, with 92 yards on 15 carries thus far, might be shoehorning his way into the plans.

Round 4

Farrar: Charles Hawkins, WR, Cardinals.

Hawkins didn’t get a shot with the Cards until concussions ended Ryan Swope’s chances, but the high-school teammate of Tyrann Mathieu has been an estimable deep threat so far, and that plays well in Bruce Arians’ offense. Hawkins played at Southern University under Stump Mitchell, currently Arizona’s running back coach, and he’s got more than connections in his fight to make the team — he’s averaged 24.5 yards on six receptions through two preseason games.

“He does a really good job, especially in the slot,” Arians recently said of the rookie. “He’s got to develop some consistency in his practice, but he flashes enough to get your attention.”

Burke: Myles White, WR, Packers.

White, undrafted out of Louisiana Tech, hauled in five passes for 48 yards last week against the Rams. He did so on a team-high nine targets from Graham Harrell and Vince Young. Considering Green Bay’s injury issues at wide receiver, White could see ample time again this week.

Round 5

Farrar: Fozzy Whittaker, RB, Chargers.

Am I making this pick just to have a guy named “Fozzy” in my preseason fantasy draft? Well, only partially. Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt had better reasons than that when he convinced his new team to put in a waiver claim on the second-year undrafted free agent, who played for Whisenhunt when he was the Cardinals’ head coach last year. Whitaker has rewarded his new team by rushing for 71 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries this preseason.

Burke: Zach Ertz, TE, Eagles.

Ertz has been consistent through two weeks of the preseason, with a pair of catches each time out. His yardage total, though, upped from 10 yards in Week 1 to 36 in Week 2, and he should keep right on climbing through the regular season. The sure-handed tight end is a terrific fit in Chip Kelly’s offense, especially if Kelly features that position more than he did at Oregon.

Round 6

Farrar: Julius Thomas, TE, Broncos.

Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase has said that Thomas — yet another former basketball star taking his talents to the tight end position — is a part of the offense he’s putting together in Denver. Thomas has flashed explosive speed, and if he can get his blocking together and focus a bit more on ball security, he could wind up as one of Peyton Manning’s targets when the games are real.

Burke: Drew Davis, WR, Falcons.

Davis continues to look more and more like a part of the Falcons’ plans on offense, one summer after fighting his way onto the roster as an undrafted free agent. He has 98 yards receiving this preseason and made four grabs last week. There’s no doubt that his roster spot is safe heading into the year.

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