Fantasy football 2013 draft preview: Analyzing preseason trends
The funny thing about preseason football is that it's not really NFL football. The coaches are the same, the rules, refs and stadiums are all the same; yet, it's not really NFL football until Week 1 starts.
However, the preseason is the opportune time for teams to test out everything new: the rookies, the free agents and perhaps the schemes brought by coaching changes. As a result, there's no reason for fans to overreact while watching a favorite team in the preseason. In the same sense, there's no reason to overreact to preseason happenings when putting together your fantasy roster.
With that in mind, here's some help sifting through preseason trends that will likely translate to the regular season, and several that won't.
Trends built to last
• The top 5 preseason passers by rating last year were Ryan Perriloux, Jerrod Johnson, Byron Lefwich, Richard Bartel and John Beck. In other words: who?
But through two weeks of the preseason, Andrew Luck is ranked seventh in the league in passer rating, and he averages 8.3 yards per attempt.
Luck threw too many interceptions last year, but broke basically every rookie record for gross statistics by a quarterback and was the ninth best fantasy quarterback in the league. After a pricy offseason for the Colts, Luck will have a better offensive line and better group of receivers in 2013.
One could make a solid case that he's the best bet after guys named Rodgers, Brees, Brady and Manning. At the very least, he's in the same tier as Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Matt Ryan. Considering Newton's inconsistencies, RGIII's injury risk and Kaepernick's likely regression, Luck seems to me as the better fantasy option.
• Packers tight end Jermichael Finley has used the hashtag #YOTTO on Twitter for going on four years now to signify 'Year Of The Takeover,' but every season he's come up short of expectations. As Eric Benoit noted last week, Finley is nearly unmatched with his size, skills, and ability, but drops and a seeming lack of focus have derailed the ultra-talented tight end. Things could be changing.
Eddie Lacy's emergence in the preseason and his impressive showings at Packers practice solidified his fantasy value, but won't substantively change Green Bay's offense, just make the running game more efficient -- the Packers were actually 16th in the league in attempts last season. That efficiency means teams choosing to stay in cover 2 will have linebackers reacting to play fakes, leaving the middle of the field open for Finley to do his thing. Against the Rams, that's exactly what happened and Finley wound up with four catches for 78 yards. Maybe this finally is the Year Of The Takeover.
• Christine Michael leads the preseason in attempts for the Seattle Seahawks, but joins a crowded backfield with stud fantasy back Marshawn Lynch and top backup Robert Turbin. Michael was a second-round pick in April and has impressive speed.
Michael is already going ahead of Turbin according to Yahoo!'s average draft rankings, although SI's top 300 has Turbin more than 100 spots higher.
The former Texas A&M standout may have the biggest impact -- not on his own draft stock, but on Turbin's and to some extent Lynch's. Michael's strong performance hints that he should be getting touches. If you're looking for a backup running back, stick with Turbin for now, but keep an eye on Michael early in the season.
• Roy Helu is being drafted as the 62nd running back in the average league, according to Fantasy Pros, which means he's being drafted behind nearly every team's top 2 backs, despite the Redskins having the best rushing offense in football.
Helu is averaging 6.2 yards per rush in the preseason on 14 attempts, but had just two attempts all last season. He's working ahead of Evan Royster right now for the 'Skins, and while Alfred Morris was extremely durable last season, Washington will likely lean on him more early in the year as RGIII gets back. Given Shanahan's history of killing fantasy running backs' value by splitting time, Helu could expect to see more carries this year.
• The addition of Tavon Austin, the progress of Brian Quick on the outside, as well as the return of speedy Chris Givens gives Sam Bradford a bevy of options at receiver in St. Louis. Bradford is averaging a whopping 13 yards per attempt, and already has five plays of 20 yards or more.
With Bradford being drafted as the 21st quarterback on average, he is undervalued right now. If you're one of the last players to get a quarterback in a 12- or 14-team league, Bradford could be a reasonable option to snag as a backup.
Just a preseason mirage
• Sometimes the trends in preseason are good and won't last, while others appear to be worrisome but aren't. Tavon Austin's case is the latter, as the Rams invested heavily in the rookie from West Virginia and will, assuming Austin stays healthy, give him every chance to succeed.
The numbers aren't as problematic, for now, as the reason for them. Against Green Bay, for example, Austin couldn't get open against corners or even such safeties as Morgan Burnett and rookie Micah Hyde. That has to change.
• LeGarrette Blount's case is why you have to remember not to overthink things on draft night. Sure, the former Bucs back has 14 carries for 101 yards and two2 touchdowns in the preseason, but remember who runs that offense: Tom Brady.
Despite New England's improvement last season running the ball, Blount is the third back on a team that makes weekly changes to the schemes and mode of attack. With Ridley and Vereen already in place with established roles, Blount could vulture some red zone carries, but unless you're in an extremely deep league -- or a shameless Patriots homer -- it's better to find other options.
• Peyton Manning has a way of taking unknown players and turning them into stars, but don't hold your breath on third-year tight end Julius Thomas. I know former NFL personnel guru Gil Brandt tweeted that Peyton Manning would be finding Thomas regularly, but the reality is you can still only play with one football.
Thomas has the kind of Antonio Gates-like frame teams covet -- he played basketball at Portland State -- and his eight catches for 101 yards have been eye-catching. But he's the third tight end on a team that also features three top-100 overall receivers.
• Arizona has a really, really good defense. Patrick Peterson is one of the best players in football, period, and his return skills make the Cardinals a threat to score as a fantasy defense. If they played in the AFC West instead of the NFC West, they might even be a top-5 fantasy defense. But they don't, so they aren't. And considering they face the high-flying NFC South this season, the chances to tally big defensive numbers are sure to take a hit. Draft accordingly.