By Amber Boskers
This three-part weekly series highlights the players who are getting a little more air time because of their preseason performance. Whether it’s rookie sensations making a splash, veteran players making strides with new teams, or players stepping up due to injury-related promotions, it’s all about the stand-outs and if they can impress enough to make it on your fantasy team roster. This week, we’re looking at some of the rookies that stood out in early preseason action. The rookie movement is underway in full effect with a number of impressive preseason game performances (in no particular order) to kick off the list.
Since I’m a Birdgang fan through and through, I just have to highlight Arizona Cardinals third-round pick safety Tyrann Mathieu after the Cardinals preseason debut against the Packers Friday night. Yes, everyone knows “it’s just the preseason”, but be-that-as-it-may, there’s no denying that the Honey Badger looked good. Real good. At 5’9’’ and about 186 lbs, he’s seems a little small to play free safety, but playing bigger, stronger, faster with something to prove goes a long way in this league. Despite the majority of his time with the second-string defense, Mathieu was all over the field and finished the game with two tackles, a 12-yard sack, a big QB hit, a couple of pass break-ups, and a 26-yard punt return in the Cardinals win. This week, he gets the starting job so we will see if he makes the highlight reel for a second consecutive week. The Cardinals defense is a full-fledged sleeper pick and actually carries several IDP candidates, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Have the Houston Texans finally found their man? Their second man, I mean. The Texans 27th overall first-round pick wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins looks to be the complement and counterpart to Andre Johnson. In Friday’s preseason win against the Minnesota Vikings, “Nuke” finished the game with four passes, 52 yards and a sweet 34-yard touchdown. He’s athletic, agile, strong, has sure hands and appears to be the missing piece in the offense, which means keep him high your fantasy radar.
Next up is the Minnesota Vikings 29th overall first-round pick wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, who had four catches for 54 yards and a 50 yard punt return in his first-half play in the 27-13 loss against the Houston Texans on Friday night. At this point, he appears to be slated as a punt returner, however his intended transition to wide receiver as the Percy Harvin replacement may happen earlier than expected if he keeps it up.
Over in New England, there’s not one or two but three rookie wide receivers fighting to line up across from Danny Amendola, and Tom Brady took the opportunity to test the talent against the Philadelphia Eagles Friday night. They performed well. Second-round pick Aaron Dobson finished the game with 8 targets, 2 catches and 44 yards, and 4th rounder Josh Boyce and undrafted Kenbrell Thompkins had 32 and 31 yards, respectively. Both Dobson and Thompkins appear to be the favorites for securing a position at this point but the next couple weeks will determine the pecking order. In addition, undrafted rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld appears to be getting quite comfortable with the first-team offense and continues to catch almost everything that’s thrown to him. We all know that Tom Brady will throw the ball a lot, so fantasy points will be there for the taking as the Patriots continue to fill the roster gaps.
EJ Manuel, the Buffalo Bills 16th overall and first QB pick of the draft, had a fairly decent preseason debut against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, finishing the game 16 of 21 for 107 yards, a 17-yard touchdown, QB rating of 102.6 and going 9 for 9 in a 2-minute drill. Plus, Kevin Kolb got hurt… different team, same story, so Manuel could have the starting job simply by default. But at least he has talent, which has been a fantasy football jackpot for rookie QBs over the last couple of years. Meanwhile, the Bills rookie wide receiver Marquise Goodwin (also a former track star who qualified for the London Olympics), had an even better showing with a 53-yard kickoff return and a 107-yard touchdown return. Yet another name to keep a close eye on over the next couple of weeks.
As you can see, the big-name rookies like Montee Ball, Eddie Lacy, Le’Veon Bell, Giovani Bernard, etc., are missing from this list and I’m actually disappointed. Hopefully this will be the week when we can see what some of them can do to help explain why the analysts and prognosticators have ranked them so high (and why I got sucked in to the hype and drafted them!). With another round of preseason action starting this Thursday, it’ll be interesting to see which players come out on top in the highlight department and how much fantasy football position rankings actually change, if at all. Watch for Part II of the Preseason Stand-Outs early next week as I highlight some of the veteran players on new teams.