A year ago, we were basking in the outstanding "dress rehearsal" play of guys like Blake Bortles, Jake Locker, Andre Williams, Maurice Jones-Drew, Mike Williams, Brice Butler, Darrius Heyward-Bey and the Jets passing game.
The preseason funhouse mirror has a way of making almost anyone look like a breakout superstar.
Now, to be fair, some Week 3 preseason heroes like Mike Evans, Emmanuel Sanders, Coby Fleener and Antonio Gates proved to not be mirages. Fantasy owners had no problem trusting them because they kept playing strong most of the year.
Separating the great players from the mediocre ones is tricky, especially if we're talking about players who do lots of damage for the first time in the preseason. As always, in Fantasy Football it's all about the matchup and the opportunity. We can only go off of what we see in these games, where individual performances can raise eyebrows more than schematic offensive and defensive function (much of which is very plain for gameplanning reasons).
The movers and shakers from Week 3 are profiled below. Hopefully many of them turn out to be who we think they are:
Maybe the most impressive part of Sam Bradford's dissection of the Packers was that he didn't do much. Of his 10 pass attempts, eight traveled fewer than 15 yards downfield -- the two that went longer went to Jordan Matthews. He basically was willing to spread the ball around and let the receivers make plays after the catch, which is a huge staple of what Chip Kelly wants from his offense.
We've seen Michael Vick, Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez put up big stats in this offense over the last two seasons. Bradford is a more accurate passer than all of those guys. His pass protection has been solid as he hasn't been sacked once in limited play. The only knock against Bradford is his track record of getting hurt along with the track record of all Eagles quarterbacks getting hurt since Kelly took over.
In the span of a month, Bradford went from possible starter to no-doubt starter to late-round flier to platoonable quarterback to mid-round pick. No one should hesitate taking the chance on him with a pick in Round 8 or 9 so long as they add another quality starter later (or before).
Lion on the rise: It is hard to not be a fan of Matthew Stafford after what we've seen this preseason. Over three games he's completed 19 of 25 passes for 308 yards and three touchdowns -- all without Calvin Johnson. Golden Tate has been huge, making plays in each of the games and the offensive line has improved. We've barely seen Ameer Abdullah or Eric Ebron contribute, too. He's rapidly becoming one of the hotter quarterbacks to draft.
Notes: There's almost no confidence in Cam Newton's receivers, especially after receiver Corey Brown dropped three passes. It really feels like Newton's success will hang on how Devin Funchess does and how much rushing Newton picks up. He's fading in Fantasy. ... Teddy Bridgewater has continued to throw so smoothly to all of his receivers. The Vikings could be very dangerous once Adrian Peterson is playing. Bridgewater remains one of the very best bargains in Fantasy. ... I wouldn't judge Matt Ryan much from his seven pass attempt performance against a great Dolphins defense. The Falcons schedule is great and he played this game without either of his two best receivers. Plus their run game could be a mess. He's going to be productive. ... Tyrod Taylor is worth the late snag in two-QB leagues.
We got our first look at T.J. Yeldon this weekend against the Lions, and while he scored a touchdown, the concerns I had when he was drafted are still there.
He's a good back in a bad spot. How many weeks will he be in position to get a ton of touches? Yeldon played some third downs early on, but will that last? His offensive line seemed much better at pass blocking than run blocking. His offensive coordinator's track record still doesn't evoke much confidence.
I'm convinced Yeldon will need a lot of volume to deliver as a Fantasy stud. Now, everything out of Jacksonville this offseason has suggested he'll get a bunch of work. But goal-line carries need to be there a lot, as do catches out of the backfield. Can he convert on these opportunities? Probably. Will he get a lot of those opportunities? No one can confidently say yes. Yeldon's barely a No. 2 Fantasy running back, pretty much there by default, worth a pick after Round 4.
Chargers RBs bolting in different directions: Melvin Gordon did a better job against the Seahawks than he did against the Cowboys, not playing with as much trepidation as before. But it almost doesn't matter that he didn't have any breakaway runs because it was crystal clear he's not going to dominate the Chargers' backfield duties. Danny Woodhead played just as much with the starters as Gordon did and was not only the better pass catcher but had a better (and still sub par) rushing average. As a result, Fantasy owners should take two big steps back from Gordon and one step forward on Woodhead, who seemed just a little bit stronger than I remember him being. Gordon is someone I'd shoot for in Round 5, Woodhead in Round 8 or 9 depending on league scoring.
Big D's big running back dilemma: There is no doubt Darren McFadden was the better running back against the Vikings, but does it mean he's the guy to get this season? If you think you can trust McFadden, you haven't been playing Fantasy Football long enough as he has a laundry list of injuries that have kept him sidelined. He looked better this week but didn't look so hot last week. Joseph Randle looked better last week than he did this week. It's worth noting that this week, Randle took all of the snaps on the first drive (six plays) and finished with 10 snaps with a 10-yard run called back. McFadden played seven snaps, all in the fourth and fifth series with the starters.
The hunch is that Randle will be their starter, but if McFadden gets a hot hand like he did against the Vikings, he'll take over in the game. If Randle starts hot, he'll play the bigger role. And it'll vary from week to week. I'd still call Randle the much safer pick in Fantasy based on a good opportunity and a better track record of staying healthy than McFadden, who's already been banged up in training camp.
Martin's back: Doug Martin's weight loss and re-dedication to football after two terrible seasons are evident. After watching him in person and speaking to him after the game, I'm mostly a believer in him playing the role of at least a No. 2 Fantasy running back this season. Don't be surprised to see him work nearly every down until he either becomes ineffective or gets hurt. As of now, he's effective, healthy and confident. He's worth the risk of a late Round 4 pick.
A big Browns mess: Duke Johnson had the look of a dynamite running back for the Browns, but a concussion ended his night early against the Buccaneers. He started but had the fewest snaps of any of the Browns' top three running backs early on. Isaiah Crowell led the way with Terrance West behind him, but neither player really separated and became "the guy." Here's my take on what to do with the Browns running backs.
Notes: Tre Mason hurt his hamstring on a reception against the Colts. Isaiah Pead took over for him with Benny Cunningham working passing downs. Don't get excited about one of these guys taking over in Week 1 if Todd Gurley isn't ready -- the Rams host the Seahawks. ... Ameer Abdullah flashed his receiving skills this week and is still a popular Fantasy pick, but he will absolutely not be an every-down guy in Motown. Theo Riddick, Zach Zenner and Joique Bell (who is currently injured but on the way back) will all have to get hurt for that to happen. You've been warned. ... While with the starters, Antonio Andrews was the Titans third down and short-yardage/goal-line back. He scored from 2 yards out and even had a rep on a first-and-10. Bottom line: Tennessee's run game will be a mess. Andrews might play the role of Jackie Battle with the potential to replace Bishop Sankey if Sankey sinks or stinks, which is always possible.
Wide receiversNo one caught more eyeballs in the third week of the preseason than Jeremy Maclin. He reeled in all seven of his targets for 65 yards and a swell touchdown where he caught a short pass on an out route, squirting past Titans cornerback Perrish Cox for a touchdown. Then he trashed Fantasy Football fans, including Chiefs fans, for rooting against him. It gave him lots of attention in and out of Fantasy drafts.
If you subscribe to the theory that targets equal Fantasy points, Maclin's the kind of receiver to go after. He's going to get a ton of work, but in the spirit of Andy Reid's west coast offense, the deep targets will be few and far between. Against the Titans, six of his seven targets came from 10 yards or closer to the line of scrimmage, with the lone "long" target going for 11 yards. Not that doesn't mean Smith didn't try taking some deep shots -- he was off on a pass to Travis Kelce and overthrew a lob for Chris Conley. But everything else was short, short, short. That's how he operates most of the time.
It means Maclin might need upward of 80 catches to tip the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career. That can happen, but seeing him with a slew of touchdowns like he had in Philadelphia last year might not. So even though he shined against the Titans -- which is another red flag, that defense just isn't that good -- he shouldn't be overvalued. Maclin is barely a Top 75 player in seasonal leagues and is worth going with 10 picks sooner in PPR formats. In both cases he's a third receiver for Fantasy.
Waiting for Martavis: I admit I'm a huge fan of Martavis Bryant, so take my analysis with a grain of salt. But his incredible performance at Buffalo is just more evidence that he's a unique gamebreaker who can help your Fantasy team.
He drew two defensive pass interference penalties on cornerback Ronald Darby, one way down the field and one in the end zone, then scorched Darby on a deep ball from Michael Vick for a 63-yard gain, then had a sweet catch-and-run from short range on a pass by Vick. He put the cherry on top of his day with a 39-yard catch-and-run on a deep slant from Landry Jones.
In total, Bryant had 138 yards and a touchdown on three catches, but penalties kept him from having an even bigger game. I won't resist drafting him in Round 6 knowing there are replacement receivers I can find in the following rounds to replace him during his suspension.
Slot or not, Landry's hot: Aggressive pre-camp rankings on Jarvis Landry are looking good, especially after the Dolphins' most recent preseason game. He was hit on the button by Ryan Tannehill on a deep route that was good for 46 yards, balancing out his stat line with 84 yards on five catches. I doubt he averages 16.8 yards per catch as he did against the Falcons -- the 9.5 yards per catch he had on his other four grabs on Saturday is more realistic -- but he can be an explosive receiver. The targets will be there. Round 5 isn't too early for Landry in my opinion, especially in PPR.
New guy in Carolina blue: The Panthers traded for receiver Kevin Norwood, who had a pair of catches for 18 this preseason with the Seahawks. More importantly, he brings good size (6-foot-2) to Carolina, which the team didn't have much of once Kelvin Benjamin got hurt. He's also got pretty big hands and can fill a role as a possession receiver with a little bit of speed. There's nothing wrong with spending a late-round pick on him and dumping him if he doesn't start or play well at the beginning of the season.
Notes: Jacksonville's Allen Hurns has the opportunity to play a lot and looks stronger than he did as a rookie. That along with a four-catch, 42-yard, one-score game last week is enough to garner late-round attention. Of course, he had a big Week 3 of the preseason last year, too. ... Marvin Jones caught a deep pass on an in-route and cashed in on a 31-yard play from A.J. McCarron. He also had a 43-yard reception from McCarron called back on a penalty. He's the Bengals No. 2 receiver and a decent bench option.
From the quarterback who brought you Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels comes a new tight end to consider late in drafts. Crockett Gillmore figures to be a favorite of tight end of Joe Flacco, who has loved tight ends throughout his career. He might not have much of a choice this year considering the state of Ravens receivers. Maybe that's good -- on one play last weekend, Gillmore lined up wide, streaked down the seam 16 yards, secured the catch, had a Redskins defender bounce off him, whirl past another and shook off a third defender before diving past the goal line. It was a play even Rob Gronkowski could relate to, but it didn't count because of a questionable Ravens penalty away from the play.
That's just an example of Gillmore's athleticism. Go back and watch Steve Smith's long touchdown and check out who was the closest teammate running downfield to him. That would be Gillmore. And if you watched the Ravens preseason games you'd see Gillmore in on pretty much every single play with the starters. He'll play a lot in a Marc Trestman-run offense -- the last tight end to do that finished in the Top 5 at the position last year and Top 10 the last two years. Ravens tight ends totaled 117 targets in 2014 -- the bet is that number rises in 2015, and Gillmore is in the driver's seat to hog them.
Look for him late in drafts -- your league-mates will be like "who's that guy?" which makes it all the more fun.
Notes: Dwayne Allen played a ton with the first-team Colts offense and had five targets, catching two of them for 25 yards in a half. While it's a little frustrating that two incompletions came on hard hits when Allen should have made the catch, three of the targets came during the Colts' two-minute drill with one in the end zone. Solely valuable because of his role, his end-zone opportunities and who his quarterback is, Allen is worth settling for with a late pick.