2019 Fantasy Football Draft Prep: Rookies show off in Preseason Week 2

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Without a firm timetable for Andrew Luck's return, the doom and gloom around the Fantasy prospects of crucial Colts players is at an all-time high. But there's cause for optimism on several fronts. 

Before Indianapolis hosted Cleveland on Saturday, both ESPN and NFL Network caught Luck on the field going through some warm-up drills and seemingly testing his sore left ankle/calf/whatever. It's a step in the right direction as positive reports about his Week 1 availability have surfaced. One might surmise he's a temporary Fantasy bargain after Round 8 since if he were fine he'd get taken alongside the likes of Deshaun Watson and Aaron Rodgers in Rounds 4 and 5.

But just in case he's not ready, backup passer Jacoby Brissett acquitted himself nicely Saturday. Working against a mix of Browns defensive starters and backups, Brissett missed on just one deep pass (another incompletion was dropped) and was otherwise good. His best play? As the Browns collapsed the pocket and even got some hands on Brissett on a fourth-and-3, the veteran got free and fired a shot to his left to Eric Ebron for 16 yards. That kept the drive alive, ending with an Ebron touchdown on a magnificent throw with the perfect amount of touch to Ebron. 

If Brissett starts Week 1, don't be shy about using Hilton or Ebron. Yes, Ebron, who was more than just a red-zone specialist with the starters and will see an upgraded matchup in Week 1 with Chargers safety Derwin James out with a foot injury. If you have reasonable expectations for him — 700 yards and six touchdowns? — he should satisfy.

The only Colts player I had issues with was Marlon Mack, who started and really only impressed on an 8-yard carry where he stiff-armed rookie linebacker Mack Wilson, evaded another tackler and motored for the gain. Two plays later he was stuffed on a third-and-1. He ran with some hesitation after some handoffs and didn't really have much burst. He's in a great situation with the Colts and could very well turn it up a notch when the season starts, so there's no reason for a downgrade. Not yet. 

Denver downgrades and an upgrade

I'm all out on Royce Freeman. He was heavy-footed and as quick as a rhinoceros in the Broncos' preseason tilt versus the Niners. Trading snaps with Phillip Lindsay and Devontae Booker, Freeman's blocking was spotty and ability to make plays was limited. 

Actually, the whole Broncos backfield was a mess. Lindsay started and was quick but didn't have much power, basically the opposite of Freeman. And Booker took most of the third-down work with the starting unit and didn't look half-bad running his routes. Through two preseason game, none of these guys played more than four consecutive snaps and frequently they'd play one or two and then get swapped out. A three-headed running back monster won't help anyone in Fantasy. I'll take Lindsay in Round 6 and Freeman in Round 74. Wait, we don't go 74 rounds, do we? OK how about Round 11 or 12? That sounds right.

On a happier note, I couldn't be more impressed with Emmanuel Sanders' speed. Did this guy really tear his Achilles?! He was bursting with acceleration on an end-around and got deep for a bomb from Joe Flacco. He also lined up all over the place. It's an incredible bounce-back for a guy who we basically ignored for most of the offseason. It's a crowded receiving corps in Denver, but I'm looking forward to trying to find him in Round 8 or 9. 

Fantasy takeoff with ... the Jets?!

Sam Darnold is taking to Adam Gase's offense quite nicely. One play that stood out against the Falcons on Thursday was a 21-yard completion to Robby Anderson where Darnold threw before Anderson turned for the ball, hitting him low and on the back hip where the defender couldn't get it. That's evidence of timing between them. Darnold also hit Quincy Enunwa on a 15-yard crosser with Falcons top cornerback Desmond Trufant on his tail. It was even more impressive that Darnold pulled off a 5 of 7 passing effort with four backup offensive linemen on the field.

Darnold's not much of a target in one-quarterback leagues, but the point is he could make all of his receivers come alive. Gase has employed a slow-pace offense before, but Darnold admitted after the game that this new system is designed to play with some tempo and without a huddle to keep defenses guessing. I feel better about taking Robby Anderson (late Round 6/early Round 7) and would take a shot on Jamison Crowder as a PPR bench receiver (Round 9 or 10).

Latest on Lamar

Fantasy folks loved the 18-yard touchdown scamper by Lamar Jackson that got called back. While his passing has improved, there's still something that will keep some of us from totally buying in.

On short passes, Jackson was almost perfect. Six of seven attempts that traveled 10 yards or less past the line of scrimmage were completed with one dropped throw that was a little low. This shouldn't be a surprise -- any pro quarterback should be able to do that.

But on throws that traveled longer than 10 yards, Jackson was 0 for 3. He was a little off on a deep ball to Hayden Hurst and off target on an over-the-middle throw to Willie Snead and a sideline dart to Miles Boykin.

That brings Jackson's preseason totals, including penalized plays, to 2 of 7 passing on longer throws and 8 of 11 on shorter throws with two drops on passes with debatable accuracy.

Ultimately, it's a second consecutive week where we can feel better about Jackson as a Fantasy contributor. If the offense's design is to simplify Jackson's passes and use play-action off of zone-read, it can work. He's got enough talent and speed at receiver and size at tight end to do it. I expect him to improve on the 163.5 pass yards per game he had in eight starts (playoffs included) last year, and his rushing potential is obviously strong.

If I continue to tout Kyler Murray as a difference-making mid-to-late-round Fantasy quarterback (yes, even after his lousy game against the Raiders), then Lamar Jackson should also be in the mix. I wouldn't hate beginning my year with Jackson as my starter and someone like Philip Rivers on my bench because the Ravens' early season schedule (at Miami, versus Arizona) should yield some big results. It's later in the year where I'll have worries about starting Jackson, be it because of injuries or because defenses could figure him out like the Chargers did last January. There's a glob of quarterbacks I'd go after in the double-digit rounds, and he's in that mix.

Keeping it cool on the Cardinals

Yes, the Cardinals offense was ugly in their second presesason game against the Raiders. Yes, it looks ridiculous for Murray to have two false start penalties called on him for clapping. And, oh boy, did that Cardinals offensive line (with four starters playing) look awful.

The hunch here is that the Cardinals' front five was woefully unprepared for the Raiders' aggressive blitz calls in a preseason game. You'd like to think that will change as soon as their next preseason game and definitely by Week 1 against the Lions, but it does nothing to erase the fact that the Cardinals' line is at best a small issue and at worst a massive liability. The Raiders may have laid out a blueprint on how to slow down Murray & Co.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the Cardinals offensive style we've seen through two games is nothing like what we'll see in Week 1. They're playing slow, methodical, basic football. They're expected to play with a faster tempo with more creativity in the regular season, which should help Murray get into rhythm and complete passes he was off on against the Raiders.

I still consider Murray a top-12 Fantasy quarterback with tons of upside, but I decided to move him out from the top-10 because I can't draft only him at quarterback. And anyone who I'm more comfortable with as the lone quarterback on my roster should be taken ahead of him (Jared Goff, Jameis Winston, Russell Wilson). 

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Johnson had an ugly stat line but also had a 16-yard run to the right edge get called back by a holding penalty on one of his tight ends. I prefer James Conner at this point given both offensive lines, but I'm still OK sinking a late first-round pick into Johnson, especially in PPR leagues. I have way more faith in the Cardinals current coaching staff using him effectively compared to last year's crew. If you draft this weekend and he slides into Round 2 because people are scared to take him in Round 1, grab him! 

Rookie rushers in focus

  • Josh Jacobs started and played every snap with the Raiders first-team offense, notching runs of 6, 8 and 6 yards against a bad Cardinals defense. His cutback skills, vision and power were as good as advertised. It's just a smattering of work, but he's on his way to breaking into the second level and having some huge plays. It's not wrong to take him with a late Round 3 pick.
  • Miles Sanders of the Eagles had more explosive runs against the Jaguars, playing six straight snaps to start the game before giving way to Jordan Howard on the first drive. He cruised on his first big gain thanks to his O-line, but his second long run saw him impressively power through tacklers for 12 extra yards. He did some pass blocking and route-running as well. About the only thing he didn't do was flash a top gear, but his lateral agility was great. Could Sanders challenge the Eagles' philosophy to use multiple running backs throughout the course of a game? Someone in every league will bet on it with a late Round 6 or early Round 7 choice on Sanders. 
  • Tony Pollard had a good showing as the Cowboys' lead back again, this time reeling off plays of 15, 9 and 9 yards (an 8-yard screen pass was called back by a penalty) before showing off his balance, burst and power on a 14-yard touchdown jaunt against a depleted Rams defense. Sure, you could make the case playing behind a strong offensive line would make any back look good, but that's exactly the situation Pollard should be in if Ezekiel Elliott's holdout continues. He's been the exclusive running back with Dak Prescott so far this preseason. Is the Round 10 price tag too juicy for him? I don't think so.
  • I'd like to see Darrell Henderson play with the Rams starters. He began breaking out against backup Cowboys defenders on Sunday, complete with a gorgeous 26-yard catch-and-run down the right sideline. He still had a lot of plays for 3 yards or less, but at least we're seeing glimpses of his potential. 

More from Preseason Week 2

  • Curtis Samuel is the darling of the preseason, and versus Buffalo, you could see shreds of evidence why that is. He's lightning quick into his route and creates separation with not only the threat of his speed but his quickness in changing direction. I did notice that he struggled a little with press coverage, but any defensive back who tries to get physical with him runs the risk of having him speed away if they miss. He's an interesting player with a lot of upside, worthy of a top-70 pick. 
  • The second darling of the preseason just might be James Washington, who has come up huge through two games. Against the Chiefs, Washington got some playing time with the starters and caught some dazzling passes from Mason Rudolph and Josh Dobbs (Ben Roethlisberger didn't play). While his speed helped him reel in a couple of long passes including a 40-yard bomb, it was his adjusting and leaping for a bad throw by Rudolph that especially caught my eye. How soon until he's a fixture in the Steelers' three-receiver set? I wouldn't be surprised if it was by Week 1. I'm drafting him late. 
  • And while I don't like it for James Conner's Fantasy purposes, I appreciate Jaylen Samuels' game. He ran hard and impressed in backup work against the Chiefs. I get why the Steelers want to find touches for him.  
  • Here's your Buccaneers running back update: Peyton Barber ran tough but had no room on two carries, Ronald Jones got help from his blockers on one run, carrying defenders on a 12-yard run. Then his blockers blew it on a left edge run and lost three yards when he had defenders in his face. Jones also loused up a pass-blocking assignment and returned the opening kickoff for 15 yards. Meanwhile, Dare Ogunbowale totaled 88 yards from scrimmage with the backups and had a 45-yard catch-and-run called back by a holding penalty. We also saw a lot of Andre Ellington. There isn't a clear-cut Fantasy winner in this backfield, but Barber did handle the first six snaps of the game, for whatever that's worth. Draft these guys with caution. 
  • And here's your Buccaneers passing update: Jameis Winston's first throw was tentative and way off the mark. His next three were fine but it included a pass O.J. Howard should have reeled in but couldn't hold on to after Minkah Fitzpatrick got a hand in there. Nothing special from Winston here as he continued to play conservatively and not make errors. He's a top-12 Fantasy quarterback with 4,500-yard, 30-touchdown upside. 
  • All camp long we heard about how impressive Mark Andrews has been, but we're not seeing it on the field. By my count, he was in on third downs and a handful of other plays with the starters against the Packers but never got involved. Zero targets. Nick Boyle has been starting and seeing more targets. Heck, fellow second-year tight end Hayden Hurst has seen more targets. It makes it impossible to draft Andrews if this is the treatment he's going to get. And it's not like we can trust Boyle as a breakout tight end, or Hurst for that matter. After two preseason games, the Ravens tight ends seem like a dead end. 
  • Matt Ryan was victimized by two drops in the end zone on the same drive, otherwise he would have been better than 10 of 14 passing. Ryan was also in hot water on many of his attempts because his offensive line was a disaster. Nearly every play, someone on the Jets got in his face. New York sent a bunch of blitzes including two that resulted in a sack (Ryan was sacked three times total) and there were frequent plays where Falcons linemen were on the ground. This issue was supposed to be fixed. Fortunately, it's a very good sign that Ryan overcame the leaky line and put up nice numbers -- without Julio Jones. He's still a top-5 Fantasy quarterback in my mind.
  • Ito Smith finally made some plays! His 13-yard catch wasn't anything special since it came on a third-and-19 dump-off pass, but he flashed solid speed on a 28-yard catch-and-run and later looked fluid on a 4-yard touchdown jaunt. Unless Brian Hill gets a real chance to unseat him, I guess he'll be the Falcons' No. 2 back behind Devonta Freeman.
  • Calvin Ridley looked spry and speedy on his 27-yard downfield gainer. I guess that hamstring is just fine. He's Round 5 material. 
  • Don't look now, but the Texans starting O-line had a near-flawless effort, keeping Deshaun Watson and Joe Webb clean over the first three series of the game with only a couple of pressures. True, they played a Lions defense without four of its starting D-linemen, but it's a start! 
  • Joe Mixon looks strong! I loved the stiff-arm on the 14-yard run he had early on that got called back. The Bengals ran a bunch of zone-run plays throughout the game, which is the style that best suits Mixon. Don't be shy to take him with a second-round pick.
  • T.J. Hockenson's first preseason catch was a short toss from Josh Johnson that he rapidly turned upfield before leaping (it looked more like Kofi Kingston's finishing maneuver) into two Texans defenders. Total gain: 22 yards. 

File away for the future

  • The Bengals starting offensive line didn't let Andy Dalton get sacked once. They weren't great in terms of opening up runs for their running backs, but at least they kept Dalton clean against a young and huge Redskins D-line.  
  • Bengals backup quarterback Ryan Finley played well, hitting each of his first eight throws including a touchdown. The only time he looked Daltonish was on a Hail Mary attempt where his launch from his 46-yard line came down 3 yards shy of the end zone. He'll be OK if he gets playing time this season.  
Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with NFL.com at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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