5. Patriots WR Kenbrell Thompkins
Stats: 4 catches, 23 yards.
Running ahead of second-round pick Aaron Dobson, Thompkins was New England's first-team X receiver in the preseason opener and had his way with Eagles CB Bradley Fletcher. His first catch gained six yards on a physical quick-hitter down the left sideline. Thompkins lined up in the slot on his second reception, gaining four. His third catch went for seven yards on a shallow cross, and reception No. 4 picked up six yards on another Tom Brady quick-hitter in Fletcher's coverage.
Thompkins already looks like a savvy route runner willing to get physical and work for catches with big, strong hands. Although he is considered an "X" receiver, Thompkins played all three wideout spots against the Eagles.
For the rest of the preseason, I'll be monitoring whether Thompkins can defeat coverage downfield. At the moment, Thompkins is worth considering in the ninth and tenth rounds of standard leagues. And he's an ideal Dynasty keeper.
6. Eagles RB Bryce Brown
Stats: 5 carries, 22 yards, TD. 2 catches, 19 yards.
With LeSean McCoy nursing a minor nick, Chris Polk got the tailback start in Philly's preseason opener. Polk has the edge on Brown in blitz pickup, but managed seven yards on four carries. It wouldn't take a football guru to notice Bryce Brown is a vastly superior talent to Polk. Just as they are at quarterback, the Eagles are pushing a faux-competition for the No. 2 running back job.
Against the Patriots, Brown got downhill and ran with toughness. He still has a tendency to bounce inside runs outside, but packs power and speed, and possesses underrated versatility. Brown secured each of his two targets in the passing game. On Brown's touchdown run, he shucked two-would be tacklers after a shotgun handoff and dove into the end zone for an eight-yard score.
The Eagles played very fast, and intend to rip off plays from scrimmage this season. No NFL offense had more snaps in their respective preseason opener. When snaps go up, offensive touches go up. Brown will have an opportunity for flex value even as McCoy's change-of-pace complement. Under run-heavy coach Chip Kelly, Philly could contend for the league lead in rushing attempts.
7. Seahawks RB Christine Michael
Stats: 16 carries, 89 yards.
Second-round pick Michael was a workhorse in Seattle's preseason opener, carrying the mail as Marshawn Lynch rested and Robert Turbin nursed a foot injury. Michael is going after Turbin's primary backup job. Turbin is a superior pass protector and receiver, but there is no doubt Michael offers more sheer running ability. It is not close.
If you are in a Dynasty league or consider yourself a forward-thinking re-draft owner interested in what Seattle's backfield might look like should Lynch suffer an injury, I'd encourage you to watch Michael's 16 carries against the Chargers. This dude is a future NFL phenom.
Highly aggressive and explosive, Michael runs with intensity and executes razor-sharp cuts. He eats up ground quickly and has power to carry piles. Michael's elusiveness was particularly devastating on a fourth-quarter open-field opportunity following a stretch run off left tackle. Michael met Chargers CB William Middleton one on one down the left sideline, made a sudden juke to his left, and dusted Middleton to tack ten extra yards onto his run.
In a Lynch-injury scenario, I think we'd see Michael as the early-down banger with Turbin playing on passing downs. That's just a guess. Turbin is an experienced, professional, versatile back, but I don't think the Seahawks could justify leaving a guy with Michael's kind of ability on the bench.
8. Vikings WR Cordarrelle Patterson
Stats: 4 catches, 54 yards. 50-yard kickoff return.
Patterson opened Minnesota's first exhibition game with a blazing 50-yard kick return, but it's not special teams prowess that makes him a tantalizing fantasy prospect. The Vikings' first-team three-wide set was comprised of Greg Jennings, Jarius Wright, and Jerome Simpson. Patterson's primary competition for offensive snaps is Simpson, who let Christian Ponder's second pass attempt glance off his fingertips and into the hands of Texans S Shiloh Keo for a pick.
Patterson played with the Matt Cassel offense. He lined up in the left slot on his first target deep in Houston territory, but Cassel's overthrow sailed out of the end zone. Aligned at X receiver on his second target, Patterson caught Cassel's pass on a deep comeback, but CB Roc Carmichael pushed him out of bounds. Patterson got hot from there, securing each of his next three targets.
Patterson's first preseason catch came on a deep in-breaking zone beater over the middle for 22. He refused to go down on contact, fighting for extra yards. Patterson was then gang tackled for a three-yard gain, before exploding on a deep seam route for 18 yards. Patterson's final catch went for 11 on another sideline comeback. I thought Patterson could've done a better job fighting for the ball in the air on his lone contested target, but otherwise he played fast and appeared to run crisp routes. Patterson was not a confident route runner at Tennessee, and has already improved.
I recall post-draft chatter about Patterson "replacing" Percy Harvin. Based on positioning, that won't be the case. Greg Jennings is playing Harvin's old Z and slot receiver positions. Patterson has dynamic playmaking ability, but he is competing with Simpson at X receiver, which is primarily a perimeter position. I like Patterson as a late-round flier because I think he will take Simpson's job, not because I think he's Harvin's replacement. Jennings will lead the Vikings in targets.
9. Patriots RB/WR Shane Vereen
Stats: 3 carries, 12 yards. 2 catches, 18 yards, TD.
It may seem ridiculous to call three Patriots skill players preseason fantasy risers, but this offense is an annual fantasy juggernaut and lost a ton of big-time producers. There are major voids to fill. Vereen will be a primary way the Patriots fill them.
Vereen made his presence felt on New England's second possession. Lined up at flanker ("Z"), Vereen beat Eagles LB Mychal Kendricks down the left sideline on a fade pattern for a 13-yard touchdown. Tom Brady's throw was pinpoint on the money, but it was impressive to see Vereen utilized in this fashion, and it's a sign of things to come. He's a versatile, mismatch-creating weapon.
For his second reception, Vereen showed nifty change-of-direction ability on a screen pass that initially appeared snuffed out nicely by Philly's defense. Instead, Vereen gained five yards.
Vereen does have faults. He dropped a swing pass into the flat on a slightly errant throw from Ryan Mallett. Strictly as a ball carrier, Vereen is more of a scatback, change-of-pace type than power runner Ridley. Vereen has impressive jets and lateral movement skills, but I don't think the Patriots would ever lean on him as a full-time runner.
Vereen's 2013 fantasy appeal is a function of his versatility. The Patriots are a matchup-based team, and Vereen can create favorable matchups. I'd liken his ceiling to Darren Sproles. As a baseline projection, Vereen is a more dynamic option in Danny Woodhead's old role.
10. Broncos TE Julius Thomas
Stats: 4 catches, 35 yards.
Thomas caught his first pass from Peyton Manning for a gain of six yards in Denver's preseason opener, beating 49ers LB Michael Wilhoite. He lined up at in-line tight end on the play. Working from the slot, Thomas' second catch was good for seven yards on a checkdown from Brock Osweiler. Thomas made a tough play down the right sideline for an 11-yard gain on his third reception, getting by LB Nathan Stupar. Grab No. 4 again went for 11 on a tight end screen, complete from Osweiler.
I wouldn't call Thomas an explosive player, but the former college basketball player came off as a smooth athlete who runs pretty well. He was used primarily as an in-line tight end against San Francisco. Thomas could give Denver a Brandon Pettigrew-type possession presence and make for a decent tight end-streamer option in re-draft leagues. I probably wouldn't draft him, but he's on the radar.
Other Notable Risers: Eagles WR DeSean Jackson, Dolphins TE Dustin Keller, Rams RB Daryl Richardson, Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins, Browns QB Brandon Weeden, Steelers WR Markus Wheaton, Texans RB Cierre Wood.