Any tweet about preseason action is sure to be followed by an avalanche of replies relaying the same theme: “It’s just preseason, though.” While that sentiment is factually accurate – it is, in fact, the preseason – it fails to recognize the many important things which can be learned during the exhibition season.
No time is that more true than Week 3, which is often referred to as the regular season dress rehearsal. When and how players are used or not used in the third week tells a lot about where they stand on the depth chart, and since fantasy football is first and foremost a game of opportunity, those revelations carry significant value.
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Dak Takes Over
The biggest storyline to come out of Week 3 both in general football and fantasy circles is the injury to Tony Romo, who suffered a broken bone in his back which should sideline him at least six weeks and likely longer. With Romo out, the Cowboys will turn to preseason darling Dak Prescott, the owner of a 454/5/0 passing line, a 78 percent completion rate, and two rushing touchdowns during the exhibition season.
While it is easy to say that kind of form will not continue, the question is how much of a falloff will there be? The answer is probably not as much as it would seem. While Dak has gotten lucky when several poor decisions fell harmlessly to the turf or were called back by penalty, overall his amazing stats have reflected his level of play. He looks comfortable in an offense which has been tailored to his strengths by utilizing shotgun looks, moving pockets, and plenty of play action. More importantly for both his and the skill players’ fantasy value, he seems willing to take shots and let the talent make plays.
We saw the entire offense grind to a halt when Romo was sidelined last season, and owners of both Ezekiel Elliott and Dez Bryant have to be concerned the duo are headed for a similar fate this year. That seems unlikely as long as the Cowboys continue to play to Prescott’s strengths. Elliott especially could be helped if Dallas decides to integrate read-option looks, something at least one beat reporter believes will happen.
The offense would have run more smoothly if Romo had managed to stay healthy, but his injury is not the death knell it was last season. Bryant and Elliott should continue to be elite options at their positions, and Prescott is a very interesting add as a back-end QB2 with the already displayed upside for quite a bit more.
Siemian’s Time to Shine
In one of the more poorly kept secrets of the last week, the Broncos finally announced Trevor Siemian as their starter on Monday. Siemian easily beat out Mark Sanchez, who turned the ball over three times in two appearances and is on the verge of being cut, and he is well ahead of first-rounder Paxton Lynch.
With the starting job decided, attention can now turn to how the offense will manage with Siemian under center. No matter who won the job, the Broncos projected to be as run-heavy as possible, but Siemian has shown he will be at worst a neutral factor on Demaryius Thomas’ and Emmanuel Sanders’ fantasy value.
This week against the Rams, Siemian regularly pushed the ball downfield and gave his receivers chances to make plays. That philosophy led to his interception on what was less than a great throw, but over the long haul, it should create plenty of fantasy opportunities for Thomas, Sanders, and, perhaps, Virgil Green. All three are undervalued in fantasy circles, and they should produce as long as Siemian continues to be aggressive.
As has been the case most of the preseason, the Titans offense looked explosive against the Raiders. Working as the clear lead back, DeMarco Murray busted through big holes for dueling gains of 17 yards, putting a nasty move on David Amerson to extend the first of those explosions. Marcus Mariota also got into the act, creating big plays with both his arm and legs on the way to 20 first-half points.
While the offense has been inarguably impressive this preseason, it is important to note they are doing as much “stuff” as any other team in the league. As opposed to the mostly vanilla rushing attacks we see in the preseason, the Titans are using a lot of misdirection and fakes in the running game, and many of their big plays including Murray’s 71-yard touchdown have come while using the no-huddle. They have also run SEVERAL trick plays including a flea flicker against the Raiders and the Statue of Liberty in each of the first two weeks.
While the #ExoticSmashmouth attack will not go away in the regular season, teams will have actually spent the week prior game planning how to stop it, using tape the Titans have graciously gifted them in the preseason. Murray looks better than last year, but he still appears sluggish at times in the open field and has been outplayed by Derrick Henry. Tajae Sharpe has been the story of the offseason, but he is still an unathletic rookie, and the Titans are relying on Andre Johnson and Harry Douglas behind both Sharpe and No. 1 Rishard Matthews.
There are certainly reasons for optimism in Tennessee, but it is more than reasonable to think the offense’s performance this preseason has vastly overstated how well they will perform when the games start to matter. With Mike Zimmer’s Vikings on tap Week 1, we should get a good idea of how legit this attack is right out of the gate.
Odds and Ends
-A thankfully minor injury to A.J. Green was the story of the Bengals’ third preseason game, but the real fantasy fallout came below Green on the depth chart. Back from a hand injury which cost him a couple weeks, Brandon LaFell opened the game as the starter opposite Green in two-wide sets and clearly played ahead of second-round rookie Tyler Boyd, who was once again consigned to the slot. With Tyler Eifert (ankle) not expected back until Week 4 at the earliest, there are serious targets available in Cincinnati. Right now, it looks like LaFell is the best positioned to capitalize on those looks.
-Kenny Stills slowed down after exploding in Week 2, but, perhaps more importantly, he saw work ahead of DeVante Parker. Unfortunately, both players suffered injuries during Monday’s practice, making it difficult to really dive into what it all means – the guess would be Parker retains a big role in a three-wide base offense and remains the superior fantasy player if both are healthy – but Ryan Tannehill is still worthy of a mention. While the offensive line is not opening many holes for the running game, it has done a good job keeping Tannehill upright and out of danger, and he has responded by completing over 64 percent of his throws despite several drops and recording 325 yards and two scores in 53 attempts. Also running more – including a few read-option keepers – after surprisingly taking a step back last season, Tannehill could return to the back-end QB1 conversation. He has been undervalued all summer.
-Josh Gordon announced his return to the league in a fashion Brent Grimes would like to forget. With the offense struggling, Robert Griffin III uncorked a deep ball to Gordon down the sideline late in the second quarter. The pass was both too short and too far infield, but Gordon managed to make the adjustment and leap over the top of Grimes for a 43-yard score. The play was a reminder of what Gordon can do when on the field, a reminder perhaps both for the Browns and the rest of the league. Despite denying Gordon is available for trade, EVP Sashi Brown made it clear every player has a price, and Gordon’s is reportedly a second-round pick. Cleveland is unlikely to get that for a player on the doorstep of an indefinite suspension, but Gordon’s talent warrants the price. If Gordon sticks around, he will form a dynamic duo with first-round rookie Corey Coleman, who is a dangerous big-play threat in his own right. Playing with perhaps the worst defense in the league, Gordon and Coleman should get plenty of opportunities to shine this season.