It’s been a couple of weeks now since the start of the preseason, a lot of situations changing between the last time we spoke and now. Let’s quickly take a look at some who flashed the first couple of weeks and a few that may have more question marks than we originally thought. After that, we’ll touch on team defenses and preview next week’s column.
Officially named the starting QB in Philadelphia, Michael Vick has done nothing but impress in his first two starts of the preseason. He completed 86.7 percent of his passes (13-of-15) while throwing one touchdown and just one interception, that being a hail mary just before halftime against Carolina. He is just a few years removed from his spectactular 2010 season where he threw for 21 TD, ran for nine scores and combined for almost 3700 yards. I just drafted him as my top QB in my most important league, and you should consider it too. He’ll provide top 10 value for a guy currently ranked by many pundits outside the top 15 at the quarterback position. The most important thing is health, and with the changes the Eagles have made on the offensive line including the drafting of athletic tackle Lane Johnson, expect him to wind up on his backside a lot less this season. You can grab better running backs and wide receivers where you otherwise would have taken a Matthew Stafford or a Tony Romo and wait for Vick. He’ll be worth the wait.
Sometimes coachspeak is hard to decipher, but when I listen to HC Marvin Lewis and OC Jay Gruden gush about the talents Giovani Bernard brings to the table out of the backfield, it seems like they’re going to get him the ball more than you, me or anyone probably originally thought. He caught 92 balls the past two years at North Carolina and totaled 31 touchdowns his junior and senior seasons. Benjarvus Green-Ellis is the main threat to his playing time, but once they see they can’t keep Bernard off the field, he’ll slowly start to take over the lion’s share of the carries. Currently ranked outside the top 20 in most rankings, he’ll finish the year inside the top 20, and maybe top 15 in point-per-reception leagues.
The former Michigan State Spartan suffered a mild foot sprain in Monday night’s game against the Redskins, is ruled out for this week’s game and possibly the rest of the preseason. He may miss some time to start the regular season as well, a big blow to a Steelers offense that has changes on the offensive line, changes to the wide receiver core and now even more changes to the running game. Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer will probably split carries with Bell on the shelf, but in my mind both were late round picks anyway and really shouldn’t be on your radar with the facts still showing Bell will be back at some point in the next month or so. Maurice Jones Drew had a similar injury last year and he contributed little and then was shut down. With where he is currently going in drafts, you have to bump him down your rankings at least a few spots and buyer beware.
Texans running back Arian Foster injured his calf during organized team activities. He was good to go, but then a back injury kept him on the physically unable to perform list. He’s had some pain injections, but those haven’t helped as much as the Texans medical staff had hoped. As I said in my opening column on running backs, this is a guy to avoid at all costs in 2013 with where you’ll have to draft him. Ben Tate, his backup, is the only healthy running back right now on the roster and is a steal late in the draft for someone looking to strike gold. Remember, Foster’s yards per carry have gone down each of the last two seasons and has red flags all over the place. Steer clear and let someone else deal with the headaches.
Now, on to the second part of the column as we zoom in on team defenses, and if you don’t get one of my elite four, you can wait till the end and pick and choose whoever you want. To me, four stand out above the rest.
Late in 2012, the Seahawks defense was a boon for fantasy owners, forcing 15 turnovers and scoring five defensive touchdowns over the last six games of the season. Their secondary is probably the best in the league, led by Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Brandon Browner. They added sackmaster Cliff Avril who brings his pass rush from Detroit and play in the most intense atmosphere in the NFL for visitors. Clear cut number one team defense for me, and depending on your scoring system, I’d start the trend and take them before anyone selects a defense rather than wait and miss out on a game changing unit.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The Seahawks may have the best overall defense in the league but it’s the Niners who have the best front seven. Led by Aldon Smith and his 19 and a half sacks from a year ago, the Niners have added some help in front of him as well as in back of him. Eric Reid, a rookie from LSU, may start at safety after impressing in camp and during the first few preseason games. Glenn Dorsey, another LSU alum, comes over from the Chiefs where he was good, not great for Kansas City. These two combined with guys like the aforementioned Smith, Patrick Willis, Navorro Bowman and Justin Smith have them basically as a 1A to Seattle’s 1 in terms of a team defense. Draft them right after Seattle goes in your draft, if you cannot get your hands on the Seahawks.
Yes, losing Von Miller for six games hurts, but this is a team that plays the easiest schedule on paper in 2013 and still boasts playmakers on the defensive line as well as in the secondary. They had the most sacks in the league last year, 52, and play six of their 16 against their terrible division which includes Philip Rivers, Alex Smith and Matt Flynn. Not exactly murderer’s row, folks. Their linebacking core is underrated led by Miller who will return at some point and Wesley Woodyard who SEC fans will remember from his days at Kentucky. Denver’s defense is still an elite unit in my mind and definitely draftable right behind the two AFC West teams I mentioned above.
After spending a few days with the Bengals out at Flowery Branch, one thing is clear. This team has more depth on the defensive line than any team in the NFL, and after ranking third in the league in sacks last year, I expect them to ascend towards the top in that category. The second half of the season they allowed less than 13 points per contest as they were racking up the takeaways and sacks. Led by former Georgia standout Geno Atkins and Georgia Tech star Michael Johnson, this defense is ready to do big things in 2013 as they look for their first division title since 2006.
Other than those four, teams like Chicago, Green Bay, Houston and New England all have been bandied about as potential top options in 2013, but for me, I want one of those four I just opined about.
Next week we’ll talk about preseason week three, otherwise known as the dress rehearsal for several teams, as we sit here today only two weeks from opening day.
Till next time,