- Scott Engel, ESPN Fantasy Games
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Here's a fantasy-style review of the third week of preseason games:
Falcons 24, Bengals 19: Rudi Johnson finished with 69 yards on 13 carries and had a long run of 33 yards. Johnson will remain a workhorse this season and is a quality selection late in the first round of 10- and 12-team drafts. Chris Henry caught a 58-yard touchdown pass, while Tab Perry caught one pass for 5 yards. It has become painfully obvious that no other possible third receiver on the Bengals is worth a fantasy draft pick. Joey Harrington completed 13 of 21 attempts for two touchdowns and no interceptions, but will struggle much more against better defenses during the regular season. He's still not a recommended draft choice, even as a backup, in most fantasy leagues. Three different Atlanta wide receivers caught four or more balls. Harrington will spread the catches around a lot this season as Atlanta uses many multiple-receiver sets. It will be very difficult to identify a top fantasy wideout on the team, even with Harrington throwing much more often than Michael Vick did. Jerious Norwood took a 12-yard reception in for a score and showed the form that will make him an exciting flex player in many leagues.
Steelers 27, Eagles 13: Correll Buckhalter carried 10 times for 43 yards, but he won't get enough touches during the regular season to help most fantasy teams, and rookie Tony Hunt (seven carries, 36 yards) is still expected to get goal-line work during the regular season. Kevin Curtis caught only two passes for 11 yards, but was targeted six times by Donovan McNabb and is going to get a lot of work as a starter this season. He's a fine value pick. Willie Parker and Najeh Davenport combined to catch five balls, and the Steelers look like they will throw more to their running backs in 2007, which will boost the appeal of Parker in point-per-reception leagues. Heath Miller caught a 38-yard pass, but I'm still not convinced that he can be dependable for fantasy purposes. Santonio Holmes caught a 22-yard pass to set up a score and he is going to get a lot of looks on key downs this season. He's going to deliver for owners who draft him as a sleeper candidate.
Chargers 33, Cardinals 31: Philip Rivers completed 20 of 29 attempts for 282 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Rivers is going to be a very dependable fantasy starter and the unquestioned leader of a very balanced offense this year. Vincent Jackson caught both of Rivers' touchdown passes and is ready for a breakthrough campaign. Darren Sproles totaled 93 yards from scrimmage and will work together with Andrew Pinnock as the backups to LaDainian Tomlinson while Michael Turner is out. Marcel Shipp scored on a 4-yard run and is going to be a prime touchdown vulture in 2007. Owners of Edgerrin James will certainly be frustrated. Anquan Boldin scored on an 80-yard reception and totaled 143 receiving yards. He'll score more often than last season as Ken Whisenhunt and Co. devise many creative ways to get him the ball.
Seahawks 30, Vikings 13: Chester Taylor rushed for 61 yards on eight carries. He will still be an important part of the Minnesota offense. Visanthe Shiancoe caught a 6-yard touchdown pass and will develop into a solid fantasy reserve this season. Bobby Wade caught five passes for 85 yards, including a 35-yarder, and is worth a late-rounder as the Vikings' most reliable pass-catcher. Shaun Alexander rushed for a 1-yard touchdown and will easily reach double figures in touchdowns again in 2007. D.J. Hackett did not catch a pass. He isn't ready to become a consistently productive NFL starter. Nate Burleson did not catch a pass either, but he has looked better than Hackett during camp. Hackett remains the starter for now, but the situation at split end should be watched closely.
Browns 17, Broncos 16: Brady Quinn completed 7 of 11 passes for 81 yards and one TD (and had another score nullified by a bad call), and it's only a matter of time before he takes over during the regular season as the starter. He'll be a risky fantasy choice, but can keep defenses honest and will help boost the production of the team's top offensive players. Charlie Frye completed 5 of 7 attempts and may open the season as the starter, but won't hold the job for long. Jamal Lewis scored on a 1-yard run and will be a decent source of touchdown production this season. Tony Scheffler caught two passes for 33 yards and will still be worth watching as Denver uses him often in passing and goal-line situations. Cecil Sapp rushed for 54 yards on 11 carries and can perform well this season if he is pressed into service at any point.
Texans 28, Cowboys 16: Jason Witten caught an 18-yard touchdown pass, and there is hope he could have a rebound year in '07. Terrell Owens scored on a 35-yard reception and will have another big statistical season. Ahman Green tore off a 46-yard run, but such highlights will be few and far between during the regular season. Matt Schaub completed 12 of 16 attempts for 109 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Schaub has looked good during the preseason in the past, and still must prove himself when play begins for real. Jacoby Jones returned a punt for a score for the second consecutive week and caught a 19-yard touchdown pass. He has quickly become one of this season's top late-round sleepers, even though he has not won a starting job yet.
Redskins 13, Ravens 7: Neither team looked sharp in a weather-shortened affair. Willis McGahee rushed for 12 yards on four carries. He will be up and down during the season's first half as the offensive line works to become a more cohesive unit. Demetrius Williams caught a 20-yard pass and remains a terrific late-round sleeper. Ladell Betts was held to 11 rushing yards on four carries, but keep in mind the Redskins played without staring quarterback Jason Campbell, and the Ravens were able to easily defend the ground game. Santana Moss did catch a 40-yard pass and looks ready for a good season as a top No. 2 fantasy wideout.
Jets 20, Giants 12: Leon Washington's catch-and-run for a 79-yard score only boosts his fantasy appeal as insurance for the injured Thomas Jones. Washington is a good emergency starter and flex option if the Jets need him to take over as the No. 1 running back in any given week. Undrafted rookie running back Danny Ware rushed for a 16-yard score and could share some time with Washington if the Jets get desperate at running back. If you take away the touchdown pass to Washington, Chad Pennington completed only 4 of 10 attempts for 10 yards and an interception. Kellen Clemens completed 6 of 8 attempts and ran for a score, and a quarterback controversy is growing. Neither passer is a solid pick in yearly leagues. Brandon Jacobs rushed for 43 yards on 11 carries and looks adequate, but not outstanding so far as a projected starter. Amani Toomer caught four passes for 47 yards and can help Eli Manning a lot on key downs this year. Manning completed 17 of 25 attempts for 146 yards and a touchdown. He'll be a useful starter in friendly matchups in 2007.
Bears 31, 49ers 28: Ashley Lelie caught four passes for 48 yards, yet he still hasn't been able to nail down the third receiver job and should not be drafted. Vernon Davis caught a 26-yard pass and more heroics are ahead as his prospective owners can look forward to his big breakthrough season. Cedric Benson rushed for 33 yards on 19 carries, but he scored on a 2-yard run and will perform better over full games during the regular season. He'll play better in the second half of games with increased carries. Bernard Berrian caught a 45-yard pass and a 25-yarder for a touchdown, and he is an underrated and complete receiver who can make both possession and downfield grabs. He's a great value pick as a third or fourth wide receiver this season.
Buccaneers 31, Dolphins 28: Carnell Williams rushed for 25 yards on four carries. He will rebound this season to play respectably overall. Joey Galloway caught a 26-yard touchdown pass and will have another impressive season. He is one of the most underrated receivers in fantasy football. Rookie quarterback John Beck threw two touchdown passes with no interceptions. He's shaping up to be a solid dynasty and keeper league prospect. Ronnie Brown rushed for 18 yards and Jesse Chatman nine, with the latter scoring on a classic trick pass. Brown is still being "pushed" for playing time by Chatman but has yet to distance himself from the ex-Charger. Chris Chambers caught two passes for 32 yards, but consistency during the regular season will still be a major sticking point.
Colts 37, Lions 10: Calvin Johnson caught three passes for 25 yards. His play will be statistically erratic as a rookie, but he will surely have some big games. Tatum Bell left the field early with a shin injury after fumbling. Bell isn't going to be a reliable fantasy player while Kevin Jones is out. DeDe Dorsey was held to 4 rushing yards on five carries and hasn't fully established himself as the top backup to Joseph Addai yet. Clifton Dawson and Kenton Keith combined for 25 rushing yards, and neither of them have been able to truly outshine Dorsey, either.
Raiders 20, Rams 10: Isaac Bruce caught four passes for 77 yards. Bruce doesn't appear ready to fall off yet and is determined to keep his starting job. He'll be a decent fantasy selection again, but his touchdown production will be very limited like it was in 2006. Drew Bennett caught three passes for 37 yards, and if Torry Holt's knee is a recurring issue this season, Bennett will step in and play well when needed. Daunte Culpepper threw a 19-yard touchdown pass and rushed for 17 yards on three carries. Josh McCown, however, completed 6 of 9 attempts and Lane Kiffin still hasn't been fully sold on Culpepper as a starter. Both are highly risky fantasy choices, even as reserves. LaMont Jordan rushed for 41 yards on 18 carries and lost a fumble. He did score on a 1-yard run, but was surely not convincing as the featured back. Passing on Jordan in drafts certainly is not a bad move.
Patriots 24, Panthers 7: Tom Brady completed 17 of 22 attempts for two touchdowns, and looked like a top-5 fantasy quarterback even without Randy Moss. Laurence Maroney rushed for 58 yards on 15 carries, but Sammy Morris rushed for 27 yards on seven carries and is a legitimate threat to steal a handful of short-yardage and goal-line carries. Donte' Stallworth caught a 37-yard pass and while he won't be consistent, he's going to have a few big outings in terms of yardage. Keary Colbert caught a 48-yard touchdown pass and is worth a late flier to re-emerge as a legitimate threat in the Carolina passing game. Jake Delhomme completed 11 of 18 attempts and threw the scoring pass to Colbert, while David Carr threw an interception. Delhomme's job is safe for now, but he won't be a dependable fantasy passer and the situation could change at any time during the regular season.
Titans 28, Bills 17: LenDale White finally showed up, rushing for 51 yards on 11 carries. His performance was good enough to earn him a time-share with Chris Brown, who had another good outing, rushing for 42 yards on six carries. The Titans want White to be their main man, so he is now the better fantasy pick of the two. Roydell Williams caught four passes for 68 yards and is a good pick to be the sleeper wide receiver to emerge from the Tennessee pack. Marshawn Lynch rushed for 9 yards on nine carries and has yet to display the expected form that is making him a hot fantasy player. He is going to get off to a slow start during the regular season. Lee Evans caught five passes for 100 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown. Evans is set to deliver a big season in which he becomes widely recognized as a fantasy superstar.
Saints 30, Chiefs 7: David Patten caught six passes for 75 yards, including a 4-yard touchdown reception. Patten is pushing for a starting job and he's a worthy late-round gamble right now. Eric Johnson caught three passes for 18 yards. His longest reception was for 7 yards and he won't be much of a fantasy option because the running backs and wide receivers dominate the touches. Dwayne Bowe caught a 21-yard pass, and while he should take over as a starter at some point this season, he won't offer much in yearly leagues as he adjusts to the pro game. Brodie Croyle completed only 5 of 17 attempts and was intercepted. The news that he won't start should be a relief to Larry Johnson's owners, because the running back is less likely to face stacked defensive fronts this season.
Jaguars 21, Packers 13: Fred Taylor rushed for 19 yards on three carries. He is being overlooked in many drafts, but he's a fine value as a third running back. Matt Jones caught a 26-yard pass, but he has not looked good in camp overall and is on his way to a disappointing season. Dennis Northcutt, who caught a 20-yard pass, appears to be the team's No. 1 receiver for now, but that does not mean you should draft him. Northcutt won't produce much statistically if he starts for Jacksonville. Brandon Jackson rushed for a 1-yard score, but totaled just 20 rushing yards on 11 carries. He'll be the Packers' top runner, but his yardage numbers will fluctuate and he won't always be the ideal fantasy starter in his rookie year. James Jones, another rookie, caught six passes for 80 yards. He continued to impress and is a hot fantasy sleeper pick right now.