Preseason Notebook: Late news from preseason finales
The final week of preseason games really doesn't help fantasy owners at all, unless there's someone in your league who thinks Jesse Chatman getting 180 total yards is a harbinger of a big season. And who's this Richard Bartel guy for Dallas, the pride of Tarleton State, throwing for 233 yards against the Vikings? Oh, no, what happened to Tony Romo?
Nothing happened. That's the theme of the final preseason slate: nothing. There are jobs up for grabs, of course, but coaches make it a point to sit the top stars on both sides of the ball, so nobody can get hurt, and in most cases those top stars are fantasy assets. I did see during the Jets-Eagles game Brett Favre bending over to pick up some garbage. No word if he strained a muscle.
Anyway, there were some players in action among the 13 Thursday night games who caught my eye. Chatman did look very good against Eagles third-stringers, as he scored the winning touchdown. Fantasy owners were very interested in Chatman a season ago, right after Ronnie Brown went down, but nobody really stepped up for the Dolphins in his absence. Chatman did rush for 124 yards in a game but found the end zone once all season. Now that the Jets are taking their offensive line and quarterback situations seriously, having rebuilt the protectors and added a Hall of Famer to throw and hand off, Thomas Jones looks like a nice sleeper, and even if something were to happen to him, Leon Washington is probably next in line. Still, Chatman could play a role, and we might look back on how he finished the preseason and say "We all saw it coming." Or not.
Super Bowl extra wide receivers: In the Super Bowl rematch nobody cared about, Giants coach Tom Coughlin gave his starting wide receivers and a slew of linemen the night off, but all the key running backs played. I couldn't believe Brandon Jacobs was out there at all. Ahmad Bradshaw picked up 12 carries, Derrick Ward only two, and even in a meaningless game I think it's a sign of who will get more carries behind -- or next to -- Jacobs in September. I don't think this is a change, however, as Bradshaw was always someone to watch, and should be drafted among the top 35 or so running backs.
With Plaxico Burress bound to miss a game one of these days with his myriad injury woes, and Amani Toomer not very young, Sinorice Moss and (the other) Steve Smith are relevant to us, though it's hard to recommend drafting both of them. Moss caught a David Carr touchdown pass, while Smith's longest reception went for six yards, but I think each is closer to getting significant reps than we think. For the Patriots, Chad Jackson caught a fourth-quarter touchdown pass. Three wide receivers are ahead of him on the depth chart, but Jabar Gaffney should be looking over his shoulder, and fantasy owners should consider Jackson in deep leagues. His wheels are going to come into play at some point.
Vinsanity still has work to do: Tennessee quarterback Vince Young was one of the few quarterbacks to see significant playing time, and he moved the ball inside the Green Bay 10-yard line four times in the first half, but ended up settling for merely three John Vaughn field goals. Even against the Packers backups, Young was largely ineffective and didn't take advantage of pristine field position. Fantasy owners already feel burned by Young from last season, and the fact he failed to lead the Titans to any preseason touchdowns -- not just Thursday, but at all -- doesn't inspire confidence for the season. On the other side, Aaron Rodgers threw a pass on the first play of the game, Greg Jennings caught it, and 68 yards later it was 7-0 and those guys were done for the night. I seem to be alone on an island on this, but I think Rodgers is nearly a top-15 quarterback this season, and will surprise people, while Jennings is capable of catching 70 passes and scoring nine times even sans Favre. There's no question I would draft the unproven Rodgers over Young, and that's based on upside as well as being a safe pick.
K.C. Masterpiece: Larry Johnson seems healthy and primed for a big season, but it was notable that backup Kolby Smith, a disappointment in his place in 2007, scored a pair of touchdowns. Smith is the likely Johnson handcuff, though with the Chiefs' quarterback and offensive line situations hardly ideal, it might not matter.
Dismal in D.C.: I wouldn't downgrade any Redskins off this miserable preseason. A week ago the Panthers demolished them 47-3, and Thursday the Jaguars took a 24-3 decision. Clinton Portis will be fine, though it's possible Jason Campbell hasn't fully grasped the new offense. You wouldn't be playing Campbell in Week 1, anyway. I would take Rodgers over Campbell.
Miami's vices: I've seen Ricky Williams actually go before Ronnie Brown in a number of fantasy drafts recently, which I think is crazy. How can we depend on Williams? I did downgrade Brown out of my top 20 at running back, but not too far. Brown got his chance to show his thumb injury wasn't an issue on Thursday, and the rebuilt knee is strong, as he gained 47 yards on 12 carries with a touchdown. Williams rushed for two yards. I think Brown will get more carries when he is healthy, but the Dolphins will be cautious. Meanwhile, the Dolphins edged the Saints, and Jeremy Shockey never took a snap all preseason. He's just not a top-10 tight end to me, not with his injury concerns.
Injuries: Players were getting hurt on Thursday night, but not too many of them were fantasy relevant. Also, it's hard to tell if someone like Wes Welker, who sat out with sore ribs, could have played if the game mattered. The Dallas Cowboys did lose presumptive third wide receiver Sam Hurd, who left the locker room wearing a protective boot on his left foot after being tackled awkwardly after his only catch. Terrell Owens and Patrick Crayton are the starters, and everyone else on the team seems hurt. Everyone seems to love Tony Romo, enough to push him ahead of Peyton Manning in some leagues, but this is not a deep receiving corps, and Owens is not a young man.
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Fantasy owners probably overrated this situation from the start, as well as the Steve Smith suspension, panicking into taking lesser wide receivers just because these stars were going to miss a few games. Yes, it does matter, every missed game can add up, but it's still a three-month regular season for most fantasy leagues, and some owners miss the big picture. I'll tell you what; the next time someone gets suspended for multiple games, seeing how it's become common practice for reductions, nobody in fantasy should panic.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. You can e-mail him here.
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