Did the Top-10 only whet your appetite? There’s more. Much more…
I took 20-plus pages of notes while I watched a marathon session of games this week. I won’t share everything here but for you hardcore fantasy football geeks hungry for more, limiting my observations to 10 items probably feels like an appetizer.These are simply notes I’m transcribing to the blog.
Christine Michael’s pad level is so good. It’s not quite at the level that Edgerrin James’s pads but Michael runs low and it makes him a good finisher.
He slipped three times on cutbacks during this game but only lost his feet once. I’m looking for this next week. I hope I don’t see it again.
Russell Wilson to Tyler Lockett up the right seam was a thing of beauty. Wilson has always been good and threading the ball up the seam and he squeezed that ball just outside the oncoming safety. Lockett didn’t even need to extend his arms–and he had no room to do so without the defender knocking it away. I know my friend Matt Harmon likes Donte Moncrief more but I’m all-in on Lockett.
Second-year receiver Antwan Goodley consistently stacked Vikings defenders off the line tonight during the second half. He made a terrific leaping adjustment on a back-shoulder fade. A good runner after the catch, Goodley is worth tracking in dynasty leagues.
Paul Richardson didn’t play. I haven’t checked the injury report but if he’s not dinged, I’m guessing that the staff knows what they have with Richardson and wanted a look at Goodley and Kenny Lawler.
Alex Collins looks like the player I saw at Arkansas: nimble, decent power, good vision, and an all-around contributor. He’s a good prospect for a depth chart but at this point I’d be looking around for more talent if he had to be my starter for more than a few weeks at a time. This may change as he acclimates more to the NFL but I think he already looks comfortable; his upside seems capped.
Trevone Boykin was one of my highest-ranked quarterbacks in this class and he has not disappointed. He’s making safe decisions under pressure as he maneuvers the pocket but he’ll also sellout as a runner when necessary.
He threw an excellent back-shoulder fade to Goodley in the waning seconds after delivering a pick-six on an out route when he guessed the throw was open during double A-gap pressure.
When you watch a QB flip at at the goal line in a preseason game, it’s a good sign that he’s a competitive guy. Dak Prescott is the bigger story but Boykin has shown promise. I’ve drafted him in multiple dynasty leagues and I’m holding onto him long-term.
Adam Thielen finds open spots and adjusts well over the middle on contested plays. The fact that Laquon Treadwell didn’t appear until late in the second quarter leads me to think that the Vikings don’t see enough consistency from the rookie for him to earn the starting job at this point. A lot can change in two weeks, but I remember Thielen caught my eye last year and he could hold off Treadwell for a month and some change.
I liked seeing Kyle Rudolph get loose for significant gains on intermediate routes up the middle. The Seahawks had trouble covering tight ends last year and Rudolph exposed that issue again. Last year, Rudolph stayed at the line of scrimmage to block and it hurt his production in the passing game. I expect a rebound this year.
Paul Pressley looks exactly like the back I studied. The speed is tremendous and he bounces outside against second and third-tier defenders with little problem. But do this a couple of times and the defense begins to expect a trip to the corner store and they robbed Pressley of his candy.
Isaiah Crowell and Devonta Freeman appeared significantly more polished than their counterparts Duke Johnson and Tevin Coleman. Both backups are talented contributors but Crowell and Freeman anticipated the defense faster, understood how to set up creases within the context of the play, and finished plays with authority.
If I were starting a team, I’d be thrilled to have Freeman as my feature back. While I like Crowell’s athletic upside a little more, Freeman is a more mature and versatile runner on both zone and gap plays. It’s close, though.
In addition to Robert Griffin III developing a functional slide, I liked seeing him spin from edge pressure and throw the ball away rather than take a big risk. So far, no major criticism of Griffin’s progress in what should Year 1 of a 2-3 year plan if all goes well.
Cyrus Gray was a solid contributor at Texas A&M but he got lost in Kansas City’s backfield shuffle. If there was an example of a back who was too patient with blocks to the point of tentative play, Gray often veered in that direction.
He looked good against the Browns. His footwork and understanding of the scheme was solid. He was also decisive. But if I’m seeking a player with more physical upside, Brandon Wilds is the choice.
I’ve said that Terrell Watson’s vision needed work when he was a college player. The Browns used Watson on two gap plays this weekend and he showed off his strength. Unlike Rams’ runner Malcolm Brown, who hits hard, Watson’s strength shows up more when he pushes after the collision and not at the collision point.
Trevor Davis appears comfortable and confident as a return specialist. It’s a good opportunity for him to stick with the Packers and develop.
Davis is competing with Geronimo Allison for one of those spots. Allison is a smooth receiver with good skills to win the ball but not a speedster. It will be interesting to see which player the Packers decide to keep.
Eddie Lacy got great blocking from the Packers’ line during the first series of the game. The line generated an excellent push on the Raiders’ big bodies in the middle and gave Lacy room to show off his agility and balance.The Raiders were able to generate a better push during the second series but the Packers came back over the top in the third.
On the play Brett Hundley aggravated his ankle injury, he threw a pretty back shoulder fade. I was disappointed not to see him on the field for a longer period of time.
Derek Carr had some nice moments, including a pass where he threaded it up the sideline to Amari Cooper for 23 yards and a nice fade to Holmes. He also threw an interception to Damarious Randall that the play-by-play crew blamed on Cooper but from what I see from the replay below, Carr had a wide-open middle of the field to lead Cooper inside. Instead, Carr stood flat-footed in the face of oncoming pressure and deliver the ball that sailed outside. It was the only reason Randall makes a play on this target
Carr often froze his lower body in the face of pressure at Fresno State with bad results and these throws occasionally resurface as a young pro. I hope he can get better at processing information in quicker time frames that result in leading receivers to wide open spaces.
The Packers defensive line generated a consistent push and limited Latavius Murray during the first half. DeAndre Washington did fare better. He also dropped an open route. Neither will see a challenge from George Atkinson, who is still earning fourth-string looks after his big game the week prior.
John Crockett was told to improve his decisiveness at the line of scrimmage and he made progress against the Raiders, including a strong TD run up the middle where he ran through two wraps for a 10-yard score. He leaned hard on his cutback ability at North Dakota State and if he can mature as a decision maker, he has a chance to stick somewhere as a productive reserve.
Connor Cook will need time but the skills are there. He delivered a good back-shoulder throw on third down at the end of the third quarter and then a 34-yard completion on a scramble drill where he lofted the ball over the dropping linebackers. He late threw an interception because he missed the drop of the underneath coverage.
Dwayne Washington looks GOOD. My favorite football commentator doing work today is Chris Spielman. He’s the one guy I always make sure I have the volume on when he’s covering a game.
Spielman is not the most entertaining guy from a personality standpoint, although I wouldn’t be surprised if the networks wanted to groom him for more than what he’s willing to do. What I love is Spielman’s football knowledge and eye for specific talent.
Being a former NFL player and having an eye for talent aren’t mutually inclusive qualities, but Spielman possesses both. As a former linebacker, he has a great perspective on his natural opponent, the running back. I learned a lot from Spielman about running backs during the early years of studying the position.
He was dead-on about DeAngelo William’s strength, Michael Bush’s lack of aggressiveness at the point of contact, and several other points about runners he’s covered during college broadcasts.
So when Spielman explains that Washington has “juice” and describes the upside that the rookie has, it’s nice validation to what I saw last year.
What’s most encouraging from Washington is that he isn’t making the mistakes I saw at the University of Washington. He seems clearer about how to handle an exchange. His ball security looks much better in limited exposures as a runner.
And, Washington is doing an excellent job of timing his approach to a crease and then turning on the afterburners to initiate contact at the end of the hole so he’s attacking the collision point. He did this to perfection on a touchdown run up the middle from inside the 10.
Not only do I think he makes the team, but if he continues to focus on becoming a conceptually sound player who is consistent with the smallest details, he has starter potential. If you own Ameer Abdullah, get Dwayne Washington on your team for a reasonable price (low-2nd or high-third or an aging flex player you don’t need right now but can help the team with Washington).
Haloti Ngata lost 20 pounds during the offseason and he’s playing well. He repeatedly bull-rushed the Bengals guards into the pocket and disrupted Andy Dalton. He also earned quick penetration into the backfield multiple times. Different game, but good example…
If the Lions can do a better job of maintaining gap discipline elsewhere along its front, Ngata could lead an improved unit. But I wouldn’t count on it this year. Cincinnati won most of the battles with the Lions’ front last week.
Kyle Van Noy flashed some of his linebacker skills in run pursuit and penetration at the line of scrimmage. I hope to see more progress from him because I liked his play-making skills at BYU.
Lions TE Cole Wick is worth monitoring long-term. He was inconsistent at sealing the backside as a run blocker but he was in sync with Matt Stafford on routes against zone defenders He also made two catches after hard contact.
Bengals WR Cody Core had some good catches versus contact and he performed consistently but nothing stood out about his performance in this game other than he did what he was supposed to do: get open underneath the defense and make the reception.
Mike Bercovici earned the No.2 spot in the rotation this weekend and he made another good impression. He converted multiple third downs, climbed from pressure and threw accurate passes, and delivered the ball in the middle of the field with timing and placement.
He also delivered an accurate throw while getting sandwiched by two linemen for a third-down conversion. Mike McCoy called Bercovici a gym rat and Dan Fouts reported that Bercovici has been attaching himself to Philip Rivers at every opportunity.
Speaking of Fouts, the Chargers’ great seemed skeptical of Bercovici as the rookie entered the contest. After the quarterback’s first throw, a tipped pass at the line of scrimmage, Fouts immediately said that the problem with Bercovici is his listed height of six feet.
But as the game progressed, and Bercovici converted multiple third downs as described above, Fouts shared how the context of Bercovici’s production in this game reveals a highly competitive player who shines in important moments.
It might just be me, but Fouts seemed pleasantly surprised by what he saw from Bercovici and it was as if the quarterback’s display was changing Fouts’ mind about whatever he read about the player before seeing him on the field.
He wasn’t perfect. He had a really bad throw over the middle on a deep dig that sailed and he didn’t read the coverage well. It should have been intercepted.But when you hit dig routes with placement in the range of 15-20 yards, convert 5 third downs, and go 6-for-6 during a stretch, that’s pretty good for a rookie.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Bercovici stays on the active roster as the third quarterback. If so, it will mean that they like the potential for him to unseat veteran Kellen Clemens in 2017 and maybe they see potential for him to become Rivers’ eventual replacement. But I’m way ahead of myself.
I was impressed with Cardinals receiver Jaron Brown. He made a pair of excellent high-point receptions against the first-team Chargers defense for about 40 yards.
Tyrell Williams has transitioned from a raw athlete with excellent tools for the position to a polished receiver who is getting separation from his routes and adjusting to off-target throws. He’ll see a lot of fade routes as his career progresses but I think his great change of direction quickness is a raw material that will serve him well as a developing route runner who should develop a complete game.
Washington vs. New York
Temple star Robbie Anderson was the most impressive young receiver I saw on the field in this game. He converted a cross, ran a crisp hook route, and a 50-yard streak up the left sideline. He reminds me of a less polished Tajae Sharpe. Anderson was smooth with his routes, has speed to stretch the field, and he’s a fluid pass catcher.
Joe Theismann’s personality may be an acquired taste but he was a good quarterback and knows a thing or two about receivers. He was on-point to describe Anderson as a natural pass catcher who made the work look effortless.
If he doesn’t stick with New York’s loaded depth chart of young guys with more invested in them than Anderson, I believe Anderson will find a home elsewhere and develop into a contributor.
Rob Kelley showed a little burst up the middle and some decent footwork on a couple of runs. He made the most of his reps against Atlanta and didn’t look bad against New York. I need to see more reps and reps against first-team defenses before I can speculate on his potential.
Keith Marshall appears tentative on certain runs where he’s crossing the back of the center and working between guard and tackle. Although he hasn’t had a lot of room, he hasn’t shown much, either. The small sample size makes it difficult to conclude how he’s doing, good and bad.
Of the backs I’ve watched in Washington, Mack Brown has shown the most after contact determination.
Bryce Petty had some good moments. He found Anderson multiple times. His best throw, although pretty risky, was a toss over an LB to Zach Sudfeld in a tight window for a score. I want to see more from the Jets third-stringer.
New York Giants-Buffalo
Larry Donnell gave up two tackles for losses in the first series. Not a good start for a player in competition for the starting tight end job.
The Bills staff showed Tyrod Taylor that he was missing open looks to Charles Clay. It was nice to see Taylor avoid the corner blitz, reset, and find a streaking Clay for 59 yards on a deep cross early in the game.
Taylor also found Reggie Bush for 32 yards up the right sideline but the veteran runner had an uncharacteristic drop.
Andre Williams fumbled the ball away in the second quarter. For every 2-3 things he does well in a game, he still makes a mistake that nullifies those efforts.
There are a lot of respected colleagues of mine who believe Johnathan Williams has the makings of a good NFL starter. Physically, I agree that he has what it takes. Mentally, I continue finding examples of carries where Williams unnecessarily bounces the play outside when maintaining an inside course is preferable.
Williams bounced a gap play to the corner and it’s not the type of blocking scheme for a back to make a habit of this. Losing Karlos Williams to weight issues is a bigger development to this depth chart than it appears.
The second-year power back from Florida was a far more aggressive, physical player with elite speed and excellent receiving skills. Johnathan Williams is competent and he should develop into at least a productive contributor but he lacks Karlos’ game-changing element. He’s also not as versatile.
Cardale Jones is what most expect: flashes of what he can become couched in rookie mistakes. Jones threw a perfect fade to Walter Powell for 31 yards. Late in the series, he didn’t consider the safety’s depth on a throw to the left sideline near the front pylon and Jones’ under thrown target resulted in an interception.
He climbed the pocket from pressure and got hit high and hard by a defensive lineman but slipped the tackle on his feet but without a helmet. Jones later committed an intentional grounding on third down.
I liked Jones’ aggressive demeanor as a passer and I think he has what it takes to become Tyrod Taylor’s backup next year.
Dwayne Allen isn’t taking over Coby Fleener’s role in this offense if the offensive line cannot provide adequate protection to Andrew Luck. Allen’s role will devolve into that of an outlet receiver for a scrambling Luck to toss the ball in a way that Ben Roethlisberger often did with Heath Miller. It keeps Allen’s potential within the scope of a low-end TE1 but the upside takes a hit if Luck is still taking hits at the rate he has throughout the length of his career.
I was encouraged to see Luck slide in the red zone on a play where he used to finish like a tight end or running back. Hopefully, he’s careful with picking his spots as a ballcarrier all season long.
Josh Ferguson has earned a lot of hooplah in training camp. The quickness and work in space has always been Ferguson’s strength. Protecting the passer and working between the tackles are areas of focus. Ferguson got trucked by a linebacker on the way to a sack of Luck but he also executed 2-3 decent blocks, including an effective cut off the left edge late in the half.
I’m reserving judgment until there’s more to see. Until then, if you have to consider depth, there are backs who will get cut that I like more than Ferguson.
Eric Swoope has been a pet project for the Colts for three years. He’s at the point where he moves around the field like a football player and not a conversion project. He’s comfortable catching the ball, too. His upside could help him earn the No.2 role over Jack Doyle if he continues to improve his game.
Receivers Quan Bray and Tevaun Smith were pretty good. No big plays but consistently getting open and catching the ball. They’re long-term guys to remember who I’m interested in seeing the difference between Year 1 and Year 2.
Chris Moore made a number of plays during the two-minute drill on out routes under zone coverage. Darius Butler was in on the act during the same drive and he finished it off with a corner fade for the score. The same thoughts about Bray and Smith apply to Moore and Butler.
Kansas City-Los Angeles
Malcolm Brown ran hard and Hall of Famers-turned-commentators Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk made it clear from the beginning that they liked Brown’s skills. Faulk said Brown “ran heavy” (behind his pads with power) and Brown lived up to this assessment with every carry. He finished the game with a one-hand grab of a swing pass for a touchdown.
Bennie Cunningham is another one of my past favorites. He continues to look better with each passing year. Cunningham is shifty, runs through arm tackles, and he has a versatile game. A Brown-Cunningham committee in place an injured Todd Gurley would not be ideal for the Rams but it could give the offense a reasonable chance to stay on schedule. If I had to choose one, Cunningham is the safer pick but Brown has starter upside. At this stage, I’d go Brown due to the upside on a late-round investment.
Kenny Britt remains the best receiver on the Rams roster. He still has vertical skills despite the Rams quarterbacks having difficulty getting him the ball. When they have, Britt hasn’t been consistent holding onto the ball.
Pharoh Cooper fits the slot role of an early-career, Hines Ward-styled athlete. He’ll find open creases and use his ball-carrying skills to make plays.
Spencer Ware ran well. The box score wasn’t spectacular but he found the correct creases, broke tackles or push the pile for more. I was most impressed with consistent pass blocking against defenders of all sizes. Ware got Andy Reid’s memo that the head coach wanted improvement.
Chris Conley made good plays on timing routes. I think the second job is his and little chance of it changing.
Tyreek Hill has juice and he looks skilled and dangerous with the ball in his hands. The big question is how much better can he get to earn the ball? Answer coming early next year at the latest.
Mike Davis was impressive until he fumbled. With DuJuan Harris playing well, the former Packer could push Davis for the No.3 job behind Shaun Draughn…if he too can hang onto the ball. Kelvin Taylor is No.1 in Merril Hoge’s heart but a practice squad player his year at best.
A.J. Derby looks like a future starter. He’s been making contest plays throughout training camp and he did it repeatedly against the Bears. He caught a touchdown between two defenders and then this sideline grab through a hard hit.
If there’s a need or opportunity to stash a tight end at the end of your dynasty roster, Derby is a strong candidate. I always liked his fluid, physical style of play at Arkansas.
LeGarrette Blount is the top back in this offense. James White will help and Tyler Gaffney has promise, but Blount is the most skilled between the tackles runner on the team and it’s not even close.
He’s no Jamaal Charles but his footwork and flexibility to change direction are good for even a runner 30 pounds lighter than Blount.
Jordan Howard sported a short stride that reminded me a little of T.J. Yeldon. He did well between the tackles late in the second half, picking through traffic and finding openings to finish with a good push. I still did get a great gauge of his burst in this game.
Kenny Stills earned the lion’s share of targets and he has Ryan Tannehill’s confidence. I can’t say the same for DeVante Parker whose releases don’t appear significantly better than they did a year ago. Parker is also slow in and out of breaks and he’s not using good technique on routes that demand hard breaks.
Alfred Morris looks like he’s taking a Sunday drive behind that Cowboys offensive line. If Ezekiel Elliott can’t stay healthy, Morris ready to roll.
Jordan Cameron dropped an easy pass after beating a defender up the left side of the field. Word from camp is that he’s struggling to grasp the system.
Isaiah Pead appears more comfortable in Miami than I ever saw him in St. Louis. The staff said Pead has surprised him after they only brought him in as a “camp body.” He might earn more opportunities as the preseason progresses.
Paul Turner was the most impressive receiver for the Eagles. The UDFA from LSU demonstrated a good stem and break late in the half and later, a one-handed catch where he had to leap and spin in the air for the ball against tight coverage.
Kenjon Barner appears serviceable with enough versatility to help an offense but not extraordinary in any single area.
Nelson Agholor make a leaping grab for 22 yards and then followed it up with a drop on a crossing route thrown a little behind him.