The NFL preseason is now over. Many younger and/or fringe players are fighting for roster spots on NFL and fantasy football teams as you read. We got slight glimpses into the thought pattern of some teams with how much or how little these athletes played and others we will never know. Here are my general thoughts about some of the more interesting younger players or free agents from the first half of their last preseason game.
Browns vs. Bears
This is one of those games only the fantasy community and the greater Northeast Ohio area could love (I speak from experience coming from Wayne County). Johnny Manziel plays like a crazy man. One minute the quarterback shows patience in the pocket, sets his feet, perhaps he bootlegs one side or the other, and then throws with a solid motion connecting downfield. On the very next play, the rookie tosses a wobbly duck across his body. Two plays after that Manziel doesn’t feel pressure and gets strip sacked. Fast forward to the next series, he runs around in the backfield trying to give his receivers time to get open downfield then runs for a five yard gain. Inconsistency is the name of his game. The running back race just got a lot tighter with rookie Isaiah Crowell showing up in the third quarter to have over one hundred yards on 13 carries. Yes, most of the people playing at that time are not NFL employees anymore, but the troubled free agent rookie finally shined carrying tacklers with him. Crowell got low, ran thru defenders, and demonstrated a high effort.
Third round pick Terrence West, however, got the ball popped out due to a nice helmet hit and had issues finding creases to run thru. Cleveland made a few cuts and are counting on both rookie rushers to have some role this season. Rookie linebacker Chris Kirksey still looks like a ball hawk from his Iowa Hawkeyes days. He flows well to the ball and plays well against the pass. The Bears didn’t use many of their soon to be fantasy relevant offensive weapons. Fourth year back Shawn Draughn looks like he has the backup job to Forte role covered. The running back has good balance, decent vision, reads blocks well, and has a bit of wiggle. Santonio Holmes certainly is fighting for the third receiver job with his efforts, but it might only be for the first two months with Marquess Wilson returning from a broken collarbone at that time.
Steelers vs. Panthers
As punishment for toking up last week before the game, both rushers LeGarrette Blount and Le’Veon Bell made appearances in this game. Neither seemed to be on the top of their game with Blount failing to convert a 4th and two early in the game and Bell doing a little too much dancing while running too upright. Rookie RB Dri Archer still looks great in space, but gets forced into running north and south a bit too much for this Steelers fan’s liking. It is clear that Ryan Shazier is responsible to do more thinking than flowing as he isn’t looking so much like a Tasmanian Devil these days. Second year receiver Markus Wheaton ran a reverse for a 15 yard gain that showed off his speed and quickness. His lack of chemistry with Roethlisberger is concerning.
Carolina rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin continues to beat physical coverage and show off his big catch radius. What concerned me was that he failed to shield the ball from defenders, as I saw two of the Steelers corners get between him and the ball seconds before it arrived. Third year back Fozzy Whittaker played most of the game for the Panthers. He is light on his feet, shows good vision, and he might be worth holding onto as a dynasty stash considering that D-Will and J-Stew are the only two backs in front of him.
49ers vs. Texans
There seems to be two position battles still raging in Houston. The number two running back job and the inline tight end roles might get decided during this game. Rookie runner Alfred Blue started the game and ran with power. He does run a bit too upright and tends to spin more often than he needs. Journeyman rusher, Jonathan Grimes, has a nice stutter step that he uses with a jump cut to create space. Grimes has better vision and can get small in the hole, but Blue is better with short yardage. This could make Blue a better change of pace back with Foster while Grimes would be more of an injury replacement for Foster. Rookie CJ Fiedorowicz is a better blocker than Ryan Griffin, but the second year tight end is the better pure pass catcher. Griffin flashed at the end of the preseason game, but will probably give way to the rookie and Graham.
It was finally time for LaMichael James to get the chance to shine. An injury kept him out for most of the preseason, but the young back showed off some wiggle, decent vision, spin moves, and nice balance to be an effective runner who always fell forward. My rookie crush, offensive weapon Bruce Ellington, continued to shine thru his competition. He has soft hands, quick feet, and tries to tell a story with every route. The receiver contorts around trying to get the corner to jump on the wrong route. Ellington looked great right before the end of the first half with a catch in the flat as he screamed down the sidelines diving into the end zone to score. Short-term Ellington has little value, come next year, you will be glad you invested in him this season.
Vikings vs. Titans
What is it with the Titans always playing in the rain? This was another sloppy game. Rookie gunslinger, Zach Mettenberger, got the start and is the typical cement footed statuesque quarterback. When he steps up away from pressure, the young quarterback has good ball placement with a strong arm. His pocket awareness needs some work as he didn’t seem to notice when defenders were around his feet as a blitzer stole the ball from his hand. Fellow rookie, Bishop Sankey, got a chance to start. He has a slight wiggle, runs low, but needs space created for him. The young back tends to break most of his runs outside, unless he spots wide open lanes in the middle. Second year receiver Justin Hunter continues to look dominant makes catches off his hip in stride or grabbing worm burners just before they hit the ground.
For the Vikings, Teddy Bridgewater is still making his push to play early in the season. The young signal caller moves effortlessly away from pressure, always making sure he resets his feet before throwing. Unlike RG3, Mr. Bridgewater already knows how to slide and has a nice touch on the ball. He drew defenders offside with his cadence, which is a veteran move. Rookie runner Jerick McKinnon continues to grow on me, from the Senior Bowl until now. The young back has quick feet, lines up outside, shows tremendous burst in the open field, and is a mudder. Remember Adrian Peterson raved about McKinnon after mini camps. Don’t sleep on him.
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