Bashing the NFL’s preseason has become so cliché. Yes, it’s true the scores and stats mean very little, but the way players are used means a ton.
The third set of exhibition games, which went down last weekend, is the dress rehearsal week. We were able to see the first-stringers play an entire half or more, and were therefore able to draw some conclusions about depth charts and regular-season usage.
Gates won’t die
Philip Rivers played 19 snaps on Sunday, and Ladarius Green was on the field for just five of them. Antonio Gates started, was the man in single-TE formations and ended up with 17 snaps. So we have some playing time concerns for Green, and we also have the same usage concerns we did in 2013 when the freakish athlete was used as a blocker so often. Green has played on 30 snaps with Rivers so far this preseason, yet has only been thrown to three times. At this point, he’s a “bet on talent” kind of stash for fantasy benches — not a fantasy starter. Gates just won’t go away, especially in the red zone.
Andre Ellington has a shaky injury history from his Clemson days and is hovering around 200 pounds. Yet the Cardinals clearly want to use him as their workhorse. He stayed on the field for 26-of-29 first-team reps Sunday night, getting the call on all early downs, some third downs and even splitting wide a few times. It’s the same way he was used in the first two preseason games. If the explosive Ellington can survive, he’s a near lock for 300 touches and a whole bunch of big plays. Just know that Jonathan Dwyer projects as a vulture at the goal-line.
Pass the Blount
Pittsburgh’s Cheech and Chong backfield of Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount was sketchy even before their marijuana incident. So far this preseason, Bell has played on 36 first-team snaps and Blount has been in for 33. Perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised, as Bell averaged 3.52 yards per carry during his 2013 rookie campaign and Blount has a career 4.68 yards per carry. Look for the former to start and play on all third downs, but the bigger man will get two to four series to himself per game in addition to goal-line work.
NFL risers …
1. Heath Miller, TE, Steelers – His reconstructed knee now looks like new, and is Big Ben’s annual security blanket.
2. Fred Jackson, RB, Bills – He is still playing in all third-down and red-zone situations, which is not good for C.J. Spiller.
3. Benny Cunningham, RB, Rams — He started over Zac Stacy Saturday. That won’t stick, but maybe the gap here is smaller than we think.
NFL contract years …
Wideouts are motivated by winning, not money. Right?!?
1. Torrey Smith – A true burner that’s expanding his route tree, Kubiak’s “X” is in for a monster season as his rookie deal expires.
2. Dez Bryant – The most talented wideout this side of Calvin Johnson, Bryant is playing for Megatron style money.
3. Randall Cobb – The Packers passed over Cobb in favor of extending Jordy Nelson. He’ll be playing with a chip on his shoulder.
Follow Metro fantasy sports writer Adam Levitan on Twitter @adamlevitan.