NFL Barometer: Preseason Week 1
Brandin Cooks, WR, NO
The Saints are in a win-now mode with Drew Brees at 35 years old, so the fact that they traded up to the 20th pick to draft Cooks is enough indication that they intended to make immediate use of the rookie. Fortunately for New Orleans, it appears Cooks is the player the Saints thought he was. Cooks has consistently earned high praise for his training camp performances, and he looks like a good bet to contend for the Offensive Rookie of the Year award. Cooks should gobble up most of the 54 targets that went to Lance Moore last year, not to mention Darren Sproles‘ 89 targets. Cooks is going to get a lot of work between the 20s this year, likely making him a WR3 consideration in most PPR formats.
Kenny Britt, WR, STL
It might be unwise to get too optimistic about a sixth-year wideout coming off an 11-catch, 96-yard season and a seemingly endless list of durability and off-the-field issues, but Britt is the starting wide receiver opposite Tavon Austin in St. Louis. There are plenty of reasons to doubt Britt, but his natural talent isn’t one, and he could have a surprising amount of fantasy upside if he holds onto the opportunity. At 6-foot-3, 223, with field-stretching athleticism, Britt won’t turn 26 until September, and coach Jeff Fisher managed to get 775 yards and nine touchdowns out of Britt in 12 games during the 2010 season in Tennessee. Tavon Austin will never be a red-zone threat, Chris Givens is purely a fly route receiver, Brian Quick looks like a bust and tight end Jared Cook is known for his inconsistency. As long as he stays the course, there are plenty of worse late-round targets than Britt.
Kelvin Benjamin, WR, CAR
Benjamin might be the recipient of some loud fantasy hype any minute now. The 6-5, 240-pound first-round pick was perceived as a high-upside, high-risk prospect with rare athletic gifts but raw skills and an inconsistent nature. Reports out of Carolina, though, indicate he’s been remarkably consistent in training camp. The Charlotte Observer reported Saturday that Benjamin had not dropped a pass in training camp. Benjamin’s hands were criticized throughout the draft process, but it’s hard to see what will stop him if that’s not an issue. Cam Newton-to-Benjamin touchdown passes have been “a familiar refrain at camp,” according to the Associated Press.
Andre Williams, RB, NYG
With the career of David Wilson over, the Giants are expected to turn to Williams as the top backup behind starter and theoretical workhorse Rashad Jennings. Jennings has a history of durability issues in the NFL, however, and Williams seems to have already established himself as the Giants’ first-string goal-line and short-yardage back. Williams has excellent lower body explosiveness for a runner of any size. With his 230-pound frame, he should consistently pose quite a bit of momentum. The rookie fourth-round pick showed promise in the Giants’ preseason opener, running for 48 yards and a touchdown on seven carries. The only thing limiting his long-term upside is that he probably has some of the worst hands in the league.
Markus Wheaton, WR, PIT
Even if only by default, Wheaton appears poised to be Pittsburgh’s second-most productive receiver behind lead man Antonio Brown this year. The 2013 third-round pick had his rookie season negated by injuries, but he was highly productive at Oregon State, serving as the Beavers’ clear No. 1 WR over then-redshirt freshman Brandin Cooks in 2012, so he has much better pedigree than you’d expect of a player who caught just six passes for 64 yards a year ago. Free-agent acquisitions Lance Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey are declining, underwhelming talents with durability issues, and rookie fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant likely will struggle to earn more than occasional snaps. Wheaton has been running with the starters throughout camp and appears to be the heir of the role that yielded 112 targest to Emmanuel Sanders in 2013.
Tim Wright, TE, TB
The Buccaneers haven’t found a reliable third option at receiver behind starters Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans – a very predictable outcome considering the likes of Louis Murphy, Chris Owusu and Robert Herron are next on the depth chart – and it looks like Wright has become a candidate to fill part of the third WR role as a result. Wright played receiver at Rutgers and pretty much played the same thing as a 6-4, 220-pound rookie last year, so it’s likely that he really is the team’s third-best wide receiver. If he earns wideout snaps while maintaining tight end eligiblity, he could possess sneaky fantasy upside. It’s something to monitor in the preseason.
Darren McFadden, RB, OAK
McFadden is listed as the second-team running back on Oakland’s initial depth chart, ranked behind ninth-year runner and free-agent acquisition Maurice Jones-Drew. Opportunity and athleticism once made McFadden seem like a high-upside fantasy target, but consecutive years of 3.3 yards per carry indicate the athleticism might be gone, and the opportunity aspect is definitely waning at this point, too. Speaking for myself: I’m not sure that I’d own McFadden at any cost in leagues of 12 or fewer teams.
Marquess Wilson, WR, CHI
He’s still the heavy favorite to serve as Chicago’s third receiver in 2014, but a broken collarbone on Monday likely will keep him out for around two months. The 6-4, 184-pound wideout won’t be 22 until September and was extremely productive in college, so his dynasty prospects remain rather bright, but a 2014 impact may prove elusive for Wilson.
Arian Foster, RB, HOU
Foster has sat for most of Houston’s training camp, first missing time with a leg injury and then an undisclosed ailment after no more than two days from his initial return. Foster then said Monday that his 2013 back surgery led him to contemplate retirement this offseason. Considering it typically takes a high pick to draft him in fantasy leagues, Foster appears to be one of the riskiest investments in fantasy football this year. He has a long history of durability issues, and his relatively healthy span from 2010 to 2012 may prove an abberation.
Odell Beckham, WR, NYG
Rookie receivers rarely produce reliably, especially ones without starting roles. Beckham appears unlikely to start for the Giants in 2014 despite their decision to pick him 12th overall in this year’s draft, as Victor Cruz is locked into one starting role and third-year player Rueben Randle had a significant head start in the organization entering training camp. Throw in the fact that Beckham has sat for about two weeks with a hamstring injury – a hamstring injury that has lingered since the spring – and it appears especially likely that Beckham won’t be able to hit the ground running as a rookie. He needs to worry about beating out Jerrel Jernigan for third wideout role before he worries about Randle.