The preseason always has to be approached with a sense of caution. Every great catch, throw, and long run counts, and the athleticism, field vision, or precise ball placement required to complete those acts exists in abundance. We can see it, and we can praise it. But sometimes those results are skewed by either an inferior opponent (a second-team defense), or a defense that’s still in the process of installing its scheme. The preseason is, for many coaches (and especially the new ones, of which there are plenty), an elongated experiment.
That’s the standard disclaimer (I wrote a longer one last week), and although I think we’re all aware of it, in the moment forgetting the lies of August is easy, especially for fantasy purposes as rankings are adjusted and tweaked. We can still make observations, though, so let’s do that. Kay?
We’re now one night and four games into Week 2 of the preseason, which is good in that it isn’t Week 1 of the preseason, with the meaning and intensity gradually increasing before the regular-season dress rehearsal next week. With a few exceptions, starters played only a series or two last week, and now Thursday they were mostly on the field for the first quarter at minimum, and often well into the second quarter.
So, what did we see that has fake football meaning?
Michael Vick is still the best risk/reward late-round quarterback
Yesterday as I continued to meander through the long and winding preseason team preview
mountainous climb trail, I wrote that if I draft Tony Romo on every team this year, I’ll be happier than a cat punching the bejesus out of a dog. And I mean that, because like many of you, I have no desire whatsoever to overpay for Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees when there are far more pressing needs to address in the early rounds. Romo is the standard late-ish round quarterback pick because he can be found up to five rounds later, and his production is only moderately below those two.
But Vick is an option for the more daring individuals out there, and last night as Chip Kelly continued the progressive rollout of his offense during the Eagles’ 14-9 win over Carolina, he demonstrated an obvious fact repeatedly: a fast and mobile quarterback is a great fit for an offense which demands those qualities.
Vick had only one incompletion on his 10 attempts (a meaningless interception on a heave to end the half), and he finished with 105 passing yards and 20 rushing yards. Even more impressive were his yards per attempt, which settled at 10.5.
The ease and comfort Vick showed in an offense which requires constant movement was quickly evident. It’s the Vick we know and loved before a harness was put on him by Andy Reid and he was asked to stay in the pocket much more often. Kelly’s offense — or at least the very early portions he’s sharing with us now — is minimizing Vick’s weaknesses (reading through his progressions in the pocket) with its quick strikes, and focusing on his strengths (evading in the open field, and making decisions on the run).
This will, in theory, keep colossal disaster in check, like Vick’s 15 turnovers over just 10 games last year. Of course, Nick Foles had a fine day too other than his interception in the end zone that was the result of a horrible decision on a broken play. But Vick remains far more convincing in a Kelly offense that goes at warp speed while running a play every 16 seconds or so, and he seems much more capable of accomplishing what Kelly seeks to accomplish.
Kelly still refused to name a starter after the game, but we’ve long reached the point where not naming Vick would be an upset, and downright odd. When it’s official, Vick’s ADP will rise, but you’ll still be able to grab him in the tenth round, and likely beyond. This is the part when I remind you that despite those turnovers that angered you so dearly last year, Vick’s legs compensated and powered him to 15 or more fantasy points in six of his nine games. That’s not great, but it’s average, and not nearly as horrible as you expected.
It’s also pretty Utopian production from a 10th-round quarterback, with the ceiling for much more.
Hey Jordan Cameron, chill with those preseason TDs
In a former football life, Rob Chudzinski was a tight ends coach, which makes sense because in an even more former football life, he was a tight end.
Before his first head coaching job, he was a tight ends coach on four separate occasions (including at the University of Miami, where he coached three All-American TEs). So yeah, he knows his tight ends (heyo?), and combined with the vertical offense he’ll run alongside Norv Turner in Cleveland, that’s powered the viral Jordan Cameron hype all spring and summer.
Most recently during Chud’s two years as Carolina’s offensive coordinator, Greg Olsen had a career high of 843 receiving yards, shattering his previous high of 612. Prior to that in San Diego he was the tight ends coach and later also an offensive assistant during Antonio Gates’ prime years, including his single-season high in yardage (2009, with 1,157 yards). This is why the Cameron train was already chugging, and now it’s done several laps of the tallest mountain.
Cameron had two touchdown catches on just three receptions last night during the Browns’ 24-6 win over Detroit, and when we review the tape, what’s encouraging is how those touchdowns happened. The first came when Cameron was lined up in the slot, and he ran a perfect double move before making a leaping catch in the back of the end zone. The second was a similar play, with Cameron acting as essentially a large wide receiver (the default description of the modern tight end) and catching a fading ball near the boundary. It gets better: all five of Cameron’s preseason targets have come after he’s lined up split away from the formation, and in the slot.
There will no doubt be an abrupt rise in Cameron’s ADP, which is a damn shame. Often I’ve talked about two positions that can be targeted late if you miss out on the elite names: quarterback, and tight end. Cameron is a great option to fill the latter need, with his current price that’s hovering around the 140th overall pick. Even a drastic rise will still keep him affordable, likely costing you a 10th-round pick at worst.
Unless you hate yourself, stay the hell away from Philip Rivers
Aside from Vick and Cameron, last night was filled with various awesome yet predictable things. Torrey Smith turned a slant that traveled about six yards through the air into a 77-yard touchdown, because Torrey Smith is fast. LeSean McCoy made several Panthers defenders poop themselves on a 21-yard run when he suddenly changed direction several times, because LeSean McCoy is quite slippery.
But although the Chargers offensive line being horrendous was predictable too, I’m not sure if we were all prepared for their extreme level of suck.
Philip Rivers officially checked out at the 5:05 mark of the second quarter when Charlie Whitehurst took over during the Chargers’ loss to Chicago. In his four offensive series, Rivers dropped back to attempt a pass 12 times. Of those fearful dropbacks, three of them resulted in a sack, and one was an interception that in fairness came on a play when rookie Keenan Allen bailed and was hauled down to his backside. Also, the Shea McClellin sack came with the double hurt of causing a fumble.
So to review: Rivers’ minimal pass attempts ended in two turnovers and three thorough whackings, acts of comedy mostly tied to an offensive line that’s either inexperienced (rookie D.J. Fluker), or horrifying (the well-aged Max Starks, who did his screen door impression on the McClellin sack).
It really can’t be emphasized enough, but I’ll keep doing it anyway: if you like winning, don’t draft Philip Rivers. Mike McCoy might fix him, and he may improve this year and end his self-induced unraveling. But ultimately, Rivers will be undone by a razor thin wide receiver depth chart following Danario Alexander’s season-ending ACL tear, and even more importantly after last night, an O-line that sways gently in the breeze.