It’s a mad, mad NFL world we live in. Through 14 games in Week 1, the leading rusher is a quarterback (Terrelle Pryor) with 112 yards, even though Adrian Peterson had 78 yards on his first carry. He then did his best Chris Johnson impression with an average of 0.88 yards on his other 17 carries. Here’s to hoping the studs in tonight’s games (LeSean McCoy, Alfred Morris, and Arian Foster) can return some sanity to a position that’s been taking painful fake football gut shots today through Shane Vereen’s wrist injury that will keep him out for 2-3 weeks, and David Wilson’s habit of dipping his hands in butter that could lead to a swift demotion.
Here are three other pressing and compelling matters we’ll be watching tonight in each game.
Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins
1. The culmination of all things RG3. It seems to me there’s been some discussion about a Redskins quarterback, and if he can still be his normal, mobile, weaving and dodging self in real game action which comes complete with opponents launching themselves at his knee that’s been stitched together using fishing line. Finally and mercifully, we can stop talking about Robert Griffin III’s knee and dissecting practice footage shot from a grassy knoll, and instead we can turn to what really matters, which is the answer to a simple yet vital question: can he take contact, and repeated contact?
There’s obviously confidence that the answer to that question is a resounding “yes”, although I’m eager to see what plays Dr. James Andrews added to the Redskins’ playbook. And about that: for those who eagerly accepted the fantasy risk and took the Griffin discount (especially early in August), tonight is your first chance to see if you purchased Griffin’s legs. Not literally, because that’s weird and illegal.
The read-option is a vital aspect of what the Redskins accomplished last year, both on the ground and through the air, as it often opened up passing opportunities. But it also leaves Griffin exposed, especially now that we know a quarterback can still be whacked even after he hands the ball off during a read-option play. So keep a rough mental tally going on the read-option plays run by the Redskins, and how often Griffin is exposed early to that mesh point, and the prospect of an unblocked defensive end who wants to give him a through throttling.
Remember, of Griffin’s 312.5 total fantasy points last year, 123.5 of them came through his rushing yardage and touchdowns.
2. The harnessing of Michael Vick. Throughout draft season Vick was a popular guy among those who enjoy a nice long wait before they draft a quarterback. Although his average draft position spiked near the end of August, rising by about a full round, it still rested at a very affordable ninth-round price. And prior to that he was often available well past the 100th overall pick, and therefore also nearly 100 picks after Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees were plucked.
Inherently, what we see during the preseason is always limited, even during the brief times when the first team offenses and defenses are on the field. But what Vick showed while executing the basic structure of a Chip Kelly offense supported the common thinking throughout the offseason: unlike what was asked of him under Andy Reid, he’s now in a system where he’s much more comfortable while assessing the field and making decisions when he’s moving.
Sometimes that movement is exaggerated with a quick sprint on a rollout, and other times it’s less so with a flash to either side while meeting whatever read-option mesh point Kelly has cooked up this time. But it’s there far more often, and in theory when Vick is asked to throw his decision-making mistakes are minimized throw short, high percentage throws, with LeSean McCoy now featured more prominently in the passing game.
Since we’ve spent an offseason discussion Kelly’s offense, it’ll be interesting to see the expansion of it now, and how Vick reacts in different game situations.
3. Kelly’s tight end games. During OTAs Kelly infamously said that his tight end usage could be summarized by three fingers. As in, he’ll hold up three of them, and all three of his tight ends (Zach Ertz, Brent Celek, and James Casey) will run onto the field, all serving different roles.
Maybe that will happen, and maybe there will then be little value to be found on a highly volatile depth chart. But from the indication given by the third preseason game (the one that kind of, sort of matters), Celek is the tight end to own here, if you’re owning any of them. In that game he caught four passes for 54 yards, including a 26 yarder, and with the running game valued so highly in Kelly’s scheme, so is Celek’s blocking ability. That’s what kept him on the field and gave him seven targets, a trend which should continue, god willing.
Houston Texans at San Diego Chargers
1. Arian Foster: handle with care. Near the end of August there was a mild Foster discount to be had in some leagues when he couldn’t participate in any preseason action due to offseason struggles with both back and calf injuries, prompting Gary Kubiak to admit that a time share with Ben Tate will emerge at least early in the season. Although the top of most drafts and the top of the running back position were a little muddled beyond Adrian Peterson, it was still jarring to see a running back who’s logged two straight seasons with over 1,600 total yards sometimes fall out of the top five.
Because of his preseason injury concerns and his exceedingly high workload and abuse (722 regular-season touches over the past two years) Foster is easily the scariest risk/reward fantasy player of 2013. The outlook is split: those who shun risk entirely ran, citing that workload and the great foe that is history after a 400 touch season. Others will nod to the most obvious recent example of a running back being just fine after a much more significant injury (see: Peterson, Adrian), while also noting that despite having another preseason injury and missing three games, Foster finished with 1,841 total yards in 2011.
Tonight then marks the beginning of that risk/reward experiment, and specifically a test to see just how far the Tate/Foster split will go early in the year. The fantasy instinct to fear a split is natural, but with Foster this could very well be a case where less is more. Tate missed five games last year, which contributed to Foster’s heavy usage and slowing. He averaged 24.9 carries through the Texans’ first 10 games, and then over the final five weeks that workload fell to 16.4 carries.
As those touches decrease his overall production will likely fall, but his chances of staying on the field will rise. If the fall in production is minimal and manageable, that’s a trade you’ll happily make.
2. About that Vincent Brown potential. It’s time for the post-post-post hype sleeper Brown to emerge…maybe. Brown missed the entire 2012 season with an ankle injury, and now the quick slot receiver is the only remaining pass catcher with something that resembles upside on the Chargers’ WR depth chart, and he’s poised to cash in on his sleeper status. Someone has to catch footballs in San Diego after Danario Alexander went down, and the other remaining options are either underwhelming (Malcom Floyd and Robert Meachem), or inexperienced (Keenan Allen). Brown should see plenty of looks underneath and be a fine PPR flex play, a trend which should begin tonight.
3. Will Philip Rivers have at least two seconds to throw? Even the quickest of the quick stroke throws to, say, Brown or Antonio Gates requires some time, and time is something Rivers didn’t have at all in the preseason. When the training camp battle to protect Rivers’ blind side was between King Dunlap and Max Starks, horrible things were set to happen. Yep, things like Rivers being sacked three times on just 12 drop backs with the first-team offense on the field during Week 2.
J.J Watt is a pretty mean and fast guy, and IDP leaguers can look forward to him eating Rivers for dinner tonight.