NFL fans and fantasy football owners know that you can't put much stock into the preseason. Cases in point: In the 2008 preseason, the Lions went 4-0 … and then proceeded to go 0-16 in the regular season; in the 2011 preseason, rookie Cam Newton completed just 42 percent of his passes and generally looked unprepared for the NFL … and then proceeded to shatter rookie passing records and finish as the No. 5 fantasy quarterback.
Regardless, much has changed on fantasy draft boards over the past month, partly because of injuries and partly because of impressive performances and/or players settling into new roles. Today, we'll look at some of the biggest risers at each position. On Friday, we'll look at some of the biggest fallers.
Also, here's a reminder to get your questions in for the season's first fantasy mailbag. Every Friday during the season, I'll tackle the best fantasy questions of the week and help you with roster, trade and strategy decisions. You can submit your questions here by 5:00 p.m. CT every Thursday. Please specify players with common last names (e.g. Davis, Jackson, etc.) and include the relevant scoring parameters of your league (e.g. PPR, passing TDs worth 4 points, etc.).
Despite relatively poor preseasons from Newton and Matthew Stafford, the upper tier of the quarterback rankings hasn't seen any big shakeups. In fact, there haven't been many big movers at all among QBs, with the possible exception of Michael Vick.
When the preseason began, some legitimately thought Nick Foles would beat out Vick for the Eagles' starting job. But Vick has clearly outplayed Foles through Philadelphia's first three preseason games, and his play-making ability has been on full display in Chip Kelly's potentially explosive offense. Vick has moved from middle-of-the-road backup to top backup, and it's not crazy to take him as one of the final two starters off the board depending on your league settings. Health will always be a concern with Vick, but even with the loss of WR Jeremy Maclin (knee), it looks like he'll put up good numbers when he's on the field.
Other risers: Terrelle Pryor, Raiders; E.J. Manuel, Bills.
Running back is traditionally the most volatile position during the preseason. Rookies are always all over the map, going from penthouse to outhouse because of a missed block or a fumble. Veterans always seem to lose steam because they're perceived to be “old and slow,” though it's more likely that they're just taking it easy in preparation for the regular season.
Of course, the main thing that moves an RB up draft boards is winning a starting job, and that's why the Rams'
Other risers: Giovani Bernard, Bengals; Reggie Bush, Lions; Christine Michael, Seahawks.
It's mainly rookie wide receivers who see the most movement during the preseason, largely based on one or two big plays that gets everyone excited. Once again, a rookie is the biggest mover this preseason, but it's not because of one or two big plays. New England's Kenbrell Thompkins has been frequently targeted, and his transition into the Pats' offense has been seamless.
Thompkins, a 6-1, 195-pound undrafted rookie out of Cincinnati, has 13 catches for 142 yards through three preseason games. It's worth noting that he had his best game last week (8 catches, 116 yards) when Danny Amendola was inactive, so don't expect starter-caliber numbers immediately, but Thompkins proven that he's developed a rapport with Tom Brady. Again, we can only take so much from preseason stats, but as long as Thompkins is starting in New England's high-powered offense, he's at least worth having as a backup.
Other risers: DeSean Jackson, Eagles;
Cleveland's Jordan Cameron was already a big preseason sleeper, and he shot up even higher on draft boards after scoring two TDs in Cleveland's second preseason game. But no tight end has climbed the rankings more than New England's Zach Sudfeld.
Like Thompkins, Sudfeld is an undrafted rookie, and like Thompkins, he found his groove in the Pats' offense almost immediately. He has six catches for 90 yards and a TD in the preseason, and he's showcased remarkable athleticism for having a 6-7, 260-pound frame. Sudfeld got knocked down a peg in the third preseason game when he was benched after fumbling, but with Aaron Hernandez long gone and Rob Gronkowski (back) likely to miss at least one game (probably more), Sudfeld is in prime position to get targets and have an impact early. It's a little risky to draft him as a starter, but he's a high-upside backup who's worth a late mid-round pick.
Other risers: Cameron; Jermichael Finley, Packers;
It's easy for a fantasy D/ST to lose momentum in the preseason based on a key injury; however, it's tough for a D/ST to gain momentum since preseason games are largely backups against backups. You have to focus on first teams vs. first teams, and even then, the main thing to focus on is pass rush.
The Lions and Panthers have stood out in that regard. Detroit caused all sorts of problems for Brady and the Pats in their third preseason game, and the Panthers dominated the Ravens in their third preseason game. The Lions are especially interesting since they were a top-five D/ST just two years ago, but a lack of takeaways last season sent them plunging toward the bottom of the rankings. The Panthers have gradually been building a solid D-line and linebacker corps, and it looks like it's all coming together this year. Neither the Lions nor the Panthers will be drafted as starting D/STs in most fantasy leagues, but both units have big sleeper potential.
Other risers: Miami Dolphins.
On-field performance doesn't really help kickers during the preseason unless they're rookies, but as more owners get around to reading preseason kicker previews (it's always the last one read), they're reminded of players who weren't on their initial radars. That's likely what's happening with the 49ers' Phil Dawson, who's getting the respect he deserves in drafts after being an afterthought in early mocks.
Dawson is backing it up with his performance, going 5-for-6 on field-goal attempts and hitting two from 50-plus yards. San Francisco has led the NFL in FG attempts in each of the past two seasons, so Dawson is in line for a lot of scoring chances.
Other risers: Randy Bullock, Texans.