The starters saw their only extensive summer action last weekend. This week, coaches lock skill and talent away like your grandma did her fine porcelain. So let's look back one last time at the preseason to better forecast the real stuff, now less than 10 days away.
The Packers are just killing defenses. The starters have nine TDs in 12 possessions. I wouldn't make too much of it, though, as defenses tend to be vanilla in August. Of course, we all loved Aaron Rodgers and Greg Jennings anyway. I would not upgrade Ryan Grant into the second round, as Grant is a journeyman talent who does nothing well, albeit one with a great set-up. Donald Driver shouldn't be anything more than a No. 4 receiver because he's on the downside, too. The sleeper here is tight end Jermichael Finley, a 6-foot-5 monster who has a mouth as big as his talent. If you're looking for a flier at the position who could go (Antonio) Gates, it's him. The key is whether he's running patterns on third downs come September 13th. I think he will be.
Phil Simms made a point of saying that LaDainian Tomlinson (16th all-time in carries) is all the way back into peak form. I hope everyone in my leagues heard it. I'm tempted to record it and play it during the entire first round on draft day. Remember, if you buy these high-mileage running backs as first rounders, you will regret it about two thirds of the time. Think "safety first" early and pass.
The Chargers are Philip Rivers's team now. Rivers cut into his own attempts last year by being so efficient — leading the league by a wide margin in yards per pass attempt (YPA) and TD percentage (of total throws). Look at Peyton Manning's 49-TD 2004 season — he had his second-fewest attempts ever. That happens when you're so good. If Rivers regresses in efficiency, as is very likely, his attempts will thus naturally increase and hold his 2008 counting stats steady.
Chris Wells had two TDs for the Cardinals in his first pro action. But Tim Hightower looked good, too. This is all about price. I like Wells after about 80 picks are on the board. But if he's gone by then, as is very likely now, grab Hightower after about 100 picks.
Matt Leinart seems like he's ready for NFL action, finally. He's a must-get in keeper leagues. And Warner owners in non-keeper formats should forgo a backup QB and just handcuff Leinart late. Play the free agent wire when the Cardinals have their bye (Week 4).
Lots of industry disagreement about Eagles WR DeSean Jackson. I think the Eagles' passing game is too diversified and that Jackson lacks the size necessary to assert himself in the red zone. I also think the Michael Vick circus is going to hurt Donovan McNabb, who already seems ready to snap over it.
That Bills no-huddle seems set to make the three-and-outs happen faster. I know; no Terrell Owens and Fred Jackson, for the most part. But on the other hand, the Bills were likely taking their new attack very seriously against starting defenses in summer mode. Trent Edwards has a 40-something QB rating with zero TD strikes (at least to his own team). I worry about Terrell Owens now because toe injuries linger.
Giants WR Mario Manningham looked better with the starters than with Hakeem Nicks, who posted those monster numbers against the Jets' second and third teamers.
Brady Quinn looks set to be the Browns' starting QB, which makes me less interested in Braylon Edwards as a bounce-back guy, given that Edwards needs Derek Anderson's far-superior downfield arm.
Justin Gage had a nifty TD grab on a fade route, the kind of route you want your fantasy receivers running. Gage is the No. 1 guy in Tennessee (forget Nate Washington). Nothing to brag about, I realize, but Gage is not even being drafted in many leagues.
Mike Bell, of all people, is gumming up the works for Pierre Thomas, according to multiple reports. But I don't buy it. Make sure everyone at your draft knows it, though, and grab Thomas where he's a value — third round or later. He was far too trendy two weeks ago when he was going early-to-mid second, on average.
Notice another TD catch from Lance Moore, who wasn't even supposed to play. Again, I have a 60% confidence level that he ends the season as Drew Brees's favorite target, and the market isn't making us pay nearly enough to find out whether I'm right.
Bernard Scott is the anti-Cedric Benson pick. But you can't handcuff the Bengals' backs unless your league allows about 25 roster spots. Handcuffing in general is overrated. If you play in a league with more than 10 teams, you have to get the best backups to other owners' backs. That's how you win.
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