Fantasy Football 2016: Lessons from Week 2 Preseason Games

The second week of the preseason is in the books, and fantasy draft season is finally set to begin in earnest. The most important week of the preseason is still ahead, but we learned a lot after Week 2. Below are nine of the largest fantasy takeaways from the second week of the preseason.

The beginning of the Robert Griffin resurrection?

If Griffin does indeed go on to resuscitate his career with the Browns this year, we’ll know that it was Thursday night’s preseason game against the Falcons that started that resurgence.

Griffin played the entire first quarter, leading five Cleveland possessions before handing the reins over to Josh McCown. He completed six of his eight pass attempts for 96 yards, 12.0 yards per attempt and two touchdowns, while adding 36 yards on the ground on three runs. Griffin hooked up with Terelle Pryor on a 50-yard touchdown strike, nailing the quarterback-turned-receiver down the right sideline in stride for the Browns’ first touchdown of the game. Two possessions later, he uncorked this beauty of a throw to Gary Barnidge for a 26-yard score.

The Browns suddenly have an enviable set of playmakers, from Barnidge and Pryor to rookie Corey Coleman, second-year back Duke Johnson, and the soon-to-return Josh Gordon. Griffin showed on Thursday that he just might be the guy to put all of those weapons to use. Yes, the last three years of his Washington tenure were a mess, but we all remember the special player he was as a rookie. He gave us more than just glimpses of that player again against the Falcons.

One quarter of preseason action is far from a referendum, but Griffin now has something on which he can build. If he shows similar form in the team’s third preseason game, he’ll suddenly become one of the most intriguing QB2s on the board. He’ll also improve the fantasy fortunes of all the skill players around him in Cleveland.

Jeremy Langford creates distance in the Chicago backfield

When the Bears selected Jordan Howard in the fifth round, many in the fantasy community thought they had found their newest late-round running back darling. The thinking went that, with an unproven Langford ahead of him on the depth chart, he’d have just as good a chance to lead the Bears backfield in a post-Matt Forte world, while coming at a much cheaper price. Langford has totally foreclosed that possibility.

Forget the fact that John Fox isn’t the biggest fan of giving large roles to rookies, especially at a position like running back that has significant quarterback-protection duties. Forget that Ka’Deem Carey entered training camp as Langford’s likely backup. Instead, take a look at what the incumbent did against New England on Thursday.

Langford looked every bit the part of a starter, running for 55 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. One play after rumbling for a 34-yard gain, he stayed on the field and punched the ball into the end zone from five yards out. Before his night was over, he didn’t cede any red-zone touches and he caught his only target, turning it into an 8-yard gain. Langford is, without question, the man to own in the Chicago backfield.

Unfortunately, Langford reported foot soreness after the game and was in a walking boot over the weekend. He missed practice, as well, though Fox indicated it was merely precautionary. We’ll revisit Langford’s value if he’s still dealing with the soreness going into the Bears’ third preseason game, but for now he’s on the rise.

Eddie Lacy and Devonta Freeman trending in the right direction

Every story out of Green Bay on Lacy going back to OTAs has been nothing short of glowing. He lost weight during the off-season and looked more like the shifty, sneakily fast runner he was in his first two season than he did at any point last year. Lacy has shown that to a wider audience over the last two weeks.

After running for 24 yards on four carries in a preseason tuneup against the Browns last week, Lacy totaled 45 yards and a touchdown on nine rushes against the Raiders on Thursday. He scored his touchdown from the 1-yard line, and had three carries inside the 10. He also had one rush for 20 yards, displaying that big-play ability that eluded him last year. We still want to see this offense with Jordy Nelson in the fold, but Lacy should be back in the RB1 class this year.

As for Freeman, it’s time for me to start coming around on a player who has given me pause all summer. I still think he’ll fall short of what he did last season, largely because he won’t have the same volume, but he still has the look of an RB1. He was excellent against the Browns, racking up 42 yards and a score on just four carries. Two of his four carries went for at least 13 yards, including his 19-yard touchdown scamper off the end on a 3rd-and-1. Tevin Coleman did mix in while Freeman was still playing, indicating the volume concerns are real, but the market doesn’t force you to pay for last year’s stats to secure Freeman’s services.

Eli Rogers making life uncomfortable for Sammie Coates truthers

Rogers has been a standout in the slot for the Steelers in camp, and the fantasy football community got its first look at that when he caught four passes for 39 yards against the Eagles on Thursday. Rogers is slowly but surely progressing toward a role as the Steelers’ primary slot receiver, which would put him on the field in most three-receiver sets. It was assumed when training camp began that Coates and Markus Wheaton would join Antonio Brown on the field in those situations, but it’s now looking like it will be just one of those two, and Wheaton easily has the leg up at this point. The team’s third preseason game will likely tell us exactly what we need to know about this situation, but it’s officially time to pump the brakes on the Coates hype train.

Tyler Boyd turning heads in Cincinnati

Another week, another big play by Boyd, the rookie out of Pittsburgh. Last week, he reeled in a 40-yard pass for his only catch of the Bengals’ first preseason game. This week, he caught two passes for 38 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown from A.J. McCarron. Just as importantly, Boyd played all 13 of his snaps with the first team offense (other than Andy Dalton, who was under center for just one possession) opposite A.J. Green. In other words, Boyd will be the other starter at receiver when the Bengals open the season against the Jets. With an ADP of 150.8, he’s basically free. Make sure you have him on your radar.

Ryan Tannehill and the Adam Gase bump

In one year with the Bears, then-offensive coordinator Gase helped Jay Cutler to the most efficient season of his career. He just might be doing the same with a similarly maligned quarterback in Miami.

Tannehill was excellent against the Cowboys on Friday, completing 12 of his 20 passes for 162 yards, 8.1 YPA and two touchdowns. This might be the season that the QB turns into a consistent fantasy weapon. Not only does he have the coach, but he also has an enviable set of weapons in Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker and Arian Foster. Even Kenny Stills got in the mix on Friday, catching both of Tannehill’s touchdowns, as well as a 55-yard strike. Tannehill is officially an interesting QB2 heading into draft season.

Marcus Mariota, Tajae Sharpe shine for the Titans in Week 2

Tennessee’s receiver depth chart has helped keep Mariota’s fantasy value down this summer. The second-year quarterback showed on Friday that it might not matter who’s around him, so long as he takes a major step forward in his development.

Mariota went 9-for-10 for 104 yards, 10.4 YPA, one touchdown and one pick against the Panthers on Saturday, while also picking up 13 yards on two carries. Mariota was on the field for three possessions, two of which resulted in long drives for the Titans. Mariota threw an interception with the Titans deep in Carolina territory on the first one, but connected with Harry Douglas for a 23-yard touchdown on a beautiful pass to end his night.

The efficiency Mariota showed Saturday will have to be a hallmark for him if he’s going to be a reliable starting option this year. The Titans have a few intriguing options in the passing game, but no one who’s going to take over a game with any regularity. That means it’s up to Mariota to make something more out of his receivers. Of course, he just might have a gem in Sharpe, the newly anointed starter.

Sharpe caught six passes—all from Mariota—for 68 yards, four of which went for at least 10 yards. Sharpe was one of the obvious beneficiaries of the Dorial Green-Beckham trade, and that showed on Saturday. The rookie out of Massachusetts was already ahead of DGB on the depth chart, but now he won’t have the threat looming over his shoulder at every misstep. There’s plenty of opportunity for everyone on the roster to turn into Mariota’s top receiver. If Saturday was any indication, Sharpe could become that threat in his first year in the league.

More evidence for the Tyrod Taylor breakout

If you don’t already believe in Taylor cementing his status as a top-10 quarterback this season, there might not be anything that will convince you otherwise. That won’t stop him from trying, though, as he did on Saturday.

Taylor carved up the Giants for a quarter and change, completing seven of his 10 pass attempts for 132 yards, 13.2 YPA and a touchdown, a 13-yard hookup with LeSean McCoy. Taylor didn’t play much in the Bills’ preseason opener, but he showed what he can be at his best in the second week of the exhibition season. Remember, too, that Sammy Watkins didn’t play in this game, and Taylor’s performance is all the more impressive. He’s still being drafted as a high-end QB2, and that’s going to make him one of the biggest bargains of draft season.

James White enters the picture

Before Sunday, it seemed the Patriots were being smartly cautious with Dion Lewis, as he continues to work his way back from a torn ACL. We learned, however, that the issue is far more serious and will require another surgery, placing Lewis on the shelf indefinitely. It’s time for drafters to move White way up their draft boards.

White impressed after Lewis’s injury last season, catching 40 of his 54 targets for 410 yards and four touchdowns. He didn’t make much impact as a runner, but we’ve seen running backs time and time again turn a role as a receiving back in New England’s offense into a lucrative fantasy position. Indeed, White averaged 10.84 points per game in standard-scoring leagues after Lewis suffered his knee injury. Across a 16-game season, that average translates to 173.49 points, which would have made White the No. 8 running back last season. He’s highly unlikely to be a top-10 back, even if Lewis misses the entire year, but that should give you an indication of how good White can be with a prominent role in the Patriots offense.

Photo: David Richard/AP (Griffin), Fred Vuich/AP (Rogers), Frederick Breedon/Getty Images (Mariota)

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