Like a weekly lunch buffet special, the NFL preseason will give you plenty to chew on. To whet our appetites, here is a brief outline of what to watch for in the coming weeks. Reason, well there’s value in paying attention to the preseason and training camp battles. If not, you may become last year’s fantasy owner who drafted Donald Brown and Darrius Heyward-Bey and overlooked Ray Rice and Miles Austin.
Today let’s take a look at the Texans, Colts, Jaguars and Titans in the AFC South:
- Tate ’er tot The backfield shakedown has plenty of questions, which probably won’t be answered until well into the regular season. Meanwhile, we should get some clues this preseason if Ben Tate, draft combine workout hero, is for real; if Steve Slaton, one-hit wonder, can rebound from a dreadful second year that ended with missing five games due to neck issues; or if Arian Foster, the underdog, can continue the push he made in the last two weeks of last season.
- Andre the giant There’s no question who the No. 1 guy is on the edge, but the Texans are still searching for a capable running mate for Andre Johnson. With the potential for a high octane offense, being No. 2 could result in No. 1-type numbers. Seeing who gets the reps and makes the most of it should tell us who to snag in our upcoming drafts.
- Winner, winner chicken dinner After pushing the threshold of their first-ever winning season for several years, the Texans finally broke through last year. That makes this preseason a very important step in Houston’s rise or fall within the division, and for our purposes, player fantasy values. If the Texans come out strong this preseason, look locked-in and smooth; then we can feel good about drafting some of their fliers knowing we should get a good return on our investment.
- Circle the horses We saw first-hand the growth of Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon in the playoffs. Now, Anthony Gonzalez returns from injury to add another hat in the ring for No. 2 receiver. As automatic as Peyton Manning’s production is, it’s a safe bet a clear No. 2 guy will be a fantasy gem. These coming weeks will tell us if we should be focusing on one guy or be frustrated with a committee approach.
- What can Brown do for you? Donald Brown was a popular pick last year from owners hoping to grab some extra receptions from this machine-like passing game. Unfortunately, if we paid attention last preseason we would’ve seen Brown’s inability to pick up the Colts’ pass protection scheme. That weakness kept him on the sidelines during the season and fantasy owners frustrated of his paltry numbers. The more Brown improves his blocking, the more snaps he’ll see. That’s good news for us, if we’re paying attention.
- Paint the fence Possibly the most automatic thing about Peyton Manning is his health. How much longer can he press his luck? No whammy, no whammy … no. It’s obvious the Colts’ production would take a serious hit if Manning went down, but someone has to lead the huddle and guide this well-oiled offensive juggernaut. By default it’s Curtis Painter, so let’s get to know him. You may be glad you did.
- A tight situation Marcedes Lewis was drafted out of UCLA four years ago in the first round to be the No. 1 guy. In the meantime, Lewis has put together a skimpy resume never tallying more than 41 receptions and 2 TDs in any year. With second-year man Zach Miller impressing his superiors (capped with an 8-69-2 performance in the final game last year), this may be Lewis final chance to keep his job. This preseason will also give us a sneak peek at probably one of this year’s hidden jewels in Miller.
- Sims City Mike Sims-Walker broke out last year, well at least at the beginning of the season before nagging injuries took a toll and defenses adjusted. In order for Sims-Walker to take the next fantasy step as a stud No. 1, the Jags need to find a capable No. 2. What better time to do so than this preseason?
- Survival of the fittest Three years ago, David Garrard was on the verge of stardom. Now, he’s on the verge of losing his job. The only thing saving him is the Jags don’t have a capable challenger, insert Luke McCown and Trevor Harris. What we can learn is if Garrard is taking his situation seriously and will stop taking so many chances, which depletes his completion percentage and raises his interception totals.
- Hook ’em You could draw a lot of comparisons between Vince Young and Tim Tebow, including their throwing motion. However, one thing is clearly different. Young built his legacy, just like Tebow, by putting his team on his back for big wins. From time to time, Young was also able to do it with his arm (30 completions against USC in the BCS Championship). Tebow, not so much, outside of hitting wide open WRs. Now it’s time for Young to prove it on the professional level. He has shown glimpses, including last year against Arizona. This preseason will go a long way in determining if Young can be taken seriously as a productive fantasy quarterback.
- Receiving carousel As Young develops his passing skills and the Titans try to build a more balance attack to relieve pressure on Chris Johnson, the wide receiving corps will benefit. But who? Many will say (hope) it’s Kenny Britt, especially after seeing the magic between him and Young against Arizona last year (7-128-1). However, Britt tallied just nine total receptions the rest of the season. How the pecking order shapes out, particularly who connects best with Young, will be very telling this preseason and key for our draft charts.
- A bud for the stud Chris Johnson, unlike Steve Slaton, built on an impressive rookie campaign with an even better sophomore year. No need to elaborate, the fantasy draft magazines will. What we need to care about is who will help ease Johnson’s workload? The names are strange, but if one puts together a solid camp, it would reap tremendous value for fantasy owners this year. Let’s keep a particular eye on LeGarette Blount, who could evolve into a short-yardage/goal line specialist.
Jay-Mo’s other preseason previews: