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.
Let’s discuss the NFC South’s Falcons, Panthers, Saints and Buccaneers:
- Splitting Norwood We’re going on three years of hype that Jerious Norwood is “this year’s sneaky sleeper pick.” Well, I’m thinking it’s time to shine or ship out. With his young career riddled with nagging injuries and the rise of Jason Snelling, it appears Norwood is working on borrowed time. Let’s see how much of that loan he can cash in this preseason, particularly if he finally looks healthy.
- Working the paint The red zone pecking order materialized quickly last season, beginning with Tony Gonzalez and ending with Roddy White with a little Michael Turner seasoned in. With the potential for “at any moment” Turner or Gonzalez could be lost for weeks at a time to injury; it’s imperative we identify a No. 4 option Matt Ryan will lean to when it counts. If one should surface this preseason, we could be in great shape to position ourselves for a key win in the middle of the fantasy season.
- Buckeye bubble Michael Jenkins is in prime position to make a fantasy impact with the talent surrounding him and defenses having to focus attention on White and Gonzalez respectively. Jenkins has shown flashes of deep play ability. We just need to see some short game too for us to pull the trigger on draft day. Hopefully, Jenkins will be more of a factor on bubble screens and quick slants. If so, you got your No. 4.
- Moore questions than answers Matt Moore has deservedly inherited the starting job, but if Jimmy Clausen has a lights out preseason, can the Panthers resist? Despite what the media experts will paint, I believe it’s a blank canvas for these guys. If Clausen is as pro-ready as everyone claims he is, then this preseason battle should be intriguing. Whatever plays out, it sure will be fun to watch in the coming weeks.
- So you think you can dance? There aren’t many receivers more fun to watch than Steve Smith, especially when he scores. Smith, along with everyone associated with the Panthers, would love to find a suitable dance partner. It was supposed to be Dwayne Jarrett, but we’re still waiting. Now, the Panthers have a slew of young talent rolling in on the rookie bus to include Brandon LaFell, Armanti Edwards and David Gettis. I take it Carolina is serious about moving forward this preseason. Remember, Marques Colston was a no-name, project player four years ago. I believe that rookie season played out pretty well.
- Russian Rosario Dante Rosario wasn’t much of a factor last season. With two developing quarterbacks this season, a reliable tight end could be a much needed safety valve. If you think I’m nuts, let Rosario’s 14 yards per catch the past three years plead the case for me. If you still think I’m nuts, well you name another Carolina tight end who will do the job.
New Orleans Saints
- Reachin’ for Meachem There probably isn’t a more frustrating situation in our fantasy world than the generosity of Drew Brees. How great would it be if one of these talented receivers stepped up and become a true No. 1 stud. I believe it’s time to publicly announce Robert Meachem’s campaign, which we’ll watch in full view this season – win, lose or draw.
- A shocking treatment What an impression Jeremy Shockey made on the NFL, albeit eight years ago. It’s highly unlikely Shockey will ever stay healthy, so this preseason will be an opportune time for us to see if anybody is willing to step up. I’m thinking David Thomas, but some may say the athletic and raw Jimmy Graham is their choice. Either way, this valued touchdown making position is up for grabs.
- Bourbon repeat As consistent as the Saints’ passing attack has been in recent years, so has their looming quandary in the backfield. Always a question but never a reliable answer. New Orleans’ last impacting running season came from Deuce McAllister in 2002 (351-1,641-8). Heath Evans’ return from injury is a huge boost in blocking, but will Pierre Thomas take advantage to benefit from it? This question probably won’t shake out until the regular season, but if either key back gets dinged up or looks sluggish, there will be reason for concern.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Oskosh-by-Josh As with the other second year starting quarterbacks, all eyes will be on Josh Freeman and his progression. He certainly has the physical tools and mobility needed to play behind a faulty offensive line, but does he have enough grasp of the offense and reading pro defenses to warrant even a late round draft pick? We’ll definitely get some clue in the coming weeks. The first sign will be improved accuracy. As soon as the first overthrow to a back coming out of the backfield occurs, be forewarned.
- Charged with man-Stroughter Sammie Stroughter showed signs last season of moving up the depth chart and into the crosshairs of Freeman’s passes. He was particularly targeted in the red zone, which should result in at least bold print in our preseason checklist. Will he continue his progression this preseason, or will Arrelious Benn jump ahead and steal his spotlight? Although Benn will be on the edge and Stroughter mans the slot, both will be fighting for Freeman’s attention. Any headway made in preseason will certainly transfer into the regular season, kind of like carryover cell phone minutes.
- Who’s the man? Fantasy relevance is built on touchdowns. So who will score in Tampa Bay? We could easily say the Bucs won’t have any fantasy relevance this year. Fair assessment. But what will we do when we’re facing a depleted lineup mid-season due to injury and false draft evaluation and in need of some Tampa Bay player? The coming weeks may reveal an answer, or at least who will be in position to be our mid-season hero.
Jay-Mo’s other preseason previews: