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Weekend: Luck shines, Charles returns

8/13/2012

While new Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning was one of the main attractions when the NFL preseason opened Thursday night -- and Manning didn't disappoint -- the enduring quarterback performance of the weekend likely came in the lone game Sunday.

That's when Manning's replacement with the Indianapolis Colts, top overall draft pick Andrew Luck, threw a touchdown pass on his first attempt and finished with 188 passing yards and two scores in a resounding 38-3 win over the St. Louis Rams.

With this being the preseason, veteran fantasy owners should know better than to overrate any statistics. Those who didn't watch Luck's performance might not be aware that his first touchdown salvo, a 63-yarder to running back Donald Brown, came on a screen pass in which Brown did most of the work. Luck completed 10 of 16 passes, with another touchdown to wide receiver Austin Collie, who was targeted by Luck five times. Entering Monday, the only quarterbacks with more passing yards this preseason are backups Chase Daniel of the New Orleans Saints and Jarrett Lee of the San Diego Chargers. Their starters, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers, need not be concerned.

Luck, however, is a starter from day one and is going 19th among quarterbacks in ESPN average live drafts, which seems about right. Will he move up this week because of his debut? Well, he shouldn't pass Andy Dalton and probably shouldn't be going ahead of Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer and Ryan Fitzpatrick, but those who really enjoyed his work at Stanford might be tempted to jump the gun. ESPN Fantasy projects 3,408 passing yards and more interceptions than touchdowns from Luck this season. Colleague Christopher Harris discussed the top rookies in this video, noting the risk of relying on an inexperienced signal-caller.

We'll keep an eye on Luck's ADP over the next week and beyond. If anything, the performances of Brown and Collie seem more interesting and potentially relevant, especially for a team that isn't expected to have a top defense. Brown is the highest-ranking Colt in ADP, going 98th overall, and he certainly had a few relevant moments in the second half of 2011. Collie's breakout 2010 was shortened by repeated concussions, but he could be enticing in PPR formats. It's premature to move any Colts up your list following Sunday's game, but each of these three at least merit attention.

As for the rest of the weekend news, the biggest story was the broken clavicle suffered by San Diego Chargers running back Ryan Mathews, which ESPN Fantasy has covered extensively. Here are some other notes of interest from a busy preseason weekend:

Minnesota Vikings running back Toby Gerhart averaged 6.2 yards on five carries in San Francisco on Friday night, but that news paled in comparison to the team activating superstar Adrian Peterson from the PUP list, clearing him for practice this week. It's not likely Peterson will suit up this week, but fantasy owners likely will presume this means all is well with Peterson's recovery. I'm willing to be as optimistic as anyone, but Gerhart should remain in the top 100.

• Speaking of returning from ACL surgery, Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles had 23 yards on three carries and a reception Friday night. It wasn't as statistically impressive as what new Chief Peyton Hillis accomplished (4 carries, 41 yards, receiving touchdown), but it was good to see Charles overcome his first hit, which happened to be to the left knee in question. He popped right up as if his knee had never been damaged.

• In the same game, Arizona Cardinals running back William Powell broke a 67-yard run and scored on a two-yarder, finishing with 92 rushing yards on nine totes. Powell and Alfonso Smith are the leading contenders for fourth string among the Arizona running backs, behind Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams and LaRod Stephens-Howling; the first two didn't suit up as they recover from knee injuries. Unless Wells and Williams aren't ready for September, this isn't a situation worth watching.

• Meanwhile, Philadelphia Eagles backup quarterback Mike Kafka broke his left hand Thursday night and probably won't play again this preseason. Rookie Nick Foles threw a pair of touchdown passes and could pass Kafka on the depth chart. This matters because starter Michael Vick last played 16 games in a season in 2006. Vick injured his left thumb Thursday but is expected to practice this week and start the second preseason game, next Monday at New England.