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Keep preseason numbers in perspective

8/16/2011

What do you think of Charlie Whitehurst, Anthony Dixon and Victor Cruz from a fantasy football standpoint? Probably not much, I'm guessing. In case you're wondering what this trio has in common, they were the league leaders last preseason in passing yards, rushing yards and receiving yards. Needless to say, they weren't able to continue the momentum once the games counted.

During the regular season, Seattle Seahawks backup quarterback Whitehurst did little with his 99 pass attempts, San Francisco 49ers running back Dixon averaged 3.4 yards on his 70 carries and was outplayed by old man Brian Westbrook, while Cruz never actually caught a pass for the New York Giants. I can't say things look considerably brighter for any of them in 2011. (Incidentally, so you know it's not an aberration, the 2009 preseason leaders were Todd Bouman, Tyrell Sutton and Leonard Pope, and the names from 2008 were Quinn Gray, Marcus Mason and Billy McMullen. Point made. Amaze your friends with bar bets!)

So when I was asked Monday morning about Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris and his statistically excellent performance Thursday against Denver Broncos reserves (127 receiving yards, two touchdowns), I couldn't help but bring up the names Whitehurst, Dixon and Cruz. I'll probably do it again!

In a general sense, the top players either are not playing much in the preseason or they're not playing at all, and I suspect the lockout will make this an even larger theme favoring the unknowns -- the expendables, in other words -- this August. New England Patriots backup quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett looked terrific in the preseason opener last week, but it's difficult to see how either is going to matter since that Tom Brady guy is still around. Plus, the Patriots scored 47 points on the Jacksonville Jaguars. Everyone enjoyed themselves on the New England side.

Still, I'd be a bit remiss if I didn't point out some of the interesting things I noted from the weekend, stuff we might file away for a later date. The August league leaders aren't terribly notable, but injuries, how training camp battles might be progressing and certain performances can be interesting.

St. Louis Rams wide receivers: There were 12 different Rams targeted by Sam Bradford and two other quarterbacks, and Mike Sims-Walker wasn't one of them. Why is that? Sims-Walker hurt his groin early in the game and didn't return. Now this hardly means Sims-Walker can't play in Week 1 -- he might play in the next preseason tilt, actually -- but I nearly chuckled when I saw the news, coming off his erratic 2010 season. Sims-Walker should be the team's top wide receiver, and he might still be, but before investing a top-40 wide receiver pick on him, I would feel better seeing something positive from him in August. The Rams wide receiver who looked the best Saturday was Danario Alexander, but as of now it appears Sims-Walker and Danny Amendola are starters.

Deep league tight ends: In that same Rams win over the Indianapolis Colts, tight end Lance Kendricks, a natural pass-catcher from Wisconsin, led the Rams with seven targets, five receptions and 47 yards, and caught a first-quarter touchdown. Bradford gave last season's top tight end, Daniel Fells, 65 targets, and now he's in Denver, so there is opportunity here. I'll file the name away in deeper leagues that might require a second/reserve tight end. The other Rams tight end of note is blocker Michael Hoomanawanui, who's dealing with a concussion, but is third on the depth chart after Kendricks and Billy Bajema. Meanwhile, I saw much of the Philadelphia Eagles-Baltimore Ravens game, and Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta, who caught one pass last year as a rookie, was impressive with four catches, including a 27-yarder. It's not a prolific passing offense, but if starter Ed Dickson doesn't produce, Pitta could matter.

Washington Redskins running backs: I expected Tim Hightower to get the start with Ryan Torain dealing with a hand injury, and the former Arizona Cardinal totaled 52 yards on 10 rushes and a reception. That's not a surprise, really, and it doesn't move him up my draft list at all (nor does it drop Torain). However, Penn State product Evan Royster received 15 carries, nearly twice as many as fellow rookie Roy Helu from Nebraska, who is certainly getting more hype. I concede it might mean absolutely nothing, or perhaps knowing Jekyll-and-Hyde coach Mike Shanahan, it could mean everything. Royster did well. I'll keep an eye on Royster versus Helu in the coming weeks, because this entire situation is kind of wide open. As for the Washington quarterback situation, Rex Grossman played and John Beck didn't, and it didn't mean a thing.

Cleveland Browns wide receivers: I can't say it meant much to me that Browns quarterback Colt McCoy was 9-for-10 for 135 yards and a score, but Josh Cribbs caught the touchdown, and that could be a harbinger. An injured Cribbs wasn't even a standout kickoff return specialist last season, and I'm not saying one touchdown makes him suddenly draftable in standard leagues, but McCoy has nothing to throw to. There's opportunity and talent there. Cribbs certainly would seem to have a better chance than Dwayne Harris to make an immediate impact, so think about him in deeper leagues.