Nick Shook on Fantasy Football: Ignore the preseason games at your own risk; there are gems to be mined

By Nick Shook
Beacon Journal copy editor
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The NFL season is fast approaching. More importantly, fantasy football is coming, the time of year fantasy sports players have been anxiously awaiting.

Fantasy football magazines have been sitting on shelves for more than a month. Draft kits have been ordered and are sitting in the backs of UPS trucks nationwide. It’s time to start building that big board.

Smart fantasy players know that it isn’t wise to fill out the roster too early. Unexpected injuries loom, waiting to vanquish your hopes and dreams.

Draft numbers have skyrocketed in recent weeks, as teams continue their preseason games, focused on trimming down rosters while fantasy players watch from their armchairs, looking for that sleeper pick that will power their run to their league title.

A few years ago, that pick might have been wide receiver Victor Cruz, an unheralded favorite of small guys everywhere whose preseason performance earned a roster spot with the New York Giants. He’s since been a near-lock for big numbers, which translates to truckloads of fantasy points.

Keep your eyes on news

Eyes should be trained on the local broadcasts and replays on NFL Network, as marginal players fight for the last of the 53 slots on a team. Record that Week 4 Cardinals-Broncos game that will show up on the network late at night. Little-known tight end Virgil Green is situated behind Owen Daniels in a tight end corps that is replacing the departed Julius Thomas, but it was Green who caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Brock Osweiler late in the first half of Week 1.

Daniels is older, and not as mobile as the younger Green, who has a shot at earning some more playing time. He ranks outside of ESPN’s top 300, but we all know how effective tight ends can become in a Peyton Manning offense (see: Thomas, Dallas Clark, Marcus Pollard, Jacob Tamme). You used that 15th round pick on him, Green enters the starting lineup in Week 6, and now you have your catalyst.

Davante Adams could be one of these guys, especially after the Green Bay Packers lost Jordy Nelson for the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Detroit Lions running back Ameer Abdullah has shined in camp and in his first preseason action. Pay close attention to the words flowing from beat reporters across the league, as they get the first glimpses of the next overlooked player who evolves into a star of highlight reels and league scoreboards.

These choices should fill your later rounds. But don’t take the generated rankings as football scripture, because injuries happen by the dozens as each day of training camp passes.

Houston Texans running back Arian Foster will land near the top of these rankings, but if you’ve kept an eye on recent news, you’ll know he’s suffered a groin injury that could sideline him for quite some time, and derail the Texans’ high expectations. Stay far away from him, until the late rounds. Stash him on your bench, if you believe in the power of modern medicine.

QB position in Cleveland

Northeast Ohio readers will know that the quarterback position is rarely settled in Cleveland. Josh McCown is entrenched as the starter as of this writing, but come Week 8, he could morph back into Tampa Bay McCown, who throws lame-duck passes that are easy hauls for opposing defenders. That’s when Cleveland could re-enter the Manziel Era, and if you used that 14th-round selection on the former Heisman Trophy winner, you’ll be looking like the genius of your league.

Same-day players won’t find quite the same advantage during this time of the year, but a savvy pick awaits them. Hypothetically, Le’Veon Bell goes down with another knee injury in Week 2, and suddenly, your go-to selection is gone. Who do you replace him with?

Why not Kent State’s own Dri Archer, who was an impact player in the Hall of Fame Game? Sure, he won’t carry the ball 30 times, but his versatility makes him an attractive option in the Steelers’ backfield. And these aren’t your daddy’s Steelers; they have a high-powered offense that could only get better when having the option to throw the ball to Archer out of the backfield out in space, where his 4.26 speed is most dangerous.

Fantasy football champions aren’t made in September; they’re forged in the otherwise-meaningless games that fill the August schedule. To paraphrase the great Bill Parcells, this is why you study all of those rankings: to make the sleuth-like selection in your third league draft in as many days.

The deep focus required to stay awake late in the third quarter of a Week 4 preseason game can be the difference between finishing 8-8, and going on a 10-win run on your way to the promised land of fantasy football.

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