It's eight days until the start of the NFL season and the all-important third preseason game is now in the rearview mirror. With that, let's recap and look at who's trending up and who's trending down in the NFL.
Up: Jamaal Charles, RB, Denver Broncos
The Broncos have had one of the most volatile backfields in the league for the past few seasons. From Willis McGahee in 2012 to Knowshown Moreno’s phenomenal 2013 season to the rise of C.J. Anderson over second-round pick Montee Ball in the second half of 2014 to the “fall” of Anderson as he has struggled to stay healthy in 2015 and 2016 leading to work Ronnie Hillman and Devontae Booker. Running backs in Denver are never a sure bet in fantasy. This year looks like it could bring more of the same. For the third straight year, Anderson will likely begin the season atop the depth chart. In Denver’s third preseason game against Green Bay, Anderson rushed nine times for 31 yards and a score, good enough for 3.4 yards per carry. However, four-time pro bowler and Kansas City Chief turned Denver Bronco Jamaal Charles returned to action and gained 27 yards on just four carries for just over 6 yards per carry. Charles looked healthy and like his old self, making defenders miss with smooth moves in space. If Charles returns to form, that could spell trouble for Anderson and those who own him in fantasy.
Down: Kirk Cousins, QB, Washington Redskins
There’s a lot of hype surrounding Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins, despite the fact that receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are no longer with the team. Cousins was a top 10 fantasy quarterback each of the past two seasons and he hopes to keep that trend going with new teammate Terrelle Pryor and a returning Jamison Crowder, not to mention Jordan Reed who is an elite tight end when healthy. But Cousins and Washington didn’t look like the offensive juggernaut fans are used to seeing Sunday against Cincinnati. Washington’s offense failed to pick up a first down in its first three series and Cousins threw a pick six in the fourth. While I’m by no means bailing on Cousins because of a bad quarter, it was disheartening to see a vaunted offense so unproductive in the early going. Cousins finished the day passing for 109 yards and an interception.
Up: Rob Kelley, RB, Washington Redskins
There’s a silver lining to every bad situation and for Washington, the silver lining in Sunday’s game against Cincinnati was running back Rob Kelley. Kelley rushed 10 times for 57 yards and a score Sunday. In fact, it wasn’t until Washington started using Kelley more that the offense got going. Kelley finished as a top 15 running back in the second half of last year according to fantasypros.com. He is being criminally undervalued at his current average draft position which is the late seventh, early eighth round.
Down: Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
Chiefs receiver Tyreek Hill caught fire toward the end of last season as Kansas City’s Swiss Army Knife, catching 25 passes for 217 yards and two scores, rushing for 202 yards and three scores and returning kicks and punts for 373 yards and another three touchdowns from Week 12 to Week 17 of last year. That’s 860 yards and 12 scores from scrimmage in six weeks. With former teammate Jeremy Maclin now in Baltimore, Hill figures to have a bigger role in the Chiefs’ offense but perhaps now that defenses can key in on him as the top wide receiver, his future won’t be so bright. Hill finished a lackluster preseason with an awful performance against the Seahawks Friday night. He caught just one pass for 11 yards and had three drops. Hill has an average draft position in the fourth and fifth rounds which is too pricy for my taste. While the volume will certainly be there, he’ll be the focus on many defenses as one of the top dogs in Kansas City next to tight end Travis Kelce. He’s looking more like a boom-or-bust candidate this season.
Up: Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns
It’s the Browns, far from being the best team in the league but there is talent in this Cleveland offense. Running back Isaiah Crowell is getting plenty of love from fantasy analysts but receiver Corey Coleman could be in for a big year. The second-year man out of Baylor caught four passes for 66 yards in Cleveland’s third preseason game against Tampa Bay Saturday night. He led the team with eight targets and had good chemistry with rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer. Coleman was on his way to a big year last season, he put up a two-catch, 69-yard performance in Week 1 then followed it up with a monster stat line of five catches for 104 yards and two touchdowns in Week 2. Then tragedy struck and he broke his hand in practice before Week 3. The injury sidelined him for six games and he wasn’t impressive in the eight games he played when he returned. He could truly bounce back this season. If so, Coleman would be a steal as he’s being drafted in the double-digit rounds.
Down: Stefon Diggs, WR, Minnesota Vikings
Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs didn’t have a great night Sunday against the 49ers. He caught just two passes for six yards on a night where it seemed like the entire Vikings’ first offense was out
of sync. Diggs had two drops in the game and Minnesota didn’t score a point until the second half. While the poor performance was by no means a deal breaker, it was an unimpressive outing for an offense that needs to find ways to make big plays.
Up: Carlos Hyde, RB, San Francisco 49ers
Last one and let’s end of a positive note. The other side of the Vikings’ mediocre outing offensively Sunday night was the 49ers’ offensive explosion. Quarterback Brian Hoyer looked great in Kyle Shanahan’s offense throwing two touchdowns on back-to-back possessions. His second touchdown throw was a 24-yard strike to running back Carlos Hyde. Hyde figures to get plenty of reps as San Francisco's starter. Which is good because the running game hasn’t quite clicked yet for him in Shanahan’s zone scheme. However, the workload and usage in the passing game is interesting especially given that Hyde’s average draft position has him going in the third and fourth rounds.