Preseason Week 3 Flames: Kareem Hunt suddenly in the top rookie picture

The arrow is pointing forward for Kareem Hunt post-Ware knee injury. (AP)

There’s a large contingent of football fans that staunchly believe preseason games are completely inconsequential. To these naysayers, they’re nothing more than an evaluation phase for head coaches looking to comprise the best final roster. However, most fanatics would vehemently disagree. Exhibition action gives owners the opportunity to gain invaluable insight into potential sleepers and busts. In an attempt to decipher the meaningful from the meaningless, here are my top Flames from Preseason Week 3 (Updated throughout the weekend).

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Kareem Hunt, KC, RB (90.8 ADP, RB33) – The nettlesome injury imp continued his rampage Friday night in Seattle. After driving through contact on a short catch and run, Spencer Ware fell to the ground, clutched his leg and exited on a cart. Initial reports suggest the structural integrity of his knee wasn’t compromised, but follow up tests revealed a torn PCL, a season-ending injury. For a player who was one of seven rushers to rank inside the top-10 in YAC per attempt and elusive rating last year, it was an unfortunate setback.

In light of Ware’s injury, the floodgates open for Hunt. Talked up by fanalysts for weeks, the rookie is no longer a mid-round upside selection. Now he’s very much in the top rookie RB conversation. Opportunity knocks.

Compact, shifty and versatile, Hunt has performed brilliantly most of the Preseason. On 22 grips, he’s netted 5.0 yards per touch and posted fantastic totals in YAC (3.7 per attempt) and tackles avoided (0.33 per attempt). In an offense predicated on ball control and working behind an ascending o-line, Hunt likely touches the ball 15-18 times Week 1 against New England. If the greenhorn takes advantage, Ware could be left in the dust. For the time being, Hunt must be considered an RB2 in 12-team leagues. Overall, he’s my RB18.

DeVante Parker, Mia, WR (72.3, WR35) – Written off by previously burned investors, Parker is about to exemplify a favorite fantasy phrase, “post-hype sleeper.” In a game where defense was nonexistent, Parker and Jay Cutler continued to build their budding bromance. On a simple streak up the right sideline, the pair played pitched and catch. Parker leaped over his defender, high-pointed, hauled in the perfectly placed toss and sprinted upfield for a 72-yard game.

This is the year Parker embarks on a breakout journey. His A.J. Green-like athletic profile, improved work ethic and playmaking ability should whet any fantasy appetite, no matter how insatiable. Adam Gase and Cutler, one of the better downfield passers in the league, appear to have visions of grandeur. Long bombs are the game plan, the QB’s specialty. Recall Cutler ranked top-10 in deep-ball completion percentage 2015-2016 and posted a 120.1 passer rating on chucks beyond 20 yards in five games last season. Though inconsistency is a distinct possibility, the duo is sure to record several more explosive pass plays.

“Get your guys” is advice all fantasy owners hot for a player should subscribe to. Yes, Parker’s current ADP sits in the low-70s, but he’s worth reaching a round early for. A final tally around 70-1150-8 is very attainable.

Kelvin Benjamin, Car, WR (59.9, WR31) – Not long ago, Benjamin routinely crushed triple steakburgers at the local Steak ‘n Shake. A mixture of weight and conditioning issues and a sharp Cam Newton downturn stunted his fantasy potential in 2016. As a result, he turned many drafters off, yours truly included, reducing his ADP considerably compared to previous seasons. It’s time for all of us to reassess.

For the second straight week, Benjamin showcased skills reminiscent of 2014. He looked svelte, nimble and quick after the catch. Finding the end zone in back-to-back games, he’s totaled 8-107-2 over roughly six quarters of Preseason action. If Cam’s surgically repaired shoulder doesn’t disintegrate it could be a major bounce-back year for Benjamin. Christian McCaffrey’s presence will help free the wide receiver more often downfield.

Benjamin’s catch rates his past two seasons induce vomiting (’14: 50.0%; ’16: 53.8%), but he’s a preeminent red-zone threat who should tuck inside the WR top-30. A reasonable return on investment is increasingly likely at his current ADP.

Chris Hogan/Danny Amendola (200+ ADP) – When Julian Edelman’s knee buckled on a non-contact cut against the Lions a collective gasp rose from Fantasyland. The treasured PPR asset reportedly suffered a torn ACL, a setback that not only sealed his 2017 fate but was another prime example why Preseason games are absolutely idiotic.

Edelman’s absence only jumbles the unsolvable New England Rubik’s Cube. Hogan was dynamite Friday picking apart Detroit’s secondary on various routes (4-70-2 total). His electric performance had owners scurrying to waiver wires and beamed a blinding light on his draft profile. Despite Hogan’s breakthrough, fanatics shouldn’t overspend. Though he lined up in the slot 26.6 percent of the time last year, he’ll work primarily opposite Brandin Cooks in three and four-WR sets. Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell and New England’s throng of pass-catching RBs will also see ample slot time. That interchangeability along with Rob Gronkowski’s projected targets share (18-20%?), in my mind, squashes the Amendola/Hogan hype.

An uptick in looks is inevitable – Edelman enticed 160 targets in ’16 – but inconsistency will be the norm for most New England receivers. When the dust settles on the season, I suspect Hogan finishes in the WR40-WR50 range, Amendola around WR60. In reality, Cooks and James White receive the biggest value upgrades.

Get ready for your Fantasy Football draft.

Quick Hitters: ‘The Thing’ on the back of a Tomahawk missile. That, #TeamHuevos, is exactly what Jay Ajayi resembled Thursday against Philly. The popular turn pick in 12-team drafts barreled through arm tackles on nine carries totaling 59 yards. Ajayi’s brutish power was far from surprising. Remember he ranked No. 1 per Pro Football Focus in yards after contact per attempt in 2016 (3.46). If the Miami offensive line remains intact, a top-five season isn’t out of the question. Pair him with Julio Jones, Melvin Gordon, LeSean McCoy or Jordy Nelson in Round 2 and you may soon drown yourself in Dom Perignon … The deafening buzz surrounding McCaffrey has masked Jonathan Stewart. Slipping into the double-digit rounds, the brawny veteran is a draft day steal and potential early-season hot starter. In a torrential downpour, the mudder ripped off 42 yards on four carries. It’s tough to say exactly what the per game distribution between Stewart and McCaffrey will be, but even if the incumbent racks 11-13 carries the first few weeks he could post fiery numbers. Keep in mind Carolina has the easiest schedule for fantasy RBs Weeks 1-5. …

… It’s time to start taking Chris Carson seriously. The seventh-round rookie again took advantage of increased playing time. Logging action with the first team he evaded tackles, showed plus burst and flashed his receiving skills. Given his size, sure hands and versatility, Carson may soon leapfrog C.J. Prosise on the depth chart. Eddie Lacy played better Saturday, but the unheralded youngster, drafted in only four percent of Yahoo leagues, is the healthiest and best RB currently on Seattle’s roster … Ameer Abdullah darted, sprinted and cut his way to laudable numbers vs. the Patriots. On 16 touches he totaled 99 yards. Theo Riddick limits his catch potential and Zach Zenner may lurk near the goal-line, but the third-year rusher is a strong candidate for 220-240 total touches. If he stays upright and protects the football, he should straddle the RB2 line in 12-team leagues finishing in range of 1150 combined yards with 4-6 TDs …

Jamaal Charles’ knees, miraculously, didn’t dissolve Saturday night. Showing vintage burst and versatility, the former Chief totaled 42 yards on five touches. His exhibition rubber stamped a roster spot according to head coach Vance Joseph. Though he’s still very much an injury risk he and C.J. Anderson are scribbled in as the 1A and 1B options in Denver’s proposed RBBC. Pint-sized rookie De’Angelo Henderson, who coughed up the football twice against the Packers, should also see a handful of touches Week 1 … Welcome back, Ty Montgomery. Getting a taste for the limelight after missing a couple weeks with sickle cell complications, he complied 34 yards and a TD on only four touches. His 25-yard gashing of Denver’s offensive line was nothing short of spectacular. On the scamper he tossed one would-be tackler on the second level and dragged two more for extra yardage. With Jamaal Williams struggling (2.1 ypc in Preseason), Monty is the unrivaled top option for Mike McCarthy. In the opener against Seattle, he should log 15-plus touches with ease. For multiple reasons, he’s a high-tiered RB2 at a minimum in 12-team leagues. …

Matt Forte shook of the rust with the Jets ones, but Bilal Powell unquestionably won the night. The popular mid-draft selection notched 142 yards and a TD, sprinting to the end-zone on an 85-yard catch and run. Powell, one of highest ranking RBs in juke rate last year, is locked into an RBBC with the elder statesman. However, given the Jets’ near guaranteed negative game scripts, he could approach 1100 total yards, 70 receptions and 5-7 TDs this year. Considering his mid-80s ADP, he’s a tremendous value. … Two catches. Two touchdowns. Arizona wideout John Brown calmed nerves and erased doubts about his health. When on the field, the fleet-footed target is the Cardinals’ finest downfield weapon. Located in the clearance aisle in recent drafts, he’s an upside bench stash one year removed from a 1,000-yard campaign. … Cameron Meredith’s torn ACL suffered Sunday sunk expectations for the Bears offense to hellish depths. It’s now or never for Kevin White, but castoffs Kendall Wright and Victor Cruz also enter into frame. With a number of negative game scripts on tap, someone will haul in catches for Chicago. White is the clear frontrunner, but if he flops, Wright is likely stands to benefit most. Jordan Howard, meanwhile, is the Leonard Fournette of the Midwest, a talented Round 2-worthy back in a rather unsupportive offensive environment. Thankfully, for the sophomore’s value, Chicago’s offensive line is reputable.

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