Fantasy fallout: Christian McCaffrey, Jimmy Graham generating buzz

You can't believe everything you see in the preseason. But some plays are just too tantalizing to ignore.

Carolina Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey dazzled on a 71-yard touchdown run Friday -- the longest run of any player in the preseason to date. And he finished with a total of 120 yards on nine touches, lending some credence to his coaches' vow to make him the centerpiece of the offense in his second NFL season.

Meanwhile, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and new tight end Jimmy Graham have now played a total of one series together in the preseason -- and it ended with an 8-yard TD connection.

The price for McCaffrey and Graham will probably increase a bit now in fantasy drafts -- as it probably should. Because this was just more evidence to back up the buzz these players had already been generating in training camp.

Obviously it's hard to believe McCaffrey will get 25-30 touches per game, as coach Ron Rivera and new offensive coordinator Norv Turner suggested at the start of camp (only Le'Veon Bell and Ezekiel Elliott reached that threshold last season).

But even if the math is a little fuzzy, as ESPN Panthers reporter David Newton broke down on Monday, it's clear the Panthers have big plans for McCaffrey as a pass-catcher and a between-the-tackles runner after parting ways with veteran running back Jonathan Stewart in the offseason.

Even new veteran backup C.J. Anderson admitted, "I was telling people, if it was me, it would be a 50-yard gain [instead of a 71-yard touchdown]. With [McCaffrey], he has the ability to finish runs. He's a home run threat. That's what we've got to feed."

As for Graham, his TD catch looked almost too easy for Rodgers, who scrambled for a moment in the pocket before chucking the ball up to a spot where only his new 6-foot-7 tight end could pluck it. And ESPN Packers reporter Rob Demovsky had just written before the game about a similar TD pass from Rodgers to Graham in practice -- which Graham went up and snagged with one hand.

"It's pretty impressive to watch," Rodgers said. "You guys have been here a long time, as have I, [and] it's hard to remember, you know, the consistency and the athleticism from a guy that size. We haven't had that in a while."

Demovsky pointed out that veteran tight end Martellus Bennett generated some buzz in Green Bay last summer, too. But Demovsky said Graham "looks legit to me" -- more so than Bennett did last season, when Bennett's dropped passes were a red flag.

"Graham has caught everything thrown his way," Demovsky said.

It's easy to imagine a lot of red zone work for Graham, since touchdowns have become his specialty (he had 10 TDs on just 57 catches in Seattle last season). But Rodgers suggested the Packers might also use Graham more in the middle of the field than the Seahawks did.

"He can do it all over the field," Rodgers said. "I don't think he was used a ton in the past couple of years in the middle of the field, but he's an incredible athlete, he's got a wide, wide catch radius and there's a lot of things he can do. It's exciting to be able to have a guy like that."

Here's a look at some other standouts from the second full week of preseason games, with insight from ESPN's NFL reporters:

Sleeper receivers

ESPN Los Angeles Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams and Denver Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold had already touted young receivers Mike Williams and Courtland Sutton as their predicted "breakout candidates" in a recent NFL Nation roundup before each of them caught TD passes on Saturday. They are late-round fantasy picks for now, but if your league is deep enough, you should try to make room for their upside on your bench.

Eric Williams said Mike Williams (the seventh overall pick in last year's draft) has looked explosive throughout training camp after his rookie season was marred by back and knee injuries. And he should get "a significant amount of targets, specifically in the red zone" because of his size and length at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds -- especially in the wake of tight end Hunter Henry's season-ending knee injury.

Legwold cautioned the Broncos have had only one rookie receiver catch more than 35 passes since 1990. But he also said the 6-3, 218-pound Sutton has the size and athleticism to make a red zone impact and wrote that Broncos coach Vance Joseph said 50-50 balls are really "60-40" for Sutton. "He's been fairly ridiculous in camp, a highlight a day," Legwold said. "He's still working on his routes, but when the ball is in the air he's got some crazy skills."

Second-year Tennessee Titans receiver Taywan Taylor caught four passes for 95 yards and two TDs on Saturday -- including a 47-yarder from Marcus Mariota in the first quarter. Taylor has stepped up to fill the void while veteran Rishard Matthews has been sidelined with an unspecified ailment. But even when Matthews comes back, ESPN Titans reporter Turron Davenport thinks Taylor will "still get plenty of targets and have a package of plays that will allow him to get the ball quickly and gain yards after the catch" as Tennessee aims to spread the ball around more. Davenport recommends Taylor as a late-round draft-and-stash player for fantasy.

Last week in this space, we linked to ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter Jeremy Fowler's article on how Ben Roethlisberger is intrigued by the potential of rookie deep threat James Washington. Then Washington went out and caught five passes for 114 yards and two TDs in the second half Thursday at Green Bay. Washington won't be a top-three target in Pittsburgh because of Antonio Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Bell. But Fowler likes him as a fantasy roster stash, too, as an "emerging red zone target with a flair for the big play." Worth noting: Fowler doesn't think Washington's emergence will hurt Smith-Schuster's fantasy potential, because the Steelers needed a deep threat to replace what they lost in Martavis Bryant last season. If anything, it could help draw the attention of safeties away from Smith-Schuster.

Packers receiver Jake Kumerow -- a fourth-year long shot who began his career in Cincinnati -- is leading the NFL with 190 receiving yards on six catches this preseason. And he is tied for the NFL lead with two TDs, including an 82-yarder Thursday. Even before that play, Demovsky wrote about how the emerging Kumerow is "no longer just a fun camp story that will be forgotten in a few weeks." However, Demovsky still sees Kumerow as the Packers' No. 4 receiver, so he probably won't be fantasy relevant barring injuries.

Quick hits

  • Patriots: New England's ever-changing backfield can be maddening for fantasy owners. But don't forget how consistent runner/receiver/Super Bowl hero James White has been for them. White had six catches for 61 yards and a touchdown, plus four carries for 31 yards Thursday against Philadelphia. Over the past two years, White averaged 58 catches, 659 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns per season -- even with fellow dual threat Dion Lewis on the roster. And when asked if he expects similar numbers from White this season, ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss said you can "Lock. It. In." ... "White is as steady as they come," Reiss added.

  • Dolphins: Third-year running back Kenyan Drake feels like a bit of an afterthought in the fantasy drafts I've taken part in so far, despite his strong finish last season -- perhaps because ageless veteran Frank Gore is among those looming behind him. But ESPN Dolphins reporter Cameron Wolfe labeled Drake as his "breakout candidate" in that NFL Nation roundup. And then Drake went out and ran for 54 yards on eight carries Friday.

  • Chiefs: Speaking of plays that generate excitement, Patrick Mahomes' 69-yard TD throw to Tyreek Hill on Friday was as "wow" as it gets. I'm not sure it will affect their fantasy stock too much, since the buzz is already pretty high for both. But it's worth noting that ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher has stressed he doesn't think the arrival of receiver Sammy Watkins should put much of a dent in Hill's production. Hill has been getting the ball a lot more in games and practices so far.

  • Saints: New Orleans (the team I cover) is still sorting out its receiver pecking order. Newly signed veteran Cameron Meredith had just one target in his preseason debut Friday -- and it bounced off of him for an interception. But it was a good sign that he was on the field after he had missed some practice time -- he is coming back from last season's major knee injury. Rookie third-round draft pick Tre'Quan Smith has been flashing throughout training camp and the preseason, showing a tantalizing combination of size, speed and hands. Smith still needs seasoning with assignment/alignment, etc., but he'll get on the field early. And finally, veteran Ted Ginn Jr. should be the safest bet as a No. 2 target behind Pro Bowler Michael Thomas, but Ginn drew the ire of coach Sean Payton for assignment errors on Thursday. In the end, those three guys might all wind up sharing the workload.

  • Steelers: If you draft Bell, Fowler said second-year pro James Conner is the "clear-cut" handcuff in Pittsburgh. Conner had 57 yards and a touchdown on five carries Thursday, and Fowler said he could get a decent workload this season. But obviously his production will be capped by Bell's presence.