Position battles across the NFL
This week we'll look at position battles across the league. Some of these battles have huge implications for fantasy leagues, others less so. But all are important for fantasy owners to stay on top of.
Alshon Jeffery caught four passes in the preseason opener and has really impressed coaches in practice. He's running with the first team now. Devin Hester and Earl Bennett might be falling behind the talented rookie. With Devin Thomas retiring and Bennett suffering a minor injury, Dane Sanzenbacher may make the team now as well, though his chances of cracking the starting lineup are pretty remote.
The Law Firm is day-to-day. BenJarvus Green-Ellis will miss the next exhibition game with a foot injury, and Bernard Scott already has a hand injury, so look for Brian Leonard, Cedric Peerman, Aaron Brown and Dan Herron to get extra reps in Thursday's game. The Bengals seem to be pretty set in the pecking order, but if Green-Ellis' injury lingers, things could get interesting.
Donald Jones caught one pass for six yards in the preseason opener and continues to hold the lead over the other mediocrities (Derek Hagan, Marcus Easley, and T.J. Graham) in Buffalo. Easley in particular appears to be in jeopardy of getting cut, as he's having a hard time getting reps with the second unit. With Steve Johnson and David Nelson already in the starting lineup, not to mention the presence of Scott Chandler, Jones should face single coverage all season.
Knowshon Moreno got five carries in the first exhibition game, but only after Willis McGahee and Lance Ball got theirs, and he has an uphill battle to even make the team (even Xavier Omon looks better now). Rookie Ronnie Hillman was held out of the game with a hamstring injury, though he's back in practice. Denver may try to lighten McGahee's load, and Hillman could be main beneficiary, but if he keeps tweaking his hamstring injury, like he did in Tuesday's practice, he could find himself behind at least Ball.
Trent Richardson had a successful minor scope to get a tiny loose particle in his knee. He's already rehabbing and is expected to be ready for the regular season, but his Week 1 status is still in doubt. Montario Hardesty started the opener and is ahead of Brandon Jackson, though Jackson will be used more in passing situations during the regular season
Mohamed Massaquoi reportedly suffered a concussion (which would be in his third in two years) in Friday's game, but he adamantly denied that and was back on the practice field a few days later. So far, he is holding off Josh Gordon at No. 2 WR. Gordon still has a lot of catching up to do, but if Massaquoi finds himself sidelined again, Gordon (or the speedy rookie Travis Benjamin) would probably start the regular-season opener.
The Tampa Bay coaching staff said that Doug Martin will be the starter even though LeGarrette Blount is officially ahead of him on the depth chart. Coach Greg Schiano has backed off that a bit, saying the battle will remain fluid until one appears significantly better than the other. Their numbers were similar Friday - both had seven carries and scored a short touchdown. Regardless of who wins this battle - and it will probably be Martin - the loser will probably get the ball a lot this year.
Both candidates for this job were pretty bad in the preseason opener, though Kevin Kolb was a bit worse than John Skelton, who started the game. Kolb had a minor rib injury, which may have affected him somewhat. There's been some speculation the Cardinals are already leaning toward Skelton to start the regular season under center, but coach Ken Whisenhunt is confirming nothing yet. Kolb will start this week's exhibition game against Oakland while Skelton is slated to start next week against the Titans.
Neither Beanie Wells nor Ryan Williams played Friday, so Alfonso Smith played with the first team and will probably be the fourth running back kept for insurance. William Powell had a strong game, but he's a bit of a long shot. Williams is expected to play this week, but Wells is not a lock to play yet. This could be the week Williams earns the job for good.
Neither Andre Roberts nor Michael Floyd is off to a good start this summer. Roberts is in the lead for the No. 2 job, but Floyd should catch him eventually. Whether that occurs in August or sometime during the regular season is anyone's guess.
Ryan Mathews has broken clavicle and is out 4-6 weeks, which means the Chargers are likely going to need another starter on Opening Day. Ronnie Brown looks like the starter now, so his stock is on the rise, but fullback Le'Ron McClain will also see more carries. Curtis Brinkley has the advantage of knowing the offense (and disadvantage of being worse than the other guys on the roster). Jackie Battle is there too, but it's doubtful he can overtake Brown and McClain.
Dwayne Bowe was thought to be close to signing a contract tender, but that does not appear to be the case. Jon Baldwin has become the No. 1 receiver in the meantime. Dexter McCluster is getting some first-team reps as well. McCluster saw more action than presumptive starter Steve Breaston in the preseason opener. The Chiefs really want to use McCluster somewhere, so Breaston could suffer for targets, especially once Bowe returns. Devon Wylie is also a possibility, but he's more of a long shot.
Expected starter Donald Brown only had two carries in the preseason opener, but he also had a nifty 63-yard touchdown catch on a screen pass. Mewelde Moore, who will possibly be the third-down back (and maybe more) based on his experience, suffered a rib injury and might miss a little time. Delone Carter, who scored in the opener is next in line.
Miles Austin and Dez Bryant both have hamstring injuries, but at least Bryant was able to suit up and play one series against the Raiders. The rest of the Dallas wideout corps is pretty week, with Kevin Ogletree, Dwayne Harris and maybe Danny Coale and Andre Holmes (who caught three passes for 40 yards against Oakland) among the candidates for the No. 3 job.
David Garrard had knee surgery and will miss the preseason, opening the door for Matt Moore and Ryan Tannehill to win job. Tannehill already looks better, so he might be the Week 1 starter. He's expected to start this week's exhibition game, and coach Joe Philbin and the Dolphins will test him to see if he's ready.
The biggest news in Miami this week was the arrest - and subsequent release - of Chad Johnson. He was expected to start at wideout, so everyone moves up a notch. Brian Hartline (calf) is still out - he may be behind Davone Bess and Legedu Naanee at this point. Julius Pruitt, who caught six passes for 52 yards, might be up as high as fourth on the depth chart now, but Roberto Wallace (who has practiced with the first team) and Marlon Moore might have something to say about that.
Dion Lewis is still ahead of Bryce Brown in the race to be LeSean McCoy's caddy, but Brown played well in the exhibition opener against Pittsburgh and will have more chances to make a statement the rest of the way. The Eagles went pass-happy against the Steelers, though, so it's a difficult to determine much about their running game this early in preseason.
The 49ers have a lot of depth here, which may give them the flexibility to limit Randy Moss' playing time throughout the season to keep him fresh. Moss has impressed coaches and teammates with his play and leadership this summer, but he's definitely getting older. Mario Manningham has also been impressive, and though he didn't play in the exhibition opener, he was a healthy scratch so the coaches could look at the rest of the depth chart. Ted Ginn started, but he's definitely behind Moss, Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham. If Moss is limited in any way, Ginn could see more time on the field. One player not to expect to see a lot of, at least in 2012: A.J. Jenkins. Although he's made a lot of noise in camp, he dropped two passes in the opener and is not expected to make a big splash early in the season.
Not much has changed in the last week: Rashad Jennings still looks good and Maurice Jones-Drew is still holding out. Keith Toston looks like the best of the other candidates (DuJuan Harris, Jalen Parmele, Montell Owens), so considering that Jennings missed all last year and MJD's holdout has no end in sight, Toston could be a sleeper.
There's quite a logjam in Jacksonville, but the candidates declined by one with the release of veteran Lee Evans. Rookie Justin Blackmon has the highest ceiling by far, and he'll get up to a half of Friday's game to prove himself. Mike Thomas and Brian Robiskie both played well last week, and Cecil Shorts had a nice touchdown. Laurent Robinson didn't do much, but the Jags didn't sign him to leave him on the bench.
The top four Jets wideouts are banged up, but there isn't much behind them, so coach Rex Ryan will have to cross his fingers and wait for Santonio Holmes (ribs), Stephen Hill (finger), Chaz Schilens (ankle/groin) and Jeremy Kerley (slight tear in hamstring) to get healthy. Holmes' pain is relatively minor, but Hill might have a tough time catching passes in the next few weeks, and Schilens just can't stay healthy enough to make an impact. Don't be surprised to see the Jets bring in the usual free-agent suspects. We hear Lee Evans is available.
Kevin Smith, who suffered a minor quad injury last week, looks locked in as the Week 1 starter, mostly because no one knows when Jahvid Best or Mikel Leshoure are ever going to play. Leshoure thinks he'll be ready once his two-game suspension ends, but he hasn't played much in camp. Keiland Williams played well in the exhibition opener and may have earned more playing time with the performance. He took some first-team reps in practice earlier this week.
With James Starks (turf toe), Alex Green (knee) and Brandon Saine (hamstring) all hurt, the Packers had no choice but to sign Cedric Benson. Green is on a snap count but has looked great in practice and should be the top running back for Green Bay on Thursday as Benson isn't ready to play yet. Starks is still atop the depth chart, but with Benson now in house, his hold on the job isn't as strong as it once was.
Greg Jennings hasn't been on the field since suffering a concussion Aug. 3, and it's not clear when he'll return. Fortunately, the Packers have four good receivers on the roster to cover for him: Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Randall Cobb and Donald Driver. If Jennings misses significant time, this could be the year Jones and/or Cobb truly breaks out.
OK, we know Steve Smith will catch a lot of Cam Newton's passes, but what else is there in Carolina? Brandon LaFell, David Gettis, Seyi Ajirotutu and Louis Murphy should get opportunities this summer. If the first exhibition game was any indication, Murphy (who caught two passes for 42 yards) looks the best. A lot has to shake out here.
Stevan Ridley has emerged as the lead back, while Shane Vereen has been No. 2 or 3, and both played well last Thursday. Danny Woodhead will be a change-of-pace back, and undrafted Brandon Bolden isn't bad as a No. 4. Anything can happen in New England, but there appears to be order, at least for now. Enjoy it while you can.
Brandon Gibson was having a great camp until he sustained a "lower leg" injury that now appears to be a hamstring. Should he make a swift recovery, he could still earn a starting receiver position with the Rams, but with fierce competition from Danny Amendola, Brian Quick and Steve Smith, Gibson could be relegated to fourth on the depth chart. One player we'll have to cross off the list soon is Danario Alexander, who is out with a hamstring injury and just can't stay healthy.
Ed Dickson suffered a sprained shoulder in the Thursday opener. He should be back, but Dennis Pitta (hand) is also out. Billy Bajema, who was brought in when Pitta was hurt, would top the depth chart if Dickson and Pitta stay out, but the Ravens will probably bring in another tight end. Davon Drew is next in line. Dickson's MRI was negative, but he'll likely miss the rest of the preseason.
Roy Helu was all set to start this week, but he developed tendinitis in his left Achilles'. Although Tim Hightower (knee) should start practicing soon and could be in the Week 1 starting conversation, Evan Royster's value gets a bit of a bump with Helu likely unable to go in the near future. For what it's worth, Hightower is still considered the No. 1 back, but Royster closes the gap with each week he's playing and Hightower is not.
Neil Rackers is putting pressure on Graham Gano after making 10 of 11 kicks in practice Monday. Gano missed four of his 12 and is on thin ice after two inconsistent years with the Skins. Still, Rackers isn't exactly the definition of great leg strength.
Mark Ingram, who is still recovering from offseason knee surgery, didn't start last week's game and Pierre Thomas didn't play much. Darren Sproles has a bit of knee soreness that will keep him out this week. Unfortunately, the preseason is doing nothing to provide any clarity in New Orleans.
Courtney Roby continues to play well, but Devery Henderson, Adrian Arrington and Nick Toon are sidelined, so don't read much into it. Henderson has a minor ankle injury, Arrington's knee injury could be a bit more serious (he just had surgery) and Toon will miss one more game with a foot injury. At least Marques Colston and Lance Moore are healthy, but they've been shut out in both exhibition games.
Garrett Hartley is still the better bet over the veteran Kasay, but there's been no clarity based on the results so far. The well-past-his-prime Kasay was second in the NFL in points last year, so whoever wins this battle could be a valuable fantasy kicker.
It looks like no matter how well Russell Wilson plays, he's won't beat out Matt Flynn, who was decent in the exhibition opener but made a few mistakes. Still, Wilson, who also made a few mistakes in the opener, at least now looks like a better bet than Tarvaris Jackson for the backup job.
With a possible suspension looming for Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin saw a lot of action in the opener, running for 24 yards on 10 carries. Despite the modest numbers, he hit the holes hard and showed good quickness, so he remains a good sleeper. Leon Washington started the game, but he's more likely to be used on special teams than as an every-down back.
Sidney Rice had offseason surgery on both shoulders and has been a non-contact participant. Terrell Owens, who is reportedly timing at 4.5 in the 40, has been working out at Rice's flanker position (don't worry, Rice still has it). Owens, Ben Obomanu, Golden Tate, Braylon Edwards and Doug Baldwin, among others, are competing for the starting split-end job. Edwards (two catches - including a TD - for 51 yards) had a nice game, catching both his targets, while Baldwin missed the game with a hamstring injury.
Both Shayne Graham (20, 37) and Randy Bullock (21, 52) made both of their field goal attempts Saturday. They'll rotate kicks throughout the preseason until coach Gary Kubiak makes a decision. Bullock is a rookie with a big leg, while Graham is the veteran ... without a big leg.
Matt Hasselbeck started the first exhibition game and threw two picks, including one returned for a touchdown on the first play of the game. Jake Locker at least avoided mistakes, but he didn't do a whole lot either (though he was better than Hasselbeck). The two quarterbacks have split reps in practice, and Locker will start Game 2 this week.
Kenny Britt is in trouble again. I'm not even sure what he did this time, but he's probably going to get a small suspension at the start of the year. At least his knee is feeling better. Veteran Damian Williams or rookie Kendall Wright would jump into the starting lineup if Britt can't go. Wright looked good in his debut, catching three for 47 yards.
Adrian Peterson, who tore his ACL eight months ago, is already back and practicing and may even see a little game action during the preseason. Toby Gerhart is ready to go as the backup - his season-ending sprained MCL is now fully healed. Peterson probably won't have a full workload this year, making Gerhart a great handcuff, especially in deep leagues.
Stephen Burton started against San Francisco (Percy Harvin was a healthy scratch) and caught a 52-yarder but also dropped one. Michael Jenkins finally looks healthy, but he's battling Burton, Devin Aromashodu and Emmanuel Arceneaux for the No. 3 job, which will be the No. 2 job while Jerome Simpson is suspended. Given the lackluster options and questionable pecking order in Minnesota, Harvin is the only wideout worth drafting.
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