RB Willis McGahee UP
McGahee’s top backup, Ronnie Hillman, has been dealing with hamstring problems all Preseason. Those things can linger, so it becomes less likely that Hillman overtakes McGahee, especially since Head Coach John Fox doesn’t like rookies. McGahee is still heading into his age 31 season, but he’s reportedly the clear lead back and he should get a bunch of carries and a bunch of goal line carries on an explosive offense.
RB Ronnie Hillman DOWN
Hillman is dealing with hamstring problems and on top of that, news has come out that McGahee is the clear lead back, which makes some sense since John Fox hates rookies. Hillman does have some upside, because he’s the type of pass catching back that Peyton Manning will want on the field with him and because McGahee is heading into his age 31 season, but he’s only a late round flier. He might even start the season below Knowshon Moreno on the depth chart.
RB Jahvid Best DOWN
Best is expected to start the season on the PUP, which would cause him to miss 6 games. There’s a chance he doesn’t get cleared to play at all this season and, even if he does, it will only be as a change of pace back behind Kevin Smith and Mikel Leshoure to keep him fresh and he’ll probably just get hurt again. Don’t draft him.
RB Mikel Leshoure DOWN
Leshoure is still not 100% from his Achilles injury. He’s missed most of Training Camp and has yet to play a Preseason game. He’ll miss the first 2 games of the season anyway with suspension, but it’s definitely possible he misses a couple more with injury. Meanwhile, Kevin Smith has had a great offseason and will get the week 1 start in the absence of Best and Leshoure. He’s the Detroit back to own because he could end up being the lead back all season.
RB Kevin Smith UP
With Best likely out for at least 6 games and Leshoure out for at least 2 games, Smith will get at least two starts this season, but it seems like he’ll continue to be the lead back even once Leshoure returns as Leshoure is still struggling to return from his torn Achilles. There’s definitely upside with Smith as a RB3, but remember, he has a pretty checkered injury history too.
WR Santonio Holmes DOWN
Holmes has missed a lot of Training Camp and the Preseason with various injuries. The Jets’ passing offense isn’t going to be very good anyway so I’d let him be someone else’s problem.
WR Stephen Hill UP
If I were to own a Jets wide receiver, it probably would be Hill. Holmes can’t seem to stay healthy and while Hill is incredibly raw, he’ll be targeted around the goal line an awful lot at 6-5, just like Plaxico Burress last season, who caught 8 touchdowns. Burress caught 45 passes for 612 yards and 8 touchdowns last year. Hill, even as a rookie, should be able to get those numbers, with upside if Holmes misses any time with injury and/or Tebow becomes the starter. If Tebow becomes the starter, Hill could very well be his top target because, with Tebow, it doesn’t matter so much if you aren’t a great route runner, as long as you are athletic (see Thomas, Demaryius).
TE Dustin Keller UP
Dustin Keller had a breakout season last year, catching 65 passes for 815 yards and 5 touchdowns, leading a miserable receiving corps. I thought his production would go down this season because the receiving corps around him would be improved, but it doesn’t look like it. Keller should once again lead this miserable bunch in receiving. If you miss out on one of the top tight ends, Keller is a nice fall back option in the mid rounds.
TE Jason Witten DOWN
Witten is out indefinitely with a lacerated spleen. Unfortunately, the timetable for his return is very murky with this type of injury. He’ll have to remain idle for about a week and hope it heals and that he’ll avoid surgery. Reports says that’s the most likely scenario, but even if that scenario, he’d be questionable for week 1. Witten is incredibly tough and hasn’t missed a game since 2003, but I’m still cutting his original projected numbers to estimate that he plays 14 games instead of 16.
RB Evan Royster UP
If you’re going to own one of Washington’s running backs, Royster is the one. Tim Hightower is still not 100% back from his torn ACL and might not be ready for the opener, while Roy Helu is also hurt and viewed as only a change of pace back. Just note that Mike Shanahan is incredibly frustrating for fantasy owners. Hightower could easily take his job once he returns and he may decide to change his mind on Helu and make him the starter.
RB Tim Hightower UP
Hightower might not be ready week 1, but he could take Evan Royster’s job at any time once he’s healthy, so he’s worth a late round flier if you don’t mind dealing with the fact that Shanahan could give the starting job back to Royster or even Helu, once he’s given it to Hightower, without warning.
RB Roy Helu DOWN
Helu is hurt and the coaching staff views him as just a change of pace back, for right now at least. He’s only worth a late round flier in deep leagues and only if you don’t mind dealing with the fact that Shanahan could give the starting job back to Royster or Hightower, once he’s given it to Helu, without warning.
WR Donnie Avery DOWN
Just when it looked like he was fully healthy and ready to challenge for the starting job, he suffers a hip injury, which all but clinches the job for Austin Collie. He’ll be only the #3 wide receiver for the Colts on a team that figures to use lots of two-tight end sets and he’s also very injury prone. Don’t bother.
WR Reggie Wayne DOWN
Moving Wayne down a little bit, upon closer examination of the Colts’ receiving corps. You can read about it here.
WR Austin Collie UP
Collie is the Colts’ receiver you want to own, even after his latest potential minor concussion. Read about it here.
TE Coby Fleener DOWN
Fleener hasn’t quite been as big of a part of the offense in the Preseason as anticipated. Wide receiver Austin Collie has been his favorite target.
WR Greg Little UP
In essentially Cleveland’s 3rd preseason game (they used their 2nd preseason game as their regular season tune up instead of their 3rd because they play the Eagles in week 3 of the Preseason and week 1 of the Regular season), Little looked great and led the way with 4 catches for 45 yards. He was actually 17th in the league in targets last year, but only managed 61 catches for 709 yards and 2 touchdowns for two reasons, his quarterback play and his own play.
Browns quarterbacks completed just 56.1% of their passes for 5.8 YPA and 16 touchdowns to 13 interceptions. Brandon Weeden, at the very least, should be an upgrade. However, Little also dropped 14 passes last season. If he had caught half of those, he would have had something like 68 catches for 800 receiving yards. He was incredibly raw as a rookie, after missing his final year at North Carolina with suspension, but he’s gotten himself into better shape this offseason and seems poised for a breakout season. He’s still, by far, his team’s best receiver and could approach 1000 yards if Weeden is better than I think and is even a league average starter.
RB Isaac Redman DOWN
Rashard Mendenhall has been activated off the PUP, a very surprising move since even GM Kevin Tolbert said he’d likely begin the season on the PUP and miss at least 6 games. He won’t be ready for the opener, but he’ll likely only miss around 3 games, rather than 6+. Redman will be the lead back for 3 games and get about 15 carries per game and then get about 10, an even split with Mendenhall, for the other 13. He is the more talented back in Pittsburgh’s backfield and Mendenhall is in a contract year and unlikely to remain with the team after the season, but Redman’s window of opportunity to show himself as a true lead back has at least been cut in half.
RB Rashard Mendenhall UP
Mendenhall is officially on the fantasy radar after being activated off the PUP. He’ll still miss the first few games of the season and probably split carries for the rest of the season, but he’s worth a late round flier, especially as a handcuff to the still unproven Isaac Redman.
RB Jonathan Dwyer DOWN
With Mendenhall coming back, Dwyer becomes fantasy irrelevant as their #3 back.
WR Mike Williams UP
Mike Williams is having a strong Training Camp and is holding off Preston Parker for the starting job. Not only that, he’s been Josh Freeman’s favorite target in the Preseason, as he’s struggled to develop chemistry with new wide receiver Vincent Jackson. If Williams is back in shape this season, he could definitely lead the team in receiving because he has the familiarity advantage with Freeman. Remember, he caught 65 passes for 954 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2010.
WR Preston Parker DOWN
Parker has lost the starting job and will remain only the slot receiver. He’s off the fantasy radar, even in PPR leagues.
WR Kenny Britt UP
Adam Schefter reports that Britt will likely receive only a short suspension, somewhere between 1-3 games. He’s also made an incredible recovery from 2 knee surgeries and is impressing in work on the side and could be activated from the PUP any day now. I originally projected him to play 12 games, now I’m changing his projections to 14 games. Remember, in his last 14 full games, he’s caught 56 passes for 1146 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s got incredible upside in the mid rounds still.
WR Nate Washington DOWN
With Britt likely misses 2 games instead of 4, like I originally predicted, Washington obviously gets a stock down. He caught 74 passes for 1023 yards and 7 touchdowns last year out of necessity, but now Britt is coming back from injury and they’ve brought in Kendall Wright in the first round. He caught just 42 passes for 687 yards and 6 touchdowns in 2010. His stats should be closer to that in 2012.
WR Kendall Wright DOWN
Wright was originally on the fantasy bubble, but he’s off the radar now since he’ll only get a couple of starts and spend most of his time as a rookie receiver operating primarily out of the slot on an average passing offense. Rookie receivers never do much anyway.
WR Denarius Moore DOWN
Moore has missed all of the Preseason and most of Training Camp with a hamstring problem, which he’s been dealing with for 2 months. Hamstring injuries tend to linger and Moore missed time with injuries last season too so he probably won’t play all 16 games this season. I’ve cut his projected stats to account for a decrease in projected games played from 16 to 14 and lowered his YPC because hamstring injuries can sap explosion.
WR Vincent Brown DOWN
Vincent Brown, who is the Chargers best wide receiver, broke his ankle in a Preseason game and could miss the entire season. Take this former sleeper off your board completely.
WR Robert Meachem UP
Meachem obviously gets a stock up with Brown going down as Brown was a major threat to his job. The fact that Meachem has struggled in Training Camp and has never caught more than 45 passes in a season, despite having Drew Brees as his quarterback, remains, but he should be a starter for the entire season on one of the more explosive offenses in the league. He’ll probably be utilized more in San Diego than New Orleans (if the utilization is in the best interest of the Chargers’ offense is yet to be determined), so he could have a career year because of the pure volume of targets coming his way.
WR Malcom Floyd UP
Floyd also moves up with Brown going down. Floyd’s starting job was never in danger, but with Brown out, Floyd becomes the obvious candidate to be San Diego’s #1 wide receiver. He’s not as physically talented as Meachem, but he’s got better chemistry with the quarterback. The biggest issue is that he’s missed 9 games over the past 2 seasons, he’s heading into his age 31 season, and he’s caught 3 or fewer passes in 14 of his last 23 games over the past 2 seasons. He wasn’t able to take advantage of the chance to be a #1 receiver in 2010 either.
TE Antonio Gates UP
Brown is probably done for the year. I’ve gone into detail on Floyd’s and Meachem’s short comings. Eddie Royal, the slot receiver, is also injury prone and hasn’t done anything of note since 2008. Gates was their #1 receiver in 2010, the last time the Chargers were without Vincent Jackson, catching 50 passes for 782 yards and 10 touchdowns in 10 games before getting hurt, on pace for a ridiculous 80 catches for 1251 yards and 16 touchdowns. He’s having a great offseason and is finally healthy and while he’s 32 and might miss a couple games with injuries, he’ll probably be the Chargers’ leading per game receiver when healthy.
TE Rob Housler UP
You can read more about Housler here.
WR Miles Austin DOWN
Miles Austin has missed all of the Preseason with hamstring problems. He should be fine for week 1, but hamstring problems tend to linger and he missed 6 games and caught just 43 passes for 579 yards and 7 touchdowns last year because of hamstring problems. He’s got upside, but let him be someone else’s problem.
WR Dez Bryant UP
Austin is battling hamstring problems still and Witten is out indefinitely with a lacerated spleen. Bryant, who is having a strong offseason on the field, could be due for a huge season in his 3rd year in the league, typically a breakout year for receivers. He’s the clear #1 option in one of the best passing attacks in the league.
QB Jake Locker UP
The Titans have named Jake Locker starting quarterback. Locker averaged 8.2 YPA and had 4 touchdowns to 0 interceptions last season, but he also only completed 51.5% of his passes. He has accuracy issues dating back to his days at Washington and if his last Preseason start is any indication (4-11 for 21 yards), those aren’t past him. He has some upside as a QB2 because of his talent, his receiving corps, his pass heavy offense, and his rushing ability, but I wouldn’t be too excited about him until I see him be more accurate. Also, if he struggles, the Titans have the option of going to a proven veteran backup, Matt Hasselbeck, and benching Locker.
QB Ryan Tannehill UP
The Dolphins have named Ryan Tannehill starting quarterback. You can do a lot better than him for a QB2 though. He has no receiving corps and he’s incredibly raw. The only reason he’s starting is because veteran David Garrard got hurt and other veteran Matt Moore stunk up the joint this Preseason. They’re starting him out of necessity, not because he’s ready. In his only Preseason start, he was 11 of 23 for 100 yards.
QB John Skelton UP
The Cardinals have not named a starting quarterback yet, but Skelton will start and play into the 3rd quarter this week, which means he’ll get all the 1st team reps in the most important Preseason game of the year. Barring a meltdown, he’ll be the starting quarterback. In 11 career starts, he’s thrown for 2248 yards, 10 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, while rushing for 153 yards. Over 16 games, that’s 3270 passing yards, 15 touchdowns, 20 interceptions, and 223 rushing yards.
He was pulled in two of those games and has thrown for 2057 yards, 9 touchdowns, 10 interceptions, while rushing for 144 yards. Over 16 games, that’s 3657 passing yards, 16 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions, while rushing for 256 yards. He’s got a good receiving corps, but there’s no guarantee he won’t be benched midseason or anything like that. You can do better in a QB2.
If you’re interested in doing a fantasy football league with me, here’s the link (no draft date set yet, currently standard, with the option to become PPR with group vote). http://msn.foxsports.com/fantasy/football/commissioner/Registration/Private.aspx?league=55086&password=FanSpot2