With the depth and breadth of training camp coverage these days, it's easier and easier to get the 30,000 foot view of who is ascending and who is declining around the league. Of course, trends can reserve, but they can also accelerate, which means it is good to know which way the wind is blowing... for now.
EJ Manuel, QB, BUF - Manuel has impressed SI’s Peter King among others, and he should be starting sooner than later. With his running ability and the Bills’ commitment to an uptempo offense, Manuel could easily be a surprise QB1 this year.
Geno Smith, QB, NYJ - Smith was knocked for conditioning when he dogged it in wind sprints, but he is showing up where it matters the most - running the offense, especially in the red zone. The arrow is pointing towards Smith taking over very early, and also getting a chance to have some looks as a running quarterback, which means we need to consider him late in deep leagues, or at least put him on waiver wire speed dial.
Matt Flynn, QB, OAK - Whatever quarterback competition there was to anticipate in Oakland has evaporated. Flynn is still a fringe player in traditional leagues, but two quarterback leaguers and dynasty players should note that Flynn is finally going to get a chance to show what he’s got as a starter for more than a game.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, PIT - Everything coming out of Latrobe is exactly what Bell owners would want to hear. He is getting first-team reps and standing out, while expectations are that he’ll be able to play on every down right away. He’s a viable RB2 pick in the 4th/5th round.
Shane Vereen, RB, NE - Conventional wisdom seems to point to Vereen as the best candidate to pick up the slack in the wake of the loss of Aaron Hernandez to the criminal justice system. He’s been lining up in the slot at times, and big things are expected in PPR leagues. You’ll have to take him in the fifth if you want him.
Jamaal Charles, RB, KC - All signs are pointing to Charles being heavily involved in the passing game. Around 40-50 catches seems like a given, and 60+ is not outlandish considering LeSean McCoy’s history with Andy Reid as a pass-catching back. Charles is worth a top three pick in PPR leagues.
Giovani Bernard, RB, CIN - At this point, he seems to be a co-lead with BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Soon, we might remove the “co” from that title. Going in the fifth round with a bullet.
Bilal Powell, RB, NYJ - Chris Ivory is injured, and Mike Goodson is out for personal reasons with no clear signal from the team on when he’ll return. Powell has been a leader of the offense, and might find himself starting by default. He’s not a great talent, but neither is Shonn Greene, and he was able to put up RB2 numbers last year in this backfield.
Greg Little, WR, CLE - Little is carrying himself with confidence and he seems to be over the dropsies for good. With Josh Gordon in the doghouse and Jordan Cameron lagging early, Little is on the rise in this pass offense.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, HOU - The Texans were set on starting Hopkins from the moment they drafted him, but all of the reports out of Houston indicate that he’s playing like a veteran starter already anyway. He projects as a quality bye/injury WR4 with upside.
Cecil Shorts, WR, JAX - It is impossible to find anything but strongly positive takes on Shorts. He trained with Larry Fitzgerald and has the look of a true #1 receiver. He’s part of a very deep group of WR2/WR3 types that make it easier to wait on wideout this year.
Brian Hartline, WR, MIA - Hartline has been universally disrespected in fantasy circles because he only had one score last year and a good part of this production came in one epic game vs. Arizona. Still, all reports have him as Ryan Tannehill’s main man, and now his cornerback matchups will improve with Mike Wallace in the fold. He’s a pick as your WR5 in the early double-digit rounds if you have a lot of risky picks among your top wide receivers like Danny Amendola and Kenny Britt.
Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, NE - Here’s your annual out of nowhere undrafted free agent sleeper at wide receiver. Thompkins has had mostly great days in Patriots camp, and appears to belong when running with the ones. Reserve a 15th round pick for Thompkins in deep PPR leagues, but be prepared to take him earlier if the buzz grows.
Rod Streater, WR, OAK - Streater isn’t an exciting talent, but he’s reliable, and he is potentially emerging as the top receiver in an offense that will be catchup mode for most of the season. He’s a good “end game” PPR pick.
Vincent Brown, WR, SD - Brown has picked up where he left off before a leg injury derailed his 2012 campaign. He is a perfect fit a quick-strike pass offense because he is a precise route-runner with sharp breaks. Brown is a nice PPR bench wide receiver with the chance to be the #1 target on his team.
Ed Dickson, TE, BAL - Dickson should have every opportunity to put up at least TE2 numbers with Dennis Pitta out for the season. If he plays up to his physical tools, TE1 numbers are possible. He has gone from waiver wire fodder to draftable, with the potential to move up some more.
Tyler Eifert, TE, CIN - Eifert is moving all over the formation and impressing everyone in attendance at Bengals camp. He could be the #2 receiver in this up-and-coming offense right away.
Julius Thomas, TE, DEN - There was a reason the Broncos kept him around despite being hurt for the first two years of his career. Thomas is impressing, enough to have a good shot to be the starter as far as the passing game is concerned. With the best trio of wideouts in the league, there might not be much left for Thomas, but when Peyton Manning is his quarterback, you have to still give him a shot to be a breakout fantasy player this year.
Coby Fleener, TE, IND - All of the conjecture that Fleener would break out after being reunited with college offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton is becoming grounded in reality, as Fleener is one of Luck’s favorite targets and an emphasis of the pass offense early in training camp.
Travis Kelce, TE, KC - Someone has to step up as the #2 target in this offense, right? Kelce has made waves with some highlight catches as a move tight end in early practices. Chances are that one of him, Dexter McCluster, or Devon Wylie seizes a big role in the passing game this summer.
David Ausberry, TE, OAK - It’s hard to imagine drafting Ausberry with the growing list of tight end sleepers, but he is the leader for the job in Oakland, and Ausberry is a former USC wide receiver with great physical talent. File this one away for TE premium and deep dynasty leagues, and be open to Ausberry inheriting Brandon Myers type numbers if he starts hot.
Joe Flacco, QB, BAL - With so much upside and quality in the QB2 tier and Flacco missing his “security blanket” tight end, there’s little reason to take him in fantasy drafts, even though he lit up the league once Jim Caldwell took over as offensive coordinator last year.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, CIN - It’s looking like between the tackles dirty work, short yardage work, and finishing off wins will be the billable hours for the law firm this year. His value is fading fast.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, IND - Bradshaw “hopes” to practice in the next few weeks. I wouldn’t pin my hopes to him as anything more than a depth running back in the eighth round or later.
Chris Ivory, RB, NYJ - Can’t stay on the field in camp (hamstring), so how can we expect him to stay on the field in the regular season? The risk/reward scales tip in the sixth right now, mostly on opportunity at a position that is not deep beyond the top 25, but that break point will drop with each day he misses.
Ryan Mathews, RB, SD - Mathews is rotating first-team snaps with Danny Woodhead, and even Ronnie Brown at times. The Chargers offensive line continues to be a work in progress, and honestly, this doesn’t look like a team that is going to win many games this year. He’s falling to the 5th/6th round, and the slide may not be over.
Steve Johnson, WR, BUF - Johnson is working out of the slot mostly, and the Bills offense looks like it will use all five of its quality, young wide receiver corps in the offense this year. It’s hard to imagine him having as many downfield routes and yards as he has in previous years.
Josh Gordon, WR, CLE - Gordon has had folks at every level of the organization comment on how he needs to stay on the straight and narrow. The quality of his practices diminished until he started missing them with knee soreness. This is not how to build momentum going into your second season, which will begin with a two-game suspension.
Andre Johnson, WR, HOU - I don’t buy that he has lost a half-step, but Johnson may lose targets to the first high quality talent at WR2 he has played with during his time with the Texans. Johnson is still a WR1, but he might not catch an inordinate amount of passes this year due to improvement around him.
Jon Baldwin, WR, KC - Baldwin opened camp with an outstanding opportunity to be a productive #2 receiver in an Andy Reid offense, but it sounds like he is continuing to underperform despite prodigious physical talents.
Mike Wallace, WR, MIA - There was a time that wide receivers on a new team were not trusted in fantasy football, and Wallace is illustrating why so far in camp. The buzz of he and Tannehill not being on the same page has persisted. The upside for the Dolphins (and Brian Hartline) is that Wallace’s tactical value is intact even if he and Tannehill aren’t connecting because the deep safety still has to account for his speed. There are too many good wideouts in that WR20-25 range to make Wallace anything higher than your sixth round pick.
Santonio Holmes, WR, NYJ - No one knows when Holmes will be back, and the signing of Braylon Edwards seems to indicate that the Jets are at least making a plan for life without him for some part of the season. Even when he does return, it is hard to say if Holmes will be sharp enough or in good enough shape to make a difference in a weak offense. His redraft value is zero right now, and his dynasty value is quickly following.
Denarius Moore, WR, OAK - Moore isn’t standing out in a wide receiver corps that is probably the worst in the league. He has talent for the circus catch downfield, but he’ll need to be a good hands and route-running receiver to make a splash with Matt Flynn. He may end up out of the top 50 receivers at this rate.
Jordan Cameron, TE, CLE - With everything pointing towards Cameron being a prominent part of the Browns pass offense this year, he has failed to distinguish himself early in training camp. With more sleepers emerging at tight end, Cameron needs to get it going to merit a late-round pick as your TE2.
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