Preseason Situations To Monitor
By Jeff Tefertiller
August 8th, 2010

It is hard to believe that the NFL preseason is already upon us. The Hall of Fame game is this coming Sunday. With the training camps in full swing, and games starting, there are several situations for fantasy owners to monitor. We will only include the situations capable of making a fantasy impact. There is little reason to keep tabs on the Cleveland Browns passing attack. Our focus will be on finding value for the upcoming fantasy drafts.

The Minnesota Viking quarterback position was thrown into a muddled mess Tuesday morning with the breaking news of the possible retirement of Brett Favre. There is a chance that Favre will re-consider his decision. After all, nothing is certain with that guy. But, the issue is his ankle. It has not responded well to the surgery. This leaves the athletic but erratic Tarvaris Jackson and the mistake-prone Sage Rosenfels as the two in-house options for the Vikings. What poor timing for the team. They could have acquired a myriad of better options this offseason, but now their playoff hopes are tied to Jackson or Rosenfels. Keep an eye on the training camp reports on Jackson. He could develop into a passable fantasy passer. But, the biggest effect will be on the wide receivers. It is not worth the risk to select Sidney Rice (out with his own injury) or Percy Harvin at their current ADPs if Favre is not in the lineup.

Chan Gailey is a magician with less than stellar quarterbacks. He made lemonade out of Tyler Thigpen in 2008. Thigpen became a very viable fantasy passer once he entered the starting lineup. The current Buffalo quarterbacks might be an even bigger challenge for the veteran coach. The motley crew of Trent Edwards, Ryan Fitzpatrick and Brian Brohm only hope to aspire to the 2008 Thigpen numbers. The situation is only one to monitor because of Gailey's historical success. Edwards is comfortably in the lead. The other two are merely fodder so do not waste your time unless in the deepest of leagues. If Edwards flops, which is a very real possibility, then keep a close eye on rookie Levi Brown. Gailey would know how to best use his athleticism ... just like he did in Kordell Stewart's monster season in 1997.

In Dallas, Marion Barber is currently slated to be the team's starting tailback. He played through a quadriceps injury last season but is back to full strength. The naming of Barber as the starter was a stunner with the way Felix Jones was getting press. It is totally possible that both ball carriers can get enough touches to be every-week fantasy starters. But, fantasy owners should be looking to select the starter. Considering the ADP of each, the starter will be a HUGE value play. Pay close attention to training camp reports and the preseason games. To give an idea of the value, Barber has an ADP of pick 6.03, the 26th running back off the draft board. Nothing like getting a proven and productive fantasy starter that late. Monitor how each is used in the preseason games. Maybe they will get defined roles.

Outside of the running back position, the Cleveland Browns have very little on the offensive side of the ball. Incumbent Jerome Harrison and rookie Montario Hardesty are set to battle for carries. The Browns will be forced to run the ball as often as possible just to keep the defense off the field. Since each Cleveland back is drafted in the seventh round, or later, there is value to be had. In 2009, the Browns were sixth in the NFL in rushing attempts (498) and eighth in rushing yards (2,087). Expect this to continue. Hardesty is already nicked up, giving Harrison an early edge. The back garnering the majority of touches will be a fantasy starter most weeks. Monitor Hardesty's injury, Harrison preseason play, and the way each are used in the preseason games.

The mess that is the Houston Texan backfield could disappoint fantasy owners this season. Arian Foster played well to end the 2009 season. Steve Slaton is back from his neck surgery. Rookie Ben Tate is ready for action. Foster has an early lead, but the team could just play the hot hand. As the preseason games commence, watch: how the carries are split up early in the games, how Slaton is used (whether the coaches are confident in his neck), and how Tate looks. This could be a quagmire altogether. But, the productive track history of the Houston backs means that one of the three could be a very cheap fantasy starter. There is definite upside to the situation.

Michael Bush is trying to push Darren McFadden to third down duties for the Oakland Raiders. Bush is a bigger back, capable of carrying the workload. The major thing to monitor with this situation is whether the coaching staff shows confidence in Bush as the primary ball carrier. If so, fantasy owners can get a steal in the eighth round of fantasy drafts.

With the extended holdout of rookie C.J. Spiller, there is value to be had with the Buffalo Bills running backs, specifically Fred Jackson. Can he hold off Marshawn Lynch? Lynch was a strong back his first two years in the NFL. Also, keep tabs on the Spiller situation. The longer he holds out, the less likely Spiller is to impact Jackson when he comes back. There is so much for a rookie to learn. The more probable scenario is that Spiller would be lined up all over the field to take advantage of his innate speed and quickness. Drafted as a lesser fantasy RB3 in the seventh round, Jackson could once again be a Top 20 tailback at a great price. Lynch is not drafted until the 14th round so selecting the pair is a strong move if the Spiller holdout looks like it could drag on into the season.

The Green Bay wide receivers will continue to be fantasy viable for the coming season. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a firm grasp of the offense and is very efficient. The offseason knee surgeries for 35 year old Packer veteran, Donald Driver, are a huge concern. He just came back to practice. It is important to monitor Driver's progress. He has been effective and productive over the years. Another situation to watch is the battle between James Jones and Jordy Nelson for the WR3 job. Jones was thought to have the lead coming in but camp reports have Nelson at least even with the athletic Jones. The upside for Jones and Nelson is tremendous with Driver's age and knee issues. Watch how the youngsters are used in the preseason games. Neither is drafted higher than a late-round gamble, but could pay off handsomely.

Fantasy owners have another big situation to keep an eye on. The Indianapolis Colts have Reggie Wayne penciled in as a starting wideout. But, Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie, and Anthony Gonzalez are battling to start in the other wideout position and in the slot. Garcon has an early edge to line up wide, with the remaining pair looking to start in the slot. Given the strong fantasy seasons by Garcon and Collie last year, this is a situation with big potential. There are a few thing to watch in Indianapolis: Garcon's development and play making in preseason, where each lines up in preseason, and the state of Gonzalez's knee. Peyton Manning will throw for a ton of yards so there is plenty of room for the three starters to have a big fantasy impact.

The new Mike Martz offense implemented in Chicago will offer value opportunities for fantasy owners. From history, we know that the Martz offense will throw often and put up good numbers. The player to watch in preseason has to be second-year receiver Johnny Knox. He has the speed to be a nightmare for opposing defenses. The next thing to monitor is which receiver lines up wide (across from Knox) and who is the slot receiver. Ideally, the the Bears will have Devin Aromashodu out wide with Devin Hester in the slot, but there has been talk that the club's brass wants Hester to play outside since they (foolishly) gave him all that cash a couple of summers ago. Aromashodu was awesome to close the 2009 season and seemed to have a strong rapport with quarterback Jay Cutler. He would be the better fit lined up wide while Hester's quickness is a good fit in the slot. But, just because we think we know what should happen does not mean much .... that is why we need to monitor the situation(s) during preseason.

The New Orleans Saints are another prolific offense capable of producing several strong fantasy options. Two years ago, a smallish Lance Moore burst on the scene to finish as WR13. Last year, it was Robert Meachem (and his large number of touchdowns) that came from nowhere to be a fantasy force. But, there is plenty to closely monitor in preseason. How is the knee of Marques Colston holding up after offseason surgery? When will Meachem be back in the lineup after sustaining the toe injury? When all are healthy, what are the roles of these three and the speedy Devery Henderson? There are plenty of questions needing answers as the team's preseason begins next week.

The New England Patriots are another pass-happy team whose wide receiver corps is far from certain. Randy Moss is solidified at one receiver position. Wes Welker will have his slot receiver position when he is back to full strength. But, what about the other wideout spot? Torry Holt was signed to possibly take that job, but he is slow and past his prime. Can either youngster, Brandon Tate or Taylor Price, start opposite Moss instead of Holt? How about Welker-clone Julian Edelman? What will his role be? The Patriots, and Tom Brady, will throw the ball. Keep a close watch on Welker's recovery, Tate's recovery from his own knee issues, and the way Holt is used. If Holt is not a factor, New England will want to get the play-making Tate (or Price) on the field. Each has the speed to open with the coverage focused on Moss and Welker.

The Arizona Cardinals are not expected to throw as often this season with Kurt Warner enjoying his retirement from football. There is no way the team can expect similar results from Matt Leinart. But, also gone from the Cardinals is star wide receiver Anquan Boldin. His departure creates a void in the Arizona lineup. Many times, the team lined Boldin up in the slot (to best take advantage of mismatches) with Larry Fitzgerald and Breaston out wide. Early Doucet will get the chance to succeed Boldin, playing often in the slot. He was effective during the Cardinals' playoff run and could be a fantasy starter at a very cheap price. There are a few situations to monitor in Arizona: the play of Leinart and who he targets in preseason, the way Doucet and Breaston are used, and maybe the most important thing will be the confidence (or lack thereof) shown Leinart by the plays called.

With Torry Holt now in New England, there is a hole left to be filled in Jacksonville with the WR2 position. The battle is between second-year players Mike Thomas and Jarett Dillard. Thomas had the edge coming into training camp. A foot injury to Dillard has allowed Thomas to garner the majority of the practice reps at the position. Dillard's status, Thomas' play and consistency, and the way each is used upon Dillard's return are things to watch.

Last year, Fred Davis played very well after starter Chris Cooley went down with injury. Each has the talent to be an elite fantasy option if given the opportunity. But, with Cooley back healthy, there is much uncertainty at the position. There has been talk that the Redskins' coaches want to play both at the same time, and move the two athletic tight ends around the formation. This is only an option due to the sorry state of the Washington wide receivers outside of Santana Moss. Having both Cooley and Davis on the field gets another good receiver in play for quarterback Donovan McNabb. Closely monitor how each is used in preseason before drafting either Redskin tight end. The situation could end up being a colossal mess for fantasy owners.

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