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Football is here at last – it may only be preseason games but any football is better than no football. As fantasy players, these practice games may not score us any points but they do allow for questions to be answered about what we care about most – who’s going to get the ball. Here’s a summary of the top 10 preseason battles that fantasy owners should keep an eye on.
10. Oakland Raiders WR1 – Denarius Moore vs Darrius Haywood-Bey vs Jacoby Ford
Denarius Moore was a popular sleeper in 2011 – a call that would likely have been proven correct had it not been for injury. The man who took his spot, Darrius Haywood-Bey, finally achieved the potential that had made him a surprise first round pick for the Raiders. With speedster Jacoby Ford – a failed 2011 sleeper candidate – in the mix, there is likely to only be one top fantasy option to emerge on this team given Oakland’s offense making this battle worth monitoring. The winner could become a reliable WR2 or flex play in standard leagues.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers RB1 – Doug Martin vs LaGarrette Blount
There were such high hopes for LaGarrette Blount in 2011 but his inability to make receptions and almost constant fumbling issues resulted in him losing playing time to Kregg Lumpkin. Doug Martin has been highly touted after the Buccaneers traded back into the bottom of the first round to draft him but to this point Blount continues to top the depth chart for now. Be sure to watch how these two are used in the preseason and news out of Tampa Bay as this one may be closer than many think.
8. New England Patriots RB1 – Stevan Ridley vs Shane Vereen vs Danny Woodhead
This job appears to be Ridley’s to lose with all the latest news out of Patriots camp and the departure of Benjarvus Green-Ellis to Cincinnati. This is New England however and Bill Belichick is notorious for mixing it up with his running backs but now that Josh McDaniels is back running the offense we may see a bit more stability than in previous years. We may not learn the master plan in preseason – hence the low ranking on this list – but we should at least get an idea of who has the better chance of being the fantasy boss in New England.
7. San Francisco 49ers WR – Randy Moss vs Mario Manningham vs Michael Crabtree vs A.J. Jenkins vs Kyle Williams
This is going to be a pretty close battle by all accounts. Mario Manningham is clearly the most reliable fantasy WR on this team but he arguably has the lowest upside. I do think that Kyle Williams will challenge Manningham for touches and may eat into Manningham’s PPR value.
Moss vs Crabtree is going to be the battle that interests most people here as Crab is still a fantasy darling of sorts while many believe Randy Moss could still have something left. Whoever wins this battle will be the team’s burner and in line for some big fantasy weeks should quarterback Alex Smith maintain his improvements from last year.
At the back end – Kyle Williams is an intriguing guy who could be a profitable WR3 from this team and may be worth a late pick in fantasy. Jenkins is a rookie with great speed who will be very special one day but for now he’s at the bottom of the heap.
6. Buffalo Bills RB – Fred Jackson vs C.J. Spiller
This battle could be one that wins some of you a fantasy league this year as both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller have the ability to put up top 10 numbers and as such it is well worth keeping tabs on these two. Both Spiller and Jackson are worth drafting in all leagues and both should provide production with Jackson being the primary downhill back while Spiller handles much of the third down work. The crucial thing with this battle is that there’s always a chance that one of these two players edges ahead of the other and gets more work and the clues as to which this could be may come in the preseason.
5. Washington Redskins RB – Tim Hightower vs Roy Helu vs Evan Royster
Can we really trust Mike SHanahan to give us a fair indication of how he will use his running backs? Not really. Entering the preseason, the Redskins depth chart has Hightower on top, Royster second and Helu third and with Hightower currently out Evan Royster has been named the starter for the first preseason game. Cue the mumblings about shananigans and not trusting the situation. However, many will remember how it was the preseason last year in which Tim Hightower broke apart and showed why he was well liked by Mike Shanahan and it appears nothing has changed there.
Early on I ranked Hightower high because of Shanahan’s belief in him and I’ll continue to do so until I see something in the preseason that tells me not to. With Hightower missing the first half of the preseason as he rehabs from last year’s injury, watch how both Helu and Royster are deployed.
Expect this to be a situation where the Redskins run a timeshare – but this could be a very profitable timeshare for fantasy owners depending on who plays what role as we have seen Mike Shanahan use running back committees before but still have fantasy relevants backs – and don’t forget how the presence of a mobile quarterback can help running backs get free as defenses clue into stopping the quarterback from running.
4. New England Patriots WR – Wes Welker vs Brandon Lloyd vs Deion Branch vs Jabar Gaffney
For all intents and purposes this is a typical Patriots WR corps with a bunch of less favored WRs who produce good results. What makes this battle so critical in 2012 is the presence of dominating tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. You know that the tight ends are going to get a bunch of receptions and the running backs will steal their share as well. This makes the use of the Patriots WRs so much more interesting and the number of targets these players will get is crucial to their fantasy value. Of these four wideouts, we may only get one viable fantasy starter.
Quick fact – only three Patriots players had more than 55 receptions in 2011 and of those Wes Welker was the only wide receiver. So keep an eye on how the wideouts are used this preseason because if it looks like more of the same you might want to start dropping Brandon Lloyd down your draft board.
3. Chicago Bears RB1 – Matt Forte vs Michael Bush
When Michael Bush signed with the Chicago Bears this offseason, it was most likely as insurance against the possibility of Matt Forte holding out. Now that Forte is back under contract, the battle between these two could prove to be the most interesting of the year with both potentially being fantasy starters depending on how the Bears choose to use the duo.
It is almost certain that Forte will win the job of being named the lead back but exactly what this will mean is up in the air as Chicago realises they need to keep Matt Forte healthy if they are to achieve what they are capable of. Quite frankly, fantasy owners should hope that Michael Bush performs well in the preseason as if he can play well whenever Forte is on the sideline then this makes it more like Forte will survive the season in tact.
Let’s put it this way – if Bush does his job well, Forte can be a top 5 RB easily. If he can’t, the early part of the season may be the perfect time to sell high on Forte as backs like him and Jamaal Charles tend to need a steady #2 to maintain reliable production.
2. Carolina Panthers RB – DeAngelo Williams vs Jonathan Stewart vs Mike Tolbert
Year after year, fantasy owners lament that Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams are forever killing each others fantasy value. While this may be true, both had their chances last season and both failed to grab the starting spot. As we do every year, fantasy owners will be watching the preseason closely to see if either player looks particularly good or bad as if one of these guys can emerge we’re likely talking about an every week fantasy starter.
If neither player can really grasp this job things could get very ugly as Mike Tolbert is now in town and while he is listed as the Panthers fullback he is someone that you have to also keep an eye on in the preseason as if Carolina chooses to utilise him often this will make the waters that much murkier in what is already the most infuriating position battle in fantasy football.
1. Houston Texans RB1 – Arian Foster vs Ben Tate
Back in 2010, the Texans drafted Ben Tate from Auburn in the second round because their running game was a real mess. Tate comes in and promptly gets lost for the season. Enter Arian Foster who takes off and becomes arguably the best running bak in football. Fast forward to 2011 and Tate is back. Foster has his issues with health and consistency at time and Tate lights the NFL on fire as he fills in. Once Foster comes back, both players continue to put up pretty good numbers and the Texans find themselves with a pair of very legitimate runners who are both capable of changing a game with a single play.
This preseason the battle between Foster and Tate has massive implications for fantasy owners. Foster is being drafted first or second overall in most leagues and if Tate is going to rise and take more touches away this places in doubt Foster’s reliability as a starting RB. Tate himself is being taken fairly high although if he can somehow take the top job and continue to improve his production this may be a bargain in the end. Watch this one closely.
That’s it for this week. Next week I’ll be releasing my mid August rankings which will be the last set this offseason. After that, we’ll be into the football season in which I will have rankings every week based on matchup. Also, the fantasy mailbag will be back next week as well so if you have a fantasy question email me at [email protected]
Until next week, this is the Fantasy Guru signing off.
Tags: AJ Jenkins Arian Foster Ben Tate Brandon Lloyd Buffalo Bills C.J. Spiller Carolina Panthers Chicago Bears Danny Woodhead Darrius Haywood-Bey DeAngelo Williams Deion Branch Denarius Moore Doug Martin Evan Royster Fantasy Fantasy Football Fred Jackson Houston Texans Jabar Gaffney Jonathan Stewart LeGarrette Blount Mario Manningham Matt Forte Michael Bush Michael Crabtree Mike Tolbert New England Patriots Nfl Preseason Oakland Raiders Randy Moss Roy Helu Jr San Francisco 49ers Shane Vereen Stevan Ridley Tampa Bay Buccaneers Tim Hightower Washington Redskins Wes Welker