Heading into fantasy drafts this weekend, we dig into what is happening to key players, whether through injury or training-camp battles.
QB Cam Newton / QB Jimmy Clausen, Panthers
This is for dynasty league owners. Head coach Ron Rivera has not decided who the No. 1 quarterback is. However, while he says he likes what he's seen from Newton, the rookie still has a ways to go. Newton has not been impressive throwing the ball, but look for him to tuck the rock and take off like most young quarterbacks who use their legs.
Clausen, battling a sore elbow, has not done much to impress and he is not this regime's pick, so I still see Newton starting. Even if he doesn't, Clausen is not an effective starting quarterback, and this position could simply hurt the other skill positions all year long with ineffective play. Ignore them both on draft day unless you're in a dynasty league, in which case you should go with Newton.
QB Andy Dalton, Bengals
In their last preseason game, Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden believes Dalton showed an ability to manage the two-minute offense. Dalton did show improvement by staying focused, continuing to develop chemistry with fellow rookie WR A.J. Green and moving the team. Just remember this was against the Carolina Panthers. It was still good to see something positive from a team I feel could be an offensive laughingstock this year. Dalton is still undraftable in all but dynasty leagues.
RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
Reports indicated that Charles might not play in the third preseason game because of an unknown leg injury, but he did play Friday night, rushing twice for four yards. Just keep an eye on his progress this week, but I won't ignore him on draft day as any team would be cautious with their star player during the preseason. He's primed for a huge year.
RB James Starks / RB Ryan Grant, Packers
In an interesting twist of what we've been hearing, reports state that Starks could win the starting job. Despite playing well, Grant doesn't look like the Grant of old. He lacks his burst, and Starks looks better in practice. Starks is decisive, showing power and is hitting the hole hard.
The team hasn't named a starter, but this could be end being a situation where head coach Mike McCarthy plays the matchups or hot hand every week. For fantasy owners these committees do nothing but cause stress. The next two weeks are critical for both players as they continue to battle.
I have to recommend to you to avoid Grant or, if you take him, make sure you grab Starks. Certain handcuffs are more important than others. This is one of those that are important. Something to remember: Outside his 2009 season of 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns, Grant in four years has not shown us the quality numbers to warrant taking him as a No. 1 fantasy back.
RB Mark Ingram, Saints
Ingram has a knee injury that's held him out of practice, but he has come back and indicates the knee is fine. He did suffer swelling and that always scares me, but he says that was the reason to sit. Rest it before it turns into something worse. We'll monitor the knee, but he's having a great camp and, as the goal-line option, will bring more fantasy points than most believe. I'm targeting him in my drafts, and so should you.
RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
Bradshaw (back) took a knee to the back last week, and the team is going to be cautious and hold him out of this week's preseason game. His role this year will be to share time with Brandon Jacobs, and they complement each other. The fact the injury is lingering is of concern to head coach Tom Coughlin, but he expects Bradshaw to be ready for Week One. So do I.
RB Brandon Jackson, Browns
Jackson has a turf-toe problem, and one report indicated that he's out for at least six weeks, although another report suggested he could miss the entire season. Turf-toe injuries can take awhile to heal. Obviously he becomes a nonfactor early, at least, and Peyton Hillis is the starter anyway. This does open the door for Montario Hardesty if he can show the team he can compete on an NFL level. That's something he has yet to do.
RB C.J. Spiller / RB Fred Jackson, Bills
Can you blame Jackson for not feeling any love? He voiced his displeasure this week, saying why he should be the starter. He's now set to start the third preseason game, but head coach Chan Gailey is noncommittal on who will start the season. Spiller has not looked good, and I'm with Jackson here. What does he have to do for the team to give him the job he deserves? I believe it's simply politics as Spiller was the ninth pick overall in the 2010 NFL draft. They're giving him every opportunity to succeed. You shouldn't. Instead, let him slide. If anything, he's just holding back Jackson's productivity.
RB Chris Johnson / RB Javon Ringer / RB Jamie Harper, Titans
The holdout continues, and it's getting worse. There's also the possibility that C.J. asks for a trade. The team already came out and nixed that idea but did admit it will have to add a running back for depth.
The current backup, Javon Ringer (hip), is dealing with his own injury and will not play this week. The team feels a preseason game is all he needs as he's missed only a week of practice. Either way, it's opening the door for Jamie Harper, who is showing he can play in the NFL. The problem is that he's not a lock to unseat Ringer, much less start. However, with the injury to Ringer and C.J.'s holdout, you have to take a chance on him in larger leagues. Even in a roster of 16, he's worth the late-round flier.
RB Jahvid Best, Lions
The team is going to be cautious with Best, who's coming off a concussion, and keep him out of this week's third preseason game. The talented but fragile Best does not have a quality backup, so the team may have no choice but to feature him. I wouldn't imagine a full load for Best, and with QB Matthew Stafford back and an upgrade of the receivers, the team has better options than last season. The potential Best brings to the table could make him a top-five elite back if he weren't so fragile. Best will be ready by Week One, so you have no worries going into the season.
RB Tim Hightower, Redskins
Hightower is making it clear the starting job is his to lose. Another solid performance in a preseason game showcased his cut-back ability and his vision to see the running lanes and wait for them. Hightower has solid hands and talent, but sometimes it takes a fresh start before some players can flourish.
RB Ben Tate / RB Derrick Ward, Texans
The next two weeks, fantasy owners need to pay attention to the battle for the backup RB job in Houston. Tate has stepped it up in preseason game action while Ward was out with a concussion, but Ward is back now. At times head coach Gary Kubiak does have a short leash, so it may not matter who the backup is, unless Arian Foster goes down. That is, Kubiak will go with whomever he trusts at that point in time.
We still need to figure it out regardless. Tate has yet to prove himself on the field but is arguably the better talent. However, I want to see more, and until then, I will tell you to go with Ward until we hear differently. I will be the first to admit that logic dictates Tate is younger, stronger and ready, but he's also prone to injury.
RB Steve Slaton, Texans
The Texans may be looking to sever ties with Slaton. He can't practice with a hamstring injury and is buried on the depth chart. The team is well-stocked at running back, with Arian Foster starting and Ben Tate and Derrick Ward battling to back him up. Slaton's a potential casualty of too many backs on the roster. Ignore him on draft day, but do watch to see where he goes if the team does decide to trade him. He has talent, but he's no longer a fit in Texas.
WR Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
Maclin will be practicing this week and will be ready for Week One. That's great news considering the offseason medical scare he had. He's still out of game shape but will be fine. He's already back to his playing weight, and there have been no issues since his return to the team. Don't worry about his offseason issues as it's all behind him.
WR Johnny Knox / WR Roy Williams, Bears
Knox is behind Williams on the depth chart but is on the verge of taking his starting job back! Williams has had a horrible camp, jokingly saying he wasn't in shape, which his receivers coach, Darryl Drake, stated was true! When a coach comes out publicly to criticize a player, it's never good, and when he says Knox can win his job back, you have to believe it's on the verge of happening. Many of us wonder if Williams will ever get it.
Williams has yet to catch a ball this preseason and, remember, he never earned the starter's job; it was given to him. Knox is hungry and was the team's best receiver last year, and I expect that to be the case this year. The next two weeks will tell if Williams still has any desire to play in the NFL.
WR Emmanuel Sanders, Steelers
There's a chance Sanders may not play in Week One. He's recovering from surgeries on his foot and will not play in any preseason games. His recovery has been slow, but then again he's had three surgeries. This opens the door for Antonio Brown and, to an extent, Jerricho Cotchery. Big Ben Roethlisberger says Brown can be special, but we're talking about the No. 3 wideout for the Steelers, a team whose strength is passing but which keeps talking about running. I like this Steelers receiving corps overall, but, outside the starting wideouts, I'll pass on whoever is No. 3, regardless of when Sanders returns.
TE Tony Moeaki, Chiefs
Moeaki (knee) falls under the list of second-tier tight ends with some upside. The team is banged up, with rookie WR Jonathan Baldwin and WR Steve Breaston out. Moeaki could see a few extra opportunities if he weren't also hurt. He is still not ready after undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery in March. He just started practicing Aug. 8, and head coach Todd Haley believes he's not where he was at when the season ended last year. In other words, the lack of practice time has him regressing. I'm not concerned yet because it's a matter of Moeaki getting into football shape. You shouldn't worry, either, but when you compare his upside to others', he's not a tight end I would bother to target.