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Del Pilar's Digest: Players on the rise

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Recent posts by William Del Pilar

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Posted Sept. 02, 2011 @ 5:03 p.m. ET
By William Del Pilar

The regular season begins in less than a week and the biggest draft weekend is here. Here are some players whose stock is rising that you should target:

QUARTERBACKS

Peyton Manning, Colts

Manning's return to practice allayed mounting fears of his inability to start the season. No one knows if he'll play in Week One but the fact that he's back with the team in limited practice and progressing is good news. Target other elite quarterbacks — Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers, Michael Vick and Tom Brady — before Manning but it sounds like he will be good to go this season.

Matthew Stafford, Lions

Stafford's shoulder and knee problems are 100 percent healed and it showed with a solid preseason that saw him complete 25-of-33 passes (75.8 percent) for 395 yards with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He's for real, and the Lions look to be a fantasy juggernaut. Stafford is a top-15 fantasy quarterback pick with top-10 potential.

Kevin Kolb, Cardinals

Kolb is showing the Cardinals that he has an understanding of the offense, knows his moneyman is Larry Fitzgerald and is clearly an upgrade over last season's mess at QB. The issue was how fast he could pick up the system and gain chemistry with Fitzgerald. So far, so good. His play is boosting confidence that he can be a solid No. 2 fantasy quarterback, especially considering he faces the Cowboys, 49ers, Browns and the Bengals in Weeks 13-16. Even Week 17 is great, as he faces the Seahawks.

Chad Henne, Dolphins

Henne is not a No. 1 fantasy quarterback but, save for a lackluster first preseason game, he has played well. It's possible that, in his third season as the starter, he finally will make the leap the team wants to see. He can now audible, a huge step in the maturation and trust process with his head coach. He has completed 29-of-45 passes (64.4) for 446 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions this preseason. He's a late-round flier as your No. 3 fantasy quarterback. In larger leagues, he's a No. 2 fantasy QB.

 

RUNNING BACKS

Brandon Jacobs, Giants

Jacobs is having a solid preseason and the team plans on using him in an equal timeshare with Ahmad Bradshaw. He had a great preseason, with 19 carries for 115 yards (6.1 avg.) and one touchdown with a long rush of 25 yards. He looks powerful, and his long run shows he has his legs. He doesn't catch the ball much but he's the goal-line back. He's a solid No. 3 fantasy back.

Tim Hightower, Redskins

Hightower has been lights out in camp, and the team's zone-blocking scheme fits him perfectly. The Redskins have been raving about his blocking ability and how he can run and knock over people. His preseason numbers were outstanding, with 25 carries for 170 yards and two touchdowns (an impressive 6.8 yards per carry). He's undervalued as a mid-round draft pick.

James Starks, Packers

Starks is not the starter but head coach Mike McCarthy has said that he will use multiple backs this season. McCarthy will go with the hot hand, whoever is playing better, or who matches up better. We've gone from Ryan Grant being the starter to a timeshare. Reports out of Green Bay have said that Starks is stronger, more decisive, showing patience, hitting the hole hard, freeing himself for extra yardage and looking like a playmaker. Starks won't be a late-round pick for long (He's coming off boards around Round 10). Grab him while you can, before he moves up draft boards.

Delone Carter, Colts

Carter won the No. 2 job to back up starter James Addai. He's the handcuff and that's about all you can say about him rising as the fourth-round rookie might split time with Donald Brown as the backup and No. 3 pass-receiving back.

Kendall Hunter, 49ers

Hunter is in a battle for the backup job behind starter Frank Gore and he clearly has outplayed Anthony Dixon. However, Dixon will keep his role as goal-line back. Hunter, a fourth-round rookie, has 35 carries for 231 yards and one touchdown (6.6 avg.) He's a late-round flier to see how the team uses him during the season.

Jerome Harrison, Lions

Harrison is making it a battle for the No. 2 job to back up Jahvid Best. He's battling Maurice Morris but Harrison is younger and stronger and more dynamic. He's not a playmaker, but he can make something out of nothing and he fits the offense. Whoever wins the backup job will get some touches as Best can't carry the load and is injury-prone. Morris is the handcuff today but I like Harrison long-term. He's a late-round flier, then watch how the team uses him during the season.

Ben Tate, Texans

Tate had a great camp and he has outplayed veteran Derrick Ward. Tate had 20 carries for 147 yards and one touchdown (7.4 avg.) in the preseason. He can catch the ball, has been able to cut, show his speed and stay healthy. Ward will start out as the handcuff but I believe Tate will get most of carries if Arian Foster goes down. He's worth a late-round draft pick.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Nate Burleson, Lions

Burleson's season will go as QB Matthew Stafford's health goes. Burleson will see single coverage as opposing defenses focus on Calvin Johnson and Jahvid Best. Burleson had an excellent camp and an excellent preseason, scoring a touchdown in each of the three games in which he played with six receptions for 97 yards. He is a great late-round pick.

Antonio Brown, Steelers

Brown has shown explosive playmaking ability and QB Ben Roethlisberger has said he believes that Brown can be special. Brown, in his second year out of Central Michigan, is coming along in his understanding of the nuances of the NFL. Plus, with Emmanuel Sanders recovering from foot surgery, Brown took advantage by gaining experience playing the slot position. He'll open the season as the slot receiver but his upside is limited based on inexperience, the presence of WR Mike Wallace and the fact that Sanders is a great route runner who can play inside and outside. If Sanders doesn't have any more issues with his feet, he eventually will supplant Brown. However, Brown has earned time on the field through his preseason play.

Harry Douglas, Falcons

Douglas is the player the Falcons expect to have a coming-out party in 2011. At least QB Matt Ryan believes that and he's the one throwing the football. The team plans on using Douglas' explosiveness and speed to create mismatches. He had nine receptions for 176 yards and two touchdowns in the preseason. He's a late-round flier in PPR (point-per-reception) leagues, as Roddy White and Julio Jones are the primary wideouts.

TIGHT ENDS

Jimmy Graham, Saints
Graham is going to be a touchdown machine and he had a great camp. At 6-6, 260 pounds, the former college basketball player is going to be the team's red-zone target. He had seven receptions for 103 yards in the preseason but did not score. There were good reasons for his lack of preseason scoring — the team was moving him around, using him on different routes and priming him for a great fantasy season. He makes a great late-round pick but odds are you'll have to use a middle-round pick to get him — and he's moving up from there. His potential warrants it.

Lance Kendricks, Rams
Kendricks is fast and can stretch the offense and already has chemistry with QB Sam Bradford. He's having a great camp and excellent preseason. He had 11 receptions for 155 yards and three touchdowns in the preseason, leading the Rams in all three categories. It appears that he will be heavily involved in the offense this season. He might be this year's TE sleeper, as you should be able to grab him at the end of the draft. I plan to do so and you should, too. His upside is that good.

Evan Moore, Browns
Moore's the team's No. 2 tight end but is a wide receiver in a tight end's body. He's huge at 6-6, 250 pounds and had such a good camp that the team signed him to a two-year extension. He'll be a check-down receiver for QB Colt McCoy and already has become McCoy's favorite red-zone target. During the preseason, Moore had six receptions for 51 yards and two touchdowns. He's a great late-round flier but he has been concussion-prone, which is something to be aware of.

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