By Dalton Del Don
Aaron Rodgers – So far, so good. The spotlight firmly on him during Green Bay's nationally televised preseason opener, Rodgers completed 60 percent of his passes for an impressive 7.8 YPA. He missed a wide-open James Jones, but the interception wasn't his fault, and he was forced to deal with poor blocking by his backs on blitzes. Rodgers looked poised in the pocket and his teammates clearly believe in him. His first start was a success.
Ricky Williams – Williams looks like his former self in camp, rushing for 31 yards on five carries during the preseason opener, including a highlight-reel 12-yard run that featured numerous broken tackles. Ronnie Brown, who is less than 10 months removed from his ACL tear, started the game and ran the ball on the first two plays from scrimmage. However, he still lacks confidence in the repaired knee, and his return will be gradual. Brown still has a way to go in his rehabilitation.
New York Jets offense – Brett Favre deserves an upgrade since he's now officially back and starting, and his addition also improves the entire Jets offense. Chad Pennington is an accurate quarterback, but his lack of arm strength really limited New York's wide receivers' potential. Now with Favre in town, Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery get a big boost. With a revamped offensive line, this offense could be sneaky good.
Andre Hall – We've already upgraded Selvin Young, and his value improved significantly more when Ryan Torain suffered a devastating elbow injury, possibly ending his season. But don't forget about Hall, who is probably too small to carry the full load or be active in short-yardage situations, but only unproven Young stands in his way to a bunch of touches in the productive Denver backfield. Remember, he totaled 167 yards with a touchdown during his lone start last year, and that was while playing on a badly sprained ankle. There's significant upside here.
Maurice Morris – While seniority may have had something to do with Morris getting the start during Seattle's first preseason game, he certainly made the most of it, rushing for 62 yards on just six attempts. Julius Jones, meanwhile, averaged just 3.8 YPC on four rushes. Of course, that's an extremely small sample size, but Morris knows the offense, and he did average 4.5 YPC last year while also displaying solid receiving skills. T.J. Duckett, who coach Mike Holmgren was already lukewarm on, fumbled twice during the game, and it's looking like a competition between Jones and Morris for the starting role. A committee appears likely, but Morris is moving up.
Chad Pennington – He downgraded teammates and will have to learn a whole new system in a short amount of time, but Pennington gets the upgrade because his path to starting is much clearer in Miami. Chad Henne has impressed, but he still figures to need time to develop, so Pennington should get the starts in 2008. He's unlikely to have much fantasy value this year, but Jake Long should improve the offensive line, the backfield should be productive, and their poor defense should result in a high volume of pass attempts.
Jacob Hester – After trading up to select Hester in the draft, it stands to reason the Chargers will give him every opportunity to win the backup RB role. He ran for 49 yards on 13 carries during his pro debut, including two touchdowns, further solidifying his spot on the depth chart. Still, Hester looks more like a fullback than a halfback, so if something were to happen to LaDainian Tomlinson, the backfield would likely split carries, with Darren Sproles the change-of-pace type. Marcus Thomas is the deep sleeper here.
Matt Leinart – Leinart completed 7-of-8 passes for 91 yards (11.4 YPA) during the Cardinals' preseason opener, while Kurt Warner was held out of the game entirely. The performance came against a leaky Saints' secondary, but Leinart also was working without Anquan Boldin and looked extremely sharp nonetheless. Leinart has a much firmer grip of coach Ken Whisenhunt's playbook this season, so he's got the leg up on the starting job.
Robert Meachem – Meachem, whose rookie year was lost due to injury, impressed in the Saints' first preseason game, hauling in four balls for 129 yards and a score. It came mostly against defensive backs who will probably not be on an NFL team come the regular season, but Meachem is someone to watch regardless, since he has the physical tools to excel. Moreover, New Orleans threw more passes last year than any team in football, and the team lacks a No. 2 wide receiver.
J.T. O'Sullivan – O'Sullivan didn't lead the team to any points and was picked off by the Raiders during San Francisco's preseason opener, but he did complete 62.5 percent of his passes and got 8.9 YPA. More important, he's No. 1 on the team's QB depth chart, thanks largely to his prior affiliation with new offensive coordinator Mike Martz. Alex Smith continues to disappoint, while Shaun Hill is barely seeing any practice reps. O'Sullivan is an unheralded no-name, but so was Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger before Martz turned them into stars. That's highly unlikely to happen again, but it does make the situation worth monitoring.
Jonathan Stewart - Stewart's toe has still not fully recovered from offseason surgery, as he has continued discomfort, limiting his ability to practice. In the meantime, DeAngelo Williams has shined, showing a newly discovered maturity both on and off the field. Carolina's coaching staff has previously lacked trust in Williams' ability to block and in short-yardage situations, but he looks like an entirely new back this season, highlighted by a brilliant performance against the Colts on Saturday. Despite a perceived disappointment, Williams averaged 5.0 YPC last season, and coach John Fox has shown an utter stubbornness sticking with his veterans in the past, so this backfield might be featuring a full-blown committee in 2008.
Willis McGahee – McGahee is expected to miss at least two-to-four weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee – the same one he shredded back in college. It's expected to be a routine clean-up procedure, but since McGahee showed up to training camp out of shape to begin with, his status for Week 1 is in definite question. With the emergence of exciting rookie Ray Rice, McGahee needs to be downgraded.
Ahman Green - Not that his value can get much lower, but Green strained his groin on the very first play of the game Saturday, spending the rest of the contest watching from the sidelines. He didn't feel a pop, which is a good sign, but he has already been ruled out of the team's second preseason game. Coming off a season in which he was limited to only six games because of a deep bruise to his knee, Green is a long shot at this point.
Bobby Engram - Engram will miss six-to-eight weeks with a cracked shoulder, making him highly unlikely to appear in a game before Week 5, since the team has a bye the week before. Since he's 35 years old, it won't be an easy recovery either, leaving Seattle extremely thin at wide receiver. Bump up Nate Burleson even further.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh – Houshmandzadeh's latest hamstring injury isn't considered overly serious, and the team still expects him to be fine by the regular season, but it has kept him out of action for two weeks now, and his return isn't imminent. Because he's dealt with nagging leg issues before, this is something to keep a close eye on. This type of problem can often linger.
Plaxico Burress – Burress has yet to practice during training camp due to yet another ankle problem and has vowed not to until the injury is 100 percent recovered. He's also unhappy with his contract situation, leading to speculation the ankle problem isn't the only reason he's not practicing. Still, that isn't expected to be a long-term problem, but the fact he rarely practiced last season because of a similar injury makes this situation worth monitoring. He continues to progress, thanks to orthotics and the treatment he's received for the foot and ankle issues, but that he has another right ankle injury is some cause for concern as the weakened joint might be more susceptible to re-injury.
LenDale White – White hasn't done anything wrong to merit a downgrade, but exciting rookie Chris Johnson's emergence has the Titans' backfield looking more and more like a committee. Johnson is simply too exciting to keep off the field, whether on the ground or through the air. Tennessee runs the ball frequently enough for both to receive sufficient touches, and White remains the best option at the goal line, but he's looking at fewer carries because of Johnson.
Article first appeared 8/13/08