By Dalton Del Don
Knowshon Moreno, RB, DEN - After agreeing to a five-year contract last week, Moreno is no longer a holdout. While he's predictably listed lower on the depth chart, Moreno has already been getting reps with the first team in practice and is scheduled to play in Denver's preseason opener Friday. Coach Josh McDaniels has repeatedly called him a "three-down back," and though the coach implemented a committee in New England, McDaniels didn't draft Moreno with the 12th overall pick to sit him behind mediocre options like LaMont Jordan and Correll Buckhalter. The Broncos have one of the best offensive lines in football, highlighted by the team's 4.8 YPC mark last season, which was the second best in the NFL, despite a below average RB corps. Moreno could be a major difference maker in fantasy leagues this year.
Jerricho Cotchery, WR, NYJ - Cotchery is coming off a disappointing 2008 campaign, as he only totaled 858 receiving yards despite playing in 16 games and with what was supposedly a big upgrade at quarterback with Brett Favre. While part of that lack of production can be blamed on Favre's arm injury down the stretch, it's not like the team enters 2009 with a much improved QB situation, as either Kellen Clemens (career 6.1 YPA) or rookie Mark Sanchez will be under center. There's no question New York will focus on its running attack first and foremost. That said, with Laveranues Coles no longer around, the Jets have a glaring weakness at the WR2 spot, so Cotchery's targets should greatly increase. He's been running out of the split end position so far in camp, so Cotchery should see few double-teams, and he's been a frequent target in the red-zone in years past (though the TD production doesn't reflect it). After the top-25 wide receivers are off the board, the position gets quite muddled, and Cotchery is a fine target later on in drafts.
Matthew Stafford, QB, DET - It's early, but Stafford has done nothing but impress so far since joining the Lions. His arm strength is apparent, and he's also proving to be athletic and accurate. Of course, Stafford hasn't faced any live game action yet, and even successful rookie quarterbacks like Matt Ryan last year usually don't translate into high fantasy production, so this is more for keeper-league formats. Don't be surprised if Stafford starts immediately, and with a bad defense, he'll be forced to throw more than most rookie QBs. While plenty of mistakes and inconsistency are inevitable, Calvin Johnson will mask some of that.
Rashard Mendenhall, RB, PIT - Mendenhall remains a mixed bag, with some practice reports suggesting he's impressed and is in terrific shape, while others caution he's looked rather ordinary, and we haven't even got into preseason action yet. However, Willie Parker has missed practice time this week with back spasms, highlighting just how unsuited he is to be a workhorse. Mendenhall may very well be a bust, but it's worth noting he was drafted in the first round, and at 5-10, 224, at a minimum he should emerge as the team's goal-line back. Coach Mike Tomlin has never shied from playing his young guys, and with Parker likely gone after this year when his contract expires, Pittsburgh will give Mendenhall every opportunity to take over the job. Considering this is a team that just won the Super Bowl and sports the best defense in the NFL, there's quite a bit of upside that comes with the job.
James Davis, RB, CLE - Because Jamal Lewis will soon be 30 years old and has amassed 2,399 career carries, the backup running back situation needs to be highly monitored in Cleveland. Jerome Harrison is the most explosive option, but he struggles in pass protection and would be unlikely to hold up with a full workload. Davis isn't flashy, but he very well could emerge as the top ballcarrier at some point this season - he would have been a much higher draft pick had he decided to leave in 2008 rather than stay for his senior season.
Devin Thomas, WR, WAS - Thomas was a massive disappointment last year, catching just 15 balls for 120 yards despite considered by many as the best receiver to come out of the draft. Still, he's slated to start at flanker in Thursday's preseason opener, and with little competition on the roster, it's a role Thomas can keep if he takes advantage of the situation. Receivers often break out during their second year in the league, and though Thomas has dealt with hamstring issues, Santana Moss does so constantly. If Moss were to miss time this season, Thomas' targets would skyrocket.
Roddy White, WR, ATL - White got downgraded last week, but with a swift resolution to his contract dispute, his value remains intact. He now has plenty of time to prepare for the season, and since all signs point to Matt Ryan looking even better so far as a sophomore, the Falcons' passing attack could become elite, especially with the addition of Tony Gonzalez as well.
Donnie Avery, WR, STL - Avery suffered a stress fracture in his left foot, which should cost him around 4-6 weeks. These types of injuries also tend to linger, and since the team was installing a new offensive system, the missed time is especially costly. Avery can no longer be viewed as a top-25 fantasy WR.
Antonio Bryant, WR, TB - Bryant will miss three weeks with a torn meniscus in his left knee. Coach Raheem Morris said Bryant will not play in the preseason but will be ready for the regular season opener Sept. 13. While it's better to take care of the problem now as opposed to during the season, the injury makes Bryant, who was already a risky pick, even more dangerous. He'll have to yield some targets to Kellen Winslow, and the new offensive system figures to spread the ball around more, but Bryant is talented, and it's worth noting just how monstrous his second half was last season (46 catches, 797 yards, six touchdowns).
Kurt Warner, QB, ARI - Warner is great and all, but there's just too much risk for someone with a 40.54 ADP. The fact he's typically being selected ahead of Aaron Rodgers and Tony Romo is crazy. Last season marked the first time Warner played in 16 games since 2001 and at age 38, durability should only become an even greater concern. It's also worrisome that his hip still has lingering issues, and even after offseason surgery, the pain remains. Moreover, Anquan Boldin is going to be limited throughout the rest of the preseason with swelling in his knee.
Steve Smith, WR, CAR - Despite negative X-Rays on Smith's shoulder following an injury in Monday's practice, Smith's doubtful to play at all during the preseason. While it's encouraging nothing is broken, and the team is calling his status day-to-day rather than week-to-week, Smith is still in a considerable amount of pain, and he's talked of a future MRI as well. His value shouldn't take a major hit, but this is something to monitor, as Smith has a history of injury problems.
Dwayne Bowe, WR, KC - Bowe was listed as a third-team receiver on the Chiefs' first official depth chart, and while that's mostly meaningless this time of year, his attitude and work ethic remain in question, which is especially worrisome with a new regime in town. Bowe will almost certainly be starting come Week 1, and he's a threat to lead the league in targets, but he continues to drop balls throughout practice, so his ascension into the fantasy elite may not be so smooth. An inaccurate Matt Cassel throwing to someone with hands as poor as Bowe's may not be the best combination.
Derrick Ward, RB, TB - Ward hasn't done anything wrong, but it's becoming clearer that Tampa Bay will be a true backfield by committee in 2009, especially with Carnell Williams' miraculous recovery from a second torn patellar tendon. Ward is getting paid like a starter, but he's also currently dealing with a foot sprain. The Bucs have an underrated offensive line and will rely heavily on the ground game with a shaky quarterback situation, but Ward is locked in a timeshare.
Terrell Owens, WR, BUF - Fantasy owners shouldn't overreact to what appears to be a minor toe injury, but it's a reminder that Owens is 35 years old, and while a physical specimen, injuries figure to become a much bigger problem with age. Factor in the big downgrade at QB, along with the huge difference in weather conditions with the move to Buffalo, and Owens isn't necessarily someone to target.
Article first appeared 8/13/09