By Dalton Del Don
Ray Rice - Already the favorite to get the majority of touches in Baltimore's backfield, Rice totaled 32 yards with a touchdown during the team's second preseason game against a tough Jets' defense. More importantly, Rice was used at the goal line, and if that continues into the regular season, he's going to be far more valuable than his ADP suggests. Willis McGahee still looms, but Rice was drafted by the current regime, and he appears to be their guy. He can be a major factor as a receiver, and it's worth noting that Le'Ron McClain has been given a total of just one carry through two preseason games, so his shift to fullback looks permanent. Rice should be shooting up draft boards.
Donnie Avery - After breaking a bone in his foot, Avery was projected to miss 4-to-6 weeks, with his status for the season opener in doubt. However, the second-year wideout has already returned to 11-on-11 drills, just 18 days after suffering the injury, making a remarkably fast recovery. Assuming no setbacks occur, Avery not only should be ready for Week 1, but he'll also be able to get valuable practice time to learn the team's new offensive system. His value remains limited with the Rams' shaky QB situation, but Avery is clearly the best option in the passing attack, and the NFC West is a weak division defensively. Avery should be considered in the 25-30 range among fantasy receivers.
Leon Washington - Washington totaled 83 yards with a touchdown on just 10 touches against a stout Baltimore defense Monday, and it was clear he was the best offensive player on the field. The Jets have one of the three best run-blocking units in the NFL, and with a rookie starting at quarterback and a defense that should be strong, expect a ground heavy attack. Shonn Greene's presence makes things a bit murkier, but Thomas Jones is 31 years old and approaching 2,000 career carries. New coach Rex Ryan has vowed to get Washington the ball more, which makes sense when you consider the RB had eight touchdowns and totaled 803 yards on just 123 touches last season. It wouldn't be a stretch to draft Washington ahead of Jones in fantasy leagues.
Chad Johnson - Johnson caught three balls for 69 yards in limited action during the team's second preseason game, and that was without Carson Palmer (ankle) throwing to him. Johnson is always a bit of a wild card, but he looks rededicated after a disastrous 2008, which included multiple injuries and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Anyone who's watched "Hard Knocks" knows Johnson is in terrific shape, despite all that McDonald's intake. Remember, before last year, Johnson had averaged 1,374 yards and 8.6 touchdowns over a five-season stretch, showing tremendous durability during that span (he didn't miss a single game). While he may be past his prime at age 31, unlike running back, that's hardly too old to play the wide receiver position. It's not ideal having to face Pittsburgh and Baltimore four times during the season, but it looks like J.T. O'Sullivan, although turnover-prone, is a huge upgrade over Fitzpatrick should Palmer go down again. Johnson should be ranked among the top dozen fantasy receivers.
Brian Westbrook - Not only is Westbrook (ankle) back practicing earlier than expected, but he's even listed as the probable starter for Philadelphia's preseason game against the Jaguars on Thursday. Since it was previously believed he'd be held out of all the preseason games, this qualifies as surprising, yet very good news regarding his recovery from offseason ankle surgery. Westbrook remains an obvious injury risk, but even if LeSean McCoy takes away touches, remember Westbrook totaled 1,338 yards with 14 touchdowns on just 233 carries last season.
Glen Coffee - Coffee leads the NFL with 196 rushing yards over two preseason games, averaging 6.5 YPC. Of course, playing two home games against the Broncos and Raiders have something to do with it, but Coffee has looked good nevertheless. Frank Gore will still get the majority of the touches, but this is the first time in a while there's a clear cut No. 2 back in San Francisco. Coffee is becoming even more than just a handcuff, as there would be legitimate upside if Gore were to suffer an injury, something he's been prone to do.
Troy Williamson - Williamson has racked up 221 receiving yards over two preseason games, averaging a ridiculous 31.6 yards per catch. He's shown so little during his four years in the league, it's almost certainly a fluke, but since Jacksonville has so few options in the passing game, Williamson is at least on the radar now in deep leagues. Former Vikings coach (and now assistant coach in Jacksonville) Mike Tice must have saw something to bring him over to the Jaguars, and Williamson does have the pedigree of being a former top-10 draft pick.
Terrell Owens - Owens continues to miss time with what is being called a sprained toe, an injury that could linger into the season. There's still time to recover before the opener, but Owens is missing valuable practice time, especially since he's learning a new system. He's already been ruled out of Buffalo's third preseason game, and his status is questionable at best for their fourth and final preseason game. Owens' value already took a hit leaving Tony Romo and having to deal with the weather in Buffalo, and at age 35, he's proving to be a slow healer. Draft Chad Johnson instead.
Derrick Ward - News of Carnell Williams being named the starter for Tampa Bay's third preseason game isn't that significant on the surface, but it does reveal how much of a committee approach the Bucs will implement this season. Ward is still likely to be the nominal starter (and he's getting paid as such), but coach Raheem Morris recently revealed this plan regarding the running back situation: The starting running back would play two series, followed by another back taking the next two series, with the third back playing a single series. While coach speak can't be taken for certain, especially this time of year, there are too many red flags to consider Ward a top-25 fantasy RB.
Julius Jones - As if news of Walter Jones (knee) possibly missing the season and center Chris Spencer out at least 4-to-6 weeks after suffering a quad injury wasn't bad enough, Seattle also just signed Edgerrin James. The team subsequently cut T.J. Duckett, but assuming he kept himself in shape, James is a much bigger threat to steal carries away from Jones than Duckett ever was. Clearly the team knew it needed to address the RB position. Jones has also been missing some time with a bruised thigh, although he's since returned to practice. Stay far, far away.
Nate Washington - Washington had been one of the more impressive performers in Tennessee's camp, proving he was well worth the offseason contract. Unfortunately, he suffered a hamstring injury that sounds fairly serious. Although an MRI showed no major damage, Washington has already been ruled out for the final two preseason games, and his status for Week 1 is up in the air. Hopefully it's just a minor setback, but at a minimum, Washington will miss time in which he could further be developing chemistry with Kerry Collins.
Jamal Lewis - While Lewis has looked old and slow in camp, not surprising considering he's 30 and has accrued 2,399 career carries, rookie James Davis continues to impress, including an 81-yard TD run last week. Sure, it came against the Lions' backups, but Davis has impressed in practices as well, and there are rumblings of a RB controversy in Cleveland. Lewis averaged just 3.6 YPC last year, and it looks like the end is near. Davis should be going off the board ahead of Lewis in fantasy leagues.
Jonathan Stewart - Stewart continues to sit out with an Achilles injury, and word from the Panthers is that he "doesn't look close to being ready to strap on a helmet." He's almost certain to miss the rest of preseason, and his status for Week 1 is in question as well. Considering this injury stems from his foot problem dating back to his college days, it's a serious concern. This isn't an ankle - an Achilles can pop at any moment. If healthy, Stewart still offers tremendous upside. However, this injury knocks him below other upside guys like Ahmad Bradshaw and Felix Jones.
Article first appeared 8/26/09