The all-important third preseason game is in the books, and now we can look forward to the season openers as most teams will protect anyone important in the final preseason game. What have we learned so far this month?
BEARS – Starting QB: Kyle Orton has been named the Week 1 starter, but the Bears offense is going to be bad this season, so that's hardly a reward. Rex Grossman will back him up.
Backup RB: Kevin Jones finally got back onto the playing field and gained 30 yards on three carries. As long as his knee holds up, he'll back up Matt Forte, making "the other" Adrian Peterson obsolete.
Starting and second WR: Rashied Davis caught two touchdown passes on August 21 and suddenly finds himself in contention for a starting job. There are plenty of candidates for the role – Marty Booker, Brandon Lloyd, Devin Hester, Mark Bradley – yet none has stepped up to claim it.
BENGALS – Starting RB: Rudi Johnson continues to be hampered by a hamstring injury, so Chris Perry may have already surpassed him on the depth chart. Johnson has missed the whole preseason, but hopes to play in the preseason finale and retain his starting job.
BILLS – Second WR: Josh Reed and Roscoe Parrish have been duking it out, with rookie James Hardy a distant third in this battle. Reed feels "as good as ever," and as he's the healthiest of the trio, he'll probably win the job by default.
BRONCOS – Starting and backup RB: Things look more settled than usual in Denver. Selvin Young looks like the lead back and was even used in a short-yardage situation on August 22. Andre Hall will be the backup, with Anthony Aldridge as a change-of-pace back.
Second WR: Eddie Royal has already passed Darrell Jackson on the depth chart, while Keary Colbert continues to get more comfortable with Jay Cutler. With Brandon Marshall suspended the first two games of the season, and Cutler looking like an up-and-comer, the second receiver in Denver could put up some nice numbers early on.
BUCCANEERS – Starting and backup RB: Neither Earnest Graham nor Warrick Dunn distinguished themselves much against the Jacksonville first string, but the Bucs as a whole were struggling to find their rhythm with Jeff Garcia back in the starting lineup. Graham figures to get the bulk of the carries, but Dunn will see more action than the typical backup and will often be used as a receiver.
Second WR: It's still not clear who among Ike Hilliard, Michael Clayton and Antonio Bryant will start the season opposite Joey Galloway. Bryant has been the most impressive so far, but a sore knee kept him out of the last preseason game. Hilliard is steady and probably still has the lead, while Clayton and Maurice Stovall have not done enough to impress the Tampa Bay coaches yet.
CARDINALS – starting QB: Matt Leinart's three-interception performance on August 23 led to speculation that Kurt Warner would be named the starter. Head coach Ken Whisenhunt dispelled those rumors quickly – Leinart even took snaps with the first team two days later – but the writing seems to be on the wall. Warner certainly wouldn't have a firm hold on the job, but it's obvious that Leinart still has some work to do.
Goal-line carries: Tim Hightower scored for the third game in a row and looks like he'll be used in the red zone this season. While it's doubtful he'll get enough 10-carry games this year to be useful in most fantasy leagues, he could rack up the touchdowns if the Cardinals take Edgerrin James out of the game when the they're in scoring range.
CHARGERS – Backup RB: Darren Sproles exploded for 102 yards on 13 carries Monday and may have cemented his role as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup. Jacob Hester, despite scoring a touchdown, didn't fare as well against the Seahawks, and he doesn't look like he'll surpass Sproles in the pecking order. Sproles could see some red-zone action this year, and in leagues that count return yards, he's a nice name to remember.
CHIEFS – Backup RB: Jamaal Charles has plenty of potential as a top backup, but he fumbles far too often and has been held out of the last two games with a shoulder injury. The Chiefs love Charles, but he's not getting enough reps right now to get ahead of Kolby Smith.
COLTS – Backup QB: With Peyton Manning nursing a sore knee, suddenly everyone knows Jim Sorgi's name. Sorgi was held out of the game August 24 – though he said he would have been able to play if it were a regular season game – with knee problems of his own. Jared Lorenzen started in his stead, with Quinn Gray backing him up. Sorgi is clearly the top backup, and Manning's injury could linger.
DOLPHINS – Backup QB: While Chad Pennington is going to be the starter in Miami this year, Chad Henne has looked pretty good and is a nice keeper as the backup. John Beck looks like the odd man out.
Starting RB: Ricky Williams has passed Ronnie Brown on the depth chart, but that probably has more to do with Brown's torn ACL from last season and sprained thumb this year. Still, Williams has looked better in camp, and Brown hasn't played yet this month. Regardless of who wins the job, Brown's load will be lighter all year.
Starting and second WR: Ted Ginn and Derek Hagan are penciled in as the starters. Hagan in particular could be a decent red-zone guy, and considering that Devone Bess and Ernest Wilford are next on the depth chart, he should have plenty of opportunities to show what he can do this year.
EAGLES – Second WR: In the wake of the Kevin Curtis' hernia surgery, Hank Baskett is the surprising choice as Philadelphia's second receiver. Rookie DeSean Jackson has had a very strong preseason, but ultimately the Eagles liked the bigger Baskett to start opposite Reggie Brown. Jackson will be the flanker and is still the one to keep an eye on; fantasy-wise, he's a better bet than Baskett this year.
FALCONS – Starting QB: With a strong performance in game three, Matt Ryan beat out Chris Redman. Rookie QBs are rarely strong fantasy performers, and Atlanta figures to be a run-first offense, so buyer beware.
Second WR: The release of Joe Horn has done nothing to clear up this battle. The Falcons are high on Laurent Robinson, but Michael Jenkins seems to have better chemistry with Ryan and may have already surpassed Robinson. Harry Douglas and Brian Finneran have both also played well so far, but they're a little farther down the trough – Douglas has already been named the third receiver, and Finneran may be no higher than fifth right now.
49ERS – Starting QB: J.T. O'Sullivan, who was announced as the Week 1 starter last week, makes an intriguing fantasy choice. He has experience with Mike Martz's offense, and the 49ers should be much improved this year. Of course, the group of receivers in the San Francisco still leave something to be desired.
Starting WRs: Speaking of which... Bryant Johnson and Isaac Bruce sit atop the depth chart, but the Niners might use a fantasy-unfriendly rotation of Johnson, Bruce, Arnaz Battle, Jason Hill and Josh Morgan this year. Although Morgan and Hill have both looked good during the preseason, they figure to get fewer opportunities than the others.
GIANTS – Second WR: The veteran Amani Toomer probably has the edge over Steven Smith, but both should get plenty of opportunities this year. Sinorice Moss has been standing out in practice with all of the injuries to the Giants receivers, but now that Toomer and Smith are healthy, Moss might be on the roster bubble. One interesting name to note: Domenik Hixon. Hixon scored three touchdowns including one on special teams in the second preseason game and continued his strong play in game number three. With everyone healthy, Hixon is probably headed back to special teams.
JAGUARS – Starting and second WR: Reggie Williams returned to action and had his starting job waiting for him. Jerry Porter looks like he won't be ready for the opener, so it could be Troy Williamson, Dennis Northcutt, or Matt Jones starting opposite Williams. Williamson has done nothing in camp to overcome his "bust" label and could even be cut, while Jones, on the other hand, seems to have righted the ship. Northcutt has been all over the map in camp, but a touchdown in the last preseason game has vaulted him into contention for a starting role.
LIONS – Starting RB: If Kevin Smith weren't ahead of Tatum Bell before August 23, he certainly was after. Smith's beautiful 35-yard TD likely sealed Bell's fate. The two played together at times, but Smith is clearly in the lead now.
PANTHERS – Starting RB: Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams alternated drives on August 23, and both backs topped the century mark. While we expect Williams to get the majority of carries early on, Stewart could play enough to be a decent fantasy play, especially if he sees all the goal-line looks.
Second WR: With D.J. Hackett (toe) and Muhsin Muhammad (ribs) out, Dwayne Jarrett got the start against the Redskins and caught four passes for 40 yards. Steve Smith is sitting out the first two weeks of the season, so it's possible that Jarrett could continue the starting gig a bit longer. Hackett, at this point, doesn't look like he'll be ready for the opener.
RAIDERS – Starting RB: Justin Fargas is still the No. 1 back, but Darren McFadden has been impressive. Both should do well fantasy-wise (think Chester Taylor/Adrian Peterson in 2007), but Michael Bush could steal goal-line carries from both. The Raiders are going to run a lot this year.
RAMS – Second WR: Donnie Avery's strong return on August 23 coincided with injuries to Drew Bennett and Dante Hall. If Bennett's groin injury and Hall's ankle injury linger, Avery could still crack the starting lineup in the opener. Keenan Burton and Dane Looker have both had strong summers as well, giving the Rams some optimism that their receiving corps will be much stronger than in 2007.
RAVENS – Starting QB: Troy Smith was scheduled to start on August 23, but a stomach virus forced the Ravens to start third-string rookie Joe Flacco instead. The game was Smith's chance to show the coaches he deserved to be the starter, especially since Kyle Boller was also sitting out with an injury. Now the battle between Smith and Boller will continue into the final week of the preseason, with Boller's shoulder and Smith's illness giving Flacco a tiny chance to pass both.
Starting RB: Though Ray Rice is clearly NOT ahead of Willis McGahee on the depth chart, McGahee's health makes Rice a smart handcuff. It's been a nice camp for Rice so far. McGahee, who had his knee scoped on August 11, should be fine for the regular-season opener.
SAINTS – Starting RB: Although Deuce McAllister hasn't filled up the stat sheet during the preseason, the big news is that he's played in two games and his surgically-repaired knees seem fine. He'll likely sit out the preseason finale, and with Reggie Bush nursing a sore quadriceps, it's doubtful we'll learn anything new about how the Saints will employ their two top backs. Both can be productive players this year, but it could be McAllister who winds up playing more in the backfield so Bush can be utilized as a receiver.
Second WR: David Patten has probably held off fast-charging Robert Meachem for the job, but there will be plenty of footballs to go around in such a fantasy-friendly offense. Devery Henderson and Terrance Copper appear out of the running.
SEAHAWKS – Second WR: With Bobby Engram and Deion Branch out for at least the first month of the season, the Seahawks are looking for someone to step up. From the cast of thousands, few have stood out. Courtney Taylor had three catches for 24 yards against San Diego on August 25 and probably has the lead over Ben Obamanu and Logan Payne. Jordan Kent is a bit more of a long shot, but his touchdown against the Chargers keeps him in the running.
TEXANS – Starting and backup RB: Ahman Green (groin) and Chris Brown (back) continue to be dogged by injuries, giving the starting job to Chris Taylor, who had 47 yards on 11 carries on August 22. Rookie Steve Slaton remains one to watch, and it would not be surprising to see him as the Week 1 starter. Darius Walker is still in the mix, but he's probably the odd man out if the Houston running back corps ever gets fully healthy.
TITANS – Second WR: Justin McCareins, who returned to action after a hamstring injury, has probably done enough to hold off Brandon Jones and Roydell Williams. The Titans like Williams, but his ankle injury has prevented him from doing much this month – he's running out of time if he wants to make an impression on his coaches.
Article first appeared 8/26/08