The preseason is over and we're just days away from the opening of the 2008 season. Here are some of the most significant late-breaking depth chart changes:
BENGALS - Starting RB: The surprising release of Rudi Johnson makes Chris Perry the starter and moves up Kenny Watson a notch. Johnson, who has dealt with injuries throughout the preseason as well as last year, could land somewhere else, but right now he's nothing more than a speculative endgame pick in fantasy drafts. Perry, on the other hand, should shoot up cheat sheets now that his main competition is gone.
BRONCOS - Starting and backup RB: Selvin Young has won the job with Andre Hall backing him up and possibly getting used in goal-line situations. Anthony Alridge was placed on the IR after tearing a ligament in his foot in the preseason finale, making Michael Pittman the third-string running back until Ryan Torain returns midseason.
Second WR: Brandon Marshall's suspension was cut to one game, meaning the Eddie Royal and Darrell Jackson tandem will only start the opener. Royal has outplayed Jackson during the preseason, and will probably stay in the starting lineup when Marshall returns.
CARDINALS - Starting QB: Although Matt Leinart played well in the final preseason game August 29, Kurt Warner was officially named the Opening Day starter. It's doubtful that Warner will last all season in the role, but Leinart still needs to prove to Arizona coaches that he can lead the franchise.
CHIEFS - Backup RB: Kolby Smith started the finale on August 28 and scored twice. He remains ahead of Jamaal Charles on the depth chart and is still the handcuff to get if you own Larry Johnson. Charles remains an excellent keeper, but he's a long shot to have much fantasy value this season.
DOLPHINS - Starting RB: Ricky Williams is still ahead of Ronnie Brown, but Brown had 47 yards and a touchdown on August 28 and looked good making cuts. Williams was treated like a starter, carrying only twice before taking the rest of the game off. He'll likely start the opener, but Brown should see enough playing time this year to be fantasy viable.
EAGLES - Second WR: Philadelphia is already without Kevin Curtis, and there's still a possibility that Reggie Brown could also miss the opener with a hamstring injury. Brown returned to practice and should be ready, but if not, exciting rookie DeSean Jackson could enter the starting lineup and never let go. Hank Baskett will start regardless of Brown's status.
49ERS - Starting WRs: Bryant Johnson and Isaac Bruce are still the expected starters, and now that Johnson has finally played, he's solidified his role somewhat. Johnson, Bruce, Arnaz Battle, Jason Hill, and Josh Morgan will be part of a fantasy-unfriendly five-man receiver rotation this year, making it difficult to forecast any of them at this point.
PANTHERS - Second WR: D.J. Hackett (toe) and Muhsin Muhammad (ribs) could both be ready for Opening Day, but Dwayne Jarrett has looked strong in the preseason and will probably have an opportunity to strut his stuff while Steve Smith sits out the first two games with a suspension. It's not out of the realm of possibility that Jarrett will be starting games this year.
RAMS - Second WR: When everyone's healthy, it's clear that Drew Bennett should be the No. 2 receiver and Dante Hall should be No. 3. Unfortunately, Bennett and Hall haven't been healthy, and to make matters worse, Donnie Avery has a sprained knee as well. Bennett should be ready for the opener, but Avery and Keenan Burton have outplayed him, so he'll need to get well soon to stay in the starting lineup all season.
RAVENS - Starting QB: Troy Smith's tonsil infection is just not going away, leading to speculation that rookie Joe Flacco will start the opener. Smith has lost a lot of weight - not to mention practice time - in the last couple of weeks, and with Kyle Boller also out with a shoulder injury, Flacco is the last man standing. He's not much of a fantasy prospect for Week 1, but he'll get valuable experience for when the Ravens give him the keys to the franchise in 2009 or 2010.
SAINTS - Starting RB: Reggie Bush was held out of the preseason finale with a sore thigh, but Deuce McAllister carried 11 times for 30 yards. McAllister's surgically repaired knees look fine, so the Saints will head into the season with a timeshare in the backfield. McAllister may get more carries, but Bush's ability as a receiver will make him a more productive fantasy property.
SEAHAWKS - Second WR: Deion Branch is supposed to return to practice this week, but he may still miss the first few weeks of the season. With Bobby Engram also out in September and now Ben Obomanu out with a broken collarbone, suddenly Jordan Kent and Courtney Taylor will be thrust into extensive playing time in the pass-happy Seattle offense. Taylor has the edge over Kent now, but Kent has outplayed him this summer.
STEELERS - Goal-line RB: Conventional wisdom has the Steelers taking Willie Parker out of the game on the goal-line and giving the ball to rookie Rashard Mendenhall. That's all well and good as Mendenhall is built in the Jerome Bettis mold. However, Mendenhall has had a tough time holding onto the ball in August, losing three fumbles in the last two preseason games. Pittsburgh really wants to see Mendenhall in the red zone, but rookies with fumbleitis generally don't get a whole lot of chances. This situation bears watching.
TEXANS - Starting and backup RB: Houston cleaned house last week, cutting Marcel Shipp and Darius Walker and placing Chris Brown on the IR. All that remains of the Texans RB corps is injury-prone starter Ahman Green (who played all of one play during the preseason), Chris Taylor and Steve Slaton. Many savvy owners already have Slaton on their radar, and with good reason, but Taylor might just be the one who leads Houston in rushing this season.
TITANS - Starting and backup RB: LenDale White and Chris Johnson are expected to split carries 60-40, but given White's frequent injuries, not to mention Johnson's superior pass-catching skills, Johnson could be the more valuable fantasy back this season, particularly in the second half of 2008.
Article first appeared 9/1/08