Reggie Bush, RB, MIA – Bush has looked sharp since coming over to Miami and has secured the starting running back role. He won’t be treated like a true workhorse, but 12-15 carries and 3-6 catches per game aren’t out of the question. Bush has never reached even 600 rushing yards in a season, and it’s hard to see him being more productive on an inferior Dolphins team, at least on a per play basis. Of course, the expected increase in volume is what has his fantasy needle moving up, and there’s some thought playing on grass could help him stay healthy. Rookie Daniel Thomas has shown little physicality in the preseason, which has led to the signing of Larry Johnson - about as desperate as it gets. Clearly, Bush enters the year as the Dolphins’ lead back, so he should be treated as a borderline top-25 RB in PPR formats.
Colt McCoy, QB, CLE – McCoy had an awful end to his rookie season, posting a 1:6 TD:INT ratio while averaging 5.1 YPA over the final two games. However, it should be noted that those outings came against strong defenses in Baltimore and Pittsburgh. It’s also worth noting McCoy had a higher completion percentage (60.8% vs. 60.0%) and a much higher YPA mark (7.1 vs. 6.0) than Sam Bradford, and he didn’t benefit from playing in a dome (and an easier division) like the more highly touted rookie. McCoy no doubt has a weaker arm than Bradford and remains an injury risk, but he’s highly accurate and shouldn’t be ignored in dynasty leagues. For what it’s worth, McCoy leads the NFL in passer rating (132.6) during the preseason, and he continues to impress coaches in practice. Cleveland’s receiving corps remains one of the weakest in the league, but at least Greg Little offers some long-term upside, and McCoy even runs some. He’s a sleeper in 2-QB formats.
Ben Tate, RB, HOU – Tate busted loose in his preseason debut Saturday against the Saints, running for 95 yards and a touchdown on just nine carries. After being selected in the second round last year, Tate broke his ankle in his first preseason game and missed the entire season. More problematic, he missed a bunch of practices this season with a lingering hamstring injury, so it was not only nice to see him on the field, but also performing at a high level as well. Steve Slaton continues to miss time with a hamstring injury of his own and is a candidate to be traded, but Tate still needs to beat out Derrick Ward to become Arian Foster’s backup. Ward has been dealing with a concussion and is 31 years old, so the more talented Tate is the favorite, assuming he can stay healthy. It’s a role that could pay huge dividends should Foster get hurt, as first-string Houston backs have produced monstrous numbers over the past few years. The Texans might deploy the best run-blocking unit in all of football and have a favorable schedule in 2011, and it also helps that coach Gary Kubiak likes to feature a single runner. No other late-round candidate has the chance to make a bigger impact than Tate.
Willis McGahee, RB, DEN – McGahee totaled 39 yards and two touchdowns on seven touches during the Broncos’ 24-10 win over the Bills on Saturday. There’s obvious downside here: McGahee is clearly behind Knowshon Moreno on the depth chart, has averaged a pedestrian 4.0 YPC in his career, will turn 30 years old this season and plays for a Denver team that doesn’t project to be very good. However, Moreno is an injury risk (he has received 20-plus carries in just seven of his 29 career games) and is hardly an overly talented back himself. Moreover, new coach John Fox likes to implement a backfield-by-committee, and most importantly, it appears McGahee will dominate the goal-line work. No longer in Baltimore, where he was clearly behind Ray Rice, McGahee is back on the fantasy radar.
Greg Olsen, TE, CAR – Olsen has been heavily involved in Carolina’s passing game during his limited preseason action, something that should continue given offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski’s preference to feature tight ends prominently in his system. Olsen was a former collegiate star who was drafted in the first round, so the talent is there. His numbers fell off last season thanks mostly to OC Mike Martz’s arrival in Chicago; Martz simply ignores the tight end position from a receiving standpoint. The year before, Olsen racked up 60 catches for 612 yards and eight touchdowns during his third season in the league. The Panthers have a shaky QB situation, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if Olsen was second only to Steve Smith in targets. While Carolina would prefer to be a run-heavy offense, they may be forced to pass more frequently when playing from behind. Olsen could easily emerge as a weekly TE option.
Javon Ringer, RB, TEN – Ringer has missed some practice time over the past week with a hip injury, but the ever increasing uncertainty surrounding Chris Johnson makes him more and more intriguing. Ringer has to fight off rookie Jamie Harper, who racked up 107 yards on just 12 touches during the team’s preseason loss to the Rams on Saturday, but the incumbent is further along in pass protection and has impressed whenever given the opportunity, averaging 4.9 YPC during his brief career. Even on what projects to be a bad Titans team, Ringer would be a fine RB3 on a weekly basis if he was Tennessee’s feature back. For those who gamble on Johnson, feel free to reach a round or two to secure Ringer as well.
Marion Barber, RB, CHI – Barber has totaled 125 yards on 25 touches over two preseason games with his new team and looks to have his burst back after battling injuries the previous two years. The Bears have a poor offensive line, and Matt Forte is locked in as the Bears’ RB1, but Barber is the clear alternative. He is a good pass blocker and receiver; and, moreover, since Forte has converted just 3-of-28 goal-line attempts for scores over the past two years, Barber will act as the team’s exclusive goal-line back. At worst he’s worth a late-round flier.
Peyton Manning, QB, IND – Colts management doesn’t believe Manning (neck) will be available for the start of the regular season, and as a result, the retired Kerry Collins was signed to a contract. If Manning isn’t going to be available Week 1 - still not a sure thing at this point - that raises the question, exactly how much time will he miss? Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Tony Romo now all have to be drafted comfortably ahead of him, with the likes of Matt Schaub, Ben Roethlisberger and brother Eli Manning strong possibilities too. Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon and Joseph Addai all need to be downgraded as a result.
Ryan Grant, RB, GB – While one report recently suggested Grant’s roster spot was up for grabs, he recently restructured his base salary to guarantee his contract, making him highly likely to remain in a Packers uniform. It wouldn’t surprise if Grant emerged as the team’s lead back, but the fact his spot on the roster was in jeopardy at all certainly causes pause for those spending a mid-round draft pick on him. Grant has been used sparingly in the preseason, so there’s really no way to truly know how he looks coming off a serious ankle injury. James Starks is looking like legitimate competition in Green Bay’s backfield.
Ryan Williams, RB, ARI – Not only was it obvious bad news when Williams went down with a season-ending injury, but the nature of his ruptured patella tendon puts his future in doubt. It’s a serious injury that has prevented plenty of others from returning at 100 percent in the past, so this was a devastating blow to his dynasty league value, especially if Chris Wells can take advantage and solidify his role as Arizona’s main ball carrier.
Roy Williams, WR, CHI – Bears wide receivers coach Darryl Drake recently called out Williams, noting that his starting split end job (and probably roster spot) is in jeopardy because the wideout remains out of shape. Even Jay Cutler has admitted Williams could be better conditioned, and Johnny Knox is breathing down his neck. Williams simply doesn’t get it, and even with a starting spot in a pass-happy offense, he continues to disappoint.