Brandon Marshall, WR, MIA – Marshall has impressed during the preseason, including his 60-yard touchdown grab last week against the Bucs. The catch showed renewed explosion that Marshall lacked last year as he battled through a hip injury that lingered even after he underwent surgery on it before the year. Only an injury that forced him to miss two games last season prevented him from reaching 100 catches for the fourth season in a row, and it’s safe to call his three touchdowns a fluke since he’s 6-4, 230 and racked up the second most targets inside the 10-yard line in the NFL with 13. Marshall doesn’t have an ideal quarterback situation in Miami, but he should dominate targets, and it’s certainly possible Chad Henne improves during his third year as a starter. Marshall should be considered a top-10 fantasy wide receiver, and it wouldn’t be crazy to take him ahead of Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Bowe and Greg Jennings.
Jeremy Maclin, WR, PHI – Maclin keeps teetering between faller and riser this preseason, but barring a setback, it appears he’ll be ready for Week 1. His fantasy value has truly been discounted thanks to the serious questions regarding his health over the summer, but he’s worth the risk at his current price, even if it means a slower start to the season. Maclin isn’t the burner that teammate DeSean Jackson is, but he’s clearly the team’s No. 1 option in the red zone. While last year’s 10/70 TD/reception ratio probably isn’t sustainable, don’t necessarily expect a steep drop in scoring production either, especially since his involvement could increase should the injury-prone Jackson miss time. Lastly, there’s good reason to expect Maclin will improve during his third year in the league.
James Starks, RB, GB – Starks has been battling an ankle injury during the preseason and hasn’t been used much during games, but reports out of practice have him being more impressive than Ryan Grant, who actually had to take a pay cut in order to stay on the roster. Grant remains the favorite for carries, and this could turn into something of a timeshare, which would be a fantasy buzz kill. However, it’s also not out of the realm of possibility that Starks’ superior talent takes over and helps him become the team’s feature back. That role would carry quite a bit of upside as lead runner in possibly the NFL’s best offense, so few running backs with his potential are going as late in fantasy drafts.
Kenny Britt, WR, TEN – Britt has avoided suspension for his offseason incidents, which in itself gives his fantasy value a rise; however, it would be nice if he were to get over his preseason hamstring issues. Tennessee’s QB situation is hardly ideal, and Matt Hasselbeck’s weak deep ball could be a problem (as would Jake Locker starting), but six games against division opponents who all project to have weak secondaries certainly helps, as does the fact Britt is clearly the team’s No. 1 option in the passing game. Averaging 18.5 yards per catch during his second year in the league last season, Britt racked up 775 receiving yards and nine touchdowns while playing only 480 snaps. There were 82 wide receivers who saw more snaps than that last year. Britt certainly carries some risk, as he’s a knucklehead who hasn’t proven the ability to stay durable during his brief NFL career, but his upside is off the charts as one of the league’s premier deep threats, and he needs to be treated as a top-20 fantasy receiver.
Jimmy Graham, TE, NO – Graham hauled in five catches for 73 yards on a whopping eight targets in one half against the Raiders last week, Graham, an athletic freak at 6-6, 260, has been an integral part of the Saints’ high-powered attack this preseason and should be featured heavily inside the red zone. Still raw as a second-year player, Graham is unlikely to dominate in PPR formats since New Orleans has so many options in the passing attack, but he should be viewed as a top-seven fantasy tight end nevertheless.
Delone Carter, RB, IND – Carter had 17 carries for 81 yards (4.8 YPC) over his first three preseason games, and while he hasn’t officially replaced Donald Brown as Indy’s number two running back, that should happen shortly. Additionally, the rookie already looks like the team’s top option at the goal line. The health of Peyton Manning is important, but assuming he’s fine, there’s a lot of upside as the goal-line back in such a potent offense. Starter Joseph Addai remains a factor since he’s so good in pass protection, but he’s also an injury risk, and the younger Carter likely has more pure rushing ability right now. If he were to somehow find himself in a prominent role, Carter could be a major fantasy difference maker.
Arian Foster, RB, HOU – Foster left last week’s game after aggravating his hamstring injury, and while early reports suggests it’s minor, he recently Tweeted an MRI result that officially put his status for Week 1 up in the air. As the featured runner playing behind arguably the best run-blocking unit in football for a coach who runs extensively inside the red zone, Foster has more fantasy upside than Adrian Peterson, even if the latter is superior as a real-life back. Foster also racks up catches, and the schedule sets up nicely for Houston to approach 10-11 wins, including a tasty fantasy playoffs, as the Texans go @CIN, CAR and @IND Weeks 14-16. So what do we do with Foster, who’s clearly a risk now as an early pick? It depends on your willingness to gamble, and prospective owners will want to stash both Ben Tate and Derrick Ward as well.
Chad Ochocinco, WR, NE – By all accounts, Ochocinco has struggled mightily to pick up New England’s offense; and while he’s been a good soldier and doesn’t need to be viewed as a true bust right now, it wouldn’t surprise if Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowksi are all more involved in the Patriots’ offense. Ochocinco is 33 and seemingly struggling to learn a new offensive system, so alternatives like Mario Manningham, Santonio Holmes and Kenny Britt look like better options.
Cedric Benson, RB, CIN – Benson began serving his 20-day jail sentence Tuesday and is expected to spend around seven days behind bars, giving him time to be ready for Week 1. He’s not expected to be suspended, but since this incident occurred in 2010 and not during the lockout, anything is possible. However, his on-field decline is more worrisome than his off-field issues, as he averaged an ugly 3.5 YPC last season. He remains a true feature back, and it’s not like he costs a super high draft pick, but Benson offers little as a receiver and plays for an offense that projects to be among the worst in the league. He finished outside the top-15 fantasy running backs last season despite getting the fifth most touches.
Daniel Thomas, RB, MIA – With so many negative reports coming out of Miami, few players’ value took a bigger hit than Thomas this month. Lacking physicality, Thomas has reportedly lost the trust of his coaches, although there’s plenty of time for the rookie to improve, and it’s important to note just how injury–prone starter Reggie Bush has been throughout his career. Thomas’ stock is way down, but maybe that presents something of a buying opportunity.