Devin Hester, who caught just two passes for 24 yards Friday, looks like he'll be the nominal starter, but Alshon Jeffery, who caught just one pass Friday clearly has a higher upside. The Bears look set here, with Brandon Marshall and Hester starting, Edgar Bennett in the slot and Jeffery next in line.
Cincinnati can't seem to figure out who it wants to start opposite A.J. Green. The Bengals continue to tout Armon Binns and Brandon Tate as "No. 2 and No. 2A," but neither has done much this summer. Mohamed Sanu appears a bit buried on the depth chart, while Andrew Hawkins has been silent. Marvin Jones had a nice game Thursday, catching five passes for 111 yards and a score, but he did it all during garbage time and doesn't look like an option. If we had to handicap this race at all, we'd give the edge to Binns, who played his college ball in Cincinnati and was used with the first team in the red zone Thursday. Hey, it's something.
With Ronnie Hillman finally able to get on the field and Lance Ball leaving Sunday's game with a chest injury, it looks like Hillman will nail down the job of backing up Willis McGahee. Knowshon Moreno may be able to carve out a role if Ball is more than just dinged up, but it's not looking good for the 2009 first-rounder.
Trent Richardson is expected to be back on the field soon and might still start the regular-season opener. In the meantime, there was some minor intrigue in Cleveland. Brandon Jackson, who easily outperformed Montario Hardesty on Friday (Jackson had 34 yards on seven carries, while Hardesty had just 12 yards in eight attempts) practiced with the first team Monday while Hardesty missed practice and was spotted with a sleeve on his leg. Hardesty was just resting due to general soreness, but given Richardson's imminent return, the presence of Jackson and the anemic Cleveland offense, Hardesty doesn't even look like a decent dart now.
Mohamed Massaquoi may be the starter on paper opposite Greg Little, but game-in and game-out he's been outproduced by rookie Josh Gordon. Gordon has more impressive physical tools and upside, so if he can grasp the playbook and get into game shape, he'll likely push Massaquoi out of fantasy relevance.
After coming off the bench in the first two games, Doug Martin earned a merit-based start in the third preseason game, and he finished with 53 rushing yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, LeGarrette Blount was relegated to backup Friday, where he looks like he will be once the regular season starts.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt says the competition is getting "murkier" due to Kevin Kolb's interceptions in Thursday's game. He played much better - apart from the interceptions - than John Skelton, who completed just 4-of-10 passes for 41 yards and interception. To make matters worse, neither is expected to play in the preseason finale this week, meaning there isn't much more we can find out on the field. Expect an announcement some time around Labor Day.
Beanie Wells finally got on the field Thursday, but didn't do much, gaining just 12 yards on six carries. Ryan Williams also played, but only had three carries. Whoever starts - and now that Wells is playing, it looks like it'll be him - will have to run behind a reshuffled offensive line and in front of a mediocre quarterback, so it may not be the best place to look for a fantasy running back.
Austin Collie is day-to-day and expected to play in the opener, but with the amount of concussions he's had, he's definitely a risky pick. So who would step in opposite Reggie Wayne if Collie isn't ready? It looks like T.Y. Hilton or Donnie Avery, with Lavon Brazil a bit further behind. Hilton caught four (including a touchdown) for 54 yards in the last preseason game, but he left the game with a shoulder injury. Avery, who caught six passes for 36 yards might be the last man left standing. For what it's worth, coach Chuck Pagano thinks Collie will be ready for the opener, so all this speculation might be moot.
While Dez Bryant (knee) and Miles Austin (hamstring) are confident they'll play in the opener, they could both be a little rusty due to missing time in August. The Cowboys need a consistent No. 3 receiver and have found one in Dwayne Harris, who caught three passes - two of them long touchdowns - for 118 yards Saturday. While the Cowboys may have found their Victor Cruz (or at least their Laurent Robinson), keep in mind that Harris did the same thing in a preseason game last year ... and then hauled in zero regular-season receptions in 2011. Kevin Ogletree, who caught five passes, might be a safer pick, but if you want to roll the dice at the end of your deep-league draft, Dwayne Harris could be a good choice.
Jason Witten hasn't been ruled out for the opener yet - his lacerated spleen was scanned Tuesday - but the Cowboys are expected to protect the vet who hasn't missed a regular-season game since 2003. James Hanna is still producing in the passing game and could be a sneaky play in deep leagues early in the season.
With Michael Vick sitting out the last two games of the preseason schedule, all eyes are on the backups. A few weeks ago, Mike Kafka had the backup job all sewn up, but a hand injury pushed him to the sidelines where he could only watch as Nick Foles strung together a couple of strong performances. Foles now appears to have locked down the job of backing up the oft-injured Vick, while veteran Trent Edwards, who has also played well this summer, may force Kafka out completely.
In this week's edition of "As MJD Turns," Maurice Jones-Drew said he's open to a trade. He also thinks things will "work out." Coach Mike Mularkey expects Rashad Jennings to start the opener, but that there's still time for that to change. We're not sure what is going to change, or work out, but fantasy leagues will hang in the balance. Make sure if you're auto-drafting that you don't have Jones-Drew quite as high as the Yahoos and ESPNs might place him, and don't forget about Jennings way down at the bottom.
Santonio Holmes finally got some game action, but the anemic Jets offense - not to mention his coaching staff - didn't get him the ball too often. Brighter news is that Stephen Hill caught five passes for 68 yards. Someone has to catch passes for the Jets, and Hill, who looks like he'll start opposite Holmes, could be a nice sleeper because there just isn't anyone else. You want to throw your lot in with Chaz Schilens and Jeremy Kerley?
Kevin Smith is still atop the depth chart, despite a minor ankle injury in the last week, but Mikel Leshoure took the field, and although he managed a paltry one yard on five carries, he'll have a few extra weeks to get into shape, thanks to a two-game suspension. If Smith doesn't get off to a hot start, Leshoure could take over in Week 3. Keiland Williams will back up Smith until then. As for the once-promising Jahvid Best ... he's on the PUP list, and it's getting close to the one-year anniversary of the concussion that sidelined him. Although he is symptom-free, he still can't pass concussion tests.
Coach Mike McCarthy is frustrated that James Starks' recovery from a turf toe injury is going slowly, and he may have fallen behind Cedric Benson and Alex Green as a result. There has been some speculation that Starks' roster spot could even be in jeopardy. The Packers like Brandon Saine's versatility, so if Green can re-establish his health, there might be a tough call to make. Green started Thursday's game but only gained 10 yards on five carries while Benson came off the bench for 38 yards on six attempts. It looks like Benson will be in the starting lineup come Opening Day.
Jonathan Stewart was carted off the field with an ankle injury Sunday, and while X-rays revealed nothing serious, he'll miss the preseason finale and his Week 1 status is in some doubt. For years, the book on the Carolina running backs would be if one went down, the other would become a star. DeAngelo Williams scored 20 touchdowns in 2008 and could probably get in the end zone a lot if he didn't have Stewart (and Cam Newton) taking carries from him. As we said, the injury to Stewart is not serious, but if he misses a week or two, Williams could completely take off.
A year ago at this time, no one expected the Panthers to score a lot of points, so their kicker wasn't in high demand. Things have gotten a little better in Carolina, thus the need to report that Justin Medlock beat out Olindo Mare for the placekicking job. Medlock hung around a few NFL training camps the last five years, but most of his success has been in the Canadian Football League.
Jacoby Ford (foot) and Denarius Moore (hamstring) are still not practicing, and although both could be ready for Week 1, their returns are unclear. The good news for the Raiders is a few other receivers have stepped up. Darrius Heyward-Bey, who had missed some time with an injury, is the top dog until Moore returns. Rod Streater, who started last week, caught five passes and has earned the trust of Carson Palmer. Rookie Juron Criner caught two long touchdowns, and although they were thrown by third stringer Terrelle Pryor, Criner is showing the poise of a veteran. The Raiders signed Roscoe Parrish on Tuesday, but he'll likely be at the bottom of the depth chart and just be used on special teams.
RAVENS and REDSKINS K
The Ravens gave Justin Tucker every opportunity to win the job last Thursday, and he gave his team two made field goals and five touchbacks. As a result, they dropped Billy Cundiff, who didn't even play in the game. Monday, the Redskins dropped Neil Rackers and gave the job to the erratic Graham Gano, but by Tuesday, the Redskins were more enamored with Cundiff, who signed with Washington, ending Gano's three-year reign with the Skins.
Alfred Morris started last week and was fantastic, gaining 107 yards on just 14 attempts. He's behind three fragile running backs and his coach is Mike Shanahan. Stranger things have happened. One of those fragile backs, Tim Hightower, made his first game appearance since tearing his ACL last year. He ran for 18 yards on his first carry and finished with 28 yards on five carries. He could start the opener. Or Evan Royster could. He missed Washington's last exhibition game with a sore knee but is expected to play in the preseason finale Wednesday. Roy Helu is practicing a little too, and he wants to play Wednesday, but with two Achilles' injuries, he's more of a long shot for Opening Day, let alone Wednesday. Someone could emerge from this mess and have value this year, but make sure to have some Advil on hand, both for the running backs and for your headache.
Garrett Hartley did most of the work Saturday, attempting three field goals and three extra points. John Kasay made just one PAT, so if his usage is any indication, he's on the way out. Sure looks like the job is Hartley's, but we still don't know much about him from distance, as all of his makes during the preseason have been inside 40.
The Seahawks finally coronated Russell Wilson as their starter after another outstanding performance Friday. While preseason stats don't mean much, Wilson's August numbers indicate he could be a special fantasy quarterback, as he'll rack up a ton of rushing yards for a quarterback. "Russell's performance was just so far off the charts that we had to recognize it," coach Pete Carroll said of the decision to hand over the reins to Wilson. Matt Flynn, who was one of the big offseason free-agent signings, will back up the rookie, but he could have elbow tendinitis. The Seahawks don't seem too concerned, as they traded third-stringer Tarvaris Jackson to Buffalo to replace Vince Young as the backup to Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Seahawks finally said sayonara to Terrell Owens, meaning Braylon Edwards likely has won a spot on the roster and still has a chance of winning a spot in the starting lineup. Sidney Rice is the only sure thing on the roster now that he's healthy. Doug Baldwin had a "very successful" procedure on his hamstring, but he's not likely to play in the preseason, which will hurt his chances of winning a starting job. Golden Tate, who made a strong contribution on special teams Friday with a 92-yard punt return, is also in the mix for a starting job.
Shayne Graham and Randy Bullock finally figured out a way to separate themselves: Bullock tore his groin and went on the IR, making the choice for the Houston placekicking job easy. Graham "won" the job.