Kenbrell Thompkins, WR, NE
Second-round pick Aaron Dobson and fourth-round pick Josh Boyce went into training camp as the much more hyped Patriot rookie wideouts, but the undrafted Thompkins appears to be top on the depth chart of the three. He caught four passes for 23 yards in New England's preseason debut against the Eagles on Friday, and Thompkins has reportedly been a consistent favorite target of Tom Brady in training camp. Thompkins didn't produce much at Cincinnati in college, scoring just four times in two years, but he was a high-ranking recruit prior to playing for the Bearcats and has the athletic talent to continue standing out.
EJ Manuel, QB, BUF
Manuel didn't show much big-play ability as a passer in his preseason debut against Indianapolis, throwing for just 107 yards on 21 passes, but it was impressive how the rookie completed 16 of those passes, good for a 76.2 completion percentage. Accuracy was an issue for the rookie at Florida State, so seeing him hit that many targets is reassuring. Manuel has sneaky fantasy upside this year due to Buffalo's hurry-up offense - even if Manuel doesn't average much yardage per pass and surrenders some turnovers, his running ability (28 yards on three carries against the Colts) and high play count could give him a surprising stat volume.
Daryl Richardson, RB, STL
There was supposed to be a lively competition between Richardson, Isaiah Pead and Zac Stacy for the starting running-back role in St. Louis, but Richardson appears close to settling the battle. Particularly with Pead suspended for Week 1, Richardson is poised to head into the season with a full head of steam, and coach Jeff Fisher has already said that the second-year player out of Abilene Christian is in the lead for the starting role. Coming off a rookie year in which he ran for 475 yards (4.8 YPC) and caught 24 passes for 163 yards, Richardson is looking like a strong RB3 in most leagues with Steven Jackson no longer around.
Sam Bradford, QB, STL
It was just a preseason game, but you have to like how Bradford completed 5-of-8 passes for 102 yards and a touchdown against the Browns on Thursday. Furthermore, that was without making use of his two new toys in the St. Louis offense, eighth overall pick receiver Tavon Austin and free-agent tight end Jared Cook. Bradford should have explosive playmakers all over the field this year - second-year wideout Chris Givens is establishing himself as one of the league's elite deep threats, and Austin, Cook and Brian Quick combine to provide a great deal of explosiveness and size underneath. If Bradford can push past 7.0 yards per attempt this year, he should breeze past 4,000 passing yards for the first time. You have to like his chances of doing both, perhaps comfortably.
DeSean Jackson, WR, PHI
Chip Kelly's offenses are known more for their rushing production than their passing stats, but so far it looks like the Kelly offense suits Jackson better than the Andy Reid offense did. Kelly's system places a lot of downward pressure on the defense by establishing the run and then using playaction to freeze the safeties, allowing Jackson to get further into defensive backfields before safeties turn to run on the double team. Very few cornerbacks can maintain deep coverage on Jackson, but like on Jackson's 47-yard touchdown reception against the Patriots, Kelly's play calling tempts safeties into leaving corners with Jackson one-on-one.
Montee Ball, RB, DEN
A running-back committee between Ball, Ronnie Hillman and perhaps Knowshon Moreno would be far from a death sentence for Ball's fantasy value - he should remain in flex territory at least as the probable goal-line back in a Peyton Manning-led offense - but it increasingly appears as if the second-round pick out of Wisconsin will not serve as a workhorse running back as a rookie. That means Ball looks more like a sixth- or seventh-round investment than the fourth- or third-round territory he would have held as a 20-carry back for the Broncos. Among rookies, it appears that Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell is safely ahead of Ball as far as potential workload, and it's possible that Green Bay's Eddie Lacy could pull ahead soon, too.
Jacoby Ford, WR, OAK
Ford showed a lot of explosiveness as a rookie in 2011, so it's disappointing to note that he unfortunately seems unable to stay healthy. Ford left four days into training camp (July 28) with an undisclosed injury, returned Saturday, Aug. 3, then left again Wednesday with a knee ailment. Ford missed all 2012 with a Lisfranc injury and missed time with a hamstring issue in OTAs, so he's been out with one thing or another for almost all of the past year.
Bilal Powell, RB, NYJ
Powell was atop the first depth chart the Jets provided Aug. 5, and Chris Ivory's persistent hamstring troubles appeared to make Powell one of the better late-round running-back darts. Unfortunately for Powell, Ivory made his way back into practice Sunday and reportedly looked good in Monday's practice. Ivory is expected to play in the Jets' preseason game against Jacksonville on Saturday, and Powell is coming off a weak preseason debut in which he ran for 14 yards on nine carries against Detroit.
Ed Dickson, TE, BAL
Dickson will remain Baltimore's top tight end despite his recent hamstring injury, but the signing of Dallas Clark could eat into Dickson's target count. Even if the 34-year-old Clark has no big-play ability (9.3 YPC in 2012), he caught 47 passes a year ago and could turn out to be more of a reliable security blanket than Dickson, who hasn't been all that explosive himself the last two years with just 753 yards on 75 catches. Dickson has yet to begin practicing again, moreover, and each day he misses allows Clark and fellow free-agent signing Visanthe Shiancoe to establish themselves in the offense.
Coby Fleener, Dwayne Allen, TE, IND
Allen will be out several weeks with a foot injury of an unclear sort, and Fleener suffered a concussion in Sunday's game against the Bills. Both players will immediately reclaim their respective roles when healthy, but in the meantime their ailments present slight disruptions as the second-year tight ends acclimate themselves to the system of new offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton. It's slightly less of an obstacle to Fleener, though, as Hamilton and Fleener worked together at Stanford in 2010 and 2011.