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Depth Chart Watch: To the Victors Go the Spoils

Kenn Ruby

Kenn has been writing and editing for RotoWire since 2003. Though he attended Northwestern with the co-founders of RotoWire, he is not considered a made member of the RotoWire Northwestern mafia, as he can't trace back all of his ancestors to Dan Okrent.

BENGALS K: The Bengals decided to go with Mike Nugent over Dave Rayner because Nugent has a little stronger leg on both field goals and kickoffs. Cincinnati could have a decent offense this year, so now that Nugent has the job officially, feel free to put him on your cheat sheet.

BILLS RB: Marshawn Lynch played in the preseason finale on Thursday and Fred Jackson is back at practice (though not quite ready to play), but it still looks like C.J. Spiller will be the starter – at least in the opener. Jackson is confident he’ll return soon, though the Bills don’t need to rush him back due to their backfield depth. When all three are healthy, this situation will be a headache for fantasy players, but things could work themselves out a bit if Lynch is traded.

BRONCOS RB: Knowshon Moreno is expected to be ready for the opener, but he likely won’t be 100 percent. Fortunately, backup Correll Buckhalter has a clean bill of health and should be ready to go. The two figure to split the carries in some fashion. LenDale White, though a familiar name, was not expected to push either for a starting job. That’s all moot now - White is out for the season with a torn Achilles.

BRONCOS WR: Eric Decker has made things interesting in the Mile High City with 10 catches for 114 yards in the last preseason game. Sure, it was against reserve defensive backs, but 10 catches means he was open a lot. Jabar Gaffney and Eddie Royal look to be the starters, with Brandon Lloyd and Decker expected to back them up in week one. Royal will play a lot out of the slot this year, so either Lloyd or Decker could line up outside a bit. Demaryius Thomas has dealt with a sore foot for the last month but should figure into the mix at some point this season. However, he’ll probably be inactive in the opener.

BROWNS RB: A devastating knee injury to rookie Montario Hardesty has thinned Cleveland’s running back corps by one and given sole possession of the top job to Jerome Harrison. Harrison has shown explosiveness in the past – most notably in his 286-yard outburst late last season – so he’s a nice sleeper now that he’s no longer looking at a time share with Hardesty. Peyton Hillis will back up Harrison and James Davis will be the third-stringer.

BUCCANEERS RB: Kareem Huggins had the upper hand for the backup role at this time last week, but the release of Derrick Ward made it official. Huggins will back up the fragile Cadillac Williams, which makes him a worthy late-round pick.

CARDINALS QB: Derek Anderson officially won this job when the Cardinals released Matt Leinart Saturday, but it had been a foregone conclusion for the last couple weeks. Anderson will get the pleasure of passing the ball to Larry Fitzgerald while Matt Leinart takes over as Matt Schaub’s backup in Houston. Max Hall will back up Anderson.

CHARGERS WR: The unexpected acquisition of Patrick Crayton means Legedu Naanee's stay in the starting lineup could be short. Crayton was buried on the Dallas depth chart, but he has some potential, especially in a good San Diego offense. Malcom Floyd will start, and Crayton – as soon as he’s up to speed – will probably pair with him and knock Naanee down to the No. 3. This all assumes, of course, that Vincent Jackson isn’t walking through the locker room door anytime soon.

COWBOYS WR: Dez Bryant is back at practice, and although he looked good during the offseason, he needs to improve his conditioning a little after missing some time. Bryant missed the last preseason game; but with Roy Williams nursing a back injury, now might be the time Bryant pushes him down a peg. Bryant will be starting in Big D before long.

GIANTS RB: Somewhat surprisingly it appears that Ahmad Bradshaw is now the starter for the Giants. Last year’s starter, Brandon Jacobs, will probably still be used on the goalline, but if Bradshaw receives those carries, he has the potential to be a top-ten back. Bradshaw should be shooting up your cheatsheet right now.

PATRIOTS RB: Laurence Maroney is reportedly dealing with injuries to his ankle, groin, and abdomen right now, which could explain why he only saw minimal work during the preseason. Maroney is probably behind Fred Taylor right now; but as they have done in the past, the Patriots will spread the ball around between multiple running backs and make it difficult for fantasy owners to pick the right one in a given week.

RAIDERS RB: Michael Bush’s broken thumb could keep him out awhile - possibly “a quarter of the season or more,” according to the Oakland Tribune - so Darren McFadden is clearly the No. 1 back right now. Michael Bennett, who had a strong preseason, will back up Run-DMC until Bush is ready to return.

RAMS QB: Let the Sam Bradford era begin! All Bradford had left to do to win the starting job was not fall on his face in the last preseason game; he clearly didn’t and was named the starter soon thereafter. The team looked much better offensively with Bradford behind center than when A.J. Feeley lined up there, so this is not a big surprise. Feeley, who missed some time with a thumb injury, will open the season as the backup.

RAMS WR: Just when it looked like we had figured out the pecking order in St. Louis, the Rams had to go and trade for veteran Mark Clayton. The starters, as of now, are the unproven Laurent Robinson and Danny Amendola; so Clayton will have an opportunity to crack the starting lineup early on. Amendola appears to have good chemistry with Bradford and will be tough to take out of the lineup, but Robinson is dealing with a mild foot sprain and is a candidate to be replaced if he gets off to a slow start. Brandon Gibson, Keenan Burton, and Mardy Gilyard all got their shots this summer, but none are likely to make significant contributions this year unless injuries strike.

RAVENS WR: T.J. Houshmandzadeh may not have been wanted in Seattle, but Baltimore welcomed him with open arms Monday. The Ravens are a nice landing spot for him because he will work opposite Anquan Boldin and will work with a young, improving quarterback in Joe Flacco. Seattle was never really a good fit for Houshmandzadeh; but now that he’s back in a secondary role like he was in Cincinnati, he could thrive. Derrick Mason will likely drop to No. 3, though it's still a bit early to declare Housh the starter.

RAVENS K: The Ravens will go with Billy Cundiff as their kicker rather than Shayne Graham. Cundiff had a strong preseason and kicked better on kickoffs, so the choice was fairly easy. However, Cundiff has not exactly been a stable NFL kicker during his career, so he could be on a short leash.

REDSKINS RB: Although the release of Willie Parker wasn’t much of a surprise, the release of Ryan Torain was. Reportedly the Skins want to pick up Torain and put him on the practice squad if he clears waivers, but it seems strange that they would chance even that. It looks like Clinton Portis, the starter, is healthy and ready to go. He will be backed up by former fantasy stud Larry Johnson.

REDSKINS WR: Although he’s expected to pass Joey Galloway on the depth chart eventually, Devin Thomas was unable to do so during the preseason and will start the year as a backup. Even more surprising, Thomas could not beat out Anthony Armstrong for the third-receiver role, so he will start the year as the Redskins' fourth receiver. Santana Moss is probably the only Redskin wideout worth owning this year in standard leagues.

SAINTS RB: Chris Ivory, the expected goalline back, will miss three weeks with an MCL injury, which means DeShawn Wynn will make the team and could see a few carries early in the season. Still, it’s more likely that the Saints will just lean on Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush a bit more in Ivory's absence.

SEAHAWKS RB: Things cleared up a bit in the Emerald City over the last week when the Seahawks cut Julius Jones and made Leon Washington their primary kickoff returner. While Washington will still get his share of the carries, the fact that he will return kicks could indicate that Seattle is ready to give the starting running back job to Justin Forsett. Michael Robinson, late of San Francisco, was signed over the weekend for depth.

SEAHAWKS WR: T.J. Houshmandzadeh is now in Baltimore, which means the Seahawks will go with a very inexperienced receiving corps again this year. Deion Branch is the only player with much NFL experience, and he was practically invisible last season. Starting opposite Branch will be Mike Williams (not to be confused with the Buccaneer wide receiver of the same name), who has been out of the NFL the last two years but played for head coach Pete Carroll at USC. Behind them, Deon Butler and Golden Tate will compete for the slot position. Tate still has to show better knowledge of the playbook; and Butler has the edge right now after a strong camp.

STEELERS QB: While the Steelers received good news last week that Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension was reduced to four games, the news wasn’t so good for the quarterback who was expected to replace him. Byron Leftwich sprained his MCL and is expected to miss 2-4 weeks of action, so Dennis Dixon will get the nod opener. Dixon has practiced and played with the first team during the preseason, so he won't be completely thrown into the fire despite starting just one game in his career.

TEXANS RB: While Arian Foster is already assured of the top spot, owners hoping to win big on Steve Slaton received some troubling news last week. First off, a sore toe kept Slaton out of the preseason finale and could keep him out for the first game of the regular season as well. Secondly, the Texans signed Derrick Ward, who rushed for 1,025 yards on 182 carries just two years ago. If Ward shows more commitment in Houston than he did in Tampa Bay, he could pass Slaton on the depth chart as well.

TEXANS K: Houston placed Kris Brown on IR over the weekend, but he had already lost his starting job to Neil Rackers. Brown struggled last year, so the writing was on the wall when the Texans brought Rackers on board.

VIKINGS WR: Javon Walker was cut, leaving Percy Harvin, Bernard Berrian, and Greg Camarillo as the only healthy receivers in Minnesota. All three could have significant roles on special teams this year, but given that Minnesota doesn’t exactly have a lot of depth at the position, expect Camarillo and Berrian to be used sparingly on punt returns. Harvin is too explosive on returns to leave off the field, so he’ll probably return kicks all year.