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Preseason Job Battles: Finally Alone at the Top

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.

BEARS WR: Roy Williams has looked pedestrian in training camp, while Johnny Knox has shined. Strangely, Knox is listed as the fourth receiver on the Chicago depth chart, but to anyone reading the tea leaves right now, it looks like he'll beat out Williams, who has developed no chemistry with Jay Cutler yet. Meanwhile, Devin Hester should start at the flanker and Earl Bennett will be a strong possession receiver and have greater value in PPR leagues.

It's hard to make much of the wideout situation in Cincinnati. While rookie A.J. Green appears to have one spot locked up, the Bengals' poor performance against the Jets on Sunday prevented other receiving candidates from separating themselves from the pack. Jerome Simpson is probably the other starter by default, but he was shut out against the Jets. Jordan Shipley, who should be a deep threat, caught three passes for just 20 yards. Andre Caldwell caught a 39-yarder and finished with two catches for 50 yards. The Bengals may have no chance but to throw a lot this year, so someone has to catch the ball, but this is unlikely to be a crew from which a fantasy star will emerge.

Rahim Moore's hit on Donald Jones may have knocked him out cold, but it didn't knock him out of the running for the No. 2 receiving job. That said, the news Monday that Jones suffered a concussion could open the door for David Nelson to win the job. Marcus Easley, Craig Davis and Naaman Roosevelt are all still just trying to make the team.

Willis McGahee has been getting most of the goal-line reps in practice, and in Saturday's game against Buffalo he scored a short TD. Knowshon Moreno will still get the lion's share of the carries, but it looks like McGahee, who has become a TD-stealing specialist, could vulture a lot of scores.

A surprising name has emerged in Cleveland's camp, as Jordan Norwood appears to have already won the slot receiver job. He has appeared in all of one regular-season game in his two years in the league, and he didn't catch a pass in that game. Meanwhile, the rest of the wideout roles seem to still be in flux. Mohamed Massaquoi (foot) should return to practice this week, and if he proves to be ready, he could earn one starting job. How the Browns plan to use Greg Little, Josh Cribbs and Brian Robiskie is anyone's guess.

Arrelious Benn is progressing well recuperation from December's ACL injury, but he has also missed two preseason games already and may not quite be ready for the start of the season. Enter Dezmon Briscoe, who despite a quiet game against the Patriots last week, could hold the inside track for a starting job if Benn isn't ready. Considering that there aren't any other decent contenders for the job, it looks like it's Briscoe's to lose, though Benn will reclaim it before long.

Ryan Williams ruptured his patella and is done for the season, cementing Beanie Wells as the undisputed starting running back. Bet the Cardinals wished they had Tim Hightower back now, as the injury-prone Wells is now backed up by just LaRod Stephens-Howling. Alfonso Smith is next in line, but the Cardinals may look for a veteran to strengthen their depth. For what it's worth, Smith had 12 carries for 39 yards and scored on a one-yarder against the Packers on Friday.

Though Andre Roberts is officially slotted in as the No. 2 receiver opposite Larry Fitzgerald, the plan is for the Cardinals to rotate the job among Roberts, Early Doucet, Chansi Stuckey and Stephen Williams. While none of those players inspires thoughts of glory, Roberts probably still is the most likely to emerge from the pack to have positive fantasy value.

Jon Baldwin's not exactly atop the depth chart, but the Chiefs had high hopes for him. However, after a locker-room fight with Thomas Jones resulted in an injury to Baldwin's wrist and thumb, he's done for the preseason and may get buried in the Todd Haley's doghouse. Jerheme Urban and Dexter McCluster (though he may be used more as a running back this year) are probably the biggest beneficiaries of Baldwin's injury, while Steve Breaston, once he learns the playbook, shouldn't have to worry about Baldwin stealing the starting job he's expecting to have.

We never thought we'd have to write anything about a job battle here, but the fact of the matter is that Peyton Manning's neck could be keeping him out of the regular season opener - and possibly beyond. His backups are the uninspiring Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky. While one would expect the hyper-competitive Manning to will himself into readiness, the Colts are publically worried and may need to find a veteran to fill the role.

David Garrard did nothing to establish himself as the unquestioned starter for the Jaguars on Aug. 19, but considering that rookie Blake Gabbert continued to struggle, Garrard still seems to hold the job by default. There seems to be a real competition between the two this summer, but all signs point to Garrard being behind center on Opening Day.

Jahvid Best suffered a mild concussion on Aug. 19, perhaps opening the door for backups Jerome Harrison, Mike Bell, Aaron Brown, Ian Johnson and Maurice Morris. While Best vanquished one foe when Mikel Leshoure was lost for the year, his history of concussions could lead the Lions to sit him out awhile. No one is really distinguishing himself at this point, but it's worth mentioning that Aaron Brown got the carries immediately after Best's early exit, so he's probably next in line.

This battle appears to have ended a little earlier than expected. Cam Newton is now practicing with the first team and will start again this week. At this point, no one seems to think that Jimmy Clausen is going to beat him out. Expect Newton to be the starter in the regular-season opener.

While BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored twice and Danny Woodhead gained 63 yards on five carries, the real breakout star in New England's preseason has to be rookie Stevan Ridley, who had his second strong game in a row. In two games, Ridley has 148 yards rushing on 30 attempts and 10 catches for 74 yards. Third-stringers usually get the benefit of more action against lesser defenses in the preseason, but those are eye-popping numbers nonetheless. He has clearly moved ahead of fellow rookie Shane Vereen, who may be headed to the IR with a hamstring injury, and Ridley is forcing his way into the New England running back committee conversation.

Starter Jason Campbell was knocked out of Saturday's game with a possible concussion, and given the way the NFL protects quarterbacks who suffer concussions, it wouldn't be a surprise to see him sit out a few weeks. Trent Edwards and Kyle Boller are the backups, and both have starting experience, so the drop-off probably won't be great if Campbell misses time. Right now Edwards is ahead of Boller on the depth chart, and if you think Terrelle Pryor belongs in this discussion at this point, then you really don't think a lot of the quarterbacks already in camp.

Louis Murphy and Jacoby Ford are really banged up, with the former already out for the regular-season opener and the latter yet to suit up for a preseason game. Rookie Denarious Moore has been a real standout in camp, and Darrius Heyward-Bey has a chance to win a starting job. Along with Chaz Schilens (who is also hurt), any of this quintet could ultimately lead the Raiders in receiving this year.

You figure it out. While Mike Sims-Walker and Danny Amendola still appear safe, that doesn't mean either is locked into a starting job. Donnie Avery looked like he was on the chopping block, but he gutted it out and played Saturday, scoring a touchdown. Brandon Gibson had a score as well - an 83-yarder - but he's no sure thing. Even Danario Alexander, who some think might be a starter, needs to prove to the Rams that his knee isn't going to fail him again. Throw in talented rookies Austin Pettis and Greg Salas, as well as Mardy Gilyard (who is slated to return kicks this year), and it's still anyone's game.

John Beck may have missed the first preseason game, but he came back with a vengeance in the second game, completing 14 passes in 17 attempts for 140 yards. He looked the part of the starter, and any ground gained by Rex Grossman in Beck's absence appears lost. Beck has the confidence of his coaches, and would have to fall "flat on his face" to lose the job at this point.

Although Ryan Torain is back on the practice field, he's still not playing in games and has fallen way behind Tim Hightower for the starting running back job. Rookie Roy Helu, who struggled in his preseason debut, looked much stronger Aug. 19 against the Colts, rumbling for 101 yards on 14 carries, so even when Torain is fully healthy, he'll have a hard time cracking the lineup.

The No. 2 spot is still up for grabs, as the trio of Jabar Gaffney, Anthony Armstrong and Donte Stallworth combined for just three catches against Indianapolis. It's hard to know what Washington's offense is going to look like this year, but if Beck steps up as a quarterback, there could be some fantasy sleepers on the roster. One name to keep in the back of your mind is rookie Leonard Hankerson, who led the Redskins with three catches for 46 yards against the Colts.

Both Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas had seven touches in Saturday's preseason game, but it's worth noting that Ingram got the ball and scored on a one-yard plunge. Darren Sproles is still around as a change-of-pace back, so unless someone gets hurt (most likely Thomas, given his history), none of these guys are worth an early-round draft pick.

The Chris Johnson holdout is lingering, and backup Javon Ringer is banged up, so suddenly we know the name of Jamie Harper, who ran for 83 yards on 11 carries and scored a one-yard touchdown on Saturday against St. Louis. He's a big rookie out of Clemson, and although he doesn't project as a full-timer, he could back into the role with the end of Johnson's holdout nowhere in sight. Ringer is supposed to be ready for the next preseason game, but if his hip doesn't improve, we could be seeing another heavy dose of Harper.