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Preseason Job Battles: How it Shakes Out for Week 1

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.


Ronnie Hillman carried 14 times for 68 yards in the preseason finale and looks like he's locked up the No. 2 running back job in Denver, but he's still not fully recovered from his hamstring injury. He'll likely play on passing downs, but Lance Ball and Knowshon Moreno should see some action as well. Moreno's knee appears fine and he had a good preseason, so he stayed off the chopping block and made the team.


Despite an awful game and rumors of his demise all summer, Colt McCoy made the team as Brandon Weeden's backup. Seneca Wallace was waived when Thaddeus Lewis proved good enough to be the No. 3. This is not going to be much of a passing offense this year, however, so it's unlikely that any of these quarterbacks will have much fantasy relevance in 2012.


Trent Richardson is practicing (albeit with a sleeve on his knee) and coach Pat Shurmur is "very optimistic" that he'll play this week. His knee is still a concern, but all systems appear to be go. Brandon Jackson looked better than starter Montario Hardesty last week, and it looks like Jackson will have more value if Richardson is out, but that doesn't look like it's going to happen. Shurmur has already that stated that Richardson will be an every-down back when he plays, so Jackson and Hardesty will only have value if the injury is aggravated.


Coach Ken Whisenhunt finally made up his mind. John Skelton will start opener, but he'll probably on a short leash. He didn't do anything special last year - apart from winning six of eight games - but Skelton was good enough to beat out the far-more-expensive Kevin Kolb.


Although Ryan Mathews' legs are fine and he's back in practice, he's unlikely to play in the first game or two of the season. Norv Turner suggested the Chargers' RB rotation (in the absence of Mathews) could favor one rusher, which means Ronnie Brown could see some heavy usage in Week 1. Le'Ron McClain, Curtis Brinkley and Jackie Battle will pick up the scraps, with McClain most likely to get some action as the goal-line back.


We've written about Jay Witten a bit over the last couple weeks as he's attempted to recover from a lacerated spleen. He's received good reports from his doctors and is practicing a little, but with the Cowboys going up very early this week (Wednesday night), chances are the team plays it safe and holds him out until Week 2. John Phillips will probably start, but James Hanna is far more likely to be the one with fantasy value should Witten be sidelined against the Giants.


Opening Day is only a few days away and we still don't know who will start. Legedu Naanee is as good a bet as anyone, and Davone Bess figures to be the top fantasy threat. Brian Hartline (calf) is at least back in practice, and the Dolphins picked up Anthony Armstrong from Washington, but Miami is definitely looking for something better. Both Jabar Gaffney and Donte Stallworth have attempted to take their talents to South Beach recently, but the Dolphins haven't pulled the trigger on either, yet.


Hakeem Nicks has some soreness in his foot, but he still plans to play Wednesday against Dallas as he attempts to follow up a couple of monster campaigns. Domenik Hixon, returning from a torn ACL, will play behind Nicks and Victor Cruz, while Rueben Randle will be given every opportunity to take on a more prominent role, even if Hixon can stay healthy.


As most expected, Maurice Jones-Drew finally reported to camp. He probably needs a few weeks to get into shape and won't start Week 1 (that job will fall to Rashad Jennings), but MJD will be the change-of-pace back in the opener and will be starting before long.


Mikel Leshoure looked sharp Thursday and could be an interesting sleeper with a poor ADP due to the two-game suspension. Starter Kevin Smith, who has a minor ankle injury, might need a couple of good games to keep Leshoure out of the starting lineup when he returns.


Jonathan Stewart (ankle) still hasn't returned to practice yet. His status is unclear for the opener, as he's just on the treadmill now. DeAngelo Williams surely will start Sunday regardless of Stewart's status, with fullback Mike Tolbert getting a few carries if Stewart can't go.


Although the Panthers have a number of offensive weapons, Steve Smith is the only wideout worth owning. He's been limited by a foot infection, but has returned to practice, so he should be good to go. Brandon LaFell appears to have won the other starting job, as newcomer Louis Murphy couldn't unseat him, but he'll be the No. 3 man.


Jacoby Ford (foot) has still not been cleared to run, and even with the benefit of playing Monday night doesn't look like he'll be ready for the opener. He probably could have grabbed a starting job with a healthy summer, but that never happened. Denarius Moore (hamstring) has also been sidelined for much of the summer, and is a bit concerned that he didn't get many reps with Carson Palmer, but at least he should be ready for the opener (though how rusty he'll be is anyone's guess). Darrius Heyward-Bey looks like the best fantasy option, while Juron Criner and Rod Streater may see some action if the injured veterans ahead of them give them the chance.


Danny Amendola should be top Rams wideout this year, even if Brandon Gibson is the top receiver on the depth chart. Gibson's designation was a bit of a surprise given his quiet summer, as Steven Smith was expected to get the starting job (he'll have to settle for being No. 3 in the pecking order). Brian Quick and Chris Givens should be next in line, thanks to the trade of Greg Salas to New England clearing some space.


Tim Hightower, once atop the depth chart, was released when his knee just never got healthy. The new depth chart: Evan Royster, Roy Helu, Alfred Morris. The Skins might be interested in Steve Slaton as well. Royster is expected to start this week, but even he's not buying it: "I think they're going to keep us in the dark until probably the day before the game." You can throw a dart at these running backs in your fantasy draft, but prepare to be frustrated all year.


Josh Morgan leapfrogged Leonard Hankerson to take the starting job opposite Pierre Garcon, and with Santana Moss in the slot, the Skins appear set. Hankerson might be a better fantasy choice than Morgan this year, but neither should to be too valuable in what is expected to be a run-heavy offense.


Although conventional wisdom is the Saints will be a bit down this year due to all their offseason turmoil, they still have an outstanding offense, and the man kicking all those field goals and PATs has plenty of fantasy value. With the Saints cutting John Kasay last week, that man will be Garrett Hartley.


Marshawn Lynch is the starter, but he was ruled out of the preseason finale due to back spasms. Meanwhile, Robert Turbin has been outstanding all summer. If you need a handcuff for the sometimes-problematic Lynch, Turbin's your man.


The split-end job was thought to be Golden Tate's for the taking, and he could still win it, but he twisted his knee in the exhibition finale, which has kept him out of practice. Newcomer Braylon Edwards could step into the job, as Doug Baldwin never got the chance to win it. Baldwin will man the slot instead.


Kellen Winslow was cut over a salary dispute, so the Seahawks signed Evan Moore, who was recently cut by Cleveland. Moore will back up Zach Miller, though neither is expected to be worth much until Seattle starts targeting its tight ends more.


Isaac Redman's ankle injury was enough to keep him out of the last game of the preseason, but he'll start the opener. He may not be long for the starting lineup, however. Jonathan has impressed the last month, and Mike Tomlin plans to play him early and often in the regular season. Meanwhile, Rashard Mendenhall, only eight months removed from an ACL injury, is already practicing and is not far away from getting back on the field in a real game.


Kenny Britt got a one-game suspension (hey, it could have been worse), so rookie Kendall Wright will be in the starting lineup opposite Nate Washington. It's not the worst thing in the world, as Britt could stand a little bit more recuperation time from last year's ACL injury, and Wright will get a head start on what should be a good NFL career.


Adrian Peterson is a game-time decision, and even if he plays, he won't play much. Toby Gerhart is locked in as the backup, but expect him to get more action than Peterson in the opener. Matt Asiata could see a few carries if Peterson can't go, as Lex Hilliard and Jordan Todman failed to make the 53-man roster.