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Depth Chart Watch: Fallout From the Final Job Battles

Howard Bender

Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. For more from him, you can find his personal musings on his blog or follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy. For questions, thoughts or comments you can email him at

With preseason ending and rosters finally cut to the 53-man maximum, there's plenty of depth chart fallout from the situations we've been watching closely this summer, so let's get right to it.

Bills QB -
It appears as if all the panic and concern in Buffalo the last couple weeks was all for naught as EJ Manuel returned to practice this weekend. Gone from the team are Matt Leinart and Thaddeus Lewis, and while Jeff Tuel may still open as the Week 1 quarterback, it looks as if Manuel will be at the helm for most of the year. It is safe to put your faith back in C.J. Spiller and Steve Johnson. Phew!

Dolphins RB -
Those who drafted Lamar Miller can happily breathe a sigh of relief as it was finally announced that he would be the lead back and that Daniel Thomas would stay in a reserve/complementary role. It was difficult to imagine Miller being supplanted altogether, but the prospect of a two-back system did make a lot of fantasy folk nervous. It's all better now, though.

Jets QB -
Although technically by default, this situation has finally been settled. Geno Smith will take the reins for the Jets' Week 1 matchup while Mark Sanchez deals with a bum shoulder. But according to Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, Smith would have been his preferred starter even if Sanchez were healthy, so what's that tell you about Sanchez' overall job security? The oddball move was cutting backup Greg McElroy and leaving Matt Simms as the No. 3. Even with a pickup of Graham Harrell, this situation looks incredibly shaky, at best.

Jets RB -
No change in this system as Chris Ivory is still slated as the primary back with Bilal Powell used on third downs and passing plays. The Jets actually would prefer to go with Ivory as more of a three-down back, but since he's never shown that he can handle the full load, they'll play it safe and keep giving Powell enough work to keep him on the fantasy radar.

Patriots TE -
With Rob Gronkowski back at practice, the Patriots rejoiced by giving Jake Ballard his walking papers this weekend. Zach Sudfeld did a fantastic job during camp, and the team envisions him playing the role once filled by Aaron Hernandez. That gives him tremendous fantasy value, especially if Gronk isn't 100 percent healthy in the early part of the season.

Ravens WR -
What a turnaround for the Ravens in the final week of the preseason, huh? Brandon Stokley ends up the third receiver with Deonte Thompson and Marlon Brown rounding out the squad. Stokley should see a nice bump in value for those drafting late, as he's been fairly reliable over the years and should see a lot of the third-down work.

Steelers RB -
The only reason I can think of as to why the Steelers opted to cut Jonathan Dwyer is that Le'Veon Bell is a lot closer to returning than we think. It certainly isn't because Isaac Redman and LaRod Stephens-Howling outplayed him that much - those two are about as mediocre as you can get. The Steelers will go with that duo, though, at least until Bell returns. Neither is a recommended start, and it will probably be a few weeks before Bell is either.

Broncos RB -
ACK!! It's like a nightmare from which you just can't seem to wake up. Ronnie Hillman is listed as the starter, Montee Ball is the guy Peyton Manning keeps talking about and Knowshon Moreno is still in the mix for third-down work. Just a disaster for fantasy owners. Offensive coordinator Adam Gase reiterated that he's always said it would be a committee approach, and that's what it looks like for now. We still think Ball will lead the committee in touches and also get the goal-line work, but until he takes the job outright, he'll be nothing more than a flex play. Gross.

Raiders QB -
Just when you thought the Jets had the worst quarterback situation in the league, up steps the Raiders. Wasn't this team supposed to get better after the Al Davis era? Yeesh! Apparently Matt Flynn's elbow tendinitis is a mitigating factor, and the general speculation has Terrelle Pryor under center Week 1. Flynn is supposed to be back at practice this week but probably will be listed as questionable. We'll probably see Pryor under center, but after his flaws as an NFL quarterback are completely exposed, Flynn should get the nod in Week 2. Either way, this is not a situation in which to look for a quarterback. Not to mention how it downgrades the wide receivers.

Cowboys RB -
With Lance Dunbar sidelined at least three or four weeks, the handcuff to the oft-injured DeMarco Murray is Phillip Tanner and not rookie Joseph Randle. Obviously you'd rather not have either sitting on your roster, but if Murray is in your backfield, you need to have a safety net. Pick up Tanner now, but expect to swap him out for Dunbar later.

Packers QB -
While Aaron Rodgers has been the poster poy of health these last few years, the Packers are certainly playing some Russian Roulette with their backup situation. Not that we thought Vince Young was the be-all, end-all, but he did have a decent camp. However, the Packers cut him and opted to go with B.J. Coleman ... at least for a moment, that is. The team then cut Coleman and swapped out with Seneca Wallace, who was released by the 49ers the day before. Wallace is now the primary backup in Green Bay, but we're all hoping, even those fantasy owners who don't own Rodgers, that it never comes to that.

Lions WR -
Again, we expect Ryan Broyles to end up the team's No. 2 receiver, but for now, the job still belongs to Nate Burleson. Everyone is fully aware of the skill sets we are dealing with, but Burleson has done nothing to warrant a drop on the team's depth chart. Expect him to see a fair amount of work early, but watch closely the first couple weeks as the separation between him and Broyles could become much more evident.

Panthers RB -
The decision to put Jonathan Stewart on the PUP list finally made this backfield situation a little more palatable. DeAngelo Williams is the lead back with minimal concern about losing time to backup Mike Tolbert for at least the first seven weeks of the season. After that, we can re-evaluate this situation. Cam Newton will obviously be the goal-line poacher in this offense, but Williams should be a strong play early on, particularly in PPR leagues.

Cardinals TE -
With sleeper-pick Rob Housler dealing with a high-ankle sprain and Jeff King perpetually having fluid drained from his knee, the onus falls on Jim Dray to pick up the slack at the position for the season's first few weeks. He could be in line for some decent targets as Carson Palmer does like to lean on his tight ends, but given the system in which they are working, the tight ends might be used for more blocking than anything else. You should probably look elsewhere if you're hunting for someone at the position.

49ers WR -
With final cuts made, the only receivers from San Francisco to worry about are Anquan Boldin, Quinton Patton, Marlon Moore and, maybe, Kyle Williams. Boldin and Moore are the starters, but Patton should be supplanting Moore as early as ... well, right now, if you ask me. Williams should get some looks but likely will shine brighter as a return man on special teams. Rounding out the squad will be Jon Baldwin, who just needs a little more time to catch up with the rest of the offense (but could be a solid mid-season pickup), and Mario Manningham if he ever gets healthy.