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Fantasy Football Focus: The Starting 11 – Diving Deep into Depth Chart Battles

Matthew Stafford

By now, many of your fantasy football drafts probably have come and gone. Sure, your Labor Day weekend may feature a last minute draft or two, but at this point, your teams are most likely drafted and you’re just sitting back, waiting for Thursday’s kickoff to the season.

But if you are sitting back, you could miss out on some very important late news about guys on your roster, or players who will affect guys on your roster. With just days remaining before the culmination of the NFL schedule, several battles continue to wage on throughout the league. So this week, in the last of my Fantasy Football Draft Prep articles, I dive head first into 11 of the depth chart battles that will impact the fantasy football world most.

The Starting 11 – Depth Chart Battles

1 – Giants’ WRs

With the absence of Plaxico Burress, QB Eli Manning’s targets will be spread across a handful of breakout hopefuls, the likes of Steve Smith, Hakeem Nicks, Domenik Hixon, and Sinorice Moss. All four of these guys have upside, but none of them should be drafted early in your fantasy drafts. Until one or two of them break out as productive starters, look elsewhere for WR production.

2 – Titans’ WRs

Tennessee brought in ex-Steeler Nate Washington to bolster their wide receiver corps for this year, but with a banged up hamstring, Washington’s health makes him questionable for the season opener. Also on the roster is incumbent starter Justin Gage, along with the rookie from Rutgers, Kenny Britt. Washington and Gage are both worth a late-round pick and could provide some upside as a #3 WR, while Kenny Britt is only worth a flier pick in deep leagues or rookie-only leagues.

3 – Ravens’ RBs

The veteran Willis McGahee will most likely move aside this year as Ray Rice has been given every chance to emerge as Baltimore’s primary back. Also on the roster is Le’Ron McClain, a goal line bruiser who could steal some red zone carries away from both Rice and McGahee. Look at Rice in the middle rounds as a #3 RB, while McGahee and McClain are no more than late-round flier picks.

4 – Bucs’ RBs

Tampa Bay’s offense is in the middle of a messy transition, as evident by this week’s firing of new offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski. New head coach Raheem Morris has said he’s committed to becoming a downhill rushing team, which could bode well for newcomer Derrick Ward, and returning rushers Earnest Graham and Cadillac Williams.

Ward was a 1,000-yard rusher a year ago for the Giants, and I’ve got to believe he’ll be the one that Morris ultimately turns to and leans on most. Consider Ward a low-end #2 RB, while Graham could be seen as a #3 or #4. As of now, I don’t see the Cadillac leaving the garage too much this year.

5 – Seahawks’ RBs

We thought this would be a Julius Jones vs. T.J. Duckett battle going into the year, but the exit of Duckett and the entrance of veteran Edgerrin James shakes up the Seahawks backfield picture even more. New head coach Jim Mora Jr. has tabbed Jones as his #1 back, calling him his “top dog.” Jones just isn’t that good though, plain and simple. Don’t think of Jones as anything more than a #3 RB, while James isn’t worth picking up yet either, unless an injury comes Jones’ way.

6 – Browns’ QBs

Am I really going to talk about the fantasy value of members of the Cleveland Browns? Sure, why not, I’ve got some time to kill. Head coach Eric Mangini is keeping his QB decision very close to the vest, nearly splitting the playing time for Brady Quinn and Derek Anderson right down the middle this preseason. My money’s on Quinn to start Week 1 vs. Minnesota, but that doesn’t mean you should rush to grab B.Q. for your QB. Neither Quinn nor Anderson have much fantasy value, leave them on the waiver wire and look elsewhere for your backup QB.

7 – Browns’ RBs

Huh? Another Browns section? Really? Be honest, you’ll still read this. The Browns are like a multi-car accident on the side of the road…they’re so disgustingly awful you can’t help but pay attention to what a mess they are. And so now we turn to Cleveland’s backfield tandem of veteran Jamal Lewis, backup Jerome Harrison, and rookie James Davis. Rumors say Lewis may not even make the Cleveland roster, as his cap figure is a little high. Keep your eye on this situation this weekend leading up to Week 1, as whomever Mangini names as his starting back, would be worth grabbing as a #3 RB.

8 – Jets’ RBs

The Jets will feature a trio of quality backs this season, led by veteran Thomas Jones and the smaller pass-catching back, Leon Washington. Add to that Iowa rookie Shonn Greene, and the Jets should fly less through the air, but more on the ground. Jones and Washington both have #2 RB potential, while Greene is worth a late-round flier pick in standard leagues and has first-round value in rookie-only leagues.

9 – Lions’ QBs

Detroit’s new head coach Jim Schwartz has a decision to make, and may not make his choice until just days before his team’s Week 1 game. Does he go with top overall pick Matthew Stafford right off the bat, or instead ride Daunte Culpepper’s veteran arm until mid-season and then make the switch? Whichever way he goes, neither player is worth a pick in your standard fantasy league draft. Come mid-season, when you’re looking for a bye-week replacement for your starter, maybe, but let this position battle sort itself out before you commit to either one.

10 – Broncos’ WRs

Until Denver’s “Marshall Plan” is sorted out, the fantasy value of all of the Denver Broncos aren’t etched in stone. If Marshall continues to remain off the field once the regular season begins, the players most likely to benefit will be Eddie Royal and former Patriot Jabar Gaffney, who will likely step into a starting role if Brandon Marshall remains sidelined. Stay on top of this story, especially if you own any Broncos.

11 – Patriots’ RBs

Bill Belichick has featured a very busy backfield in the preseason, with as many as 5 different backs in play when it comes to fantasy value. Led by Fred Taylor and Laurence Maroney, complimented by Sammy Morris, Kevin Faulk, and the young BenJarvus Green-Ellis, it’s anybody’s guess who will bear the brunt of the workload for the Pats’ ground attack this season. Taylor and Maroney can be considered for your #3 RB spot, but beyond that, the other┬áthree can’t be relied upon as any more than a flier pick for depth.

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