Fantasy Football 2013: Top 10 Players to Watch in Preseason Week 1
Preseason football is finally here. For fantasy football purists—even if it’s just the preseason schedule—the exhibition schedule will give us our first real look at the players we will be drafting in the coming weeks.
With camp battles heating up and rookies being indoctrinated to the game for the first time, it should give us a glimpse of what to expect for the coming year. Although, in general, you should take the exhibition portion of the schedule with a huge grain of salt, a lot can be accomplished in the preseason, as players can win starting jobs, breakouts can emerge, and we can study the offensive philosophy some teams will implement this year.
In this slideshow, we will rank (in order of fantasy relevance) the top players to watch in preseason Week 1, as they have a lot riding on how they perform this month.
10. Bilal Powell, New York Jets
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With Chris Ivory (who was expected to be the lead candidate for bell cow back in New York) sidelined with a nagging hamstring injury, it represents a chance for Bilal Powell to wrestle the position away from Ivory.
Powell, who has received some pretty lofty praise from head coach Rex Ryan in camp, is a quality back when given a chance. Powell shined toward the end of last season, scoring four touchdowns between Week 11 and Week 14.
With Shonn Greene now in Tennessee, Powell only has to fight off Ivory—not to mention afterthought Mike Goodson—and with Ivory on the sidelines for the Jets' first game at Detroit on Friday night, Powell has a great opportunity to get a leg up on the competition.
9. Tyler Eifert, Cincinnati Bengals
Tyler Eifert is really opening some eyes in training camp thus far.
The Bengals, who used their first-round pick on the tight end out of Notre Dame in April’s draft, love the physicality and athleticism that Eifert possesses. In fact, many are comparing Eifert to Rob Gronkowski. Talk about expectations.
Well, with the Bengals already having a quality tight end in Jermaine Gresham on the roster, you know the Bengals have to love the upside Eifert possesses if they spent their first-round pick on him. Expect the Bengals to use a lot of two-tight end packages this year and showcase the exploits of Eifert early and often.
The Bengals will open their preseason schedule with a matchup at Atlanta on Thursday night.
8. Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams
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How the Rams use their prize first-round selection in Tavon Austin in the preseason should be an interesting sidebar this summer.
Blessed with off-the-charts athleticism, Austin could be a dangerous weapon right off the bat in his rookie season. In many ways, Austin is a lot like Wes Welker in that he catches everything in sight and will be a points-per-reception machine in fantasy leagues for years to come. However, Welker does not nearly have the speed and athleticism Austin possesses.
How Austin is used in the Rams' Thursday night game in Cleveland could give us a glimpse of what to expect from this exciting prospect.
7. Daryl Richardson, St. Louis Rams
Rams coach Jeff Fisher is intimating that Daryl Richardson is in the lead for the role of lead back in St. Louis.
Richardson, who rushed for 475 yards on 98 carries (4.8 yards per carry) last season, has the most experience on the Rams’ running back depth chart with the departure of Steven Jackson. Playing a factor in the pecking order of carries are Isaiah Pead (who was the Rams’ 2012 second-round pick) and rookie Zac Stacy.
All will get their chances this summer, but Richardson, between his experience and high-energy athleticism, is getting the first crack at securing the job. Richardson, who is a great receiver out of the backfield, fits in with what the Rams are trying to do offensively.
The Rams will open their preseason schedule with a Thursday night game at Cleveland.
6. Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin, Green Bay Packers
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You can throw the whole Packers running back depth chart (including James Starks, DuJuan Harris and Alex Green) in this grouping to watch, as Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin have a lot of internal competition to deal with this summer.
Lacy, though, might miss Friday night’s matchup against the Cardinals, as he pulled his hamstring in practice on Wednesday. This comes after Lacy thoroughly impressed the Packers coaching staff in the first week of camp.
This could open the door for Franklin to get more carries. Nevertheless, all Green Bay running backs bear monitoring this summer.
5. Giovani Bernard, Cincinnati Bengals
Along with Eifert, Giovani Bernard has been opening some eyes in training camp.
With BenJarvus Green-Ellis getting phased out sooner or later (emphasis more toward the former), the youthful and more athletic Bernard will certainly be the beneficiary. How Bernard does this preseason could be a telling sign for how he’s used in the regular season.
With the Bengals going with more of a youth movement on offense, it may be only a matter of time before they lean on Bernard for the bulk of carries.
4. Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, Denver Broncos
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One of the fiercest battles in training camp this summer centers around who will come out on top as the Broncos' lead back.
Incumbents Ronnie Hillman and Knowshon Moreno will battle with second-round draft pick Montee Ball for the right to be Denver’s primary back.
Early reports suggest that Hillman is listed as the top running back on the depth chart, but the Broncos did not draft Ball for him to sit on the sidelines. By the looks of it, this has time-share written all over it, as Hillman is the more shifty, speedy back while Ball is the stronger, bulldozer-type. Hillman and Ball complement each other well, and how they handle pass protection could go a long way in how they’re used, which is why Moreno is still considered a candidate.
The Broncos will give Ball and Hillman ample chances to separate themselves, and it all begins on Thursday in a game at San Francisco.
3. David Wilson, New York Giants
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Wilson should be given every opportunity to run the ball between the 20s, while Brown will be the thunder to Wilson’s lightning, being a short-yardage and goal-line vulture.
Wilson, who was the Giants’ first-round pick in 2012, is a speedy back, and once he hits the open field, he is nearly impossible to catch. Wilson’s breakaway speed is breathtaking, and if the training wheels come off this year, we all could be in for a major treat.
Both Wilson and Brown will be given a good, hard look in their Saturday night game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
2. Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
By all accounts, the duty as lead back for the Steelers is Le'Veon Bell’s job to lose.
The Steelers used a second-round pick this year on Bell, and with Rashard Mendenhall leaving in the offseason to go to Arizona, Bell will only have to ward off the underachieving duo of Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer to win the job outright.
Bell, who has a great combination of size and speed, should run away with this job, and we’ll get our first look at him when he and his Steelers teammates take on the New York Giants on Saturday night.
1. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals
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Although Fitzgerald is a tried and true veteran with nothing to prove, it should be interesting to see how he gels with new quarterback Carson Palmer.
Fitzgerald had by far the worst year of his career in 2012, posting his lowest amount of receptions (71) since 2006, his lowest amount of receiving yards (798) since his rookie year and a career low in touchdowns (four).
Fitzgerald is a prime bounce-back candidate, and now that he has a capable quarterback getting him the ball in Palmer, you should have no reservation about scooping up Fitzgerald early in drafts (think Round 4 or 5).
We’ll get our first look out how Fitzgerald and Palmer mesh when they take on the Packers in Green Bay on Friday night.
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