2011 Fantasy Football Draft Guide Sneak Peek: Early Season Players To Watch

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2011 Fantasy Football Draft Guide Sneak Peek: Early Season Players To Watch
JACKSONVILLE, FL - AUGUST 19: Quarterback Blaine Gabbert #11 of the Jacksonville Jaguars attempts a pass during a game against the Atlanta Falcons at EverBank Field on August 19, 2011 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Way back when, in a world before the Internet, I used to pay close attention to preseason football as preparation for fantasy football.

I would cut out the box scores, tape each week's games on a sheet of paper and use it for scouting. If nothing else, this was valuable to get injury updates and see who was playing and who wasn't in a time before every training camp injury was tweeted immediately.

Nowadays, I find preseason almost meaningless for fantasy purposes. The top players play a series or two early in preseason and then skip the final game or two, letting the guys battling it out for the final spot on the roster get most of the playing time.

However, if you know where to look, you can find some fantasy nuggets in a preseason box score. Here are five players I will be monitoring in the next couple weeks.

Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle

Lynch is one of the biggest question marks at running back this season. He could have a breakout year that makes him a top 15 fantasy running back or he could continue to disappoint and end up splitting carries with Justin Forsett and others.

After being traded last year midseason, this is his first full training camp with Seattle and I want to see what he can do. His 131-yard performance in a playoff win over New Orleans showed the upside, but he never went over 90 yards in 12 regular-season games with the Seahawks, including nine where he got double-digit carries. Maybe the preseason can give us a glimpse of what he will bring this season. 

Curtis Painter, QB, Indianapolis

Look, we all know Peyton Manning will be ready for the regular season. Right? Right. But what if he isn't? Manning may not play in the preseason and it's not inconceivable that he either isn't ready for the regular season or could miss some time due to his neck injury.

So, I want to see what Painter can do. With Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon, Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme as receivers, whoever is the quarterback in Indy will score some points. So check out Painter to see if he can take advantage of those targets if he gets the call in the regular season. 

Roy Williams, WR, Chicago

Williams is getting a lot of hype as a sleeper in his new spot. I'm not sure the preseason will tell us everything we need to know, but I will start buying into that hype if it looks like the Bears are throwing to him a lot and Cutler can find him. 

Tim Hightower, RB, Washington

Here's another potential sleeper in a new spot. With Keiland Williams and Ryan Torain both back and rookie Roy Helu on board, I don't think any of them will get enough touches to make them fantasy starters.

However, if Hightower seems to fit in during the preseason, he could become a possible starter who also catches a lot of balls. Torain and Williams got their shot last year and Helu is a wild card, so if the Redskins look to Hightower in the preseason, it could be a sign of things to come. 

Blaine Gabbert, QB, Jacksonville  

Gabbert is starting in the first week of preseason games and the Jags say it is only due to David Garrard's back injury. But if Gabbert looks good, I think he can compete for the starting spot. Plus, back injuries aren't good for quarterbacks, so I worry about Garrard even if he is healthy for the start of the regular season.

So, I'm watching Gabbert to see if he looks ready to be a serviceable fantasy player this year if he gets a chance.

If you liked this, there's plenty more in The Fantasy Fix's 2011 Fantasy Football Draft Guide.

Written by Steve Mims exclusively for the The Fantasy Fix.

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