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Fantasy Football Preseason Report

Everyone downplays the significance of Week 1 of the NFL preseason. Sure, the starters don't play much, or at all in some cases, but do we really need to learn anything about Tom Brady or Peyton Manning? Nope.

Astute fantasy owners know: All preseason games render plenty of potential gems. Heck, it sure beats reading reports from training camp.

There were plenty of things to take out of the first weekend of action. If you are unable to watch endless hours of football every weekend, we'll break down the fantasy movers and shakers game by game every Monday of the season in SI.com's Fantasy Football Report.

This was one of the few preseason stinkers, fantasy-wise, as an upcoming short week forced the teams to use their starters even less than normal. There were some surprise stars in the game, namely Jets backup tight end Jeff Cumberland and Texans roster-filling running back Chris Ogbonnaya, but no one that is going to impact fantasy this season.

Shonn Greene looked strong and fast in his five carries, perhaps a signal this is going to be his breakthrough year. LaDainian Tomlinson will still be the finisher at the goal-line, but there are plenty of touches for both backs to be viable in fantasy. Green is going to be much more of the clear pick between the two this go around.

Mark Sanchez completed his short passes, but the game suggested he isn't going to truly be relied on this season. The Jets' elite defense and strong running game lends itself to a more conservative approach to the passing game. It was apparent on an efficient first drive. Sanchez is a marginal fantasy backup quarterback going into the year.

• Cumberland's performance is significant in that it could be he was running the plays that could be going to Dustin Keller in a breakthrough year. Keller will be especially important over the middle with the loss of Braylon Edwards. Sure, the Jets have Plaxico Burress now, but he was sidelined (ankle) with an issue that apparently never resolved in prison.

The Patriots offense was clicking no matter who was playing quarterback, Brian Hoyer or Ryan Mallett. They won't matter this season behind Brady, but there were a number of real interesting developments here:

Aaron Hernandez is healthy. This should not be understated. He is easily one of the most intriguing sleepers at tight end, coming off offseason hip surgery. If he plays like this in the preseason, his status as a sleeper is going to be all but lost. Six catches for 68 yards should remove any doubts of his health.

Stevan Ridley is stealing Shane Vereen's thunder. Ridley, an LSU star, was one of the biggest winners of the weekend, and the third-rounder is taking the spotlight in camp from second-rounder Vereen (hamstring). Neither is a real threat to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but both are going to be interesting handcuffs. They look like they could be this year's Danny Woodhead.

Blaine Gabbert is no real threat to David Garrard (back). Gabbert, the team's first-round pick, was underwhelming against Pats backups.

Maurice Jones-Drew (knee) didn't play, but he practiced Saturday and is pain free. That is music to the ears of those picking in the second half of Round 1 this fall.

Michael Vick came out firing on all cylinders, despite not having his premium receivers on the outside. It made for the emergence of another intriguing sleeper at tight end, but first, what of those receivers on the outside:

Jeremy Maclin (illness) is a real concern right now. The Eagles stole Steve Smith (knee) from the Giants as insurance, too. You have to slide Maclin down your draft lists right now. Hopefully, we will get a greater understanding of his status before draft day. He is a risk in drafts right now. Smith is intriguing but it is unlikely he will be ready to help fantasy owners before October.

• Hello, Mr. Brent Celek. He wasn't a real factor with Vick a season ago, proving to be a bust, but this is going to be a whole different year. With the WRs down, Vick is developing an early rapport with his underutilized tight end. Vick even referenced his early career use of Alge Crumpler back in his Falcons days. Move Celek significantly up draft lists. He probably should be drafted as a starter at the position now, moving from No. 17 to No. 12 in my rankings.

Ronnie Brown is in a great situation. LeSean McCoy is a rock-solid mid-first-rounder, but the presence of Brown is intriguing behind him. Brown has never proven healthy for a full season, but when he's right, he's spectacular for fantasy owners. In this offseason, Brown can prove to be a big-time sleeper, especially if McCoy gets banged up like so many backs do.

Ray Rice didn't play much, but his line didn't impress us. It could be a year where Rice struggles to stay much over 4.0 yards per carry. Not to worry, though. Backup Ricky Williams is 32. Rice will still get his 1,000 yards, 10 TDs and be a significant part of the short passing game.

We don't need a preseason to tell us how productive Philip Rivers is going to be. We will need a few more exhibition games to determine who will be the primary rusher for the Chargers, though.

Vincent Jackson is going to be a star with a full training camp and season. It took all of one drive to realize that. He probably warrants a higher ranking than he is getting on most cheat sheets.

Mike Tolbert looks like he can bulldoze enough value out of sophomore Ryan Mathews to make the latter a sleeper for fantasy owners. Mathews was a bust after the preseason a year ago. The experience is going to cut the fumbling and pass-blocking issues. Mathews is going to be legit, even if Tolbert takes the short-yardage stuff and vultures TDs.

Tarvaris Jackson is the starter right now, but Charlie Whitehurst is going to gain momentum as the preseason moves on. Neither is going to be fantasy worthy on draft day, but someone is going to be racking up stats as the Seahawks play from behind in games. The reason Jackson has the starting job right now is because of his grasp of the offense from Minnesota. Whitehurst is going to be a quick study in that regard.

Golden Tate made a showing, not an impressive one, but enough to remember the sophomore has some nice upside.

Everyone has talked about how Kyle Orton will be dealt, but the showing of Brady Quinn might make him the man that will be on the move. He just might have decent value to another team now. If the Broncos do decide to send Orton to Miami, Quinn and Tim Tebow look plenty capable of quarterbacking the Broncos.

Felix Jones is easily one of this writer's favorite sleepers and his 18-yard run and 16-yard reception showed what he is capable of. This could be a real big breakthrough for him with Marion Barber on the Bears' depth chart now.

Knowshon Moreno popped some good runs. He is a lot better than he is being given credit for by his coach and fantasy drafters right now. The Broncos didn't need to entertain thoughts for DeAngelo Williams.

Willis McGahee is going to be Moreno's TD vulture, but there are going to be a lot of yards with coach John Fox's commitment to the run game. Moreno and Jones are going to be great value picks if you go with wide receivers or a quarterback early and need some rushers later.

• When watching the Broncos in Week 2, pay attention to the use of Eddie Royal. He was great in Year 1, silent in Year 2 and mediocre in Year 3. He is an intriguing sleeper. Eric Decker, who was great in college, will be interesting as a third wideout, too.

This was one of the least impactful games of the first weekend, fantasy-wise, but these teams will generate some surprises for us this season:

Larry Fitzgerald is back as a stud fantasy receiver, perhaps even a candidate to be the best at his position. Kevin Kolb legitimizes Fitzgerald all over again. They are going to have a connection on the level of Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson. Fitzgerald is that good.

Beanie Wells is the Cardinals starter, but Ryan Williams was a college star and is the breakaway threat. Both had some good runs. Williams is going to be a better yards-per-carry guy, but Wells gets the starts and TDs out of the gate. If Wells is injured, Williams can perform with anyone outside of a handful of backs.

Todd Heap won't be lost in Arizona. He is going to prove to be a good value after the starters are drafted at the position.

• There was a Michael Bennett sighting. I only mentioned this because I coached his cousin in pee-wee flag football last fall. Michael Bush played after his late signing and will be the backup to Darren McFadden.

This game showed exactly what we should expect this season. The Lions are going to be intriguing and the Bengals are going to be worthless. This was apparent early:

Mikel Leshoure's torn Achilles' makes Jahvid Best a big-time breakout candidate. Best looked good in brief duty.

Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson is going to be a common connection this season -- perhaps even on the Kolb-Fitzgerald or Schaub-Johnson level. Stafford's health and development legitimizes Johnson's status as a second-rounder in all formats.

Andy Dalton wasn't terrible, but he didn't look starter-worthy either. It is going to be a long year -- one characterized by a lot of short passes and check-downs. Don't draft him.

Cedric Benson was busy, but it is going to be real tough for him to be a real factor in fantasy with so little around him. The Bengals are not going to score a lot of points and they aren't going to be a great defense. It spells a bust year for Benson, even if he is physically capable of a good season.

The final score doesn't do this one justice. The Falcons were perhaps the sharpest first team of the weekend. The Dolphins might have been the worst.

Chad Henne did his best to create a quarterback controversy. Matt Moore played well enough to make that possible. Neither looks worthy of being a starter in the NFL, especially with the likes of Vince Young and Tebow or Quinn as backups elsewhere. Orton talk shouldn't die.

Julio Jones looked like a playmaker right away. It is more likely to get him drafted higher than he should, but it was plenty interesting to watch. Most rookies don't tend to pay dividends, but Jones is at least in a great situation with his quarterback and the fact he could be a solid No. 2 to a superstar in Roddy White.

Daniel Thomas opened the preseason as arguably the No. 1 rookie to have. Forget that now. It won't necessarily be the presence of Reggie Bush, whom the Dolphins call their starter, or the fact Thomas didn't show much here. Thomas was probably a bit overrated for fantasy because of his circumstance. Those change with the announcement that Bush will be a bigger part of the offense than originally believed. Oh, and the bad QB makes the offense mediocre at best.

We don't need to see anything from the Steelers. There is a belief teams coming off a Super Bowl sputter the next season. The Steelers won't be that team. They are going to be good top to bottom, minus this lackluster showing.

Tim Hightower staked a claim to the starting role and looked strong. Swap him in your rankings with Ryan Torain. Both are going to succumb to rookie Roy Helu eventually. Helu had an 18-yard run and looks capable of being a solid back.

• It is just preseason, but Rex Grossman looks capable of being a starter in this league again. That is something than cannot be said for John Beck.

Santana Moss looked good. He always slips further than he should in drafts. He is old and the QB situation is underwhelming, but the Redskins are going to be throwing from behind all season. Grossman can be a gun-slinging threat to make Moss a nice sleeper.

Isaac Redman was productive, making him the clear handcuff for Rashard Mendenhall. A Mendenhall injury will make Redman a factor in all leagues in a hurry.

This was the biggest tail-kicking of the weekend. The Chiefs showed nothing at home. This couldn't have possibly been by design.

Dezmon Briscoe is the best receiver you likely have never heard of. He has been the talk of Bucs camp, though. He was a legitimate star in college (Kansas) and should be far more of a factor in Year 2. He might even prove to be Mike Williams good. Seriously.

• Maybe calling Josh Freeman a bust in my preseason QB preview was a bit unfair. It will be very difficult to repeat his numbers from a season ago, but he is building something significant in Tampa. Don't draft him as a starter, but he is a solid backup for fantasy owners. He can't possibly be a bust at that level.

• There was nothing to like from the Chiefs aspect, unless you needed to see if Thomas Jones has anything left. After two strong carries, he showed enough to be wary of picking Jamaal Charles early in Round 1. Jones will still be the TD vulture at the very least.

With one pinball, 14-yard touchdown run, we have a clear-cut No. 1 rookie to target in fantasy now:

Mark Ingram will still have to deal with Pierre Thomas on the depth chart, but Ingram looks like he could an NFL superstar. Soar him up the rankings, perhaps even into the top 20. Ranking him behind the Dolphins' Thomas looks like a big mistake, if only because that Saints offense is going to generate a lot of production.

Alex Smith played bad enough to generate a QB controversy all over again. It was so bad, the 49ers are even considering Daunte Culpepper. Ouch. Heck, David Carr, now backing up for the Giants, would have been more intriguing.

• A bad QB situation for the 49ers can hurt everyone in the 49ers' offense, especially since Frank Gore requires a premium draft pick and Vernon Davis is close to the elite at tight end. Braylon Edwards and Michael Crabtree are likely to suffer, too, if Smith cannot be the answer.

Marques Colston (knee) didn't play but he is at least practicing again. Recovering quickly from microfracture surgery is tough. Colston has to prove healthy before we remove him from the potential bust category. With that said, if Colston is a bust, look out for the likes of Jimmy Graham, Robert Meachem and Lance Moore.

The most impressive QB of the first week of games played in this one, and it wasn't the Super Bowl MVP and arguable No. 1 pick at the position in fantasy.

Colt McCoy had a smashing debut and looks like he could be a very good sophomore. He has tremendous value in two-quarterback leagues as a sleeper (or those that allow QBs at the flex position). Heck, you might even consider him a backup option in standard formats.

McCoy tossed it all over the place, going 9-for-10 for 135 yards and a TD to return star Josh Cribbs. If only McCoy had some proven targets to work with ... maybe the preseason might reveal some for him. Watch McCoy and his receivers closely. There could be some sleepers to be found here.

• Ho-hum Aaron Rodgers ripped and Greg Jennings reeled in a TD. Donald Driver had a long catch, too. This writer won't change his stance that Brady will be the No. 1 QB in fantasy, but Rodgers is easily the only one worth drafting alongside him.

• We might be burying the lead for fantasy owners here, but Ryan Grant had a healthy three carries. He is the starter over postseason breakout James Starks.

Peyton Hillis had a statline we expect to see this season: a lot of carries, a poor yards-per-carry and some short TDs. He is productive, but his punishing style makes him a risk for injury. Montario Hardesty (knee) hasn't proved healthy in camp, and even the mediocre Brandon Jackson is ahead of him on the depth chart. That's good news for Hillis, bad news for Hardesty. This is clearly something to watch.

Reviewing this game is as lame as the final score. Heck, it only took a dozen games to find a real snoozer for redeeming value in fantasy.

• Marion Barber looked good and is going to both help and hurt Matt Forte. Barber is going to take the punishment off the second-rounder, but he could also take the goal-line carries. That remains to be seen. Forte's involvement in the passing game keeps his fantasy value high, regardless.

C.J. Spiller was a bust a year ago and very few are talking about him now, especially since he is backing up Fred Jackson. But Spiller is the third-down back and he caught a couple of passes out of the backfield. He needs to show the game-breaking ability he showed in college. He should be far more interesting to watch in the next couple of preseason games. The Bills certainly need to take the diapers off him.

Jay Cutler is notorious as a ball-holder, but the Bears line didn't look very good in front of him. A rushed passer is going to be an error-prone one. Cutler certainly has been one in his career. This is clearly something to watch, too.

This game featured two of the biggest veteran QB movers ahead of two early-round QB draftees. There was plenty to watch behind the teams we say have the No. 1 and 2 backs in fantasy, i.e. the top two overall picks.

Javon Ringer is a handcuff, but he could be this year's breakthrough if Chris Johnson's holdout extends into the season. The fact the Titans are going to make Johnson the highest-paid running back in NFL history makes us believe this won't last much longer. Ringer is one of the best backup running backs for fantasy owners. Jonathan Stewart is going to be the first backup RB drafted, and the Chiefs' Jones will be drafted to start for some fantasy teams, but Ringer could be the first true handcuff pick off the board.

Matt Hasselbeck was sharp. He is going to be a very good value down the draft list at QB. Donovan McNabb will be, too, but he was far less impressive.

• It is still the belief here Jake Locker will be the best NFL quarterback of this draft class. It certainly showed in Week 1 of this preseason. Christian Ponder wasn't bad either. Heck, McNabb and the Vikings were unimpressive enough to think Ponder could start far sooner then next season.

It shouldn't be underrated that offensive guru Josh McDaniels is now the offensive coordinator for the Rams, especially with developing sophomore QB Sam Bradford running the show on the field. It wasn't here.

Danario Alexander was impressive. Mardy Gilyard made some noise. And we have yet to really get a look at the likes of Danny Amendola, Mike Sims-Walker and Donnie Avery (knee). It shouldn't be forgotten McDaniels turned Brandon Lloyd from undrafted last fall to the No. 1 scoring receiver in fantasy. Someone here, or a number of these guys, are going to be great value for their draft positions. Heck, all might.

• Bradford should move up draft lists now. McDaniels is going to orchestrate a wide-open attack, even if the ball is spread around and the running game will be the first priority under defensive-minded head coach Steve Spagnuolo.

• It has been Steven Jackson and a pile of dust for the Rams for years. It still should be plenty of Jackson and dust (although they play on turf), but don't overlook Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood. Both of Jackson's backups looked real good. It should help Jackson more than hurt him, especially since neither will be the goal-line running back Jackson can be. This is a strong, and now deep, running game. This should be a very productive Rams offense. They have to be the prohibitive favorite in the NFC West.

• We didn't see much from the Colts, but they do have three backs in Joseph Addai, Donald Brown and now rookie Delone Carter. Rank them in that order, but Addai is easily the most intriguing for fantasy owners.

The No. 1 overall pick debuted with a so-so effort and both teams were underwhelming offensively, especially early.

Cam Newton went just 8-for-19 for 134 yards. Jimmy Clausen rebounded from a rough start, but Derek Anderson deserves to open the season as the starter. It will be an interesting three-headed monster in the coming weeks, even if none of them should be drafted outside of two-quarterback formats.

• DeAngelo Williams proved healthy, which is a good sign. The question is how much will the QB play hold him back. You have to figure, significantly.

Greg Olsen looked great and could be a security blanket and the No. 1 receiver in this Panthers offense. Yes, even more intriguing than former star Steve Smith. Olsen still shouldn't be drafted as a fantasy starter, though.

Eli Manning looked inept, but at least he and the Giants QBs didn't turn the ball over. Avoiding turnovers is the goal of the season for Manning. He was forcing balls into Hakeem Nicks, which could be a function of the absence of the other Smith, who is now an Eagle.

• The No. 3 wideout for the Giants will be intriguing. Right now it is clearly Domenik Hixon, who caught five passes for 86 yards. Hixon is coming off knee surgery and looks capable of being a 50-catch, 700-yard threat out of the slot, especially since the Giants really don't have a trustworthy group of tight ends. Hixon is a tough receiver over the middle.

• Watch Travis Beckum closely as the tight end next week. He is a receiver-first TE who should benefit from Kevin Boss' signing with the Raiders.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com and will outline all the news and nuggets game-by-game every week of the NFL season in his fantasy version of the Monday Morning Quarterback. You can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy.

ON SALE: Sports Illustrated's Fantasy Football 2011 issue tells you where all the free agents landed and what their fantasy impact will be, along with the critical draft strategy and stats analysis you need to win your league. Order one now.

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