Eric Mack
Monday August 22nd, 2011

While fantasy owners hold their breath amid the Revis-like holdout of Chris Johnson and the inactivity of Peyton Manning (neck surgery), we move on like NFL coaches do: Focusing on the players we have to work with right now.

There were plenty of intriguing stars of preseason Week 2 to hone in on, namely some longer looks at new faces in new places (Chad Ochocinco, Donovan McNabb and Plaxico Burress) and the rookies we really have yet to see much of (Roy Helu, Kendall Hunter, Julio Jones and Jamie Harper).

But those aren't the names that really capture the attention of the average fantasy drafter. They want to know what, where, when and why on Johnson and Manning.

It is just as frustrating to fantasy owners that Johnson just won't report as it is to hear Colts owner Jim Irsay tweet he is in Brett Favre's hometown. You have to figure those fantasy stars will be ready and active for Week 1 -- despite the Titans and Colts owners getting in the news lately amid their absences.

It is unlikely you were able to catch up on all who were in action this weekend, so we round it up for you quickly game-by-game in the Fantasy Football Fast Forward.

• Jay Cutler tried to start some sort of rhythm with Roy Williams, but they just couldn't connect. It is a bad sign for those hopeful Williams could be a sleeper this season. He just isn't great about catching balls in traffic. That's bad, considering his size makes that what he should be useful for. Drop Williams, and Culter, a few notches.

• Terrell Thomas' (knee) is lost for the season, weakening a secondary that was already sketchy. They were abused by Aaron Rodgers with the playoffs on the line late last season and their first-round corner is already out two months-plus with a broken foot. Antrel Rolle might move back to corner now, allowing recently signed Deon Grant a chance to start. The Giants defense is still about stopping the run and rushing the passer, but you might want to drop them a few notches in the D/ST rankings because of their susceptibility to the pass.

• Eli Manning was better but still not great in this one, developing Mario Manningham in more chain-moving routes. Manningham is going to need to take a big step forward with Steve Smith gone. He should.

• Victor Cruz, last year's preseason star, looks capable of being the No. 3 receiver, which should have him show up late in some drafts. Domenik Hixon, who caught a touchdown, might have value, too.

• Da'Rel Scott, a speedy rookie with a chance to make the team, scampered 97 yards for a score late. He could be a long-term project like Ahmad Bradshaw was, but don't draft Scott. He is easily fourth on the depth chart behind Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs and D.J. Ware, who looked strong in this one.

• Two teams with bad offensive lines, playing against defenses that can get after the passer, did a real good job keeping their quarterback's backs clean. There was just one sack in the game and it was one where Cutler just gave himself up outside the pocket. Both teams are working their quarterbacks to make quick decisions, avoid sacks and picks; they both did well in that regard.

• Plaxico Burress looked as good as a 34-year-old receiver who has been in prison for two years can look. He wasn't overly quick, but he got in space and made catches, including a diving fade grab. Burress won't be as productive as he was before he shot his career in the foot, err leg, mostly because he won't be as good in yards after the catch. He will get plenty of yards, catches and touchdowns to be worthy picking among the top 50 receivers.

• Dustin Keller and backup tight end Jeff Cumberland had busy nights, making it more apparent Mark Sanchez is going to try to take the next step by using his tight ends more. The Jets' options are sleepers, but Cumberland won't be drafted in any standard leagues.

• Jets rookie Bilal Powell was busy but mostly ineffective in relief of Joe McKnight. McKnight hasn't done anything to impress anyone, but he is the third back behind starter Shonn Greene and veteran LaDainian Tomlinson.

• Andy Dalton and all the Bengals offensive players were real bad again. This could be the worst offense in football, which doesn't bode well for those drafting Cedric Benson.

• Philip Rivers looked impressive as always. He has looked good enough this preseason to consider picking him before Peyton Manning, especially amid the neck issues. Rivers is going to benefit greatly from a full season of Vincent Jackson and better health from tight end Antonio Gates (foot) ... hopefully on the latter.

• Ryan Mathews is making strides as a feature back. No one should really be worried about short-yardage bowling ball Mike Tolbert or rookie Jordan Todman stealing Mathews' thunder. If anything, they will merely help keep Mathews healthier than he was a year ago.

• Tony Romo is getting picked a lot higher everywhere than is suggested by this fantasy writer. He didn't look good without Miles Austin or Dez Bryant making a real impact in this one. Jason Witten remained Romo's favorite short target, though.

• Felix Jones continues to take advantage of rookie Demarco Murray's (hamstring) absence. Jones has been impressive in camp and games to date and is a breakout candidate after a few disappointing seasons as Marion Barber's backup. Jones is the man now.

• Tom Brady wasted no time getting something started with Chad Ochocinco, an outstanding sign for both of them. They have the potential to be a dynamic duo and somehow their big names aren't ridiculously inflating their draft positions.

• Aaron Hernandez had another strong performance, making him a potential breakout star at the thin tight end position. The fact he isn't even the first choice at the position on his own team helps numb his perceived value.

• The Pats running game looks 100 percent ready for the season. That's bad news for defenses. The absences of Shane Vereen make the depth chart go BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead and then rookie Stevan Ridley, who looked real good again. He did lose a fumble, though, so expect him to not get any of Bill Belichick's trust early in the regular season.

• The Bucs showed nothing on offense, a sign they might be more likely to bust than breakout for fantasy owners this season. It is the belief here Josh Freeman will take a step back before he takes a significant step forward.

• Dezmon Briscoe has been a sleeper in camp, but his quiet showing should likely keep him off fantasy draft boards.

• Michael Vick was really embarrassed by the Steelers defense in this one. To be fair, DeSean Jackson was a holdout and Jeremy Maclin is dealing with an illness and has yet to practice. It still cannot be encouraging if you're one of the few getting sucked in to making Vick the first quarterback off the board on draft day. You shouldn't do it, and this game against the Steelers is the latest exhibit to defend that argument.

• Ronnie Brown might be the most underrated of the Eagles big offense signings. He is going to do wonders to keep the load off LeSean McCoy. Brown is merely a handcuff pick for a top-eight back, but he could be a real important one.

• Ben Roethlisberger doesn't get any fantasy love outside of Pittsburgh. You could still see him slip out of the top 10 quarterbacks drafted. He is going to have one of his deeper supporting casts yet this season. Jericho Cotchery is not going to excite anyone, but he is a solid No. 3 after Mike Wallace and the venerable Hines Ward.

• Isaac Redman is going to be another important handcuff option for a top 10 fantasy back in Rashard Mendenhall. There is going to be a lot of grinding out of the clock this season, most of which will have Mendenhall resting on the bench in blowouts.

• Roy Helu, hello! The Colts run defense was gashed by Tim Hightower, too, but Helu is the one getting drafted many rounds later and has the high ceiling long term.

• Leonard Hankerson, another of our top 25 rookies to target in drafts, had a better showing this week. He could be a surprise down the stretch this season.

• John Beck looked real sharp and perhaps the Redskins won't be as much of a lost cause as so many have thought. They really need someone to step forward at quarterback. Beck and Rex Grossman have both played well. It will be real interesting to see Beck develop a fuller game in preseason Week 3.

• Peyton Manning (neck) is hurt enough to consider taking about his games played streak ending in Week 1 -- not to mention the owner is tweeting about Brett Favre. The Colts have looked like diddly pooh this preseason.

• Dallas Clark looks healthy, which justifies picking him among the top three tight ends.

• Chad Henne looked a lot more capable, spreading the ball around his primary threats in Brandon Marshall, Davone Bess and Anthony Fasano. There are plenty of threats in this Dolphins offense for Henne to be a viable option in two-quarterback fantasy leagues.

• Daniel Thomas looked a lot more capable in this one, as well. He will still be the change-of-pace back for Reggie Bush, but if the Dolphins can get this offense going, there could be enough goal-line chances to make Thomas a 10-touchdown rusher.

• Cam Newton didn't look impressive, staying real conservative with short passes again. The good news, for Newton hopefuls, is Jimmy Clausen showed nothing either. And Derek Anderson didn't even play. Anderson should start, but fantasy writers don't run football teams.

• Jeremy Shockey showed up some, perhaps a sign the Panthers are going to really rely on the tight end. Greg Olsen had a big first week. I'd still stay away from Shockey in drafts.

• Lee Evans didn't waste time making his presence felt for the Ravens. He is going to be a real important downfield target for emerging Joe Flacco. Evans is a nice veteran sleeper, especially since all of those Derrick Mason throws have to go to someone and Anquan Boldin is sure to be doubled on the other side.

• Matt Cassel and the Chiefs offense didn't show much again, but Dexter McCluster could be an intriguing sophomore scat back. We have yet to see much from Steve Breaston or rookie Jonathan Baldwin (broken thumb). McCluster might be the one to surprise us, depending on whether he is receiver or running back eligible in your league.

• Baldwin should be sliding down draft lists, not for injury or lack of talent. He got into a fight with Thomas Jones and has the stigma of being a diva. The Chiefs are sure to work him in more slowly than most NFL wideouts.

• Colt McCoy might have done more for his fantasy value these past two weeks than any other player. He tossed another three touchdowns, two to backup tight end Evan Moore. Moore could be a sleeper if anything happens to primary option Ben Watson. The Browns just might have the real McCoy.

• Rookie Greg Little reeled in a McCoy touchdown, looking capable to making a fantasy impact this season. It is more likely we get better value out of the Browns' third-year receivers, though: Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi (foot). Moore is a third-year receiver at the tight end spot.

• Montario Hardesty (knee) is moving up the depth chart without having to play yet. Brandon Jackson has shown nothing as Peyton Hillis' backup. Hardesty will get game action Thursday, though, and should be intriguing to watch, especially with the projection here that Hillis pounds himself into injury this season.

• Matthew Stafford enjoyed another effective outing, looking like he could be the best of the fantasy backup quarterback picks. He won't be drafted in the top 12, but a full season of health in Year 3 will allow him to finish there.

• Jacquizz Rodgers enjoyed a coming out party. He is buried beneath a workhorse, Michael Turner, and a bulldozer, Jason Snelling, but Rodgers gives the spark of speed as a change of pace. He could be a factor when the vets are a bit banged up later in the season.

• The Jags QBs did not impress, but it is becoming clear Blaine Gabbert is no real threat to David Garrard. That's good news to third-year receiver Mike Thomas and tight end Marcedes Lewis. It is tough breaking out or staying elite with a rookie passer.

• Harry Douglas and Julio Jones both had good outings again, making them potential sleepers in what could be a great passing offense. Matt Ryan is ready to take that next big step into the NFL elite. Someone is going to have to emerge behind Roddy White.

• Bad news for defenses: The Packers worked a no-huddle offense and both Ryan Grant and Jermichael Finley proved healthy this week. It is very likely the Super Bowl champions are going to be better this year -- a scary thought but an opportunity to take chances on injury-risk sleepers in Grant and Finley. Oh, and that no-huddle? Yeah, the Packers could become the modern-day Buffalo Bills with their fast-break offense.

• With the Colts' Manning still ailing, Vick looking mediocre to date in the preseason and no one buying 100 percent into Brady, Rodgers is perhaps the only QB certain to go in Round 1 of your drafts.

• Beanie Wells moves up the draft charts with the devastating season-ending injury to Ryan Williams (torn patellar tendon). Williams was going to be an outstanding sleeper and a potential future star. Now his career is in jeopardy and Wells will only have to contend with the likes of return man LaRod Stephens-Howlings and rookie Alfonso Smith.

• The Cardinals did the right thing getting ahead of the curve on the revival of Larry Fitzgerald's stardom. They locked him up with a large extension, perhaps knowing after this upcoming season with Kevin Kolb is going to raise Fitzgerald's stock. He probably should still get picked among the top five receivers in the NFL, despite coming off a subpar season by his standards.

• The Titans just might be ready to hunker down against the holdout Johnson because of what they have behind him. Javon Ringer is capable of being a starter and rookie Jamie Harper had a smashing coming-out party this weekend. They are going to rise up draft lists until Johnson finally decides to report.

• Donnie Avery (knee) caught a TD pass and looked healthy, adding to the amazing logjam among Rams receivers. Danny Amendola, Mike Sims-Walker, Brandon Gibson (83-yard TD), Danario Alexander, Marty Gilyard and Greg Salas all look capable of taking Sam Bradford up a tier or two among fantasy QBs. It is going to be interesting to see who starts and who gets cut. Avery might be the most exciting of those options and he is getting picked behind almost all of them.

• Jake Locker came on earlier than expected for Matt Hasselbeck and didn't impress. Hasselbeck looked really good, meanwhile, making it more and more likely Locker will spend the entire year on the pine. Locker looks undraftable in fantasy.

• Cadillac Williams looked good again as Steven Jackson's backup. He is a solid handcuff and Jackson's age and history of workload could make Williams a factor again midseason.

• Alex Smith looked a bit better than completely worthless this go around and Braylon Edwards made some nice grabs. The star of the show in this stinker was clearly rookie Kendall Hunter. He could really shoot up draft lists if Frank Gore's unhappiness spirals him downward, or into a trade. Hunter looks capable of being a factor in this league, perhaps as early as this season. Hunter might not be ahead of Anthony Dixon yet as Gore's backup, but Hunter's ceiling is a lot higher.

• The Raiders offense looked bad again behind Jason Campbell, whose stats actually looked better than the true results. Third-year receiver Darruis Heyward-Bey actually caught a few balls, though.

• Pierre Thomas still starts, but Mark Ingram is still going to be an impact player. The Saints famously like to rotate their backs and Ingram got the goal-line touchdown. He is going to be the more productive fantasy option, even if Thomas holds the starting role.

• Arian Foster looked plenty worthy of being a No. 1 back in fantasy, but Ben Tate's smashing success in this one suggests Foster just might have something to take a chunk out of his numbers. Tate looked like the game-breaker that made him a potential starter over Foster last training camp. It should be an interesting combo to watch. If you draft Foster, you must get Tate -- perhaps the most important handcuff in fantasy.

• With Marques Colston (knee) coming off microfracture surgery, we all need to be paying attention to the likes of TE Jimmy Graham, WR Robert Meachem and WR Lance Moore. They are all sleepers and they all made contributions in Colston's absence this weekend.

• It might be a case of showcasing quarterbacks for a trade, but the Broncos have put not only Kyle Orton, but now Brady Quinn ahead of Tim Tebow on the depth chart. Quinn has been impressive and is better than some of the mediocre starters in the NFL right now. Quinn could start for Oakland and Cincinnati at least, and perhaps Miami, Jacksonville, Washington and Seattle -- maybe more.

• Don't worry, Tebow fans. This downgrading is merely making Tebow affordable. He is going to be a factor in all fantasy leagues before the end of the season, guaranteed.

• C.J. Spiller had an opportunity this week to pass Fred Jackson on the depth chart and become a fantasy sleep all over again in Year 2. It was not a good effort, though. Like Tebow, though, perhaps it just makes him more affordable to us bargain-bin sifters in the latter rounds.

• Orton was sharp and Brandon Lloyd was picking up where he left off a year ago. He is going to be a decent value after being the No. 1 scoring receiver a year ago.

• Eric Decker could be a nice surprise player later this season. He was highly regarded in college at Minnesota. He needs to pass disappointing Eddie Royal on the depth chart, though.

• Ryan Fitzpatrick did not look good. He is a bit overrated in drafts right now. The Bills offense is going to be bad, despite the progress Fitzpatrick made with Steve Johnson a year ago.

• Donovan McNabb looked real sharp. He is perfectly suited for this situation in Minnesota. He is going to make everyone around him better, even No. 1 overall fantasy pick Adrian Peterson.

• Rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph caught some of the passes that are going to be going to sleeper Visanthe Shiancoe. McNabb loves using his tight ends and both of these guys are likely to outperform their draft position.

• Tarvaris Jackson looked terrible and has to be giving way to Charlie Whitehurst, who played very well again.

• The Seahawks receivers were underwhelming, but it could be a function of the new system getting put in -- not to mention the inability of Jackson.

Eric Mack writes fantasy for and will outline all the news and nuggets game-by-game every week of the NFL season in his Fantasy Football Fast Forward. 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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