Eric Mack
Monday September 5th, 2011

We're ready for the fantasy season to start. But the question remains: will premier names -- who didn't even play during the preseason -- suit up for Week 1?

Chris Johnson finally signed and should be ready to go. Peyton Manning, not so much.

Manning looks like he is going to be a real pain in the neck for folks hoping to get value out of him in the early season. Even when he starts playing, he is going to be stiff and rusty. Sixty percent of Manning is still better than 90 percent of most fantasy quarterbacks, but he probably should be active in 0 percent of leagues for Week 1.

Johnson should be active for 100 percent of his owners against the Jaguars. He expects a full workload, so why not?

He was born in great shape and is aiming for 2,000 yards this season. The pressure Matt Hasselbeck can take off Johnson with even a decent passing game will make Johnson tough to stop. You should have picked him right behind Adrian Peterson this draft season.

Draft day tends to be the best time of the year, but opening weekend is a close second. Nothing beats being in the hunt and right now everyone is on level ground.

Before you eliminate yourself from contention, here are the closing thoughts from each of the final preseason games:

• Maurice Stovall, who caught a touchdown, looks like he could be a more productive reserve wide receiver for the Lions than second-round rookie Titus Young at this point.

• The Lions are going to rely heavily on their tight ends again this season. Brandon Pettigrew and maybe even Tony Scheffler could prove to be bye-week replacements.

• C.J. Spiller just couldn't wrestle the starting job away from Fred Jackson this preseason. It says more about Spiller than it does Jackson. Neither back is more than a flex option to open the season.

• There were some rumblings of Carson Palmer reporting to the Bengals to force their hand to try to deal him. It is not out of the realm of possibility, but nothing looks imminent right now.

• Kerry Collins didn't show much, but he apparently showed enough for the Colts to consider him the starter in Week 1 -- assuming Peyton Manning isn't going to be ready to go. The Colts play a very weak Texans secondary in Week 1, but Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark might be the only Colts targets to start in fantasy. Manning isn't ruled out just yet, though.

• Delone Carter completed an underwhelming preseason. He is one of the most overdrafted rookies in fantasy this year. He is likely third on the depth chart.

• Rex Grossman should be the Redskins starter, so naturally the team is going to pick John Beck. Either way, Santana Moss is the only Redskins target to be excited about in Week 1 -- even against a banged-up Giants secondary.

• Donte' Stallworth had a big game to make the team. He might even be able to start over Anthony Armstrong, Jabar Gaffney and Leonard Hankerson. One of these guys could prove valuable in three-WR leagues if the Redskins develop anything at the quarterback position.

• It was somewhat surprising to see the Redskins cut rookie Evan Royster. Ryan Torrain beat him out with a good game and will back up Tim Hightower. Roy Helu will eventually have the job late this year, though.

• DeMarco Murray didn't look great, which helps the status of Felix Jones as a breakthrough star. Murray is healthy enough to back him up, but Jones will be relied on heavily for all the important touches. This is a big year for Jones in fantasy.

• Larry Johnson didn't do enough to make the team, despite a decent game. Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas are going to be the lightning and thunder combo. Bush is finally a primary back. This is a make or break year for him.

• Julio Jones had a 25-yard catch. He is easily the rookie wide receiver to covet this year. He might even surprise us and be the No. 1 rookie overall. Mark Ingram just figures to share too many carries with Pierre Thomas going into the year.

• Jacquizz Rodgers showed a good burst again. He is going to be intriguing if Michael Turner's legs fail him. Turner is at the age of breakdown at 29. It is a good year to stash Rodgers as a late-round pick, especially in keeper leagues.

• Rookie Torrey Smith isn't going to start because the Ravens dealt for Lee Evans, but he is still the third wide receiver for a developing quarterback in Joe Flacco. If Smith didn't have struggles with drops this preseason, he would be a sleeper for fantasy owners in three-WR leagues. He might become intriguing midseason when the older Anquan Boldin and Lee Evans need weeks off. Watch out for Smith still.

• The loss of backup RB Rashard Jennings (knee) for the season does more for Maurice Jones-Drew than it does for new backup Deji Karim. MJD is going to be leaned on heavily again. Karim will only be viable, barely, if MJD's knees give out on him.

• Donnie Avery got cut in what he called a mutual agreement. The burner will land on his feet somewhere after ACL surgery. We said someone intriguing was going to be out of the job as the Rams kept seven receivers. Sam Bradford has a lot of interchangeable parts to work with.

• Lance Kendricks completed an impressive preseason and should be on the radar late in leagues as a backup tight end. The rookie from Wisconsin could be a top 10 fantasy tight end down the road.

• David Garrard was underwhelming, but so too was rookie Blaine Gabbert. The latter clearly shouldn't play this season.

• Vince Young was impressive against the Jets backups before coming down with a hamstring injury. Have you heard us say scrambling quarterbacks leave themselves prone to injury? It is yet another warning sign for Michael Vick owners. Young could be a factor in fantasy before this year is out.

• Joe McKnight could become a candidate to be a third-down receiver, since people are down on LaDainian Tomlinson this preseason. L.T. will hold the role early and fade late. McKnight could impact fantasy this season, especially if Shonn Green has another uninspiring year.

• Jeff Cumberland led the Jets in receiving again, a sign the Jets will be using the tight end more this season. That bodes well for Dustin Keller.

• Da'Rel Scott broke another long one to make the team. He could be an interesting long-term project like Ahmad Bradshaw was. Scott is clearly fourth on the depth chart to open the season, though.

• Shane Vereen made his debut, but he didn't do enough to unseat fellow rookie Stevan Ridley as the third RB choice to BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead.

• Aaron Hernandez led the preseason in catches and enters the season as a breakout candidate, as I have been saying all along. He is talented enough and in a great system.

• Domenik Hixon won the third wide receiver spot for the Giants over rookie Jerrel Jernigan. Hixon is going to be a factor in the red zone for Eli Manning.

• Don't be too concerned about Manning's poor preseason. The Giants are going to feature a fearsome running game and that is going to open things up a lot more down field. Manning is going to exceed expectations like he always does.

• Matt Leinart, Matt Schaub's backup, was real sharp, but he couldn't lead a scoring drive. It is good to know Andre Johnson won't be hung out to dry if something happens to Schaub. Leinart might not be good enough to start in this league, but he is at least a capable backup.

• Rookie tight end Kyle Rudolph caught a touchdown. He was originally ranked over Kendricks among rookie tight ends to watch, especially since the Vikings offense is going to use the tight end so much. Visanthe Shiancoe is a free agent after this season, so he is a sleeper, but Rudolph could set himself up to really take off next year.

• Christian Ponder didn't play poorly, which makes him a candidate to take over for Donovan McNabb late this season if the Vikings go south like they did a year ago. Ponder won't be fantasy viable, though. He just might be the first of the rookie QB classto be worthy of starting. Cam Newton is a starter by default.

• Johnny Knox might not start, but the third-year receiver caught a touchdown and looks like a good sleeper with the underrated Jay Culter getting him passes in a pass-friendly offense. Knox is a good value behind Devin Hester, Roy Williams and perhaps Earl Bennett.

• Colt McCoy says the Browns are going to throw a lot this season. That bodes well for someone in their receiving corps. Everyone is looking at Greg Little, but Brian Robiskie might be the better option initially because of experience.

• Matt Cassel scorched in this one, developing something further with Dwayne Bowe and something new with Dexter McCluster, who has been used frequently this preseason. Bowe is no longer a one-man show with Steve Breaston alongside and maybe eventually Jon Baldwin, giving Cassel other options on the outside. McCluster is a pretty intriguing scat back, too.

• Jamaal Charles got a significant number of touches and wound up losing two fumbles. Preseason Week 4 work is not a reason to downgrade someone, though. Charles is already being overdrafted a bit, but it is his schedule that makes him a touch early Round 1 pick.

• Ryan Grant and James Starks are in a rotation, but Grant is clearly going to be the starter and primary ballcarrier to start the season. Alex Green is an intriguing rookie as third string.

• Jake Locker looked like a worldbeater in this one. Remember, he was this writer's pick for the best long-term quarterback in the rookie class. He sure showed it here, running and passing all over the place. Matt Hasselbeck could be on the outs midseason if he doesn't get off to a good start.

• Johnson has signed in time to be the starter in Week 1. That makes Javon Ringer and rookie Jamie Harper merely late-round handcuffs. Johnson is no longer playing for a big contract, but he is still capable of performing on the level of anyone at the position. And to think people questioned this writer for ranking him No. 2 overall to Peterson.

• The Saints didn't play anyone and it is a good thing they won't be counting on these guys this season.

• I remain convinced Derek Anderson should be the starting quarterback for the Panthers. He looked like it in this one. Newton is going to be the one to start, and struggle, out of the gate. Jimmy Clausen looked like a career backup, at best.

• Jeremy Shockey reeled in a touchdown. Like the Jets and Pats, the Panthers featured the tight ends heavily this preseason. They clearly wanted to start something at that spot. Greg Olsen and Shockey could be the Panthers primary targets with a rookie quarterback under center.

• Emmanual Sanders played and performed well. He is an intriguing sleeper, particularly if Hines Ward proves a step slower.

• So much for Brady Quinn looking like the better of Kyle Orton's backups. Quinn was terrible and Tim Tebow was at least effective. Quinn cost himself a chance to play elsewhere this season. Tebow will eventually emerge as the Broncos starter and a viable fantasy option, even if Orton doesn't get dealt.

• La'Rod Stephen-Howlings has increased fantasy viability this preseason after Ryan Williams' season-ending injury. He should be the third-down back and Beanie Wells' primary backup. That is particularly noteworthy given Wells' running style and injury woes.

• Ryan Mathews still has to deal with touchdown vulture and short-yardage back Mike Tolbert, but if he runs like this everything around him will be immaterial. A little bit of success pass blocking and far less issues with fumbling will help Mathews stay in the game and stay prominent in fantasy lineups.

• Kendall Hunter had a smashing preseason and won the backup job to Frank Gore, another running back that has battled injury most of his career. Hunter is a breakaway threat that might even be viable enough for fantasy as a change-of-pace backup.

• Alex Smith won the starting quarterback job, but he just doesn't impress enough to make Braylon Edwards or Michael Crabtree true fantasy starters. Vernon Davis is interesting only because a bad quarterback's best friend is a good tight end.

• Golden Tate proved healthy in this one and he might prove to be something greater than worthless this season. The quarterback situation to start the season doesn't give him a whole lot of immediate hope to help, though.

• Charlie Whitehurst has outplayed Tarvaris Jackson this preseason, but Jackson will be the initial starter because of his grasp of the offense. Neither gives the Seahawks receivers much hope.

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.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.