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Fantasy Fast Forward: Redskins' RB mess, Week 4 notes, rankings

The final week of the preseason tends to be a time for general managers, talent evaluators and the players who will be bagging groceries at your nearby supermarket. We were still able to find some pertinent fantasy happenings in the mostly inconsequential last warm-ups for the 2012 season.

So, as teams send around 700 players to the waiver wire, here is a rare Friday edition of the Fantasy Fast Forward:

1. Roy Helu is back, and impressively. Darn it!

This is a good news/bad news item for fantasy football owners. It seemingly makes things clearer for us when declaring who the Redskins' starter should be, but in actuality, it just makes Washington's backfield a bigger mess.

Helu, the late-season 2011 breakout, got back on the field Wednesday night after battling a pair of sore Achilles' tendons this preseason, rushing for 90 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries against the Buccaneers. His return started woefully, perhaps giving credence to coach Mike Shanahan's preseason ire, when he dropped a pitch, picked it up, dropped it again and accidentally kicked it out of bounds for a 14-yard loss.

"After that first pitch, when I got in the [next] series for run after run, that's where I started feeling more in tune [with] where blocks would be," Helu told the Washington Post. "It was good to get out there, just throwing my heart out there."

Helu impressed with his next 16 touches, which included a pair of 17-yard receptions. He had two runs of 15 yards, including one of his TDs, and a pair of 10-yard jaunts. He was ripping off yardage in bunches once he got going.

Now, what the heck do we make of the Redskins' backfield?

• Helu was supposed to be the darling, but he has spent all camp in Shanahan's doghouse, inexplicably, due to durability concerns. He looks like a potential world-beater again.

• Veteran Tim Hightower, coming off knee surgery, was slated to start if he could prove healthy this preseason. He was held out of Week 4 and released on Friday.

• Sophomore Evan Royster started Wednesday night ahead of Helu and did all right, rushing 10 times for 44 yards. That's an acceptable average, but he was clearly outplayed by the sophomore in the doghouse, Helu.

• Sixth-round rookie Alfred Morris handled most of the first-team reps during the preseason and hasn't done anything to disappoint. In fact, Shanahan has gone so far as to suggest that Morris might be the Week 1 starter. He was held out of Wednesday night's game, too, a sign that he is ahead of Royster and Helu.

This is clearly a mess to avoid in drafts this weekend, but it is definitely something to watch for potential waiver-wire sleepers at the thin RB position. It wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility to see the back no one owns wind up the most productive in fantasy. Right now all three backs can make a case to start, so they should be owned in most leagues.

"We have some solid backs on this team," Royster told the Post. "It's definitely a good problem to have for a coach's standpoint. But it's tough on us. We just want to make this team as best we can."

If you have to rank them for fantasy Week 1:

1. Morris

2. Royster

3. Helu

But, if you rank them for full-season fantasy potential (flip it upside down):

1. Helu

2. Royster

3. Morris

It is going to be weekly guesswork until someone takes charge, if someone takes charge.

"Whoever's going to be out there [as the starter], we still have to compete each week," Helu said.

Best of luck here.

2. Chiefs backs going dutch? 50-50 split

As good as Jamaal Charles has looked in his brief appearances in the preseason, the bad news is how well Peyton Hillis has played. Hillis is now rumored to be taking more than just the red-zone touches, perhaps as much as a 50-50 split. That might mean 15 touches per back per game.

Charles will rush for the better average -- he has the highest per-carry average in NFL history for a back with as many carries (6.1 to Jim Brown's Hall of Fame-leading 5.2) -- but Hillis might wind up the more productive fantasy back. Think about these weekly averages: 50 yards and a TD for Hillis, and 90 combined yards for Charles.

That makes Charles more of a late second-round pick than a late first. The Chiefs just coddle Charles too much.

3. Steeling the role?

Isaac Redman has had an injury-plagued camp and Rashard Mendenhall (knee) won't be full-go until October, so Dwyer's performance late in the preseason is noteworthy. Dwyer, 23, just might have earned a split with Redman to start the season. The third-year back from Georgia Tech is younger than Redman, 27, and Mendenhall, who is a free agent. Jonathan Dwyer just might be able to develop into a long-term option for the Steelers this season. Redman is getting overdrafted right now, and even if you believe Mendenhall becomes the feature back in October, Dwyer is a solid late-round flier.

After the OTAs, Pead was the second-coming of Chris Johnson -- the good version. For most of training camp, Pead looked more like the CJ2K of 2011, a bust. Pead might have salvaged his backup status to Steven Jackson with a solid effort Thursday night, though. Pead is a potential game-breaker and Jackson is a serious risk for injury because of his age and wear and tear. Fellow rookie Daryl Richardson, who has outplayed Pead this preseason, is a viable late-round sleeper in his own right.

There is talk Jackson might have beaten out Montario Hardesty as Trent Richardson's backup. That is silly talk. Jackson has proven to be a fantasy nobody. Hardesty might be, too, though. Richardson looks like he will be a go for fantasy Week 1. Richardson is a decent start, while his backups are hardly worth owning.

Knowshon Moreno somehow never got into John Fox's good graces and is buried behind Willis McGahee, Lance Ball and rookie Ronnie Hillman on the Broncos' depth chart. Moreno needs a change of scenery, because he looked spry in his seven carries for 49 yards and would be a decent fantasy sleeper in a better situation. Maybe we will get lucky and see Moreno get cut or traded to a team like the Steelers or Lions.

QUARTERBACKS

• Sam Bradford, Rams -- He has had an up-and-down preseason after a disappointing sophomore campaign, but he ripped it up Thursday night, going 11 of 16 for 175 yards and three TDs. Bradford doesn't have a great receiving corps, but Danny Amendola, his go-to guy, is back after missing last season. Bradford will prove to be a bye-week replacement this season, at least. Amendola might even prove to be a fantasy starter at WR because of it.

RUNNING BACKS

• Cedric Benson, Packers -- The annihilation of James Starks is nearly complete. Benson is healthier and going to enter the season as the feature back. Starks (toe) is going to open the season inactive, while Alex Green will be the backup.

• Kevin Smith, Lions -- His ankle sprain appears to be minor and he looks on track for Week 1. Mikel LeShoure didn't have a great preseason and is suspended for the first two games, so Smith will have every opportunity to run away with the feature-back role. Jahvid Best (post-concussion syndrome) is on the PUP list and merely "hopes" to play sometime this season.

• Jonathan Stewart, Panthers -- He appears to have dodged a serious high-ankle sprain. That actually isn't great news for DeAngelo Williams in the early weeks. A Stewart injury might be the only way Williams proves to be a top-flight starter, but if Cam Newton keeps the Panthers offense churning out yardage, Williams and Stewart might both prove to be viable flex options again.

David Wilson, Giants -- So much for this first-round rookie's great preseason. He got the start Wednesday against the Pats and did very little to impress. While he might have passed D.J. Ware on the depth chart, Wilson is merely a handcuff option for Ahmad Bradshaw owners.

Daniel Thomas, Dolphins -- He has been squarely in new head coach's Joe Philbin's doghouse for being late a few times this preseason, including a flight and a meeting. He looked better when he started for the idle Reggie Bush, though, rushing for 31 yards on five carries. He has held off talented rookie Lamar Miller for now and Thomas figures to remain the Dolphins' goal-line back. That doesn't seem to be a role that will be needed frequently with rookie Ryan Tannehill leading a weapon-less passing game. Thomas is merely a handcuff for Bush owners and Miller is merely a late-round flier in dynasty leagues.

• Jacquizz Rodgers, Falcons -- He had a solid, albeit brief outing, Thursday night, rushing five times for 24 yards and a 5-yard TD. His hype might be exceeding his expected production now, though. He still needs a Michael Turner to justify being anything more than a late-round handcuff.

Ronnie Brown, Chargers -- Norv Turner seems to love Brown's multi-dimensional game as the fill-in for Ryan Mathews, who now appears as if he won't be active until Week 3 of the season. Brown is a viable start in the first couple of weeks and he will be on the board very late in your draft.

WIDE RECEIVERS

Hakeem Nicks, Giants -- He broke his foot in the offseason, but his comeback is complete. He was able to start and reel in a pass from Eli Manning, making it clear that he is a solid start in fantasy for Week 1 against Dallas. "I wanted to open it up a little bit and I wanted to get my body back used to it," said Nicks, whose lone reception of the night was good for six yards. "That's what I needed." If you haven't drafted yet, Nicks is a top-10 pick at WR, with the potential to perform like a top five.

• Sidney Rice, Seahawks -- He reeled in a 22-yard reception and looks healthy going into the season. He is his team's No. 1 WR again and is woefully under-drafted in fantasy right now. Consider him a latter-round sleeper who will perform like a starter, even with the Seahawks starting a rookie in Russell Wilson, who has been impressive this preseason and is a viable late-rounder in his own right.

• Kenny Britt, Titans -- He is off the PUP list and had his personal-conduct policy suspension announced to be just one game, which he probably wasn't going to be healthy enough to play in anyway. It might only take a couple of weeks for Britt to prove worthy in fantasy starting lineups. Consider him an intriguing late-round sleeper.

• Michael Floyd, Cardinals -- He has been a forgotten man this preseason amid the Cardinals' woeful QB play. Despite a 22-yard TD reception against the Broncos, Floyd hasn't down anything to get past Andre Roberts or slot receiver Early Doucet to be the Cardinals secondary target behind Larry Fitzgerald. Floyd has long-term potential, but production might not come until the QB situation improves leaps and bounds. That might not happen this year.

Dwayne Harris, Cowboys -- He started but didn't catch a pass, but it should be noted he all but won the No. 3 WR job for the Tony Romo-led offense. A year ago, Laurent Robinson broke out in that role because of the inconsistent health of Miles Austin and Dez Bryant. Harris, a sixth-round pick in 2011, isn't draftable in fantasy, but he is a speedy field-stretcher and someone to watch for potential waiver-wire rewards.

A.J. Jenkins, 49ers -- The first-rounder was labeled a project, particularly considering he will be floundering behind Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss and Mario Manningham on the depth chart. That doesn't figure to be an offense that distributes a lot of passes either. They are ground and pound. Jenkins is merely a long-term keeper flier, but his performance against the Chargers was intriguing.

DeVier Posey, Texans -- The rookie from Ohio State had a quiet preseason until his 80-yard TD against the Vikings. Posey isn't yet draftable in a standard league, but the Texans have plenty of room for a second and third WR to emerge behind Andre Johnson. A healthy Matt Schaub can make Lestar Jean and Posey potential in-season sleepers.

TIGHT ENDS

• Dwayne Allen, Colts -- Coby Fleener was picked earlier in the draft, but Allen has outplayed Andrew Luck's college teammate throughout training camp. Allen is the more complete TE of the two and just might be the better fantasy option long term. Allen's own blocking prowess tends to get his solid receiving skills overlooked. If Fleener goes in your draft before you can get him, you might consider making Allen your late-round backup TE, if you pick one of those.

KICKERS

Billy Cundiff, Redskins -- He made his debut to a smattering of boos when he missed one of his four field-goal attempts Wednesday night. "It's good to be back in the NFC East, where they boo the home team," the veteran said. "It reminds me of my days in Dallas. It's a different environment, and to be honest with you, I think it's a good thing because they expect perfection. And even though perfection is unattainable, if you try to be perfect and you come pretty close, you're going to have a really good season." Cundiff has a strong leg, in case you play in a league that rewards bonus points for longer field goals. He is a marginal option in a standard format.

Rank Quarterback TM Tier

1. Aaron Rodgers GB 1

2. Tom Brady NE 1

3. Drew Brees NO 1

4. Cam Newton CAR 1

5. Matthew Stafford DET 2

6. Eli Manning NYG 2

7. Tony Romo DAL 2

8. Matt Ryan ATL 2

9. Michael Vick PHI 2

10. Ben Roethlisberger PIT 2

11. Philip Rivers SD 3

12. Peyton Manning DEN 3

13. Jay Cutler CHI 3

14. Joe Flacco BAL 3

15. Robert Griffin III WAS 3

16. Matt Schaub HOU 3

17. Carson Palmer OAK 3

18. Andrew Luck IND 4

19. Josh Freeman TB 4

20. Andy Dalton CIN 4

21. Russell Wilson SEA 4

22. Mark Sanchez NYJ 4

23. Ryan Fitzpatrick BUF 4

24. Matt Cassel KC 4

25. Alex Smith SF 4

26. Sam Bradford STL 5

27. Jake Locker TEN 5

Rank Running Back TM Tier

1. Arian Foster HOU 1

2. LeSean McCoy PHI 1

3. Ray Rice BAL 1

4. Marshawn Lynch SEA 2

5. Chris Johnson TEN 2

6. DeMarco Murray DAL 2

7. Darren McFadden OAK 2

8. Matt Forte CHI 2

9. Trent Richardson CLE 2

10. Jamaal Charles KC 2

11. Fred Jackson BUF 2

12. Adrian Peterson MIN 2

13. Maurice Jones-Drew JAC 2

14. Frank Gore SF 3

15. Ryan Mathews SD 3

16. Doug Martin TB 3

17. Steven Jackson STL 3

18. Ahmad Bradshaw NYG 3

19. Michael Turner ATL 3

20. Shonn Greene NYJ 3

21. Willis McGahee DEN 3

22. Reggie Bush MIA 3

23. Mark Ingram NO 3

24. Darren Sproles NO 3

25. Donald Brown IND 4

Rank Wide Receiver TM Tier

1. Calvin Johnson DET 1

2. Larry Fitzgerald ARI 2

3. Greg Jennings GB 2

4. Jordy Nelson GB 2

5. Andre Johnson HOU 2

6. Victor Cruz NYG 2

7. Roddy White ATL 2

8. Wes Welker NE 2

9. A.J. Green CIN 2

10. Hakeem Nicks NYG 2

11. Brandon Marshall CHI 2

12. Julio Jones ATL 2

13. Steve Smith CAR 3

14. Marques Colston NO 3

15. Dez Bryant DAL 3

16. Miles Austin DAL 3

17. Dwayne Bowe KC 3

18. Percy Harvin MIN 3

19. Mike Wallace PIT 3

20. Demaryius Thomas DEN 3

21. Jeremy Maclin PHI 3

22. DeSean Jackson PHI 3

23. Steve Johnson BUF 3

24. Torrey Smith BAL 3

25. Antonio Brown PIT 3

Rank Tight End TM Tier

1. Rob Gronkowski NE 1

2. Jimmy Graham NO 1

3. Antonio Gates SD 2

4. Aaron Hernandez NE 2

5. Jason Witten DAL 2

6. Vernon Davis SF 2

7. Jermichael Finley GB 2

8. Brandon Pettigrew DET 3

9. Tony Gonzalez ATL 3

10. Fred Davis WAS 3

11. Jared Cook TEN 3

12. Brent Celek PHI 3

13. Jermaine Gresham CIN 4

14. Owen Daniels HOU 4

15. Dustin Keller NYJ 4

Rank Kicker TM

1. David Akers SF

2. Mason Crosby GB

3. Stephen Gostkowski NE

4. Sebastian Janikowski OAK

5. Alex Henery PHI

6. Garrett Hartley NO

7. Matt Bryant ATL

8. Robbie Gould CHI

9. Nate Kaeding SD

10. Dan Bailey DAL

11. Rob Bironas TEN

12. Matt Prater DEN

Rank Defense/Special Teams TM

1. San Francisco 49ers SF

2. Baltimore Ravens BAL

3. Pittsburgh Steelers PIT

4. New York Jets NYJ

5. Houston Texans HOU

6. New York Giants NYG

7. Chicago Bears CHI

8. Green Bay Packers GB

9. Philadelphia Eagles PHI

10. Dallas Cowboys DAL

11. Detroit Lions DET

12. Cincinnati Bengals CIN

13. Atlanta Falcons ATL

14. New England Patriots NE

15. Seattle Seahawks SEA

Eric Mack writes fantasy for SI.com. You find him on Twitter, where you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice @EricMackFantasy. He reads all the messages there (guaranteed) and takes them very, very personally (not really).

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