As fantasy players, we tend to lock into beliefs that we never give up or change. These beliefs can be developed over the course of many seasons or just over the course of one preseason. It’s very easy to look at last year’s stats and this year’s rankings and form an opinion. But every year, players break from the patterns we expect. Old veterans return to prominence. Superstars fade into oblivion. Injury-prone players stay healthy while bastions of health are lost for the season.
As always, you’re trying to stay ahead of the curve. It’s not going to do you nearly as much good to figure out this stuff after the draft. Now, Ms. Cleo I am not. My Jamaican accent is terrible. So these are educated guesses, based on every available piece of information I can get my grubby little paws on. So, taking it from the top ...
AHMAD BRADSHAW/BRANDON JACOBS - Pay attention here. The New York Giants are going to use basically a 50/50 RBBC (running back by committee) split. It’s what they used at the end of last season. Bradshaw averaged just two carries more per game over the last month of the season. That has continued throughout the preseason. That means that Bradshaw is being overdrafted while Jacobs represents a steal. You’d definitely still rather have Bradshaw in a PPR (points per reception) league. But Jacobs has a shot to be just as valuable in standard leagues. Just make sure that you do not draft Bradshaw as your RB1 (No. 1 fantasy running back). And if Jacobs is there in Round 8 and you need a running back ?
DANIEL THOMAS - This is a tough one. There’s no way that Bush can stay healthy. Right? Could moving out of the dome (and it’s turf) really help him? We know that the Miami Dolphins are going to run the ball. Now we now that they are going to use Bush as a featured back if healthy. Thomas has looked very ordinary in the preseason while Bush has looked explosive. The only reason Thomas was so highly regarded by fantasy owners was the fact that we knew that the Dolphins were going to run the ball and Thomas was all they had. The signing of Larry Johnson indicates that the Dolphins aren’t completely comfortable with Thomas being “the guy” if/when Bush gets injured. So I would pretty much flip-flop Bush and Thomas in your rankings, especially in PPR leagues. Don’t overdraft Bush, but if you can get him in the sixth or seventh round as your RB3, I’m probably pulling the trigger. He has RB2 upside now. Thomas should be no more than your RB4 and he’s still an advisable handcuff for Bush, but you would probably have to draft him before Bush, which defeats the purpose.
DEVIN HESTER - Yeah, I can’t believe that I’m writing this either. Let's get this straight - we’re still talking about the third-to-last pick of your draft, right before you take your defense/special teams and kicker. Hester has looked more like a wide receiver this preseason than we’ve ever seen. Mike Martz has had a year to figure out how to use Hester. They’ve put Johnny Knox on mothballs when every other coaching staff would’ve just demoted Hester after signing Roy Williams. We’re talking about a late-round flier here. But if Hester finally put it together, he has WR3 upside in a PPR league. We’re talking about deep PPR leagues here. The point of this is to say that Hester is at least back on the radar. A month ago he wasn’t draftable in almost any fantasy leagues. Now he’s at least got a shot in the dark.
RYAN MATHEWS - This one has been popular all offseason. After being left for the proverbial dead, Mathews finally showed up in the second week of the preseason. But this is a 50/50 RBBC, with Tolbert working at the goal line and in the passing game. You know, the good parts. San Diego Chargers head coach Norv Turner has come out and stated that this is an even timeshare. This means that no matter which back your prefer (for me it’s Tolbert) these two should be very close to each other in your rankings. Mathews might get a bit more volume, but Tolbert will get more of the crucial touches. Both are RB3s right now.
MARION BARBER - Yet again from the desk of “I Can’t Believe That I’m Writing This.” He’s back. Again, nothing crazy here. But Barber looks very healthy, somewhat explosive and very strong. He is going to get the goal line carries and the short yardage work for the Chicago Bears. At the minimum, he’s a nice handcuff for Matt Forte. He could wind up with six-plus touchdowns and be worth using as the occasional fill-in when the matchup is right. Just another guy to use a late pick on in deeper leagues. But compared to where he was after being cut by the Dallas Cowboys, that’s kind of amazing.
DARREN SPROLES - This is going to be some sort of three-way RBBC. We know that Ingram will get the goal line carries and Sproles will play the “Reggie Bush” role on obvious passing downs. In redraft leagues, don’t go too crazy on Ingram. He’s an excellent RB3, but if you draft him as your RB2, you’re going to be very disappointed some weeks. Thomas has started both preseason games and got a contract extension this offseason. He’s not going anywhere. Thomas is more of a RB4 with a bit more value in PPR leagues. But he can be had five-plus rounds after Ingram is off of the board. Much like Bush before him, Sproles will only really have value in PPR leagues that award points for return yardage and scores.