Evan Silva

Football Daily Dose

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Running with the ones

Monday, August 31, 2009

Following Monday night's Vikings-Texans tilt, the meaningful portion of the mostly-meaningless preseason will be in the books. Starters barely play in the exhibition finale, and slightly banged-up players like Pierre Thomas (knee), Carson Palmer (ankle), and Knowshon Moreno (knee) figure to be held out entirely. With first cuts due in by Tuesday and final roster adjustments scheduled for Saturday, let's look at ten position battles that have developed since last week.

Broncos No. 1 Wide Receiver
Brandon Marshall vs. Eddie Royal vs. Jabar Gaffney

Marshall's preseason-ending suspension not only jeopardizes his early-season role, it combines with Jabar Gaffney's thumb injury to confirm that Royal will open the year as Denver's No. 1 wideout. Dating back to the Matt Cassel trade talks and ensuing Jay Cutler fiasco, rookie coach Josh McDaniels has proven a willingness to put his system over talent. A toolsy speed merchant with sure hands and rare versatility, Royal is the ideal fit for McDaniels' complex scheme. Meantime, Marshall has yet to buy into the system or even play a game for his new leader. Royal wasn't in a typical "camp battle" because he's been locked into a starting job all along. But Marshall's demotion created an opportunity for Royal to become the go-to option in Denver. He's capitalized with at least four catches in each of the Broncos' three exhibition games and is a very solid WR2 fantasy pick with an even higher ceiling than last year.

Ravens No. 1 Running Back
Ray Rice vs. Willis McGahee vs. LeRon McClain

You'll get a detailed handle on Baltimore's tailback pecking order by reading our last two blurbs on Rice. While he doesn't have short-yardage/goal-line duties locked up, Rice has started all three preseason games and is being used as an every-down back while McGahee and McClain have been mixed in sparingly. McClain's major offseason weight gain, prescribed by the team, was aimed at developing him into a replacement for departed lead blocker Lorenzo Neal. McClain has six preseason touches to Rice's 35 and McGahee's 22 (many with the second-teamers). Rice's receiving ability adds a new dimension to Baltimore's offense as a check-down magnet. He's an ideal RB2 "save" in the sixth to seventh round of fantasy drafts if you go heavy on wide receivers early.

Cardinals No. 1 Running Back
Tim Hightower vs. Chris Wells

Wells' explosion onto the scene in Friday's third preseason game (7-46-2) probably means he'll play a significant role out of the gate. Still, Hightower has done nothing to lose his starting job. He's averaged a robust five yards per carry this preseason, is no longer dancing behind the line of scrimmage, and remains the Cardinals' best option on passing downs. Hightower and Wells should open the season in an even carry timeshare, with Hightower getting all the catches. Owners drafting Wells will have to be in wait-and-see mode. The Cardinals have tasty matchups (vs. SF, @ JAX, vs. IND) before their Week 4 bye, but barring an implosion by Hightower in practice at the end of camp or in the season opener, Wells will be a dicey RB3/flex option early on.

Dolphins No. 2 Wide Receiver
Greg Camarillo vs. Davone Bess vs. Brian Hartline

Hartline has started back-to-back preseason games, and opened Sunday's practice as Miami's first-team flanker. He separated himself from the competition by going for 79 yards on three catches against the Bucs Thursday night, including a 56-yard grab to set up the Fins' lone touchdown. Bess' role is set as Miami's go-to slot guy, but the upside we envisioned when he was running with the starting offense early in camp has been cut into significantly. He's still a worthwhile WR4/5 lottery ticket in points-per-reception leagues. As a rookie No. 2 wideout on a run-first team, Hartline isn't someone to get excited about. Camarillo will open Week 1 as a special teamer/fourth receiver, needing injuries to matter.

Browns No. 1 Quarterback
Brady Quinn vs. Derek Anderson

Coach Eric Mangini predictably isn't admitting it yet, but Quinn has taken the reigns in this battle. The third-year passer's preseason numbers (67.7% completions, 7.3 YPA, TD) trump Anderson's (60% completions, 7.9 YPA, 0 TDs, 2 INTs), nearly across the board. Mangini's decision to start Quinn in the third preseason game -- even if Anderson took some first-team snaps -- also was a mini-admission that Quinn has the edge. That Quinn outplayed Anderson, generating 13 points to Anderson's three, only reinforced it. Mangini may wait until after the preseason finale to formally name a starter, but Quinn would have to bomb in what figures to be a brief appearance at Soldier Field Thursday night to lose. It wouldn't be shocking to see D.A. traded after Mangini picks Quinn.

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Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva

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