Jumping off the PageTuesday, July 31, 2012
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As of Monday evening, every NFL team had commenced training camp practices. Things really picked up over the weekend, though, with a number of intriguing depth chart developments and on-field performances that you might have missed.
So here's a refresher on the top-ten skill-position players generating league-wide buzz while making a run up fantasy football rankings.
Editor's Note: Speaking of fantasy rankings, ours are accessible here.
1. Bucs running back Doug Martin
The Money Quote: "It doesn't take an expert to see that rookie running back Doug Martin looks -- at least for now -- like the Bucs' primary running back." -- Tampa Bay Times.
Our post-draft intuition told us rookie coach Greg Schiano didn't trade up into the first round for LeGarrette Blount's change-of-pace back, and the depth chart to open training camp confirmed that Martin is the Bucs' new starter. Martin has impressed observers with his short-area burst and lateral open-field elusiveness while dominating first-team and passing-drill reps. According to Pewter Report, Blount "split time in a backup role and received fewer reps than Martin" during Sunday's training camp practice, "and just slightly more than Mossis Madu and Michael Smith."
Pewter Report went so far as to suggest Blount is already being "disciplined" by Schiano's hard-line coaching staff. The incumbent was the last back in line during Sunday's drills.
Assuming he doesn't suddenly tank in camp or preseason games, the polished, versatile Martin will offer an impressively high fantasy "floor." At the very worst, he'd share early-down work with Blount and handle all passing downs. Playing behind the NFL's highest-paid offensive line in a power-based, run-first offense, Martin will be an every-week RB2 to open the season. His ADP currently at the top of round four, don't be surprised if Martin is a second-rounder by late August.
2. Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb
The Money Quote: "Judging by Cobb’s eye-catching start in training camp this year, it will be impossible to keep him off the field in Year 2. ... Through three days of practice, he’s made more big plays and been used in a greater variety of ways than any of their other receivers." -- Green Bay Press-Gazette.
"What's not to like about him?" said CB Tramon Williams. "Versatility. Can do everything. I think there's going to be a lot of opportunity for him." Chimed in the Press-Gazette's Pete Dougherty, "there's every reason to think he'll be (the Packers') No. 1 slot receiver this year."
"Opportunity" is the buzz word as Cobb seeks to carve out a consistent role in a receiving group that already features Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, and Jermichael Finley, with James Jones and Donald Driver behind them. It's important to remember that one of Green Bay's primary methods of greatness is a refusal to let declining players "block" budding young stars. GM Ted Thompson has been willing to move on a year too early, if need be. (See Brett Favre, Cullen Jenkins, Aaron Kampman, Nick Barnett, Al Harris, and the list goes on.) If Cobb earns the snaps, he'll get them.
3. Patriots running back Stevan Ridley
The Money Quote: "WHO'S HOT: Stevan Ridley continues to look fast and decisive and really comfortable in the offense." -- Comcast SportsNet New England.
In an ESPN Boston item entitled "Ridley in position for top role," trusty beat reporter Mike Reiss noted that the second-year back out of LSU has "often" been first in line in running back drills, occupying the driver's seat for BenJarvus Green-Ellis' old lead rushing role. WEEI Boston confirmed Ridley "has been the primary back used with the first team," with Danny Woodhead as the change of pace and Shane Vereen just trying to hold off UDFA Brandon Bolden. On more than one occasion, we've seen it written that Ridley is "working with the Brady group."
In June, I charted and wrote up Ridley's two highest rookie-year workloads, and found him to be a violent, natural inside-the-tackles runner.. Ridley is going to replace Green-Ellis, and then some.
While "Law Firm" excelled with ball security and short-yardage efficiency, Ridley possesses more big-play ability and speed to get the corner than his predecessor. And he's just as tough to tackle. BJGE was an annual double-digit TD scorer for New England. Ridley's weekly consistency may be similarly specious, but he will average more yards per carry and stands to score just as much.
4. Broncos wide receiver Eric Decker
The Money Quote: "Too bad for Peyton Manning and Eric Decker the regular season is still six weeks away. The quarterback and receiver are working together like they were ready yesterday." -- Denver Post.
Chris Wesseling nailed this before camp even started. Decker's route-running chops have made him Manning's favorite practice target, ahead of more highly touted Demaryius Thomas. Per beat writer Mike Klis, Manning "appears to be in sync with Decker" but "could use more time" with Thomas. Time and practice reps are on Thomas' side, but Decker looks like the safer fantasy pick -- particularly in PPR leagues -- for the time being. Thomas probably still offers the most upside.
Keep in mind that Manning's timing with his receivers has always been of an utmost importance. It's why he used to prefer Austin Collie to Pierre Garcon. It's why he loved Brandon Stokley. Those guys were always in the right place at the right time. Decker seems like he'll be one of those guys.
5. Patriots wide receiver Brandon Lloyd
The Money Quote: "Some might say there have been shades of 2007's offensive fireworks on the practice fields. ... (Lloyd) looks like he's been playing with quarterback Tom Brady for a decade." -- ESPN Boston.
Lloyd shredded non-contact OTAs and minicamps, and his head-turning performances filled with highlight-reel receptions have translated to the live practice field. Brady confirmed that Lloyd has a stranglehold on New England's offense, seeing as he spent two and a half of the past three years in Josh McDaniels' system. Fantasy fanatics concerned with "mouths to feed" should fear not. McDaniels will run a more vertical-oriented attack than outgoing OC Bill O'Brien's, and Lloyd is the Patriots' new vertical weapon. He's also McDaniels' boy. McD will scheme to get Lloyd the rock.
Plus, pass attempts haven't been an issue in Foxboro for several years. This organization believes in throwing the football, and pass targets will be aplenty. Lloyd offers mini-Moss '07 upside at the reasonable ADP cost of a fifth-round fantasy pick.