New England Patriots
Regarding 2013 breakout candidate Shane Vereen, the question is no longer whether his usage will expand. It's to what extent. Vereen's baseline role will be passing-down back, manned by Danny Woodhead last year en route to 116 all-purpose touches, including 40 catches. In addition, Vereen has practiced at slot receiver and outside wideout in camp, suggesting he's being counted on to atone for at least some of Aaron Hernandez's vacated production. Vereen can be a movable-chess piece because he runs sharp pass patterns and offers big-play perimeter run skills. I'd love to draft Vereen as a flex and watch him become a Sprolesian player in New England's annually high-powered attack. ... UDFAs Kenbrell Thompkins and Zach Sudfeld have outplayed more ballyhooed teammates Aaron Dobson and Jake Ballard, respectively, through two weeks of camp. Let's see if it carries over into preseason games. Thompkins and Sudfeld have both seen heavy doses of first-team reps and are likely to play extensively when the Pats visit the Eagles this Friday night. ... Despite Vereen's expanding role, Stevan Ridley's fantasy value is unaffected. And I think he's still being undersold in fantasy drafts. Ridley's ADP is in the middle of the second round. A locked-in focal point of New England's underrated and oft-dominant rushing offense, I believe Ridley should be generating serious consideration at the end of the first round.
New York Jets
Chris Ivory's durability is an issue again as he's been sidelined since the opening of Jets camp with a hamstring injury, already enduring one setback. I'm not worried about this, yet. The fact Ivory will play less in the preseason is probably a good thing considering his violent running style, and the Jets still lack serious depth-chart competition. Current first-team back Bilal Powell is a sluggish runner and no real threat for more than a fistful of carries per game, when Ivory needs a breather. Ivory promises to practice next week. Troubled third-down back Mike Goodson remains away from camp for undisclosed reasons and appears to be a non-factor at this point. ... Beyond Ivory, the only other Jets skill-position player with fantasy draft consideration is slot receiver Jeremy Kerley. Kerley is a quick short-area mover with a knack for finding soft spots in zones, and will be a safety valve for whomever the Jets elect to place under center. Currently, that looks likely to be Geno Smith, although the quarterback decision will be based on preseason performance.
All Oakland beat writers are in agreement Darren McFadden is enjoying a standout camp, which is the norm. The concerns involve putrid offensive line play, McFadden's utter lack of durability, and easily the NFL's least talented roster. This team will be playing from behind a lot this year. McFadden does stay in on passing downs and in comeback mode, but it's difficult to be bullish on him this year. He's a third-round fantasy pick with upside but plenty of room to disappoint. ... For pass-catching sleepers, keep an eye on Rod Streater and David Ausberry this preseason. Matt Flynn lacks the arm talent to deliver footballs downfield to vertical receiver Denarius Moore, which makes possession threat Streater and tight end Ausberry superior bets for receptions. Camp reports suggest Streater has been outplaying Moore in practices, anyway.
Whereas Montee Ball is competing in Denver and Giovani Bernard is allegedly ticketed for a timeshare in Cincinnati, the Steelers have already placed Le'Veon Bell on the first-team offense. It makes sense. Pittsburgh's intent this year is to run the football more, decreasing the stress on Ben Roethlisberger's body and prolonging the 31-year-old quarterback's career. Bell is the favorite -- arguably by a wide margin -- to lead all running backs in all-purpose touches. He is not a big-play runner, but could conceivably flirt with 300 carries and score double-digit touchdowns. And Bell needs those reps because the Steelers want him to be an every-down back who stays on the field in all passing situations. Bell's Michigan State tape showed he can pass protect and has outstanding hands. ... The receiver spots in Pittsburgh are pretty locked in. Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are the starters. Rookie Markus Wheaton is playing catch-up after missing all of spring practices due to Oregon State's late graduation. Brown is a sneaky 100-catch candidate. Sanders has an Average Draft Position late in the ninth round, where he could be a bargain.
San Diego Chargers
The fallout from Danario Alexander's ACL tear looms smaller in fantasy leagues than real life. The injury strips San Diego's offense of its lone big-play threat, allowing opponents to tighten their defensive focus near the line of scrimmage and all but eliminate a Chargers run game already inevitably bound to struggle behind one of the NFL's poorest offensive lines. This offense is going to be an absolute mess. ... The primary beneficiaries of Alexander's loss, at least theoretically, are Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown. Floyd is now locked into the first-team X receiver job, where the declining 32-year-old can expect consistent No. 1 cornerback coverage. If Brown could stay healthy -- I'm still hopeful he might -- he'll be a prime candidate to lead San Diego in pass targets. Under Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt, the 2013 Chargers are installing a quick-hitting passing game designed to get the football out of Philip Rivers' hands quickly, which makes sense because their quarterback's performance has dipped in recent years due in large part to an accumulation of hits. Whisenhunt had success with a similarly designed offense in Arizona (Kurt Warner), and McCoy in Denver (Peyton Manning). Rivers will pepper his underneath pass catchers with targets, and a healthy Brown is every bit capable of emerging as San Diego's best underneath receiver.
Fantasy drafters can't be thrilled with Tennessee passing-game members on what has the look of a run-first team with low-percentage quarterback play. Jake Locker will never be an accurate passer, and a deep "competition" for targets may prevent any Titans receiver from clearing 60 receptions. Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Nate Washington, Justin Hunter, Delanie Walker, and Damian Williams form a talented corps, but tricky fantasy picture. Britt is the highest-ceiling pick, but isn't worth considering before round seven in standard drafts and is destined to struggle for consistency. Camp buzz has been quiet at quarterback and receiver through two weeks of Titans practice. ... Tennessee's offseason offensive line upgrades should theoretically make Chris Johnson more of a "boom" than "bust" runner, with Shonn Greene taking on Johnson's old between-the-tackles grinding. Greene will also siphon red-zone chances. Johnson will definitely have his fair share of long runs this year, but he's not going to rediscover 2009 or even 2010 form. Johnson is 28 years old now, and Greene's presence will lead to a reduction in overall carries.