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Week 2 Transactions

Life got in the way of our normal Week 2 transactions wrapup, so we wanted to make good with a quick summary of the moves from last week.

Chiefs RB Jamaal Charles, via denverpost.com

Panthers (put LB Thomas Davis on IR, claim LB Jason Williams on waivers, add DT Frank Kearse, cut OG Reggie Wells) – We discussed the Davis injury here. Williams fits into the LB rotation, while Kearse adds depth at a needed position. Wells lasted just a week in Carolina.

Chiefs (put RB Jamaal Charles on IR) – The Chiefs lost their best playmaker when Charles blew out his ACL against the Lions.

Packers (put S Nick Collins on IR) – Collins suffered a season-ending neck injury.

Bengals (put WR Jordan Shipley on IR, promote WR Andrew Hawkins) – Shipley, a solid young slot receiver, tore his ACL.

Giants (put WR Domenik Hixon on IR, add Michael Clayton) – Hixon had a great TD catch against the Rams in Week Two, but then he suffered a torn ACL. Clayton, a former Bucs first-rounder, returns to the Giants to add depth.

Bills (put WR Roscoe Parrish on IR, promote WR Naaman Roosevelt) – Parrish suffered a season-ending ankle injury.

Dolphins (add DE Igor Olshansky, cut RB Larry Johnson) – Johnson became expendable as rookie Daniel Thomas emerged. Olshansky, a former Chargers and Cowboys starter, moved right into the starting lineup.

Cowboys (add WR Laurent Robinson) – Robinson has been up and down with the Cowboys since training camp.

Broncos (add WR Quan Cosby) – Cosby adds return skills to the Broncos, which is key as Eric Decker becomes more important to the offense.

Patriots (put DT Myron Pryor and C Dan Koppen on IR, add DT Landon Cohen) – Pryor was benched by a groin injury. He’s replaced by Cohen, who spent time with the Patriots in 2010. Koppen also is out for the year.

Chargers (put LB Jonas Mouton on IR, add CB Paul Oliver) – Mouton, the Chargers’ second-round pick, never played in the regular season after a training-camp injury. Oliver returns to San Diego.

Texans (put OT Rashad Butler on IR) – Butler was a backup tackle before the injury.

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The turf monster strikes

The turf monster showed its teeth this week when new practice-field turf for the Giants contributed to WR Domenik Hixon’s season-ending knee injury. Below are some thoughts on the injury; you can see how the loss of Hixon compares to other OTA and minicamp injuries in this post.

Hixon suffered a torn ACL in mid-June, and his injury was blamed on how new the Giants’ practice-field FieldTurf was. It’s a big loss. While Hixon didn’t have the potential to have the impact that Limas Sweed did in Pittsburgh because the Giants have a deep receiving corps, he had carved out a nice niche as the Giants’ No. 4 receiver and designated down-field threat. More importantly, he had emerged as a dangerous return man who handled duties on both kickoffs and punts. With Hixon gone, the Giants will have to search for a new returner, or they’ll have to risk stalwarts like Mario Manningham or Hakeem Nicks on returns to try to replace Hixon’s explosiveness. That’s what makes Hixon’s loss sting for Big Blue.

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FR: Minicamp injuries

This post compares the significance of injuries that happened during minicamps, organized team activities, and other team workouts between the draft and the opening of minicamps. We’ll update this post as the offseason rolls along.

10 – OLB Thomas Davis, Panthers – While Jon Beason is the heart and soul of the Panthers’ defense, Davis is the biggest playmaker in the front seven now that Julius Peppers is on his way out of town. But Davis, who was beginning a comeback from a 2009 ACL injury that sidelined him for the second half of last season, re-tore the ACL in his right knee in an early June practice. The non-contact injury is devastating for the Panthers, who will almost certainly lose Davis for the 2010 season. While Jamar Williams (who was acquired in a trade with Chicago for S Chris Harris) is a starting-quality replacement, he’s not going to provide the dynamic aspects via blitz and in coverage that Davis can at his best. Even worse, after tearing the same ACL twice, Davis must face questions of whether his career will ever return to the trajectory it was on as the ’09 season dawned. All in all, this is a devastating event for both the team and the player.

9 – OT Willie Colon, Steelers – Colon, the Steelers’ starting right tackle who has 50 straight starts, injured an Achilles during a late-June workout and will miss the season. That’s a huge blow for a Steelers team that has a subpar offensive line in general. Colon was a strong suit on that line, providing stability and some ground-game punch. Without Colon, the Steelers will have to immediately rely on rookie Maurkice Pouncey to start inside so that they can shuffle on the outside. Losing a starter in June is tough, but losing your best offensive lineman is almost devastating.

8 – none

7 – FS Marlin Jackson, Eagles – Jackson, a former Colts first-round pick, moved to Philly this offseason after Indy let him go instead of offering him a restricted free agent tender. Jackson’s play wasn’t the problem in Indianapolis; instead, it was a pair of knee injuries that cost him much of the ’08 season and all of the ’09 campaign. The Eagles brought Jackson over and planned to move him from cornerback to free safety, a spot where they weren’t able to adequately replace Brian Dawkins last season. But Jackson suffered a torn right Achilles tendon in an early June minicamp and now looks like he could miss the season. The best case scenario for Jackson is probably the physically unable to perform list, which would cost him the first six games of the season at least. That’s a big blow that now puts a lot of pressure on rookie Nate Allen, who was selected with the Donovan McNabb pick in the second round of April’s draft. Allen now becomes the Eagles’ only chance to make free safety a plus position instead of a problem spot.

6 (con’t) – WR Steve Smith, Panthers – Smith’s broken arm wasn’t a minicamp injury, but we’re including it because it happened during minicamp season. Smith broke his arm in late June playing flag football, and the injury will sideline him through training camp. Smith is due to return before the season opens, but his absence is disturbing on two fronts. First, the Panthers are trying to break in new starter Matt Moore and develop rookie Jimmy Clausen. Smith’s absence will force Moore and Clausen to emerge with a motley crew of receivers. And the Panthers’ lack of receiving talent is the other reason Smith’s injury is scary. Any setback, and Carolina will enter the season with guys like Dwayne Jarrett, Kenny Moore, and Brandon LaFell trying to perform at a starter level. That won’t work, and it would cause the Panthers’ top-flight running game to face eight-man or even nine-man fronts. Smith’s offseason flag-football jones could end up costing Carolina big.

6 – WR Limas Sweed, Steelers – Sweed, a former second-round pick who has been a disappointment thus far for Pittsburgh, injured his left Achilles tendon in a May minicamp and needed surgery. The team subsequently put Sweed on injured reserve, shelving him for the season. For a Steelers team that dealt starting WR Santonio Holmes and needed Sweed (or rookie Emmauel Sanders or someone else) to step up behind Hines Ward and ’09 rookie surprise Mike Wallace, this injury is a blow. Even though Sweed has been inconsistent, he at least provided a downfield threat. But with him gone, Wallace now must become a starting-quality receiver in his second year, and retreads Antwaan Randle El or Arnaz Battle must make more of an offensive impact than they have in years. We believe in Wallace, but the rest of this equation is now even shakier than it was before Sweed’s injury.

6 (con’t) – WR Domenik Hixon, Giants – Hixon suffered a torn ACL in mid-June, and his injury was blamed on how new the Giants’ practice-field FieldTurf was. It’s a big loss. While Hixon didn’t have the potential to have the impact that Sweed did because the Giants have a deep receiving corps, he had carved out a nice niche as the Giants’ No. 4 receiver and designated down-field threat. More importantly, he had emerged as a dangerous return man who handled duties on both kickoffs and punts. With Hixon gone, the Giants will have to search for a new returner, or they’ll have to risk stalwarts like Mario Manningham or Hakeem Nicks on returns to try to replace Hixon’s explosiveness. That’s what makes Hixon’s loss sting for Big Blue.

5 – OTs Jason Smith and Rodger Saffold and OG Mark Setterstrom, Rams – The Rams picked Saffold at the top of the second round this year to become a bookend tackle to ’09 second overall pick Jason Smith as they seek to rebuild a horrible line. Saffold got some OTA work in before he suffered a right knee sprain in early June that shelved him from any further on-field work until training camp. Smith, meanwhile, suffered a fractured toe that ended the offseason early. The Rams said they were sitting Saffold and Smith to be extra cautious, but it’s always troubling when young players who are in prominent roles miss important development time. But those injuries pale in severity to Setterstrom, who suffered a triceps injury in OTAs that quite possibly could sideline him for the season. Setterstrom has talent, but he’s played just 19 games since entering the league in 2006 because of a raft of injuries that’s still sailing along. And the more injuries that pop up on St. Louis’ line, the less likely (or wise) it is for the Rams to start the season with Sam Bradford under center.

5 (con’t) – S Chad Jones, Giants – Jones wasn’t hurt during a minicamp practice, but his late-June auto accident caused a serious leg injury that will certainly shelve him for the 2010 season and could prove to be career-threatening. Thankfully, Jones had already inked his rookie contract, so the third-rounder will have a little money to collect if he can’t make it onto the football field. And he also has baseball as a professional option if football is too trying on his leg. But for the Giants, losing a terrific prospect like Jones at a position that was a huge problem last year, even if the loss is just for 2010, is a blow.

4 -DE Bryan Smith, Jaguars – The Jaguars grabbed Smith, a disappointment as a third-round pick in Philly, off the Rams’ practice squad last September, and he actually emerged a bit and started two games. With Quentin Groves traded, Smith would have had a role as a backup defensive end behind Aaron Kampman and Derrick Harvey, but Smith tore an ACL and will miss the 2010 season. That’s a tough break at a position that has plagued the Jaguars for several years now. The Jaguars have recently added LBs Freddie Keiaho and Teddy Lehman for more depth at outside linebacker, but neither has the promise as a blitzer that Smith (a former defensive end) showed.

4 (con’t) – CB Kevin Thomas, Colts – Thomas, a third-round pick in this year’s draft, had a real shot of finding playing time right away in Indy after the offseason departures of Marlin Jackson and Tim Jennings. But Thomas suffered what is believed to be a season-ending knee injury in a May minicamp that could end his season before it begins. Thomas was slated to add size to a cornerback group that is now undersized, but now the Colts will need Kelvin Hayden to return from injury and need ’09 rookies Jacob Lacey and Jerraud Powers to step up once again.

4 (con’t) – OT Chris Scott, Steelers – Scott, a fifth-round pick in April’s draft, broke his foot in June and will miss at least three months. That means that Scott won’t be available as the regular season opens, and it makes it likely that Scott will start the season on the physically unable to perform list. On its own, this isn’t a huge blow for the Steelers, but losing Scott along with Willie Colon’s injury depletes Pittsburgh’s offensive tackle depth quickly and will likely force Pittsburgh to sign one or even two tackles to add depth.

3 – CB Rod Hood, Titans – Hood, who started in the Super Bowl for the Cardinals in February 2009, bounced around a ton last year before finding a home in Tennessee and actually starting four games late in the season. He was in the mix for a starting spot once again, but a knee injury during offseason workouts (though not in an OTA) likely ended his 2010 season. It’s a blow for Hood, who seemed to have landed with a team that fit his style, and for the Titans, who had massive cornerback problems last year.

3 (con’t) – DE Derrick Morgan, Titans – Tennessee’s first-round pick has struggled with hamstring and calf injuries that have slowed his rookie offseason. The injuries aren’t serious, but development time is vital for any rookie, especially a first-rounder who has a clear path to a starting spot if he delivers.

3 (con’t) – DT Kenny Smith – Smith, a free agent who played for Kansas City last year, suffered a torn Achilles tendon while working out in July hoping for a roster berth. He’ll now miss the 2010 season. It’s hard to see a free agent in his 30s suffer a blow while trying to earn a job once again.

2 – S Orlando Scandrick, Cowboys – Scandrick broke a finger on his left hand, and the break was so severe that Scandrick won’t be able to participate in any on-field activities until training camp begins because he can’t safely get his hand on the ball. Still, he should be good to begin the season.

2 (con’t) – OT Ed Wang, Bills – Wang, the Bills’ fifth-round pick in the ’10 draft, suffered a high ankle sprain in early June that should shelve him for the rest of the offseason. Wang, who has a chance to back up Demetrius Bell at the crucial left tackle position, needs to provide depth for a Bills team that struggled on the line last year. But this usually persistent injury will limit Wang’s ability to contribute right off the bat.

1 – MLB Stewart Bradley, Eagles – Bradley, who missed all of last season after a training-camp Achilles injury, suffered a calf injury in June workouts that sent him to the bench. The injury wasn’t believed to be serious, but the setback in Bradley’s comeback is worth noting.

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Jersey Numbers: Wide Receivers

Over the next several weeks, we’re going to look at several different positions (I can’t yet promise all) to identify the best players wearing each jersey number at each position. If this goes as planned, we’ll then compile a list of the best player wearing each jersey number in the league.

If you have quibbles, or want to add someone I forgot, leave a comment and we’ll update this post. And please have patience – this is a big job.

We’ll start in this post with the best wide receivers at each jersey number. In general, wideouts are allowed to wear numbers between 10 and 19 as well as between 80 and 89.

10 – Santonio Holmes, Steelers – We’ll go with Holmes, the defending Super Bowl MVP, in this category, but it’s a close decision over DeSean Jackson of the Eagles. Both are significant starters for their teams and emerging stars in the league. Other notable 10: Jabar Gaffney, Broncos

11 – Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals – Fitzgerald is one of the very best receivers in the league, and so he gets the nod as the premier wideout wearing No. 11. He became a superstar in last year’s playoffs, doing what he had done in relative obscurity earlier in his career in Arizona. Fitzgerald is the real deal. Other notable 11s: Mike Sims-Walker, Jaguars; Mohammed Massaquoi, Browns; Roy Williams, Cowboys; Laveranues Coles, Bengals; Julian Edelman, Patriots; Legedu Naanee, Chargers; Roscoe Parrish, Bills; Stefan Logan, Steelers

12 – Marques Colston, Saints – Colston is the premier receiver on the league’s most potent offense, and now that he’s healthy he’s showing incredible skills for his size. That gives him the nod over Steve Smith of the Giants as the best No. 12 wideout in the league. Both Colston and Smith may have to move over for Minnesota rookie Percy Harvin at some point in the future. Other notable 12s: Michael Jenkins, Falcons; Justin Gage, Titans; Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders; Quan Cosby, Bengals

13 – Johnny Knox, Bears – Knox is the only notable receiver wearing No. 13 this year. The rookie out of Abilene Christian has had a nice freshman season in the NFL with three receiving TDs and a return for a score. Maybe he’ll make 13 a trendier, if not luckier, number for wideouts.

14 – Brandon Stokley, Broncos – Like 13, 14 isn’t a popular number for receivers. Stokley, who had good seasons with the Colts and the most memorable touchdown of the season off a tip in the opener against the Bengals, is the best of the bunch over St. Louis prospect Keenan Burton. Other notable 14: Eric Weems, Falcons

15 – Brandon Marshall, Broncos – Marshall’s numbers aren’t quite as good this season as fellow 15 Steve Breaston of Arizona, but Marshall is the more dynamic and more important player than Arizona’s talented third receiver. Marshall has the talent to be one of the league’s top-5 overall receivers. Other notable 15s: Kelley Washington, Ravens; Chris Henry, Bengals; Davone Bess, Dolphins; Michael Crabtree, 49ers; Courtney Roby, Saints

16 – Josh Cribbs, Browns – Lance Moore of the Saints is the only notable pure wide receiver wearing No. 16 right now, but Cribbs, Cleveland’s do-everything guy, plays enough receiver and has a receiver number, so he counts here. Cribbs catches the ball, returns kicks, and plays under center in the wildcat. He may be the league’s best return man, and he’s growing as an offensive force. Moore had a strong season as New Orleans’ slot receiver last year, but injuries have hampered his production this year. Other notable 16: Danny Amendola, Rams

17 – Braylon Edwards, Jets – Edwards had fallen out of favor in Cleveland last year and this season, and his numbers reflected that diminished importance, but he’s now in New York and gaining steam. So we’ll list him as the top 17 over rookies Mike Wallace of Pittsburgh and Austin Collie of Indianapolis. Other notable 17s: Donnie Avery, Rams; Robert Meachem, Saints

18 – Sidney Rice, Vikings – Rice is emerging as the Vikings’ most reliable receiver, and he has become one of Brett Favre’s favorite targets. His good size and exceptional ball skills and leaping ability are finally starting to shine through now that he’s in his third season. He beats a crop of rookies to earn the honor as the best receiver wearing 18. Other notable 18s: Kenny Britt, Titans; Jeremy Maclin, Eagles; Louis Murphy, Raiders; Sammie Stroughter, Buccaneers

19 – Miles Austin, Cowboys – Austin has come out of nowhere over the past three games to establish himself as an explosive threat and the Cowboys’ best receiver. Even with the return heroics of Miami’s Ted Ginn Jr. and Denver’s Eddie Royal this year, Austin is the best 19. Other notable 19: Devery Henderson, Saints

23 – Devin Hester, Bears – Because Hester came into the NFL as a defensive back, he’s been allowed to keep his old DB number of 23 even though he’s now a wide receiver. The fact that he’s Chicago’s No. 1 outside target makes this a legitimate listing for a bit of a funky number for a receiver.

80 – Andre Johnson, Texans – If you made me pick one receiver as the best in the league, this is the guy. He has freakish size, incredible speed, and great production throughout his career. The only pockmark on his resume is the fact that he’s been dinged up from time to time. So he gets an easy decision here over Donald Driver of Green Bay as the best receiver wearing 80. Other notable 80s: Earl Bennett, Bears; Malcom Floyd, Chargers; Bryant Johnson, Lions; Bobby Wade, Chiefs; Marty Booker, Falcons; Mike Thomas, Jaguars

81 – Randy Moss, Patriots – Moss is already an all-time great, and he’s still performing at a premium level for the Pats. This is an easy call, even though  current great Anquan Boldin of Arizona, past greats Torry Holt of the Jaguars and Terrell Owens of the Bills, and future great Calvin Johnson of Detroit also wear 81. This number has great depth of talent. Other notable 81: Nate Burleson, Seahawks

82 – Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs – As deep as 81 is in talent, 82 is thin. We’ll give the nod to Bowe over the Giants’ Mario Manningham because Bowe has had more good seasons, even though Manningham has been more impactful this year. Other notable 82s: Antwaan Randle El, Redskins; Brian Hartline, Dolphins

83 – Wes Welker, Patriots – Welker, who piles up gobs of catches as the jitterbug/security blanket of the Patriots offense, narrowly gets this nod over Vincent Jackson of San Diego, who has joined the list of the league’s 10 best receivers. Lee Evans of Buffalo doesn’t have equivalent numbers because his quarterbacks have stunk for years, but he’s no slouch either. Other notable 83s: Kevin Walter, Texans; Deion Branch, Seahawks; Sinorice Moss, Giants

84 – Roddy White, Falcons – White has emerged as one of the top receivers in the league over the past three years, and he looks like he’ll team with Matt Ryan for a long time as Atlanta’s dynamic duo. We’ll take the ascending White over the descending T.J. Houshmandzadeh, who has had a great career in Cincinnati but is starting to show signs of slippage in his first season in Seattle. Other notable 84s: Patrick Crayton, Cowboys; Josh Morgan, 49ers; Bobby Engram, Chiefs; Javon Walker, Raiders

85 – Chad Ochocinco, Bengals – We have to give this jersey-number to Ochocinco, since he changed his name to be his jersey number in Spanish (kind of). But Ochocinco deserves it given the renaissance year he is having with the Bengals. Derrick Mason of the Ravens contended for the honor based on his long career, while Greg Jennings of the Packers could claim this honor in the future. Other notable 85s: Pierre Garcon, Colts; Jerheme Urban, Cardinals

86 – Hines Ward, Steelers – There aren’t a lot of great receivers wearing 86, but there is one – Ward. The former Super Bowl MVP isn’t just great at catching the ball; he’s a vicious blocker downfield as well. He’s a borderline Hall of Famer who is still building his resume. Other notable 86s: Dennis Northcutt, Lions; Brian Finneran, Falcons

87 – Reggie Wayne, Colts – Wayne has seamlessly taken over for Marvin Harrison as Peyton Manning’s premier target in Indy, and now Wayne is building his own case for the Hall of Fame. There aren’t five receivers in the league who are better or more explosive than Wayne. Other notable 87s: Bernard Berrian, Vikings; Andre Caldwell, Bengals; Muhsin Muhammad, Panthers; Mike Furrey, Browns; David Clowney, Jets; Jordy Nelson, Packers; Domenik Hixon, Giants

88 – Isaac Bruce, 49ers – Bruce is no longer the dynamic force he was for years in St. Louis, but he’s good enough to claim this number as his lifetime achievement award. Rookie Hakeem Nicks of the Giants is the only other significant 88 as a receiver, but he looks as though he will be a good one. Other notable 88: Chansi Stuckey, Browns

89 – Steve Smith, Panthers – Smith hasn’t had the season this year that he’s had in the past, and he’s even felt at times that he wasn’t an asset to his team, but those problems have more to do with the struggles of Carolina QB Jake Delhomme than with Smith’s own shortcomings. Smith is just 5-foot-9, but he’s lightning quick, built like a brick house, tough to bring down, and shockingly good on jump balls. He’s still an elite receiver. Other notable 89s: Santana Moss, Redskins; Jerricho Cotchery, Jets; Mark Clayton, Ravens; Antonio Bryant, Buccaneers; James Jones, Packers

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Fantasy Football: Opportunists

At the suggestion of Carl, we’re going to take the opportunity to look at players whose touches should significantly rise or fall based on new circumstances this year. We’ll try to identify this trend among some players whom we have not yet discussed in our fantasy football coverage this year (which you can catch up on via this category on the blog or by searching via player name on the right).

Opportunity Rising

RB Fred Jackson, Bills – With Marshawn Lynch being suspended for the first three games of the season, Jackson will be a No. 1 back to begin the year. The fact that he was so productive as a No. 2 back last year (884 total yards, three TDs) makes him a solid fantasy backup; the fact that he’ll be the guy for three games makes him an early-season starter. Jackson is a No. 3 fantasy back in leagues of 10 or more teams, and don’t be shocked if he starts for your team at some point after Lynch’s three-game break.

RB Darren McFadden, Raiders – This is more of a hunch than a situational call, but you can bank on McFadden having more than 142 touches in 2009. He missed three games last year and had three more games in which he had three or fewer touches. (Those numbers also indicate that someone else in Oakland, either Justin Fargas or Michael Bush, will likely lose some touches.) If McFadden just gets up to 10 touches in those games – which is a conservative projection – he becomes a borderline No. 2 fantasy running back. If he can move up to 15-20 touches a game, he’s a gimme starter with huge upside.

RB Ray Rice, Ravens – Rice was the third guy in Baltimore’s RB trio last year, but all signs from training camp this year are that he has stepped up to be the primary running back. LeRon McClain will still get work as a fullback, but Rice should end up with more than 140 touches and more than 727 yards, which is what he ended up with last year. He’s a borderline starter and a flex option for fantasy leagues.

RB Pierre Thomas, Saints – Thomas established himself as a big-time fantasy back last year despite being a part-time player in New Orleans. He had just 160 touches last year but turned that into 900 yards and 12 touchdowns. Now that Thomas has proven his ability to produce, we can count on him moving up into the 200 touch area, which will put him equivalent to or maybe even a tad above Reggie Bush’s load. That should push Thomas into the 1000-yard area, which will make him a borderline No. 2 fantasy back at worst.

WR Miles Austin, Cowboys – With Terrell Owens gone, the Cowboys have a No. 1 receiver in Roy Williams who probably won’t be an 80-catch guy and no clear No. 2 receiver. That opens the door for Austin, who had just 13 catches but three touchdowns last year. He should be a 30-catch guy easily this year and could end up with many more grabs than that. (We talked more about Austin in this post.)

WR Donnie Avery, Rams – Avery was kind of under the radar as a fantasy wideout last year, but he had a strong season for a rookie, catching 53 balls for 674 yards and three scores (along with one rushing TD). With Torry Holt gone, Avery is now the unquestioned lead receiver for the Rams, and with some luck (most notably health for Marc Bulger) he could move up to the 70-catch level. As you project Avery, watch his leg injury, which held him out of most of training camp and could sideline him in the regular season’s first game or two.

WR Patrick Crayton, Cowboys – As we discussed earlier, there are plenty of opportunities in the Dallas passing game. Crayton is the natural guy to move up from a 39-catch guy last year up into the 50-catch area. He was at that level in 2007, so he can do it. Crayton isn’t quite a fantasy starter, but he’s worth a bench spot as you see just how much of an opportunity he has in ’09.

WR Jerricho Cotchery, Jets – With Laveranues Coles gone, Cotchery is the unquestioned No. 1 wideout for the Jets. While that’s not a huge fantasy production spot now that the Jets are going with rookie Mark Sanchez at quarterback instead of Brett Favre, Cotchery has a chance to up his reception total from 71.

WR Anthony Gonzalez, Colts – With Marvin Harrison gone, Gonzalez moves up from a No. 3 slot receiver in Indy to a starting role. He’ll play both outside in 2-WR sets and in the slot in three-WR groupings, which means he’ll be on the field a lot. That means that he should see a bump up from his 57-catch total from last year. He’s probably not an 80-catch receiver, but 65 to 70 grabs is reasonable, and Gonzalez would likely turn that kind of opportunity into a 1,000-yard season.

WR Domenik Hixon, Giants – Hixon, whom the Giants plucked off the waiver wire in 2007, emerged as a legitimate receiving threat last year with 43 catches for 596 yards and two scores in ’08. With Plaxico Burress gone, Hixon is the best down-field option Eli Manning has now. That’s worth knowing going into fantasy drafts. While his catch numbers probably won’t scream upwards – he’s more likely to end up in the 50s than in the 70s – he should make enough plays on deep balls to be an intriguing fantasy option most weeks.

WR Eddie Royal, Broncos – Royal had a whopping 91 catches for 980 yards as a rookie, and it could be hard for him to match that catch level in the Broncos’ new offense. But we want to put him on this list to note that in the new Josh McDaniels system, Royal may end up with more catches than Brandon Marshall. And if Marshall holds out, sits out, or gets traded, Royal’s production will make him a starting receiver. This is a name you need to know going into your draft.

WR Steve Smith, Giants – The Giants let go of Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer in the last year, and so there are opportunities a-plenty in New York. Smith, who had 57 catches last year, is the most likely guy to lead the Giants in catches. He may not have the yards or touches that other receivers like Domenik Hixon or maybe even Mario Manningham create, but Smith will be the most consistent fantasy option among the Big Blue wide receivers.

TE Dustin Keller, Jets – We’ve already discussed Jerricho Cotchery’s opportunity, but the real beneficiary of Coles’ departure is Keller, who should become a more regular part of the Jets’ offense. He had 48 catches last year, but he should be well into the 50s or even the 60s this season. His yards per catch will probably slip as a result, but from the ultimate fantasy perspective the opportunities will pay off. (We talked more about Keller in this post.)

TE Marcedes Lewis, Jaguars – With the upheaval the Jaguars have experienced at wide receiver, there’s an opportunity for Lewis to step up his production this year. He had 41 catches for 489 yards last year, and he could move up toward 50 catches and 600 yards this year. Because of the depth of the tight end position, those are still backup numbers, but they make Lewis a legit backup, especially if your league forces you to carry two tight ends.

PK Lawrence Tynes, Giants – After his postseason heroics in the Giants’ Super Bowl run, Tynes sat most of last season. He was hurt early, and replacement John Carney did so well that Tynes never really got a shot. But Carney is now in New Orleans, which means that Tynes once again will be the Giants’ full-time kicker.

Opportunity Falling

RB Joseph Addai, Colts – With the addition of rookie Donald Brown, Addai can no longer be considered Indy’s No.1 back. That means that Addai’s production will be more like what he offered in ’08 (750 yards, seven touchdowns) than his stud years (1,400 yards, 8 and 15 touchdowns) before that. (We talked more about Addai in this post.)

RB Earnest Graham, Buccaneers – Graham entered last season as the Bucs’ No. 1 back, but he can’t boast the same status this year because of the arrival of Derrick Ward. That makes Graham little more than a fantasy backup this season. (We talked more about Graham in this post.)

WR Lee Evans, Bills – Evans has been the Bills’ bellweather receiver for years now, but with Terrell Owens coming to town, he’s now more of a complementary player. That may not hurt Evans’ numbers too badly, because he’s averaged only 59 catches over the last two years. Evans will probably be around 55 catches this year, but with more of his chances coming downfield, he could average 16 or 17 yards per catch with six touchdowns or so. Still, that makes him more of a No. 3 receiver than the No. 2 he’s been in some recent years.

WR Justin Gage, Titans – Gage was the Titans’ best receiving option last year, compiling 34 catches in the 12 games he played. Because the Titans’ offense isn’t that pass-happy, no Tennessee receiver is a great fantasy option. But the addition of free-agent Nate Washington indicates that Gage will be more of a possession receiver in ’09. That knocks him from being a fantasy backup to more of a waiver-wire option in most fantasy leagues.

TE Benjamin Watson, Patriots – Watson, a former first-round pick, had a big fantasy season with 6 touchdowns in 2008, but he had just two last year. With Chris Baker coming on board, Watson should be even less of a receiving option this year. As a result, Watson is not a draftable fantasy guy.

PK Matt Bryant, Buccaneers – Make sure you note on your list that Mike Nugent signed in Tampa Bay to take over Bryant’s job.

PK Garrett Hartley, Saints – Hartley stablized the Saints’ kicking position late in the season last year, and the Saints’ kicker should be a high draft pick because of New Orleans’ prolific offense. But Hartley will miss the first four games of the season due to a league suspension, and the Saints brought in vet John Carney to fill in. Last year, Carney rode a fill-in spot with the Giants to a full season and a Pro Bowl berth. That means that you can’t bank on Hartley to begin the season and shouldn’t have him on your roster until Carney is out of the way.

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