Kevin Smith, RB, Lions: There's nothing special about his skill set but Smith might wind up being Detroit's starter simply because he's the last back standing. Concussion-prone Jahvid Best is unlikely to be ready for the first third of the year, and Mikel Leshoure will miss two games because of a drug suspension. Smith knows how to play in multiple packages and he can catch the ball, and that makes him a keen fit in the Lions offense.
Austin Collie, WR, Colts: We gave him a tangential upgrade earlier this month because of our faith in Andrew Luck, and that was backed up nicely by the first Indianapolis preseason result (Luck, in particular, was outstanding). And when you consider how terrible the Colts defense looks right now, you can imagine a lot of high-scoring affairs in Indy this year. Go where the carnival is. Go where the points are.
Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers: You need to be careful with the flow of August news and training camp slants - everyone looks terrific, everyone is in outstanding shape, etc. It's a Mad Lib. But sources we trust are giving us strong reports on Gates's condition, and No. 85 is more important than ever in San Diego given that Ryan Mathews is dinged up and Vincent Jackson left town. If Gates can stay on the field, he might be able to post stats that closely resemble Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski. He's still that much of a matchup nightmare, and when you get open, Philip Rivers will find you.
John Skelton, QB, Cardinals: Cheers to the Arizona management, which is not going to hand Kevin Kolb the starting QB job simply because of his bloated contract. Skelton is a more raw prospect but he's also more exciting to us - he'll hold the ball longer and he has a better intermediate and deep arm. If you're tied to Larry Fitzgerald, you want Skelton taking the snaps that matter.
Peyton Hillis, RB, Chiefs: New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll knows all about Hillis - Daboll called the plays two years back when Hillis went off for the Browns. And Daboll was just as impressive last year, getting control of Miami's offense and turning Reggie Bush into a surprise star. While we also think good things about Jamaal Charles into the new year, we get the idea Hillis could score 9-12 touchdowns without much trouble. And if Charles ever gets hurt, Hillis might be a Top 10 fantasy back again. Last year's zero, this year's hero.
Danny Amendola, WR, Rams: The St. Louis passing game might be the worst one in the NFC right now, but someone is going to make a run at 70 or more catches, with Amendola leading the way. We've also heard very positive things about Steve Smith, the former Giant slot machine. Success in fantasy football depends on knowing all the depth charts, all the situations. Highlight these low-buzz targets for PPR formats.
Kyle Rudolph, TE, Vikings: Here's another modern, hybrid tight end to get familiar with, a freakish athlete who will see lots of snaps as a de-facto wide receiver. That's how you want your fantasy tight end deployed; forget the blocking and trench work, go out and run some patterns. Rudolph scored three touchdowns in the final third of the 2011 season, and he might be ready for a 750-yard, eight-score breakout as a sophomore.
Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys: His offensive line was exposed for all to see on Monday night, and there's been a non-stop flow of bad news with the name receivers here (Miles Austin is dinged up; Dez Bryant is a wild card; Jason Witten has a spleen injury). Given the depth of the quarterback position in fantasy this year, why would you want to waste a mid-round pick on Romo, tied to this uncertain offense? The Cowboys will probably regret letting Laurent Robinson get away.
Mark Sanchez, QB, Jets: Could the setup in New York be any worse? Sanchez has a mediocre running game to help him, a spotty cast of receivers (Santonio Holmes cannot be trusted and then it drops off), and the offensive line has issues as well. And to make things even more messy, Sanchez has to share practice reps with Tim Tebow and a gadget offense. Do the Jets want their franchise quarterback to fail? Sometimes it seems that way.
Sidney Rice, WR, Seahawks: He's been slow to recover from offseason shoulder surgeries, which tells you why the club brought in aging Terrell Owens. And the most reliable wideout on the current roster isn't Rice, but rather second-year target Doug Baldwin. We're going to slot Rice outside our Top 50 on the next set of receiver ranks, which probably means we won't get him in any league. That's the idea.
Roy Helu, RB, Redskins: He's the most talented back on the Washington roster, but little good that does him now that he has a sore Achilles' and a buried spot on the depth chart. The summer dream was fun while it lasted. No one who writes off a Shanahan Backfield has regretted it in recent seasons.