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Feast your fantasy eyes on Gerhart Thursday night

You mean there are football games every week from now through, like, December!? Boy, I could really get used to this. We're just getting started people. It's fantasy draft season which means paying attention to preseason games is essential if you want to have an edge when it comes time to pick your squad. After all, you're pretty much dealing with the players you draft for the next four months, so you better pick ones that you like or you're bound to have personnel issues somewhere down the road. The Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Bears in Chicago on Thursday night so let's look into who you need to be watching in what is sure to be an epic bout. Okay, maybe epic is the wrong word, but it's NFL football which is almost always epic in my book.


Jacksonville Jaguars:

Finally, we'll get to feast our eyes on the guy who's served as Adrian Peterson's backup for the last four years. Toby Gerhart sat out of the Jaguars' first preseason game with a hip-flexor injury, but he returned to practice this week and is slated to start. Expect the Jags to hand the rock to Gerhart early and often in this one.

He's a great target this season if your strategy is to wait a few rounds on running backs as he's currently 60th overall with an ADP in Round 6 in NFL.com fantasy drafts. With Gerhart's workload likely to reach 250 to 300 carries in a featured role this season, we fully expect him to move up draft boards as he has RB2 value with RB1 upside. He averaged 7.9 yards per rush last year on 36 attempts. Small sample size? Sure. But I'm still buying into the Gerhart hype.

Since durability concerns are valid with Gerhart (he's only started six games in four seasons), it's worth noting who his handcuff might be. Jordan Todman is No. 2 on the team's depth chart and got the start in the preseason opener but he only carried the ball five times for five yards. Also, former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson has been converted into a speedy third-down type passing back in Jacksonville and exploded for a 23-yard touchdown run to the outside last week against Tampa Bay. If for any reason Gerhart should miss regular season playing time, the Jags could implement Todman and Robinson in tandem to keep defenses on their toes.

The Jaguars receiving corps is hurting so far this preseason. Pun intended. The team's top two wideouts, Cecil Shorts and second-round pick Allen Robinson are both sidelined with hamstring injuries and won't play Thursday. That leaves rookie Marqise Lee (who's been struggling) and third-year receiver Mike Brown as the top two targets for Chad Henne and Blake Bortles. We don't suggest considering either wideout for fantasy purposes, but we'll keep an eye on Shorts' progress leading up to the regular season opener. You won't need to reach for him with his current Round 14 ADP.

As for quarterbacks, rookie Blake Bortles impressed last week with the second-team squad completing seven passes for 117 yards and should get some more work tonight against the Bears, but unless you're in an extremely deep two-quarterback league he shouldn't be drafted. Nor should you draft Chad Henne. He's still the starter but some don't think he will keep the job much longer. In the end though, the lack of options in the Jags passing game keeps any Jacksonville quarterback from having much fantasy value.


Chicago Bears:

If you think I'm about to go all in-depth on you about one of the best wide receiver pairs in fantasy football, well then you are incorrect. Here's all you need to know about Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery: As a duo last season, they ranked first overall in catches (189), second overall in yards (2,716) and third overall in touchdowns (19). Neither receiver will be on the board past the third round. Let's move on.

If you think I'm about to go all in-depth on you about last season's third-best fantasy running back, well then you're incorrect once again. Matt Forte touched the ball 363 times in 2013 and finished with 263.30 fantasy points. He's locked in as a top-five overall pick this season. Let's move on.

The main thing to watch for in Chicago is the battle for the No. 3 wideout job as Marquess Wilson recovers from surgery to repair a broken collarbone. A smattering of receivers caught passes in the Bears first preseason game last week including a 73-yard catch by Chris Williams, a 41-yard catch by Josh Bellamy and a 24-yard catch by veteran Josh Morgan (who was on the field early with the first-team offense). The Bears current preseason depth chart lists Eric Weems as a second-stringer ahead of Morgan, so it's worth observing how these two perform. Should anything happen to Marshall or Jeffery, the No. 3 guy would have to step up and could rise to fantasy relevance in the high-powered Bears offense. Just something to keep in the back of your mind as you watch Thursday night.


Matt Franciscovich is an associate fantasy editor at NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter @m_franciscovich and yes, he will answer your questions. One at a time folks, one at a time.

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