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Fantasy storylines in Thursday's six preseason games

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Football is back. Yes, it's preseason, but come on! This is what we've been waiting for all summer. And even if fantasy's top players will barely set foot on the field, there is still plenty to learn from tonight's slate of six games as you prepare for fantasy football drafts (which you can do for free on NFL.com!). Preseason action can help you identify deep sleepers that could help you win your league. It's where we saw Mark Ingram start to shine last season, for instance.

Here's what we're keeping an eye on tonight.

Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots (7:30 ET, NFLN) 


New England: Tom Brady is unlikely to play in tonight's game, which paves the way for Jimmy Garoppolo to get a significant amount of action. The fate of Brady's suspension still isn't settled, but a strong preseason showing from Garoppolo would make the Patriots brass feel better, and ease the concerns of fantasy owners who might roster Jimmy G while Brady's on the bench. The Patriots backfield is a fantasy disaster, although LeGarrette Blount should be entreched as the early-down hammer once he returns from his knee injury. What fantasy owners should watch for tonight is how the rest of the backfield touches are divvied up. Early word is that Brandon Bolden is leading the battle for the Shane Vereen-role, but preseason action could allow Travaris Cadet or James White to rise up.

Green Bay: Aaron Rodgers and the first-team offense won't see too much action, but fantasy fans should keep an eye on the likes of Davante Adams, Ty Montgomery and Richard Rodgers. These young pass-catchers have been making a ton of buzz in training camp, and it'll be worth monitoring if they can continue that into a real game. All three will be deep sleepers to watch, or dynasty adds.

New Orleans Saints at Baltimore Ravens (7:30 ET) 


Baltimore: The Ravens' No. 2 WR job is still up for grabs, and with first-round pick Breshad Perriman sidelined with a knee injury, that opens the door for Kamar Aiken and Marlon Brown to earn more reps tonight. A splashy preseason could help one of these two usurp the WR2 spot from Perriman (the presumed starter), or muddle this position group even more. Marc Trestman's offense in Chicago helped Martellus Bennett turn in back-to-back career years, but with Dennis Pitta still battling back from multiple serious hip injuries, there's a void at the tight end position in Baltimore. Keep an eye on how the team deploys Crockett Gillmore and rookie Maxx Williams, as one (or both) could emerge as a viable fantasy option in the regular season.

New Orleans: Who will get the targets in the Saints offense that left with Jimmy Graham and Kenny Stills? Fantasy owners should pay attention to the tight end battle between Josh Hill and Benjamin Watson, as well as the roles that Nick Toon, Seantavius Jones and Brandon Coleman play in the passing game. This team will need someone to step up aside from Brandin Cooks/Marques Colston.

Miami Dolphins at Chicago Bears (8:00 ET)


Every game, all season

Miami: Lamar Miller has been the subject of plenty of offseason hype as he gears up for a contract-year. But fantasy owners will want to watch Damien Williams and Jay Ajayi to better assess who becomes Miller's handcuff. Will we get to see Ryan Tannehill's supposedly improved deep ball? Probably not, but the battles between his talented, deep group of pass-catchers (Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, Greg Jennings, etc) will be one to watch.

Chicago: Kevin White is still working his way back from a shin injury, so it'll be worth seeing how the Bears use Eddie Royal and Marquess Wilson. Also of note is watching the running back battle behind Matt Forte. Forte is a stud, but will turn 30 this year, making his backup handcuff-worthy. Ka'Deem Carey, Jeremy Langford and Jacquizz Rodgers will vie for that role.

New York Jets at Detroit Lions (8:00 ET) 


Lions: When the Lions haven't been buzzing about Ameer Abdullah (who we're excited to see in game action), they've been talking up second-year tight end Eric Ebron. Plagued by drops and inconsistent play as a rookie, Ebron has been building a solid connection with Matthew Stafford this offseason. We want to see it on the field now.

Jets: Chris Ivory is the favorite to lead the Jets backfield, but we'd like to see him display that on an NFL field again. It'd put our minds to rest, and hopefully put the notion of handing off to Zac Stacy/Bilal Powell far from offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's mind.

Washington Redskins at Cleveland Browns (8:00 ET) 


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Washington: How will Robert Griffin III look? Will Alfred Morris ever get a goal-line carry? Who takes the lead in the TE battle between Niles Paul and Jordan Reed? There are a lot of fantasy questions surrounding this team that we'd like to start seeing answered on the field.

Cleveland: Johnny Football is a long way from starting in the NFL, but he'll be fun to watch nonetheless. If he takes over the starting job midseason, he'll have some fantasy appeal thanks to his rushing ability. Sadly, we likely won't get much clarity in the backfield battle with Terrance West and Duke Johnson still injured, but Isaiah Crowell could potentially distance himself a bit with a strong showing.

Dallas Cowboys at San Diego Chargers (10:00 ET, NFLN) 


Dallas: Undrafted free agent running back Gus Johnson figures to get the nod as the starter tonight with Joeseph Randle and Darren McFadden nursing injuries. Johnson received plenty of hype from recent practices, and we're anxious to see if he can deliver behind the much ballyhooed Dallas offensive line. Will Terrance Williams continue to keep Cole Beasley at bay for the No. 2 WR spot? This is an underrated battle that could have fantasy potential, especially in PPR formats.

San Diego: Melvin Gordon will be worth watching for however long he gets on the field, but the real name to keep an eye on is Steve Johnson. I've been high on Johnson all offseason, and would like to see some chemistry between him and Rivers if possible while they're on the field. Also, keep an eye on Ladarius Green, who will be the starting TE while Antonio Gates serves a four-game suspension. He could merit a late-round flier if he starts living up to his potential.

--Alex Gelhar is a fantasy football writer/editor for NFL.com. Follow him on Twitter @AlexGelhar.

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