With the preseason kicking off, real football is finally back on our television screens. And that means teams are forced (begrudgingly) to provide us with way too early depth charts. While many of the positions on these charts are often symbolic, with rookies still needing to "earn" their spot, there is also some valuable information for fantasy fans to glean. Who is in contention for more reps? Which position battles must we watch more closely in the preseason? And so on.
Below I break down each NFC depth chart and provide brief analysis for each team. Hit me up with questions on Twitter @AlexGelhar.
"The horror ... the horror." That's my reaction to the Bears' running back depth chart. Word out of Chicago is that the team plans to employ some sort of Voltron-esque committee featuring any number of the four backs listed above. Langford should be the first drafted in fantasy, but anyone selecting him before the rounds start approaching the double digits is lighting a cigarette in the midst of a gasoline fight. There is evidence in John Fox's coaching history that he doesn't always employ a committee backfield, but so far everything we are hearing out of Chicago has been resoundingly in favor of a muddled split when it comes to running back opportunities. Stay tuned.
Alshon Jeffery is still the wide receiver to own from this offense. He's Jay Cutler's most trusted target, is extremely talented, and is playing for a new contract. Kevin White is worth a late-round flier, but fantasy fans need to understand he's still extremely raw, isn't guaranteed a large portion of the passing offense, and could be far off from seriously contributing to fantasy squads. This is why Zach Miller has become an NFL Fantasy favorite among late-round tight ends. Over the last three years, Cutler has showered his tight ends with nearly 24 percent of his targets, which could put Miller into contention for a top-10 finish at his position. Of course, it's worth noting he's already been sidelined with a concussion in training camp, and the depth behind him is scary. Khari Lee is primarily a blocker, and Tony Moeaki has been bouncing around the league for years trying to recapture the magic he had in Kansas City back in 2010.
Ameer Abdullah looks set to be the starting running back, as the team has maintained for much of the offseason. Abdullah struggled early in his rookie season and was mired in a frustrating committee, but a strong finish (4.7 yards per carry from Week 10 on) gives us reason for optimism. Theo Riddick will steal much of the passing down work, but Abdullah could present a real fantasy bargain if he fends off Stevan Ridley and Zach Zenner for the valuable red-zone touches. As of right now, it appears the veteran Ridley has the edge over #draftTwitter darling Zenner to be the team's new Joique Bell, but this is a battle that will likely be decided once the pads come on in the preseason.
At the wide receiver position, the team needs to find a way to fill the massive, Megatron-sized void in their roster. Signing Marvin Jones and Anquan Boldin is a start, but even combined they're no Calvin Johnson. Hopefully, they can help keep this passing offense afloat, but the team's recent history without Johnson is disconcerting, to say the least. Per Warren Sharp, in the eight games where Megatron was without a catch due to injury since 2009, the Lions offense averaged a meager 14 points per game. Currently, Golden Tate feels over-priced in the fifth round, while Marvin Jones presents a HUGE value going in the 10th (ADPs per fantasyfootballcalculator.com). Boldin could be worth a late-round stab, but he turns 36 this October and could be nearing the end of his illustrious career. It'll be worth watching how and where they deploy him in the preseason.
At tight end, Eric Ebron is on the shelf with a pretty serious ankle sprain, while Brandon Pettigrew remains on the PUP working his way back from an ACL injury. Ebron is in the late-round tight end mix as long as he doesn't encounter any setbacks with his injury, so his health needs to be monitored as the season approaches.
Green Bay Packers
While the Packers have suggested they plan to use James Starks more, a healthy and fit Eddie Lacy remains the No. 1 back on the depth chart and should be the No. 1 back on the field, too. We've seen thus far in his career what a difference Lacy makes in this offense, so any coach speak about a "committee" should be taken with a grain of salt.
It's early, but the frontrunners in the No. 3 wide receiver battle in Green Bay appear to be Davante Adams and Jared Abbrederis. The team seems intent to give Adams every shot to own this job, which makes sense considering the draft capital they invested in him. Abbrederis earned solid reviews so far this offseason, and will look to carry that momentum into the preseason. Ty Montgomery was just removed from the PUP and faces an uphill battle to catch up to the healthier options. Meanwhile, the Jeff Janis dream has taken a hit but is not on life support just yet. Whoever wins this job will not have a ton of weekly fantasy value, but will certainly have matchup-based appeal in what figures to once again be a high-flying Packers offense.
While Richard Rodgers is listed ahead of Jared Cook, that doesn't necessarily reflect each player's role in the offense. Rodgers could still be the "starter" as he'll work more regularly as a blocking tight end, but the team signed Cook this offseason to provide a spark to the passing game. And even though Cook was just activated from the PUP, it didn't take long for that spark to start catching fire in Packers practice. Cook is the tight end to target in fantasy from this offense without a doubt.
It might be time for fantasy owners to stop ignoring Stefon Diggs. The second-year rookie receives a new hype piece or Tweet almost daily, with coaches and reporters alike commending his development and skill on the practice field. With an ADP in the 14th round on NFL.com and the 10th round on fantasyfootballcalculator.com, Diggs makes for an excellent late-round wide receiver value. Yes, the Vikings passing attack isn't what one would call voluminous, but as the presumptive No. 1 wide receiver Diggs offers plenty of upside as a WR4 or WR5 on draft day. On the flip side, Laquon Treadwell appears to still be getting up to speed with the NFL game and opens this early depth chart as a backup wide receiver. The rookie will inevitably usurp the starting job from Charles Johnson at some point, but players in redraft leagues may want to hold off on reaching too highly for the Ole Miss product until we see him put it together in the preseason.
Jerick McKinnon remains one of the highest-value handcuffs to draft in fantasy. His role could increase this year if the team wants to lighten Adrian Peterson's workload as the all-world running back enters his age-31 season. But if not, he's the best bet to inherit the majority of Peterson's volume in the event he does suffer an injury (which we're by no means hoping for!). He might burn a hole in your roster for a few weeks, but his upside is tremendous enough to warrant it for a while at the cost of a 14th or 15th round draft pick.
Despite rumblings of Tevin Coleman coming to steal work from Devonta Freeman, the veteran remains the starter on the team's first depth chart. After what he did for this offense and put on tape last year, he's going to be the primary back in Atlanta once again, just with fewer touches. He's a more accomplished, natural pass-catcher than Coleman which will provide him a safe weekly fantasy floor, even if Coleman has the occasional big game on the ground. Freeman remains an RB1 in fantasy drafts, while Coleman is a nice late-round value pick to add depth to any roster or backup Freeman.
Last year, this passing attack began and ended with Julio Jones, but the team spent big in free agency to bring in Mohamed Sanu to make sure that wouldn't be the case again in 2016. Our colleague and noted football-head Chris Wesseling believes Sanu is ready to make the leap this year, and fantasy owners should take notice. While healthy last year, Leonard Hankerson was on pace for 68 receptions, 964 yards and eight touchdowns, or 144.4 fantasy points. That would have put Hankerson just outside the top-20 scoring wide receivers last year. And we're talking about Leonard Hankerson here. Leonard. Hankerson. Sanu is attached to a good offense with a good quarterback, and should be coming off the board in the later rounds of every format as a high-upside WR4.
The tight end position in Atlanta could offer some sneaky value this year. Jacob Tamme's 81 targets in 2015 were the 13th-most among tight ends. By drafting the big (6-foot-4) speedy (4.68 40-yard dash) Austin Hooper in the third round this spring, the team made it clear they want to get more dynamic at tight end. Hooper might start slowly but has a chance to buck the trend of rookie tight ends not being fantasy relevant. Keep an eye on him this preseason, as he could be a name to circle for the waiver wire early this fall if he leapfrogs Tamme as Matt Ryan's go-to tight end.
It's worth noting here that the team still lists Fozzy Whittaker as Jonathan Stewart's top backup, and not second-year man Cameron Artis-Payne. While CAP might be the better back to own if JStew goes down with an injury, Whittaker will still have a role (as we saw last year). In Weeks 15 and 16 last year, CAP and Whittaker split the backfield snaps 51 to 44, thought CAP did out-touch Whittaker 22 to 11. CAP might not be an instant plug-and-play option to replace JStew, though that doesn't mean he's not draftable. Fantasy owners will just need to pay attention before slotting him into lineups in the event of a JStew injury.
The hype around second-year wide receiver Devin Funchesscontinues to build as the season approaches, but he is currently behind Ted Ginn Jr. on the depth chart. Ginn surged back onto the fantasy radar last season, and could hold off the youngster for another year as the team's primary deep threat. But it wouldn't be surprising if Funchess began eating into Ginn's snaps, or the team employs more three-wide receiver sets in 2016. With Kelvin Benjamin on the shelf last year, the team trotted out at least three wide receivers on just 41.6 percent of their offensive plays, versus 47.7 percent in 2014. Funchess is a great late-round flier to take as a WR5 in the hope that he does take that next step and emerge as a true No. 2 wide receiver for Cam Newton.
New Orleans Saints
Once again, the Saints have served fantasy owners notice that Tim Hightower, not C.J. Spiller, is Mark Ingram's backup. After Ingram went down with an injury last season, Hightower led the way in the backfield with 173 snaps, and 96 touches from Week 14 to 17, while Travaris Cadet and Spiller combined for just 23 touches and 95 snaps. Ingram owners will want to back up their early-round investment by nabbing Hightower in the later rounds. He's one of the only handcuffs worth owning in fantasy this fall.
The Saints wide receiver depth chart is a great example of why we need not overreact to these early editions. Yes, Brandon Coleman is listed as the "starter" here, but based on the glowing reports about both Willie Snead and Michael Thomas coming out of camp, that doesn't figure to be the case for too long. Also, it more so speaks to the offensive formations the Saints prefer to run, with a "big" slot receiver in the role Marques Colston thrived in for so long. Thomas is the heir apparent to Colston for the Saints, while Snead and Brandin Cooks will be moved all over the field. The Saints have a loaded wide receiver corps, but it might cause plenty of fantasy headaches on a weekly basis. Cooks might be a touch over-drafted at his current Round 4 asking price on NFL.com given how loaded this offense is and how well Drew Brees spreads around the football. In his 10 years with the Saints, Brees has given a wide receiver 120-plus targets just five times. That's a worrisome number when Cooks is being drafted as a high-end WR2.
The team didn't pay Coby Fleener all of the money this offseason to have him form some sort of tight end committee with Josh Hill. The top tight end for the Saints averages 132 targets per year since 2011, so the opportunities will be there for Fleener in fantasy. He's a huge breakout candidate this fall.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Very little has changed for the Bucs offense this year, which is great for fantasy fans. Doug Martin remains a low-end RB1, while Charles Sims has value in both standard and PPR formats as a flex option. He also carries HUGE upside in the event that Martin suffers any sort of injury. In the passing game, Mike Evans remains the No. 1 and should be pummeled with targets this year, while Vincent Jackson offers late-round value as a WR5.
The only real shift is at the tight end position, where the oft-frustrating Austin Seferian-Jenkins has been demoted in favor of Cameron Brate as the starting tight end. Brate showed flashes in 2015 filling in for an injured ASJ, and now looks poised to inherit a larger role in the offense. Of course, ASJ is a talented football player and this could all be a motivating tactic by the coaching staff. Regardless, whoever wins the starting job could have late-round value in fantasy, as Dirk Koetter loves to feature his tight ends and Jameis Winston has a history of targeting the position dating back to his days at Florida State.
OK, I need to get something out of the way before we discuss this depth chart:
Whew, all right. This is probably the most laughable of the preseason depth charts, as we all know there is no way Ezekiel Elliott will be the team's third-string rusher. He'll be the top option in a loaded offense and -- assuming his hamstring injury doesn't linger -- will be in the mix to be a first-round fantasy selection.
Other than that, the depth on the Cowboys roster isn't really worth fantasy attention. Dez Bryant, Tony Romo, and Jason Witten are all solid options at their positions, while Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley are best left on the waiver wire. If you're down with drafting uninspiring handcuffs, then Alfred Morris is the player for you. But if Zeke were to suffer some sort of injury, this would likely transition into some sort of committee backfield once Darren McFadden returns from his broken arm.
New York Giants
Some things in life simply cannot be explained. Up there with Stonehenge, Bigfoot, and UFOs is why the Giantsinsist on trying to makeAndre Williams happen. Just ... stop. Please. Jennings has some late-round value if he remains the starter, as he played great over the final month of 2015, averaging 5.5 yards per carry on 79 totes for a respectable 432 yards with two touchdowns. Of course, if the Giants give work, including valuable goal-line opportunities, to Williams, then this backfield becomes a sinking fantasy ship. Shane Vereen should still have his pass-catching role carved out, making him a nice late-round flier in PPR formats. Despite hype from Adam Rank and other fantasy analysts, Paul Perkins looks to have his work cut out for himself to find a niche in this overly-crowded backfield.
Sterling Shepard is a player to watch this preseason, as he's currently listed ahead of Victor Cruz as the Giants' No. 2 wide receiver. This isn't super surprising, though, as Shepard was viewed as one of the more pro-ready wide receiver prospects and has been earning rave reviews all offseason. If he holds off Cruz or Cruz remains slowed by his injuries (he's currently battling a groin injury in addition to his knee), Shepard will be a nice mid- to late-round target in fantasy drafts in the Giants' pass-happy offense.
Larry Donnell is listed as the starter for now, but Will Tye could push him for more work. Tye was quite effective in 2015, with 32 catches for 368 yards and three touchdowns (on 44 targets) over the final seven weeks of the season. Whoever wins this starting gig could be a nice option to target on waivers for those interested in streaming tight ends.
QB: Sam Bradford | Chase Daniel | Carson Wentz
RB: Ryan Mathews | Darren Sproles | Kenjon Barner | Wendell Smallwood
WR: Nelson Agholor | Chris Givens | Marcus Johnson
WR: Jordan Matthews | Josh Huff | T.J. Graham
WR: Rueben Randle | T.J. Graham | David Watford
TE: Brent Celek | Zach Ertz | Trey Burton
Ryan Mathews figures to lead this backfield in carries, while Darren Sproles will have a prominent role on passing downs and in the hurry-up offense. Wendell Smallwood is a name to watch in the preseason. Mathews has never been a paragon of perfect health throughout his NFL career and were he to suffer an injury (he's already missed offseason work with an ankle ailment) Smallwood could assume a decent workload. Kenjon Barner and UDFA Byron Marshall will be battling for a roster spot and are worth keeping an eye on in the preseason.
Jordan Matthews suffered a bone bruise that will likely keep him out until the regular season. Meanwhile, Nelson Agholor could be in line for a surprisingly productive season as the main outside receiver in new head coach Doug Pederson's offense. It's too bad we won't get a glimpse of how he and Matthews would split targets in the preseason, as Pederson's offenses in Kansas City really only ever supported one wideout. Lastly, don't get caught with chasing the fantasy fool's gold better known as Rueben Randle.
Matt Jones is the starter in this backfield, but watch out for Chris Thompson to steal passing down work. Keith Marshall is worth watching this preseason to see if he pushes for a larger portion of the backfield pie. Jones remains the favorite for the lion's share of the carries until proven otherwise, though.
Josh Doctson doesn't appear on the depth chart because he's currently on the PUP, but he wasn't likely to be ticketed as a starter even if he was healthy. This is a deep wide receiver unit, and Doctson's ascension could be a year away. DJax is the probably the best option of the bunch given his home-run ability. Three of Kirk Cousins' five multiple-touchdown games came when Jackson was healthy and playing at least 50 percent of the offensive snaps.
Make no mistake: this is David Johnson's backfield. The coach speak is just a smoke screen by the front office. After what Johnson put on tape last season, it'd be the upset of the century if he wasn't the primary back in this offense, spelled occasionally in sub packages by CJ2K and Andre Ellington.
While Fitzgerald is listed as the No. 1 wide receiver, the recent trends in Arizona speak otherwise. He's still a key part of the offense, but his role is changing as he ages. His average depth of target has plummeted as he's moved to the slot, where he played 50 percent of his snaps last season. Looking at this chart Matt Harmon compiled for the five weeks (Week 12-16) Fitzgerald, John Brown, and Michael Floyd were all healthy together, it becomes clear Fitz's best fantasy days might be behind him. That's why you'll see Floyd and Brown going ahead of the legendary veteran, as they currently possess more upside in the high-octane Cardinals offense. Fitzgerald still has fantasy value, but should be taken after his younger counterparts.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams passing attack has the look of a unit that could be relatively grounded in 2016, though Tavon Austin is an intriguing sleeper. Between his solid 2015 campaign and rumblings that the team wants to get him the ball more often in 2016, there are reasons to believe Austin is turning a corner in fantasy. Tyler Higbee is a name to keep an eye on at tight end, but likely for the future and not this fall. Other than that, there won't be many consistent fantasy options to mine in this offense aside from Todd Gurley (duh).
San Francisco 49ers
There is a quarterback battle in San Francisco, but not one fantasy owners should pay attention to unless they play in deep leagues or a two-QB format. Carlos Hyde will be the main early-down back, but Shaun Draughn will be heavily in the mix on third downs. That could put a lower ceiling on Hyde's fantasy outlook than many hope, but he's a talented back who will be featured prominently in Chip Kelly's high-volume offense, so there are reasons to hope for a breakout from Hyde.
At the wide receiver position, Torrey Smith is a great late-round value, while Bruce Ellington merits deep sleeper consideration. Ditto for Vance McDonald. For more information on why this is the case, check out Matt Harmon's look at why this passing game shouldn't be so overlooked in fantasy this year.