Injuries are a part of the NFL and fantasy football. The first serious one of the preseason might have occurred on Thursday night in Green Bay, when stud wideout Donald Driver left the sidelines on a cart.
Driver sustained what is being called a sprained foot just before halftime and was forced to miss the remainder of the contest. Head coach Mike McCarthy said he didn't think Driver broke the foot or suffered a fracture-dislocation or Linsfrac sprain that would sideline the receiver for an extended period of time.
"He's in good spirits," McCarthy said of Driver. "So we'll have more information (Friday)."
In the event that Driver is forced to miss significant time, however, fantasy owners should become familiar with the name James Jones. The rookie out of San Jose State has been an absolute beast for the Packers in the preseason, and it showed against Jacksonville as he posted six receptions for 80 yards. He has terrific hands, runs excellent routes and has earned the praise of both his coaches and quarterback Brett Favre.
Another rookie who has made strides is Brandon Jackson, who's listed as one of the top sleepers on NFL.com. He rushed for 20 yards and a touchdown and added four receptions for 23 yards in the loss to the Jaguars. He did fumble on the opening drive, but teammate Korey Hall recovered the football. Jackson also showed improvement in his pass protection and was effective as a goal-line back, scoring his touchdown on a 1-yard run. With Vernand Morency still out of action, Jackson is the consensus favorite to open the regular season atop the depth chart. Fantasy owners should consider him in the middle rounds as a No. 3 runner.
Favre was also effective in the contest, as he completed 14 of 20 passes for 130 yards. In his past two preseason starts, the future Hall of Famer has completed 66 percent of his passes. He'll be inconsistent at times - and his value will fall if Driver is out - but Favre remains a viable No. 2 fantasy quarterback.
A quarterback that hasn't helped his value is Byron Leftwich, who completed 6 of 16 passes for 67 yards and had a passer rating of just 50.8. The first-team offense has scored just one touchdown in 10 preseason series, so the talk of Leftwich's incredible camp hasn't equated into points on the field. What's more, David Garrard looked much better under center and helped lead the offense into the end zone in the second half. Leftwich is still the starter for head coach Jack Del Rio, but he won't be taken in most fantasy drafts.
The Jaguars' wide receivers were also invisible in the contest, as Dennis Northcutt, Matt Jones, Reggie Williams and Ernest Wilford combined for five receptions, 70 yards and no touchdowns. Regardless of who comes out of camp atop the depth chart - Northcutt and Wilford are the favorites at this time - none will warrant more than a late-round flier. The same goes for tight end Marcedes Lewis, who has the most upside at the position but will lose opportunities to veterans George Wrighster and Jermaine Wiggins.
BREES LOOKS FANTASTIC VS. CHIEFS
Drew Brees was one of the biggest surprises in fantasy football last season. A middle- to late-round selection in most drafts, Brees went on to compete with Peyton Manning for the most fantasy points at the position in 2006. While some rank lists still have him behind Carson Palmer, Tom Brady or Marc Bulger, the veteran signal-caller continues to earn his No. 2 ranking on the current NFL.com quarterback rank list .
Brees completed 17 of 19 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown in a 30-7 win over the Kansas City Chiefs. He continues to look ultra-comfortable in the offensive attack of head coach Sean Payton, and there's no reason to believe he can't record 4,000-plus passing yards and 25-plus touchdowns in 2007.
What made Brees' performance against the Chiefs even more impressive was that he did it without his two top wide receivers. Marques Colston and Devery Henderson were both sidelined due to injuries, so veterans David Patten and Terrance Copper started in their absence. Both were solid in the contest, and there's talk that Patten could push Henderson for the right to start with Colston in Week 1. Second-year wideout Lance Moore was also impressive, as he caught six passes for 88 yards to lead the team.
The one wideout who didn't shine was rookie Robert Meachem. With a list of veterans ahead of him on the depth chart, Meachem might have to wait until next season before he'll make a significant impact.
On the other side of the spectrum are the Chiefs, whose offense was well, offensive. Brodie Croyle had a chance to secure the top spot on the depth chart, but he completed a mere 5 of 17 passes for 45 yards. His quarterback rating in the contest was 15.1 - that was 109 points fewer than Brees' 124.1 rating. Croyle also threw his third interception in three contests and might have helped Damon Huard's own quest to open the regular season as the starter. Chiefs head coach Herman Edwards didn't put all the blame on Croyle and blamed the awful offensive performance on a number of different factors.
"Brodie struggles some, but he didn't get any help either," Edwards said. "He can't catch the ball. He can't block. That's not all on the quarterback."
Whoever emerges as the No. 1 quarterback for Edwards will have little value in drafts. In fact, anyone not named Larry Johnson or Tony Gonzalez will be waiver-wire fodder in most cases. Eddie Kennison could be worth a late-round flier in larger formats, but even he has little value despite posting 1,000-plus yards in two of the past three seasons. Rookie Dwayne Bowe, who missed the start of training camp, doesn't appear set to make an impact for fantasy owners, either.
Johnson, who ended his contract holdout earlier in the week, was not active in the contest. However, he is expected to see some work in the team's preseason finale against the St. Louis Rams. The talented running back is still worth a top-three selection in most drafts, but questions about the team's quarterback position and offensive line will make it difficult for him to duplicate his impressive 2006 totals.
NEWS & NOTES
-- Reports out of Atlanta indicate that veteran runner Warrick Dunn, not Jerious Norwood, has the edge in the battle to start the regular-season opener in Minnesota. Dunn missed a good portion of camp after a surgical procedure on his back, but it appears that head coach Bobby Petrino is more comfortable with him than Norwood. This has the looks of a true backfield committee with Dunn, Norwood and Jason Snelling all in the mix, so fantasy owners should not lean on either Dunn or Norwood for consistent production.
-- Jon Kitna expects to start in Saturday's preseason game against Indianapolis, but the Lions might err on the side of caution with their No. 1 quarterback. Kitna has been dealing with some back spasms, which have caused him to miss a few recent practices. The ailment isn't considered serious and shouldn't affect his draft value. On a positive note, offensive coordinator Mike Martz talked to Marshall Faulk this week on NFL Network and praised Kitna and the entire offense for their vast improvements over last season.
-- Rookie Jacoby Jones continues to impress Texans head coach Gary Kubiak, who must now decide whether to start Jones or Kevin Walter opposite Andre Johnson this season. Jones was considered a raw prospect coming out of little-known Lane College, but he has developed much quicker than expected and is now in the hunt for a prominent role. While he still has more value in long-term leagues at this time, Jones is still someone to watch in seasonal formats - especially if his on-the-field success continues.
-- With Travis Henry and Mike Bell both nursing injuries, Cecil Sapp is expected to get the start for the Broncos in Saturday's preseason game against the Cleveland Browns. Sapp was in the mix to earn the No. 2 spot on the depth chart behind Henry but was passed by Bell before Bell injured his hip. While Selvin Young and Cedric Cobbs will also see some of the workload, Sapp should see most of the work and could improve his status on the depth chart with a solid performance. For handcuff purposes, this is a situation to watch.
-- In what has been a musical-chairs competition, veteran Drew Carter now seems to be the favorite to start opposite Steve Smith in Carolina. Keary Colbert has been the main slot receiver for head coach John Fox, which could indicate that Dwayne Jarrett has fallen to fourth on the depth chart. While he has a ton of talent, Jarrett is still a rookie and will need time to make the transition from college to the pros. Overall, no Panthers wide receiver other than Smith warrants serious draft consideration in most formats.