It's been an unusual offseason in the National Football League and fantasy football, to say the least. But with a potential light at the end of the tunnel in sight on CBA negotiations, it's time for owners to start ramping up their draft-day preparations. Sure, it's close to impossible to determine the value of several players due to the lack of player movement up to this point. But there are a number of positions that we do know require our attention once the lockout is over. Here's a look at 12 such positions that will require your utmost attention in the AFC once we get back to football.
Bengals quarterbacks: If we assume that Carson Palmer is either going to retire or be traded, it looks like Andy Dalton will be thrust right into a prominent role. While he does have long-term potential, Dalton isn't someone who should be considered in seasonal drafts. In fact, he's better served as a dynasty-league option. With a rookie under center, I would look for the Bengals to run the ball often. That's good news for Cedric Benson, who is expected to re-sign with the team. Dalton could also make Jermaine Gresham his security blanket and a nice sleeper in fantasyland.
Broncos quarterbacks: Coach John Foxsaid that he has "an idea" about who is starting quarterback will be in Week 1, but the competition between Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow and Brady Quinn is still one that owners need to watch. The best option would be Tebow, at least for fantasy purposes. He led all players in fantasy points over the final three weeks of last season, and his versatile skill set makes him an interesting sleeper. If Orton wins the job, he'll be a No. 2 option -- his numbers are destined to drop compared to his 2010 totals in a more conservative offensive attack under Fox.
Titans quarterbacks: Kerry Collins has retired, and the Titans plan to release Vince Young. That leaves rookie Jake Locker and Rusty Smith as the lone quarterback options -- that should scare the bejesus out of fantasy owners. With either player under center, the value of almost every member of the team's offense would suffer -- that includes superstar Chris Johnson. When you consider that he's also threatening to hold out of camp, CJ2K's stock could decline. Of course, the potential addition of Matt Hasselbeck or another veteran would improve the situation.
Broncos running backs: The Broncos are going to run the ball much more under Fox, so Knowshon Moreno could be on the verge of a breakout season. However, there have been reports that DeAngelo Williams could be added once player movement is allowed. Williams, who played under Fox in Carolina, would push Moreno for carries -- and even the starting job -- and create a less attractive situation from a fantasy perspective. If the Broncos don't add a big-name runner, then Moreno would be worth as much as a second-round pick as a high-end No. 2 back with major potential.
Browns running backs: Peyton Hillis was a major fantasy contributor last season, scoring the fourth-most points at his position during a breakout season. But based on the return of Montario Hardesty and the imminent potential for coach Pat Shurmur to use a backfield tandem, Hillis' production is likely to decrease. There have even been reports that the Browns will add another running back into the mix, which would create further cause for concern in terms of Hillis' touches and appeal. If a backfield committee becomes imminent, Hillis won't be more than a No. 2 fantasy option.
Colts running backs: Questions abound in this backfield -- Joseph Addai is a free agent, Donald Brown has been a disappointment at the NFL level and Mike Hart isn't a legitimate featured runner. The team also has rookie Delone Carter, who could be a player to watch if the Colts don't make some moves once free agency begins, but he's not the complete answer. The popular solution has the Colts re-signing Addai and having a similar look compared to their 2010 backfield. If Addai does return as the starter, he'll have flex-starter value in most leagues.
Dolphins running backs: With Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams slated to become free agents, rookie Daniel Thomas is the favorite to open the season as the top runner. If the team adds a complementary back like Darren Sproles, then Daniels could be a legitimate No. 2 fantasy back. But if Brown is re-signed or the 'Fins opt to add a big-name free agent like DeAngelo Williams who'll cut into his carries, Daniels could see a major decline in opportunities. In an offense that will lean on the run, this is clearly a situation that owners need to monitor moving forward.
Patriots running backs: With the addition of Shane Vereen and Steven Ridley in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Patriots have a crowded backfield. Clearly, the value of BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead takes a major blow. What we don't know is how Vereen and Ridley factor into the equation. I think the former will make the biggest impact of the rookies, as he's a home-run hitter who can catch the ball out of the backfield. Regardless of who ends up atop the depth chart, finding consistent fantasy production from any runner in a Patriots uniform will be difficult.
Ravens running backs:Ray Rice is the clear-cut starter, but a portion of his value will depend on whether the team retains Willis McGahee. If the veteran is willing to return at a reduced rate, fantasy leaguers would be looking at the same backfield rotation. But if McGahee isn't willing to come back at a lower price, Rice could be in the mix for more carries -- including those near the goal line. Such a scenario would also mean more touches for Jalen Parmele, who would move up to second on the depth chart. As it stands, Rice will be worth a first-round selection.
Bengals wide receivers: With the addition of A.J. Green, it's possible the Bengals will release Chad Ochocinco. In that case, Green and Jerome Simpson would be the favorites to start with Jordan Shipley filling in as the slot receiver. But if Ochocinco is back in black and orange, it would be hard to draft any Bengals receiver in a prominent fantasy role. At 33 and the downside of his career, Ochocinco can't be trusted as more than a late-round pick. Regardless, the presence of a rookie under center will cut into the fantasy appeal of any wideout in the Queen City.
Browns wide receivers: The Browns don't have any big-name receivers in their offense, so it's just a matter of who earns the most opportunities. Rookie Greg Little has the tools to be a No. 1 option and is the most attractive fantasy option, but third-year wideout Mohammed Massaquoi is also someone to watch. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that he's been working with veteransLarry Fitzgerald and Calvin Johnson during the lockout and is hoping to make a new start in Shurmur's West Coast offense. Brian Robiskie is also in the battle and could have deep-league value.
Jets wide receivers: It would be a shock to see free agent Santonio Holmes in anything but a Jets uniform this season, but he is a free agent. The same holds true of Braylon Edwards, who is less likely than Holmes to return to the Big Apple. In the event that Edwards isn't re-signed, the Men in Green could turn to Randy Moss or Plaxico Burress to fill the void. If either of those players were added, it would make waves in fantasy circles. Jerricho Cotchery, who is coming off back surgery, is likely to be the team's No. 3 wideout and would have little fantasy appeal.