There's just under three weeks left until the NFL kicks off another season, so countless fantasy football drafts will be getting ready to kick off as well. That means the time is now to research player values - especially those who's stock is on the rise. Here's a look at 20 such players - and why you target them on draft day.
Brett Favre, QB, Vikings: He's back! We sort of figured that all along, but Favre confirmed his "official" return earlier in the week. While it's hard to predict a repeat of his impressive 2009 numbers (he finished fourth in fantasy points), the old gunslinger still has a rocket arm and some serious talent around him. It also doesn't hurt that Favre's schedule is one of the easiest among quarterbacks. He's safe to draft in the middle rounds as your No. 1 signal-caller.
Carson Palmer, QB, Bengals: I don't think Palmer will ever reach elite fantasy status again, but it's hard to ignore the talent around him. He now has a group of receivers that includes Chad Ochocinco, Terrell Owens, Antonio Bryant, Jordan Shipley and Jermaine Gresham at his disposal, so he should improve on his 2009 totals. One concern with Palmer, though, is his schedule. Based on our FPA ratings, it's one of the toughest at his position.
Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Steelers: How has Roethlisberger's draft value risen, you might ask? Well, there's been nothing but positive reports regarding the direction of his life after some ugly off-field incidents. As a result, Commissioner Goodell could shorten his suspension from six games to four. While it is a risk, fantasy owners who wait to draft a quarterback could legitimately land Big Ben in the middle rounds as their No. 2 option. Upon his return, he'd become a fantasy starter in most leagues.
Marion Barber, RB, Cowboys: There has been a lot of chatter around Felix Jones, but Barber has retained the top spot on the Cowboys depth chart. Sure, a committee situation is imminent between these two talented runners, but fantasy owners shouldn't overlook Barber because of all the hype around Jones. Remember, MB3 had his best fantasy season while sharing the workload with Julius Jones. He'll also continue to see goal-line work, so a season with eight to 10 scores is possible.
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants: Much like the situation in Dallas, a committee look is almost certain for the G-Men this season. But Bradshaw, not Brandon Jacobs, is the runner to draft from this Big Apple duo. He's seen time with the first-team offense in camp and actually got the start against the Jets on Monday night. Bradshaw is clearly a better playmaker, and he's coming off a season where he put up more fantasy points than Jacobs despite not being at 100 percent. Bradshaw has sleeper written all over him.
Michael Bush, RB, Raiders:Darren McFadden is hurt (again), this time with a problematic hamstring. That should help Bush earn the top spot on the Raiders depth chart. He's actually been the most productive fantasy back over the last two seasons, and McFadden's lack of durability isn't helping his case for a starting role. In what should be an improved offense and with a favorable schedule ahead, Bush has sleeper potential. I'd draft him ahead of McFadden.
Arian Foster, RB, Texans: Foster has been the top running back in Houston ever since the end of last season, and he's not letting go of the role. He was impressive in OTAs and camp, and the loss of Ben Tate for the season makes Foster even more attractive. Steve Slaton will no doubt also see his share of the workload, but Foster is clearly the runner to draft. He's gone from a late-round draft pick to a potential No. 2 fantasy back in just a few short weeks.
Jerome Harrison, RB, Browns: I'm still on the Montario Hardesty bandwagon when it comes to the Cleveland backfield, but the fact that he's missed so much time with an injured knee isn't helping his cause. Harrison is now the favorite to open the season as the starter in an offense that will lean on the run. While I see an imminent committee, Harrison's spot atop the depth chart does make him more valuable. Just don't expect him to be what he was at the end of 2009.
Ryan Mathews, RB, Chargers: If you haven't noticed, I really like Mathews this season. Before he saw a single preseason snap, I had him touted as a late first-round pick. Then I saw him rush for 50 yards on nine carries in a win over the Bears. That just intensified my feeling that he will make a major fantasy impact. Destined to see a featured role and with one of the easiest schedules of any running back, you should be buying into all the hype around Mathews, too.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills: Anyone who saw Spiller's 31-yard touchdown run on Thursday night knows exactly why his value is rising. Not only is he an explosive player with a nose for the end zone, but Spiller now has the inside track on the starting role with Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch both hurt. The downside is that upon their return, Spiller will likely end up in some sort of committee situation. Still, his talent alone will be hard to pass on in Rounds 4-5.
Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints: When the Saints lose Lynell Hamilton for the season, it opened a chance for Thomas to see more of the goal-line work. The team did add Ladell Betts to fill Hamilton's spot, but he's coming off knee surgery and is no lock to even make the final roster. Thomas, a major fantasy sleeper in 2008, will continue to see early-down work and should far exceed his totals from last season. He'll be worth as much as a late second-round or early third-round pick in most fantasy drafts.
Michael Turner, RB, Falcons: Turner was a major disappointment last season, but he should rebound for fantasy owners in 2010. Not only should be fresh after seeing only 178 carries in 2009, but Turner is also in great shape and will remain prominent in the Atlanta offense. He could also see more work in the passing game - he's already caught three passes in limited work during the team's first two preseason games. If he can avoid the second-year Curse of 370, Turner should post great stats.
Malcom Floyd, WR, Chargers:Vincent Jackson has already been suspended for three games by the league, and a potential holdout could extend his time off the gridiron. In fact, some reports out of San Diego suggest Jackson might not play a single snap for the Chargers this season. This is a situation that fantasy leaguers need to monitor, as Floyd's value will just continue to rise with every negative report surrounding Jackson's status with the team. Right now, he's a viable No. 3 fantasy wideout.
Johnny Knox, WR, Bears: All reports coming out of Chicago have been positive on Knox, Devin Aromashodu and Devin Hester. In fact, receivers coach Darryl Drake believes the team has three "starters" at the wideout position. Out of this trio, though, I think Knox will emerge into the best fantasy option. He's a perfect fit for the offense of Mike Martz, who likes to use the deep ball and stretch defenses in the passing game. Aromashodu, though, is a very close second.
Terrell Owens, WR, Bengals: Owens went from being a late-round flier as a free agent to a low middle-round pick as a member of the Bengals. He is a bit long in the tooth, and it's hard to expect him to post 1,000-plus yards in an offense with a ton of talented wideout. But to his credit, T.O. has looked quick and explosive in two preseason games. As long as you temper your expectations (800-900 yards, 6-8 TDs), Owens could be a useful fantasy option this season.
Mike Wallace, WR, Steelers: Wallace, a preseason sleeper on NFL.com, has been impressive in camp and looks poised to make an impact. In fact, Steelers coordinator Bruce Arian told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Wallace is "doing very well" in his transition from the team's No. 3 wideout to starting split end. He's currently coming off the board in Round 7 (64.61 ADP) of NFL.com drafts, so Wallace could be a nice bargain for fantasy leaguers.
Wes Welker, WR, Patriots: Welker caught two passes for 20 yards during six snaps in Thursday's preseason game against the Falcons. He was targeted three straight times during the opening drive. Coming off reconstructive knee surgery, Welker was wearing a knee brace but didn't look any worse for wear. He looks to be on target for Week 1, so his ADP should rise from it's current 50.03 (Round 6). He's now ranked No. 16 among wide receivers on NFL.com.
Mike Williams, WR, Buccaneers: The Bucs coaching staff is absolutely gushing about Williams, who seems to have already locked up the top spot on the depth chart. The rookie's draft stock fell due to some character issues at the collegiate level, but he's done nothing but impressive everyone in training camp. Fantasy owners should temper expectations for Williams - rookie wideouts typically don't put up consistently good numbers - but he's certainly become someone to target with a late flier.
Aaron Hernandez, TE, Patriots: Like his fellow rookie Williams in Tampa Bay, Hernandez is drawing rave reviews. He was very impressive against the Falcons, catching four passes for 46 yards with one touchdown. What's more, reports out of New England suggest the team will have a tough time keeping him off the field this season. I don't see him as a No. 1 fantasy tight end, but Hernandez is worth a late-round look as a reserve. Owners should also watch out for Brandon Tate, who's been solid in camp as well.
Zach Miller, TE, Raiders: Miller's value increased the second the Raiders acquired Jason Campbell. That's been evident in camp, as the Oakland Tribune described him as a "one-man wrecking crew" during a recent practice. Miller has posted nice reception and yardage totals over the last two seasons, but his fantasy appeal has been limited due to his lack of touchdown production. With Campbell under center, Miller should score more and could be a late-round steal.