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Receivers gaining in value over running backs

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Marcas Grant: The early returns would suggest yes. But I'd like to see if the officials are going to continue to call things this closely during the regular season. If things regress back to the mean, there should still be an abundance of flags, but hopefully nothing like what we've seen this preseason. Otherwise, defensive backs are going to have to adjust to this brave new world. Trying to cover Calvin Johnson when you can't make contact with him after five yards? Yeah, good luck with that. From a fantasy perspective, consider this season as a test case before deciding if receivers have any additional value.

M.G.: These two are fairly even when it comes to what they could do in 2014. Both players have quarterbacks that come with plenty of question marks and play in offenses that are still trying to find an identity. Both players are also susceptible to wild swings in their week-to-week production. The difference is that apart from last season, Jackson has consistently been the better of the two. Decker's move to New York will drop him to the ranks of a WR3 while you can make a fairly convincing case for Jackson as a WR2.

M.G.: Not long ago this was slanted heavily in favor of running backs, but lately we've seen The Rise of the Planet of the Receivers. Looking at last season's numbers, the 50th best receiver (Jarrett Boykin) outscored the 50th best running back (Chris Ogbonnaya) by more than 25 points. Just the fact that teams tend to use one running back at a time while lining up three, and sometimes four, wideouts means that there are more possible playmakers among receivers. If you're stuck with a tough choice in the later rounds, it might be smarter to look for the No. 3 receiver on a depth chart over some team's backup running back.

M.G.: The leader in this race is Devonta Freeman. Steven Jackson is probably on the shelf for the remainder of the preseason as he nurses a hamstring injury. Moreover, at 31 years old and on the downside of his career Jackson might start to get phased out of the Falcons offense. Enter Freeman, who has looked very good in his preseason work. The rookie from Florida State is still down the depth chart but he could certainly move up as we get into the regular season.

M.G.: In the battle of second-year breakout backs, the winner is ... Giovani Bernard. The biggest reason is the addition of Hue Jackson as Cincinnati's offensive coordinator. Jackson has been a boon for running backs during his coaching career and Bernard could see upwards of 300 touches. The Cardinals have every intention of using Ellington as a bell cow, but there are serious questions about whether he can withstand the punishment of a 16-game season. This could be an instance where having a potential touchdown vulture (in Bernard's case, Jeremy Hill) could be a blessing in disguise.

M.G.: The seventh spot is becoming more and more of a first-round dilemma. There are four running backs who should go in the first four picks. After that, it's a toss up. The key is that you should feel good about your first round selection. Instead of agonizing over Arian Foster or DeMarco Murray, take Calvin Johnson and pick up a running back when the selection comes back to you in the second round.

M.G.: I've gained an allergy to the Carolina Panthers offense. Both Benjamin and Wheaton are unproven commodities, but Wheaton doesn't have a quarterback coming off of ankle surgery. In addition, defenses will have to spend plenty of energy trying to lock down Antonio Brown, which could open things up for the former Oregon State speedster. The Panthers don't have any pass-catching options that are going to scare opponents. Benjamin has the potential to be a nice option in the red zone, but Wheaton seems to have greater potential all over the field.

M.G.: This one is Pierce all the way. In addition to being the Ravens starting running back for the first two games of the season as Ray Rice serves a suspension, Pierce is more likely to see consistent carries if Baltimore indeed goes with a rotation. Hill is a nice emerging option and is probably going to push BenJarvus Green-Ellis down the depth chart, but the Bengals running game will belong to Gio Bernard this season. Hill is a handcuff, but not someone you're going to play every week. Pierce could have flex appeal if things fall the right way.

M.G.: Not if you're giving up Hunter. The thing to remember about Boldin is that he's a good player to have in real football but in fantasy ... not so much. Boldin had some nice fantasy totals last season, but much of that was owed to injuries to Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. With those two guys back healthy this year, Boldin is likely to drop back to being a player who provides 60-65 catches and 3-5 touchdowns. Meanwhile Hunter has the potential to be one of the breakout receiving stars of the 2014 fantasy season playing opposite Kendall Wright in Tennessee.

M.G.: The first thing to remember: Linebackers are your friend. By roaming the middle of the field, they have a chance to contribute in all of the major categories (tackles, sacks, interceptions). Guys like Luke Kuechly, Vontaze Burfict and Lavonte David are generally fantasy gold. Similarly, safeties usually have the ability to contribute in multiple categories as well. For more tips, check out a recent edition of our weekly IDP-based column, Reading the Defense.

Bonus question:

M.G.:Johnny Manziel seems like the obvious answer. Some might decide to roll with Richard Sherman. But the correct choice would be Tiquan Underwood. Have you seen the man's hair? When his playing days are done, Underwood needs to immediately be cast as Kid in a House Party reboot.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy editor for and a man who is still trying to jump over his leg without falling on his face. Tweet him awkward dance videos or fantasy football questions @MarcasG.

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