The preseason is in full swing with all 32 NFL teams taking part throughout the weekend. That means fantasy drafts are coming fast and furious. That also means astute fantasy owners are making their draft rankings and likely running into a few brain-teasers. This season, we'll take on some of those riddles in our weekly Fantasy Audibles column. Send us your questions throughout the season and we'll tackle them in this space each week. Let's get started...
It was a bit of a surprise to see a number of teams list multiple "starting" running backs on their first depth charts of the new season. Maybe those teams are following in the footsteps of the Lions, who essentially had two No. 1 backs last year with Reggie Bush and Joique Bell both finishing in the top 20 among fantasy backs in 2013.
Last season, the duo combined for 149 targets -- or eight fewer than Calvin Johnson -- and more of the same could be on tap for 2014. While Bush saw a greater share of rushing attempts, it was Bell that led the team in rushing scores. This season could see a more even distribution of touches between the two runners. In the end that makes either of them no better than an RB2 -- albeit pretty productive among that tier -- but with Bush getting the early nod as the starter on Detroit's depth chart, he's the back to target first. If you can somehow handcuff him with Bell, go for it. But with both rushers being so productive, it might be tough to actually accomplish that.
The fundamental question here is whether the second option in one team's passing game can have more fantasy value than the first option for another team. In this case, the answer is yes. Alshon Jeffery had a breakout campaign last year, ending the season eighth among fantasy receivers -- all while playing second fiddle to Brandon Marshall in the Bears' passing game.
Admittedly, last season's numbers don't work out evenly since Michael Crabtree missed a significant portion of the season while rehabbing an injury. But a deeper look shows that Jeffery was still better on a per game basis, averaging better than 12 fantasy points each week. By contrast, Crabtree has never posted better than a 10.3 point per game average in his career and fell to just 6.9 points per game last season.
The 49ers figure to throw the ball more in 2014, but it's hard to imagine that such a run-heavy offense is going to be able to change its stripes overnight. Jeffery slots as a high-end WR2 with WR1 upside this season while Crabtree is sitting lower in the second tier of pass-catchers. Bear down and roll with Jeffery this season.
I have shamelessly proclaimed that I'm driving the Trent Richardson bandwagon this season. After a full summer of studying Pep Hamilton's playbook and (hopefully) identifying his own mistakes, Richardson should be improved. The Colts will certainly need him to be with a glaring lack of depth in the backfield after the injury to Vick Ballard.
That said ... I'm still rolling with Jackson. Yes, he's likely to be one of the oldest running backs seeing work in the league this year, but he's still just as likely to be productive. Jackson stepped in for an injured and unproductive C.J. Spiller last season and became a top 10 fantasy rusher. Barring another poor campaign from Spiller, Jackson won't see as many touches but the Bills are still likely to lead with their running game which means the veteran should still see plenty of work.