Top fantasy preseason storylines include the returns of Brady, Favre

With the third week of preseason action in the books and the regular season starting next week, it's almost time to start that shift from draft preparation to examining the matchups and scowering the waiver wire.

But before we do that, let's take a look back at the top 20 preseason fantasy stories and how they'll affect your leagues in 2009.

1. Tom Brady is back for the Patriots. Tom Terrific has looked no worse for wear after reconstructive knee surgery, completing 26-of-42 passes for 307 yards with four touchdowns. Fantasy owners had to hold their breath when Brady suffered a sore shoulder after a huge hit from Redskins DT Albert Haynesworth, but he's expected to be fine for the regular-season opener. Brady is the second quarterback taken on NFL.com (on average) behind Drew Brees.

2. Brett Favre is back as well (again). The soap opera that is Favre saw the end of his second retirement (or was it his third, I've lost count) and him signing with the Vikings. He isn't the same fantasy star he was in his prime, but Favre has a favorable schedule and a ton of weapons at his disposal. His presence under center improves the value of every offensive skill player, especially Adrian Peterson, Bernard Berrian, Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice and Visanthe Shiancoe.

3. Brandon Marshall suspended in Denver. Whoever tabbed Marshall "Baby T.O." was right on the mark. The troubled wideout acted like a baby at a recent practice and was later suspended by the Broncos for conduct detrimental to the team. While he's eligible to come back in time for Week 1, Marshall has had little time to absorb the offense of new coach Josh McDaniels. Eddie Royal might finish this season ahead of Marshall in PPR fantasy leagues.

4. Ray Rice becomes the man for Baltimore. The Ravens backfield was a headache for fantasy owners last season, but it looks like coach John Harbaugh has found a new starter in Rice. He's been the team's most impressive back in training camp and is poised to open Week 1 atop the depth chart. Willis McGahee could steal goal-line work, but Rice is the best all-around back and the most attractive fantasy option. Le'Ron McClain, a sleeper last season, has just three preseason carries.

5. Terrell Owens' toe keeps him out of work. The biggest story coming out of Buffalo is the health of T.O.'s toe. He's missed much of the preseason and is not expected to play in the finale against the Lions, but Owens blamed the damaged digit on his footwear and nothing structural. While it's hard to envision a scenario where he'll put up numbers like he did with the Eagles and Cowboys, at least Owens is safe to draft. He'll face off against Randy Moss and the Patriots in Week 1.

6. Clinton Portis to lose some carries.Fantasy leaguers who owned Portis last season know all about his injury woes. While he's still just 28, Portis has already accumulated excessive carries and is a risk to break down. As a result, Redskins coach Jim Zorn plans to use Ladell Betts as his third-down back in an effort to keep Portis fresh and healthier throughout the season. While this won't be a true committee situation, Portis will likely see closer to 300 carries in 2009.

7. Brian Westbrook inactive for the Eagles. Westbrook, who turns 30 this week, has missed the entire preseason as he recovers from both ankle and knee surgeries. While he's expected to be back in time for the team's Week 1 matchup against the Panthers, Westbrook could have a slow start and might wind up losing work to rookie LeSean McCoy. It's hard not to pull the trigger on Westbrook if he falls into the second round, but he's never been a greater risk from a fantasy perspective.

8. Michael Turner looks strong for Atlanta. All the talk in fantasy circles about Turner centers around concerns that the "Curse of 370" will affect him. Well, he's looked like a superstar in the preseason. The veteran has rushed for 175 yards and two touchdowns with an average of seven yards per carry in three contests. While Jerious Norwood is expected to see more carries to spell the Burner, there's still no reason to believe he can't sustain his status as an elite No. 1 runner.

9. DeAngelo Williams still a fantasy star. You wouldn't know it by his 9.73 ADP on NFL.com, but Williams was the highest-scoring fantasy back in the league in 2008. He's looked sharp in the preseason with a 4.9 yards-per-carry average, and there's a chance he'll see a boost in carries if Jonathan Stewart (Achilles' tendon) is limited or sidelined. The Panthers will continue to utilize a run-based offensive attack, so Williams should remain one of the better backs in fantasy football this season.

10. Aaron Rodgers still puts up big numbers. There hasn't been a more impressive quarterback this preseason than Rodgers, who has thrown for 458 yards and six scores in his three starts. That includes a 258-yard, three-touchdown performance against the Cardinals in a 44-37 win. Rodgers, who broke out for fantasy owners in 2008, is the real deal and a top-five fantasy quarterback across the board. With so many weapons to choose from in the passing game, he's a good bet to throw for 4,000-plus yards once again.

11. Joseph Addai still the Colts' starting back. The addition of rookie Donald Brown did have an affect on the value of Addai, but he's falling into the fifth and sixth rounds in some drafts. In that spot, Addai could turn into a potential bargain if he can avoid injuries. Remember, Addai was a low-end No. 1 fantasy starter while seeing just over 51 percent of the carries while sharing the workload with Dominic Rhodes. Brown has obvious upside, but Addai is still the better fantasy choice.

12. Darren McFadden impressive for Oakland. The top-rated fantasy rookie heading into the 2008 season, McFadden injured his toe and was a major disappointment with just 499 rushing yards and four touchdowns. Now that he's back at 100 percent, however, McFadden has drawn the praise of coach Tom Cable and is clearly the best offensive option on the roster. Playing for the Raiders makes any player at least somewhat of a risk, but McFadden should develop into a much more valuable fantasy starter in 2009.

13. Pierre Thomas sustains MCL knee sprain. A major sleeper least season, Thomas' ADP (34.94) on NFL.com is proof that his stock has risen to new heights. He did hurt his knee during training camp and won't play in the Saints' preseason finale, but he's expected to be fine in time for Week 1 and remains a viable No. 2 fantasy back. Reggie Bush, who is coming back from microfracture knee surgery, has seen little preseason action but is also on track to be available for the regular-season opener against Detroit.

14. Chad Ochocinco looks to be back in form. Johnson, I mean Ochocinco, was a major disappointment last season. The veteran posted a mere 53 receptions for 540 yards and scored a miniscule four touchdowns. With Carson Palmer back under center, though, Ochocinco should return to the 1,000-yard level he was so accustomed to from 2002-2007. Palmer did injure his ankle in the preseason opener, but he's expected to be fine in time for Week 1. Ochocinco could turn out to be a steal this year.

15. Derrick Ward in a new backfield committee. When Ward signed with the Buccaneers, it seemed like his fantasy stock was certain to rise. Now that Cadillac Williams is in the mix, however, Ward's statistical ceiling is suddenly much lower. Williams started the third preseason game and looked strong in his return from an injured knee. With Earnest Graham also in line for carries in what will be a 2-2-1 split, Ward has suddenly gone from a viable No. 2 fantasy back to someone who's better served as a flex option.

16. Matt Schaub hurts ankle against Vikings. If you're a true fantasy football enthusiast, you've likely read all the positive press on Schaub and his potential as a breakout candidate this season. Then he went and injured his ankle against the Vikings, and we remembered why you have to temper expectations. While the brittle quarterback is expected to be fine for Week 1, Schaub's proneness to injuries (he's missed 10 games over the past two seasons) continues to make him risk-reward option in all formats.

17. Matt Cassel sustains injured knee. Cassel's value was supposed to be on the rise in the pass-laden offense of coach Todd Haley, but the opposite has been true instead. He was inconsistent in two preseason starts, and his third resulted in a sprained MCL that has his status for the regular-season opener against Baltimore in doubt. With games against the Ravens (if active), Raiders, Eagles, Giants, Cowboys and Redskins in the first half of the season, even a healthy Cassel will be a major risk.

18. Leon Washington emerges for the Jets. Coach Rex Ryan will use a run-first offense this season, and Washington will be a big part of that attack. He's coming off a 2008 season that saw him post career bests in receptions (47), receiving yards (355) and total touchdowns (8), and he's looked phenomenal in the preseason with a 6.5 yards per carry average in his last two contests. Washington is a major sleeper with added value in PPR leagues and those formats that reward for return yards and touchdowns.

19. Edgerrin James signs with the Seahawks. The Seahawks altered their backfield during the preseason, signing James and releasing T.J. Duckett. Julius Jones remains atop the depth chart and has the most fantasy appeal, but James could replace Duckett as the team's short-yardage and goal-line runner. That would limit Jones' value. Justin Forsett is also in the mix, so this has all the look of a potential backfield committee. Jones and James both warrant a middle- to late-round pick in most drafts.

20. James Davis moves up the Browns' chart. Jamal Lewis is 30 and coming off ankle surgery, and reports out of Cleveland suggest he looks slower and has lost a step. If the veteran can't handle the full backfield workload, Davis could step in and make a contribution for fantasy owners. The rookie has sparkled in the preseason, averaging an amazing 8.4 yards per carry in his last two contests. That includes a 116-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Broncos. Davis is a player to watch this season.

Have a burning question for Michael Fabiano on anything fantasy football related? Leave it in our comments section below or send it to AskFabiano@nfl.com, and the best questions will be answered throughout the season right here on NFL.com!

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