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Thursday, August 13, 2009
Rookies Crabtree, Sanchez in the news


Some bad news for those of you predicting a breakout rookie campaign for wide receiver Michael Crabtree: There's a good chance he'll hold out for the entire preseason and maybe longer.

According to the San Jose Mercury News, a "highly placed NFL source" said Crabtree's agent, Eugene Parker, and the 49ers remain firm enough in their contract talks standoff that the first-rounder likely won't agree to terms before the end of August. The source went on to say Crabtree eventually will sign but it might not be until days before the team's Sept. 13 season opener.

If Crabtree indeed holds out until Sept. 1 or later, it might suit his contract needs, but it almost assuredly will adversely affect his fantasy value in 2009. Rookie wide receivers already face a steep learning curve in the NFL -- the top 50 players all time in receiving yards have averaged 29 receptions, 441 receiving yards and three receiving touchdowns in their rookie seasons, with only three of them amassing a 1,000-yard season -- and missing even a portion of the preseason can only increase that level of difficulty. Crabtree isn't getting any time to learn the playbook, work with the first team or acclimate himself to life in the NFL.

Not that fantasy owners should scratch Crabtree from their rankings lists (yet), but without a hint that he'll come to terms in the next two or three weeks, he can't possibly be regarded as a starter-caliber fantasy wide receiver. At the very least, he'd be a risky pick any higher than his No. 38 average draft position at the position.

Tom Brady
So far so good for Tom Brady in his return.
• Although coach Bill Belichick is being coy about it (big surprise), the Boston Herald reports that Tom Brady will start the Patriots' preseason opener Thursday against the Eagles. It will be his first game action since he suffered torn medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in Week 1 of last season, and while he likely will play only a couple of series, it's an important step in the rehabilitation process. Don't take the game statistics to heart, but Brady's getting into (and out of) the game unscathed will be a huge step forward in his candidacy for a bounce-back season. That he's this far along already suggests he's well on his way.

• Conversely, The Star-Ledger reports that the Jets will play it safe with young franchise quarterback Mark Sanchez, giving him limited snaps in their preseason opener Friday because of injuries to some key members of their offensive line. Most notably, Pro Bowl left guard Alan Faneca has a broken left finger and will miss the contest, and center Nick Mangold (knee) and right tackle Damien Woody (concussion) also will sit out. It's the right decision for the Jets, who wouldn't want to leave Sanchez less protected in the game, but it will further delay the team's decision between him and "veteran" Kellen Clemens.

• Sticking with the position-battle theme, Colts coach Jim Caldwell confirmed to the team's Web site that the team plans to rotate Joseph Addai and rookie Donald Brown at running back. He wouldn't detail a specific strategy for their use but indicated the two would split carries and the divide would change from week to week depending on matchups. "It depends on who you face and the type of defensive structure that you have to deal with," Caldwell said. "But one thing we know for sure is there will be some type of rotation." Fantasy owners dread to hear that kind of news; there's no way any of us can select Addai or Brown assuming that either will be a trustworthy, every-game kind of back.

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• You can eliminate one name from the Broncos' preseason running back competition: Ryan Torain. The Denver Post reports that he was released after being diagnosed with a PCL sprain. Denver did receive some good news Wednesday -- LaMont Jordan (leg) returned to practice. Of course, Knowshon Moreno remains the favorite to start for the Broncos in Week 1.

Speaking of Mr. Moreno, NFL.com reports that the rookie will indeed get the start in the Broncos' preseason opener, not Correll Buckhalter as indicated by the team's initial depth chart. That seems to suggest the team wants Moreno to win this job; hence my above statement that he's "the favorite to start."

• Injuries -- not to mention his status as a member of the Lions -- have sapped the fantasy appeal of Brandon Pettigrew this preseason, and according to Mlive.com, he sat out yet another practice session Wednesday because of a thigh injury. That makes 12 missed practices out of 17, putting him further behind in the aforementioned rookie learning curve for a young pass-catcher. There's a reason his ADP to this point ranks him only 21st among tight ends; it's that he belongs there.

• The Panthers continue to stress that Steve Smith's shoulder injury isn't serious, according to The Rock Hill Herald. He was seen catching passes with a ball boy off to the side of Wednesday's practice, which is encouraging, but it's unclear at what point during the preseason he will fully return. "He's day-to-day," coach John Fox said. "He's not week-to-week or out for the season or anything like that." Smith might yet be ready to play in Week 1, so he's not a candidate to be dropped severely in your rankings, but the questions surrounding his health do make him a tad less attractive among the elite class at wide receiver.

Ahmad Bradshaw is optimistic he'll enjoy a standout season as the Giants' No. 2 running back, according to The Star-Ledger. He told the paper he was hampered by a nagging calf strain that prevented him from reaching top speed in 2008, and that might help explain his lesser role behind both Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward. With Ward gone to Tampa Bay, though, Bradshaw has a chance to see increased carries, and coach Tom Coughlin says Bradshaw's pass protection and pass-catching ability have been superb to this point in the preseason. Bradshaw might not warrant being picked as a certain flex-play option -- his No. 30 ADP among running backs seems entirely appropriate -- but he's a bit more valuable than a straight handcuff to Jacobs.

• I was quite a fan of Joe Flacco as a sleeper several weeks back, but as the days have gone by and the second-year quarterback hasn't made progress, I'm souring a bit on his fantasy value. According to the Baltimore Sun, Flacco has thrown a lot of interceptions during training camp and has openly expressed frustration with his struggles. He's slated to play at least one quarter of the team's preseason opener, during which fantasy owners must keep a close eye on his performance. As it is, Flacco's ADP barely places him 20th at quarterback, effectively No. 2 status, but if he can't turn his preseason around quick, I know I will be taking a significant step back from my previous sleeper prediction.