When assembling a fantasy roster, keep in mind that football is a sport that values fresh legs. Witness the Browns' backfield, where starter Jamal Lewis has been showing his age (30) and wear (the league's third-most rushes, 2,529, over the last nine years, including playoffs). In the preseason he has 63 yards on 24 carries, while rookie James Davis has 149 yards on 19 attempts—a difference that could get the rookie on the field early.
Cleveland may have found a sixth-round bargain in Davis; at Clemson he ran for 3,110 yards and 36 TDs from 2005 through '07, and after his junior season he was projected as a second-round draft pick. Then, as a senior, he played behind a weaker line and his stats (751 yards, 11 TDs) plummeted with his draft stock.
While Davis isn't as powerful as Lewis or as speedy as backup Jerome Harrison, he has enough of both traits to see every-down work. With Harrison, a fourth-year player, slowed by an ankle injury, it looks like Davis should have a chance to make significant fantasy contributions. He's a good pick for your fourth running back.
Glen Coffee, RB, 49ers
After emphasizing the pass under coordinator Mike Martz last year, the Niners are now Martz-free and ready to run. Third-round pick Coffee, who averaged 77 yards a game and 6.1 yards per carry in his first three preseason tests, can expect a decent number of carries in relief of starter Frank Gore once the real games start. Draft the Alabama product as a flex reserve who could develop into more as the season progresses.
Ramses Barden, WR, Giants
New York made North Carolina wideout Hakeem Nicks its first-round pick, then took Barden (6'6", 227) from Cal Poly in the third. In camp Barden, who set a Division I-AA record by catching a TD in 20 consecutive games, has looked more likely to make an immediate impact, especially in the red zone where Eli Manning could use a big outside target.
Chase Coffman, TE, Bengals
With the incumbent, Reggie Kelly, out for the season (ruptured left Achilles tendon), Coffman, a third-round pick out of Missouri, will get a chance to showcase his receiving talents (90 receptions, 987 yards, 10 TDs in 2008). Assuming he blocks well enough to play regularly, Coffman has sleeper value in large leagues (those with 12 teams or more).
Louis Murphy, WR, Raiders
The fourth-round pick out of Florida arrived with much less fanfare than Oakland's top choice, Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland. But in Oakland's first three preseason games, Murphy caught six balls for first downs and had four catches for more than 20 yards; Bey has just two catches total. Don't draft Murphy yet, but keep this Raider on your radar.
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Not since Joe Namath in 1965 has a Jets rookie quarterback faced such lofty expectations as will their newly anointed starter, Mark Sanchez. The No. 5 pick out of USC is positioned to become the face of the franchise—but is he worth a fantasy pick in his first season? The answer is a qualified yes. Look at what the 22-year-old has going for him—a veteran offensive line, a strong running game to help keep the pressure off, a promising group of receivers, the absence of a strong No. 2 quarterback looming over his shoulder and the confidence of his coach, Rex Ryan. Last season Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco played themselves into fantasy spot-starter roles as rookies, and Sanchez should be able to do the same in 2009. He's worth a roster spot in larger leagues.
JOHN H. REID III (DAVIS)
RUNNING ROOM With aging and achy vets in front of him, sixth-rounder Davis sees an opening in Cleveland.
JOHN IACONO (SANCHEZ)