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Stock Watch: Kevin Smith rising in drafts

8/24/2012

Things are looking good for Detroit Lions running back Kevin Smith to be the team's entire running game the first two weeks of the regular season, and as such, it's of little surprise that he is the fastest-rising option in ESPN's average live draft results (ADP). Smith was a mere 14th-rounder a week ago, and now he's knocking on the door of the ninth round. I speculated about Smith's pending rise in last week's Stock Watch, and in Smith's case, the drafters have followed suit.

Three Lions backs showed up in my running back tiers blog entry from Friday, with Smith leading the way in Tier 10 (34th among running backs, 83rd overall), but I'm unlikely to move him up much. One might ask -- and you certainly have -- why I'm not a bigger fan of his. Well, there are the durability issues that held Smith back in the past, but the fact is, he's also holding down the fort until younger options are available. Oh, and quarterback Matthew Stafford throws the ball approximately 74 times per game, which factors in as well.

Word has it that interesting youngster Mikel Leshoure is expected to play in this weekend's preseason tilt against the Oakland Raiders, and since he's been sharing the first-team duties with Smith in the first place, I say this bodes well for the future. It's actually an important game for Leshoure. Remember, Leshoure was a real-life second-rounder out of Illinois in the 2011 draft and was slated for big things until he tore his Achilles tendon in training camp. It's not a knee, but it's still serious.

This summer, Leshoure has been held back by a hamstring problem, and off the field, he certainly has been no angel. He is suspended for the first two games of the season. By Week 3, however, I expect him to be healthy and relevant, one of ESPN's most-added players if we talk about him enough. Leshoure currently is going unselected in most drafts, owned in 7.5 percent of leagues. Smith is owned in 92.5 percent of leagues. Nothing against Smith, who exploded on the fantasy scene -- after he was basically out of football -- in Week 11 last season with 140 rushing yards and 38 fantasy points, but he didn't impress after that. Leshoure is going to get a chance.

And lurking is the wonderfully talented Jahvid Best, dropping completely out of drafts because of the fact that his concussion woes are likely to get him placed on the physically unable to perform list, which means he would not be eligible to play until Week 7. Best was a top-100 player in drafts a week ago. He's down 81.7 spots in ADP over the past week. For perspective, the second-largest drop at running back is San Diego Chargers running back Ronnie Brown, at 6.4 spots. Basically, the Lions' running backs are a popular topic when it comes to who's rising and falling in our drafts.

OK, so that's what is happening in our drafts. What will happen on the field this season? Personally, I don't see any Lions ending up as top-30 running backs this season, but for now I rank them Smith, Leshoure, then Best. In 2011, Smith finished No. 36, but nearly half his season scoring total came in one game. Best was 40th, but he played in only six games. There's real concern Best will not play at all this season. Leshoure missed his rookie season. I want to believe Smith can stay healthy and productive, but I also see myself moving Leshoure up in the rankings over the next week, especially if Saturday night goes well. For him, the impression matters. If you can be a bit patient, I'd stash Leshoure away late in drafts. By mid-September, he's going to matter.

Movin' on up

Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee Titans: No QB is rising as quickly, but let's be clear: Locker wasn't being drafted at all, so it's a bit misleading. There are still 25 quarterbacks with a better ADP, although I expect Locker to crack the top 20 soon. His fantasy popularity is somewhat because he hasn't failed in the NFL yet, really. The job is his but he remains unproven. I like him as a potential fantasy backup.

Kendall Hunter, RB, San Francisco 49ers: Frank Gore is the undisputed starter and should be very good, but fantasy owners are starting to handcuff Hunter to him, which makes sense. Perhaps it took injuries to Brandon Jacobs and LaMichael James last weekend to make it clear, but Hunter was next in line all along.

Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears: I suspect quite a few of the people drafting him have no idea who he is or just learned the name, but the rookie from South Carolina has been impressive so far, and there's a chance he will earn playing time over Earl Bennett and perhaps Devin Hester. Jeffery is owned in barely 15 percent of leagues, but he's becoming a late selection owners take a chance on in the 14th or 15th round. Makes sense to me.

Others: Nice to see wide receivers Danny Amendola and Davone Bess getting more attention. I filmed a video about them as sleepers earlier in the week. They're not just for point-per-reception formats. I also mentioned Titus Young, and he's moved up to Round 12 as well. ... It's no surprise Rashad Jennings continues to move up, but I still think Maurice Jones-Drew will start in Week 1 and all subsequent weeks. ... After Locker, the other QB on the move is Matt Ryan, probably because of preseason numbers. Oh, well. ... Watch Seattle's Russell Wilson become the hottest QB riser next week.

Movin' on down

Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins: His preseason numbers aren't very good, but that's no reason for him to drop into the ninth round. Perhaps he was being overdrafted to start with, but nothing I've seen in August games is relevant to that fact. If you have a top-five QB, there's little downside to choosing an upside guy such as Griffin later.

LeGarrette Blount, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Well, a week ago Doug Martin was listed in this falling space. Now Blount is third behind Detroit's Best and San Diego's Brown for largest drop in the past seven days. I don't get it. Blount is going to play. So is Martin. Frankly, Blount falling to the 13th round is a huge bargain. I have him ranked better and have considered moving him into my top 100.

Santonio Holmes, WR, New York Jets: His stock is hardly dropping the most at his position, but it sure seems like all Jets are coming at a discount this preseason. Holmes is about to fall out of the top 100. In 2011, he finished tied for 32nd in standard wide receiver scoring and with eight touchdowns. It is certainly possible Tim Tebow will start for this team over Mark Sanchez, but it's not going to make Holmes irrelevant.

Others: Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten is down 20 spots in a week, which seems about right. He might still play in Week 1, but it does appear he's avoided a long-term absence. He could be a nice bargain now. ... Plaxico Burress has dropped out of the final round, which makes sense since he still hasn't found work. ... Michael Vick and Eli Manning were being selected in the same spot in drafts two weeks ago, but Vick is down a bit because of his multiple-MRI preseason. He remains a fourth-rounder, but Peyton Manning might pass him soon. ... Roy Helu of the Redskins is starting to drop, and by this time next week he could be dropping a lot. ... Stevan Ridley is similarly dropping, now on the verge of the eighth round, but that looks like a mistake.

Have a great weekend! The season starts in less than two weeks, on the first Wednesday of September. Be prepared!