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Week 3 takeaways: Surging Hightower no mid-round stiff

Every preseason an unheralded RB commands the attention of Fantasyland's citizens. Almost always, most within the virtual community, despite gushing remarks by coaches, players and beat reporters throughout training camp about said back, never immediately buy in hook, line and sinker. Not until the product delivers results on-the-field do people jump on the bandwagon. Even when that occurs many cautious owners refuse to hop aboard, instead choosing to invest their virtual dollars in more proven commodities with far limited upside.

Two years ago Ray Rice(notes) was that player. Last season, it was Arian Foster(notes). This time around, a former committee back with average talent appears to be the next draft day steal tinkering on the brink of stardom.

Mark the Noise's words, Tim Hightower(notes) will be the biggest mid-round difference-maker in fantasy football this season.

To those who drafted the Rip Van Winkle at or after his current 70.7 ADP, The Noise salutes you. Congrats are in order. Next to that alleged Nigerian prince who bilked your grandmother out of a cool grand five years ago, you might have pulled off the biggest heist in history.

Fanatics who despise the Dark Angel of Fantasy (Lucifer Shanahan) probably snickered when some poor unsuspecting soul selected Hightower in Round 7 over the weekend. These naysayers, burned repeatedly in the past, vowed never again to waste a roster spot on anyone associated with the treacherous coach, especially a running back.

But in three preseason games Hightower has the look of a reliable RB2. And that could be an understatement. Yes, outside pass-blocking and receiving work on third downs, he's marginally skilled. That's indisputable. He's averaged just 3.9 yards per carry over his career and suffered through a nasty case of fumblitis during his tenure as Beanie Wells'(notes) complement in Arizona.

However, as discussed before, Shanahan can turn one team's trash into treasure. Any intelligent rusher with excellent vision and a precise drop-step can thrive in the coach's one-cut-and-go scheme. Hightower definitely fits the bill. From former scout and current NFL.com analyst Bucky Brooks:

Hightower has shown outstanding speed, quickness and vision. He attacks the line of scrimmage quickly, but also has enough patience to identify the soft spot of the defense. His ability to work his way to the backside of plays has led to big gains, and the Redskins' offense has shown more pop as a result.

Shanahan earned a reputation for transforming unheralded runners into stars during his time in Denver, and he has another sleeper poised to experience a breakthrough season in Washington.

In his latest attempt to convert critics, Hightower racked 59 yards on just nine carries, including a superb 37-yard against-the-grain scoring run (Watch it here), versus the usually impenetrable Baltimore Ravens. Including Thursday's standout effort, he's averaged a ridiculous 6.8 yards per carry this preseason.

Doubters will contend Washington's terribly bland pass game will lead to stacked boxes and unexciting numbers for Hightower. Though that's a real concern, whoever emerges from the Rex Grossman(notes)/John Beck battle will likely be serviceable enough to keep defenses honest. Look in the mirror and ask this: Is Hightower in a better overall situation than more sought after rushers DeAngelo Williams(notes) (43.6 ADP) and Cedric Benson(notes) (54.7) are in Carolina and Cincinnati?

And don't worry too much about backups Roy Helu(notes) and Ryan Torain(notes). The rookie does possess finer raw talent than Hightower, but his struggles in pass protection will limit him to roughly 8-12 carries per game. The fragile Torain, meanwhile, is bound to blow an ACL by Week 5. A wad of gum and duct tape holds that guy together.

Ultimately, the execution of the 'Skins offensive line, which the veteran back recently commended for "finishing their blocks consistently," will lead Hightower to greatness. Maybe outside the Texans, no unit has looked more fine-tuned in exhibition play. As long as the boss hogs continue to seal-off gaps, Hightower will have plenty of wide running lanes to cut through.

Forget the stigma that's attached to those who draw "concrete" conclusions from preseason football. It's time to go all-in on Timmy.

Provided he pins the pigskin, he will emerge as a top-20 rusher this season.

Fearless Forecast (16 games): 264 carries, 1,188 rushing yards, 42 receptions, 288 receiving yards, 9 total touchdowns

What other players' stock is rising/falling? Here are nine additional takeaways from this past weekend's preseason slate:

The Packers' revolving door at RB continues to be as clear as mud. Against the Colts incumbent Ryan Grant(notes) opened the game as the starter, logging action on the first, third and fourth possessions. However, carries candidate James Starks(notes) also worked with the first team, netting touches on Green Bay's second and fifth series.

Overall, both offered about as much excitement as a Coldplay concert. Grant showed improved burst compared to his previous week's effort, but it didn't reflect in the box score. He totaled just 22 yards on seven touches. Comparatively, Starks, though occasionally sluggish, ran angrier and exhibited solid receiving skills. The second-year rusher totaled 44 yards on seven touches (five receptions).

At this point, it appears Mike McCarthy is committed to a full-blown 60-40 RBBC. Grant, presumably, will pull the heavier load, but if his explosiveness doesn't reemerge, the younger, more powerful Starks will slowly wrest away touches. Both are rosterable but should only be considered 'flex' options until someone steps up.

Week 3 takeaways: Surging Hightower no mid-round stiffCleveland received a fairly significant blow after their game in Philly releasing info third-down specialist Brandon Jackson(notes) (toe) and guard Eric Steinbach(notes) (back) could miss several weeks, if not the entire regular season.

The news is bittersweet for Peyton Hillis(notes). The much-discussed Bull Moose, whose ADP has slipped from the mid-teens to the high-20s over the past couple weeks, will feel the impact of Steinbach's loss, but he is expected to net all third-down work moving forward. The latter combined with his entrenched goal-line role and assumed 70-percent workload on early downs — Montario Hardesty(notes) will handle the other 30-percent — suggest he could meet or even exceed last year's breakout totals, especially if Colt McCoy's(notes) stellar summer carries over into fall. Keep stealing him in Round 3.

Long-bomer Lee Evans(notes) continues to make noise in his new digs. Thursday against Washington he hauled in three catches for 60 yards, including a 35-yard scoring strike from Joe Flacco(notes) (Watch the connection here). Averaging an insane 21.3 yards per catch this preseason, the former Bill has clearly shown he still has enough downfield acceleration to gain separation from defenders. Because Flacco throws an excellent deep ball, a 55-850-7 campaign can't be eliminated, provided, naturally, the wideout avoids the trainer's table, which he's currently logging time on. Aaron Wilson from the Carroll County Times reported Saturday Evans was spotted with his left foot in a protective boot. Wilson also added he wasn't walking around with a noticeable limp.

For now it appears Evans' final preseason game is in jeopardy, but he should be available Week 1 against rival Pittsburgh. He remains a solid WR4 buy after pick 100 (113.8 ADP).

The Piano Man's song about the pitfalls of handcuffing, though a worthy discussion, should fall on deaf ears to all current and future Arian Foster owners. Fantasy's top pick exited stage left in San Francisco after re-aggravating a hamstring injury that sidelined him for 11 days earlier this month. Post-game Gary Kubiak was "hopeful" the reigning rush king will be available for the opener against the Colts, a club he ripped Week 1 last year. Foster, too, expressed optimism about his status Sunday morning via his Twitter account.

4 those sincerely concerned, I'm doing ok & plan 2 B back by opening day. 4 those worried abt your fantasy team, u ppl are sick

Sick? Arian, we prefer "deranged."

As any athlete can attest, hamstring setbacks are tricky. Extended rest is usually the best medicine, but, if not healed properly, the odds of reoccurrence are generally strong, especially for a running back. Ben Tate(notes), who ran for a team-best 53 yards on 11 carries against the Niners, is an absolute must grab for Foster enthusiasts. If No. 23 is unable to go against the Colts, Tate would be a top-15 play.

Pittsburgh high-flyer Antonio Brown(notes) is officially on the fantasy radar. The sixth-round pick out of Central Michigan electrified Heinz Field reeling in four passes for 137 yards, including touchdowns of 44 (See the Steeler's end-zone shuffle here) and 77 yards (Watch the grab here), Saturday against Atlanta.

At 5-foot-10, 186-pounds, the svelte target isn't going to win many physical confrontations, but given his explosive open-field speed, he won't have to. With Emmanuel Sanders(notes) injured and Hines Ward(notes) aging, the youngster has a shot to become Ben Roethlisberger's(notes) second-favorite deep weapon. Mike Wallace(notes), coming off a banner 60-1257-10 campaign, remains the first.

Owners in competitive formats, especially ones that reward bonuses for long scores and track return yardage, should roster the two-percent owned Brown immediately. The preseason star, who wowed onlookers throughout camp, definitely has WR3 upside. A campaign slightly better than Wallace's rookie season (39-756-6) could be in the offing.

Week 3 takeaways: Surging Hightower no mid-round stiffFrom what we've seen from Cam Newton in three exhibition performances two assumptions can be made: 1) Based on his miserable 40.4 completion percentage (5.3 ypa), he would probably overthrow Hurricane Irene on a 15-yard post. 2) Because of his plus scrambling ability, he will be to DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart(notes) what Michael Vick(notes) is to LeSean McCoy(notes), an unwanted goal-line thorn.

Carolina's offensive line is outstanding, one of the stingiest units in the NFC, but assuming Newton remains the starter over the entire season, it's highly probable Stewart and DeAngelo won't reach 10 TDs combined. Love the duo's skill set and talent level, but the thought of constant eight-man fronts and occasional goal-line poaches by Newton suggest neither may turn a profit at their current ADPs (D-Will: 51.4, Stewart: 84.6).

It can't be stated enough, Kevin Kolb(notes) will be the biggest steal at the QB position this season. The underappreciated passer, who is going on average around pick No. 108 in Yahoo! leagues, finished Saturday night's showdown versus San Diego with 205 yards and a touchdown in a little over two quarters of play.

His deep ball remains inconsistent and it's clear he's still absorbing Ken Whisenhunt's system, but he made a number of excellent throws, including a beautiful 80-yard bomb to Larry Fitzgerald(notes) (See it here).

Even if the Cards' poor execution on pass protection continues, Kolb should deliver quality numbers. He moves well out of the pocket and has Fitzgerald to throw to. Plus, his hefty 9.2 yards per attempt in preseason play is a strong indication, when he has time, No. 4 will take shots downfield, enhancing his opportunity for posting juicy totals. And keep in mind the Cards have the eighth-easiest schedule for signal callers, including friendly playoff matchups against San Fran, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Come year's end, it wouldn't be a surprise if Kolb finished in range of 3,700 yards with 25-28 TDs.

Saints tight end Jimmy Graham(notes) has been a fixture on expert sleeper lists since bursting onto the scene last November. Going around pick No. 70 on average in Yahoo! Drafts (TE7), everyone is fully aware of his potential. However, he might actually be better than advertised. Sunday night against Oakland, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound former paint patroller for the Fightin' Shapiros (Miami Hurricanes) was targeted a team-high eight times catching five passes for 73 yards.

His incredible size, versatility and athleticism was clearly problematic for the Raiders. Even against good pass defenses a similar scenario will likely unfold. His route-running skills and ability to set up defenders has greatly improved since last year. Like JerMichael Finley(notes), Graham is practically unstoppable when playing at his best.

New Orleans' spread-the-wealth offense makes any gold-clad receiver boom/bust, but, it's clear, the second-year TE will be heavily involved. With Lance Moore(notes) banged up and Marques Colston(notes) slowly regaining form, Graham will likely be Drew Brees'(notes) favorite underneath weapon. Touchdown predictions are always tricky with Saints, but a 75-950-7 campaign is definitely attainable. If you bypassed the elite TE tier to grab Graham, you might have lassoed a top-five commodity.

During the rather damp Eagles/Browns broadcast Jeremy Maclin(notes), interviewed by a reporter on the sidelines, declared "no doubt" he'll be ready for Philly's Week 1 clash with the Rams in St. Louis. More encouraging, he returned to practice Saturday. The top-20 WR from a season ago remains a steal at his current rock-bottom rate (61.0 Y! ADP).

Fellow Baldy, Steve Smith, shockingly, also practiced alongside Maclin. Apparently, Eagles team doctors were right after all. Several reports offered different perspectives on the former Giant's return date after undergoing microfracture surgery in January. Most speculated a midseason activation. Few said he would miss the first month. Virtually none suggested Week 1.

It's still an uphill climb for Smith. In a new system, he's a low-man on the totem pole. But if he makes significant strides over the next few weeks, he could supplant Jason Avant(notes) as Andy Reid's primary slot receiver by October. Remember, he's just two years removed from a 107-catch season. It's extremely doubtful he'll match even 80-percent of his value from 2009, but the impending free agent is a proven commodity in a nuclear offense who is very motivated to net a sizable post-season payday. He's a WR4 (122.8 Y! ADP) with substantial upside, particularly in PPR formats.

Bring the noise on Twitter. Follow Brad @YahooNoise.

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Images courtesy of US Presswire

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