Three and out: Peyton Manning being cautious

Here are our fantasy takes on the NFL news of the day …

Concerns about Manning? Not yet: Last week, the Manning Passing Academy took place on the campus of Nicholls State for the 16th year. But the most famous Manning, Peyton, didn’t throw a football as he continues to recover from offseason neck surgery. The fantasy superstar stressed that he was being “very cautious” with his rehab because he hasn’t been able to use his own trainer due to the lockout. And while there is a chance he won’t be ready for the start of training camp (whenever that happens), there is little doubt that Manning’s status will be in question when the Colts open their season against the Texans on Sept. 11. After all, he’s never missed a start in his entire NFL career. So barring a setback in his recovery, I wouldn’t be concerned about drafting Manning for your fantasy team. Even at 35, he remains one of the game’s elite fantasy signal-callers.

More help for Peyton Hillis?: If the return of Montario Hardesty and an appearance on the cover of Madden ’12 weren’t enough to make you temper expectations for Hillis this season, now comes a report from the Cleveland Plain Dealer that the Browns are looking to add another running back. While the team likes Hardesty’s upside and “won’t spend huge money” on the position, the addition of another runner — especially someone who is a prolific pass catcher — would hurt Hillis’ opportunities both on the field and in fantasy land. In fact, he seems destined to see his total touches drop compared to his 2010 totals. So, despite the fact that he finished fourth in fantasy points among runners last season, owners shouldn’t target Hillis as more than a No. 2 option in 2011.

The battle behind Arian Foster: In fantasy football, oftentimes it’s important to handcuff the top running back(s) on your roster. That’s why the backfield situation in Houston is one to watch. Derrick Ward appears to be the current favorite to back up Foster, but Ben Tate and Steve Slaton are also in the mix. Ward and Slaton are former 1,000-yard rushers, and Tate was highly touted coming out of Auburn but missed his entire rookie season with an injured leg and ankle. He also has the most upside of the trio, but Ward averaged 6.3 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns as Foster’s backup last year. As for Slaton, he could be in the competition or end up as trade bait. Regardless, Tate will be worth a middle- to late-round choice based on upside alone. But if Ward is the eventual winner of the battle, he’ll have late-round appeal for owners who draft Foster in larger leagues.

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