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Deciphering early depth charts

By Larry Hartstein | Senior Analyst

Kenny Britt is one of the early preseason surprises. (USATSI)
Kenny Britt is one of the early preseason surprises. (USATSI)

Packers coach Mike McCarthy was adamant last August: DuJuan Harris was the team's starting running back. The depth chart said so too.

We know how that turned out. Eddie Lacy took over the backfield, and does anyone doubt he would have done so even if Harris had stayed healthy?

Fast forward to this week. Teams are releasing initial depth charts ahead of their preseason openers.

While we greet the depth charts with a healthy dose of skepticism -- veterans usually get "the benefit of the doubt" over rookies -- we can still learn a lot.

Take the Rams' first depth chart. Kenny Britt made the starting lineup opposite Tavon Austin, confirming his hot start to camp was no mirage. Britt, 25, is ahead of two young holdovers the Rams have high hopes for: Brian Quick and Chris Givens. "He's ripped and he's motivated, and he's playing for his life," CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora said of Britt.

Britt is well worth a flier at his current ADP of 154, late 13th round in a 12-team league.

At running back, the depth chart offers more evidence rookie Tre Mason might not be Zac Stacy's handcuff, as everyone expected. Mason is fourth string, while Benny Cunningham is listed as Stacy's backup. Stacy and Cunningham "certainly have looked like the top two" in camp, reports ESPN.com.

Cunningham was outstanding last year, averaging 5.6 yards on his 47 carries. If Stacy goes down, the Rams will use a committee. Mason remains valuable in dynasty leagues, not in redraft leagues.

The Raiders pulled a mild surprise at receiver. They listed athletic freak Andre Holmes as a starter alongside Rod Streater, with free agent acquisition James Jones as a backup. All three are going to play a lot and get plenty of garbage-time opportunities with Oakland trailing.

But the depth chart reminds us what Holmes did when given a chance last year. From Week 12 on, Holmes played at least 47 snaps every game. He averaged four catches for 66 yards with one touchdown -- with horrible quarterback play. The 6-4, 210-pounder, who led the team with 17.2 yards per catch, has become Matt Schaub's "most consistent downfield threat" this preseason, according to the Associated Press.

Schaub described Holmes as a long strider with a big burst who can separate and then go up and make the catch -- "exactly what you want from a receiver." The duo hooked up on two bombs in Tuesday's practice, prompting Schaub to say: "I'm excited to see what he can do in game action. He's a big, big threat for us."

Holmes is going undrafted in many CBSSports.com leagues.

Ken Whisenhunt isn't putting much stock in his own depth chart. Asked why he listed Shonn Greene as the starting running back, the new Titans coach said, "We had to list somebody at one. We're rotating those guys, and he was the senior member. He came back and has worked hard. That's where we are right now."

Dexter McCluster was listed second, rookie Bishop Sankey third.

Don't worry, Sankey still will lead this backfield in carries. Greene will get his share of carries, especially in short yardage and at the goal line, and McCluster will be used on end-arounds, trick plays and as a receiver. But the Titans didn't draft Sankey 54th overall, the first RB off the board, to let him watch.

Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard rank Sankey 17th and 18th respectively among running backs. If Greene's knees don't hold up, Sankey will be in for a massive workload.

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