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NFL Barometer: Upgrades and Downgrades

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

RISERS

Brandon Marshall, WR, MIA - If the Miami beat writers are to be believed, Marshall has looked highly impressive so far during camp. Moreover, he's now happy after being paid during the offseason, and a change of scenery can only do him some good. There's always some risk in a receiver changing systems, and the Dolphins figure to be run-heavy, but a developing Chad Henne is likely an upgrade over Kyle Orton, and Marshall remains the only game in town (i.e., there isn't even an average WR on the rest of Miami's roster). Marshall is a physical freak, and it should be interesting to see what he can do fully healthy and with his mind right.

C.J. Spiller, RB, BUF - After getting the downgrade last week, Spiller moves up since he ended his brief holdout and signed his rookie contract. In fact, Buffalo immediately placed him with the ones during practice, and it's clear the coaching staff is high on its prized first-round back. Spiller is in an awful situation, playing for a team with a poor offensive line while battling two other running backs for touches, but he's likely already the most talented player on the Bills offense, so he's going to get touches. He has the type of explosive ability to overcome a bad situation, and he doesn't necessarily need a big volume to be a useful flex option in fantasy leagues. Most backs around his ADP come with question marks anyway.

Ray Rice, RB, BAL - Rice apparently lived in the weight room during the offseason, and he can now reportedly bench press 405 lbs and squat more than 500. Rice may only be 5-8, but he's more than 200 lbs and is thick - the upside here is off the charts. He didn't receive even 20 carries in a game until Week 8 last season, yet still totaled 2,041 yards. It's probably unrealistic to expect another 78 receptions, and Willis McGahee's presence at the goal-line hurts, but Rice's rushing attempts should increase, and he's in a terrific situation running behind a strong offensive line with a developing Joe Flacco now with Anquan Boldin as a weapon.

John Carlson, TE, SEA - Carlson was a fantasy disappointment last season. Although he managed seven touchdowns, a modest 84 targets held back his yardage output. Seattle brought in Chris Baker during the offseason, with the hope of taking away blocking responsibility from Carlson, who should be allowed to run more routes in 2010. Matt Hasselbeck has already predicted Carlson will be the team's MVP this season, and the third-year tight end has impressed so far during training camp. With an unsettled rushing attack and a lack of elite options at receiver, Carlson should be one of the primary targets in Seattle's offense. He could be a bargain taken late in drafts this year, thanks to a surplus of tight ends around the league.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, PIT - Rookie Jonathan Dwyer has been anything but impressive so far in camp, and it now looks like Mendenhall is once again the favorite for goal-line duties, which is huge news for his fantasy value. Plenty can still change, but that short-yardage work was the main question surrounding Mendenhall, who enters 2010 as Pittsburgh's feature back. With Ben Roethlisberger (suspension) out at least the first four games of the season, the Steelers will rely upon Mendenhall heavily.

Clinton Portis, RB, WAS - Portis lacks upside at this stage of his career, but it looks like he'll enter the season No. 1 on Washington's depth chart. Before injuries ruined his 2009 campaign, it's worth noting he averaged 1,678 scrimmage yards and 10 touchdowns in each of the previous two years. He also will be playing with upgrades at quarterback and head coach this season. Still, last year's concussion issue is a real concern moving forward, and Portis has already accrued 2,176 career rushing attempts. He's a long shot to remain both healthy and productive in 2010.

Mike Williams, WR, TB - Williams has already officially been named the Bucs' starting split end, and while it's only an initial depth chart, the designation further illustrates just how impressive the rookie wide receiver has been so far. Off-the-field issues made him a fourth-round pick, but few doubt his ability on the field made him deserving of a first round grade, and with no issues so far as a pro, his long-term potential is exciting. Of course, wide receiver is a tough position to learn (though he did play in a pro-style offense in college), and his situation is hardly ideal with a raw quarterback throwing to him in an offense that projects to be below average. Still, Williams is already Tampa Bay's WR1 and is a great target in dynasty leagues.

FALLERS

Philip Rivers, QB, SD - Rivers is probably a top-five player in the NFL, but some signs point to him not being the best target in fantasy leagues this year. The likely holdouts of Vincent Jackson and LT Marcus McNeill are both concerns. Rivers probably made Jackson look good more than vice versa, and Malcom Floyd may be able to step in seamlessly, but the real worry here is a lack of depth. McNeill was just an average to maybe below average left tackle last season, but that doesn't mean his loss won't be felt if the alternative is a disaster (fourth-round rookie Tyronne Green is currently playing LT right now in SD). Additionally, the Chargers plan on running more this year, which makes sense considering Ryan Mathews figures to be a major upgrade in the backfield. Again, Rivers is a fantastic quarterback, but it's tough racking up the production given his usage - his 486 passing attempts ranked 18th among QBs last year; a ranking that would have been even lower if not for injuries to other signal callers. Banking on another 8.8 YPA mark is unreasonable. Playing in an awful AFC West division and facing the NFC West as well, it wouldn't surprise to see San Diego protecting a bunch of second half leads in 2010 by pounding the football.

Percy Harvin, WR, MIN - Harvin has the talent to legitimately be one of the 5-10 best wide receivers in the NFL, and it remains a mystery how he somehow fell to pick No. 22 in the draft. But he has a couple of issues to worry about entering 2010. For one, Brett Favre retiring would hurt his value for sure, as the downgrade to Tavaris Jackson would be major. Moreover, he's recently been suffering from more migraines, which was an issue his rookie year as well. The problem ultimately cost him just one game last year, but it's apparently a condition doctors can't correct. He's without a timetable to return to camp.

Darren McFadden, RB, OAK - McFadden hurt his hamstring Saturday and has been ruled out of Oakland's first preseason game. Injuries have become a trend with McFadden, who has only averaged 3.9 YPC during his brief career. It would be interesting to see what he could do with 300 touches, especially in an improved offense with Jason Campbell at the helm, but McFadden's inability to stay on the field is making Michael Bush look like an enticing fantasy option.

Devin Thomas, WR, WAS - It's possible coach Mike Shanahan is just trying to motivate Thomas listing him third on Washington's depth chart, but it's also possible the former second round pick is continuing to disappoint in practice. He only has to beat out Joey Galloway, Roydell Williams and Malcolm Kelly, which shouldn't be difficult, but Thomas may simply just not be any good. Santana Moss, Chris Cooley and even Fred Davis all look like preferred targets, even if Thomas somehow wins the WR2 job.

Jake Delhomme, QB, CLE - Delhomme is likely to go undrafted in most fantasy leagues, so this isn't groundbreaking, but his struggles over the past two years in Carolina have apparently followed him to Cleveland, and it appears Seneca Wallace is a real threat to take over as starter. With few options to throw to as well, the Browns' offense is also something to worry about for prospective Jerome Harrison and/or Montario Hardesty owners.

Lynell Hamilton, RB, NO - Hamilton, who had recently been given praise by New Orleans' coaching staff, has suffered a season-ending torn ACL. He had a shot at being the Saints' short-yardage back and possibly even taking over Mike Bell's role on the team, but not any more. The news would seem to be good for Pierre Thomas' fantasy value, but it's just as likely coach Sean Payton brings in another warm body to take carries away.

Robert Meachem, WR, NO - Thanks to a lingering toe injury, Meachem remains unable to practice with no timetable for his return. The situation can no longer be ignored, as it's now become a legitimate concern. Meachem sustained the injury last year and decided to undergo surgery in May after he continued to experience pain during the Saints' offseason program. The operation was considered minor, but he was expected to be back well before now. Keep monitoring this situation, as Devery Henderson very well could be locking down the WR2 spot in New Orleans.