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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

Matt Forte, RB, CHI - It was just one preseason game, and namely, one carry (an 89-yard TD run), so don't overreact to Forte's impressive performance against a poor Raiders run defense Saturday. Still, it was nice to see that burst back, and it's entirely possible last year's injuries (first a pulled hamstring in the preseason, later a sprained MCL) really contributed to his slump more than we realize. Forte isn't a special talent, and he converted just 2-of-18 goal-line attempts last season. He also has to deal with a poor offensive line and has to battle Chester Taylor for playing time in 2010. However, Forte is one year removed from totaling 1,715 yards as a rookie and has recorded 120 receptions over the past two years. Taylor is soon to be 31 years old and averaged just 3.6 YPC last season, so if Forte earns the majority of the work in a timeshare (what backfield isn't these days?) in a Mike Martz offense, he could be due for a big bounce back.

Matthew Stafford, QB, DET - Stafford completed 13-of-18 passes for 130 yards and a score during the Lions' win over the Broncos on Saturday. He's now sporting a 72.4 completion percentage over two preseason games, both coming on the road and outdoors. His overall numbers last season were pretty ugly (13:20 TD:INT ratio, 6.0 YPA), but he was a rookie, played in pain quite a bit and threw 10 touchdowns over his final five games. The offensive line remains a problem, but a healthy Calvin Johnson could make a scrub QB fantasy worthy, let alone one that was taken with the No. 1 overall pick. Add in Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson, Tony Scheffler and the return of Brandon Pettigrew, and all of a sudden the Lions are interesting on offense. The fact their defense is bad is also a plus for Stafford's fantasy value since he'll have to throw frequently. He's an intriguing QB2 option usually available late.

Lee Evans, WR, BUF - Again, it's best not to get too excited about Evans' 70-yard touchdown versus the Colts last week, as Trent Edwards rarely likes throwing deep, but it was a reminder Evans could reemerge as a viable WR3 type option in fantasy leagues. With a poor offensive line, shaky quarterback and often tough weather conditions, Evans is never going to be the star we once hoped, and he's hardly an ideal red-zone option either. Still, with Terrell Owens one-and-done in Buffalo, Evans is back being the No. 1 target, and he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark just two seasons ago. The addition of C.J. Spiller should have defenses less focused on stopping Evans as well. Don't forget about him.

Michael Bush, RB, OAK - Bush gained just 3.6 YPC on eight carries against the Bears on Saturday, so he hasn't exactly impressed, but he also added a 24-yard catch (he's a better receiver than most give him credit for), and each day Darren McFadden continues to miss with a hamstring injury, Bush is solidifying his role as Oakland's RB1. When McFadden returns, a timeshare is likely, but he's always looked better in practice than in game action, and he's clearly become one of the most injury-prone players in the NFL. Justin Fargas is gone, Jason Campbell provides a big upgrade at the quarterback position, and who knows, maybe some of the young Oakland receivers develop as well (Zach Miller is already a threat at the tight end spot), so this isn't the worst situation for a lead back. Even the defense shows signs of being decent, and a schedule featuring the AFC West and NFC West is as good as it gets. Bush could prove to be a difference maker.

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, PIT - Roethlisberger recorded a 64.6 QB rating during his preseason debut Saturday, but he completed 75.0 percent of his passes and got 9.5 YPA against the Giants. The losses of Santonio Holmes and Willie Colon definitely hurt, but Mike Wallace looks legit. The 4-to-6 week suspension (likely four) means Roethlisberger is coming at a big discount. Here's one of the 5-10 best players in the NFL typically getting drafted as a QB2. If you wait on the quarterback position (always advised), he's a perfect target later on. Roethlisberger isn't a truly elite fantasy quarterback since the Steelers like to run so much, but he'll be a perfectly fine QB1 once he returns from suspension.

Chris Cooley, TE, WAS - Cooley's current ADP is the TE11, behind the likes of Visanthe Shiancoe, which seems a bit low. He averaged 785.8 yards over a four-year stretch before succumbing to injury last season, and while his touchdowns have been down lately, that category can be fluky, and he averaged 6.8 TDs from 2004-2007. Fred Davis is highly talented, but he can't block and might be used more in the slot as a receiver anyway. Cooley is clearly going to get most of the playing time at the TE position in Washington. He now has an innovative mind as head coach in Mike Shanahan, a quarterback in Donovan McNabb who loves throwing to tight ends and has few other receiving options, so he should be heavily involved in the offense.

Kareem Huggins, RB, TB - Huggins is an undrafted free agent out of Hofstra who has done nothing but impress this preseason. Over two games, he's turned 16 carries into 99 yards (6.2 YPC) and more importantly, has earned the coaching staff's trust. In fact, it looks like he's already passed Derrick Ward as the team's RB2. And while it's been admirable to watch Carnell Williams' comeback, Huggins is seemingly behind just one back, who is one of the more injury-prone runners in the league. Don't expect miracles, but Huggins has become a decent late round flier at this point.

FALLERS

Justin Forsett, RB, SEA - There isn't a bigger Forsett supporter than myself, and if I were Pete Carroll, I'd see if the back could handle 20-22 touches a game. But unfortunately, I don't coach the Seahawks, and this looks like a true committee, especially with Leon Washington, who when healthy is quite effective himself, recovering faster from last year's gruesome leg injury than expected. This isn't Julius Jones stealing away carries - Washington is a legitimate alternative. So that leaves Forsett in a timeshare on what projects to be a mediocre to bad offense, and with his build, goal-line carries are unlikely as well. The talent screams upside, but the reality says let others reach.

Brandon Jacobs, RB, NYG - It's entirely possible Jacobs' disappointing season last year (3.7 YPC) was a result of playing through a knee injury he suffered Week 1, but let's be serious here - people 6-4, 265 lbs. aren't really made to be running backs. His current neck injury appears to be minor, but further leg problems really should be more expected than surprising. He's also dealing with major competition for carries, as Ahmad Bradshaw is finally playing on two healthy feet, and he sure looks like the superior option. Jacobs is the goal-line favorite and typically doesn't cost a high draft pick in fantasy leagues, but he's injury-prone and likely to take a backseat to Bradshaw, who should absolutely be taken earlier in drafts.

Matt Leinart, QB, ARI - After a decent preseason debut, Leinart looked pretty awful Monday, gaining just 28 yards on six attempts. And we can't just chalk this up to preseason nonsense, because he's fighting for the starting QB job, as few have been impressed by his offseason. Derek Anderson remains inaccurate, so Leinart is still the favorite by default, but his play could really hurt the value of guys like Larry Fitzgerald and Chris Wells. The Cardinals are going to suffer a major downgrade at quarterback in 2010.

Sidney Rice, WR, MIN - Rice is getting properly downgraded in most fantasy leagues, and he's still a high upside pick if he can somehow overcome the hip injury, but the problem really makes him risky in the middle rounds. He recently said it's "up in the air" whether he'll even be ready for Week 1, and it's possible surgery will be the only way to eventually fix the issue. He looks boom-or-bust right now. And even then, a third option is playing but doing so at less than 100 percent, so there's a lot of downside here.

Josh Freeman, QB, TB - Freeman suffered a thumb injury that should only keep him out for the rest of the preseason, but even if he's able to play in Week 1, he'll likely have to do so in pain. Not that Freeman is a big fantasy asset, but the lack of reps curtails the development of promising rookie Mike Williams, who has shown signs of being a future star. The injury also affects Kellen Winslow.

Chaz Schilens, WR, OAK - After dealing with a lingering foot issue, it now sounds like Schilens may need knee surgery. He's been a promising sleeper whenever on the field, but it's clear he simply can't stay on it, as he's proven to be way too brittle. Cross him off your sleeper list.