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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

Percy Harvin, WR, MIN - Harvin, who led all wide receivers in broken tackles last season despite being a rookie and recording a modest 60 receptions, is a special talent with the skills to develop into one of the best wideouts in football. He should only get better entering his sophomore campaign, and the return of Brett Favre is great news as well. His perpetual "day-to-day" status while dealing with serious migraine headaches that can seemingly pop up at any time is cause for concern, but Harvin claims doctors recently have figured out how to treat them. Harvin looked good while returning to action this week, and if his claim is true (or even if they can at least get the issue under more control), it's huge news for his long-term value. As for the short-term, news of Sidney Rice missing at least half the season after undergoing hip surgery gives Harvin a big upgrade, as it wouldn't surprise us to see his targets double this year. He's a borderline top-15 fantasy WR.

Tom Brady, QB, NE - Brady completed 18-of-22 passes for 273 yards (12.4 YPA) with three scores and zero picks Thursday. The strong performance came at home against a suspect Rams defense, but it was quite impressive nevertheless. Brady is another year removed from knee surgery and is fully recovered from last year's broken ribs - an underreported injury that likely hampered his final numbers. Randy Moss has looked terrific in the preseason entering a contract year, Wes Welker (knee) has returned quicker than expected and rookies Aaron Hernandez and especially Rob Gronkowski also look ready to contribute right away. New England's playoff schedule is concerning (@Chi, G.B., @Buf) - not so much the opponents, but all three games could be played in wintry conditions. According to Football Outsiders, Brady faced one of the 15 most difficult schedules in terms of pass defenses in NFL history last year, and while the Patriots' division should field strong secondaries (though if Darrelle Revis holds out, that would help), there's no way his matchups won't prove much easier in 2010. With major question marks regarding New England's defense, the team may have to win in shootouts. Brady should reach (and top) 30 TD passes for the second time in his career this season.

Jahvid Best, RB, DET - Best had trouble loosening up during Saturday's game, which resulted in him leaving after just one carry, enhancing the concerns about his durability. Still, he gained 51 yards on that lone rushing attempt and has totaled 158 yards over 19 touches during three preseason games. Best is unlikely to be a 20-carry-per-game back, but he can still approach 300 touches while being active as a receiver, and Detroit is going to give him all the opportunities he can handle. With Matthew Stafford poised to improve, and a healthy Calvin Johnson joined by Nate Burleson, Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler, the Lions' offense looks poised to break out.

Sam Bradford, QB, STL - Bradford completed 15-of-22 passes (68.2%) for 189 yards (8.6 YPA) with two touchdowns and zero interceptions during the Rams' win over the Patriots on Thursday. It's only one game and in the preseason, but it's become clear he's already St. Louis' best option at quarterback. Bradford is still fighting an uphill battle, dealing with a poor offensive line and unproven receivers, but early returns on the No. 1 overall pick have been highly encouraging.

Pierre Garcon, WR, IND - Garcon returned to action Thursday after missing the first two preseason games with an undisclosed injury and promptly hauled in an 18-yard touchdown. While Anthony Gonzalez and Austin Collie fight for the slot position, Garcon is locked in as the Colts' No. 2 WR, and he's already the team's best deep threat, as aging Reggie Wayne has seen his yards-per-catch drop in each of the past three seasons. Admittedly, when you also factor in Dallas Clark, there are numerous targets with whom Garcon will have to share in Indy, but other factors (entering his third year in the league, playing in a dome, having Peyton Manning at QB) point to quite a bit of upside.

Leon Washington, RB, SEA - Washington became the third Seattle RB to start a preseason game during the team's loss to Minnesota on Saturday, and thanks to a faster than expected recovery from his broken leg, he's starting to become something more than a late round flier in fantasy leagues. Justin Forsett remains the Seahawks back with the most upside, and in all likelihood it will be a committee situation regardless of who starts, but Washington might be the better buy right now, considering he's still so cheap.

Jermichael Finley, TE, GB - Finley is far from a sleeper, and for someone so unproven, his price tag can certainly be considered a big gamble for the risk adverse. However, the upside cannot be understated. Finley is a physical freak who will be consistently utilized in the slot like a receiver, and he's an absolute nightmare matchup for linebackers. There are also few better targets around the goal line. Over Green Bay's final six games last season (including the playoffs), Finley recorded 34 receptions for 496 yards and four touchdowns while playing on an injured knee. That's a season's pace of 91 catches, 1,323 yards and 11 scores. Of course, taking small samples and extrapolating them like that is silly, but Finley came into the NFL raw, is still just 23 years old and will now be entering his third year in the league, and again, he did that damage last year while hurt. Finley will certainly garner opposing defenses' attention, but with one of the best quarterbacks throwing to him in an offense loaded with talent (and possibly a shaky defense that will result in a ton of shootouts), he's also in an ideal situation. Elite skills combined with perfect circumstances is a scary combination. There's no way I'd take a different tight end ahead of him.

Arian Foster, RB, HOU - Foster ran for 110 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown and also added four receptions for 16 yards during Houston's win Saturday against a good Dallas defense. Steve Slaton suffered a turf toe injury during the game as well. I've written about Foster enough, so I'll keep this brief - he should be a second round fantasy pick.

FALLERS

Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, JAC - While it sounds like the rumors of Jones-Drew undergoing knee surgery were false, clearly he's been dealing with an injury for a while now and won't see any action over the rest of the preseason. Jones-Drew is expected to be ready for Week 1, and the team says all the time missed is just precautionary, but who knows, and any knee injury always runs the risk of lingering or cropping back up at a later date. Jones-Drew is an absolute workhorse with terrific skills, but his poor setup isn't that much different than Steven Jackson's, as Jacksonville projects to be a pretty mediocre to bad team, only in a tougher division. The injury concerns are enough to take Frank Gore and Michael Turner ahead of him.

Jerome Harrison, RB CLE - Harrison has managed just 72 yards on 23 rushing attempts this preseason, good for a 3.1 YPC mark. He's also lost fumbles in each of the last two games. Obviously, the coaching staff never fully endorsed him, even after last year's strong finish, as Cleveland traded up to draft Montario Hardesty in the second round. Hardesty, who was injury-prone throughout college, has been sidelined throughout the preseason with another knee injury, but he impressed during minicamp and is expected to be close to 100 percent by Week 1. At this point, Hardesty has more upside, yet Harrison typically costs a much higher draft pick.

Donovan McNabb, QB, WAS - While McNabb is still expected to be ready for Week 1, his recent ankle injury is apparently serious enough to put his status in some doubt. The loss of practice time as well as preseason action also hurts someone learning a new system. Mike Shanahan loves to run the ball, and Washington's group of receivers ranks well below average. At this point, grab Matthew Stafford instead.

Donnie Avery, WR, STL - Avery suffered a season-ending knee injury Thursday and was placed on IR. He worked hard over the offseason in an effort to break his injury-prone label, but to no avail. It's too bad, as he's shown some decent skills in the past and was emerging as the team's clear No. 1 WR with exciting Sam Bradford at the helm. Bump Laurent Robinson up your cheat sheets.

John Carlson, TE, SEA - Maybe his role in this offense won't be so different than last season. Carlson has totaled just two catches for 12 yards over three preseason games. Again, it's just exhibition and a small sample, but his lack of involvement has Seattle beat writers worried as well. Guys like Dustin Keller should be taken ahead of Carlson at this point.

Matt Leinart, QB, ARI - Leinart has completed 82 percent of his passes without committing a turnover this preseason, and he once threw for an NFL rookie-record 405 yards. While the latter may suggest there's a star inside him somewhere, that was four years ago, and it wasn't until midway through the third quarter of Arizona's third preseason game that he produced a single point during a drive. Leinart thrives while facing zone defenses, but his lack of arm strength is a problem, and he's become too one-dimensional, relying almost single-handedly on check-downs. It sure seems like Derek Anderson is going to be under center come Week 1.