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NFL Barometer: Rising Rice

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

RISERS

Ray Rice, RB, BAL – Last week in my blog I spoke of the Ray Rice vs. LeSean McCoy debate as to who to take after the “big four” running backs are off the board. Since then, the former officially lost Willis McGahee as a goal-line vulture and added FB Vonta Leach, while the latter welcomed Ronnie Brown as a teammate. Brown’s addition to the Eagles roster shouldn’t affect McCoy’s value much, but Rice’s should receive a nice boost with the other news. After eclipsing 2,000 total yards during his second season in the league, Rice was something of a disappointment to fantasy owners last year, finishing with 119 fewer rushing yards despite receiving 53 more carries. Still, he totaled 1,776 yards and 63 catches, so he was hardly a bust. Dealing with a knee injury and an offensive line that went from a strength in 2009 to a weakness in 2010, Rice forced just five missed tackles on 307 rushing attempts, the lowest ratio in the NFL. Still, he enters 2011 fully healthy, and he could even grab the goal-line carries with McGahee gone. While the addition of Leach might not have as big of an impact as some media members are making it, the move certainly doesn’t hurt, and neither does a schedule that includes the four NFC West teams. There’s also a chance quarterback Joe Flacco takes “the leap” this year, which would result in a more efficient offense and increased scoring opportunities. Rice shouldn’t make it past the middle of the first round in your draft.

Chad Ochocinco, WR, NE – After averaging 1,374 receiving yards and nine touchdowns over five seasons from 2003-2007, Ochocinco has averaged just 806 receiving yards and six touchdowns over the past three. The competition for targets with Terrell Owens contributed to last year’s down season, but the main factor in Ochocinco’s decline has been his health and diminishing skills. Still, the move to New England boosts his value - he’ll be in a terrific system with Tom Brady throwing to him. Ochocinco is 33 years old, so a couple more good seasons should be in store. He’s suddenly a top-25 WR option again in New England.

Roy Williams, WR, CHI – Williams has been awful since his big 2006 season, but a transition from a Dallas offense with many mouths to feed to a Bears team that may very well install him as the No. 1 wide receiver will have a big impact on Williams’ fantasy value. Williams has flourished playing in Mike Martz’s offense before, and the offensive coordinator has spoken highly of his new weapon. Williams has disappointed more often than not, and he’s lost much of his explosion, but he’s back on the radar now in Chicago, especially if he leads the team in targets.

Daniel Thomas, RB, MIA – The acquisition of Reggie Bush is actually good news for Thomas, because it means Miami must believe the rookie can handle a heavy workload. Bush will be active in the receiving game and may dominate the third-down work, but he’s unlikely to receive more than 8-10 touches a game, leaving Thomas as the Dolphins’ primary back right out of the gate.

Cedric Benson, RB, CIN – Benson isn’t very good, but he’s still a relevant fantasy player after re-signing with the Bengals. With little competition on the roster, Benson should once again approach 300 carries, barring injury. He’s unlikely to be productive on a per play basis, but with that many touches, he will still be a factor.

Larry Fitzgerald, WR, ARI – Odds are Arizona overpaid for Kevin Kolb, but even if he can be a below average quarterback, it’d still be a big upgrade over what the Cardinals got from their QBs last season (5.8 YPA with a 10:19 TD:INT ratio and 50.8 completion percentage). Fitzgerald is unlikely to produce at the same level he did with Kurt Warner, but he’s primed to bounce back in 2011.

FALLERS

Zach Miller, TE, SEA – While Miller joins former coach Tom Cable in Seattle, it’s always risky when pass catchers switch teams. Miller clearly has talent, but it’s unknown how he’ll perform in a new offense, especially with the shaky Tarvaris Jackson throwing to him. Miller will also have to compete for targets with fellow TE John Carlson and wide receivers Mike Williams and Sidney Rice. His fantasy value would have remained far more stable had he stayed in Oakland.

Michael Crabtree, WR, SF – Foot injuries continue to plague Crabtree, who is going to be sidelined possibly 4-to-6 weeks with another problem. It’s the same injury dating all the way back to his college days, so it’s clearly a concern. Crabtree should be ready for Week 1, but he’s likely to miss his third straight preseason. Crabtree has been a disappointment so far in his career, and with the recent injury news, maybe he becomes a bargain in fantasy drafts. However, if San Francisco signs Braylon Edwards, Crabtree’s value would take a huge hit.

Tim Tebow, QB, DEN – Tebow is still worth stashing in deep formats, but all signs point to Denver entering the season with Kyle Orton as its starting quarterback. Orton has reportedly outplayed Tebow in practice by a wide margin, and beat writers say it’s clear Orton sits atop the depth chart. If the Broncos get off to a poor start, fans will be clamoring for Tebow, and it might behoove Denver to give him an extended opportunity to truly find out if he can be their franchise QB. While Orton is the better real life QB at this point, Tebow possesses far more fantasy upside because of his rushing ability.

Jordy Nelson, WR, GB – Everyone’s favorite sleeper took a hit when Green Bay surprisingly re-signed James Jones. With Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, Jermichael Finley and Jones competing for looks – and the potential the Packers may run the ball more this year - Nelson simply won’t see the targets necessary to be a weekly fantasy starter. It’s a shame too, as he has the talent (and QB) to make a major impact if given the opportunity.

Randy Moss, WR – Moss has decided to call it a career - he recently retired after no team was willing to pay him what he felt he was still worth. Moss has the second-most touchdowns for a wide receiver in NFL history and is a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer, but we are still left wondering what could have been had he continued the dominance he showed early in his career (and of course in 2007). Moss’ decline was precipitous.

Pierre Thomas, RB, NO – Thomas still needs to be drafted in all fantasy leagues, but he’s slated to back up Mark Ingram on early down work, and the recent addition of Darren Sproles really hurts Thomas’ PPR value. Sproles racked up 59 catches last season and is actually an upgrade for New Orleans over Reggie Bush. It’s going to take an injury or two for Thomas to be a factor.

Ryan Torain, RB, WAS – Torain is Washington’s nominal starter, but he’ll have to compete against a couple of rookies, and the newly acquired Tim Hightower as well. Moreover, the extremely injury-prone Torain is already dealing with a hand injury that will require him to see a specialist. Torain has talent when on the field, but his inability to stay healthy is a real problem, and there are plenty of other options on the Redskins’ roster ready to take his place.