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Five Things to Know: Red Flags in Indianapolis

Mario Puig

Mario Puig

Mario sets the direction of RotoWire's college football and NFL draft content, with his other responsibilities primarily resting in those same subjects. He's a fan of Chip Kelly, James Harrison and David Bowie.


1. Does Peyton Manning's neck situation put a red flag on Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark?

Somewhat. But it's not clear just how much both players (not to mention Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon) should be downgraded in light of Manning's bleak prognoses, which now include back complications in addition to the initial neck issue.

Of course, some of those prognoses are bleaker than others, and it's anyone's guess which ones have merit. The rumors of Manning needing additional surgery have quieted for the time being, which is obviously welcomed. But Manning won't play Week 1, and given the lack of any clear progress since his return to practice (his participation in which was shut down), it wouldn't be shocking if the first month or so were in jeopardy for Manning.

It's next to impossible to guess just what the Colts will look like with Manning on the sidelines. He has started every regular season game for Indianapolis since the team made him the first overall pick in 1998, and the team simply was not prepared to endure this sort of crisis. So even if you set aside the talent drop-off from Manning to Kerry Collins, it's very possible that there will be some profound schematic and identity dysfunction in the offense.

At this point, Collie and Garcon are probably bench fodder outside of deep leagues. Not only is Collins probably not good enough to get them the ball consistently, but the Colts should be expected to run more often to hide Collins' flaws. That means Wayne and Clark are the only receivers in Indianapolis who remain clear starting options.

Wayne was probably a rock-solid WR2 option in most formats before the Manning crisis reached its current point, while Clark was probably a consensus top-three tight end. Guessing where either is at this point certainly isn't easy, but both players should remain fantasy relevant.

It's worth noting that Collins was on the field in Tennessee when Kenny Britt had his biggest games last year, including his seven-catch, 225-yard, three-touchdown game against Philadelphia, and the 17-year veteran is presumably smart enough to show Wayne similar favoritism. For that reason, Wayne should probably be considered no less than a WR3 in most standard scoring leagues. In PPR scoring, he might be able to maintain the WR2-level production that was initially expected of him.

Clark's value is a little more difficult to assess since Collins has no recent history of throwing to a star tight end, but this is something Collins has done surprisingly well in his career. Two of Jeremy Shockey's most productive seasons were with Collins throwing the ball in 2002 and 2003. Shockey totaled 122 catches for 1,429 yards and four touchdowns in those 24 games, which would project to 81 catches for 953 yards and three scores in a full season. And in 2009, Collins' last year as a full-time starter, Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler combined for 82 catches, 818 yards and three scores. This would all seem to hint that Clark should post nice reception and yardage numbers this year, but a lack of touchdown production likely will limit his upside.

In any case, both Wayne and Clark might be surprisingly close to their pre-Manning values, particularly in PPR leagues. Both players are precise route runners with strong hands, which should fit well with Collins' checkdown-heavy style of quarterbacking. The only area either player should suffer especially much is touchdowns, which limits their ceiling more than it lowers their floor.

2. Which (if either) Packers RB will take hold of the offense?

Incumbent Ryan Grant and second-year back James Starks are expected to split the workload at running back against New Orleans on Thursday. This is profitable role when held by one player, but an enduring split of the carries would badly limit the fantasy value of both runners.

It's a situation that could be volatile, and it's anyone's guess just how the carries get split. Anything from an explicit carry ratio to a minute-to-minute "hot hand" approach would be unsurprising, which could make both players difficult fantasy starts even if their aggregate numbers look respectable at year's end.

There are only three things that seem especially certain between the two players. One, Starks appears the better athlete, if not the more effective player at this point. Or at least that's the general word out of Green Bay's training camp. Second, as a four-year veteran of the system, Grant has better knowledge of the team's scheme than Starks, who has only been playing since December. The third point is less certain than the other two in light of Grant's season-ending ankle injury last year, but Starks should generally be considered the less durable of the two. He had a worrisome injury history while playing for Buffalo in college, and his tall build is not ideal for a running back.

3. Luke McCown is worth keeping an eye on

You shouldn't draft him in most leagues, but McCown is someone who could be a surprisingly decent in-season addition with the right matchups.

A quick look at his 2007 season with the Buccaneers shows why. Active for five games and starting three, McCown completed 67.6 percent of his passes for 1,009 yards, five touchdowns and three interceptions while adding 117 yards (9.8 yards per carry) on the ground.

Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio is trying to sell the idea that McCown was the best quarterback in training camp, and if that's true, it's possible that he still has a bit of the skill he flashed in 2007..

4. That goes for the Redskins QBs, too

Few quarterbacks in recent memory are disasters waiting to happen to the extent that Rex Grossman is, but he's still worth watching as a spot start this year.

In his three starts in 2010, Grossman averaged 42 pass attempts per game. The result was 840 yards despite an unimpressive average of 6.7 yards per pass attempt. If you were to project that over 16 games, you would get the ugliest 4,480 yards ever, but a good fantasy option nonetheless.

Mike Shanahan is too fickle a coach to make Grossman a good draft pick outside of deep leagues (and in such leagues it would be wise to add John Beck in preparation of the inevitable Grossman benching), but Grossman's 322-yard, four-touchdown showing against Dallas last year speaks for itself.

5. Can David Garrard be Seattle's savior?

Not likely. And just to be clear, there has been no on-the-record contact between Garrard and Seattle as of press time. But he would represent a potentially significant upgrade to the fantasy value of Sidney Rice, and maybe Zach Miller, too. It's something for which owners of both players can hope.

Tarvaris Jackson appears like a very real threat to turn Rice, previously one of the most productive receivers in the league, into a WR4 at best in most leagues. Charlie Whitehurst would probably inflict the same reality on Seattle's prized free-agent addition.

Garrard won't fool anyone for a world beater, but he was the primary passer as second-year wideout Mike Thomas hauled in 66 passes last year. Thomas looks legit himself, but he's probably not close to Rice's level, so the results likely would have been even better if it had been Rice in that role. Of course, the lack of training camp in Seattle and the probability of decreased effectiveness after dealing with back issues in the offseason mean Garrard would be unlikely to provide the same productivity to Rice in Seattle. Still, it's not difficult to do better than Jackson or Whitehurst.

Miller might be even more likely to benefit if Garrard heads to Seattle. Marcedes Lewis scored nine touchdowns in the 14 games Garrard started last year, and it's not difficult to argue that Miller is a better player than Lewis. Such a touchdown rate would be highly unlikely to show up between Garrard and Miller in Seattle, but as mentioned, it's just not difficult to do better than Jackson and Whitehurst.