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NFL Barometer: Seahawks Losing Their Lynchpin?

Derek VanRiper

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Senior Baseball Editor for RotoWire.com, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210) from 11a-2p ET on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

UPGRADES

Ben Roethlisberger, QB, PIT - The Steelers appear to be shifting their offensive philosophy to a more pass-heavy attack, as new offensive coordinator Todd Haley should open things up for Roethlisberger with the trio of Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders leading an underrated receiving corps. Although Haley's offenses in Kansas City failed to live up to the Kurt Warner-led units in Arizona during his tenure as the Cards' offensive coordinator in 2007 and 2008, the personnel at his disposal is much improved with his new gig. Further, there's the expected early-season absence of Rashard Mendenhall following ACL surgery in January. With a cast of unproven backs in Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer and John Clay attempting to replace him, it's reasonable to think that the Steelers may lean heavily on their passing game, at least in the early weeks of the season, while Haley's system should afford more passing attempts for Roethlisberger, who averaged 34.2 attempts/game last season.

Robert Turbin, RB, SEA - Marshawn Lynch is facing charges after being arrested for driving under the influence in California early Saturday morning, while a previous three-game suspension in 2009 for violating the league's personal-conduct policy suggests that another absence might be in the offing. A fourth-round selection in April, Turbin possesses a good combination of size and explosiveness along with the ability to work effectively as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Even prior to Lynch's most recent off-field incident, the rookie was an intriguing endgame target given that he was next in line behind a risky starter with a limited track record of success prior to his contract year in 2011. In the event of a Lynch absence, Turbin could see the bulk of the carries while Leon Washington and Kregg Lumpkin work in complementary roles.

Robert Meachem, WR, SD - Meachem managed to stay healthy and play in all 16 games for the Saints in each of the last three seasons, but never made the leap production-wise to match his status as a former first-round pick. During that span, he averaged 43 receptions on 64 targets per year while boasting an impressive 10.4 yards per target. After signing a four-year, $29 million deal ($14 million guaranteed) with the Chargers in March, Meachem will be counted on to help fill the void downfield in the San Diego offense following the departure of Vincent Jackson in free agency. Philip Rivers targeted Jackson a career-high 115 times in 2011, which should afford an increased role for Meachem on his new team even with the presence of Malcom Floyd and Vincent Brown.

Greg Olsen, TE, CAR - While Brandon LaFell showed glimpses of becoming a credible No. 2 wideout for the Panthers last season (10.9 YPT), there are plenty of extra targets to go around following the departure of Jeremy Shockey this offseason. Quarterback Cam Newton looked Shockey's way 62 times last season, including eight targets in the red zone. Meanwhile, Olsen was given 89 targets in 2011, including 11 in the red zone. With the potential for extra opportunities as the clear-cut No. 1 tight end, a career-year could be in order as Newton looks to establish a firm secondary option behind top wideout Steve Smith.

Mikel Leshoure, RB, DET - Jahvid Best will get an early-season look with Kevin Smith as the Lions' primary runner while Leshoure misses the first two games due to suspension, but there's reason to believe that the former second-round pick will have a significant role upon joining the picture in Week 3. Neither Best nor Smith have been models of durability in recent seasons, and both appear to be better suited to work in tandem with a more physical runner. A torn Achilles' forced Leshoure to spend his entire rookie season on injured reserve, but he should provide an inside running presence and stake a claim for work around the goal line in a Detroit offense that proved capable of moving the ball effectively even without a steady running game last season.

CHECK STATUS

Dez Bryant, WR, DAL - Bryant made headlines Monday after turning himself into police on charges of misdemeanor assault. Although he's had minor off-field issues during his brief NFL career, Bryant has never been suspended by the league and it's unclear at this point if a suspension is forthcoming from commissioner Roger Goodell for this incident. In his second season, Bryant increased his YPT mark from 7.8 to 9.0, hauling in 63 receptions for 928 yards and nine touchdowns, playing though a quad injury earlier in the season. Prior to the recent arrest, the reports on Bryant were encouraging as he earned praise from quarterback Tony Romo for his offseason work on the heels of his participation in the team's offseason strength program.

DOWNGRADES

Marshawn Lynch, RB, SEA - After an arrest on suspicion of DUI early Saturday morning in California, Lynch was officially charged by the Alameda County (CA.) district attorney Wednesday and will have a court date August 14. Disciplinary action from the league seems likely to follow pending the outcome of the legal process, although Lynch's attorney believes that the case could be thrown out or reduced due to discrepancies in the BAC tests. As previously mentioned, Lynch's violation of the league's personal-conduct policy in 2009 led to a three-game suspension, which certainly doesn't bode well as the NFL reviews this incident. Factoring in the potential for missed time, Lynch should be drop outside of the top-10 at his position on draft boards.

Matthew Stafford, QB, DET - The Lions ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing attempts last season (356), which is a trend that should begin to change with the return to health of their running back corps. Having the most dominant wide receiver in the league to throw to ensures that the bottom won't drop out completely for Stafford, but consider that he ranked behind the likes of Carson Palmer (8.4) and Kevin Kolb (7.7) in yards per attempt last season (7.6) while the secondary options in the receiving corps are unchanged at least until Ryan Broyles proves he's healthy following surgery to repair a torn ACL in November. A large part of Stafford's 5,038-yard season in 2011 is based on his league-leading 663 attempts, a number that will almost certainly fall below the 600-mark this time around. It's easy to view him as a top-10 quarterback carry a top-five price tag. Waiting to grab Philip Rivers, Michael Vick, Eli Manning, or Tony Romo seems like the better approach.

Kenny Britt, WR, TEN - Britt had arthroscopic surgery on his left knee following the Titans' minicamp in June. The torn MCL and ACL Britt suffered last season were in his right knee (which required another cleanup in May), but there has to be growing concern about his health entering training camp. Britt has shown elite skills while on the field during his NFL career (10.5 YPT, 31 games). The latest setbacks with his knees may ultimately limit him throughout camp and the preseason, while putting his availability for the season opener against the Patriots in question.

Vincent Jackson, WR, TAM - In terms of red-zone opportunities, Jackson should face less competition for valuable looks in close with the Bucs than he did in San Diego, with tight end Antonio Gates and a run-heavy Chargers offense in play. Even in a down year for quarterback Philip Rivers, Jackson averaged 9.6 YPT in 2011 while turning 60 catches into 1,106 yards and nine touchdowns. Unfortunately, the move from San Diego to Tampa Bay includes a downgrade at quarterback, particularly on throws made from 11-20 yards:

Rivers (2009) - 58.3%, 9.9 YPA, 11:4 TD:INT, 107.0 RAT
Rivers (2010) - 57.4%, 10.4 YPA, 10:8 TD:INT, 93.3 RAT
Rivers (2011) - 59.0%, 10.4 YPA, 9:5 TD:INT, 100.2 RAT

Freeman (2009) - 42.0%, 7.0 YPA, 3:12 TD:INT, 39.1 RAT
Freeman (2010) - 44.9%, 7.5 YPA, 9:1 TD:INT, 94.6 RAT
Freeman (2011) - 42.2%, 7.2 YPA, 5:11 TD:INT, 44.4 RAT

In Rivers' case, having Jackson and Gates to target on those medium-range throws undoubtedly helps the cause, but it's a pretty clear drop-off even when you account for Freeman's success two seasons ago in this category.

Michael Bush, RB, CHI - The Bears reached a four-year, $32 million deal with Matt Forte (who the team had franchised) prior to Monday's deadline, ending what may have become a holdout situation in training camp. In a backfield without Forte, Bush would have received RB1 consideration, but instead it's going to be a part-time role for him. Back in March, head coach Lovie Smith suggested that Bush would be deployed similar to the way Marion Barber was used last season. Although Barber was largely ineffective on a per-carry basis during his two seasons with the Bears (3.3 and 3.7 YPC), he quietly amassed six touchdowns last season while taking 18 carries in the red zone including 11 inside the 10-yard line and seven inside the five-yard line. Bush proved capable of carrying the load and providing pockets of value during his time in Oakland as the backup to Darren McFadden, and remains intriguing as a bench option for those looking to hedge against a potential Forte injury.

Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.