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NFL Barometer: More Risk at Running Back

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.

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Trent Richardson, RB, CLE - What a difference a week makes. Richardson's opportunity for a heavy workload from Day 1 pushed him into the top-10 in many summer mocks - ahead of Darren McFadden, Marshawn Lynch and Matt Forte among others. A case of "knee soreness" kept Richardson from participating in Tuesday's practice and quickly put his status for the preseason opener in doubt. By Wednesday, it was learned that Richardson was going to visit orthopedic surgeon Dr. James Andrews to have the knee examined. The final outcome for Richardson is an arthroscopic procedure to remove a "hang nail particle" of loose cartilage. While early reports suggest that Richardson is expected to be ready for the regular season opener, missing the entire preseason and a significant portion of training camp is a concern for the rookie. As a result of the injury, Richardson now possesses health concerns similar to the more proven backs that were previously available after him. He should be downgraded a handful of spots on most running back lists with the middle or later half of Round 2 draft slot.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, PIT - In mid-July, Mendenhall was optimistic about his chances of being ready for the start of the regular season. Not surprisingly, that timetable was overzealous and Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert indicated that Mendenhall is likely to begin the season on the PUP list in anticipation of a six-game absence. For those previously willing to buy into the sooner-rather-than-later return date Mendenhall was throwing out there, it is time to drop him accordingly. Instead of providing value as a mid-round option with the chance of getting back within the first couple of games during the regular season, Mendenhall looks more like a second-half lottery ticket than anything else.

Mike Goodson, RB, OAK - Goodson was removed from Tuesday's practice with an ambulance after suffering a neck injury in a helmet-to-helmet collision. Fortunately, a CT scan and MRI have come back clean, so there is nothing in terms of long-term damage in play with his neck. Currently, Goodson's status for the Raiders' preseason game Monday is unclear, and no timetable for his return to the field has been provided. With Goodson and Taiwan Jones (hamstring) dinged up, Lonyae Miller has been receiving extra reps in the Oakland backfield behind Darren McFadden. If Goodson is able to make it back within the next couple of weeks, a battle for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart with Jones will ensue.

Kenny Britt, WR, TEN - Britt met with commissioner Roger Goodell on Monday and came away "a little worried" about a possible suspension. Tuesday, he missed a mandatory appointment with a club trainer and was fined $9,915 for the absence. Hilariously, Britt took his frustration to Twitter and included a photo of the fine sheet from the team with a caption:

"Yu gotta be (expletive) kidding me...walk back to dis...Don't dey know I have kids...I'm tired of did (expletive)."

The elite talent here makes it very difficult to write him off, but Britt isn't doing himself any favors by missing rehab sessions and publicly venting against his employer, when he's already in danger of a significant suspension from the league for last month's DUI arrest.

Matt Moore, QB, MIA - Moore appears to be losing the battle for the Dolphins' starting quarterback spot to David Garrard, although preseason game performance could help Moore claw his way back into the mix. While few are expecting Miami's passing attack to generate a top-15 fantasy quarterback this season, the winner of the job should be proficient enough for consideration in two-QB formats. Garrard still showed a useful amount of mobility (66 carries for 279 yards, five scores) while posting a 7.5 YPA in a run-first Jacksonville offense in 2010 before he missed all of 2011 with a back injury.

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Terrell Owens, WR, SEA - At age 38, Owens parlayed an impressive workout with the Seahawks on Monday into a one-year deal with an opportunity to compete for a starting receiving spot opposite Sidney Rice. After losing his 2011 season to recovery from a torn ACL, Owens is reportedly in excellent shape and was already on the field with his teammates for practice Wednesday. Target volume may ultimately determine if Owens can still serve as a steady WR3 for fantasy owners, as he has not exceeded 7.6 YPT in any of his last three seasons, but Rice's inability to stay healthy and a relatively unstable cast of wideouts around him on the depth chart could enable a repeat of Owens' 2010 campaign as he remains a viable red-zone threat.

Keshawn Martin, WR, HOU - Martin has opened eyes during his first NFL training camp, pushing his way up to the No. 3 spot on the Texans' depth chart behind starters Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter. It may only be a matter of time before Martin unseats Walter for a starting job, as he offers 4.45 speed and the ability to pile up yardage after the catch. While the loss of Jacoby Jones in free agency once looked like a potential increase in value for Walter, it's becoming clear that Martin was selected in the fourth round to slot in as Jones' immediate replacement. Keep a close eye on his performance throughout the preseason, particularly if Martin gets targets when the Texans deploy their first-team offense in August as he has the physical tools to deliver on the upside that fantasy owners have long been hoping for from Walter and Jones.

Montario Hardesty, RB, CLE - With Trent Richardson's questionable status for Week 1 following a recent knee scope, Hardesty will get a spin as the Browns' primary back during the preseason while taking the lead role and likely yielding third-down work to Brandon Jackson. After a torn ACL cost Hardesty his rookie season in 2010, he was limited to 10 games with a calf injury and an infection that developed in his surgically-repaired knee. Knowing now that the disappointing results from Hardesty last year came while he was attempting to play at less than 100 percent, it's a bit easier to envision a more productive campaign from Hardesty in Year 3. A second-round pick just two years ago, Hardesty is available as an endgame handcuff (ADP: 210.42) for those investing in Richardson, or for owners looking to find a low-cost option to stash on the bench with the chance at a significant opportunity should a more serious ailment befall the Browns' rookie starter.

Christian Ponder, QB, MIN - Forget Percy Harvin's recent praise of Ponder's performance during training camp. The Vikings are the weakest link in a division that will put plenty of points on the board. Defensively, the Vikes are going to struggle on a weekly basis and playing catchup bodes well for the offense from a fantasy standpoint as the need to air it out should afford Ponder a heavy supply of passing attempts. Last season, the Vikings' secondary gave up 8.1 YPA to opposing passers along with a 34:8 TD:INT. The return of Antoine Winfield and addition of safety Harrison Smith and corner Josh Robinson in the draft will help, but it's still a unit likely to finish in the bottom third of the NFL in pass defense. Eventually, Adrian Peterson will rejoin the Minnesota backfield, which should keep the opposition honest enough for the likes of a decent supporting cast in Harvin, Jerome Simpson and tight end Kyle Rudolph to make plays. Further, Ponder showed an ability to run with 219 yards on 28 attempts in 11 games as a rookie. The opportunities at the goal line will likely be limited thanks to Peterson and Toby Gerhart, but there's more to be excited about here than you might think.

Ed Dickson, TE, BAL - While targeting Dickson as a weekly option at tight end might be a stretch, he should see a heavier workload while Dennis Pitta is on the shelf with a broken hand for the next four-to-six weeks. Combined, the duo hauled in 94 passes for 933 yards a season ago, making Dickson an intriguing early-season pickup if your regular tight end is unavailable in Week 1. Be sure to revisit Pitta's status for the season opener if a waiver-wire stopgap is required when the season begins.

Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.