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NFL Barometer: Rice on the Rebound?

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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Jake Locker, QB, TEN - Despite a poor showing in the Titans' second preseason game against Tampa Bay, Locker was named the team's starting quarterback for the regular season opener this week. Over five appearances as a rookie in 2011, Locker carried a 4:0 TD:INT while going 34-for-66 for 542 yards (8.2 YPA) and gained 56 yards and a rushing score on eight carries. Even without Kenny Britt, the Titans possess an underrated group of pass-catching options and a premier running back in Chris Johnson. Further, Locker's combination of mobility and a strong arm could lead him to immediately become a useful QB2 and top-15 option at his position. With an early-season schedule that features New England, San Diego, Detroit, Houston and Minnesota, Locker could hit the ground running in his new gig and put up surprising numbers right out of the gate.

David Wilson, RB, NYG - After profiling D.J. Ware as an upgrade last week while the Giants look for a short-yardage option to replace the departed Brandon Jacobs, Wilson is worth a bump up in the rankings as well. At this stage, Wilson's ability to pick up the blitz is still developing as he continues to learn the team's playbook. Skills wise, he may already be the most talented back on the roster, possessing top-end speed and the ability to gain additional yards after contact despite a compact 5-foot-9 frame. Persistent foot and ankle trouble has limited Bradshaw at times during the past three seasons, limiting his workload to 163 carries in 2009 and 2011 around a 276-carry effort in 2010. The Giants have averaged 415 rushing attempts per season since 2009, which could leave 200-250 for the likes of Wilson and Ware if Bradshaw has any issue staying on the field this season. With an affordable price tag (ADP: 97.3), Wilson is strong speculative buy in the middle rounds capable of taking on a larger role as the season progresses.

Jordy Nelson, WR, GB – Only Calvin Johnson and Kenny Britt outscored Nelson on a per-game basis (non-PPR leagues) last season when Nelson turned 96 targets into 68 catches for 1,263 yards and 15 touchdowns. With a gaudy 13.2 YPT, many fantasy owners are reluctant to buy into Nelson's breakout because he did it with such a limited volume of opportunities. The distribution of targets between the Green Bay pass catchers last season was very balanced:

Greg Jennings - 101
Jordy Nelson - 96
Jermichael Finley - 92
Donald Driver - 56
James Jones - 55
Randall Cobb - 31

As a result, there's some question as to whether Nelson can significantly increase his role in the offense this season. In terms of volume, Nelson's situation is similar to that of Atlanta's Julio Jones (ADP: 27.0), who must share opportunities with Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez, but Nelson will benefit from much better quarterback play and is available nearly two rounds later (ADP: 50.0) than Jones in most leagues.

Malcom Floyd, WR, SD - The Chargers lost Vincent Brown for at least the next eight weeks after he suffered a broken ankle while hauling in a TD catch from Philip Rivers last week. Free agent pickup Robert Meachem is still getting on the same page with his new quarterback, leaving Floyd as the holdover and receiver in position to do plenty of early-season damage with a chance at a significant increase in targets. In seven NFL seasons, Floyd has been healthy enough to play 16 games just once (2009), but at 6-foot-5 he should provide Rivers with a viable red-zone threat as the Chargers adjust to live without Vincent Jackson. Floyd has averaged at least 17.0 yards per reception in each of the last four seasons, while pushing his YPT to a career-high 12.2 in 2011, demonstrating an ability to haul in passes at a good clip when given the opportunity. At least until Brown returns, Floyd may return the value of a top-25 WR during the first half of the season.

Sidney Rice, WR, SEA - The Seahawks' ongoing battle at quarterback may give some owners pause before investing in a Seattle receiver, but Rice is the 38th wideout (ADP: 115.0) off the board in an "average" draft. The demonstration of elite skills in 2009 (10.8 YPT, 83 receptions, 1,312 yards) stands out more than the fact that Rice has only appeared in 15 games during his final season in Minnesota and first one in Seattle. After undergoing surgery on both shoulders in the offseason, Rice is now healthy enough to contribute again and he's expected to play in Friday's preseason game against the Chiefs. Receivers with the talent to return top-10 value at the position are very difficult to come by where Rice is available, and he's a strong fallback option if you miss out on Floyd.

Downgrades

Matt Flynn, QB, SEA – It has been a disappointing August for Flynn, who has been outplayed by rookie Russell Wilson in the first two preseason games and will now yield the start in the third exhibition as a result. After signing a deal in free agency worth $10 million guaranteed, it's difficult to envision a scenario where Flynn is healthy and unable to earn an opportunity to start at some point this season, but his lackluster play to this point make cost him the Week 1 nod, and has without question shortened his leash in the starting role even if he rallies to lock down the job. Perhaps the results will reverse with Flynn now in position to face second-team defenses while Wilson gets a look against a starting unit, but the sleeper potential Flynn acquired after signing with Seattle appears to have faded.

Isaac Redman, RB, PIT - A hip injury has knocked Redman out of a couple of practices recently, although an MRI revealed no significant damage to the area. Unfortunately, Redman suggested that the injury might bother him all year and that it's going to be a pain-tolerance issue along the way. Also of concern is the activation of teammate Rashard Mendenhall from the PUP list, which suggests a return to game action sooner than previously expected. Instead of missing a minimum of six games as the PUP list would have required, Mendenhall is now in position to return a few weeks sooner. Even if Mendenhall is unable to take on a full workload initially, Redman's value figures to suffer in October. In the mean time, Redman will have to fend off second-year back Jonathan Dwyer for carries. Add it all up and you have a back that shouldn't be selected ahead of Shonn Greene, Darren Sproles (even in non-PPR), BenJarvus Green-Ellis or Donald Brown, even though he currently boasts an earlier ADP (40.1).

James Starks, RB, GB - In addition to a turf toe injury that has made Starks week-to-week, the addition of Cedric Benson, ongoing recovery of Alex Green and presence of Brandon Saine could put his roster spot in jeopardy as final cuts draw closer. Just a couple of weeks ago, Starks was targeted as a potential top-25-30 running back in the Packers' pass-heavy offense, as he looked to be in position to handle the bulk of the carries will increasing his workload following the departure of Ryan Grant. Instead, he's spending the final weeks of the preseason hoping that the Packers will hold a roster spot for him based on his unfulfilled potential. Starks is now a lottery ticket at best facing a limited role if he's a part of the Packers' plans to begin the season.

Stevie Johnson, WR, BUF - Johnson was progressing through camp without issue following offseason groin surgery, but he admitted to feeling the effects of the injury for a couple of days this week. In his 2010 breakout and throughout last season, Johnson proved durable while playing in all 16 contests and emerging as the Bills' top wideout. A big part of his value is attributed to being a target monster, as he's averaged 138 looks over the last two seasons while going over the 1,000-yard mark in each of those campaign. With lackluster 7.6 and 7.5 YPT supporting those efforts, it's certainly appropriate to value Johnson as a WR2 since he does not play in an elite offense or possess the individual attributes necessary to produce among the league's elite receivers. For now, consider this to be more of a check status situation than a downgrade, as Johnson is already appropriately priced with an ADP hovering at 80.0 (27th WR taken).

Austin Collie, WR, IND - Reports earlier this week suggested that Collie has suffered another concussion, which would be his third head injury in the last two years alone. If further tests confirm that diagnosis, it could be several weeks before he's able to rejoin his teammates in game situations again. Presumably, the third option in the Colts' passing game will have value behind top wideout Reggie Wayne and tight end Coby Fleener, particularly in matchups where the Indianapolis defense will have difficulty slowing down the opposition. With Collie facing the possibility of time on the shelf, the Colts may have a position battle between Donnie Avery and rookie T.Y. Hilton to handle the starting spot opposite Wayne. Avery might be a useful option in deep PPR leagues if he earns the job, but Hilton's 4.3 speed could make him an intriguing pickup in all formats if he's able to develop a rapport with Andrew Luck.

Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.