RotoWire Partners

NFL Barometer: Three's a Crowd

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

Russell Wilson, QB, SEA - This time last week, Wilson was lined up to start the Seahawks' third preseason contest and knocking on the door to earn the Week 1 nod from head coach Pete Carroll. On Sunday night, the job was officially given to Wilson on the heels a very impressive three-game stretch including a 36-for-56 mark for 464 yards and a 5:1 TD:INT along with 150 yards on the ground and a rushing score. In addition to struggling during his first two preseason games, $10 million man Matt Flynn was battling a case of elbow soreness and did not play last weekend. Wilson may fall just short of matching the Year 1 production of Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck, but he's worth considering as a viable QB2 option thanks to his ability to make plays with his feet and sound decision-making as a passer as he displayed during his final college season at the University of Wisconsin with a 33:4 TD:INT mark. Consider Wilson ahead of the likes of Josh Freeman, Joe Flacco, Andy Dalton and most of the other quarterbacks currently littering the bottom-third of the RotoWire quarterback cheat sheet.

Alfred Morris, RB, WAS - At the very least, Morris is now on the radar in an increasingly crowded Washington backfield. Tim Hightower sat out Wednesday's preseason finale as he continues to recover from knee surgery, while Evan Royster and Roy Helu effectively carried the load and Morris was rested as a healthy scratch. Surely, it takes a PhD in cryptography and a lengthy track record in fortune telling to decipher Mike Shanahan's plans at running back. Most teams would rest their starting running back (among others) in their final preseason game, and perhaps Morris has earned the opportunity for that role against the Saints in Week 1 after carrying the ball 14 times for 107 yards and a touchdown in the Redskins' third preseason game against the Colts last week.

Robert Turbin, RB, SEA - Even as the chances of a Marshawn Lynch suspension dwindle following his arrest last month on a DUI charge, Turbin remains a handcuff option worth targeting as the next in line to carry the ball in Seattle should the Seahawks' workhorse suffer an injury at any point. Currently, Lynch is missing practices because of a bout with back spasms, and while it's difficult to envision a scenario where Turbin accrues enough touches to be utilized as a flex option when Lynch is on the field, a late-round flyer for a back with the physical skills to immediately pick up the slack is well worth the investment.

Eric Decker, WR, DEN - Any chance of Decker flying under the radar in the middle rounds of your draft was probably quashed after a two-TD showing against the Niners on Sunday. While many will cite a generally unproven (at this stage) rapport with quarterback Peyton Manning as Decker is moved up rankings lists, there's a better reason to consider the upgrade. Willis McGahee's 4.8 YPC last season (at age 30) shattered his previous career high (4.1) in a season where he took 170-plus carries. How much of that improvement was sustained throughout the second half of the season after Tim Tebow took over as the Broncos' starting quarterback? Ultimately, the Manning-led Broncos should completely change the way opposing defenses game plan for the Denver offense, which could significantly limit the impact McGahee has on the ground. As a result, the Broncos may emerge as a pass-heavy attack in a very shootout-prone division, leaving plenty of value for Decker even if Demaryius Thomas is the team's top wideout.

Martellus Bennett, TE, NYG - Blocked by Jason Witten in Dallas, Bennett never had the opportunity to break out despite a very intriguing combination of size (6-foot-6, listed weight of 270 pounds) and speed. Tight end is deeper than ever with the increasing number of teams taking advantage of capable pass-catchers that present significant matchup trouble for opposing defenses and Bennett is a potential early-season waiver-wire target for those who elected to wait at the position and end up unhappy with a more established top-20 option. Playing on a one-year, $2.5 million deal if leaving the Cowboys in free agency, could this be the year that Bennett sheds his label as a player lacking the necessary work ethic to fully deliver on his potential?

Downgrades

Mark Ingram, RB, NO - Just a year ago, the Saints traded up to take Ingram with the 28th overall pick in the draft and an injury plagued rookie campaign prevented him from making the impact many expected as the team's starting running back. Considering that the Saints ranked 20th in the NFL in rushing attempts (431) last season and that Ingram was well below (3.9 YPC) the team's combined 4.9 YPC mark (juiced thanks in large part to Darren Sproles' effectiveness in a limited number of carries), is there reason to believe that a significant change will take place in the New Orleans backfield this season? With Sproles and Pierre Thomas (5.1 YPC, 50 receptions!) in tow, the distribution of carries will only swing in Ingram's favor with an injury or two. At his current ADP (68.2), there are simply too many factors working against the second-year back to pull the trigger.

Stevan Ridley, RB, NE - In many ways, banking on a significant step forward for Ridley's in the Pats' pass-first offense is similar to expecting progress from Ingram in New Orleans. At least in Ridley's case, there's a change in personnel (BenJarvus Green-Ellis is in Cincinnati) that affords extra touches even without a philosophical shift in play calling. Comparatively speaking, Ridley makes more sense as a mid-round investment with a slightly later ADP (78.4) than Ingram. Workload wise, however, the ceiling is probably in the neighborhood of the 229 carries the Pats gave Green-Ellis back in 2010 (1,008 yards, 13 TDs). In limited duty, Ridley picked up 5.1 YPC lats season and has proven capable of gaining additional yards after contact, but struggled in the goal-line attempts he was given and is hardly a lock to secure those chances even if he's truly atop the depth chart in Week 1. Further, he may be a very limited option in the passing game with Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead capable of handling those opportunities.

Isaiah Pead, RB, STL - Pead may be forced to share carries with seventh-round pick Daryl Richardson behind starter Steven Jackson to begin the season. Nothing in August is necessarily set in stone in December, but considering the interest some owners have taken in hedging against a potential Jackson breakdown by investing in Pead, Richardson's presence on the roster is reason enough to temper the early-season expectations. Although the offensive line in front of him has struggled, Pead has rushed for just 50 yards on 25 carries this preseason. Conversely, Pead has shown flashes in the return game to this point, so he should have a significant role as a kicker returner right out of the gate.

Mike Wallace, WR, PIT - Instinctively, you might think that a player ending his holdout would be going the other direction. There are a few things to keep in mind with Wallace. First and foremost, his production was cut in half over the final eight games last season as he opened the first half of the year with 43 catches, 800 yards and five TDs before sliding to 29 catches, 393 yards and three TDs the rest of the way. While Wallace's production dipped, Antonio Brown surged to 35 catches for 677 yards and a TD over the final eight games. Interestingly enough, the Steelers elected to give Brown a significant payday instead of Wallace this summer, prompting the latter to avoid training camp and suffer from lost time learning the offensive under new coordinator Todd Haley. The usual concerns about health apply here (it's not just holdout running backs), and it's very difficult to see Wallace finishing the season as a top-15 receiver if he scuffles during the early weeks. A more prudent approach may be to let another owner take the initial risk, and consider a buy-low opportunity in early October if Wallace is in fact a disappointment at that stage.

Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.