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NFL Barometer: Wayne's World

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.

It's time to come clean.

The first Sunday of the NFL season is my third favorite sports day of the year. Only the opening round Thursday of March Madness and baseball's Opening Day exceed the level of excitement that is reached that first time the Red Zone Channel begins hopping around from game to game.

After eight weeks of analyzing training camp battles and trying to decipher a great deal of coachspeak and largely useless preseason game data, we are now at a point to get real indications of how each team will distribute its offensive workload.

As great as the Red Zone Channel is in conjunction with a slew of browser tabs refreshing the live scoring for every team you own, the rapid fire movement does not lend itself to getting a complete read on a team's tendencies and non-scoring situations. Fortunately, the NFL Rewind package online archives every game of the season and allows viewing of a condensed (snap after snap) version, as well as coaches' gamefilm.

It may be an even bigger gamechanger for fantasy owners than the Sunday Ticket package.

Let's take a look at some significant changes after the first week of regular season action.

Upgrades

C.J. Spiller, RB, BUFFred Jackson struggled for 15 yards and six carries against the Jets before departing with a sprained knee in Sunday's losing effort. Current reports point to at least a four-week absence for Jackson, and it may take him longer to fully recover. Perhaps the only silver lining in a disappointing opener for the Bills was the performance of Spiller, who turned 14 carries into 169 yards including a 56-yard TD run in the second quarter. Spiller proved capable of producing when given the opportunities last season, averaging 105 yards from scrimmage per game over the final six contests when Jackson was on the shelf. Keep in mind that his value is likely higher in PPR formats, as Spiller eclipsed the 15-carry mark just twice over that six-game stretch as the starter last season. The upside will increase even further if the Bills kick the urge to use Tashard Choice on the goal line, after Choice was given three carries inside the two-yard line Sunday.

Stevan Ridley, RB, NE – The Patriots showed off a very balanced offensive attack against the Titans, thanks in large part to a strong showing from Ridley. The second-year back had six carries of 10 or more yards in Week 1, taking 21 of the Patriots' 33 designed run plays while Danny Woodhead (six), Brian Bolden (five) and Aaron Hernandez (one) took the rest of the load. In addition to a trip to the end zone and his 6.0 YPC average, Ridley caught two of his three targets and picked up 27 yards as a pass-catcher. Although the Titans surrendered a healthy 4.5 YPC to the opposition last season, the concerns about a crowded backfield were erased with Ridley's heavy involvement in the game plan Sunday. Once Shane Vereen is healthy, Ridley could be pushed for carries a bit more, but it certainly looks like his job to lose.

Reggie Bush, RB, MIA – On the surface, there was nothing that really stood out about Bush's performance Sunday and that should make it relatively easy to acquire him in a trade. Ryan Tannehill faced a very difficult test in his NFL debut, drawing the Houston defense on the road. The lack of weapons in the passing game will force the Dolphins to lean on short gains and an intermediate range aerial attack. Daniel Thomas suffered a concussion in the loss to the Texans, and lost a fumble on the play that ultimately knocked him out of the game. Meanwhile, Bush racked up 69 yards on the ground with just 14 carries, while hauling in all six of his targets for 46 yards as a receiver. In Thomas' likely absence, rookie Lamar Miller could become a part of the backfield picture after landing on the inactive list in Week 1.

Reggie Wayne, WR and Coby Fleener, TE, IND – The Bears' offense impressed after some early hiccups including a Jay Cutler pick-six Sunday, but ultimately the Colts had no response for Matt Forte on the ground (5.0 YPC) while Cutler picked apart the secondary for a 9.5 YPA. With a 17-point lead early in the third quarter, the Bears forced the Colts to abandon the run (13 carries for Donald Brown and Vick Ballard), leaving Wayne (18 targets) and Fleener (10 targets) to rack up production in the passing game. Andrew Luck made his share of mistakes in Week 1, missing an open Wayne on a few occasions and throwing three interceptions (among others), but he showed a combination of mobility and arm strength that should enable the Colts' pass-catchers to generate good numbers each week as they'll often be playing catch-up. Wayne could prove to be a top-15 receiver again this season, while Fleener may have the tools and targets to finish as a top-10 tight end.

Randall Cobb, WR, GB – The Packers increased Cobb's role in their gameplan Sunday against San Francisco, while he hauled in all nine of his targets for 77 yards and returned a punt 75 yards for a touchdown. Greg Jennings suffered a groin strain on the final drive against the Niners, and he's unlikely to play in Thursday night tilt against the Bears. With the struggles of Cedric Benson and the running game, it will be interesting to see if Cobb begins seeing carries out of the backfield, after lining up next to Aaron Rodgers on six occasions in the season opener. In terms of versatility and target volume, Cobb may provide steady value all season even as the third receiver listed on the Packers' depth chart.

Downgrades

Michael Turner, RB, ATL – Even on a day where the Falcons built up a significant lead in the second half, Turner carried the ball just 11 times for 32 yards (2.9 YPC) while the Falcons took advantage of the injury depleted Chiefs defense through the air. Jacquizz Rodgers picked up seven carries for Atlanta, while the team's willingness to throw the ball in close may hurt Turner's value as well. Further, the loss of top corner Brent Grimes may ultimately hurt the Atlanta defense enough to push the team into more shootout situations, which does not bode well for Turner as a back with little involvement as a receiver out of the backfield. Initially, it appeared as though Turner would serve as an affordable top-15 running back available after the first 30-35 picks were off the board, but he should immediately fall behind the likes of Doug Martin, Steven Jackson, Frank Gore, Reggie Bush and Stevan Ridley.

Kevin Smith, RB, DET – Smith made the most of his 17 touches (13 carries, four receptions) in Week 1, gaining 91 yards from scrimmage and scoring twice. Don't be surprised if the opener stands out as his best performance of the season, however, as the Lions will match up against an elite run defense (San Francisco) Sunday night before Mikel Leshoure returns from his two-game suspension. While Leshoure may not immediately take away a significant share of Smith's workload in Week 3, goal-line carries may be up for grabs if Joique Bell's one-yard TD plunge against the Rams is any indication. Consider this an early suggestion to sell while there is a market of buyers, as Leshoure could quickly prove to be a more effective option even if Smith manages reverse a lengthy injury history and stay healthy this season.

Rashad Jennings, RB, JAC Maurice Jones-Drew hardly looked rusty in Week 1, while Jennings ultimately was shut down for the day with a knee injury. The distribution of carries favored Jones-Drew 19-8, while targets were 5-1 out of the backfield. There's still handcuff value here for those in deeper leagues, but it looks like workhorse status may already be on tap for Jones-Drew when the Jags host the Texans in Week 2, even if Jennings' injury proves to be minor as the Jags have indicated. Opportunities to run the ball may also slip as the Jags' defense matches up with more proficient offenses in the coming weeks.

Robert Meachem, WR, SD – Earlier this summer, Meachem appeared in the top-half of this article as a potential upgrade with the move from New Orleans to San Diego potentially offering up a larger share of the targets. With Vincent Brown's ankle injury, it seemed like an even better bet that Meachem would be heavily targeted by quarterback Philip Rivers to begin the season. Unfortunately for those who were banking on the upside of the former first-round pick, Meachem was targeted twice in the Chargers' season opening victory over Oakland while Malcom Floyd (six targets, including a touchdown) and tight end Antonio Gates (eight targets) were more involved. One game hardly makes him a player to write off completely, but considering that Brown can eventually return from IR (under a new rule this year) and that he appears to be behind two options in the San Diego offense already, the reports that Meachem was previously struggling to get on the same page as his new quarterback seem to be warranted.

Jon Baldwin, WR, KCDwayne Bowe's holdout during training camp afforded Baldwin an opportunity to impress the coaching staff after a disappointing rookie campaign last season. His role Sunday was minimal (finding him on the field while reviewing all of the snaps Monday was a brutal game of Where's Waldo?), as the Chiefs used Bowe and Steve Breaston as their primary wideouts while Dexter McCluster was on the receiving end of a team-high 10 targets from quarterback Matt Cassel working mostly out of the slot. To make matters worse for Baldwin, Kevin Boss and Tony Moeaki provide a pair of large red-zone options for Cassel, and the former hauled in a TD catch in Week 1. It's even more discouraging that Baldwin went without a target when you consider that the Chiefs were down 20 with 14 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.

Bin Ends

** The Chiefs played without their best pass-rusher (Tamba Hali) and cover corner (Brandon Flowers) in Week 1. While Julio Jones looks the part of an elite receiver capable of giving very good defensive backs a difficult matchup, the lack of pressure on Matt Ryan and the absence of Flowers in the secondary certainly made things easier for the Atlanta passing game. Expect much more difficult test for the Falcons when they hose Denver in Week 2.

** Minnesota's run defense looked very strong against the Jags, holding Maurice Jones-Drew to a 4.1 YPC mark and a long carry of 11 yards. The holes simply were not there for MJD, and Rashad Jennings did not fare any better (3.9 YPC) before leaving with his aforementioned knee injury.

** Blaine Gabbert looked much better Sunday than he did at any point last season, particularly on the deep touchdown pass to Cecil Shorts that gave Jacksonville the lead in the fourth quarter. There were still warts – including a missed opportunity to hit a wide-open Justin Blackmon on a short pass in the end zone, but Jags fans should be encouraged.

** Miami's run defense ultimately did a good job against Arian Foster and Ben Tate, holding them to a combined 85 yards on 31 carries (2.7 YPC). They may be an underrated unit all year, albeit one that gives up a decent amount of yardage and rushing touchdowns if their offense cannot stay on the field.

** The Jets made it seem as though Mario Williams was not on the field Sunday and that certainly did not hurt Mark Sanchez in a very surprising Week 1 performance.

** Related to the Colts' expected need to throw often, Donald Brown struggled as a receiver Sunday with two bad drops. Although he was limited to nine carries, Brown looked good on a pair of second-quarter runs including an 18-yard scoring effort in the second quarter.

Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.