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NFL Barometer: Turning Up the Volume

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.

The downside of Thursday night games every week is becoming increasingly apparent.

Shorter windows to recover from injuries (Greg Jennings in Week 2, Hakeem Nicks and Jonathan Stewart this week) eliminate key players from use, while the calculus of making a lineup decision based on a game that begins three days before the others creates plenty of headaches for fantasy owners. Not to mention all of the earlier FAAB and waiver-wire deadlines.

It's not just a burden for fantasy players to deal with. On the editorial side, it creates a need for pushing all of the content up earlier in the week. Thursday games drive the need for earlier deadlines. Subsequently, fewer hours to re-watch games certainly isn't helping here, but nevertheless, it's all about finding the sweet spot.

When possible, I will try to add Bin Ends below from games I review after filing this column. With the NFL Rewind package, it's much easier to review team's tendencies each week while focusing on the entire league with the Red Zone Channel on Sunday afternoons.

Upgrades

Matt Cassel, QB, KC - This is hardly a skills-based endorsement, although Cassel's 7.5 YPA through two games is the best mark of his career. Think volume here - the Chiefs' defense can't stop anyone - and Cassel has a handful of talented weapons at his disposal even without considering the backfield (Dwayne "Garbage Time" Bowe, Jonathan "Donut" Baldwin, Dexter McCluster, Tony Moeaki and Kevin Boss). With 75 attempts, Cassel is currently on pace to air it out 600 times in 2012 and only three quarterbacks in the league reached that total last season (Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees and Tom Brady). If the Chiefs remain a doormat into the second half of the schedule, the front office may be tempted to get a look at Ricky Stanzi, leaving Cassel vulnerable to job loss. However, the Chiefs face the Saints in Week 3 and Chargers in Week 4, two teams certainly capalable of lighting up the scoreboard and forcing Cassel to throw heavily, while the Saints have surrendered a gaudy 12.5 YPA to Robert Griffin III and Cam Newton to begin the season.

Andre Brown, RB, NYG - With Ahmad Bradshaw officially ruled out of Thursday's game against the Panthers, Brown is expected to handle the lead back duties again after taking 13 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown in relief of Bradshaw in Week 2. Rookie David Wilson was limited to three carries against the Bucs after coughing up a fumble on his second NFL carry against the Cowboys in the regular season opener, leaving speculation as to his short-term role while Bradshaw is sidelined with his neck injury. To make matters more confusing, the Giants have not provided details on the extent of Bradshaw's injury or the results of the MRI he had after sustaining it. While it's unclear just how long Brown might have an expanded role, Carolina has allowed 146.5 yards per game on the ground through the first two weeks and Brown should be a viable option in most formats at least for this week. Brown suffered a torn Achilles during the preseason in 2009 with the Giants, before bouncing around to Denver and Indianapolis and returning to New York to defeat D.J. Ware for the final running back spot on the Giants' roster this summer.

Daryl Richardson, RB, STL - The Rams turned to Richardson on Sunday after Steven Jackson was penalized for spiking a ball at the goalline - and apparently battling a minor groin injury as well. While Jackson's MRI came back clean and his availability for Week 3 does not seem to be in serious jeopardy, the masses that were previously targeting Isaiah Pead as Jackson's backup should change course accordingly. Although he took 15 carries for 83 yards (5.5 YPC), Richardson also lost a fumble Sunday and there is some concern that his small frame (5-foot-10, 196 pounds) may not be able to withstand the punishment of a long-term placement in the feature role. The upgrade here is merited not because Richardson is a must-add, but instead because he's elevated himself to the No. 2 spot on the depth chart at running back for the Rams.

Brian Hartline, WR, MIA - The Raiders' pass defense looks like one to reliably pick on when scanning the waiver wire for receiver help (Joselio Hanson and Pat Lee started at corner against the Dolphins), but Hartline was targeted eight times in Week 1 against a very good Houston defense and rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill looked his way 12 times and the results were an impressive nine-catch, 111-yard performance in Week 2. Even with subpar quarterbacks throwing his way over the last three-plus seasons in the NFL, Hartline has averaged at least 8.3 YPT in each of year of his professional career. Also of note, is that Hartline narrowly missed a touchdown catch in the first quarter against the Raiders, but had the ball jarred loose by Lee before establishing possession.

Brandon LaFell, WR, CAR - LaFell continues to separate himself from the Panthers' other receivers behind Steve Smith, hauling in six of his eight targets against the Saints in Week 2 for 90 yards. Similar to the efficiency (10.9 YPT) he showed a year ago while catching 36 passes from quarterback Cam Newton, LaFell is averaging 11.9 YPT through two contests and has already turned four of his nine catches into gains of 20-plus yards. With a matchup against a banged-up Giants secondary in Week 3, LaFell should be in position for another strong showing against a defense that has allowed 9.6 YPA to Tony Romo and Josh Freeman through the first two games.

Downgrades

Josh Freeman, QB, TAM - While the Bucs may look much more like the impressive young team we saw two seasons ago, Freeman has only attempted 52 passes in two games this season - including 28 in a game against the Giants on Sunday where the Bucs put 34 points on the board. It should be stated that the Bucs had a 14-point lead with 13 minutes remaining in the third quarter, but the lead never opened up beyond that. Freeman flashes the ability to make accurate throws downfield - look at the 41-yard toss to Mike Williams as an example - but simply does not appear to be in an offensive system that will lean heavily on his arm. As a result, he's slipped from a potential matchup play QB2 option in many leagues to a waiver-wire replacement.

Chris Johnson, RB, TEN - A second straight dud in Week 2 has led many CJ2K owners to reconsider the name and significantly drop their expectations for the former elite back. In the Stopa Law Firm League, Scott Pianowski flipped Johnson straight up for BenJarvus Green-Ellis earlier this week. Regardless of whether you believe in him or not, that Johnson (taken as the fourth running back in some drafts this summer) was dealt for a player with an ADP of 66 throughout draft season speaks volumes about his rapidly declining value. The Titans' offensive line has done little to create running lanes, while Johnson has looked indecisive when called upon. Perhaps the only silver lining is that his opponents in the first two games (New England and San Diego) quieted the ground attacks of the Cards and Raiders as well. Small sample size caveats apply, although writing off a player with 19 rushing attempts on the season could be premature as well. Johnson and the Titans match up with the Lions in Week 3, after Detroit gave up 5.5 YPC to San Francisco runners Sunday night. Regarding the Pianowski-Salfino swap above, the exchange may not be entirely rooted in Johnson's declining value, as a re-draft today would almost certainly push Green-Ellis up the draft board given his minimal competition for carries and steady presence on the field in the Cincinnati offense. Green-Ellis played 78 percent of the Bengals' snaps in Week 2 after seeing 75 percent of the snaps in the opener against the Ravens. Interestingly enough, Johnson played 98 percent of the Titans' offensive snaps in Week 2, easily leading all running backs in the league in that category Sunday.

Jamaal Charles, RB, KC - Charles returned to practice as a full participant Wednesday after a bruised knee (and perhaps the Chiefs' large deficit) limited his workload against the Bills in Week 2. After picking up 87 yards on 16 carries against the Falcons in the season opener, Charles appeared to be in position to return to his previously valuable timeshare role in the Kansas City backfield. Even in that contest, his role in the passing game was non-existent while Dexter McCluster was a target monster working out of the slot. Owning him in multiple leagues (including the Stopa Law Firm, and RotoWire Steak leagues), it's a hold situation for me because the interest in him is likely down for most owners. Prior to exiting Sunday, Charles was targeted four times by Matt Cassel, so there's a glimmer of hope that his role will continue to increase as he gets further away from the torn ACL that cut his 2011 campaign short.

Torrey Smith, WR, BAL - Maybe it was because Joe Flacco still had something to prove to me, but there are no shares of Smith in my portfolio this season. I recently turned down an offer of Smith and Titus Young for Mikel Leshoure (whose first name is pronounced like a Globo-Gym henchman of White Goodman) in the Stopa League, which is a PPR format that hampers Smith's value. As a big play threat downfield, Smith's production will fluctuate as much as any receiver in the league for any given week. Even in non-PPR leagues last season, six of the 15 games Smith started generated double-digts in points, while the other nine included just one game with more than three receptions. This season, it's been a very limited role for Smith in two games with just eight targets thus far as the Ravens have been using tight end Dennis Pitta frequently while involving their depth receivers as well.

Jacob Tamme, TE, DEN - Tamme was very quiet in Week 2 (four targets, two catches for 13 yards) and while he was able to turn his five targets in the opener into five receptions for 43 yards and a score against the Steelers, the lack of volume thus far should drop Tamme below many of the other second-tier tight ends that have emerged with larger roles in their respective offenses. In terms of playing time, Tamme was on the field for just 35 percent of the Broncos' offensive snaps against the Falcons on Monday night while Joel Dreessen checked in at 77 percent. In the event of a Dreessen injury, he's worth considering again, but there doesn't appear to be enough targets to go around with Demaryius Thomas looking the part of a true No. 1 wideout and Eric Decker receiving 15 looks from Peyton Manning through two games as well.

Bin Ends

** Confirming last week's suspicion, Miami's run defense was very good again Sunday. Need proof? Ask Arian Foster, Ben Tate or Darren McFadden. McFadden was not indecisive or slow, there were very few lanes throughout the game.

** Carson Palmer missed his share of throws Sunday, but was also victimized by a pair of drops from McFadden and Denarius Moore. In the case of the latter, it may have been rust after Moore missed significant time this summer with a hamstring strain. On a potential touchdown pass to McFadden in the flat, Palmer inexplicably pump-faked before throwing and allowed the nearby defenders to break up the play. Even with his struggles, it's too early to downgrade Palmer given the absence of his receivers throughout camp, that the Raiders switched their offensive scheme, and that Oakland will almost certainly be playing as much catch-up as any team in the league thanks to their abysmal secondary.

** Andrew Hawkins looks like the No. 2 WR to own in Cincinnati, although the cast of options behind A.J. Green could certainly lead to varying targets for Hawkins from week-to-week. The 50-yard TD reception he had against the Browns was very impressive.

** Trent Richardson looks very healthy - good hands out of the backfield as a receiver, the vision needed to find creases and properly utilize his blockers, an extra gear in the second level and the power necessary to break tackles (see his touchdown reception from Sunday). It's reasonable to make a case for him as a top-five running back given his skills and workload now that the knee issues seem to be behind him.

** The quality of a target from Brandon Weeden (who improved in Week 2, but still made his share of mistakes) should exceed that of Colt McCoy. Adjust Greg Little's value accordingly.

** How good would Jay Cutler be with more consistent footwork? Brandon Marshall could certainly help his cause by cutting back on the drops...

** The scary thing about Cam Newton is that he's only played 18 NFL games. More improvement as a passer is very reasonable.

** The Saints have as many ways to gain one yard as any team in the league, yet Drew Brees still scored a rushing touchdown by tucking his chin and attempting to jump over a pile at the stripe. In a word, dumb.

** What type of role does Fred Jackson eventually come back to? C.J. Spiller has looked very good through two weeks. 65-35 favoring Spiller?

Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.