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NFL Barometer: Get On Deck

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.

If there is one flaw in attending games in person, it's the disconnect that takes place trying to catch up on the rest of that week's action. Still, I wouldn't trade it for anything especially when it's an annual trip to Green Bay.

To those who played fantasy football 20 years ago, how did you handle making lineup changes and game-time decision adjustments? Contingency lineups?

For that matter, how did you get through entire meals without a cell phone?

Thankfully, my wife has played in enough leagues where she can run through my teams while we're in the car and use the RotoWire News Center app and the various league manager apps to make sure everything is in order without so much as a break at the rest area.

Upgrades

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, PIT Fading Isaac Redman on draft day proved to be a good decision, as the Steelers' running game has been anemic in Mendenhall's absence. It's certainly plausible to pin some of the struggles on the offensive line, but Mendenhall should step into the larger portion of a timeshare with Redman and Jonathan Dwyer barring a setback before Sunday's game against the Eagles. Last season, Mendenhall ranked 21st among running backs in fantasy points per game (10.8) despite limited contributions as a receiver out of the backfield. For what it's worth, there were plenty of folks willing to pay a steep price tag on draft day for **the player** who ranked 22nd among running backs in fantasy points per game last season. Coming off of a torn ACL in early January, it may take Mendenhall some time to get back to last year's form, but his clear path to a workhorse supply of carries and the Steelers' ability to move the ball through the air (and subsequently provide carries in the red zone) should make him useful sooner rather than later. Thankfully, no shares of **Chris Johnson** on my teams this year.

Eric Decker, WR, DEN Other than a greater number of receptions for 20-plus yards, there is little that divides Decker from teammate Demaryius Thomas in terms of value. With a combined 71 targets (currently 36-35 favoring Decker), both players are getting enough looks from quarterback Peyton Manning to reach top-15 status at their position. My interest in Decker (obviously as a trade target) is rooted in that he's received twice as many targets in the red zone as Thomas (6-3), and that the Broncos have a trio of potential shootouts on tap beginning Sunday with the Patriots and continuing in Week 6 against the Chargers and a post-bye matchup against the Saints in Week 8. Any opening in the relative buy-low window figures to slam shut during that upcoming three-game stretch.

Domenik Hixon, WR, NYG Before the season began, there was interest in determining the Giants' preferred No. 3 receiver given the value Mario Manningham has provided in that role over the last two seasons. Part of that interest was predicated on Hakeem Nicks' injury history, which is growing with slow progress back from a current knee injury. Hixon was targeted 11 times against the Eagles on Sunday night, while Nicks appears to be questionable at best for the Week 5 matchup with the Browns. Further increasing Hixon's short-term value is the likely absence of Ramses Barden, who suffered a concussion against the Eagles and could subsequently miss time. With Eli Manning averaging 321.5 yards per game this season, any Giants receiver in position for significant targets should drum up interest and consideration for lineup duty.

Tony Moeaki, TE, KC Depth at tight end has kept most owners from having to dig deep, but Moeaki's stock gets a bump up with the news that Kevin Boss has landed on injured reserve with a head injury. Boss was hardly a target monster in the two games he played, but Moeaki's role could increase anyway as he gets further away from a torn ACL that ultimately wiped out his entire 2011 campaign. If the Chiefs end up making a change at quarterback later this season, Moeaki will be re-united with former college teammate Ricky Stanzi, which could also help his bid to contribute in a more consistent role. Think of Moeaki as a bye-week option with a modicum of upside in deeper formats (the Stopa Law Firm League requires each team to start two tight ends, for example) thanks to the matchup issues he can create in the red zone.

Tim Tebow, QB, NYJ It doesn't even have to be the right move. In fact, I am pretty firmly on the side convinced that it's not. The Jets signed Mark Sanchez to a three-year, $40.5 million extension back in March. Common sense would suggest a full season as the starter before all hell breaks loose, but who am I kidding? This a dysfunctional organization and Rex Ryan is a tray of hush puppies rotting away under a heat lamp. For a 10-game stretch (Week 7 through Week 16) as a starter last season, Tebow averaged 21.4 fantasy points per game (one point for 20 passing yards, four points for passing TD, six points for a rushing TD) despite averaging just 159 yards/contest through the air during that span. There's nothing new here. You just have to look past the obnoxious highlights of a guy doing his job as a blocker and celebrating like his team just clinched a playoff spot because of it, and accept that his combination of skills make him a potential top-12 player at his position if he gets the nod.

Downgrades

Philip Rivers, QB, SD What's up with Rivers this season? The Chargers haven't thrown the ball nearly as frequently as in the past, and the 7.1 YPA he's accumulated through four games is a huge disappointment after he led the league in that department from 2008-2010. Further, Rivers has 33:24 TD:INT mark over his last 20 games, chipping away at his value in formats that penalize interceptions. At this point is it time to consider Rivers a fringe top-10 quarterback? Is that too generous? With Antonio Gates battling injuries and the departure of Vincent Jackson, the weapons at his disposal have taken a small step back through the first four games. Considering that Brandon Weeden, Carson Palmer, Matt Cassel, Joe Flacco and Ryan Tannehill have attempted more passes than Rivers this season, there's reason to believe that the lack of volume will be an issue going forward. The Chargers' defense is much improved this season, giving up just 6.3 YPA to opposing passers and ranking fifth in the NFL allowing 79.2 yards/game on the ground (4.1 YPC). If those trends hold, the shootout appeal that led me to target Rivers as a discounted second-tier QB with top-five potential won't materialize.

DeMarco Murray, RB, DAL There are no shares of Murray in my portfolio, although it was more a product of circumstances (draft position, cheaper players preferred in auction formats) than an intentional plan to avoid him. Felix Jones has disappeared from the backfield picture in the first four games, picking up just three carries thus far, so it's not a competition for carries that is currently holding Murray back. His value is plummeting, but this may be a buy-low opportunity when you consider that the Cowboys have faced the Seahawks (3.0 YPC), Bucs (3.2 YPC) and Bears (3.6 YPC) over their last three games. With the Cowboys on bye in Week 5 and facing another difficult matchup in Week 6 (Ravens, 3.2 YPC), the window to get a discounted price could be open a bit longer. Things should begin to pick up against the Panthers' horrendous defense in Week 7 and looking down the road toward the fantasy playoffs, the Cowboys get the Saints at home in Week 16. Workload and efficiency wise, Murray has been on par with Trent Richardson to this point, but he won't require nearly as much in a trade because Richardson has found paydirt four times while Murray has scored only once.

BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, CIN The Bengals' passing game has been a pleasant surprise, but Green-Ellis has struggled to get things going on the ground after an impressive 91-yard showing against the Ravens in the season opener. Despite a heavy workload over the last three games (64 carries), Green-Ellis has generated YPC well below what his opponents have allowed otherwise while facing the Browns (4.0), Redskins (4.3) and Jaguars (4.3). By comparison, Green-Ellis averaged 3.6, 2.2 and 3.2 YPC respectively in those three games. To make matters worse, he's coughed up three fumbles in two weeks, missing out on a TD opportunity against Jacksonville as a result. Currently protecting Green-Ellis' value is the lack of competition for carries in Cincinnati, as he's on pace for 328 carries this season after four games while Bernard Scott has been limited to three carries. Unfortunately for those employing the Law Firm, the Bengals have the Dolphins' league-best run defense (2.4 YPC) on the slate in Week 5.

Lance Moore, WR, NO It's easy to get excited about any player on the receiving end of 15 targets in game, especially when they come from Drew Brees, but Moore has had a bad case of the dropsies this season and it continued against the Packers on Sunday. For the season, he's hauled in 19 of his 37 targets (51.4%) after going 52-for-73 (71.2%) in 2011 and 66-for-95 (69.5%) in 2010. It was revealed Wednesday that Moore did not practice due to a hamstring injury, leading to speculation about a potential absence for the Saints' Week 5 matchup with San Diego. At first glance, Moore is on track for a big year with the increased opportunities, but his current 7.8 YPT is the lowest of his career since 2008 and most of his damage this season came in the season opener against the Redskins in a six-catch, 120-yard, one touchdown performance. Fearing the volatility that we've seen from Moore throughout his career (check out his 2008 game log for a reminder of his feast/famine tendencies), it's time to deal him away for a profit.

Titus Young, WR, DET "Senior" heads into the Lions' bye week on the heels of his third one-catch game of the season against the Vikings in Week 4. With just 16 targets to this point, he's playing fewer snaps than Nate Burleson and is in danger of eventually losing playing time to rookie Ryan Broyles. For the second straight season, Young has an underwhelming YPT (7.3) and to make matters worse, most of his fantasy value has come from one fluky play against the Titans after he caught a tipped Hail Mary in the end zone in Week 3. Surprisingly, Young is still owned in 40% of Yahoo! Leagues including the Stopa Law Firm League but the week off creates a perfect opportunity to cut ties and pursue a receiver with a more steady role.

Bin Ends

**Miami's run defense continues to look elite, but New England is a close second in terms of being an underrated unit (3.4 YPC allowed, no carries of 20-plus yards).

**Stephon Gilmore played a good game for the Bills on a day where the Buffalo defense was otherwise shredded by New England. Could be a strong No. 1 corner sooner rather than later.

**The Bills took a few down field shots to rookie receiver T.J. Graham. Keep an eye on his volume as the offense lacks a true second option behind Stevie Johnson.

**Hopefully the absence of Julian Edelman in Week 4 will lead the Patriots to stop jerking around with Wes Welker's snap count.

**C'mon Stevan Ridley owners, you're not really going to fear Brandon Bolden vulturing carries, are you?

**See above, swapping in Ryan Mathews and Jackie Battle, respectively.

**Chris Johnson had big holes to run through against Houston and looked much more decisive in Week 4. It's encouraging, but those who grabbed him early still feel undoubtedly ill.

**Given the choice between Houston and Atlanta, I'm taking Houston for a much better defense despite the Falcons' luxury of better weapons in the passing game.

**Yes, the Texans have had a soft schedule thus far.

**Michael Turner looked like The Burner again Sunday, but it was against Carolina. He's not the focal point of the Falcons' offense, but should still produce steady 10-15 range numbers at running back.

**Sam Rosen noted that Armanti Edwards played quarterback in high school when the Panthers turned him loose for a passing attempt. Any stray Michigan fans watching at that time had to tip back their bottle of Two Hearted Ale in the ongoing effort to shake that memory.

**Overheard a few fans walking out of Lambeau debating the quality of the Packers' squad this year based solely on the Saints' winless record. Drew Brees and the offense looked like the unit we're used to. The defense is awful, and the officiating in that game plus a Graham Harrell trip/Cedric Benson fumble at the stripe kept it a bit closer than it would have been otherwise.

**Also verheard many terrible song parodies walking through tailgate heaven Sunday afternoon. It's the only blemish on the premise in Green Bay.

**If you're not in to post-game grilling or sitting in long lines waiting for the traffic to clear, you want Sammy's Pizza in Green Bay.

Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.