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NFL Barometer: Another Kingmaker?

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

Andy Dalton, QB, CIN - Where does Dalton rank among quarterbacks at the end of this season? The defenses in the AFC North are undeniably weaker than in years past, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is chugging along with a lower YPC (3.4) than Cedric Benson had last season (3.9) and A.J. Green is at least the second-best receiver in the league. Oh, and the Cincinnati defense is terrible. Dalton isn't currently on a 5,000-yard pace, but he continues to hover around top-five status with his weekly production. Could he be this season's Matthew Stafford?

John Skelton, QB, ARI - With Kevin Kolb expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with detatched ribs, Skelton is back under center for the foreseeable future. As noted in this space during training camp when Skelton was wrestling the starting job away from Kolb, there was one thing the former did reliably better than the latter last season - and that was utilize top wideout Larry Fitzgerald. The Cards' offensive line woes are well documented, and while William Powell was effective on a per-carry basis (5.4 YPC) against Buffalo's league-worst run defense in Week 6, the upcoming stretch of defenses on the Arizona schedule includes Minnesota, San Francisco and Green Bay, with the first two being particularly strong against the run and the Packers possessing an offense that could force Skelton to air it out often in the second half in Week 9.

Alex Green, RB, GB - As you have likely seen in the waiver-wire columns on the site, Green is clearly the back to own in Green Bay after playing 50 of the team's 73 offensive snaps (68 percent) against the Texans on Sunday night. By comparison, James Starks was on the field for eight offensive snaps. In addition to providing an element of elusiveness that has been missing in the Green Bay running game since the days of Ahman Green, the second-year back out of Hawaii has proven competent in pass protection, which significantly increases his chances of keeping a share of the workload if Cedric Benson is able to make it back from his ankle injury later this season.

Brandon Gibson, WR, STL - It's probably time to file a missing person report for rookie Brian Quick. Gibson caught seven of his nine targets for 91 yards in Week 6 against the Dolphins and has emerged as the Rams' No. 1 receiver while Danny Amendola is on the shelf. Sam Bradford has quietly taken a step forward, pushing his YPA from 6.1 last season to 7.2 through six games. At least for the next two weeks with home matchups against the Packers and Patriots, Gibson should have a clear path to eight-plus targets from Bradford.

Earl Bennett, WR, CHI - Kudos to Yahoo's Andy Behrens for sneaking Bennett onto his roster in the Stopa Law Firm League. Bennett may be in position to reprise his possession role in the Bears' offense after missing two games with a hand injury prior to the Bears' Week 6 bye. Prior to the injury, Bennett was averaging just under five targets per game, but that number could increase while Alshon Jeffery (also just below five targets per game this season) is sidelined with a broken hand.

Antonio Gates, TE, SD - A big game leading into the bye week could actually help those interested in buying Gates, who finally exploded for a two-TD performance against the Broncos on Monday night. A rib injury may have limited his production earlier this season, but the targets are still among the league's best at his position on a per-game basis. Gates has experienced similar dry spells in production in recent years, although you have to go back to 2008 and 2009 to find stretches of four or six games where he failed to score. With Malcom Floyd and Robert Meachem struggling in the absence of Vincent Brown, there's little reason to think that Gates' role will change in the near future.

DOWNGRADES

Russell Wilson, QB, SEA - Call it a downgrade, or a sell-high window for those in deeper leagues, but Wilson's 293-yard, three-TD performance against the Patriots on Sunday will likely go unmatched from this point forward. While his 7.3 YPA for the season isn't terrible, the Seahawks' reluctance to pass is looking more like a stable trend than a small sample size concern as Sunday marked the fifth consecutive game where Wilson failed to attempt 30 passes. His remaining schedule doesn't offer much in the way of upside either, short of a Week 15 tilt with the Bills, but even that game will come on the road in December where nasty weather could easily be a limiting factor.

Frank Gore, RB, SF - Big Ern McCracken might say that Gore is on a gravy train with biscuit wheels, but if my experience devouring biscuits and gravy are any indication, those wheels are going to turn into soggy flat tires before long. With a reduced workload, Gore currently ranks eighth in fantasy points among running backs in non-PPR leagues thanks in large part to finding the end zone four times through six games. In addition to the tough schedule in the NFC West, the Niners will eventually have Brandon Jacobs in the mix for short yardage and goal-line work, in addition to the likes of Kendall Hunter and Colin Kaepernick's occasional snaps in the red zone.

Mikel Leshoure, RB, DET - Coming from a guy who owns Leshoure in a bunch of leagues - including the RotoWire Steak League and Stopa Law Firm - I'm beginning to have my doubts about his short-term production as most of the damage he's done came in the season debut against Tennessee when the Lions gave him 26 carries. Leshoure does enough as a pass-catcher to serve as a steady second running back in most formats, but there was a window a few weeks ago after that Titans game where I thought I had a top-10 back on my hands. Instead, Leshoure has tallied just 28 carries over the last two games while getting shut down by the much-improved Minnesota run defense in Week 5. Coming out of the Lions' bye, Leshoure faces the Bears on Monday night and Seattle in Week 8 before a favorable spot against Jacksonville in Week 9. It gets tough again with the Vikings and Texans on tap in Weeks 10 and 12.

Andre Johnson, WR, HOU - After projecting a return to top-five status for Johnson before the season began, I'm chalking this one up as flat out wrong, and owning it. Johnson went off in the Texans' season opener, but has been outscored by Davone Bess - in non-PPR leagues, no less - in the five weeks since. Many a pixel have been filled downgrading the Texans' passing game in this space, and short of buying into what a healthy Owen Daniels is doing on a team that truly lacks a No. 2 receiver, there's just not as much to get excited about here as there used to be. Johnson's 42 targets this season rank 29th among wide receivers, and the limited volume is killing the value of a player who is still better than average when quarterback Matt Schaub looks his way (8.5 YPT). Just as the Bengals are a team positioned to throw much more than expected this season, the team factors in Houston point to a downgrade across the board for the Texans' passing game, putting Johnson in the 20-25 range among receivers rather than the top-15.

Robert Meachem, WR, SD - Maybe I am in the minority on this, but every time I open up the waiver wire for a league and see Meachem near the top of the default rankings of available free agents, I'm tempted to make a move. Even with the news earlier this week from the Chargers that Vincent Brown is still nowhere near a return to action, it seems wise to look somewhere else beyond Meachem for receiver help after the Chargers' Week 7 bye. Around the two-TD game against his former team in Week 5, Meachem has nine catches for 122 yards and no scores over 22 targets in his other five games in San Diego. Perhaps his chemistry with Philip Rivers and understanding of the San Diego offense will improve as the season progresses, but there is very little in the way of progress to this point.

Martellus Bennett, TE, NYG - With nine targets over the last three games, Bennett's role in the Giants' offense doesn't appear to be as steady as it initially appeared. Getting a crack at the Redskins in Week 7 while there are six teams off on the bye makes him a viable option given the circumstances, but Bennett was playing through a hyperextended knee in recent weeks and it's unclear where he's at health-wise, although it's worth noting that he's not currently on the injury report. Think of Bennett as a matchup-play going forward (beyond Sunday, he'll face the Cowboys again in Week 8 before seeing the Redskins a second time in Week 13) rather than a tight end to lean on each week.

Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.