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NFL Barometer: Nelson Packs It In

Mario Puig

Mario Puig

Mario sets the direction of RotoWire's college football and NFL draft content, with his other responsibilities primarily resting in those same subjects. He's a fan of Jim Harbaugh, James Harrison and David Bowie.

RISING

Eddie Lacy, RB, GB

A photo surfaced from Green Bay training camp in July showing Lacy from a less than flattering view, and for a moment it seemed that weight and conditioning concerns might send his stock plummeting. Come Green Bay's intrasquad scrimmage Saturday night, however, Lacy put his talent on display, showing up the other running backs as he took eight carries for 65 yards. Lacy apparently doesn't always look good outside of competitive situations - he pretty much earned an "F" grade for his predraft workouts - but he has consistently shown top talent during games. It says a lot about a runner's athleticism when he's a 230-pound back known for a killer spin move instead of bruising power. DuJuan Harris (knee), James Starks and fellow rookie Johnathan Franklin will remain obstacles for Lacy, but if he stays healthy and keeps his head on straight, this won't be a competition for long. Indeed, Lacy reportedly received most or all of the first-team reps Tuesday.

Rashard Mendenhall, RB, ARZ

Although knee tendinitis has had Mendenhall on the shelf since Saturday, his value still goes up each day Ryan Williams sits with a more serious knee issue. As a former second-round pick, Williams was at one point a theoretical threat to Mendenhall's workload in Arizona, but it increasingly appears as if Williams' time with the Cardinals might end soon due to his chronic patella issues. If Williams is out of the picture, Mendenhall should be locked in as Arizona's workhorse back. It's unlikely that rookie sixth-round picks Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington will steal meaningful snaps from Mendenhall.

Jared Cook, TE, STL

With career highs of just 759 yards (2011) and four touchdowns (2012) in his four seasons with Tennessee, it perhaps seemed like a questionable decision when the Rams agreed to a contract with Cook worth more than $35 million over five years. Sam Bradford has reportedly targeted Cook often in training camp, though, with the big, fast target making an impact as both an outside and slot receiver. The slot possibility is particularly encouraging for Cook's value because Danny Amendola was constantly targeted by Bradford in that role the last three years. The Rams didn't trade up for Tavon Austin in April's draft to play outside receiver, so Cook won't hold a monopoly on the slot snaps, but he still looks highly likely to smash his previous career high of 49 catches.

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, HOU

Hopkins didn't come off the board until the 27th overall pick in the draft, but it's easy to argue that he's as good or better a prospect than fifth overall 2012 pick Justin Blackmon. Hopkins is a big wideout (6-foot-1, 214) with fast feet and strong hands, and he's earned nothing but rave reviews with the Texans. Andre Johnson is unchallenged as Houston's top wideout, but with just six touchdowns on his last 145 receptions, there's reason to believe Hopkins can carve out a surprisingly prominent role in the red zone. Kevin Walter and James Casey both left in free agency, and Hopkins is the obvious favorite to lay claim to most of their combined 113 targets from 2012. Plus, Johnson is not among the league's most durable No. 1 wide receivers, as he missed 12 games the last three years. Hopkins looks like he might be one of the high-upside WR gambles.

Geno Smith, QB, NYJ

The Jets passing game will probably struggle no matter what, so this "rising" entry is definitely less than enthusiastic, but it's still worth noting that Smith might have already pulled ahead of Mark Sanchez in the race to emerge as the Jets' starting quarterback. The rookie second-round pick was all but counted out by many media observers after spring, but it sounds like his accuracy advantage over Sanchez is starting to shine through. It's something for owners in two-quarterback leagues to keep in mind, at the least.

FALLING

Jordy Nelson, WR, GB

The exact severity of his ailment isn't yet known, but Nelson underwent a knee procedure recently and will miss the rest of training camp. The fact that a training camp return has already been ruled out implies that Nelson's availability for Week 1 is quite uncertain. If Nelson misses time, it could make backup Jarrett Boykin an interesting short-term target. Boykin lacks speed but is a big target with huge hands, making him a theoretical fit for the sideline back-shoulder throws of which Aaron Rodgers is fond.

Chris Ivory, RB, NYJ

Ivory tends to impress whenever he gets the ball. He's a big back at 6-0, 222, with the explosiveness and cutting ability you usually see in runners 20 pounds lighter. Unfortunately, Ivory spent as much time on the shelf as the field the last three years, suiting up for 24 of 48 games with the Saints. Ivory's injuries spanned the spectrum, including knee, concussion, foot and shoulder issues, but his go-to injury is definitely the hamstring strain. Ivory missed games in each of his three NFL seasons with hamstring troubles, and the problem seemingly followed him to New York. Ivory sat out the first three days of training camp with hamstring tightness and left early during his second practice (Wednesday) with the same issue. As of Monday, Ivory still wasn't back in practice. Bilal Powell was listed ahead of Ivory on the Jets depth chart issued Monday and, while that will change in a hurry if Ivory gets healthy, it's nonetheless clear that anyone investing in Ivory as a fantasy starter is playing with fire.

Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, IND

Heyward-Bey's career has been defined by disappointment, so in hindsight it's not shocking that he lost his grip on a starting role with the Colts almost as soon as it was handed to him. After opening camp as the second wideout behind Reggie Wayne, DHB stood out by dropping passes before suffering a knee sprain Sunday. T.Y. Hilton is the better player and, while DHB is better at passing the eyeball test, it's exceedingly difficult to imagine how Hilton could come out of this competition as the loser.

Ed Dickson, TE, BAL

Dickson's value might not be down as much as it's on hold, but the "slight" hamstring tear he suffered Sunday is still difficult to ignore. Hamstring injuries are always obnoxious, and the word "tear" is among the most unwelcome diagnoses. Meanwhile, Dickson's prognosis of "a couple weeks" is too vague to provide reassurance. If Dickson is hobbled heading into Week 1, his sleeper appeal as Dennis Pitta's replacement is significantly diminished.

Latavius Murray, RB, OAK

Murray was once an arguable favorite to open the year as top backup to the brittle Darren McFadden, but the rookie sixth-round pick has had issues with a foot injury in June and hasn't practiced in more than a week due to an unspecified ailment. Murray is a big, athletic runner who was highly productive for Central Florida in college, but he needs to get on the field soon to stay on the 2013 radar.