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NFL Barometer: Clarity in Carolina

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 Ishmael Butler, James Harrison and David Bowie.

RISING

Eddie Lacy, RB, GB

DuJuan Harris (knee) will miss the rest of the 2013 season, which makes Lacy the heavy favorite to emerge as the starting running back for the Packers. James Starks and Alex Green have significant experience advantages over Lacy, but the rookie second-round pick is much more talented than the veteran Green Bay runners, and it's difficult to see any of the others posing a real threat to Lacy's workload.

DeAngelo Williams, RB, CAR

Jonathan Stewart (ankle) will begin the season on the PUP list, ruling him out for the season's first six weeks. Williams and Stewart combined for 266 carries last year, which comes out to about 16.6 carries per game. Rookie fifth-round pick Kenjon Barner isn't the talent that Stewart is, so Williams is a solid bet to get at least 15 carries per game while Stewart is out. The presence of passing-down back and goal-line vulture Mike Tobert (seven rushing touchdowns on 54 carries in 2012) limits Williams' upside, but Williams still might be able to provide solid value while Stewart is sidelined.

Malcom Floyd, WR, SD

It was just a couple weeks ago that the Chargers feared Floyd had suffered a torn ACL in practice Aug. 12 - the same fate suffered by presumed No. 1 wideout Danario Alexander just six days earlier. Fortunately, Floyd had better luck than Alexander, and the injury turned out to be just a strain, and an evidently minor one at that. Floyd returned to practice Monday and, as long as he avoids setbacks, it's difficult to imagine him missing Week 1. Even with youngsters like Vincent Brown and Keenan Allen nipping at his heels, Floyd looks poised to serve as the top wideout for a team that figures to spend a lot of time playing catch-up in 2013.

Alshon Jeffery, WR, CHI

Jeffery is decisively locked in as the second target in the Chicago passing game behind workhorse wideout Brandon Marshall, and he's coming off a seven-catch, 77-yard showing in Chicago's "dress rehearsal" preseason game against Oakland on Friday. The 2012 second-round pick has also earned high reviews for his performance in training camp, with quarterback Jay Cutler going so far as to say that Jeffery "probably had the best camp out of everybody on offense." In an offense that figures to show more signs of life under the direction of new coach Marc Trestman, Jeffery looks like a legitimate threat to emerge as a starting fantasy option in many leagues.

Rashad Jennings, RB, OAK

Promising rookie Latavius Murray (ankle) was thrown on the IR list, leaving Jennings as the clear-cut backup to injury prone starter Darren McFadden. The Raiders offense obviously doesn't give much reason for excitement these days, and Jennings' rushing average of 2.8 yards per carry from last year is atrocious, but Jennings showed explosiveness in his two seasons prior to 2012, and he could get on the deep-league radar if McFadden should get hurt.


FALLING

Ronnie Hillman, RB, DEN

It might have been no more than a motivational ploy for rookie second-round pick Montee Ball, but it seemed throughout training camp as if the Broncos wanted to hand Hillman the starting running back role in Denver. Unfortunately for the Broncos, Hillman dropped the ball instead of running with it, fumbling three times so far in preseason. Ball, meanwhile, apparently still has work to do as a pass blocker, allowing veteran runner Knowshon Moreno to make an improbable return to the fantasy radar.

Mikel Leshoure, RB, DET

Leshoure possessed a promising combination of size and athleticism coming out of Illinois in 2011, but a rookie season Achilles' tendon tear and a sluggish 3.7-yard rushing average from last year have since tanked his fantasy value. Joique Bell looked much more explosive than Leshoure throughout the 2012 season, and with Reggie Bush added to the Detroit backfield, it looks like Leshoure will serve as the third running back for the Lions in 2013.

Matt Flynn, QB, OAK

Flynn didn't exactly have much fantasy value to begin with as an unproven (if not underwhelming) talent in an Oakland offense short on receivers and devoid of blockers, but his outlook managed to get even bleaker in recent days. Third-round 2012 Supplemental Draft pick Terrelle Pryor is getting an extended look as Oakland's potential Week 1 starter at quarterback and, with no serious hopes of competing in 2013, it's easy to see why the Raiders would prefer to see what they have in Pryor, a player with more perceived upside than Flynn.

Steve Johnson, WR, BUF

Johnson has been one of the league's most reliable wide receivers the last three years despite dealing with the relatively poor quarterback play of Ryan Fitzpatrick, but with undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel tentatively expected to start against New England in Week 1 in place of EJ Manuel (knee) and Kevin Kolb (concussion), Johnson might face his most difficult conditions yet. Tuel averaged just 6.3 yards per pass while throwing eight touchdowns and interceptions for Washington State last year, failing to even establish himself as the team's clear starter, and it's fair to wonder if he could even win a practice squad spot for most teams. Johnson's owners obviously shouldn't cut bait just because of what appears to be a one-week setback for his value, but it is something for owners in late-drafting leagues to keep in the back of their minds.

Rob Housler, TE, ARZ

A high-ankle sprain from Saturday has Housler done for the preseason, and if that diagnosis is accurate, he probably won't be ready for the start of the regular season, either. Any appeal he might have had as a deep sleeper has mostly worn off, as Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd and Andre Roberts appear poised to hog the vast majority of targets in Arizona.