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NFL Barometer: Action Jackson

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 Chip Kelly, James Harrison and David Bowie.

RISING

Knowshon Moreno, RB, DEN


It seems like it wasn’t that long ago that Moreno was on the roster bubble in Denver, the presumed fourth running back on the depth chart behind Willis McGahee, Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball. That widespread presumption turned out to be the opposite of reality, though. Heading into Week 3, Moreno has a safe lead over the young, disappointing duo of Ball and Hillman, and McGahee is waiting by his phone as a free agent. Hillman is a one-dimensional speed back who is a ball-security concern after a fumble-filled preseason, and Ball has shown nothing as runner (20 carries for 40 yards) through two weeks. Ball also reportedly struggled with pass blocking during the preseason, and had an embarrassing lost fumble at the Giants’ goal line in Week 2. Moreno, meanwhile, stands out as the team’s best pass-blocking back – a crucial consideration given their dependence on Peyton Manning – and he has easily outdone Hillman and Ball as a runner, too. After a 13-carry, 93-yard game against the Giants in which he scored twice on the ground, Moreno is looking like an RB2 in most formats until further notice.

DeSean Jackson, WR, PHI

Jackson wasn’t exactly cheap in the majority of fantasy drafts – he tends to go for more of a WR2 price tag than a WR3 – but through two weeks he’s looking like he might be one of the best fantasy values of the 2013 season. Despite all the talk that new coach Chip Kelly is a run-obsessed playcaller, the truth is Kelly is pragmatic more than anything, and he’ll throw the ball when it makes sense. With the Eagles fielding what appears to be one of the league’s worst defenses (60 points allowed in two games), Kelly will often find reason to score quickly this year. As the team’s best means of scoring fast, Jackson should keep building on a red-hot start that saw him total 16 catches for 297 yards and two touchdowns on 24 targets. Jackson will likely see his numbers decline a bit, but there’s no reason to believe he can’t finish the year as a clear WR1 in most leagues.

Bernard Pierce, RB, BAL

Pierce has had a steady off-the-bench role in the Baltimore offense since the Ravens selected him in the third round of the 2012 draft, running for 532 yards and a touchdown on 108 carries (4.9 YPC) as a rookie and accumulating 28 carries for 79 yards through the first two weeks of 2013. Pierce’s role is set to expand for as long as Ray Rice is out or limited by a hip injury sustained against Cleveland on Sunday. The Ravens face the Texans this week, a formidable opponent but a more favorable defense than the Cleveland unit Pierce dealt with Sunday in a game that saw him total just 57 yards (and a touchdown, at least) on 19 carries. Cleveland is allowing just 2.0 yards per carry on the year – tops in the league – whereas the Texans are allowing 3.8 yards per tote after two games.

James Starks, RB, GB

Starting Green Bay runner Eddie Lacy suffered a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit from Washington safety Brandon Meriweather on Sunday, knocking him out of that game and likely at least one more. That fact alone would make Starks a nice one-week rental against the Bengals in Week 3, but Starks provided additional reason for optimism by looking explosive and powerful as Lacy’s replacement Sunday, burning the Redskins for 132 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries to go along with 36 yards on four catches. Lacy is a very talented player and head coach Mike McCarthy would prefer to keep Starks in a backup role, but Starks could still receive some carries when Lacy returns if he keeps playing as well as he did against Washington.

T.Y. Hilton, WR, IND

New Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, formerly of Stanford, came to Indianapolis to install an offense that runs a two-tight end look as its base formation. Nothing wrong with that. The problem is that two tight ends on the field precludes a third receiver from lining up, and Hamilton has an odd preference for Darrius Heyward-Bey over Hilton due to the better run blocking DHB (6-foot-2, 219 pounds) can provide over the smaller Hilton (5-foot-9, 178 pounds). But Hilton is the far better receiver, and Hamilton should note how Hilton is averaging 8.5 yards per target on the year while DHB heads into Week 3 with an average of 4.8 per look. It’s not clear whether it was Hamilton’s decision, or if he was given an order from someone above him, but the Colts altered their approach against Miami in Week 2, giving Hilton 49 snaps compared to DHB's 33, whereas their respective split was 24 to 34 in Week 1. Hilton received 12 targets on those 49 snaps against the Dolphins, so Andrew Luck obviously considers him a very valuable target. It’s difficult to imagine Colts coaches disregarding that fact, so Hilton should continue to see an expanded role, making him a good bet to provide WR3 production after catching six passes for 124 yards Sunday.

Giovani Bernard, RB, CIN

Bernard showed Monday why the Bengals selected him 37th overall in the 2013 draft, taking eight carries for 38 yards and a touchdown while adding a second touchdown on a 27-yard reception in a victory over the Steelers. Despite facing tough run defenses in Pittsburgh and Chicago through his first two weeks, Bernard heads into Week 3 with 60 yards on just 12 carries (5.0 YPC) compared to 100 yards on 36 carries (2.8 YPC) for starter BenJarvus Green-Ellis. BJGE received 18.5 carries per game in 2012, but that number should be more in the 15-carries-per-game region by midseason or so, because Bernard is simply too explosive to sit on the Cincinnati bench. It would be a disappointment if Bernard didn’t establish himself as a viable RB3/flex option within the next 4-to-6 weeks.

Andre Ellington, RB, ARZ

Ellington is primarily on the deep-league radar, but he’s a player to take note of in all cases due to his obvious explosiveness and the durability troubles of starting Arizona back Rashard Mendenhall. Despite falling to the sixth round of the 2013 draft, it’s pretty clear on film that Ellington has the talent of a second or third-round prospect, and his injury issues at Clemson played the leading role in his draft descent. Indeed, Ellington entered the preseason as the fifth running back on the Arizona depth chart, but his role in Week 2 gives reason to believe he’s already the top backup to Mendenhall. Ellington took four carries for 20 yards and caught two balls for 42 yards and a touchdown against the Lions on Sunday, while fellow backup runners Alfonso Smith and Stepfan Taylor combined for just three yards on four carries.

FALLING

Maurice Jones-Drew (RB) and Cecil Shorts (WR), JAC


It was almost universally expected that the Jaguars would have one of the league’s worst offenses in 2013, but things have been worse than most anticipated through the first two weeks. That’s bad news for anyone who invested in the team’s two star playmakers, Maurice Jones-Drew and Cecil Shorts. A remarkably bad passing game and poor run blocking has robbed MJD of any opportunity to break loose to this point, limiting him to 72 yards on 25 carries (2.9 YPC) and no touchdowns. Not only that, but MJD suffered an ankle tendon strain against the Raiders on Sunday, which casts even more of a cloud over his short-term outlook. Shorts, meanwhile, has been subject to a Blaine Gabbert-Chad Henne combo that has posted 398 yards (5.5 YPA), one touchdown and two interceptions, with much of that yardage coming in garbage time stretches against the Chiefs and Raiders. The values of both MJD and Shorts are so low right now that their owners probably can’t get worthwhile returns in trades, but they’re close to useless in fantasy lineups in the meantime.

Kenny Britt, WR, TEN

Britt has all the talent in the world, but knee troubles and, more importantly, a lack of interest, have constantly undermined that talent, and could bring his time in Tennessee to an end in the near future. Tennessee coaches grew tired of Britt’s mental errors and lazy blocking in Sunday’s loss to Houston, benching Britt briefly as a result. Instead of owning his errors and demonstrating an interest in improving himself, Britt went to Twitter on Tuesday to say the Titans were “[Pulling] that Jared Cook card.” It’s an absurd comparison, because Cook walked in free agency because the Titans didn’t want to pay Cook’s high price, whereas Britt will walk because the Titans won’t want him at any price. The Titans have a first-round investment in Kendall Wright and an obviously superior veteran presence in Nate Washington, and that's not even accounting for the probability that the team drafted Justin Hunter in the second round of the 2013 draft with the specific intention of replacing Britt. The best hope for Britt’s fantasy value is an in-season trade to a WR-needy team, because he has just five catches for 43 yards through two weeks with the Titans.

Josh Freeman, QB, TB

Freeman and coach Greg Schiano are clearly not good friends, and Freeman’s awful performances through the first two weeks are only heightening the tension between the two. NFL Network's Ian Rapoport said "people close to Freeman" think Schiano rigged the team vote when naming team captains, blocking Freeman from earning captain status, and that Freeman was upset over Schiano's decision to publicly disclose that Freeman had been late to a team function. If Schiano really does have a vendetta against Freeman, Freeman only gave the coach more ammo by completing just 45.3 percent of his passes for 335 yards (6.3 YPA), two touchdowns and two interceptions through the first two weeks. The whole situation is a complete mess and it’s not easy to see how Tampa can clean it up.

Brent Celek, TE, PHI


Celek is an average starting NFL tight end at worst, so new coach Chip Kelly’s decision to sign free agent James Casey and draft Zach Ertz in the second round of the 2013 draft gave reason to believe that the Eagles would run a lot of multiple tight end formations this year. Through two weeks, though, that hasn’t been the case, and even as the lone tight end in the majority of Philadelphia’s three-receiver sets, Celek has largely been invisible in the Philadelphia passing game. He has just four targets in the first two games, resulting in two catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t have a single catch in Michael Vick’s 428-yard performance against San Diego on Sunday.