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NFL Barometer: Burgeoning Bengal

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

Kirk Cousins, QB, WAS


It’s important to keep some perspective with Cousins – he’s not an improvement over Robert Griffin and might not be an improvement over any other NFL starter – but he has shown an ability to post good fantasy production against bad defenses. Starting against the weak Falcons defense Sunday, Cousins finished with 381 yards (8.5 YPA), three touchdowns and two interceptions, and he faces what might be an even weaker Dallas defense this week. The Cowboys are allowing 7.8 yards per attempt on the year and surrendered 30 touchdowns through the air in their first 14 games. They’ve arguably been even worse in recent weeks than those numbers would lead one to believe, so Cousins may come close to repeating his Week 15 numbers against the Cowboys.

Alshon Jeffery, WR, CHI

Jeffery has been a stud over the Bears’ last 11 games, but it is important to note that his ascent has yet to stop or even slow down, and he’s blown past WR3-type sleeper status into legitimate WR1 territory. Jeffery is up to 80 catches for 1,265 yards (15.8 YPC) and seven touchdowns in 14 games, and has added another 105 yards on the ground, and he's not going anywhere. At 6-foot-3, 216 pounds with two hulking football magnets for hands, Jeffery is lethal downfield and in the red zone, because even double teams fall victim to Jeffery’s ability to box out defenders and catch the ball at its highest point. With two 200-yard games under his belt and a touchdown in three straight contests, Jeffery is arguably just as good a fantasy wideout as teammate Brandon Marshall. Weather permitting, he should stay hot with two profitable matchups ahead in Philadelphia and Green Bay.

Andre Caldwell, WR, DEN

Caldwell’s fantasy utility is dependent on whether Wes Welker (concussion) misses a second straight game and whether Caldwell works as the slot receiver instead of Jacob Tamme for the second straight week, but if those two conditions are met Caldwell could have flex viability even outside of deep leagues. He saw 10 targets against the Chargers on Sunday, snagging six for 59 yards and two touchdowns, and he might get even more work against the Texans this week as Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas could sit earlier than usual with the potential for the game to turn into a blowout.

Ace Sanders, WR, JAC

Sanders’ upside is limited by his extreme lack of size – he measures in at just 5-foot-7 and 178 pounds – but it seems safe to say that the rookie fourth-round pick out of South Carolina has the skill set necessary to excel as an NFL slot wideout. He’s a blur in traffic and tough to follow when he changes direction, and he has snagged 41 of his 68 targets for 414 yards and a touchdown so far. With both Cecil Shorts (groin) and Justin Blackmon (suspension) out for the final two weeks, Sanders is surprisingly viable in PPR leagues at the least, as he has 25 catches over his last five games, including two eight-catch efforts.

Giovani Bernard, RB, CIN

Bernard lands on the ‘Rising’ list with more of a look toward the future than the short term. His value hasn’t fluctuated much at all this year – he somewhat surprisingly made a big impact from the start, and has racked up nearly 400 more total yards than Benjarvus Green-Ellis despite BJGE maintaining his status as the technical starter. Bernard heads into his 15th NFL game with 1,069 yards and eight touchdowns from scrimmage, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per catch. His consistency is impressive, too, especially for an off-the-bench runner. He totaled at least eight or more fantasy points in eight of his 14 games, and 11 of 14 games in PPR formats. With BJGE averaging just 3.4 yards per carry and in the second year of a cheap, three-year contract, the Bengals have no reason to stand by him in the future, or even the present. There’s a strong chance that Bernard will take over as the lead back late this season, and in that scenario he will likely push into RB1 territory in most formats.

FALLING

Case Keenum, QB, HOU


Keenum showed a lot of promise in his first three starts this year, showing good accuracy, mobility and a gutsy demeanor while throwing for 822 yards (8.1 YPA), seven touchdowns and no interceptions despite playing two of the league's tougher pass defenses in Kansas City and Arizona. He has been one of the league’s biggest disappointments since then, following up his strong start with a puzzlingly weak five-game stretch in which he threw for just 938 yards (6.2 YPA), two touchdowns and six interceptions. For now it appears as if Keenum’s early success was a flash in the pan, and it’s doubtful that the league views him as anything more than a backup at this point.

Ladarius Green, TE, SD

It appeared from Weeks 11 through 13 that the Chargers made note of the obvious; that Green is an underutilized big-play threat and a mismatch for defenders of all skill sets due to his combination of size (6-foot-6, 240 pounds) and speed (4.53-second 40-yard dash). Green saw 16 targets during that span, catching nine passes for 206 yards and two touchdowns. That's 22.9 yards per catch, and 12.9 yards per target. Based on Weeks 14 and 15, however, it appears the Chargers forgot their lesson. Just one pass went in Green’s direction over the last two weeks, leaving him without a reception. It's not due to a lack of playing time – Green played 42 percent of San Diego's snaps in Week 14 and 63 percent against Denver on Sunday – the Chargers just aren’t using him as much more than a blocker. Green remains a valuable dynasty asset and a probable breakout player in 2014, but for now he is a highly unreliable redraft consideration.

Percy Harvin, WR, SEA

Harvin’s return from hip labrum surgery always seemed a bit rushed at a glance – the tear wasn’t identified until late July, and he was initially expected to miss the whole season with at least a 3-to-4 month recovery from the surgery. His return to the field against Minnesota on Nov. 17, then, appeared quite improbable relative to the initial prognosis. That initial estimate was evidently quite sound, though, because Harvin’s fast return resulted in him aggravating his injury, necessitating a minor procedure in the final week of November. Harvin missed the last three games as a result, and it appears that he remains out on a somewhat indefinite basis. It’s far from a guarantee that he will return in the regular season.

Ben Tate, RB, HOU

Tate still has a reasonable chance to play this week as Houston takes on Denver, but his outlook is somewhat discouraging with his rib injury getting worse. Tate has played through broken ribs since mid October, and he evidently aggravated the area against Indianapolis on Sunday. The Texans ordered a CT scan, indicating Tate’s pain level is rather significant regardless of whether the scan provides encouraging results. Even if Tate does play against the Broncos, the broken Texans are likely to get buried by Peyton Manning and company in no time at all, which would force the Texans to throw the ball if they are even vaguely interested in making a good faith effort to win the game. Considering he has just 140 yards on 34 catches (4.1 yards per catch), Tate is unlikely to make much impact in a pass-heavy offense. Dennis Johnson would likely serve as Houston’s top running back if Tate sits.

Cecil Shorts, WR, JAC

Shorts’ long-term outlook remains quite bright – he proved over the last two years that he can produce at a standout level even while dealing with what might possibly be the worst quarterback play in the entire league – but the persistent groin ailment he has dealt with since early November ended his season Tuesday, as the Jaguars placed Shorts on injured reserve. He finishes with 66 catches for 777 yards and three scores in 13 games, which is a pretty nice floor for a WR2-WR3 fantasy wideout. Ace Sanders might be the busiest Jacksonville receiver in the final two weeks.