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NFL Barometer: Renaissance in the Desert

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 Arvydas Sabonis.

RISING

Jonathan Grimes, RB, HOU


You might remember Grimes as the trendy Week 17 pickup from last year, starting Houston's final game of the season due to injuries to Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Grimes piled up just 50 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries against the Titans, but he showed impressive receiving upside by catching six passes for 76 yards. Little more than seven months later, it appears that Grimes could be close to establishing himself as the top backup to the always fragile Foster, setting the stage for Grimes to maintain season-long fantasy relevance. The Texans cut presumed backup runner Andre Brown on Monday, as well as deep backup Dennis Johnson, leaving just Grimes, rookie sixth-round pick Alfred Blue and Tuesday free-agent pickup Ronnie Brown to battle for the top backup role to Foster. For now, it seems Grimes has the advantage.

Knowshon Moreno, RB, MIA

Moreno (knee) returned to contact practice Monday and, according to ESPN.com, he looked both healthier and in better shape than he did when he initially arrived in Miami. Despite his intriguing speed and fairly hype-heavy summer, Lamar Miller remains an unproven NFL running back, and Moreno's high grades as a pass blocker and receiver mean Moreno is a good bet to make up for the ground he lost while sitting out with his bad knee.

Aaron Dobson, WR, NE

Returning from foot surgery can be a very lengthy process - Dobson has yet to practice after undergoing surgery on a stress fracture in March - but there have been recent signs of progress for Dobson. He was able to do some non-contact work Monday, and so long as his recovery stays on track, he'll have little or no competition as he auditions for the role of New England's primary deep threat at receiver. Considering he posted 519 yards and four touchdowns as a rookie last year, he could total 800 yards this season if he can get on the field for Week 1.

Johnny Manziel, QB, CLE

Despite all the fuss over his off-the-field associations and behavior, Manziel has a tendency to look pretty good when he's actually playing football. The former created the perception that Manziel was all but out of the race to start for Cleveland in Week 1 as the Browns headed into training camp, but the latter fact has allowed Manziel to close the gap on Brian Hoyer after just one preseason game. Coach Mike Pettine seems sincerely invested in Hoyer and/or skeptical of Manziel, but Hoyer is a soon-to-be 29-year-old career backup who arguably has just one quality NFL start to this point, and he's attempting to return from an October ACL tear. Any lead he can hold over Manziel seems destined to fade in a hurry.

Brandon Williams, TE, CAR

Williams poses no threat to Greg Olsen's play or target count, so he's mostly just a player to monitor for now, but the Panthers might look to use a fair number of two-tight end looks this year to cover their lack of receiver depth, and Williams performed well in his preseason audition against the Bills, catching three passes for 50 yards and a touchdown. Listed at 6-foot-4, 250, with 4.60 speed and good leaping ability, Williams could emerge as the team's fourth target behind Olsen, Kelvin Benjamin and Jerricho Cotchery if he continues to show well.

Carson Palmer, QB, ARZ

Even if he remains a liability as far as turnovers go, Palmer really might have the help necessary this year to have a renaissance season. He completed all five of his passes against the Texans on Saturday, totaling 84 yards and a touchdown. More important, a quick glance at his supporting cast reveals an Arizona offense with significantly more talent than what it had a year ago. Left tackle Jared Veldheer was an important acquisition in free agency, 2013 seventh overall pick Jonathan Cooper should provide a major boost at guard, former first-round pick wideout Michael Floyd should have his best season yet as he heads into his third year and speedy rookie third-round pick John Brown appears capable of an immediate impact after snagging five passes for 87 yards in the preseason opener.

FALLING

Marvin Jones, WR, CIN


Jones suffered a broken left foot Saturday, an injury that figures to keep him out for about six weeks. That would seem to rule Jones out until Week 5, as the six-week mark settles almost exactly upon Cincinnati's Week 3 match against Tennessee, and the team has a Week 4 bye. Jones was an intriguing later-round target as a third-year player coming off a 10-touchdown sophomore season, but missing the first few games of the year won't help his value. Plus, fellow wideout Mohamed Sanu is showing well in camp, and he might poach some of Jones' play count if he plays well in the regular season.


Jordan Matthews, WR, PHI


Dynasty league owners are the primary investors in Matthews at this point, and they have little reason to make any conclusions based on one preseason game, but Matthews didn't help his chances of making a redraft impact in 2014 when he dropped three passes in his preseason debut against Chicago. The Eagles need to see reliability from Matthews if they're going to run as many three-wide receiver formations as last year, because they've clearly made a priority to get more targets and snaps for second-year tight end Zach Ertz. Before Matthews can eat into the play count of Riley Cooper, he'll first need to give the Eagles reason to trust him in the third-wideout role.