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NFL Barometer: Step Right Up

Mario Puig

Mario is a Senior Writer at RotoWire who primarily writes and projects for the NFL and college football sections.

RISING

Markus Wheaton, WR, PIT


Martavis Bryant's four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy has created an even bigger opportunity for Wheaton, who already had the No. 2 receiver spot locked up at Bryant's expense. Wheaton wasn't good in 2014, posting just 50 receptions for 627 yards and two touchdowns on 82 targets, but he's still only 24 and has plenty of speed and quickness to project good fantasy utility as long as he's a main target of Ben Roethlisberger. He'll be an obvious sell-high candidate prior to Bryant's return to the field, however, because Bryant is more talented and more effective.

Ty Montgomery, Jeff Janis, WR, GB

Davante Adams will start with Jordy Nelson (ACL) out, but there should be room for a third receiver to make some noise in Green Bay, with Montgomery and Janis as the top candidates. Montgomery is a rookie third-round pick out of Stanford, and Janis a second-year seventh-round pick out of Saginaw Valley State. Both are big and athletic, especially Janis at 6-foot-3, 219, with 4.42 speed and elite agility drills. Montgomery checks in at a solid 6-0, 216, with less speed (4.55 40) but with jump numbers (40.5-inch vertical, 121-inch broad jump) that better illustrate the rare explosiveness he shows on tape. Both players have questionable hands, but so did James Jones, and he had productive moments in Green Bay. It's anyone's guess who comes out on top between the two, but Montgomery tentatively seems to have the most momentum in the Green Bay organization. That could be because he was a substantially greater draft pick investment than Janis, but it also could be due to Montgomery's truly rare open-field running skills, which could prove lethal if he can hold on to Aaron Rodgers' flawless passes.

Kamar Aiken, WR, BAL

Breshad Perriman (PCL sprain) remains without a timetable for return and, when you factor in Perriman's general rawness coming out of Central Florida, it's possible he won't get the practice reps necessary to make an impact in his rookie season. Meanwhile, Steve Smith is 36 and due for a theoretical role decrease, and there are no other proven targets in a Baltimore offense coordinated by the pass-happy Marc Trestman. It's possible Baltimore will simply run more than Trestman's history suggests, but there's still a huge number of targets that are unaccounted for. Many will have to go to Aiken, if only by default. It's still worth keeping an eye on the talented but injury prone duo of Marlon Brown and Michael Campanaro, and youngster long shots Darren Waller and DeAndre Carter are talented enough to warrant a glance if they should end up on the field.

Zach Zenner, RB, DET

I was unsure whether to address Zenner's emergence through a "Riser" blurb, or a "Faller" blurb for Joique Bell and Theo Riddick. Rookie second-round pick Ameer Abdullah obviously has a great deal of momentum in the Detroit offense, which makes Riddick somewhat redundant as a third-down type of running back, and Zenner's background as a workhorse could eventually pose a threat to the gimpy Bell, who's attempting to round into form while dealing with Achilles' tendon and knee injuries. Veteran deference means Zenner almost certainly won't play ahead of Bell if he's healthy, but Zenner (6-0, 223) is the better athlete, running a 4.60 at the Combine while showing solid agility numbers and elite jumps (41-inch vertical, 121-inch broad jump). Combine Zenner's strong preseason numbers (162 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries, six catches for 60 yards and one touchdown) with his athletic profile, and it's obvious that Detroit won't fool anyone into thinking Zenner is a fullback.

FALLING

Robert Griffin, QB, WAS


ESPN Saturday that Washington planned to not only start Kirk Cousins in its preseason finale, but also the Week 1 opener against Miami. Griffin has suffered at least three concussions dating to his college days, so it's possible that his health was a deciding factor in this development, but Griffin's shaky if not outright poor play the last two years means Washington wouldn't need a health pretext to remove Griffin from the team's plans. Cousins is almost certainly no solution, but he could be a useful means of weaning the Washington fanbase off the idea of Griffin ever fitting back into the organization's long-term future.

Martavis Bryant, WR, PIT


Bryant's stunning effectiveness as a rookie and truly elite athleticism made him seem like a no-brainer starter over Markus Wheaton, who's smaller, less athletic and less productive on the field than Bryant, by any objective measure. Yet the Steelers stood by Wheaton as the starter opposite Antonio Brown all offseason, and in a decisive fashion. Based on what we knew at the time, that made no sense. Bryant's four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy helped clear that up. Bryant was always maddeningly inconsistent in college and seemed to struggle to earn the approval of his coaches, and this suspension makes it appear as if Pittsburgh had reason to doubt Bryant's personal reliability rather than his on-field skill. Bryant needs to show a more professional side, or he risks his career production taking a trajectory similar to that of Antonio Bryant.