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NFL Barometer: Early Upgrades and Downgrades

Dalton Del Don

Dalton Del Don writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.


Wes Welker, WR, NE Surprisingly, Welker has already been removed from the PUP list and is back with the Patriots after tearing his knee in Week 17 last season. Despite surgery on a torn ACL and MCL, Welker is back in action just seven months later. He's obviously not without risk, but it sure looks like he'll be ready to suit up come Week 1. Welker may lose some cutting ability and is never a threat near the goal line, but he somehow racked up 123 catches over essentially 13 games last year a full season's pace of 151 receptions. He caught a whopping 80.4% of his targets, which easily led the NFL among receivers with at least 50 catches.

Arian Foster, RB, HOU Foster currently sits atop Houston's RB depth chart, and the coaches have been effusive in their praise of him. Rookie Ben Tate missed nearly all OTAs with a hamstring injury, and while Steve Slaton looks fully recovered from last year's neck injury, it's clear the team views him mostly as a passing down back, even trying him on kickoff returns in training camp. Foster averaged 4.8 YPC during his brief playing time last season, and he can also be a weapon as a receiver. Tate could be a major threat down the road, as he's talented, and Houston traded up to select him in the second round of the draft. Slaton is going to get touches as well, so the Texans' backfield looks like a three-headed committee. However, if Foster truly does maintain the RB1 job, it could prove lucrative in such a high-powered offense.

Malcom Floyd, WR, SD With Vincent Jackson's looming holdout becoming more and more likely, Floyd finds himself as San Diego's new No. 1 wide receiver. His upside is somewhat limited in Norv Turner's run-first system (after all, even Jackson saw just 105 targets last season, which tied for 24th in the NFL), but even an average receiver should be quite productive with Philip Rivers treating him as his primary option. Floyd is 6-5, 225 with good speed, and he even averaged 17.2 yards-per-catch last year. He's no sleeper, but if Jackson really does miss 10 games this season, Floyd could easily finish as a top-15 type fantasy WR, and he's costing a fraction of the price that Jackson is in most leagues.

Michael Turner, RB, ATL One must differentiate what "best shape of my life" stories actually matter this time of year, but it's become clear Turner is entering 2010 in far better physical condition than he did in 2009. Even during a disappointing campaign last year, Turner averaged 4.9 YPC and scored 10 touchdowns essentially over nine games before an ankle injury ruined the rest of his season. The injury didn't occur because of the "370-carry curse," but he enters this year with much fresher legs as a result, as he received 200 fewer carries last year compared to 2008. Turner supposedly entered training camp in unbelievable shape, and Atlanta has started to utilize him more as a receiver (while this should be taken with a grain of salt, even adding just 15-20 receptions would be huge news for his fantasy value). If Matt Ryan can bounce back and the defense improves like most expect, the Falcons could easily win 10 or 11 games, which is always good for a workhorse back. Turner shouldn't last after the sixth pick of your draft.

Dwayne Bowe, WR, KC Like Michael Turner, a bunch of praise is being heaped on Bowe so far during training camp. It holds extra weight, however, considering just how badly he was in coach Todd Haley's doghouse most of last season. There will always be a knucklehead factor with Bowe - and a dropped passes one, too - but he participated in Larry Fitzgerald's summer camp, which did wonders for Sidney Rice last season (obviously, Brett Favre's addition was a major factor as well). Chris Chambers was moderately productive once he joined Kansas City last year, but in a division with the Raiders, Chargers and Broncos (they also play the NFC West) combined with a poor Chiefs' defense, there should be a lot of shootouts this season, and Bowe should be targeted heavily. The Charlie Weis factor can't be underestimated either, as for all his faults, he usually produces big passing stats. Bowe should be considered firmly among the top-20 fantasy receivers.

Jabar Gaffney, WR, DEN Gaffney is nothing special from a talent perspective, and last year's 732 receiving yards actually marked a career-high over his eight years in the league. With Brandon Marshall suspended in Week 17, Gaffney exploded for 14 catches and 213 yards to end last season. It's important to note it came against a weak Kansas City secondary, and it's usually best not to overrate just one game. Still, with Marshall now in Miami, there's a big opportunity for a Denver receiver to step up, and right now, Gaffney appears to be the team's No. 1 option. Eddie Royal was highly disappointing last year, and while Demaryius Thomas should eventually emerge as the top target, he's raw, a rookie and coming off an injury. Coach Josh McDaniels trusts Gaffney back from their days together in New England, and with a defense that struggled mightily down the stretch last season, Denver may be forced to throw more than they'd like to. Gaffney should be the beneficiary.

Matt Moore, QB, CAR Moore posted a 7.8 YPA mark with an 8:0 TD:INT ratio over the final four games last season. Those games came against a pretty difficult schedule (@NE, MIN, @NYG, N.O.), too. He's obviously unproven, but this year will mark his fourth in the same system, and over eight career starts, he's recorded a 97.5 QB rating while getting 7.6 YPA. Steve Smith's (arm) health will be paramount, but at least rookie Brandon LaFell has impressed so far during camp. Carolina remains a run-heavy offense, but Moore is one of the better QB targets who is typically available quite late.


Sidney Rice, WR, MIN This is a no-brainer, but if Brett Favre truly retires, Rice's value would take a major hit. Moreover, his lingering hip injury has become a legitimate concern. Supposedly three hip specialists recommended surgery over the offseason, which Rice declined to have. He's still experiencing pain from the injury he suffered during last season's playoff run. If things break right (Favre returns, hip heals), Rice has the upside to finish as a top-three fantasy WR, but there is also a bunch of risk here.

Montario Hardesty, RB, CLE Hardesty will be out at least two weeks after suffering a twisted knee earlier this week. It's not the same knee that gave him problems throughout his college career, but it also highlights just how injury-prone Hardesty is. Missing valuable time in camp as a rookie will hurt, as Jerome Harrison might be able to secure the RB1 role in Hardesty's absence. In a timeshare on a bad team in a tough division, Cleveland's running back situation is hardly ideal.

Chad Ochocinco, WR, CIN The signing of Terrell Owens helped both the Bengals as well as Carson Palmer's fantasy value, but it most certainly hurt Ochocinco's. The team was already hurting his value by using a run-heavy, defensive philosophy. Ochocinco is 32 years old and should definitely see a decrease in targets in 2010, as Antonio Bryant (knee) and Jermaine Gresham enter the mix as well.

C.J. Spiller, RB, BUF Spiller was already facing an uphill battle for fantasy relevance, playing on a Bills team with a poor offensive line, shaky quarterback and two other capable backs on their roster. His current holdout certainly isn't helping matters, either. Spiller needs to get signed quickly if he wants to have a legitimate chance of unseating both Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. More likely, he'll be used as a change-of-pace option, assuming he eventually does get into camp.

Dez Bryant, WR, DAL Bryant is expected to miss 4-to-6 weeks with a high ankle sprain, which is a tough blow for a player who looked so exciting. Playing receiver requires a steep learning curve, too, so the missed time is significant. Still, Bryant will continue to learn the playbook and has remained right by his WR coach's side since the injury, and once back to full speed, should have no problem passing Roy Williams on the depth chart. It may not ultimately happen until the middle of the season, but over the second half, expect big things from the explosive rookie.

Knowshon Moreno, RB, DEN Moreno is expected to miss three weeks after suffering a slight tear of his hamstring. The injury could have been much worse after initial reactions, and it's not as big of a deal for a running back who is familiar with the system and has little competition behind him. Still, Moreno has certainly proven to be fragile during his time in the pros, and this latest problem means he should be downgraded a bit.

Owen Daniels, TE, HOU Daniels recently revealed that he suffered a setback with his surgically repaired knee, and he's opened camp on the PUP list. While he still expects to be ready for the season opener, it's disconcerting that Week 1 is the optimistic outlook.