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NFL Barometer: Ready to Fly?

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Director of Media for, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire's shows on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210).

It took two prime-time debacles - and one included the single worst game-ending call I can remember, but we're finally back to the regular officials.

Count me among those who believe everyone is overestimating how much "better" the regular officials were. Procedural nightmares will fall off, but we will still see a hefty supply of questionable calls going forward.


Christian Ponder, QB, MIN - This time a month ago, Ponder was considered a bottom-five fantasy quarterback as the uncertain health of Adrian Peterson, unanswered questions about his progress following a 6.4 YPA over 11 games as a rookie, and unproven cast of pass-catchers put a damper on his value. In terms of mobility, Ponder can do enough as a runner to get an uptick in value over similar passers (including Jay Cutler and Matt Schaub), while the emergence of Kyle Rudolph to complement Percy Harvin and (likely) Jerome Simpson now that the latter is back from a three-game suspension provide an ample supply of weapons. While the Minnesota pass defense may appear improved on paper with a 6.6 YPA allowed through three games, consider that it has come against Blaine Gabbert, Andrew Luck and Alex Smith before hailing it as a top-10 unit. As a result, the Vikings may be more shootout prone than it initially appears. The schedule until the Vikings' Week 11 bye is favorable in five of the next seven contests which include: @DET, TEN, @WAS, ARI, TB, @SEA, DET.

Ryan Williams, RB, ARI - Beanie Wells was placed on IR (with the league's new designation that allows one IR player from each team to return later in the year), but he will miss at least eight weeks with his toe injury, leaving Williams with a very clear path to serve as the Cards' primary running back. After struggling to 22 yards on 18 carries in the first two games of the season against Seattle and New England, Williams finally delivered a strong performance in Week 3 with 83 yards and 13 attempts. Keep in mind, however if you acquire Williams the upside in Week 4 against the Dolphins is limited as Miami is giving up just 2.5 YPC this season including matchups against the Texans, Raiders and Jets through the first three games. Overall, the NFC West running backs have to deal with tough sledding against a group of underrated run defenses, but Williams' opportunity for 15-20 carries each week should make him a viable flex play in most matchups as bye weeks deplete the supply of available running backs through Week 11.

Bilal Powell, RB, NYJ - The Jets may be on the brink of making a change at running back, as Shonn Greene has been outperformed by Powell in each of the last two games against the Steelers and Dolphins. In addition to looking more suited to finding running lanes and occasionally doing something more than simply running into the back of the Jets' offensive line, Powell was targeted five times out of the backfield in Week 3, a total that exceeds Greene's targets from the first three games of the season combined. Powell edged out Joe McKnight for the No. 2 running back spot in training camp, and is worth a speculative acquisition now before the Jets' potentially increase his workload even further. Although he may not provide an elite ceiling, Powell could certainly be an upgrade over Greene (2.8 YPC) and eat into his 19 carries per game.

Denarius Moore, WR, OAK - Moore has been targeted 18 times in two games since returning from a hamstring injury in Week 2, while the Raiders are in a position to throw early and often most weeks as Carson Palmer has already attempted 128 passes this season. Moore delivered an 8.1 YPT in what was essentially a half-season working with Palmer as a rookie, and as the Raiders' most polished receiver (at least in the absence of Darrius Heyward-Bey) he should see a steady supply of balls thrown in his direction each week now that he's healthy. A potential matchup with Champ Bailey in Week 4 should temper your expectations in the short term, but Moore and the Raiders face the Falcons (without Brent Grimes), Jaguars, Chiefs and Bucs following their Week 5 bye.

Andrew Hawkins, WR, CIN - This one is about trusting your eyes. Hawkins has outstanding after-the-catch skills including the ability to make tacklers miss and breakaway speed that enables him to turn a short pass in a long touchdown. To this point, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has spread the ball around to his weapons behind A.J. Green as Armon Binns and tight end Jermaine Gresham also have 12 receptions through three games. Fortunately for the Bengals' pass-catchers, their defense is abysmal, as they've allowed a hefty 5.8 YPC to opposing runners (32nd in the NFL) and 8.5 YPC to opposing passers (27th). Although he may still be owned following a nine-target showing in Week 1 against the Ravens, Hawkins could likely be had on the relative cheap in a trade and is poised to deliver impressive numbers if the weekly targets become more reliable.


Jay Cutler, QB, CHI - The Colts defense that Cutler and the Bears faced in Week 1 might be one of the three weakest units in the league. Cutler struggled again Sunday in a game against the Rams that no good person should be forced to re-watch. Fortunately for the Bears, their defense appears to be strong (6.3 YPA, 3.8 YPC) and the strain on the offense will likely be limited. After three games, Cutler ranks 24th in the NFL in attempts (93). Unfortunately, the Week 4 matchup against Dallas doesn't offer much of an opportunity to get back on track and looking long term, the Bears have a healthy supply of tough matchups including Houston (Week 10), San Francisco (Week 11), Seattle (Week 13), Green Bay (Week 15) and Arizona (Week 16).

Doug Martin, RB, TAM - The Bucs clearly believe in Martin - he ranks third in the league with 63 carries through three games and has hauled in six passes thus far while ranking 20th in fantasy points among running backs. Martin's YPC against each opponent this season is below each team's YPC allowed for the season, and reviewing the Week 3 matchup against the Cowboys, there were few running lanes available for the rookie running back Sunday. The Bucs' offense has struggled as a whole thus far, ranking dead last in the NFL in yards per game (243.7) despite a plus-4 turnover margin. Being the primary back on a team that doesn't move the ball into the red zone tends to mitigate the upside of heavy workload, particularly when yardage totals are mediocre.

Donald Brown, RB, IND Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster and Ben Tate carved up the Jaguars' run defense in the first two games of the season, leaving a seemingly favorable matchup for Brown in Week 3. Instead, Brown owners were treated to a 62-yard performance on 18 carries that was partially salvaged by a 39-yard reception. The Colts have a bye in Week 4, so Brown heads to the bench for one week in all formats anyway, but he's picked up just 3.6 YPC this season on 43 attempts while the reception Sunday was Brown's first of the season after a pair of drops against the Bears in the regular season opener. Previous optimism regarding Brown was rooted in the idea that he could contribute frequently as a receiver when the Colts fall behind, but that wasn't the case in Week 1 and he's been ineffective in the last two games despite a heavy workload.

Sidney Rice, WR, SEA As the Seahawks have demonstrated through three games, there is little urgency to rely too heavily on the arm of quarterback Russell Wilson. Rice has been targeted 15 times through three games, with just eight catches for 91 yards thus far. Perhaps Wilson will earn the trust of the coaching staff as the season progresses, enabling Rice to produce enough as the team's top wideout to merit consideration as a WR3, but no team has thrown fewer passes than Seattle to this point (75) and his short-term production figures to be inconsistent at best as the Seahawks maintain a ball-control offense and try to utilize their strong defense to grind out low-scoring wins.

Jason Witten, TE, DAL - Witten had a couple of bad drops against the Bucs in Week 3, and there's reason to believe he's playing at a level well below 100 percent after suffering a lacerated spleen during the preseason. With a 4.0 YPT and just eight receptions on 19 targets through three games, Witten has become droppable in shallow formats, and is hardly the must-start option we've become used to over the last five seasons. Even though he hasn't produced, Witten has played 89 percent of the Cowboys' offensive snaps in the first three games, but he's hardly a lock to rebound back as a top-10 tight end from this point forward.

Bin Ends

** Jamaal Charles certainly erased many of the concerns expressed in this space about his health and the Chiefs' willingness to use him while playing from behind in Week 3. The Saints' defense is horrendous, but Peyton Hillis is banged up and Charles may be a top-10 running back at season's end.

** LaRod Stephens-Howling might be a sneaky deep league PPR pickup for those looking to hedge against a Ryan Williams injury.

** More red-zone targets for Brian Hartline in Week 3, still no touchdowns. Stay patient.

** Marques Colston is struggling to get separation so far, but Drew Brees remains on pace to exceed 700 passes thrown this season. More good news? Colston is no longer on the injury report after battling a case of plantar fasciitis.

** Cam Newton struggled, but the playcalling from the Panthers in their Thursday night loss to the Giants was atrocious.

** Welcome back to the Gun Show. #Hochuli

Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.