Preseason Upgrades and Downgrades - WRs
By Sigmund Bloom
August 31st, 2011

After three games, here are my thoughts on how some players are moving up and down the rankings.

Upgrades

  • Hines Ward, PIT - Ward has looked good since coming of the camp PUP with a thumb injury, and the Steelers appear ready to air it out this year. Almost as important, their opponents will likely air it out, creating the possibility of a repeat of the 2002 season when the Steelers placed not one, but two wide receivers in the top 10, including Ward (the other was Plaxico Burress). Ward won't be back in the top 10, but if he is even a top 25 wide receiver, he'll be a huge value this year. He'll still be the guy Ben Roethlisberger looks to on important downs and red zone situations.

  • Antonio Brown, PIT - The Steelers ran three-wide on 20 of the 27 snaps Ben Roethlisberger played vs. the Falcons. Everyone knows by now that Antonio caught four passes, two of them long touchdowns. The potential absolutely exists that Brown could put up Steve Breaston/Brandon Stokley-esque numbers as a #3 wide receiver. If you don't believe in Brown for some reason, then you better be drafting Emmanuel Sanders late and stashing him.

  • Santana Moss, WAS - The Redskins passing offense looks alive and well, and Moss should pick up right where he left off in 2010, when he caught 22 balls for 231 yards and two touchdowns in the last three games with Rex Grossman. Yes, that Rex Grossman.

  • Dezmon Briscoe, TB - Arrelious Benn is still ahead of where he should be after tearing his ACL in week 16 of the 2010 season, but Briscoe has impressed ever since the Bucs turned the Bengals trash into their treasure. He seems to have great chemistry with Josh Freeman and should be a late-round stash in all start 3 WR PPR leagues.

  • Mike Sims-Walker, Brandon Gibson, STL - These look like your starting Rams wide receivers right now. Neither will approach Brandon Lloyd's renaissance under Josh McDaniels last year, but both can put up career numbers and benefit from Sam Bradford's development in his second year. Sims-Walker is a much better gamble than he was the day the Rams signed him, and Gibson has gone from barely worth considering to bonafide deep sleeper.

  • Mario Manningham, NYG - You can't help but like his chances as long as Hakeem Nicks stays healthy. With no Steve Smith in town and nothing but inexperience behind Manningham on the depth chart, the Giants will have to tolerate his numerous lapses and miscues to reap the rewards of his big plays. He is a great WR3 to target around the 6th round right now.

  • Nate Burleson, DET - Of course when Matthew Stafford gets down inside the red zone he targets... Nate Burleson? Burleson's injury history makes you feel insecure, but he has caught multiple TDs from Stafford during the preseason (one of the highlight variety), and Burleson also caught seven passes in each of Stafford (mostly) full games last year. He is a ridiculous value in PPR leagues right now.

  • Julio Jones, ATL - The Falcons had Matt Ryan throw 42 times in the first half vs. the Steelers. Ok, it was the "don't even try to run on us" Steelers defense, but still, it bodes well for Jones. He would have had a huge day if it wasn't for a drop of an easy long TD, but the opportunities will keep coming for the #6 overall pick. He is a great high upside WR3 to target in the seventh or later.

  • Lee Evans, Anquan Boldin, BAL - Finally, Joe Flacco has a real deep threat to use his big arm to target. Finally, Anquan Boldin has someone to draw coverage from him in Baltimore. Finally, Lee Evans has a partner than keep teams from bracketing him and taking away the deep routes. Both of the Ravens wide receivers are undervalued - Boldin because he won't have to deal with being the complete focus of the defensive game plan and Evans because he has a good QB and he'll get less attention from safeties than he got in Buffalo.

  • Denarius Moore, OAK - I wouldn't take Moore before the last few rounds, but I would make a point of targeting for one of my last bench slots because you never know... The buzz around him is almost unprecedented for a previously unheralded rookie wide receiver, and while the Raiders don't have the most robust passing game, it ain't like they have a great wide receiver corps either. He is a fun and potentially high-payoff gamble late in drafts.

  • Vincent Jackson, SD - Jackson still loses a little PPR luster for as long as Antonio Gates is healthy, but he and Philip Rivers are just playing pitch and catch out there in the preseason. The top five wide receivers seem pretty set, but the next 10-15 aren't that far apart, so Jackson's preseason performance has pushed him to the top of second tier of WR1 candidates, especially in non-PPR leagues.

  • Downgrades

  • Arrelious Benn, TB - Benn was the subject of a lot of sunny news about his recovery from a week 16 ACL tear all offseason, but few anticipated that Dezmon Briscoe would come on as strong as he has this summer. The 2010 second-round pick has gone from high-upside flier on your bench to early waiver wire pickup if Briscoe falters.

  • Emmanuel Sanders, PIT - Sanders looked to be poised on the edge of a breakout as the 2010 season wound up, but then he had surgery on both feet during the offseason and another procedure to help the foot he didn't break in the Super Bowl just before camp opened. In the meantime, Antonio Brown proceeded to dominate every highlight reel of the dress rehearsal week of the preseason after dominating every Steelers camp report for weeks with his derring-do. Sanders is still a potential mid-season waiver wire wonder, but he has some work to do to catch up with his fellow second-year wideout in the Steel City.

  • Sidney Rice, Mike Williams, SEA - Let's face it. We were all very disappointed when Sidney Rice signed in Seattle, and Mike Williams owners were banged their heads against the wall when Matt Hasselbeck left and Tarvaris Jackson replaced him. Still, at the beginning of camp, we thought, maybe the mad scientists in the pacific northwest could succeed with Jackson where the Vikings failed. After all, his offensive coordinator with the Vikings (and current Seahawks OC), Darrell Bevell, had to have been instrumental in his being brought to Seattle and installed as the starter. The preseason dispelled us of any notion that Jackson would improve, and the Seattle passcatchers fantasy stock continues to plummet.

  • Michael Crabtree, SF - First it was shoes that were too tight in Alex Smith led workouts in June. Then, Vernon Davis let us know that it was a foot injury. Then we found out it was the same foot that hampered Crabtree before the 2009 draft. Then he was in bad enough shape to miss all of the preseason and camp. Recently, we found out that he actually broke the foot and had surgery on it. Crabtree has gone from next big thing to first guy you'll drop for the waiver wire flavor of the week.

  • Jeremy Maclin, PHI - When you look at Maclin's stock vs. a few week ago when none of us knew what was wrong, he has bounced back in a big way. He doesn't have cancer and he and the team think that he'll be ready to roll for the week 1. You still have to wonder if he'll be in football shape, and oh by the way, the Eagles signed Steve Smith, who will not be on the PUP to start the season. It seems almost impossible that Maclin will approach last year's breakout season numbers. There are too many other intriguing WR3 options available in the 5th-6th rounds to take a chance on Maclin this year.

  • Donnie Avery, Danario Alexander STL - Both of these guys flashed potential #1 WR skills at different points in their young careers. Enough so that during the offseason, the question was whether to grab them around the early or late teens in premature drafts. Now the question is whether they'll even make the team. I'm not giving up on either forever, but the 2011 prospects for these young, but injury-prone talents look dim.

  • Marques Colston, NO - Colston has been battling knee soreness on and off during camp after having microfracture surgery on the other knee this offseason (he already had one microfracture procedure done in his pro career). He returned to action and looked ok in the third preseason game, but you have to wonder when he will hit one knee surgery too many to stay at his normal level of excellence. The Saints seem to be pushing Jimmy Graham to a larger role and they still have a deep wide receiver corps and a potentially emerging running game behind Mark Ingram. It's time to move Colston outside of your top 20 WRs and that probably means someone else will take him before I would in every draft.

  • Chad Ochocinco, NE - The trade for Ochocinco conjured up visions of Randy Moss and Tom Brady's beautiful connection in 2007, but the results in the preseason have looked more like two ships passing in the night. Ochocinco doesn't have Moss's elite physical ability, and he might just end up taking back seat to the talented tight ends, with second-year wideout Taylor Price coming on strong. I would fine with taking Ocho as my WR5 or so, but name recognition is not allowing him to fall that far in fantasy drafts.

  • Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to bloom@footballguys.com.

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