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First Down: Premature Foster panic, rising Ronnie, New England’s hidden gem and Mac attacked

Brad Evans
Roto Arcade

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Houston's slow-healing star is still worth a top-three pick. (USAT)

Popular top-three pick, Arian Foster, opened Texans training camp on the active/PUP list. Lingering soreness in the rusher's calf, which he strained nearly two months ago, is the culprit. The rusher, however, downplayed the setback calling it 'day-to-day.' Still, because he saw a massive yards-per-carry drop-off last season (4.4 to 4.0) and has logged exhaustive mileage on the odometer (1,115 touches since 2010) many citizens in Fantasyland are already FREAKING.

The Texans don't have a specific timetable for his return, but there’s little reason for Foster fanatics to drink themselves into oblivion. It's way too early to panic.

As discussed in detail a few weeks back, Foster’s presumed demise is greatly exaggerated. His YPC decline was the product of a league-high 29 attempts inside the five and under-performing offensive line. When given a cut-back lane, the former rush king still displayed vintage vision, burst and fancy footwork. His 38 runs of 10-yards or more – the same number as Doug Martin and six more than he logged the year before – confirms that.

Yes, he’ll lose touches to a resurgent Ben Tate. However, that’s a positive development. Recall two years ago with Tate a major part of the offense, Foster racked 19.7 fantasy points per game, the best among RBs. No doubt his carries will decline, but his efficiency should increase, which labels him a trustworthy top pick. Remember, the Texans ran 62.4-percent of the time inside the red-zone last year. Don’t be swayed by misguided ‘bust’ designations. Foster won't soon go the way of Shaun Alexander.

A season ago, Philip Rivers didn’t rage, he trickled. Passes badly missed intended targets. Sacks mounted. Expletives rained down. A steady stream of fruitful fantasy production just two years ago, the former 4,700-yard, 30-TD passer emitted a rather putrid smell. His 18.0 points per game ranked No. 20 among QBs, one spot behind bearded bust Ryan Fitzpatrick. Swarmed under repeatedly due to a permeable offensive line – he was sacked 50 times – Rivers experienced his worst season since 2007.

Out with Norv Turner and in with Mike McCoy.

In an attempt to right San Diego’s sinking ship, the club’s new head honcho, alongside ex-Cardinals front man Ken Wisenhunt, have emphasized a short-pass game designed to force Rivers to pull the trigger quicker, a smart strategy. On 225 pressure-packed drop-backs last year, the QB completed an embarrassing 43.2 percent of his attempts compared to 74.0 percent when gifted a clean pocket. If comfortable in the new scheme, he could repair his tarnished image while also elevating the fantasy profiles of those around him, particularly Vincent Brown who is arguably the Chargers’ finest underneath weapon next to Antonio Gates. Ryan Mathews and check-down extraordinaire Danny Woodhead could also benefit. When an offense clicks everyone wins.

Rivers is still only QB2 material, but keep in mind he’s just one year removed from top-eight numbers. At his current 146.8 ADP (QB20), he’s a passed over signal caller in position to profit.

As for Brown, he’s in the Ryan Broyles-Michael Floyd sleeper class. Hanging around in drafts (115.8 ADP, WR45), he possesses serious WR3 potential, especially in PPR formats. The wideout, hampered by an ankle injury last year, is coming off a ‘spectacular’ offseason. His fantastic route-running skills and extra gear downfield are sterling attributes. Danario Alexander may be the team’s No. 1, but it would be no surprise if Brown pushes him in short order.

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Denver's backfield bingo could call out No. 21, not No. 38. (USAT)

Fantasy 'experts' and Montee Ball need to get a room. Their public display of affection is uncomfortable and somewhat baseless. It's unwise to assume Ronnie Hillman, the current rusher atop the Broncos depth-chart, will get pushed aside for the supposedly more bad-ass Ball. The second-year back, who Peter King recently mistook for Michael Pittman, is out to make a name for himself. He's bulked up, greatly improved in pass pro, has ran assertively and remains the fastest back on roster. John Elway once described him as a change-of-pace Darren Sproles-type, but, based on his early camp performance, the criminally undervalued sophomore rusher (122.7 ADP, RB47) is determined to prove the starting gig is his to lose.

According to Broncos beat-man Cecil Lammey, in Denver's first pads session Saturday, Hillman earned the start in nine-on-sevens, but was quickly pulled in favor of Ball after a fumble. However, he made up for the miscue later, blowing up blitzers in pass protection drills. Ball, meanwhile, failed miserably in that department, a blacker eye compared to Hillman's turnover. Peyton Manning doesn't tolerate inadequate protection, period. From his experience and minimal PT last year, Ronnie knows. Equally worrisome for Ball, he looked overly tentative on base runs, getting stuffed regularly. Hillman, meanwhile, gained appreciable yards on similar plays. In a one-cut-and-go scheme, decisiveness is key. Right now, Ball lacks aggressiveness. He has a long way to go before becoming, as Elway described, the 'next Terrell Davis.' Still, only a week into camp, there is plenty of time to improve.

Denver's backfield battle is Amanda Bynes-messy. Still, whoever totes the lion's share will likely be a top-20 RB, at a minimum. Unfortunately, Jon Fox's affinity for RBBCs and unkind history toward rookies greatly complicates matters. With a viable Knowshon Moreno, who is more than capable of supplanting everyone, also in the mix, it's anyone's best guess as to how the carries distribution will shake out. However, believing Ball will be the guy is a silly assumption. Behind Le'Veon Bell and Giovani Bernard, the youngster is the next best thing in dynasty leagues, but in yearly formats his swelled ADP (41.3, RB24) makes him overpriced. Given the Hill-man he has to climb, Chris Ivory, Ahmad Bradshaw and Rashard Mendenhall are savvier picks, for now.

In the darkness of the late-rounds, wide receiver Bigfoots always lurk. Last year, Alexander, Cecil Shorts, James Jones and T.Y. Hilton emerged from the forest to finish inside the position’s top-30. Several viable candidates could carve a similar path this year. The aforementioned Michael Floyd, Broyles and Brown immediately come to mind.

So does New England rookie Aaron Dobson.

Only a handful of days into camp the youngster has already ascended to the first team, working outside and in the slot. Though the competition he leapfrogged was meek, it’s an encouraging development. As Chad Ochostanko would tell you, Josh McDaniel’s offense is intricate and complex, difficult for many newcomers to grasp. Dobson’s promotion is a great sign of his comfort level within the system and the organization’s overall confidence in him.

An anti-Welker – Wes led the league in drops last year – Dobson possesses the stickiest fingers in this year's rookie class. Last year as a senior at Marshall he had zero drops on 92 targets. Now teamed with ultra-efficient Tom Brady and with minimal competition for targets outside Danny Amendola and, when healthy, Rob Gronkowski, he could be a real diamond in the rough. There’s legitimate 65-1000-7 potential here. Tuck his name away (123.8 ADP, WR48).

After unsuccessfully derailing A.J. Green and possibly Percy Harvin, the relentless injury imp took out his frustrations on another fancied wideout, Jeremy Maclin. According to local reports the Eagles training staff fears the wide receiver tore his ACL and MCL after awkwardly twisting his knee in practice Saturday.

The potential loss of Maclin, pre-injury the No. 34 ranked wide receiver on the Yahoo! aggregate, is a significant blow for a transitioning offense. Within a Chip Kelly offense predicated vertically on short slants and crosses, he was expected to play a major role. Now presumably done for the season, Riley Cooper, Damaris Johnson, Arrelious Benn, Jason Avant, among others, will compete for targets opposite DeSean Jackson. Free agent, Brandon Lloyd, could also receive a phone call.

Cooper played next man up last year and Saturday after Maclin was carted off. However, because of his limited skill set – he's almost exclusively a deep-ball threat – he likely won't dominate secondary targets. Tight ends Brent Celek and Zach Ertz could also see an uptick in looks, but remember Kelly wants to pound the pigskin and will spread the wealth when turning to the air, which also means D-Jax's value, even in light of the news, shouldn't skyrocket. The No. 1 should see plenty of work in the screen game and occasionally downfield, but don't expect 10-plus targets per game.

If forced to plunk down a stack of greenbacks on a player to emerge, give me Johnson. The NCAA's all-time all-purpose yardage leader may be diminutive in stature (Think Steve Smith or a chinchilla), but he's offers remarkable quickness and elusiveness in space, skills that mesh perfectly with Kelly's fast-tempo system. He's the personification of big play. Last year working primarily out of the slot, he totaled 5.47 yards after catch per reception, a substantially better mark than what Avant tallied (3.15). And far more mind-blowing, while at Tulsa 150 of his touches went for 20-plus yards. The Mad Scientist could get very creative with him. Discover him late.

(UPDATE: The imp's path of destruction didn't finish with Maclin. Prized tight end, Dennis Pitta, also succumbed to its wrath, suffering a season-ending hip injury. Ed Dickson, who scored 20-percent of the Ravens' receiving touchdowns just two seasons ago, steps in to fill the void. At what's becoming a rapidly thinning position, he's now a top-15 option. Pitta's absence is also a major blow to Joe Flacco's value. The oversized target and new Niner Anquan Boldin comprised 46.5-percent of the Ravens' passing offense last year. Unless Tandon Doss elevates his game, look for Ozzie Newsome to acquire another receiving option, possibly a slot man or free agent Brandon Lloyd who would be a measurable upgrade over out-of-shape Jacoby Jones.)

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