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Fantasy Football: How to replace Dez Bryant
1:24 | NFL
Fantasy Football: How to replace Dez Bryant
Wednesday September 16th, 2015

Every Wednesday on SI.com, we will bring you the Risers and Sliders based on the previous week’s, or weeks’, action. You won’t find any waiver players listed among the Risers and Sliders. Rather, you’ll find universally owned players whose stock has increased or decreased based on what we’ve seen from them on the field.

The spirit of this column is to help you revalue players on the fly during the season. That’s a necessary exercise for fantasy owners in leagues of all shapes and sizes, and one that will especially help you evaluate trade offers. A player who his risen or slid has seen his rest-of-season value fundamentally change, and that’s something a fantasy owner needs to keep in mind all season long.

With that bit of explanation out of the way, let’s get to the first batch of Risers and Sliders for the 2015 season.

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Risers

Tyler Eifert, TE, Bengals

Look, I don’t want to start off this column by patting myself on the back. I really don’t. Unfortunately, my hand is forced. We were calling Eifert as a breakout player right here way back on Aug. 11 in our AFC breakouts column. Eifert made us look good in Week 1, hauling in nine of his 12 targets for 104 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

While the yards, receptions and scores ultimately get you points in your fantasy league, the targets are a pass catcher’s lifeblood. That’s why, as someone heavily invested in Eifert, I am most excited about the fact that he racked up 12 targets against the Raiders last week. Eifert and Andy Dalton gashed the Raiders time and time again up the seam, and that’s something they’re going to be able to do against a lot of defenses this year. I predicted a top-five tight end season out of Eifert. I’m obviously not backing off that call after one week.

Ameer Abdullah, RB, Lions

There was so much excitement surrounding Abdullah after the Lions’ first preseason game that he inched dangerously close to being the guy who was so underrated that he eventually became overrated. To the fantasy community’s credit, his draft stock eventually plateaued in the middle of the fourth round of a typical 12-team league. There's no hope of keeping the rising tide of Abdullah excitement at bay after his NFL debut.

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The rookie out of Nebraska totaled 94 yards and a touchdown on just 11 touches in the Lions’ loss to the Chargers last week. The overall touch number was a bit lower than we would have liked to see, but he did handle it three more times than Joique Bell. Abdullah’s owners will simply have to deal with the fact that he’s returning kicks and punts, which will likely cost him a few offensive touches. The good news is it might not matter. He can be a high-end RB2 this year.

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Carlos Hyde, RB, 49ers

Frank Gore, you had a wonderful run in San Francisco, 49er fans will always love you, and you’re certainly not at the end of your career. Having said that, the team isn’t going to miss you on the field this year. That’s because Hyde was quite possibly the star of Week 1, running for 168 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 26 attempts. Just as importantly, the 49ers’ offensive line looked dominant against the Vikings on Monday night, and the team clearly has an offensive identity that plays right into Hyde’s favor.

There are certain backs you want to make available in trades this week—we’ll get to one such back shortly—but Hyde is not one of them. We do have to be careful not to overreact to Week 1, but we also have to be willing to trust some of what we see. Hyde looked every bit of RB1 material on Monday. The bet here is he stays among that class all season.

DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans

Hopkins was considered to be on the outside of the elite wide receiver class looking in during draft season, but the fantasy community may already need to recalibrate those rankings. Hopkins looked like one of the best receivers in the league last week, catching nine passes for 98 yards and two scores.

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Just like we discussed with Eifert earlier, the number of targets he gets just might be the most intriguing number to watch going forward. Hopkins was on the receiving end of 13 pass attempts from the duo of Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett. Even when Arian Foster returns, that dynamic isn’t going to change. Hopkins will likely be among the league leaders in targets this season, and the player atop the league has been north of 180 every season dating back to 2011. That’s right where Hopkins should land this year. It would be shocking if he fell short of the 1,210 yards he put up last season, and all those targets should help him break into double-digits in touchdowns.

Alex Smith, QB, Chiefs

Smith still hasn’t hooked up with a receiver for a touchdown in more than a year, but you won’t hear any of his owners complaining after he threw for 243 yards and three touchdowns in the Chiefs’ win over the Texans last week. Smith did take advantage of two of his three primary weapons, with Travis Kelce and Jamaal Charles combining for 11 catches for 152 yards and all three of Smith’s touchdowns. Jeremy Maclin is dealing with a minor back injury, but it’s only a matter of time before he gets in on the fun, as well.

While Smith definitely climbed up the rest-of-season rankings with his Week 1 performance, he’s still far from the QB1 class. What he proved, however, is that he’s a rock-solid second quarterback in two-QB leagues, and that he can turn in top-10 weeks with the right matchup. Forget about his lackluster 2014 season. He didn’t have a receiver who came close to approaching Maclin’s talent level and, perhaps more importantly, Kelce was kept under wraps for a large portion of the year.

Sliders

Everyone in Denver

Peyton Manning is going to be fine this year, and he won’t be the only quarterback who struggles against the Ravens. With that necessary preamble out of the way, I’d be awfully concerned about anyone in this offense providing a significant return on investment. You likely had to use a top-15 pick to get Demaryius Thomas and C.J. Anderson, while Emmanuel Sanders was typically off the board within the first 30 or 40 picks. If Manning, and for that matter his offensive line, can’t find a semblance of what they once were, it’s going to be a long year for fantasy owners who believed in the Denver offense.

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Again, you should be far from pushing the panic button with respect to any of these players, but it’s perfectly acceptable to slightly downgrade our outlook for this offense for the remainder of the season. Manning has always helmed elite fantasy machines. This 2015 Broncos’ offense may be merely good.

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Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys

Through no fault of his own, Romo’s fantasy value took a huge hit last week. Dez Bryant will be out at least six weeks after breaking a bone in his foot, and many reports out of Dallas indicate it could be more like eight or 10 weeks before the star receiver is back on the field. For all intents and purposes, Bryant’s 2015 fantasy season is over. While Romo still has a solid floor—he did, after all, throw for 356 yards and three touchdowns essentially without Bryant last week—his ceiling came crashing down the moment Bryant suffered his injury.

The Cowboys’ wide receiver depth chart currently includes Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Devin Street and Lucky Whitehead, and will likely soon feature someone along the lines of Hakeem Nicks, whom the team brought in for a workout earlier this week. Quarterbacks make receivers, and not vice versa, but they still need a go-to receiver to be among the fantasy elite. Romo now looks like a low-end QB1 this season.

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Amari Cooper, WR, Raiders

Back in draft season, we cautioned you against trusting a Raiders receiver, no matter how talented, coming off the board in the fourth or fifth round of a typical draft. The logic went that the Raiders have a low-ceiling offense that was unlikely to produce a fantasy mainstay in 2015. After one week, it’s understandable if you’re having buyer’s remorse for believing in Cooper. The rookie out of Alabama has all the talent and promise in the world. What he doesn’t have is a capable quarterback, especially if Derek Carr is on the shelf.

It cannot be overstated how depressing the previous sentence is. Cooper is already behind the eight ball with Carr as his starting quarterback, and that situation would only get worse if the Raiders have to turn to Matt McGloin. Cooper could be headed down the path taken by last year’s first rookie receiver off the board, Sammy Watkins. The Clemson product was hurt all season by low-grade quarterback play and an inconsistent offense. Right now, Cooper can’t be viewed as anything more than a WR3.

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Davante Adams, WR, Packers

Adams underwhelmed in Week 1, catching just four passes for 59 yards, but it wasn’t all bad. His owners can definitely take solace in the fact that he led the team with eight targets. At the same time, they should be more than a little concerned that it was James Jones who commanded Aaron Rodgers’s attention when the Packers were in the red zone.

Both of Jones’s scores came on red-zone plays that were typically Jordy Nelson’s specialty. Those were supposed to be the throws that went in Adams’s direction after Nelson tore his ACL, but Adams only got one red-zone target, and that was a short pass on a play that started at the Bears’ 20-yard line. The second-year receiver out of Fresno State will be productive simply by virtue of having a significant role in the Green Bay offense, but if he’s not getting as many of those red-zone looks as was expected, he may turn out to be no more than a WR3.

Melvin Gordon, RB, Chargers

If I’m a Gordon owner, I’m not necessarily too concerned about the fact that he gained just 51 yards on 14 carries. I’m not too worried about his lost fumble, though I certainly wouldn’t want that to become a habit. I’d be slightly encouraged that he got three targets, catching all of them for 16 yards. What would have me quite anxious, however, is Danny Woodhead’s presence as a runner in the red zone. Woodhead had 12 carries and was no more efficient, running for 42 yards, or 3.5 yards per tote. The problem, however, is that the Chargers called six run plays in the red zone in their win over the Lions. All six of them went to Woodhead, including one from the one-yard line. That is terrible news for Gordon, who isn’t expected to make much impact as receiver.

If Woodhead hogs the red-zone work, it’s going to be a real challenge for Gordon to sustain RB2 production. If the workload split doesn’t start to even out in the red zone, Gordon’s value will continue to slide.

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