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My Five: Trending Down

Installment two of my preseason rankings series will focus on five players whose value is slipping. Last week, I discussed the Early Risers if you missed it. Each nominee today has been a solid fantasy producer in the past, but events in the offseason have negatively affected their respective situations. When trying to find players to aggressively target, there are a few key questions I ask. Is the player in his prime, does he have the supporting cast to succeed, and will he be given the opportunities to thrive? It's very early in the evaluation process, and very possible the hate on these guys moves beyond the point where they still have solid value come draft day, but as of today, I'm pegging them below their traditional evaluation.

5. Matt Forte - RB - Chicago Bears

There's no disputing Forte's production. In each of his four seasons he's accumulated 1,400 yards from scrimmage and reeled in at least 51 receptions, even reaching those milestones in just 12 games in 2011. This season figures to be a little different, however. Forte has been operating as a one-man-band in Chicago, but this offseason the organization added some talent that will drastically affect their offense. Most prominently in Forte's case, they brought in 6'1", 245-pound Michael Bush, and his 15 rushing touchdowns the last two seasons, through free agency. He figures to vulcher touches between the twenties, as well as earn the duties inside the 10 where Forte has struggled and running back fantasy value is anchored. Further diluting Forte's value are the additions of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, moves certain to reduce his targets and touches in the passing game. Lastly, his contract dispute and anticipated holdout shouldn't be enough on its own to drop his value significantly, but the Bears are implementing a new offense this season which could complicate things and lead to a slow start, a la Chris Johnson.

Projection Finish at Position-Notable names ranked behind:

Outside Top 15 - DeMarco Murray, Fred Jackson, Trent Richardson, Darren Sproles, Steven Jackson

4. Philip Rivers - QB - San Diego Chargers

While it's true Rivers lost perhaps his most talented pass-catcher this spring when Vincent Jackson signed with Tampa Bay, he has displayed an incredible ability to succeed no matter who he's tossing the ball to. Jackson, Antonio Gates, and Malcom Floyd have all missed time the last two seasons with little effect. Rivers has piled up 4,000 yards and at least 27 touchdowns in each of the last four seasons. The bigger issue here is a possible shift in the Chargers' offensive philosophy. In the wake of Rivers throwing a career-high 20 picks in 2011, Norv Turner is going to have to think long and hard about reeling his gun-slinger back in and returning to a more conservative offensive approach in 2012. In the last two years (sans LaDainian Tomlinson), Rivers has attempted an average of 561 passes, placing him fourth behind only Drew Brees, Matt Ryan, and Eli Manning. In this passing league that stat alone isn't damning, it's pretty good company he's keeping there, but San Diego has failed to make the playoffs in each of those campaigns, following four-straight postseason appearances in seasons where Rivers averaged just 471 attempts. With a new stud runner potentially evolving, would it be shocking to see the Chargers revert to a more methodical attack?

Projection Finish at Position-Notable names ranked behind:

Outside Top 12 - Michael Vick, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan, Josh Freeman, Matt Schaub

3. Frank Gore - RB - San Francisco 49ers

Gore had a monster 2011, posting his highest total of attempts (282) and yards (1,211) since his first year as a starter in 2006. He had a streak of five-straight 100-yard games with four of them accompanied by a touchdown, but also had his lowest reception total (17) since his rookie season and seems to be being phased out of the passing attack. Coming into this season at age 29, and not having the greatest history of durability, the 49ers' actions appear to indicate a desire to scale back his role in the rushing attack as well. San Francisco signed Brandon Jacobs away from the Giants and his 6'4", 264-pound frame and seven touchdowns per year likely make him the back of choice around the goalline. The team also drafted University of Oregon superstar LaMichael James who rushed for 1,805 yards and 18 scores last year, and the Niners still have Kendall Hunter who produced well as a rookie (473 yards, 4.2 yards-per-carry). Gore should still be the lead dog, but with so many others nibbling at his touches his opportunities to produce big numbers for your fantasy team figure to be significantly curtailed.

Projection Finish at Position-Notable names ranked behind:

Outside Top 20 - Reggie Bush, Ahmad Bradshaw, Matt Forte, Beanie Wells, Shonn Greene

2. Brandon Lloyd - WR - New England Patriots

Lloyd doesn't carry as large a profile as the others on today's list, but there's probably going to be a lot of hype surrounding him this summer now that he's landed in New England and will be paired up with Tom Brady. His breakout season in 2010 comprised of 77 grabs, 1,448 yards, and 11 scores is still quite fresh in owners' minds, but a final line similar to the one he posted last year (70 catches, 966 yards, five scores) is more likely. It was a topsy-turvy year for Lloyd as he was traded mid-season and had to work with some questionable quarterbacks, but 2012 figures to present its own challenges. He'll be the third option, at best, behind Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski, and the Patriots have a plethora of others as well, including newly signed receivers Donte Stallworth, Anthony Gonzalez, and Jabar Gaffney, and incumbents Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez, who have an existing rapport and role in the offense. I don't expect the Lloyd experiment to flop as badly as the Chad Ochocinco one did last year, but it will be tough for him to meet expectations on a weekly basis.

Projection Finish at Position-Notable names ranked behind:

Outside Top 35 - Kenny Britt, Mike Williams, Greg Little, Michael Floyd, Justin Blackmon

1. Mark Sanchez - QB - New York Jets

Sanchez' prominent spot on today's list doesn't imply that I think Tim Tebow will win the starting quarterback role in New York, necessarily. With Tony Sporano in town as the new offensive coordinator, formerly of Miami and the Wild Cat, however, I do think he was brought in to be used, particularly in the red zone. Not great news for a quarterback who had only four of his 26 touchdown passes come from outside the 20, zero over 38 yards, and who also padded his fantasy numbers with six rushing scores. Sanchez made strides in year three, setting career-highs across the board, but he still only managed a paltry 56.7 completion percentage, and his skills as a passer still leave a lot to be desired. The organization made a few moves in the offseason to improve his weaponry, drafting Stephen Hill and signing Chaz Schilens, but the Jets don't have the look of an explosive team, and considering the demeanor of their head coach, a shift back to a grind it out, hard-nosed attack could be on the docket for 2012.

Projection Finish at Position-Notable names ranked behind:

Outside Top 20 - Andrew Luck, Joe Flacco, Robert Griffin III, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton