Posted: Monday August 20, 2012 3:22PM ; Updated: Tuesday August 21, 2012 12:26PM
Eric Mack
Eric Mack>INSIDE FANTASY FOOTBALL

Chargers injuries threatening Rivers' fantasy prospects in 2012

Story Highlights

Vincent Brown injury will limit Philip Rivers' passing options in weeks ahead

Justin Blackmon has ability to have kind of breakout A.J. Green did last year

Michael Bush may become a touchdown vulture for Matt Forte in Chicago

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Another week and another bit of bad news for the San Diego Chargers and quarterback Philip Rivers. After losing potential first-round fantasy pick Ryan Mathews to shoulder surgery, they lose a potential breakout wide receiver in Vincent Brown.

It has to be disconcerting for owners hoping for a rebound year from the Chargers' QB, who is coming off a turnover-filled season and lost his leading receiver, Vincent Jackson, to the Bucs via free agency.

This preseason was supposed to help Rivers find new go-to men. Instead, he's left searching deeper.

And they say preseason results don't matter. They prove they do once again. We break it all down in depth in the Fantasy Fast Forward:

Game changers

1. Vincent Brown injured

He reeled in an 18-yard TD from Rivers and looked like he might be this year's breakthrough receiver of the year. Nope. Instead, he left the game with a broken ankle that required surgery and will keep him off the field for eight weeks -- a second blow in two weeks to one of Rivers' top weapons.

Brown might not even be worth drafting in a standard league, even if he can be an impact player in the second half of the season.

Rivers, meanwhile, threw a pair of picks, both attributable to throwing into coverage. With a sketchy Malcom Floyd, an aging Antonio Gates and a still-unfamiliar Robert Meachem as Rivers' leading targets, you might consider avoiding him as your starting fantasy QB. He will throw for 4,000 yards and 25 TDs, perhaps, but it won't be easy and it will come with plenty of throws into tight coverage. His group of receivers just don't get a lot of separation, or do much after the catch.

2. Justin Blackmon debuts

That is how you make an entrance. Blackmon needed all of one preseason drive to look like the best rookie receiver in fantasy. He reeled in a short pass in traffic and spun for a 16-yard touchdown.

"You could see his skills," Jacksonville coach Mike Mularkey said. "He's got strong hands and he knows how to find the end zone."

Blackmon, the No. 5 pick in last spring's draft, shouldn't be picked as a WR fantasy starter, or even a flex starter, but he looks early like he can be this year's A.J. Green-like revelation. Target Blackmon after you have your starters on draft day. There is serious upside here, even with the sketchiness of the Jaguars' QB situation.

3. Matt Ryan stars

For those loving the late-round QB strategy, you have to be loving the Falcons' Ryan. He went 18-for-21 for 174 yards and one TD (to his fullback).

"We really wanted to look at the passing game," head coach Mike Smith said. "It was more so of an emphasis of what we wanted to do. There were some nice opportunities."

The Falcons are opening things up under Ryan this year and might even be going with some no huddle. Spreading out the offense and connecting with nine receivers, Ryan completed passes of at least 20 yards to Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, Julio Jones and Michael Palmer, a backup tight end.

Those looking for 5,000 yards and 30-plus TDs may find it in Ryan.

4. RB Ryan Williams, Cardinals

Beanie Wells (knee) is still the projected starter -- and will play this week -- but Williams' debut was an exciting one. Playing for the first time since tearing his right patella tendon in the preseason a year ago, Williams rushed five times for 25 yards, including a three-yard touchdown run.

"I can't even lie, I was so nervous," Williams said. "I felt like I was six-years old again playing Pop Warner."

This Williams might be the most productive fantasy back picked in the middle rounds, no matter the health and initial starting status of Wells.

5. Jake Locker starts

He might have looked like he handed the job back to veteran Matt Hasselbeck this weekend, but the sophomore QB was chosen the starter by Monday morning, according to reports. Locker winning the job does more in fantasy for those around him, though. He remains merely a late-round fantasy backup.

With Kenny Britt (knee) returning from surgery and not expected to be ready for Week 1 or 2 -- and awaiting a possible suspension in those games -- Nate Washington and rookie Kendall Wright are expected to be the starting wide receivers. Third-year WR Damian Williams is a late-round sleeper as an option off the bench, too. A running game and a good tight end (Jared Cook) are a young QB's best friend. The Titans have enough weapons to be a productive offense. Cook might be the leading target.

The good: RB Chris Johnson, Titans

Johnson sure didn't look this good a year ago. Heck, he was still on the couch this time last season.

With Locker projected to start, Johnson is going to be key for the Titans in the running and passing game. CJ2K sure looked smooth on his pair of 14-yard TD runs. A healthy training camp is key for the 2011 bust who held out and frustrated fantasy owners until late in the year.

With so many question marks in the thick second-tier at the RB position, Johnson just might be your best pick after Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, Aaron Rodgers and Calvin Johnson.

The bad: RB Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers

This bad is a matter of a tease. Mendenhall was brought off the PUP list last week in a bit of a surprising move, but he still isn't expected to be ready to go until October. The fact the Steelers found it necessary to get him practicing now is telling, though.

Isaac Redman (groin, hip) will not need surgery but he remains a question mark for the start of the season. That makes Jonathan Dwyer and rookie Chris Rainey intriguing sleepers in the early weeks. The Steelers backs are something that needs to sort itself out in the coming days before you slot them on your boards.

The ugly: RB LeGarrette Blount, Bucs

Blount looked to suffer a serious knee injury when he crumpled into a heap Friday night. It would have handed rookie Doug Martin the feature role and made Martin a rock-solid second-round pick.

Not so fast.

"It's not a knee, it's more up in his groin area. He just got bent a funny way," head coach Greg Schiano said. "LeGarrette's a tough kid and I don't think it is something that will sideline him too long. But if it does, we'll deal with that."

The uncertainty will have to linger longer, though, because Blount might have dodged serious injury.

"I'll be back soon. I'll be good," Blount said. "I haven't had an injury like it. I've had nicks and bruises. That's kind of what it is. ... It hurt. It's just something that we're going to have to look into."

Martin will get a chance to start the all-important third game of the preseason and might just have a chance to run away with the starting job. He might be the most important player to watch this coming weekend. A big effort, coupled with bad news for Blount, might even rise Martin into late Round 1, seriously.

Week 2 observations

Quarterbacks

Matthew Stafford, Lions -- This is old news, but after Stafford's impressive effort we looked it up again: Stafford is one of only three QBs to have thrown for 5,000 yards and 40-plus TDs, joining Dan Marino (1984) and Drew Brees (2011). Tom Brady just missed a year ago, too, and Aaron Rodgers has never done it. Stafford looks like a great pick late in Round 2, maybe someone to take even before Cam Newton.

Jay Cutler, Bears -- He was impressive in his preseason debut, including hooking up with Brandon Marshall on a 41-yard deep ball. "That combination is going for a lot of yards, a lot of catches, and hopefully a lot of touchdowns," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. The line seemed to play better in front of him and they used the tight end to chip out of the shotgun. With time to throw, Cutler can be lethal. He is a top-notch fantasy backup QB who can perform like an elite starter.

Andrew Luck, Colts -- As impressive as Luck's debut was, Sunday night's performance might have been better, despite the pick-six he threw among his two interceptions in the first half against a tough Steelers defense. The key was he bounced back and led the Colts on yet another scoring drive. "You never want to throw any interceptions, even if they are tipped, bobbled, whatever," Luck said. "I've got to cut down on those, but I think showing we can bounce back from those mistakes and kind of climb out of that hole was a good sign." Luck is going to have bad plays like every rookie QB, but he's never going to be out of making a great one the next throw. He is still not a fantasy starter, but he will wind up there by the end of the year.

 
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