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2011 Draft Prep: Two pains in the neck

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Who would believe that drafting an elite player would become so complicated? Chris Johnson is holding out and Peyton Manning remains sidelined while recovering from neck surgery. Both of these guys have been as reliable as they come for Fantasy owners through the years, but here we are unsure of what to do next.

Before this week, the plan for drafting Titans running back Chris Johnson was simple: Spend an early first-round pick on him and back him up with Javon Ringer, Johnson's backup, with a pick in Round 10 or 11. But that got complicated when Ringer tweaked his hip and rookie Jamie Harper rumbled against the Rams on Saturday for 83 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries with a 24-yard catch-and-run.

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Now some believe that there's a handcuff to the handcuff; if you draft Johnson, you'd reasonably be forced to play it safe and draft Ringer and Harper. Dedicating three running backs to one position might work in the NFL, but not in Fantasy Football. So, we've got a talented but disgruntled running back who has more upside than anyone in the NFL but isn't with the team. Not exactly the type of guy we want to take with the first-overall pick.

Additionally, there's some concern that Johnson could come back and incur some sort of minor injury just like seemingly every NFL holdout did before him. Vincent Jackson, he of the 10-game holdout last year, got hurt on his first play back and was useless, save for a huge game against the 49ers. Darrelle Revis also had a hamstring issue when he came back from his holdout last year and missed some time. At running back, both Steven Jackson (2008) and Larry Johnson (2007) had unceremonious returns from their holdouts. Hall of Famer Emmitt Smith pulled off the hold-out-and-crush stunt back in 1993, but no one else has in recent history.

Titans head coach Mike Munchak will play it smart with Johnson upon his return. Munchak has said he'll ease Johnson back into work and split his reps until he gets going at full speed. That shouldn't take long for a young back like Johnson, even with a new offense to learn. The biggest factor for Johnson is adjusting to taking hits and enduring four quarters of football. Again, that shouldn't take more than two weeks of action. Of course, he's got to show up first.

Here's the advice: So long as you're a few picks away from drafting someone very productive and safe -- or have already drafted someone very productive and safe -- Johnson is worth the risk. Because let's face it, he probably realizes he's not going to get paid "playmaker" money like Peyton Manning or Larry Fitzgerald, but he should get more than DeAngelo Williams got a month ago in Carolina ($21 million guaranteed). Does he want to take that kind of money (say, $25 million guaranteed?) and play ball, or is he going to sit out all season and make nothing? A rational person would suggest that Johnson, like the NFL Players Association did with the lockout, will settle for what he can get, not what he thinks he deserves. Nearly every single player does.

But owners picking third, fourth, fifth or even sixth in drafts shouldn't touch him -- those owners should just take a stud running back who is ready to roll, guys like Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy and even Michael Turner. After that point there's a gray area where a case could be made for Johnson over Maurice Jones-Drew or Darren McFadden (I personally would go with Jones-Drew but not McFadden, but it's close). Anything later than that is stealing. Picking up Ringer later (reach for him in Round 9) is still advised; Harper looked good, not great, against the Rams and will lose touches to Ringer when the season starts.

Bank on Johnson coming around on a deal -- and in the event that he doesn't, owners will still have Ringer to fall back on. He'd end up being a mid-round steal if he starts 16 games.

That's about as safe as it gets.

What about Peyton?
Because of his ongoing neck rehab, Peyton Manning has become a "value" Fantasy quarterback. What else would you call the most consistent passer of the last decade-plus who's getting picked in Rounds 3 through 5?!

The firestorm started this weekend when Manning, who is still rehabbing from neck surgery in May, said he didn't expect to play in any preseason games. Colts owner Jim Irsay then took to Twitter and asked his followers to name quarterbacks who could replace Manning to begin the season. He then posted a tweet asking for directions for Brett Favre's house in Mississippi. Irsay went from funny man to newsbreaker on Wednesday when he announced that the Colts signed Kerry Collins, presumably to give Indy a decent quarterback in case Manning wasn't ready for the start of the season. And now reports are out that state Manning indeed is unlikely for Week 1 at Houston.

No one's having fun with Manning's absence from training camp and preseason action. Despite working in the same offense his entire career with a number of receivers he's familiar with, Manning prefers to warm up for the regular season with lots of work in camp and a few preseason reps. So far he hasn't done either, and that combined with Wednesday's news is making Fantasy owners jittery.

But no one should fear. Instead, everyone should be on the hunt for a huge Draft Day bargain.

The reality is simple: Manning is sore and might come out of the gate rusty, but it would be an absolute upset if he didn't play for most of the season. Moreover, it would be downright unfathomable if Manning actually stayed on the Colts' Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list and missed the team's first six games.

Don't count on it. Instead, figure Manning will be there. The Colts begin the year at Houston and vs. Cleveland, two key games but neither against a staunch defense. Manning should be able to put up at least decent numbers against them. A big matchup vs. the Steelers in Week 3 is far more concerning.

Manning has fallen from the top two tiers of quarterbacks and is now considered part of the "value elite tier." Projected to go among the likes of Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Matt Ryan and Ben Roethlisberger in drafts, Manning will give a lucky owner some good value with a pick between Rounds 4 and 5. You can expect Manning to get snatched after Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Philip Rivers in all formats.

But it doesn't mean he's going to finish that way. Manning has finished as a Top-3 Fantasy quarterback in seven of the last eight seasons (he was sixth in 2006) and hasn't been outside the Top 6 since 1999. Streaks like that will come to an end someday, but it seems unlikely that his production will fall off a cliff because he took extra time to rest his repaired neck.

The only other piece of advice is to draft a quality backup to Manning just in case. Pick someone with upside such as Sam Bradford, Kevin Kolb, Colt McCoy, Kyle Orton (he's got a nice early-season slate ) or perhaps splurge a little bit and go with Eli Manning. Consider Kerry Collins a last-ditch late-round option.

When you go to draft, expect that Manning will be taken right alongside Romo. But expect him to match his production, if not exceed it. Only a stay on the PUP list would kill that from happening.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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Player News
Chris Harris targeting midway point of preseason
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Broncos cornerback Chris Harris, who's coming back from ACL surgery, told ESPN he expects to be cleared for full participation by the midway point of the preseason. Harris said the exact timetable hinges on his upcoming visit to his surgeon, Dr. James Andrews.

"I’m doing everything, there’s really nothing I can’t do right now," Harris told the network. "I still have to go see Dr. Andrews at the end of the month and get checked up and he’ll pretty much let us know the plan from there."

Harris had 65 tackles and three interceptions last year before getting hurt in the playoffs.


Dimitri Patterson a starter by default
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Unable to land a high-end free agent cornerback, the Jets "were forced to settle for journeyman Dimitri Patterson as a consolation," notes The Star-Ledger. Patterson, who projects to start opposite Dee Milliner, is on his sixth team in 10 seasons and has played all 16 games just once in his career.

If Patterson falters, third-round pick Dexter McDougle could get a shot.


Fred Jackson in danger of losing carries
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Bills running back Fred Jackson might not approach the 207 carries he received last year. According to WGR550.com, Jackson will once again split time with C.J. Spiller but also potentially lose snaps to the team's additions at running back, Bryce Brown and Anthony Dixon.

The website said Jackson, 33, who's entering the last year of his deal, will be trying to prove how much he has left.


Teammate: Bitterness won't linger from Jimmy Graham standoff
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Saints tight end Benjamin Watson told ESPN that the the team's arbitration fight with Jimmy Graham over whether he's a receiver or a tight end won't have a longterm detrimental effect. Watson is hopeful the sides will reach a multiyear contract agreement by Tuesday's deadline.

"I’m very confident that it’ll be resolved the right way and guys can move forward," Watson said. "Obviously it’s always tough when you go through litigation with somebody, and it can probably get heated. And I’m sure there are emotions on both sides. But that is the business side of the game. 

"And it’s unfortunate that it came to that and that it was so public. But I really think -- I know, I don’t think -- I know that Jimmy loves New Orleans and I know that he loves our team and the organization and he loves playing here. And we love him, everybody wants him here, coaches included. So when it comes down to contract situations, that’s just a necessary evil ... not even evil, but just a necessary progression of getting a player here."


Dallas Thomas eyes starting job
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Dolphins coach Joe Philbin named Dallas Thomas one of the team's most improved players, and he has a good chance to start at left guard, according to the team's website. A third-round pick in last year's draft, Thomas played only four offensive snaps last season.

Thomas worked with the first team during spring drills and is much further along than he was in 2013. He stayed in South Florida throughout the offseason to get better prepared.

"You’ve got to know your material, you’ve got to know what you’re doing on the field because stuff happens so fast," Thomas said. "You’ve got to be able to just react to it and not even think about what’s happening on the field."


Spencer Nealy hit with four-game ban
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) The NFL suspended Vikings defensive end Spencer Nealy four games for violating the league's policy on performance enhancing substances. An undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M, the 24-year-old Nealy did not play in a game last season.

Nealy apologized and took responsibility in a statement, saying he took a supplement containing a banned stimulant.


Jarrett Boykin will be 'hard to dislodge'
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Jarrett Boykin improved dramatically last season and "will be hard to dislodge" from the Packers' No. 3 receiver job, reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. Boykin will have to hold off second-round pick Davante Adams, fifth-rounder Jared Abbrederis and seventh-rounder Jeff Janis.

Boykin, 24, caught 49 passes for 681 yards and three touchdowns last season.


Trent Richardson might not get long leash
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) Averaging 2.9 yards a carry, like he did last year, will get Trent Richardson benched quickly, reports ESPN.com. Richardson "will have to produce right away because it's unlikely the Colts will wait for him to get going" if running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Vick Ballard are healthy and productive, the website said.

Richardson likely will get the first shot at the starting job. He has a much better grasp of the playbook than he did in 2013 and the belief is he'll be able to run on instinct as opposed to overthinking, the report said.


Bruce Ellington trying to overcome stature
by Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Writer
(7/11/2014) At 5-foot-9, Bruce Ellington is the shortest receiver on the 49ers' roster. But the fourth-round pick out of South Carolina should not be discounted, his high school coach, Jerry Brown, told the Sacramento Bee.

Brown said Ellington is relentless at finding open space and catching everything thrown his way. "Football's played on a big field and it's hard to track someone like Bruce who's got so much agility," Brown said.

Ellington believes he has lots of room for growth because he only gave up basketball last year. Also a former track competitor, Ellington clocked a 4.45 forty at the combine.

"I'm just going to work hard, give it a hundred (percent) every time I step on the field and keep on chasing the dream," he said.


Colts dump LaVon Brazill, sign Aaron Burks
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/11/2014) The Colts waived suspended wideout LaVon Brazill and signed receiver Aaron Burks, an undrafted free agent from Boise State. Brazill, 25, is suspended for at least a year for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

Burks caught 18 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns for the Broncos last season, averaging 17.2 yards per catch.


 
 
 
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