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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
Bears CB Tim Jennings to see nickel role often this season
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:04 pm ET) Bears cornerback Tim Jennings will be chasing around slot receivers more often this season as he expands his game to include more nickle coverage, per ESPN.com.

Jennings anticipates that this season, with a new defensive scheme, he will be placed in nickle coverage more then ever.

“With the defense we’ll be running now, it [nickelback] fits well to what I’m trying to do, what they’ll want me to do,” Jennings said. “I played a little bit [of nickel] last year, but I’m looking forward to playing more this year.”

Jennings recorded 50 tackles and a forced fumble in 16 games for the Bears last season.


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by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(9:55 pm ET) Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas will start the upcoming season on the physically unable to perform list, according to Seattlepi.com.

Thomas, who underwent surgery to repair a separated shoulder in the offseason, might miss some time during the early portion of the season.

“We’re going to be really patient at this time of year,” coach Pete Carroll said. “We’re going to not jump to a decision at all. He’s worked really hard, he’s making great progress. The timeline, let’s just wait and see, and see how long it takes for him to be really safe and secure before he goes out. He plays this game with such reckless abandon, he’s got to be ready to go 100 percent. We’re not going to jump the gun on that at all.”


Jets rookie Devin Smith out for training camp with broken ribs
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(9:44 pm ET) Jets rookie wide receiver Devin Smith suffered broken ribs, the team announced on Friday. 

Smith will spend Friday night in the hospital and is out for the remainder of training camp. 

Smith was the second-round pick of the Jets in the 2015 Draft, out of Ohio State. He suffered the injury when he fell hard making a catch. 


Giants officially place Will Beatty on PUP list
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(6:54 pm ET) The Giants placed tackle Will Beatty on the physically unable to perform list on Friday, according to The New York Daily News.

Beatty is expected to miss five to six month with a torn pectoral muscle.


Report: Saints TE Orson Charles suspended one game
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(5:44 pm ET) The NFL suspended Saints tight end Orson Charles for the first game of the season, reports the NFL Network. The suspension was for violating the league's Personal Conduct Policy.

Charles has nine receptions for 109 yards during his three-year career.


Titans sign WR Tebucky Jones; waive OT Terren Jones
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(4:44 pm ET) The Titans announced the signing of wide receiver Tebucky Jones on Friday. Jones was an undrafted free agent and participated in the team's rookie minicamp.

Moreover, the Titans waived offensive tackle Terren Jones.


Giants reach contract agreement with James Jones
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(4:30 pm ET) Giants coach Tom Coughlin confirmed the team will sign wide receiver James Jones on Friday, reports The Record. Jones is expected to take part in team meetings Friday night and then practice with the team Saturday.

In 2014, Jones caught 73 passes for 666 yards and six touchdowns.


Redskins CB Bashaud Breeland carted off field Friday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(4:08 pm ET) Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland was seen being carted off the practice field Friday, reports The Washington Times. Breeland was not able to put pressure on his right leg.

Breeland is also facing a one-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.


Titans NT Sammie Lee Hill says he'll return in a week or two
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(3:46 pm ET) Titans nose tackle Sammie Lee Hill said he isn't 100 percent sure, but he expects to return to the field in a week or two, reports The Tennessean.

"I'll give it a few weeks and then see what it feels like," Hill said. "I can't put a specific time on it, but probably about a week or two. I'll see what it feels like and see if I can get it mobile and moving the way I want to, and feel good about it."

Hill is on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list due to a knee sprain.


Jaguars RB Storm Johnson says he'll return next week
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(3:32 pm ET) After being placed on the Non-Football Injury list on Wednesday, Jaguars running back Storm Johnson said he expects to return to the field next week, reports Jacksonville.com.

Johnson and coached Gus Bradley declined to discuss the nature of Johnson's injury, but Bradley said he is considered day to day.

"I'd rather talk about it when I get back on the field," Johnson said.


 
 
 
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