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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
Lions DT Caraun Reid taking strides during early OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:28 am ET) With Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley gone, there will be a lot of opportunities for defensive tackle Caraun Reid to contribute for the Lions, per mlive.com.

Though it's still early during organized team activities, Reid has impressed coach Jim Caldwell thus far. 

"I think he's done a tremendous job just in terms of his approach to it," Caldwell said. "He looks good, increased his strength, his lean muscle has gone up, I mean, the whole gamut. So, hopefully we'll see that translate when we get an opportunity to go out there and go after it."

Reid, a fifth-round pick out of Princeton in 2014, has gotten a majority of the first-team reps during OTA's, which defensive coordinator Teryl Austin says ties back to the hard work he put in during the offseason.

"He's trained really hard, he's in really good shape," Austin said. "He looks good right now. Obviously, we'll have to wait and see once we get to pads where we are, but I like what he's done so far."

Reid appeared in 12 games last season and recorded just two tackles.


Colts Bjoern Werner: 'I can be a baller' when healthy
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:26 am ET) Since he was selected in the first-round of the 2013 draft, Colts defensive end Bjoern Werner has been banged up and bruised with various injuries. 

For Werner, playing through these ailments has frustrated him through the first two years of his career. He's totaled 68 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks through 28 regular-season games int wo seasons. 

"I don't want to sound cocky, but personally, I feel like when I'm out there and healthy, I can be a baller," Werner said, via the Indianapolis Star. "I can do it all. You always have to get that mojo going of course. But I'm telling you, I'm confident I can be an NFL player and a starter in this league."


Jets' Bowles: Leonard Williams 'more mature than the average rookie'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:20 am ET) Jets coach Todd Bowles has been impressed with rookie defensive end Leonard Williams' maturity since bringing him on board. 

"He's more mature than the average rookie," Bowles said, via NJ.com. "He's grasping the system quickly and he's moving around well out of pads, but to really judge him, you have to see him in pads for the linemen."

Williams was taken by the Jets with the sixth-overall pick, even though the organization has plenty of defensive line talent on the roster. Bowles said that Williams doesn't look the part of someone coming out of college when it comes to the way he presents himself on and off the field. 

"Just the way he carries himself," Bowles said. "He doesn't carry himself like a young 20-year-old. He's got years beyond his age and the way he comes in and walks into it, treating it professionally."


Jaguars DE Dante Fowler has surgery to repair torn ACL
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:14 am ET) Jaguars rookie defensive end Dante Fowler underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL sustained in rookie minicamp, according to the Florida Times-Union

Dr. James Andrews performed the surgery. 

Fowler will miss his rookie season as a result. He was the team's first-round selection and the draft's third-overall selection. 


Lions TE Eric Ebron struggling with drops early in OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:13 am ET) The Lions need tight end Eric Ebron to be one of their primary offensive weapons, but the second-year player has not looked like that early on in organized team activities, per mlive.com.

The 22-year-old is suffering from a severe case of butter fingers. He dropped at least three well-thrown balls and mishandled a high pass that hit his hands.

Ebron, though, is confident he will work through the drops and expects them to be a thing of the past.

"The one over the middle I shouldn't have dropped. Got down on myself, and it made me drop the next one," Ebron said. "That's just stuff that I've been practicing (to prevent), and I let it get to me.

"But it's Day 2 of OTAs. We're just out there competing. I'll settle down. Today was a bit jittery, but I'll settle down and that'll never happen again."

Ebron caught 25 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown in 13 games last season.


Colts getting Jack Mewhort reps at right tackle
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:10 am ET) Colts offensive lineman Jack Mewhort received the majority of his snaps on Wednesday at right tackle, according to ESPN.com. 

Mewhort was getting these reps due to Gosder Cherilus unavailable. Mewhort entered the league as a left guard. 

"Versatility is hard to find," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "So obviously him playing a bunch of spots and playing everywhere along the line is definitely the more you can do. I think everybody is well aware of that spot and us trying to fill that hole right now. I'm fully confident that we've got the guys in this building right now that we're going to be fine there."


Broncos LB Brandon Marshall still rehabbing foot injury
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:01 am ET) Broncos inside linebacker Brandon Marshall was able to lift weights with his teammates during Wednesday's OTA practice, according to the team's website. 

Marshall is still recovering from a foot injury which has kept him off the practice field thus far. 

"I think it will be fairly soon," Marshall said, "because I feel really good, honestly."

Marshall injured his foot in a December game against the Chargers and later played through the pain in the playoffs against the Colts. He said that watching practice hasn't been as much fun as being out there. 

"It's kind of tough, because while I'm out here, I need to pay attention; I need to watch more film, because when you do it more, you get a better feel for it," he said. "I have to learn through visual learning and just trying to soak up as much information as I can, because when training camp comes, it's going to come fast, and I've got to learn fast. I'll be all right.


Giants new-look offensive line on display in OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:00 am ET) The Giants have completely remodeled their offensive line unit for the start of organized team activities.

Compared to last year's o-line, only two players are back but even those guys have switched positions and shifted along the line. Justin Pugh has gone from right tackle to left guard and Weston Richburg shifted from left guard to center.

Will Beatty, who was a mainstay at left tackle last season, will miss five to six months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. Beatty's injury has paved the way for rookie Ereck Flowers to step in at the left tackle position.

Quaterback Eli Manning is still adjusting to all the moving pieces in front of him.

"Obviously, having a new center can be an adjustment," Manning said. "But (Weston) Richburg was here last year and I got snaps with him last year, so that hasn't been a big deal. Anytime you have a rookie at left tackle, it can be an adjustment."

Geoff Schwartz and John Jerry are splitting time at right guard, while Marshall Newhouse has been taking the snaps at right tackle.


Texans' Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett splitting first-team reps
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(9:52 am ET) As expected, Texans quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett split reps with the first-team during Wednesday's OTA practice, according to the Houston Chronicle

Hoyer is no stranger to competing for a starting job after going through the process in Cleveland against Johnny Manziel a year ago. 

“I’ve been through it before,” Hoyer said. “I’m not going to let it affect me and I’ll just be myself and really focus on the things that I can control.”

Hoyer, behind an offensive line that struggled following Alex Mack's season-ending injury, finished 2014 with 3,326 yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Mallett, who suffered a season-ending torn pectoral, appeared in three games for Houston and threw for 400 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. 


Eagles CB Nolan Carroll: 'I want to start again'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(9:41 am ET) Eagles cornerback Nolan Carroll has been taking reps with the first team during the start of organized team activities.

Carroll has gotten first team reps while Byron Maxwell, who signed a massive free-agent contract in the offseason, has played on the other side of the defensive formation.

“I’m not putting stock in it at this point, because we’re all getting the same amount of reps,” Carroll said. “Every time I’m out there I’m focusing on my technique no matter where I’m lining up. It’s not about going against the guy across from me, it’s about what I can do every single time and how much I can focus on my technique on every snap.

“We’re out there now and things are going so fast that you’re going to get tired after three or four reps and the next guy is up."

Whether his first-team reps are just for the time being, Carroll plans on fighting for a starting position.

“I want to start again, sure,” Carrol said. “Last year was challenging. I did what they asked me to do and it was something that took some time becoming accustomed to doing. I felt I became a lot more comfortable with later in the year. It was another opportunity to help the team. Same thing now. Whatever they want. I want to be out on the field. Right now it’s me out there with the ones, but everybody is going to get a chance. I just have to take advantage every time I’m out there.”


 
 
 
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