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Dear Mr. Fantasy: Prepare for the worst

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For the moment, let's say Arian Foster actually does miss a couple weeks to begin the season. Shoot, let's say he misses the entire season, and you already drafted him.

He won't, but it's a hypothetical. Just roll with it.

Surely you drafted him in the first round, and surely you expected him to be the most important player on your team. Is that it, then? Is your season over before it even begins?

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What if you also drafted Ben Tate? What if he claims the starting job right away? What if he becomes what Arian Foster was, as so many people predicted for him before he broke his ankle last year? What if Foster's injury ends up being the best thing that ever happened to you in Fantasy?

That whole best-case scenario wouldn't even have to happen for you to have a good Fantasy season. Truth is most people don't think Foster himself will be who he was last year. If they did, he'd be a slam-dunk first overall pick. Provided he's healthy, he'll be a high-end running back for sure, but that's hardly an unreachable star.

High-end production comes from unexpected sources every year. It could come from a late-rounder like Tate. It could come from a middle-rounder like Daniel Thomas or Tim Hightower. As long as you were able to get Foster's high-end production from a place you didn't necessarily expect to get it, you could survive our hypothetical scenario.

The key to consistency in Fantasy Football is how well you prepare for the unforeseen. Football is the least predictable of the major sports because of the shortened timeframe and the heightened injury risk. If you're fortunate enough to have a known risk, you have to back it up properly.

It's true for a gimpy Foster or a rehabbing Peyton Manning.

In a 14-team league, would I be OK backing up Peyton Manning with a player like Cam Newton? It's hard to get a good backup quarterback in a 14-team league because you'll end up with crummy backups at running back, wide receiver and tight end. -- Frankie White (via Facebook)

SW: You're absolutely right, Frankie. As much as I extolled the depth of the quarterback position last week, pointing out that the top 15 options are all worthy starters in Fantasy, the depth vanishes when you add just two more teams to the equation. Suddenly, only one Fantasy owner can get a starting-caliber backup -- maybe two if you include Jay Cutler as the 16th name on that list. To make sure you're that owner, you have to reach for your second quarterback at the point in the draft when you might be looking to land your third running back or starting tight end instead.

So in our most recent 14-team draft, I changed my approach at quarterback, placing a greater emphasis on reliability. I still didn't shell out for an early-rounder like Tom Brady or Philip Rivers, but I wasn't as willing to gamble on an unproven like Josh Freeman or Matthew Stafford. Instead, I went for a quarterback in Round 5 who nobody has any real reason to doubt: Matt Schaub. Tony Romo would have also worked, as would have Matt Ryan. Draft one of those three, and you can afford to wait on a backup.

If it's too late -- if you already have Manning and can't backtrack and take a new No. 1 -- then I'm sorry, but you have to be that guy who reaches for Joe Flacco or Sam Bradford or whoever the last of the big 15 might be. At that position, the stakes are too high. It's the largest percentage of your team's total more weeks than not.

What if Manning's neck injury sidelines him for four weeks instead of just one? What if, considering all the time he has missed, he doesn't get comfortable until Week 7 or 8? I'll be the first to say it's unlikely, but it's too plausible for you to gamble your whole season on it. If you're starting an unproven Cam Newton during that time, you'll lose most of the time, no matter what the rest of your team looks like.

Is DeSean Jackson an upgrade over Brandon Marshall in a 12-team points-per-reception league? -- Pete Aydt (via Twitter)

SW: That would seem like the right answer here since Jackson was more relevant to Fantasy owners last year, but at the risk of losing my credibility, I'm going to say Marshall is actually the better choice in your particular format.

Say what you will about Marshall's first season in Miami, but he caught a ton of passes. His 86 receptions in 14 games gave him more per game (6.1) than Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald or even Wes Welker. He had four games with 10 catches or more, which is like scoring two touchdowns in leagues that reward a full point per reception.

Jackson is the antithesis of a possession receiver. Every time he touches the ball, he's a threat to take it to the end zone, which you could argue makes him the more valuable player in real life. But in PPR leagues, where opportunity is weighted just as heavily as production, the quick score isn't necessarily such a good thing. It may put Jackson and Marshall on equal footing as far as yardage and touchdowns go, but the receptions set Marshall apart.

Let's say Jackson sets a career high this year with 64 catches. Let's say Marshall does what he likely would have done in a full 16 games last year and finishes with 100 catches. That's a difference of 36 points on receptions alone. It's like six touchdowns.

Now, you could point out that Marshall finished with only three touchdowns last year and that nine isn't such an unreasonable number for Jackson. But if you're throwing reasonability into the equation, you can't expect Marshall to score only three touchdowns again. With all the passes he caught between the end zones, the lack of touchdowns was a fluke beyond reason. No matter how little faith you have in the Dolphins offense, Marshall's presence in the red zone gives him a good chance of at least doubling his touchdown total. Shoot, law of averages alone says he will.

I don't know about you, but as much as I like Jackson's potential, I can't reasonably predict him to score 12 touchdowns this season. When you break down the numbers that way, the better option is clearly Marshall.

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My commissioner set interceptions to be worth minus-4 points in an otherwise standard 12-team league. Do I need to draft a quarterback in first round? -- David Perez (via Twitter)

SW: Let's see ... some of the quarterbacks who threw the fewest interceptions last year were Josh Freeman (six), Matt Cassel (seven), Kyle Orton (nine) and Joe Flacco (10), while two of the quarterbacks who threw the most were Drew Brees (22) and Peyton Manning (17).

No, I'm not sensing a strong correlation between average draft position and number of interceptions.

I'll admit some correlation. The best quarterbacks make fewer mistakes and are therefore less susceptible to interceptions. Tom Brady threw only four last year. Michael Vick threw only six. That said, if each threw more than a dozen this year, it wouldn't surprise anybody. Brady threw 13 as recently as 2009, and Vick, though obviously one of the better quarterbacks in Fantasy, is known more for his footwork than his accuracy and decision-making.

The bottom line is interceptions are relatively unpredictable from one year to the next. Though ability is a factor, so is plain, dumb luck. And opportunity might be the biggest factor of all. The quarterbacks who throw the most often -- i.e., the most valuable in Fantasy -- are at higher risk for interceptions and often end up throwing more than the Jason Campbells and Mark Sanchezes of the world.

Interceptions might sting a little more in your league than most, but a high-end quarterback isn't necessarily the remedy. If anything, the inflated penalty helps close the gap between a high-end guy like Brees and a low-end guy like Orton.

I suggest you do whatever you had already planned to do at quarterback. You probably shouldn't target quarterbacks with documented interception problems -- such as Jay Cutler and Eli Manning -- but otherwise, you shouldn't let the rule change alter your approach.

Not sure what I was thinking, but I drafted two rookies late: A.J. Green and Greg Little. Which one should I keep? I also grabbed Tim Hightower and Reggie Bush late. -- Hershell Tidwell (via Facebook)

SW: Is there a rule against owning two rookie wide receivers? Do you have to drop one? Assuming you have a good reason for it, I'd drop Little.

I have nothing against Little, but Green is one of those exceptional wide receiver prospects in the mold of Calvin Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald who simply can't miss. He was a pro prospect from the first time he stepped on the field in college. Nobody questioned whether or not he'd be a first-round pick. The only thing stopping him was the required waiting period from the time he graduated high school.

Does that mean he'll instantly be a success in Fantasy? If he played for just about any other team, I'd say yes. Unfortunately, he plays for the Bengals, which means he'll have a rookie quarterback throwing him the ball, which means he'll probably be playing for one of the worst offenses in the league. If he's going to break through in Fantasy this year, he's going to have to do it on pure talent.

But honestly, is Little's situation any better? Has Colt McCoy proven all that much in Cleveland? Are the Browns known as some offensive powerhouse that turns any weapon into a Fantasy stud? Other than Peyton Hillis, can you name the last Brown who made a difference to your Fantasy team?

Look, I don't know what the future holds for the Browns -- or the Bengals, for that matter. But I know neither has much of a passing game right now. The difference for Green is he'll already be the go-to guy in the passing game as the early first-round pick and obvious replacement for departed All-Pro Chad Ochocinco. As a second-round pick, Little might still have to work his way up to that role.

Between these two specific players, it's less an issue of supporting cast than talent, and on talent alone, I'm predicting Green will have the better season.

As for drafting Hightower and Bush late, I'd be happy to get them in the middle rounds at this point in the preseason, with the cat out of the bag, so to speak. Nice job.

Should I trade Joseph Addai for Cedric Benson? -- Luther Villanueva (Twitter)

SW: Sounds like a good move to me, Luther. I don't mean to suggest the person trading Benson doesn't know what he's doing, but from what I can tell, it seems like an overreaction to a development that shouldn't have any real impact on the regular season.

No doubt, you'll find some Fantasy owners ready to pull the plug on Benson now that he's, you know, in jail. The idea of him going from a cell to the football field in less than two weeks sounds like fodder for the next Michael Lewis bestseller.

But it's exactly what's going to happen here.

With good behavior, Benson will have his 20-day sentence reduced to seven days or so, making him available for the start of the regular season. He has already had as much of a preseason as you'd expect any first-stringer to get, playing in each of the team's first three games. He'll be ready to go in Week 1, and come October, nobody will even be talking about his jail time anymore.

True, you could argue this move is one based strictly on expected performance and that Peyton Manning's neck injury will force the Colts to lean on Addai more than ever, but I don't buy it. By now, we know exactly who Addai is -- the first of a rushing rotation in a pass-heavy offense. He'll disappear as often as he produces, making him an unreliable starter on a week-to-week basis. Benson may not be the most talented running back, but he'll be the workhorse of a Bengals offense led by a rookie quarterback. Assuming he stays healthy, he'll at least get the opportunity to do something -- and that's as true for Week 1 as it is for Week 17.

I currently have Drew Brees as my starting quarterback and no backup on my roster. Should I pick up Colt McCoy? If yes, then I would need to drop one of the following: Pierre Garcon, Danny Amendola, Robert Meachem and Jonathan Stewart. Who should I drop? Should I take the risk now or wait until Week 11 to find a one-week replacement? My gut feeling is to wait it out. -- Rodel D. Samiley (via Facebook)

SW: I think your gut is pretty accurate this time, Rodel. I'm all about having a good backup quarterback, but if you're down to Colt McCoy as your best option, what's the point?

I realize McCoy has been picking up steam as a Fantasy sleeper. He had a couple of good preseason games, and I have to admit I was more encouraged than discouraged by his performance as a rookie last season.

But if you're going to peg him for a breakout season, why not peg Chad Henne or Alex Smith as well? Don't get me wrong: I'm not pegging either. But both have had more success than McCoy in their relatively young careers, and both have more favorable conditions for a breakout.

I'm guessing both Henne and Smith are also available on the waiver wire and that McCoy isn't the only guy out there. If I were you, I'd watch that waiver wire early in the season, and if one quarterback clearly distinguishes himself -- be it McCoy, Henne, Smith or someone else entirely -- then make your move, when you feel like you're getting something closer to a known commodity. If it never happens, fine. You'll worry about Week 11 when Week 11 gets here.

But don't go cutting one of Garcon, Amendola, Meachem and Stewart -- who are all surefire contributors in Fantasy -- for a relative shot in the dark. That's just reckless.

In a standard 12-team league, I have Arian Foster, Jahvid Best, Mark Ingram and Daniel Thomas at running back and Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Wallace and Mike Sims-Walker at wide receiver. I'll have my work cut out for me in Week 11 with so many players on bye. With no Foster or Ingram available, should I pick up a third option for that week or put my trust in Best and Thomas? With Wallace also unavailable for that week, should I pick up Arrelious Benn? -- David Williamson (via Facebook)

SW: Simmer down there, David. We haven't even gotten to Week 1 yet, and you're already thinking about Week 11.

I understand you'd like to have all your ducks in a row for the bye weeks, and I think it's a good idea in theory. But realistically, it's just not possible. So much of this game is so far beyond our control that some of the no-brainer moves now will seem like complete idiocy at the end of the season.

Teams everyone thought would be bad will be good. Teams everyone thought would be good will be bad. Players will overachieve. Players will underachieve. Players will get hurt. Players will come out of nowhere and single-handedly win Fantasy championships. And between it all, you might even make a trade or two.

Let's try a little exercise just for kicks. Print out the roster you have now and store it somewhere safe. When Week 11 gets here and you're saving up room for that Thanksgiving turkey, pull it out and compare it to the roster you have then. I'm guessing as much as half of it will have changed. Your team might even have a completely different identity than the one you envisioned. Just ask the guy who ended up with Michael Vick or Peyton Hillis last year.

How could you possibly have a plan in place for Week 11 with so much expected to change between now and then? Even if the critical week was Week 5, I wouldn't be worrying about it so much just yet.

I'm guessing the players you actually drafted are better than the ones you'd find on the waiver wire right now, especially if Benn is your best example, so sit tight. If Week 11 was happening today, you'd actually be able to fill a lineup, which is more than most Fantasy owners can say at this point in the season.

Someone offered me Lee Evans for Michael Bush. Bush is currently on my bench, and my starting wide receivers are Chad Ochocinco, Hines Ward and Malcom Floyd. Should I pull the trigger? -- Paul Chakmak (via Twitter)

SW: In a vacuum, I'd rate Evans and Bush at about the same level. Neither is a surefire starter in Fantasy just yet. Evans obviously is assured some production as a starter for the Ravens, but Bush is a proven backup for an injury-prone starter at the more critical position.

Without knowing how much depth you have at running back, I can't say for sure whether I'd take the deal, but since you seem to play in a league with three wide receiver spots, I'm leaning toward yes.

Just about every league starts two running backs and two wide receivers. Those spots are more or less set in stone. The designation of that fifth spot as either a flex spot or a third wide receiver spot determines whether I emphasize running back or wide receiver on Draft Day. Everything being equal, I'd rather take a running back because running backs generally play a more consistent role on offense and are harder to find in the middle and late rounds of the draft. But if the distribution isn't equal and every team has to start a wide receiver in that fifth spot, well ... let's just say if you don't draft a couple of surefire studs at that position, you probably won't find much help on the waiver wire.

You don't have a surefire stud at wide receiver, Paul. Ochocinco, Ward and Floyd are all secondary options on their respective teams, and the former two are obviously on the decline. Wide receiver is clearly a weak spot for your team, and if you honestly hope to compete this year, you'll need to do something about it sooner or later.

Is this move the move you need? Well, Evans is no surefire starter himself, but the added option couldn't hurt. He was always a good deep-ball threat in Buffalo but rarely had a quarterback who could deliver him the deep ball with any consistency. He has a good quarterback now in Joe Flacco, so I could see him putting together another 1,000-yard season.

Of course, the Ravens also have Anquan Boldin, and two 1,000-yard wide receivers might be too much to ask from that offense. Still, it's at least as much of a possibility for Evans as it is for Ochocinco, Ward and Floyd, so unless you were honestly counting on Bush to make a big contribution for your Fantasy team this year, I'd make the deal.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB or Facebook . You can also follow Scott via Twitter @CBSScottWhite .

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Player News
Vikings' Greg Jennings: We all want Adrian Peterson back
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:26 pm ET) Vikings veteran wideout Greg Jennings said during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview on Friday that embattled running back Adrian Peterson is wanted back by everyone in the organization, per ESPN.

"I don't know if he'll be back. I can't answer that question," Jennings said. "But what I do know is that if he does come back, he'd be accepted with open arms. As an organization from the Wilfs on down, we all want him back. So, I mean, it's a touchy subject and he's been the franchise player -- face of that team -- for eight years. So it will be a loss, a huge loss, if we can't get him back, and that's the nature of this business."

In November, Peterson was suspended by the league without pay for the rest of the season, making him ineligible for reinstatement until at least April 15. The move came after Peterson pleaded no contest to recklessly injuring his 4-year-old son last May. He is under contract with the Vikings for next season, and is set to earn $12.75 million.

It's unclear at this point if Jennings has talked to Zygi and Mark Wilf about the Peterson situation. What is clear is that the team is not allowed to communicate with Peterson during his suspension.


Eagles' Maclin believes contract will take care of itself
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3:08 pm ET) Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin believes he will be back in Philadelphia in next season. His representatives and the Eagles are in the process of negotiating a new contract for the 27-year-old, who will become a free agent in March unless he is re-signed.

"I'm excited about what the future holds," Maclin said on Friday. "Once again, both sides have made it known what we want to do. I think it will take care of itself."

He could be franchise tagged if a deal is not signed. The tag number for wide receivers is yet to be determined.

Maclin had 85 catches in 2014 for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns in Philadelphia.


Bears sign LB DeDe Lattimore to two-year contract extension
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:03 pm ET) The Bears have signed linebacker DeDe Lattimore to a two-year contract extension. He appeared in 10 games as a rookie in 2014, recording five special teams tackles.

Jaguars' Khan 'very optimistic' about WR Blackmon being reinstated
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:46 pm ET) Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said Friday he is "very optimistic" about wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who missed the 2014 season after being suspended indefinitely for a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy, being reinstated to the NFL.

"I think he's paid his dues and I think he's got his life together," Khan said, per The Florida Times-Union.


NFLPA president Eric Winston: New conduct policy 'violates CBA'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:43 pm ET) After the union field a grievance last week against the NFL over changes to the NFL personal conduct policy, Players Association president Eric Winston said Thursday the new policy "violates the CBA in several ways and we're going to be grieving this as far as we can."

NFL owners unanimously approved the changes in December.

"We have an agreement with the league and they have an agreement with us," Winston said, per the Associated Press. "We're going to hold them to that agreement. Many aspects of this policy fall outside of the CBA and we're going to continue fighting it going forward."

Following former Ravens running back Ray Rice's domestic violence case and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's child abuse case, a more extensive list of prohibited conduct was included in the policy, as well as criteria for paid leave for anyone charged with a violent crime. A suspension of six games without pay for violations involving assault, sexual assault, battery, domestic violence, child abuse and other forms of family violence will be in effect.

"The league's revised conduct policy was the product of a tremendous amount of analysis and work and is based on input from a broad and diverse group of experts within and outside of football, including current players, former players, and the NFL Players Association," the league said in a statement last week.

"We and the public firmly believe that all NFL personnel should be held accountable to a stronger, more effective conduct policy. Clearly, the union does not share that belief."


Eric Decker 'pushing' for Demaryius Thomas to sign with Jets
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:38 pm ET) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is set to become a free agent in March, unless he agrees to a contract extension or Denver uses the franchise tag on him. If he does become a free agent, former teammate Eric Decker hopes Thomas would consider joining him on the Jets roster.

Decker spent a few days in Arizona this week with Thomas filming a commercial.

“I’ve been pushing for the entire year now,” Decker said in a telephone interview with The New York Post. “It was just another opportunity to talk to him about it. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens. I think it would be tough for Denver to let him go. So whether they franchise-tag him here in the next month or give him a long-term deal, he’s just one of those premier players in this league.

"If he happens to make it to free agency, I would love to sign him because playing alongside him for four years and especially the last two years made it a lot of fun and made it a lot easier. He’s just one of the great players in this league.”

Thomas recorded a career-best 1,619 receiving yards in 2014. It was his third straight season of 1,000-plus receiving yards. He also had at least 10 touchdowns for a third straight season.


49ers CEO York: 'Defenses are not going to want to play against us'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:32 pm ET) 49ers CEO Jed York confirmed the promotion of quarterbacks coach Geep Chryst to offensive coordinator during an interview with NFL Network on Friday. York is particularly excited about Chryst, who has been the quarterbacks coach since 2011, continuing to work with quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“With Kap, you got a guy in Geep Chryst who knows him better than anybody else,” York said, per CSNBayArea.com. “You have a great guy in (quarterbacks coach) Steve Logan who is coming to come in to work with him on fundamentals and allow us to put together a system that’s going to put Kap in the best position to make plays.

“How many quarterbacks in this league can run 90 yards for a touchdown? I can’t think of many. But you have to put Kap in a position where he can make those plays. And put Kap in a position where we can run the ball (and) we can throw the ball in ways that allow him to be successful and let him be the absolute stud that he can be on the field. And I think that’s what you’re going to see from us next year. Defenses are not going to want to play against us because you’re not going to know where we’re going to hit you.”


Bears' Bennett: Trestman will be 'excellent coordinator' for Ravens
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:34 pm ET) Marc Trestman lasted only two seasons as the Bears coach before losing his job. Bears tight end Martellus Bennett said on NFL Network on Friday that Trestman's demise in Chicago was plagued by his inability to control a locker room full of personalities.

"Trestman, I think, first off, the issue that he had, probably, was managing us all, all the different personalities," Bennett said. "There's a lot of big personalities (in the locker room). And I think, for a first-time head coach in the NFL, dealing with all the personalities that you have, I think that's hard when you got guys like me, you know, (Brandon) Marshall ... Lance Briggs on defense, (Charles) Tillman.

"There's so many guys with such outgoing personalities that managing those guys and bringing them all together is what a leader needs to do, you know? And that's one of the toughest things."

Although Trestman was fired in late December, he wasn't out of work for long, landing the job as the Ravens offensive coordinator after Gary Kubiak left to become the Broncos coach. Bennett believes Trestman will have success in his new role.

"Calling plays, he was excellent," Bennett said. "I think he's going to be an excellent coordinator for the Ravens.  Strategically, he was great. But on the field, guys just weren't executing.

"A lot of it comes back to the player preparation. If you're not preparing to a high level, then the coaches can only do so much; the game's not played on paper, it's played on grass. On paper, we look great. On grass, we looked bad."


Marijuana charges dropped against LeGarrette Blount in Pennsylvania
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(12:10 pm ET) Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount will not face charges for marijuana possession in Pennsylvania, Blount’s attorney said Friday.

Blount and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell were pulled over and arrested for pot possession in August, a day before a preseason game. Blount satisfied his penalty by working community service in Boston. He will not have to appear in court in Pittsburgh next week. 


Seahawks leaving playing status decision up to Richard Sherman
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:08 pm ET) Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Friday it will be up to cornerback Richard Sherman if he plays in Sunday's Super Bowl against the Patriots. It is not because of the elbow injury he sustained in the NFC title game against the Packers. It's because Sherman's girlfriend might go into labor with the couple's first child sooner than expected.

"If (Sherman) is faced with that decision, we'll support him," Carroll said, per the Associated Press. "I can't wait to see little Petey."

Sherman said Thursday that his unborn son isn't due for another couple of weeks, and added "he was going to do his father a favor" and wait to be born until after the Super Bowl.


 
 
 
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