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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
Raiders bring back Kaelin Burnett
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) The Raiders have inked exclusive-rights free agent Kaelin Burnett to a one-year deal. He's expected to compete for a roster spot in training camp. 

Dekoda Watson moving to strong-side LB
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) In the wake of the release of veteran linebacker Russell Allen, the Jaguars are expected to make Dekoda Watson their new starting strong-side linebacker, ESPN reports. He'll also play as a pass rusher and potentially line up as a defensive end on third downs. 

Watson had 42 total tackles, two sacks, an interception, a pass defensed, a forced fumble and a blocked punt with the Bucs last year. 


Brandon Gibson begins light jobbing
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) Brandon Gibson has begun light jogging as he works his way back from a torn patellar tendon, the Miami Herald reports. The Dolphins are expected to keep him on the roster, if only because of the cap hit he'll cost, per the report. He said recently he expects to be ready for Week 1. 

'Humbled' Richardson explains 2013, promises a better 2014
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) Colts running back Trent Richardson spoke openly about his disappointing 2013 season, saying that it took him too long to learn a new playbook and get over leaving Cleveland after Week 2. Richardson also told the official team website that he's planning to do everything within his power to be as prepared as possible for 2014. 

"Y'all will see a big significant difference in the way I play, the speed. I won't have to think about a lot of stuff," Richardson said earlier this offseason. "It's going to be big -- timing with the offensive line, timing with Andrew (Luck), just knowing a lot more with the program, the whole system.

"They haven't seen everything they're going to get out of me yet. A lot of it is going to come next year. A lot of it is going to come in the offseason. I'm going to put in a lot of work, as I've been doing this whole season. This season humbled me. ... This season was a lesson to me."

Colts coach Chuck Pagano has had Richardson's back, says the running back, and the coach stressed back in March that his running back's involvement in the offseason program will be key. 

"It's going to be very, very important for (Richardson) to be here for the offseason program and to dive into this thing full steam ahead, which he will," Pagano said. "He wants to be great. He's got all the talent. He's got all the ability. We would have never done what we did if we didn't believe that deep down in our core. So we look for him to have a great offseason and to have a great 2014 campaign."


Saints bring back Robert Meachem
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) The Saints announced Friday that the club has re-signed veteran free agent wide receiver Robert Meachem to a one-year contract.

Meachem is a seven-year NFL veteran who was originally the club's first round draft pick (27th overall) in 2007. He re-signed with the Saints prior to the start of the 2013 regular season and appeared in 15 games with five starts. He finished with 16 receptions for 324 yards with two touchdowns.

Meachem said signing with the Saints now should help with his preparations as he will be able to take part in the team's offseason conditioning program, OTAs and mini-camp. Plus, "this is home," he said.


Can Chris Johnson turn into Tomlinson?
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) The Jets are hoping running back Chris Johnson can do for them what LaDainian Tomlinson did in 2010, reports ESPN.

That season, Tomlinson came from San Diego to New York after he was released. He responded with a team-high 914 yards with six touchdowns on 219 carries and caught 52 passes. He was supposed to be Shonn Greene's backup, but Tomlinson was so impressive that he won the starting job and became an integral part of a team that came within one game of the Super Bowl.

Maybe Johnson, who was let go by the Titans, can do the same thing.

"I can turn the bad things people are saying into a good thing for me, to give me motivation, to keep me hungry and to keep a chip on my shoulder and prove the naysayers wrong," he said Thursday.

Johnson had a disappointing year in 2013 when he averaged just 3.9 yards per carry, but he played 13 games on a torn meniscus and was running behind a suspect offensive line for a team that didn't have its starting quarterback for half the season. The situation in New York should be improved, and hopefully being teamed with Chris Ivory will allow him to play like Tomlinson did in 2010.


Aikman worried about Tony Romo
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) Former Cowboys quarterback and Hall of Famer Troy Aikman is worried about current Dallas quarterback Tony Romo coming off back surgery, reports the team's official website.

Romo, 34, is coming off back surgery in December, which was the second procedure on his back in a year.

"I came back in a relatively short period of time because of when I had my surgery, so he's at least afforded more time to get ready," Aikman said. "But having said that, two back surgeries in less than a year at his age, I would be a bit concerned.

"I'm hopeful that he's able to come back -- everybody is. This team won't be the same if he's not able to. I anticipate that he will come back. But to say that, 'Hey, he's ahead of schedule and everything's going fine,' I'm not sure how you can really measure that here in April."


Bengals, A.J. Green not talking extension - yet
by Jamey Eisenberg | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) The Bengals are expected to exercise the fifth-year option on receiver A.J. Green's contract by May 3, reports Pro Football Talk. But the sides have yet to discuss a long-term contract extension, according to the report.

The Bengals hold the rights to Green through the 2015 season. And in 2016, if a long-term deal hasn't been signed yet, the Bengals can use the franchise tag on Green for that season.

The report says Green can force the issue by trying to boycott offseason workouts or hold out from training camp. But Bengals coach Marvin Lewis is confident Green will be there.


Chris Snee will give it a shot this spring
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) Giants guard Chris Snee will attempt to go through the Giants offseason program once he's healthy, the New York Daily News reports. Snee had hip surgery last season and an elbow surgery earlier this year. There is no timeline for him to be at 100 percent but he is expected to be on the field for the "bulk" of offseason activities. 

Report: Niners won't release Aldon Smith
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(4/18/2014) The 49ers might expect a suspension for pass rushing linebacker Aldon Smith, but they are not planning to release him, NFL Network reported on Friday.

Smith was arrested recently for making false bomb reports at a Los Angeles airport, the latest of a string of troubles for the highly talented linebacker. He was also arrested for suspicion of DUI in January, 2012 and again September, 2013. He also had marijuana on him during that September arrest. In October, 2013 he was charged with three felony counts of illegal possession of an assault weapon. 


 
 
 
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