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Fantasy & Reality: Rounding out your roster

Senior Fantasy Writer
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What do Bernard Scott and Jacoby Ford, Lance Ball and Antonio Brown, Lance Ball and Matt Cassel and Montario Hardesty and Lee Evans all have in common?

They reside in the final two spots on some of my Fantasy Football teams' benches, and they're all about to get cut.

That's not to say those guys don't have value. If Peyton Hillis breaks something, Hardesty will suddenly become a factor. If Jacoby Ford heals everything he could get back on the field and stretch defenses. But as a Fantasy owner, I'm inclined to do two things with my last two roster spots: Protect my studs and speculate on some sleepers.

You can't say it's a bad idea -- tell that to the guy who had Jamaal Charles. Now, if you owned Charles, you have to hit waivers and either push for Dexter McCluster or settle for Thomas Jones. If you come up empty on getting one or both, you're going to be hurting. You might even be wishing you could have shored up Charles with one of his backups before Week 2. Meanwhile, the guy who drafted Ben Tate with a late pick back in August is grinning proudly at his find.

Just because you botched your chances then does not mean you're going to botch your chances now. And just because Charles wasn't your stud who got hurt doesn't mean your stud won't get hurt. Someone will be "next." You have to be prepared.

The concept of drafting your stud's real-life backup is pretty simple: Stud goes down, backup replaces him. The Arian Foster-Ben Tate scenario is a crystal-clear example of the proverbial Fantasy "handcuff." But not every situation is as easy as that one, and some backup situations are downright ugly.

Breaking down the backups
Starter Backup (Owned Pct.) Starter Backup (Owned Pct.)
James Starks Ryan Grant (96 pct.) Peyton Hillis Montario Hardesty (33 pct.)
Ahmad Bradshaw Brandon Jacobs (91 pct.) Joseph Addai Delone Carter (32 pct.)
Steven Jackson Cadillac Williams (88 pct.) Tim Hightower Roy Helu (31 pct.)
Darren McFadden Michael Bush (79 pct.) Rashard Mendenhall Isaac Redman (26 pct.)
Fred Jackson C.J. Spiller (74 pct.) Chris Johnson Javon Ringer (26 pct.)
LeSean McCoy Ronnie Brown (55 pct.) Adrian Peterson Toby Gerhart (18 pct.)
Ray Rice Ricky Williams (53 pct.) LeGarrette Blount Earnest Graham (16 pct.)
Maurice Jones-Drew Deji Karim (43 pct.) Marshawn Lynch Justin Forsett (16 pct.)
Matt Forte Marion Barber (42 pct.) Cedric Benson Bernard Scott (13 pct.)
Michael Turner Jason Snelling (40 pct.) Jahvid Best Maurice Morris (12 pct.)
Complicated backup situations
Starter Backup situation
Frank Gore Anthony Dixon (3 pct.) would work with Kendall Hunter (23 pct.).
Shonn Greene LaDainian Tomlinson (86 pct.) would get help from Joe McKnight (2 pct.).
BenJarvus Green-Ellis Danny Woodhead (79 pct.) would get help from Stevan Ridley (12 pct.).
Felix Jones Tashard Choice (25 pct.) and DeMarco Murray (36 pct.) would split the workload.
Beanie Wells Several mediocre backups would split the workload.
Team Running back situation
Texans RBs Ben Tate, Arian Foster on verge of sharing.
Dolphins RBs Daniel Thomas, Reggie Bush already sharing.
Chargers RBs Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert already sharing.
Chiefs RBs Thomas Jones, Dexter McCluster already sharing.
Panthers RBs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart already sharing.
Broncos RBs Willis McGahee temporarily replacing Knowshon Moreno.
Saints RBs Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas already sharing.

Every single Fantasy owner should take a moment to check out their roster and consider adding the handcuff to your top running back. If your depth is too strong, that's a good thing and a great reason not to add the backup (for now). But if you're carrying dead weight -- a player you're pretty sure you're never going to start and can't trade away for much -- then don't hesitate to make a quick switch. Shoot, even if you have a sleeper from the summer who hasn't panned out yet and you want to get your stud's handcuff (example: Antonio Brown for Ronnie Brown), offer the sleeper for the handcuff. Chances are a fellow owner will give it some thought.

Not every backup can be had, obviously, and not every backup should be had. It might take a lot to acquire Mike Tolbert if you're relying on Ryan Mathews. Or it might not pay to carry Chester Taylor if Beanie Wells is your top starter. So in the event that you cannot or do not want to grab the real backup to your Fantasy running back, you're going to have to acquire some depth in the event that your stud tears, ruptures or breaks something. You're looking for the next LeGarrette Blount, the next James Starks or the next Ben Tate.

This is what that second open roster spot should be for: Speculating. A revolving door of players who represent a "lottery ticket." And everybody would love to cash in a winner at running back. Not that this is a shining example but last week I trumpeted Lance Ball as a running back worth stashing since he'd be involved in the Broncos run game with Knowshon Moreno out. It turned out he wasn't used much because Willis McGahee stampeded over the Bengals, but he got some looks. What if McGahee had gotten hurt? What if Ball did more with the looks that he had? And, what if Moreno continues to stay sidelined? Ball's a low-risk guy to just stuff on your bench.

There are plenty of players who should be on your list of guys to scout, but any of these six running backs -- all of whom owned in 35 percent of leagues or less -- could become breakout talents that can push your Fantasy team to higher scores. All they need is the opportunity.

Delone Carter, Colts: Not quite as versatile as Joseph Addai, but certainly starting to get a head of steam when he runs the football. Lest we forget that Addai hasn't played 16 games since his rookie year, so it seems like a matter of time before Carter gets some good playing time.

Roy Helu, Redskins: Tim Hightower is easily entrenched as the Redskins' top back, but Helu looked good with 10 carries in Week 2 and is averaging 6.9 yards per carry overall.

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Maurice Morris, Lions: The only way Morris will see significant reps is if Jahvid Best gets hurt. That's why he's way more of a good handcuff for Best owners than a guy Fantasy owners should keep on the bench. But we've seen how defenses are playing the Lions and any back playing in that offense is bound for big stats.

Isaac Redman, Steelers: The Steelers have done a good job so far monitoring Rashard Mendenhall's reps, and the upside of that is giving Redman some time to play. He looked like more than a goal-line back on his 20-yard touchdown run against the Seahawks last week and could continue to see some touches, especially in blowouts. That might include Week 3 at the Colts.

Stevan Ridley, Patriots: Not that BenJarvus Green-Ellis is in danger of losing his job anytime soon, but if he were to start fumbling or get hurt, Ridley is the clear-cut replacement for him. He started to get some work against the Chargers in Week 2.

Javon Ringer, Titans: We'll have more for you on Chris Johnson in a second, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the Titans' $30 million running back isn't playing like himself. Ringer has actually been the better Fantasy back so far despite playing in one fewer game and getting 28 fewer carries. Do I expect that to last? No. Does it mean Ringer is useless? No! He's worth being on your radar.

Fantasy & Reality

Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) from around the league.

Fantasy: Beanie Wells will struggle with the Redskins. How great must you feel if you drafted Wells with a fifth- or sixth-round pick? Through two games he's been dynamite, including a superior second half against the Redskins in Week 2 (only 6 yards in the first half). He's really proving his naysayers (read: me) wrong so far and is earning his coaches' trust game by game. He'll be tested soon, though: After Week 3 at Seattle he'll play vs. the N.Y. Giants, at Minnesota, vs. Pittsburgh and at Baltimore. One could reason that if there was a time to "sell high" on Wells, now is it. I'm pretty sure the Jamaal Charles owner will pay dearly.

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Reality: Ben Tate isn't going away. The Texans' run game has always been ... interesting. They haven't had much stability there through the franchise's existence and head coach Gary Kubiak hasn't done Fantasy owners many favors. But we do know this: When Kubiak finds a running back who gives him what he wants, he doesn't steer away from him (exhibit A: Arian Foster, 2010). Foster's hamstring is allegedly strained for the third time in two months, but this time Kubiak doesn't have to be concerned about how the team can replace their leading rusher. Tate's been great, averaging 109.5 rush yards per game while easily replacing Foster. So long as Tate keeps this up, he'll at worst split carries with Foster. Just note: Like Wells, Tate has dates with the Steelers and Ravens in his future. After Week 6, the Texans' backs could be off to the races.

Fantasy: Mark Ingram is a bust. If you own Ingram, I implore you to be patient. He hasn't been exciting and was famously stonewalled at the goal line in the first game of the year. One reason for it: He had two tough matchups. Another reason for it: He's splitting playing time way more than first believed. The schedule will ease up for the Saints and it could be a matter of time before he starts getting more work. If you don't own Ingram, see what the asking price is after two weak games to start the year. If it's reasonable, get him on your roster.

Reality: Devery Henderson has earned the respect of Fantasy owners. Back-to-back weeks with over 100 yards and a touchdown will do that. But some things to consider: He hasn't posted back-to-back 100-yard games since 2006. He hasn't scored in consecutive weeks ever. So while he's got 12 targets and nine catches to go with it, the odds of this deep-ball receiver remaining a regular stat monster aren't high. But then again, so were his chances of scoring another long touchdown, and he did that. If he keeps it up, Henderson will be this season's Brandon Lloyd: A career underachiever who finally puts it all together. In case you were wondering, next year is his contract year.

Week 3 waiver-wire DSTs

Cardinals (at Seahawks): Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback? Check. Sidney Rice sidelined with a shoulder issue? Check. An offense that's totaled twice as many turnovers as touchdowns? Check. This is about as good as it gets if you're picking up DSTs from week to week.

49ers (at Bengals): The Niners aren't even owned in half of CBSSports.com leagues, yet they boast the league's best run defense so far this year. Don't ask about the pass defense, but even with rookie Andy Dalton coming off of an amazing game in Week 2, the matchup isn't awful.

Panthers (vs. Jaguars): Carolina will either take on Luke McCown fresh off of a four-interception performance or Blaine Gabbert in his first NFL start. Either way, if you're desperate, they'll do.

Parting shot: What to do with Chris Johnson?

Johnson was a lightning rod for owners leading up to the draft, and now the people who drafted him (myself included) are just as anxious about him following two weeks.

The feeling here was that Johnson would be good, not great, against the Ravens because of a bigger workload. He got that workload -- 24 carries and five targets (three catches), making up 40 percent of the Titans' offensive snaps. He finished with 65 total yards. Massive disappointment.

I told you last week that he ran tentatively against the Jaguars and that his rushing lanes were getting jammed quickly. That happened again this week; Johnson seemed especially slow when he went into his cuts and seemed to run better on delay handoffs and stretch plays toward the edges. He also telegraphed all of his receptions, turning to the quarterback on designed screens before the pass was thrown.

Not every problem is on him. The Titans' offensive line isn't giving him the holes he's had in the past and he's without the fullback he's ran with for years, Ahmard Hall (out two more games with a suspension). As a result he's been grinding for small yardage. He seemingly hasn't flashed his trademark speed because he hasn't had the chance to. These specific issues might not be his fault, but they're certainly impacting him.

Then again, Javon Ringer got 21 yards on five carries including a 10-yard touchdown scamper.

Is Johnson a bust, or does he need more time, or a better matchup? Titans coach Mike Munchak pretty much called out his run game -- O-line, tight ends, fullbacks and Johnson too -- on Monday, saying they all need work. He seemed disappointed that the team didn't get more out of their rushing attack after going on the ground 29 times. He also made it clear, rightfully so, that the Titans will throw more if that's what it takes to win.

If you're the least bit concerned, it's fine to accept a deal for one great player (we've seen some Vincent Jackson-for-Chris Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald-for-Chris Johnson deals) or two very good players (Ryan Mathews and Jeremy Maclin for Chris Johnson). Don't panic and turn Johnson into a pile of trash; if you don't get an offer that's fair, roll with him.

In Week 3 the Broncos come to Nashville. They allowed 191 rush yards on 32 carries to the Raiders in Week 1 before settling down against the Bengals last week (69 yards allowed on 18 carries). If Johnson shows the same struggles against the Broncos in Week 3 as he's shown in the previous two weeks, you can officially get nervous. If he dominates Denver, then you can breathe a sigh of relief. If you don't trade him, that's about all you can do.

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
Buccaneers CB Alterraun Verner optimistic for Week 12
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:47 pm ET) Buccaneers cornerback Alterraun Verner (hamstring) is listed as questionable for Sunday's Week 12 matchup with the Bears, but he's optimistic he'll be cleared to play, Buccaneers.com reports.

"I feel good," he said after getting a limited practice in Friday. "Had a good week and was able to do a lot of things and hopefully they give me the green light to go this week. I was able to open up a lot more this week and I’m looking forward to hopefully being out there this week."

Verner has missed each of the team's last two games, but the Buccaneers defense surrendered 220 passing yards or less to each of the two starting quarterbacks they faced during that stretch.


Raiders' Tony Sparano optimistic Jackson, Carrie will play Week 13
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:31 pm ET) Raiders coach Tony Sparano is optimistic that guard Gabe Jackson (knee) and cornerback T.J. Carrie (ankle) will be able to play in Week 13 against the Rams, CSNBayArea.com reports.

"There’s optimism," Sparano told the media. "Again, I say that today, and just went over a few of those things a little while ago. But yes, there’s optimism there."

Jackson has missed three straight games with his injury, while Carrie has played just once in the last three games.


49ers LB Patrick Willis udergoes successful toe surgery
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(8:04 pm ET) 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said Friday on Instagram that the surgery on his injured left big toe "went well," 49ers.com reports.

Willis previously indicated that he's been bothered by the injury for several seasons. Now on injured reserve, the linebacker hopes to be ready for the start of the 2015 season.


Chiefs place A.J. Jenkins on injured reserve
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:34 pm ET) The Chiefs placed wide receiver A.J. Jenkins on injured reserve Friday. Jenkins, who missed the team's last two games with a shoulder injury, finishes the season with nine receptions for 93 yards.

Seahawks' Carroll: 'We'd be thrilled' to keep Marshawn Lynch
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:20 pm ET) Seahawks coach Pete Carroll told the media after Friday's practice that the team would be "thrilled" to have running back Marshawn Lynch back with the team in 2015, the Everett Herald reports.

"We want him around here for as long as he can play, and there’s never been any hesitation, there’s never been another thought about that," Carroll said. "That came totally from somewhere else. He’s under contract next year, we’ll be thrilled to have him playing for us next year. So we’ll do everything we can to get that done."

Carroll's comments come one day after telling USA Today that Lynch is "our guy" and that "we'd love to have him back." It's been speculated that the team would look to move on from Lynch after this season, as releasing the star running back would save the team $7 million in cap room.


Raiders' Tony Sparano: RB Latavius Murray in concussion protocol
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:55 pm ET) Raiders interim coach Tony Sparano didn't provide much of an update regarding running back Latavius Murray's status during his Friday news conference. He told reporters that Murray is undergoing a battery of concussion tests, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

Murray carried the four times for 112 yards and two touchdowns before getting knocked out of Week 12 with a concussion. He will need to be medically cleared by an independent neurologist in order to play Week 13 against the Rams. When asked why he hasn't used Murray in his first six games as interim coach, Sparano told reporters he "never looks back."


Trio of Seahawks ruled out for Sunday battle with Arizona
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:46 pm ET) The Seahawks have red-lighted center Max Unger (knee/ankle), defensive back Marcus Burley (hamstring) and linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis (shoulder) for their Week 12 game against Arizona. Defensive end Demarcus Dobbs (knee) is doubtful, but all else on their injury report have a good shot at playing.

Guard James Carpenter (ankle) is questionables while running back Marshawn Lynch (back), linebackers Bobby Wagner (toe) and Brock Coyle (glute), cornerback Byron Maxwell (calf) and guard J.R. Sweezy (thigh) are probable.


Seahawks LB Wagner 'not planning to conserve energy'
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:32 pm ET) Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner plans on going full-bore upon his return to game action Sunday against Arizona. He has been out five games with a toe injury.

"I'm not planning to conserve energy," he told KJR-AM. "I'm planning to go out there and make as many plays as I possibly can."


Eight 49ers placed on Friday injury report
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:25 pm ET) Offensive tackle Anthony Davis (concussion) and defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey (forearm) have been red-lighted by the 49ers for their Sunday game against Washington.

Listed as questionable are cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring), wideout Bruce Ellington (ankle), linebacker Dan Skuta (ankle) and tight end Vance McDonald (hip).

The probables are linebacker Chris Borland (shoulder) and wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (quad).


Cardinals list seven players probable for Week 12
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:17 pm ET) The questionable status of wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee) headlines the injury report submitted by the Cardinals for their Sunday game against Seattle. Ed Stinson (toe) was the only player on the list ruled out for Week 12.

Meanwhile, the following players were deemed probable: Sam Acho (neck), Lorenzo Alexander (knee), Andre Ellington (foot, hip), Larry Foote (hip), Robert Hughes (hamstring), Rashad Johnson (back) and Dan Williams (elbow).


 
 
 
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