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Dear Mr. Fantasy: A hole too big to ignore

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I've made a huge mistake.

I don't mean that as a tribute to Gob Bluth, where the "huge mistake" is actually so common that I have no way to distinguish it from the extraordinary. I mean it as an eye-opening, life-altering, once-was-blind-but-now-I-see sort of revelation that can only come through crippling, humbling failure.

If you think back to some of my preseason versions of Dear Mr. Fantasy, you'll remember they had a recurring theme. I'll sum it up for you with this line from my Aug. 26 piece:

"I don't see the point in drafting an early-round quarterback."

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I didn't. In my mind, as many as 15 starting-caliber quarterbacks were available on Draft Day. If you waited to draft one on the lower end of that group -- say, Matt Schaub or Ben Roethlisberger -- you'd have little trouble keeping up with the big boys. Meanwhile, you could use the extra early-round pick on one of the starting-caliber running backs or wide receivers that would be long gone by the time Schaub or Roethlisberger went off the board.

And the approach went exactly according to plan. In more than half of my leagues, I have all the running backs and wide receivers I could ever want, and I also have Schaub.

But I don't have Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Drew Brees. And as a result, my teams stink.

That's an exaggeration, of course. If the running backs and wide receivers on those teams are really so great, then I should win every once in a while when I'm not facing the owner of one of those three elite passers. But as I look up from my mediocrity at the teams leading each of my leagues and compare my roster to theirs, the one notable difference in production is at quarterback.

And Schaub isn't even bad. Imagine how I'm doing in the leagues where I drafted the can't-miss duo of Josh Freeman and Sam Bradford. Yama hama, it's fright night.

So in which leagues am I doing the best? Well, I happened to select Matthew Stafford as my middle-round quarterback in one, and I claimed Cam Newton off the waiver wire in another.

Telling, isn't it? After all, they're the remaining two of the top five quarterbacks. They're not Rodgers, Brady or Brees, but I guess they'll do. I guess ...

Would you trade Ryan Mathews for Matthew Stafford straight up? My other running backs are Darren McFadden, Tim Hightower and Michael Turner. I've had to make do with Rex Grossman and Kevin Kolb at quarterback after initially drafting Peyton Manning. -- Duane Burchick (via e-mail)

SW: I don't see how you have a choice, Duane. Don't get me wrong: I'm all about Mathews these days. He has clearly left Mike Tolbert in the dust, collecting more than 20 carries in two of his last three games, and has proven to be one of the more reliable players at his position, scoring more than 10 Fantasy points in each of the first five. If we were redrafting today, he'd likely be a first-round pick. Stafford wouldn't.

But given the current landscape of the quarterback position, where the select few who contribute multiple touchdowns every week are obliterating the ones who don't, Stafford would actually benefit your team more.

I'll admit it sounds backward. I mean, I just said Mathews would be the more valuable player if we were redrafting today. But we're not redrafting today, and because you don't have the luxury of reconstructing your team from top to bottom, you have to make some concessions for the sake of your win-loss record.

This trade isn't for everybody. McFadden and Mathews are both top-five running backs, and most Fantasy owners with even an adequate quarterback wouldn't want to break up that duo, especially since Hightower is anything but a safe replacement with Ryan Torain now breathing down his neck. But goodness gracious, man, you're depending on waiver fodder at the highest-scoring position in Fantasy. I wouldn't have recommended doing that even before this season's revelation.

Unless you think you can swap Hightower for a Matt Ryan, Eli Manning or Joe Flacco type -- and I'd say it's a long shot -- this trade is your best hope of competing this year.

Who makes out in this trade: Tom Brady, Jahvid Best and Mike Williams (Buccaneers) for Matt Ryan, Ray Rice and Wes Welker? -- T.J. Reed (via Twitter)

SW: I'll draw the line here. I understand Brady can single-handedly win games for his Fantasy owners, and I agree he deserves a king's ransom on the trade market. But this offer is a little over the top for me.

I should emphasize "a little," though, because I did give it serious consideration. After all, it's not just about getting Brady. Best is a darn good player in his own right -- a must-start running back, I'd say. But Rice is potentially a top-five running back, given his role on offense, and Welker is already the top wide receiver, at least so far.

In fact, the inclusion of Welker is what makes this deal a no-go for me. I'll take the slight downgrade at running back for the upgrade at quarterback -- Brady and Best for Ryan and Rice is a swap I'd make in just about any scenario -- but the Williams-for-Welker exchange isn't anywhere close to even. It looked like it would be coming into the season, but since then, Welker has emerged as the clear No. 1 in a pass-heavy offense, and Williams has all but disappeared. Granted, the Buccaneers passing game has struggled as a whole, but Williams hasn't risen head and shoulders above the rest of the receiving corps like he did a year ago. For goodness' sake, his season high is only 66 yards. Mohamed Massaquoi has done better than that.

If you're the one with Rice and Welker, T.J., you can get by with Ryan as your quarterback. Given his weapons on offense, he's more likely to get better than worse from here, so you wouldn't want to do anything desperate. But at the same time, this trade is so close to being right that you might want to continue negotiating. Plug in a better wide receiver than Williams or remove the running backs entirely, and it's suddenly looking pretty favorable for the side getting Brady.

The quarterback situation in Miami starts with "Ug" and ends with "Lee." Do you see the Jets loading up to stop the run? Should I bench Daniel Thomas and start Rashard Mendenhall? -- Sam Smith (via Twitter)

SW: I face the exact same dilemma in a couple of my leagues, Sam, and right now, I'm leaning toward starting Thomas.

Your point about the Dolphins' quarterback situation is certainly a valid one. Chad Henne wasn't exactly an asset at the position before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 5, but he was still better than Matt Moore, who at times last year made Jimmy Clausen look like the superior quarterback in Carolina. Moore has so little chance of succeeding in this matchup that the Jets would crazy not to load up against the run.

But is that really anything new for them? In Darrelle Revis, they have a cornerback capable of neutralizing half the field, freeing up more personnel to stop the run, and it hasn't helped them so far. The Jets have given up eight rushing touchdowns in their five games this season, tying them for worst in the NFL with lowly Arizona, who actually allows fewer yards per carry. Shoot, Maurice Jones-Drew ran for 88 yards against the Jets in Week 2, and that was with Luke McCown under center.

By the same token, is it really anything new for the Dolphins? Again, Henne wasn't great. He wasn't going to single-handedly beat anyone. Opposing teams already knew the Dolphins had no chance of competing without an effective running game, and yet Thomas still ran wild when he was healthy enough to play.

As for Mendenhall, he hasn't run wild against anybody this season, and he's facing a Jaguars defense that has been surprisingly effective against the run, ranking 10th in the NFL. Plus, he might not even get the majority of his team's carries in his first game back from a hamstring injury.

If you tally up the pros and cons for each running back, the Dolphins' quarterback situation is the only strike against Thomas this week. Granted, it's a big one, but it's not enough for me to sit him in favor of Mendenhall. Maybe if Thomas continues to struggle with his own health issues in practice this week, I'll change my mind, but right now, he's my choice.

What is the best course of action when going against someone with players on the same team as you? For instance, my opponent has Eli Manning, and I have Victor Cruz. Do I play Cruz to cancel out some of Manning's points, or do I play someone different? -- Marc Manfredi (via Facebook)

SW: The best course of action is to do what you'd normally do. If you feel like Cruz is one of your best options at wide receiver, start him. If not, don't.

Don't like that answer? Hey, you wouldn't be the first. Every year, I seem to get some version of this same question, and every year, I get accused of not thinking strategically.

First of all, I strategize everything from where I put what in an empty dishwasher to which fruit I pack in my lunch each day, so that's inherently false. Secondly, this isn't Mission: Impossible. It's Fantasy Football, and more often than not in Fantasy Football, if you get to thinking and rethinking a lineup decision instead of just trusting your instincts, you end up making the wrong move.

The bottom line is Manning's and Cruz's numbers aren't dependent on each other. They're connected, but not congruent. Cruz could end up with only 30 yards on a day when Manning throws for 300 if Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham become the focus of the passing game. Likewise, a 90-yard, touchdown-scoring performance is entirely possible for Cruz even when Manning throws for only 160 yards and a score.

If you start Cruz for no other reason than because your opponent is starting Manning, then you're overlooking the potential of the other Giants receivers, in which case you're out of touch with reality. If you sit Cruz for no other reason than because your opponent is starting Manning, then you're suggesting your fate is so dependent on Manning having a bad game that starting Cruz would be futile, in which case your team is probably doomed anyway.

Both approaches are an attempt to control something you can't. Manning will do what he's going to do regardless of whether or not you start Cruz. Cruz will do what he's going to do regardless of whether or not you start that other guy, whoever it is. If the object of the game is to outscore the other team, then you should start the wide receiver who you expect to score the most points and let the Manning owner worry about Manning.

I'm in a 10-team league where every team starts three wide receivers. I was offered Adrian Peterson, Chad Ochocinco and Mike Sims-Walker for Hakeem Nicks, DeSean Jackson and Daniel Thomas. I already have Arian Foster and Cedric Benson at running back to go along with Matthew Stafford at quarterback. My other wide receivers are Santana Moss, Miles Austin, Antonio Brown and Malcom Floyd. Is Peterson worth it? -- Eric Jaklitsch (via e-mail)

SW: Let's present the trade as exactly what it is, Eric. In a 10-team league, regardless of how many wide receivers every team starts, Ochocinco and Sims-Walker belong on the waiver wire. They've done nothing so far, and given the other weapons on their respective offenses, they've probably missed their opportunity to establish themselves. In this trade, you'd be getting just the one player (Peterson) for the three (Nicks, Jackson and Thomas).

Now, whether or not it benefits you is still open for debate. In Peterson, you'd clearly be getting the best player in the deal. He was the first player drafted in most leagues and has done nothing to disappoint so far, scoring three touchdowns just last week. In shallower leagues, I generally prefer to get the best player in any deal, trusting that I can fill in the gaps with waiver claims as the season unfolds.

But your opponent isn't exactly asking for spare parts. Nicks and Jackson were both drafted as No. 1 wide receivers, and though you could argue both have underperformed slightly, they haven't given you any reason to believe they won't eventually live up to the title. By trading those two without getting a starting-caliber wide receiver in return, you'd be crippling your depth at the position, which is especially scary in a league with three wide receiver slots.

Could you survive it? Well, you'd still have two viable starters in Austin and Moss. A position of strength would suddenly become a position of weakness, though, and you'd be sweating that third spot for the rest of the season. Then again, a wide receiver is still more likely to emerge off the waiver wire than a running back going forward -- Doug Baldwin or Darrius Heyward-Bey, anyone? -- so I guess your decision comes down to how badly you need a high-end running back.

Thomas is a pretty good player, but if he's your second running back and you're relying on him on an every-week basis in a 10-team league, the upgrade to Peterson is probably necessary. But if Thomas is just a spare part and you're as deep at running back as you are at wide receiver, then perhaps you shouldn't mess with a good thing by creating a need where you currently have none.

What do you think of Tim Tebow as a Fantasy option? -- Carlos Duran (via Twitter)

SW: He's the man of the hour, isn't he? If everyone else has voiced an opinion on him, then I guess I should, too.

Most Added Players
* as of Oct. 13
Player % Increase
1. Tim Tebow, QB, Broncos 55
2. Darrius Heyward-Bey, WR, Raiders 54
3. Jackie Battle, RB, Chiefs 51
4. James Jones, WR, Packers 32
5. Earnest Graham, RB, Buccaneers 26
6. Doug Baldwin, WR, Seahawks 26
7. Delone Carter, RB, Colts 22
8. Victor Cruz, WR, Giants 20
9. Alex Smith, QB, 49ers 20
10. Jason Avant, WR, Eagles 17

First of all, I should point out that I didn't get Tebow in any of my leagues. I prioritized Jackie Battle over him on the waiver wire, and I guess everyone else did the opposite. Given the less-than-stellar quarterback situation for most of my teams (which I mentioned at the top of the column), my willingness to pass on him should say something.

Don't get me wrong: I'd take him if he was still available. I think it's pretty obvious he can be a useful Fantasy option. He scored at least two touchdowns in each of his three starts last year, and he did the same in Week 5 despite playing only half the game. He has known nothing but success in Fantasy even if his percentages leave much to be desired.

But those percentages could still come back to haunt him. Yes, he gets points that aren't available to most quarterbacks because he's so good at running the ball, but if he can't complete half his passes when he enters mid-game, how do you think he'll fare when opposing defenses gameplan for him? His rushing ability isn't going to help him much if he's wasting so many downs.

And if he's wasting so many downs, how many scoring opportunities do you think the Broncos will have? Tebow's value is still mostly dependent on touchdowns. Will the Broncos as a team be able to score a minimum of two on a week-to-week basis? I don't see it.

So he's useful, yeah, but even Alex Smith is useful half the time. Because his shortcomings are so plainly obvious, you have to expect Tebow to have his share ugly games. If they're as rare as Joe Flacco's, OK, you have a pretty nice pickup. But if they're more often than that, you'll have a hard time getting Tebow in your lineup.

All I'm saying is to keep your expectations in check. The Broncos know more about quarterbacking than any of us ever will, and they're only turning to Tebow out of desperation. If you're looking for a backup quarterback, he might give you exactly what you need. But if you're looking for a savior, your better hope is on the trade market.

In a league that awards half a point per reception, which two of Reggie Wayne, Marques Colston and Darren Sproles would you start? -- Chris Peterson (via Twitter)

SW: I'd go with Wayne and Sproles, which says a lot about the composition of the Saints offense. Normally, I'd favor the wide receiver to the running back in a points-per-reception league, but Sproles' role is so well defined as the underneath option for Drew Brees that he's actually the safer bet for a high number of receptions. He hasn't disappointed yet, making at least five grabs in each of the team's first five games.

Colston, on the other hand, is a candidate to disappear any given week. Between him, Robert Meachem, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson and Jimmy Graham, Brees has too many mouths to feed downfield, which means they're all going to get the short end of the stick at some point. Colston's ceiling may be higher than Sproles' on a week-to-week basis, but I'll take the consistency, personally.

As for Wayne, I have a feeling he's in for a strong turnaround now that he's working with a halfway competent quarterback in Curtis Painter. I understand Painter has strongly favored Pierre Garcon in his first two starts, but that's probably just a matter of him finding the open man. As defenses adjust, Wayne will have his time as the open man and could still end up being an every-week starter in Fantasy. It's not like his four-catch, 77-yard performance against the Chiefs in Week 5 was disappointing, really.

An offer on the table would have me give up Jahvid Best, Vincent Jackson and Julio Jones for Beanie Wells, Santana Moss and Roddy White. Would you take it? -- Shane McCormick (via Twitter)

SW: For the sake of argument, let's say Best and Wells are equals. I'd still give the edge to Best since he has performed at a high level for longer and plays for the better offense, but I'd rather us focus on the wide receivers for now.

Does the exchange of Jackson and Jones for White and Moss really make sense? Not if you view White in the right light. At this stage of the season, I think most Fantasy owners are overvaluing him based on reputation. I understand he was a borderline first-round pick in most leagues, but at some point, you have to acknowledge what's happening with the Falcons' passing game.

Jones is a freak. We all knew he had the potential to be one, but we figured it'd take some time given the strong connection that already existed between White and quarterback Matt Ryan. Clearly, it hasn't. Jones already has more 100-yard games than White and more receiving yards overall. The more you see of him, the more you realize he has the physical gifts to do things that White never could, and those same physical gifts should make him the more attractive red-zone target in the near future, especially if White continues to struggle with drops.

Honestly, I'd say it's a toss-up which of the two finishes with more receiving yards this season -- and that's even with Jones expected to miss Week 6 with a hamstring injury. Again, White is already having to play catchup.

And even if you're not quite ready to accept that premise, hopefully the argument is enough to convince you that Jackson is the safest Fantasy option of the four. He's far and away Philip Rivers' preferred receiving target with Antonio Gates banged up, and he's an established red-zone threat.

So if we rank these wide receivers Jackson, White, Jones and Moss, you'd be giving up Nos. 1 and 3 for Nos. 2 and 4. It doesn't make sense to me, especially since you'd also be giving up the better running back.

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
Bears DE Willie Young (Achilles) carted off Sunday
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(2:49 pm ET) Bears defensive end Willie Young has been carted off early in the third quarter of the Sunday game against Detroit with a left Achilles injury.

Falcons RB Steven Jackson (quad) downgraded to out Week 16
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(2:47 pm ET) Falcons running back Steven Jackson was downgraded from questionable to out for the remainder of the game, per the team's official website.

Jackson departed in the second quarter with a quad injury and was escorted back to the locker room for further evaluation. He finished the game with four carries for 9 yards and one catch for 14 yards. Jacquizz Rodgers and Devonta Freeman will shoulder the load the rest of the way.


Rams DE Chris Long cleared for Week 16
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:45 pm ET) Rams defensive end Chris Long, who was probable with an ankle injury, is active for Sunday's game against the Giants. Long has four tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery in four games.

Rams release Week 16 inactives
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:38 pm ET) The Rams designated the following players as inactive for Sunday's game against the Giants: offensive lineman Brandon Washington, tight end Alex Bayer, defensive lineman Ethan Westbrooks, defensive lineman Alex Carrington, cornerback Marcus Roberson, tight end Justice Cunningham and offensive lineman Barrett Jones.

Jets C Nick Mangold (ankle) will not return Sunday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(2:38 pm ET) The Jets announced at halftime that center Nick Mangold (ankle) will not return to Sunday's game against New England, per the team's official website.

Mangold went down after being rolled up by Patriots defensive lineman Vince Wilfork. He was unable to put any weight on his leg, and was taken back to the locker room on a cart for further testing. Dalton Freeman will take over for him the rest of the way.


Giants LB Jameel McClain ready to roll
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:31 pm ET) Giants linebacker Jameel McClain is active for the game at St. Louis after being listed as probable with a knee injury. He has 101 tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble.

Giants announce Week 16 inactives
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:28 pm ET) The Giants declared running back Rashad Jennings (ankle), cornerback Jayron Hosley, tight end Jerome Cunningham, guard Adam Gettis, guard Eric Herman, linebacker James Davidson and defensive tackle Dominique Hamilton inactive for Sunday's game at St. Louis.

Saints RB Pierre Thomas exits Week 16 with rib injury
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(2:26 pm ET) Saints running back Pierre Thomas exited Sunday's game against the Falcons in the first half with an injury to the ribs.

Thomas sustained the injury in the second quarter and was ruled questionable to return to the game, per the team's official website. He caught two of three targets for 24 yards before departing. 


Redskins give up some yards
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:26 pm ET) The Redskins, who had allowed an average of 338.2 yards in their last nine games, gave up 495 to an explosive Eagles offense in Week 16. But they limited the visiting Eagles to 24 points, recording three sacks with one interception and one fumble recovery.

The Redskins DST finished with nine Fantasy points. It was its fourth straight game with less than 10. It has scored in double digits only four times all season.

Though the Redskins did a fine job of bending but not breaking in an upset victory, their DST remains a Fantasy unit best left for the most favorable matchups, which means it belongs on waivers for Week 17 against Dallas.


Falcons RB Steven Jackson departs with quad injury
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(2:24 pm ET) Falcons running back Steven Jackson was forced out of Sunday's divisional clash at New Orleans in Week 16 with a quad injury.

Jackson sustained the injury in the second quarter and was escorted back to the locker room for further evaluation. He rushed for 9 yards on four carries and caught one pass for 14 yards before departing. His return is questionable.


 
 
 
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