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Dear Mr. Fantasy: The year to think differently?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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When you pose a question to the Twitterverse, where does it go?

Some say it passes through the government, where it's submitted to an array of tests intended to detect and eliminate threats. Others say it becomes one with the Web, disappearing into an endless sea of worn-out memes and abandoned GeoCities pages.

Of course, those on the other end of the 'verse, such as myself, know it goes straight to CBSSpports.com Fantasy Football writers Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard ... or to social media coordinator Aleese Kopf, who then filters it to Jamey and Dave.

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But sometimes -- about once a week, maybe -- it bypasses those guardians and is absorbed directly into the lifeblood of Mr. Fantasy.

I said the lifeblood, as in the blood that keeps him alive, meaning as long as you keep asking, he'll keep living. It's just the laws of nature, sonny.

Rest assured, though, he's no blood-sucking parasite. As he absorbs those questions, he provides answers to them. And this is the space designated for those answers.

So congratulations to you eight, who thought you were seeking simple solutions to simple problems. You're now in a symbiotic relationship.

Better update your Facebook status.

Is the first round going to be dominated by running backs again, or is it time to take a quarterback No. 1 overall? -- Jason Wanke (via Facebook)

SW: Ah, yes -- philosophical changes from last year. Let's get the heavy lifting out of the way first, right?

No doubt, last year challenged my view on the league's transition to pass-heavy offenses and what it means for the value of running backs relative to quarterbacks. I assumed it made the high-end running backs even more of a priority. If more quarterbacks were destined to put up big numbers, why not wait longer to draft a quarterback?

But here's the possibility I failed to consider until it became the reality: Everyone started passing more. Not only did the balanced offenses become pass-heavy, creating a deeper collection of 4,000-yard passers than anyone had ever seen, but the pass-heavy offenses became pass-heavier, making 5,000-yard passers more common than anyone thought possible.

This development revealed two important truths about the quarterback position. The most obvious is that because the gap between the elite and the second tier stayed the same, you can't expect to get first-round production out of a seventh-round quarterback. But the more significant revelation is that because quarterbacks as a whole increased their production, they now have a greater say in the outcome of every Fantasy matchup -- to the point that, at least in leagues that reward six points per touchdown pass, the greatest determining factor in a team's success or failure is its performance at quarterback.

So then, the high-end quarterbacks are the priority, right?

Not exactly. I'm part of the way there, but what keeps me from going all-in just yet is my belief that enough scenarios exist for you to have your cake and eat it too.

The high-end running backs are in fact more of a priority than they used to be, which I know sounds like a contradiction after I just said the high-end quarterbacks are, but it's possible for both to be true. My theory last year did have some legitimacy to it. It's just that the high-end running backs are also fewer than they used to be. Really, there's only three: Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy. The other candidates all have significant drawbacks that eliminate them from consideration, such as the threat of a timeshare (DeMarco Murray, Matt Forte), the risk of an injury (Ryan Mathews, Adrian Peterson) or other extenuating circumstances (Maurice Jones-Drew, Marshawn Lynch). Some are excluded just because they play for an offense that doesn't give a hoot about running (Stevan Ridley, Kevin Smith). Because there's getting to be no such thing as a safe running back, if you have a shot at getting one of the three who are, you have to take it and just hope that one of the elite five quarterbacks, most likely Matthew Stafford or Cam Newton, falls to you in the second round.

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If not, all is not lost. The second tier of quarterbacks is still incredibly deep, and some in that group, such as Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning, at least have a fleeting hope of closing the gap on the elite tier. Just don't make the mistake of reaching for one before you have to. The one positive to missing out on the elite five quarterbacks is that it gives you a chance to stock up at other positions instead. You'd only be compounding the problem by selecting Eli Manning in the third round.

Now, if you don't have a shot at one of the elite three running backs, then yeah, your next-best bet might be to go with Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees or Tom Brady in the first round. If you care to gamble, though, you can pass on them and hope to get Stafford or Newton on the bounce-back. They tend to slide there even though, in the end, I think they'll do more for their Fantasy owners than Darren McFadden or Steven Jackson will.

Of course, if your league deflates the value of quarterbacks by awarding only three or four points for a touchdown pass instead of the standard six, the whole picture changes.

Is taking Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski at No. 18 too early? Say I already took McCoy at No. 3. -- @durivage12 (via Twitter)

SW: I'm all about drafting Gronkowski and Graham this year. Well, I guess I can't say I'm all about it if my ideal plan involves drafting one of the top five quarterbacks. Most likely, you wouldn't want to do both. But if you miss out on those quarterbacks, drafting either Graham or Gronkowski with your second-round pick -- perhaps even earlier than 18th overall -- isn't such a bad fallback option.

Tight end, like quarterback, is deeper than it used to be, but Gronkowski and Graham are still head and shoulders above the rest at the position. Last year in standard leagues, they outscored the No. 3 tight end by more than the top four running backs (Maurice Jones-Drew included) outscored the fifth-best and by more than the top five quarterbacks outscored the sixth-best. If you're looking to head into each week with a clear advantage over your opponent at a position, these two are the best way to accomplish that.

Granted, assuming they'll repeat last year's numbers is dangerous -- particularly in the case of Gronkowski, who was setting records left and right -- but they wouldn't drop off enough to lose their advantage at the position. Both still play for prolific offenses that subscribe to a pass-first philosophy even in the red zone, and both still have freakish ability that makes their production not so dependent on matchups or schemes.

Of course, if you had to settle for a shaky running back in Round 1, you might prefer to fortify that pick with another high-upside back in Round 2. But you can't do it all, right? You might as well have something halfway assured.

And if you were lucky enough to get McCoy, a relatively safe running back, in Round 1, it's even more of a slam dunk.

Does Philip Rivers bust again, or is he possibly the greatest value pick in recent memory? -- @joshmcguire60 (via Twitter)

SW: Oh, I'm definitely going with the latter there. In fact, if I miss out on the top five quarterbacks, Rivers and Matt Ryan are my preferred fallback options, even ahead of Michael Vick and the Manning brothers.

I think part of his value stems from the misconception that he was a bust last year. I understand he had a down season by his standards, particularly because of some early struggles with interceptions, but if you look at his final line, it really wasn't that bad. His 4,624 passing yards were the second-most of his career and only 19 short of Aaron Rodgers' total. He also completed a higher percentage of his passes than Matt Ryan, Eli Manning and Matt Schaub. Keep in mind that was a down year.

And yeah, you might worry a down year could become the new standard for him, but he already bounced back in the second half last year, throwing for 2,155 yards with 16 touchdown passes, six interceptions and a 96.8 quarterback rating over his final eight games. If you project those stats over a full 16 games, he would have scored about the same number of points as Manning in standard formats.

Why all the concern over him? Because Vincent Jackson left? Yeah, because Rivers didn't just go through that when Jackson held out for much of 2010. He only had his best season statistically. If anything, Antonio Gates' improved health should help Rivers' chances this year.

"Greatest value pick in recent memory" might be overstating it a bit. It's not like he's going in the Jake Locker range. But yeah, I expect Rivers to outperform his draft position.

I'm in a 10-team standard league for the first time. I've never done one so small. How does draft strategy change vs. that of a 12- or 14-team league? -- Bryan Fitz (via Facebook)

SW: It makes a difference. The shallower the league, the harder time you'll have differentiating your team from everyone else's. For ones like yours, newcomers tend to think everyone winds up with a roster full of superstars, which is true to an extent. But someone still finishes first, and someone still finishes last. How do you make sure you're closer to the former than the latter?

Position scarcity is a big part of it. I understand it's more of a baseball term, but it's relevant in shallower football leagues as well. In 12- or 14-team leagues, you can probably get away with having a tight end or second wide receiver who's merely OK, but in 8- or 10-team leagues, that's the weakness that'll keep you coming up short time and time again. If everyone else has a roster full of superstars, the one who's a superstar short is the cellar dweller. It just makes sense.

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Thus, anyone who stands out at his position deserves added emphasis on Draft Day. That includes the big five quarterbacks, the big two tight ends, Calvin Johnson, etc. If you decide Johnson is your best bet in the first round and then see Cam Newton still hanging around in the second, why not take him? You won't have a running back yet, which is generally unadvisable after two rounds, but a 10-team league offers more than enough capable running backs to go around. Chances are you could still get someone like Ahmad Bradshaw in the third round, and is his outlook all that different from Marshawn Lynch's or Steven Jackson's? You won't get another shot at someone like Newton.

I don't mean to suggest all running backs are equal or that you should completely disregard them in the first two rounds, but aside from Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy, who really stands out the position? Get a stud while you're still able to get a stud and hold off on the pretty good until pretty good is all that remains.

As for the later rounds, I'd advise shooting for upside over assured mediocrity. In deeper leagues, where you're just trying to make sure you get some kind of production from every position, I could understand why you might opt for a Nate Washington. But in a shallower league, with so many adequate options available, why not gamble on a Terrell Owens instead? Sure, he's been out of the NFL since 2010, is 39 and might not win a roster spot. But even if he becomes moot before the season begins, chances are you'll find a Washington type still available on the waiver wire.

Don't like Owens? Fine, that's just one example. I could have suggested Roy Helu over Tim Hightower, Andrew Luck over Joe Flacco or Jared Cook over Tony Gonzalez. You get the idea. To stand out in a 10-team league, you need the best of the best. Anyone who doesn't stand a chance doesn't make the cut.

I drafted Robert Griffin III as my starting quarterback. Should I be worried? -- @DundeeNFL (via Twitter)

SW: Yeah, I'd worry. The two clearest drop-offs at the quarterback position are after the top five and after the top 11. Even in the most optimistic projections, Griffin is no better than No. 12.

And that's something of a miracle in and of itself. The only reason any Fantasy analyst can get away with ranking him that high is because of what Cam Newton did last year. Before him, even the best rookie quarterbacks in recent memory, such as Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Ryan, were fringe starters at best in a 12-team league. And nobody was willing to grant them even that much heading into the season.

But Newton changed the standard last year, dominating the league even though scouts at the time weren't as unanimous about his NFL readiness as they are about Griffin's. True, Newton's rushing ability helped compensate for some of the mistakes he made as a passer, but Griffin can run. So why not him?

And to be honest, other than the obvious response of "he's a rookie," I don't know. But I do know what Newton did was unprecedented, and I wouldn't want to bank on lightning striking twice.

If for some reason you miss out on the top 11 quarterbacks and have to draft Griffin as your starter, your best bet would be to pair him with the best backup you can possibly get, perhaps even by investing back-to-back picks in the position. Matt Schaub is a great choice. He won't be the most consistent Fantasy performer given the Texans' extensive use of Arian Foster, but he'll have some big games and has an decent shot at a 4,000-yard season. Ben Roethlisberger, Jay Cutler and Carson Palmer would be adequate alternatives to Griffin as well. The idea is to get someone relatively safe so that you won't be dead in the water if you don't strike gold with the rookie.

Of course, if you've already completed your draft and weren't able to get one of those backups for Griffin, that information does you no good. You could try trading for a Schaub, Roethlisberger, Cutler or Palmer, but if the cost is too high, you'll want to sit tight for now.

You wouldn't want decimate your roster only to find out two weeks from now, when Griffin is coming off back-to-back 300-yard games, that you didn't have to.

Is Donald Brown worth more than his average draft position in a points-per-reception league? -- @firefighterg50 (via Twitter)

SW: The more I see of Andrew Luck and the Colts offense this preseason, the more I begin to buy into Brown as a Fantasy sleeper.

Joseph Addai is gone, so playing time was never the issue, as it is for so many of the running backs that rank outside the top 20. The issue was an offense that scored 15.2 points per game last season, tied for fourth-lowest in the NFL. But that team was led Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky -- who might as well have been Larry, Curly and Moe -- and this one is led by prospect of all prospects Andrew Luck. And while it's true you don't know how any player will fare in his first NFL season, so far -- at least in games that don't count -- so good.

I don't mean to oversell Luck here. He threw two interceptions in the team's second preseason game and, as a rookie quarterback, faces the same challenges I mentioned for Robert Griffin III in an earlier question. But I'm not assessing Luck's Fantasy value now. I'm assessing Brown's, and as far as Brown is concerned, Luck's preseason performance has been exactly what you want to see.

The rookie is clearly capable of moving the ball, completing passes and picking up yards, but he makes mistakes and, as a rookie still adjusting to the speed of the game, will often be asked to throw high-percentage passes. Brown was the beneficiary on Luck's very first preseason snap, taking a screen pass 63 yards for the score.

You expect the Colts to fall behind in games. Whatever rookie mistakes Luck makes will help ensure it. But falling behind means more pass attempts, with many of them expected to come Brown's way. So even if the Colts' weaknesses prevent him from showing off his rushing ability as much as you'd like, he'll make up for it with receiving yards.

And in points-per-reception leagues, he will with receptions as well. I'd take him over players like BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Frank Gore, Shonn Greene, Kevin Smith and Stevan Ridley, most likely.

Which three of these should I hold on to in a 10-team league: LeGarrette Blount, Kendall Wright, Evan Royster, Jon Baldwin, Austin Collie, Mikel Leshoure and Shane Vereen? I have Kenny Britt and Doug Martin, if it makes a difference. -- @mlbmark888 (via Twitter)

SW: Knowing you have Martin, Blount immediately stands out to me as a player you should continue to roster. Handcuffing your starters brings a sense of security that you won't get from a middling DeAngelo Williams type, especially when the backup is a relatively established player himself. Shoot, you don't even know for sure yet that Blount won't end up starting over Martin.

Among the other six, the choice in a 10-team league should come down to who has the most upside, and by that criterion, Royster and Leshoure are the obvious standouts. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan can't stop raving about Royster, which I understand doesn't mean much given the source. Ever since Clinton Portis was done in Denver in 2003, Shanahan has played hot potato with his running backs, swapping them out from week to week and year to year. Still, his rushing scheme is productive enough that if he ever does settle on just one guy, that guy will be a Fantasy stud. And though I think Roy Helu's ability makes him more likely to be the guy who distinguishes himself from the others, the potential that I'm wrong and that Royster breaks out with a 1,300-yard season is high enough that I wouldn't want to be the dope that cuts him now. Leshoure, because of his continued brittleness, is in a similar situation in Detroit, but he's more like the Helu to Kevin Smith's Royster.

Granted, neither of those two is a can't-miss option, but how much can you reasonably expect from the other four? Even if Britt misses significant time to injury and suspension, Wright would still be competing for looks with Nate Washington, Jared Cook and Damian Williams in a passing attack that isn't so prolific to begin with. Baldwin's situation is about the same with the Matt Cassel-led Chiefs. Collie is already dealing with concussion issues and would be at best a tertiary receiving option for a rookie quarterback. And everything you read out of New England suggests Stevan Ridley is the far superior back to Vereen.

I'm not saying those four don't have their place in Fantasy, but they're clearly on a lower level than Blount, Royster and Leshoure.

I've been offered Greg Jennings for Darren Sproles in a 10-team points-per-reception league. I also have Ray Rice and Ryan Mathews. Should I take it or wait? -- @KurtisSpade (via Twitter)

SW: I'd be inclined to wait there. I understand why you'd want to spread the wealth to other positions, particularly in a shallower league, but it's not like going from Sproles to Jennings is an upgrade. In points-per-reception leagues, Sproles is more or less a stud.

He's not even really a running back. He's a Wes Welker-type receiver who happens to come out of the backfield, and if you don't recognize the value of that sort of player in points-per-reception leagues, consider that Sproles was the fifth-ranked running back in those formats last year even though he accumulated only 603 yards on the ground.

Besides, Jennings' greatest asset, yards after the catch, is almost a drawback in points-per-reception leagues. More productive receptions means fewer receptions, which means fewer points. Would you believe Jennings, for as long as he's been a high-end Fantasy option, has had only one 80-catch season in his career? See for yourself. I'm not making it up.

Granted, penalizing a player for being more productive with his catches seems kind of backward, but no one ever said points-per-reception leagues were a more adequate reflection of real football. They are what they are, and being what they are, the occasional statistical oddity will result.

Because few Fantasy owners take the time to understand those oddities, a player like Jennings is as overvalued in a points-per-reception league as a player like Sproles is undervalued. If the other guy offered you Larry Fitzgerald, it'd close the gap a bit, but I'd still probably stand pat just to see what happens with Mathews and his collarbone. Even when he returns, you might discover he's the lesser option of the two.

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
Giants QB Eli Manning is expecting best pro season next year
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:06 am ET) Giants quarterback Eli Manning is an accomplished 11-year veteran. There isn't much for the two-time Super Bowl MVP to prove, except that he will have his best season ever as a pro next year, according to NFL.com.

"I am," Manning said when asked if he was expecting his best season ever. "I like the guys we have in the locker room, I like our talent, I like how everybody's approaching this season, I'm looking forward to it."

Manning will certainly have the weapons at his disposal for a fantastic season. Wide receiver Odell Beckham, the 2014 Offensive Rookie of the Year, is as talented a player there is. A healthy Victor Cruz will scare opposing defenses. And Rueben Randle has improved every season in the league. 

"I think he can have a dominant season," Cruz said. "I think that with the type of offense we have, and the way that we all can click come September and all that good stuff, I think it's gonna make for a very, very dominant type of offense where we could go and put up 28, 35 points at a clip, and really do some fun things this year."

Manning will have to try to eclipse last season's performance, when he threw for 4,410 yards and 30 touchdowns.


Packers QB Rodgers could have more control after play-calling change
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(9:44 am ET) Aaron Rodgers was at the helm of the league's highest-scoring offense last season, and he could now have even more control of that offense this season, per ESPN.com.

Rodgers, who won the his second NFL MVP award while helping the Packers score 30.4 points per game, will probably be more involved in every facet of the offense this year -- including some play-calling.

"He has," Packers quarterbacks coach, Alex Van Pelt, said when asked if Rodgers could call plays. "He could. Sure. Definitely."

The official play-calling duties are in the hands of associate head coach Tome Clements, after coach Mike McCarthy passed them down before last season. The switch is what can give Rodgers more freedom than ever when it comes to the play selection.

"I've always had a lot of freedom," Rodgers said. "It's just occasionally the personnel groupings restricts some of the checks you can make. But that's kind of a natural progression for a quarterback who's been in a system for a long time, if they can handle it to do more things. I have always liked a good starting point for a play, and then have the ability to get us in a better play if you can do it quickly and it’s clean."

Rodgers passed for 4,381 yards and 38 touchdowns in 16 games last season.


Falcons DT Jackson hires personal chef to lose weight, fit into defense
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(9:27 am ET) Falcons defensive tackle Tyson Jackson can sit back and relax after signing a five-year, $25 million deal with the team last season, but he's showing more dedication than ever.

Jackson, who currently weighs 318 pounds, hired a personal chef with the goal of slimming down to 305 pounds, per ESPN.com.

"I just started recently, and constantly, week by week, I want to trim down," Jackson said. "I got my personal chef at the end of March. I know Matt Ryan used her, and a couple Falcons in the past have used her, too."

Jackson wants to slime down because the Falcons' defensive schemes will be much different this year. Last season he was encouraged to be as big as possible because the team pictured him as a run-stuffer. This year's defense is a more complex version of last season's 4-3 scheme and it incorporates a lot of 3-4 principles, so Jackson's big frame isn't an ideal fit.

"Playing this 4-3 style of defense, there's no reason to be heavy because you're not two-gapping no more," Jackson said. "Everything is ball, key and get-off. So, that's pretty much the reason for [losing weight]."

Jackson started all 16 games for the Falcons last year and recorded 22 tackles.


Texans' Louis Nix 'trying to move forward' in sophomore season
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Texans nose tackle Louis Nix spoke about his lost rookie season this week in OTAs, the Houston Chronicle reports.

"A lot went on my first year here. It was a lot to deal with," said Nix, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery during the preseason and eventually was placed on season-ending injured reserve. "It was difficult to maintain it with all the issues. But I'm happy about now, and that's what I'm worried about. I'm just trying to move forward and do the best I can."

Coach Bill O'Brien expressed frustration with Nix earlier this offseason.

"Bill is Bill. He challenges everybody," Nix said. "Sometimes you guys make it more than what it is. … He wants guys to be better. I take no offense to it. I know he just wants me to be the best player that I can be. He sees potential, and I see it in myself. I'm starting to get back in a groove of things. I'm just going to keep trying to do the best I can."

Nix is finally healthy and working his way into game shape.

"Make it through a practice, man," Nix said. "That's my goal."


Eagles' Earl Wolff, Marcus Smith limited in OTAs with injuries
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Eagles safety Earl Wolff and linebacker Marcus Smith were limited in OTAs with injuries, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports.

Wolff is recovering from knee surgery. Coach Chip Kelly said the safety has been cleared to return, and the team is waiting for him to reach full participation in OTAs. Smith has been dealing with a pulled leg muscle.


Packers' Casey Hayward dealing with foot injury
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Packers cornerback Casey Hayward is dealing with a foot injury and doesn't expect to return to action until training camp, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

"I’ll probably take it easy into camp right now," Hayward said. "I have a minor foot thing right now. We’ll probably take it easy into camp."

Hayward said the foot "flared up" on him earlier in the offseason. He finished with 42 tackles and three interceptions last season.


Ravens' Terrence Brooks running, 'doing really well'
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Ravens free safety Terrence Brooks is running after suffering ACL and MCL tears in his right knee in December, the Baltimore Sun reports.

"Terrence Brooks is doing really well," coach Jim Harbaugh said. "No predictions right now, but he looks good. He has worked hard."

Brooks is expected to open the season on the PUP list and could make his return this season.

"We're just hoping for the best, trying to get back as soon as possible," Brooks said. "We're taking precautious. We definitely don't want to rush back too fast. If you do get cleared, playing this year is definitely a goal. You don't want to rush it. For the most part, you have to be cautious and take it easy. After we get off of the PUP list, we'll see where we're at. I definitely want to get back into it, but we're taking our time. I have high hopes of being ready."


Report: OT Jake Long visits Giants Thursday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) Free-agent offensive tackle Jake Long visited the Giants on Thursday, ESPN reports.

The Giants are having to shuffle their offensive line with Will Beatty expected to miss the first part of the season with a pec injury. Long was scheduled to make $9.25 million in 2015 but was released by the Rams in March.


Saints CB Brandon Browner impressing teammates, coach
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) New Saints cornerback Brandon Browner is having a positive impact on not just the secondary, but the entire defense. At least that's the view of defensive backfield mate Kenny Vaccaro.

"Browner's a good dude, leads by example, talks when he needs to talk," Vaccaro told the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "He's real serious, kind of keeps everybody level headed and knows what we've got to work for. He's won two Super Bowls, so he knows what to do."

Sean Payton echoed those sentiments.

"He's competitive," he said. "He's driven and certainly one of the things we talked about this offseason through the draft, through the acquisition of players is the makeup and making sure that this is something we felt like was a plus and certainly with him we feel that that is a strength of his."

The Saints are Browner's fourth team in six seasons in the NFL.


Eagles LB DeMeco Ryans working way back from injury
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5/28/2015) There was a bit of a discrepancy Thursday in regard to the practice participation of Eagles inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

Chip Kelly said before the session that Ryans would be a full-go despite him being just seven months removed from rupturing his Achilles tendon. Ryans did practice, but he told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he was not a full participant.

Ryans missed half of the 2014 season with the injury, but contributed to 45 tackles in eight games before going down.


 
 
 
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