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Fantasy & Reality: A tale of two receivers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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There's really not a lot in common between Larry Fitzgerald, the Cardinal with four Week 2 targets, and Danny Amendola, the Rams receiver who posted career-highs in targets, catches and yards on the same day. One was drafted to be a No. 1 receiver, the other is playing like one. And unless this is the first time you're reading a Fantasy Football column, you know who is who.

Through two weeks Fitzgerald has five catches for 67 yards. Amendola had slightly more yardage on the same number of catches in Week 1 before exploding last Sunday. A look into these two receivers could shed some light on what to expect the rest of the season.

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Amendola is a wonderful story after a major elbow injury capsized his 2011 season. Playing in a role more or less like that of Wes Welker, the Rams did a phenomenal job finding ways to make him effective. Whether he lined up in the slot or the outside, his route tree branched out in every direction. Of his 15 catches on Sunday, only five were five or more yards downfield, but one included a deep crosser nearly 20 yards past the line of scrimmage where quarterback Sam Bradford found him wide open. He took it another 36 yards for the longest catch of his career. Another impressive play counted on the scoreboard when he posted up Gronk-style in front of a Redskins linebacker for a 1-yard touchdown dart from Bradford. Several other catches involved him punishing zone coverage and getting open in space -- the very thing the Rams likely want to do with him as much as possible.

For Fitzgerald, the problem was that he wasn't utilized enough. He ran pretty good routes -- there were a couple of occasions where he slacked off but those were mainly on runs (check out the Andre Roberts touchdown to see Fitzgerald become more observer than player) -- but he also received the kind of coverage big, elite receivers with deep speed demand. And when he was open, he went unnoticed. There were several plays where Fitzgerald had shed his coverage but his quarterback didn't find him. There's a reason why.

It should come as no surprise to learn that Fitzgerald is very much handicapped by his quarterback, Kevin Kolb, who is himself handicapped by a sub-standard offensive line that doesn't protect very well. Against the Patriots, Kolb was seemingly focused on getting the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible, thus eliminating the mid- and long-range passes from Fitzgerald's arsenal. There was one play where Fitzgerald was singled up on a deep route and Kolb went in his direction, but it was off by several yards. That was one of three deep pass attempts Kolb threw at New England; everything else was basically within 10 yards from the line of scrimmage. Making matters worse, Kolb only threw at Fitzgerald four times (five if you include a penalized play) over 27 official attempts. That's a pretty crummy ratio considering Fitzgerald's status as an elite receiver. You'd think Kolb learned to lean on Fitzgerald after he threw at him three of his first four pass attempts when he replaced John Skelton in Week 1, but that wasn't the case Week 2. This is an issue Amendola doesn't have with his quarterback.

The funny thing is that if the Cardinals took some of the routes the Rams use with Amendola, he'd become more effective. Fitzgerald ran several inside routes against the Patriots -- one such route resulted in a completion that was negated by an offensive line penalty -- but it's hard to keep Fitzgerald involved if he's not in Kolb's vision, and he simply isn't there when Kolb is looking to get rid of the ball as fast as he can because the pocket is collapsing.

So until Kolb has more time to throw, or until he learns to lean on Fitzgerald, or until Fitzgerald starts running more short slant and dig routes that take away his gamebreaking abilities, he's going to have a hard time succeeding. When you consider his matchup against the blitz-heavy Eagles in Week 3, it's enough to make you think seriously about benching him.

Amendola, on the other hand, should continue being a factor for the Rams until defenses get a beat on how to contain him. Maybe all it takes is press coverage from the snap to throw Amendola off his route and throw off his timing with Bradford. But until Amendola's numbers begin to sink, it's not worth worrying about. Additionally, the Rams can always find ways for Amendola to get around the jam; his quick and can still get open. His matchup against the Bears in Week 3 should provide some insight as Chicago's cornerbacks have played well and will likely bracket Amendola to keep him contained.

Both the Cardinals and the Rams aren't expected to blow the doors off of anyone, in fact they'll probably be in a lot of competitive games or playing from behind. That favors the receivers. Expect Amendola to remain relevant in Fantasy -- though probably not at a level like we saw in Week 2. As for Fitzgerald, keeping expectations in check is probably a very good idea, at least until something changes in the Arizona passing and pass protection areas. It does help Fitzgerald's case that his upcoming schedule is about to get easier.

Fantasy & Reality

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

Fantasy: Eric Decker will do well against the Falcons' banged up secondary. Frankly, Decker hasn't done great this season, but he does have 15 targets. That's enough to tell you that he's doing something to catch Peyton Manning's attention. He came close to coming up with a long catch against the Falcons and even was targeted in the end zone. Either of those misses hit and no one's worried about Decker. He's not going away -- don't lose patience with him.

Reality: Reggie Bush hasn't slowed down one iota. I figured at the very least Bush would score and total 80 yards against the Raiders in Week 2. Nope. He scored twice and totaled nearly 200 yards! A lot of people might be comfortable saying his best numbers of the season came against Oakland but it wouldn't be a surprise if he put up some hot stats against the Bengals in Week 5, the Rams in Week 6, the Colts in Week 9 and the Titans in Week 10. There are some iffy matchups in between (the Jets in Week 3 qualifies) but nothing is as tough as going up against the Texans in Houston in Week 1, and he still topped 100 total yards. If he's on the field he should be in your Fantasy lineup.

Fantasy: Trent Richardson's knee will be a concern all year. After watching his game against the Bengals I can assure you that while his body could get beaten up over the course of the year, the knee issue he had in August doesn't seem to affect him at all. His offensive line is pretty good, he himself is a tough guy to bring down and the Browns might actually be developing an offense. I love his chances to keep it up against the Bills in Week 3.

Reality: Ben Roethlisberger is the best buy-low quarterback out there. Though he's averaging just 7.32 yards per pass attempt through two games, Big Ben is starting to look like a capable stat producer for those owners unsure about their options at quarterback. He's helped big time by Mike Wallace, who has shown minimal signs of rust since coming back from his holdout. Antonio Brown remains very relevant in the offense and Heath Miller has stepped back into relative prominence. With the Steelers run game rendered useless at this point, there's probably a good chance Roethlisberger will continue to throw often. His upcoming schedule: at Oakland, a bye, vs. Philadelphia, at Tennessee, at Cincinnati, vs. Washington, at the N.Y. Giants, vs. Kansas City. One ugly matchup in the bunch, and no one will ask for much in return for him.

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Fantasy: Martellus Bennett is a career underachiever who won't help Fantasy owners. I'm dead wrong on Bennett. The guy was garbage in Dallas -- as every Cowboys fan will tell you -- but Eli Manning has taken to him as a legit red-zone threat. Get this: Bennett had five passes thrown to him in the end zone last week against the Bucs. It took five tries to connect but on the fifth he scored. Yes, drop whatever pile of tight end junk you took in Round 12 to get him.

Reality: Robert Griffin III is amazing, but can he last? After two games the Fantasy world is in love with RG3. It's totally understandable. But the one concern I have is whether or not he can take the physical beating over 16 games. Take a look at him: He's not as big as, well, pretty much anyone at quarterback in the NFL. He's pretty slender. Redskin Nation as well as Fantasy owners shouldn't be worried to the point that they trade him away for nothing (but trading him is something you could consider), but I'd carry a backup if I had Griffin as my starter.

Impactful injuries

Aaron Hernandez, tight end, New England: No surprise, the Patriots are being coy about what the injury is and how long he'll be out. Whether it's a high-ankle sprain or a low-ankle sprain, the fact remains his Fantasy owners have sprained lineups. The good news is that finding an alternative won't be a big deal. The bad news is that the alternate might be in there for a while. It's also a blow to the Patriots' passing attack, which became a little easier to defend with Hernandez sidelined.

Ahmad Bradshaw, running back, Giants: Hopefully his neck sprain doesn't keep him out for too long. The hunch is that we'll see a lot more of Andre Brown and David Wilson against the Panthers. What happens after that will hinge on Bradshaw's health. Hopefully he's back for Week 4 at Philadelphia.

Jeremy Maclin, wide receiver, Eagles: Maclin banged up his already-hurt hip. He could miss a game, though it's dependent on his practice schedule this week. We'll see.

Brian Orakpo, linebacker; and Adam Carriker, defensive end, Redskins: Replacing both guys is a tall order for Mike Shanahan. No one should fear the matchups against Washington until further notice. That could help the Redskins' passing attack as they play in competitive (potentially high-scoring) games, by the way.

DST sleepers for Week 3

Last week's DST sleepers: Bengals (12 points), Raiders (1 measly point), Chargers (12 points)

Bills at Browns ... So far, DSTs going up against Cleveland have enjoyed double-digits in Fantasy points (18 for Philadelphia, 12 for Cincy). Buffalo put up 21 Fantasy points at home against Kansas City.
Chargers vs. Falcons ... Big risk going with a DST playing the Falcons, but those Dirty Birds are flying cross-country after playing on Monday. The Chargers held Carson Palmer to 297 yards and held Jake Locker to 174 yards in their two games. They are a little light on the sacks with just three in two games, but their defense should be fairly decent. If you're desperate they're not bad.
Saints vs. Chiefs ... I don't know if this DST can be trusted, but the matchup can be. The Bills DST had 21 Fantasy points against them in Week 2 and the Falcons had 11 in Week 1. Again, a desperation choice.
Colts vs. Jaguars ... Chuck Pagano's group has 10 Fantasy points in consecutive weeks and need only contain Maurice Jones-Drew to remain viable in Week 3. Stop me if you've read about starting a DST if you're desperate ...

Two more things

• We talked this preseason about Brandon Lloyd coming to New England and taking targets away from the other Patriots receivers. Well, he's not alone. Not only is Lloyd the leader in targets for the Patriots through two games with 21 (Gronkowski has 15), but Stevan Ridley has emerged as a reliable running back and has taken 39 carries and five receptions in two games. There were only three instances of BenJarvus Green-Ellis having at least 18 carries in back-to-back games with the Patriots and they came back in 2010, mainly late in the year. Laurence Maroney did it once in 2009, Sammy Morris did it once in 2007. It's rare for Bill Belichick's offenses to be run heavy but Ridley could continue to hawk carries, given that he's averaging 5.0 yards per carry and bringing back a dimension to the Patriots offense they haven't had in years.

And it could mean fewer opportunities for everyone in the Patriots offense, including Tom Brady.

• Reporters asked Darren McFadden and Chris Johnson about their rushing woes after two games. McFadden said he's comfortable with the Raiders' new zone-blocking scheme and expects to "start popping" soon. Johnson pointed fingers, saying "people need to step up and do their job."

I think both backs will ultimately be OK. But one guy's accepting the issue and believes he'll do well soon. The other is seemingly calling out teammates and perhaps even his coach. Which one would you rather have on your Fantasy team?

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
Steelers LB Ryan Shazier expected to play Week 8
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:59 pm ET) Steelers rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier, who's missed four straight games with a sprained knee, is expected to suit up Week 8 against the Colts, reports ESPN.com.

LeSean McCoy should see bigger role if Darren Sproles is out
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:59 pm ET) With Darren Sproles likely out for Week 8 against the Cardinals, how will the Eagles fill the hole in their offense this Sunday?  

Chris Polk is the third running back on the depth chart, but he might not have the skills to fill in for Sproles. He has just four career receptions in the NFL, and wasn't much of a pass-catcher in college, with a career-high of 31 catches as a senior. And, of course, he is dealing with his own injury issues, with a hamstring that may still keep him sidelined Sunday.

Of course, the Eagles already have a pretty fantastic option to catch passes out of the backfield in LeSean McCoy. McCoy has taken a step back as a pass-catcher this season, with just 16 through six games, but he does have at least 50 in three of the last four seasons. He should do just fine.

This is a tough matchup for McCoy, as the Cardinals have allowed just 10.7 Fantasy points per game to opposing running backs. Still, with McCoy likely to get a steady workload given the injuries, he has to be in your starting lineup for Week 7, even given his struggles.


Report: Ray Rice's appeal to be held Nov. 5-6
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:46 pm ET) The appeal hearing for former Ravens running back Ray Rice will be held Nov. 5-6, reports NFL Network. Rice is appealing his indefinite suspension from the league for a domestic violence incident in February.

Former U.S. District Court Judge Barbara S. Jones will hear and decide the appeal.


Giants RB Andre Williams asked to show more patience
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:38 pm ET) Giants rookie running back Andre Williams often fails to let his blocks materialize, making it harder to find a crease, according to The Star-Ledger. He averaged 3.1 yards per carry over the past two weeks as Rashad Jennings' replacement.

"I think for all young players, they have a tendency to really get in a hurry, but I think that he is getting more patient as he continues to go," running backs coach Craig Johnson said.

The Giants are on a bye Week 8 before hosting the Colts in Week 9 on Monday Night Football. Jennings hopes to return from his knee injury against Indy, but if he can't Williams will make his third start.


Patriots' running back situation mostly clear
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:22 pm ET) Forget about Brandon Bolden. The Patriots' use of him against the Jets in Week 7 -- he played only one snap -- pretty much tells the story there. Granted, they've had their share of about-faces at the running back spot over the last few years, so I wouldn't dare claim to know what they're thinking, but if they've decided their next-best choice at the position is Jonas Gray, who at least saw the field for 11 plays Thursday, it's pretty clear what direction they intend to go, right?

With that in mind, I cautiously, carefully and with a preemptive tinge of regret plan to start Shane Vereen Week 8 against Chicago and hopefully every week thereafter. Yes, he played 80 percent of the snaps in Week 7, and yes, he scored two touchdowns. But you'll notice both of them came through the air. True, he also got more than two-thirds of the Patriots' carries, but I can't help but wonder if in a different matchup, one that encouraged them to pound the ball instead of rushing just 15 times as a team, they would have been more creative. That would work to Vereen's detriment, obviously.

For more of my biggest takeaways from Week 7, be sure to check out my latest post to the Fantasy Football Today blog.


Darren McFadden still carries limited value
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:16 pm ET) Raiders running back Darren McFadden has fallen on such hard times that even a three-week span with one double-digit Fantasy performance counts as a career renaissance. Does he have another level he can take his game to?

McFadden ranks 29th among running backs in Fantasy points over his last three games, but has just 25 Fantasy points. This might be more indicative of just how bad the position has been recently, as he isn't exactly lighting the world on fire. McFadden has topped 4.0 yards per carry just once this season, and has registered one or more Fantasy points through the air in just two games.

McFadden gets work, which will always make him an interesting Fantasy option, no matter how mediocre he is. Still, there are higher upside options out there than McFadden, who also carries the constant risk of injury. As a third Fantasy running back, McFadden is fine, but he doesn't have much more value than that at this point.  


Dolphins RB Lamar Miller wearing brace on right knee
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:14 pm ET) Dolphins running back Lamar Miller practiced Tuesday wearing a brace on his right knee, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Miller has been on the injury report lately with a knee injury, but it's not believed to be serious. He has not missed a game.

Martavis Bryant a threat to Markus Wheaton
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:11 pm ET) Wide receiver Markus Wheaton didn't impress through the first six weeks of the season, so the Steelers saw fit to give someone else a chance Week 7 against Houston. Active for the first time this season, Martavis Bryant had as productive a day as any pass catcher not named Antonio Brown or Le'Veon Bell, hauling in two passes for 40 yards, including a 35-yarder in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. His five targets were third-most on the team, and no one after him had more than two.

That includes Wheaton, who was among those with two targets, going without a catch. He actually played 48 percent of the Steelers' snaps compared to Bryant's 34 percent, which makes his lack of production even more discouraging. Considering he's been up around 80 percent most of the year, he may be in danger of being overtaken.

Of course, Wheaton probably wouldn't disappear completely, and because Antonio Brown is still the go-to guy in the Steelers passing game, Bryant probably wouldn't have the opportunity for big numbers in his place. But in leagues deep enough that Wheaton is relevant, Bryant is now, too.


Bills put C.J. Spiller on short-term IR
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:10 pm ET) The Bills placed running back C.J. Spiller on injured reserve/designated for return, meaning he's eligible to return Week 16 at Oakland. Spiller had surgery Monday to fix the broken collarbone he suffered Sunday against the Vikings.

Outlook for Le'Veon Bell continues to improve
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:51 pm ET) Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell averaged 4.7 receptions per game through his first six games, but because he was involved in the passing game only intermittently as a rookie, you had reason to wonder if you could rely on him for that long-term.

But then he went and caught eight passes for 88 yards and a touchdown against the Texans in Week 7, putting him second among all running backs with 36 receptions, behind only Matt Forte (who remains in a class of his own). In PPR leagues, he's also third among running backs, behind Forte and DeMarco Murray, in Fantasy points to date.

Even better, his touchdown came from the 2-yard line -- a situation where the Steelers may have gone to LeGarrette Blount earlier in the season. Only one of Blount's seven carries even came in Texans' territory in this one.

Bell's touchdown total seven weeks into the season may be disappointing, but in terms of his receiving ability and role on offense, the verdict is in. If we were re-drafting today, he might be one of the first five running backs off the board.


 
 
 
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