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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
Bills RB Fred Jackson excited to play for new coach Rex Ryan
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(3:23 pm ET) Bills veteran running back Fred Jackson said he hasn't had the opportunity to meet with new coach Rex Ryan, but that didn't stop him from expressing his excitement about the new coaching regime in Buffalo.

"I can't wait to play for him. I've heard nothing but good things," Jackson said Wednesday of Ryan during an interview on ESPN New York 98.7 FM. "I'm looking forward to that [first] conversation when I sit down and talk to him."

The Bills finished 9-7 in 2014, which was their best record since 2004. While Jackson believes Ryan is going to "be that catalyst that comes in and pushes us over that hump," he didn't have many bad things to say about coach Doug Marrone, who opted out of his contract New Year's Eve.

"I thought he was a tremendous coach," Jackson said. "He showed up, he worked hard, he pushed players to give their best effort. He got us to a 9-7 record -- we hadn't won nine games in 10 years. There's definitely some things about him that made him a great coach. It's just the way he exited. I don't think anybody expected that. 

"Players, the way we found out is we got a generic text from him, saying that he was moving on and he had chosen to opt out of his contract." 


Justin Tuck: Raider Nation would appluad signing Ndamukong Suh
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(2:42 pm ET) If defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh doesn't sign a long-term deal with the Lions, then he will become a free agent March 10 and there will be plenty of teams interested in the Pro Bowl lineman. 

Raiders defensive end Justin Tuck indicated if Suh wanted to sign with Oakland, then he would be welcomed in Raider Nation.

"(He's) Raider-ish," Tuck said, per the Detroit Free Press. "And that's one of the reasons why I know Raider Nation would applaud that move, beyond the fact that he's an awesome football player. He kind of fits the mold of ... the toughness and the ferocious player that built the Oakland Raiders."

It is speculated Suh will receive a contract worth at least $100 million. Tuck believes the three-time All-Pro deserves such a lucrative deal.

"The thing about him, you know what you're getting every day. Some of the tactics, you could probably do without, but he's a hell of a football player," Tuck said. "I would love to have the opportunity to line up beside of him and let him take all the double teams that I normally take."


Nick Foles: 'I plan on being in Philly' in 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:48 pm ET) There has been a lot of talk about quarterback Nick Foles' future with the Eagles, especially since Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly's former pupil at Oregon -- Marcus Mariota -- will be part of this year's draft class.

On Thursday, Foles addressed the rumors and stated he is expecting to be back on the Eagles' roster in 2015.

"Yeah you hear about it," Foles said in between doing paid appearances at Super Bowl XLIX, per NJ.com. "You are going to hear about it every single year. That's just part of it. The main word is 'rumor.' You can't put too much into it....I plan on being in Philly.

"I only listen to (head coach) Chip Kelly. That's what is most important. He is the one that will make the decision. Right now all I am going to do is work because I plan on being back in Philadelphia and playing with my team. That's all I ever thought. So that is what I plan on doing and I'm not looking at it any other way."

Foles added he hasn't talked with Kelly since the end of the season.

"We haven't talked a lot. He has a lot going on," Foles said. "This time of year you really just get away from everything. He is busy looking at the draft, doing all that. I saw he is more of the decision maker. Haven't really talked to him too much, but I'm sure I'll hear from him soon."


Dwyer pleads guilty, receives probation in domestic violence case
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1:38 pm ET) Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer pleaded guilty Thursday in Maricopa County (Ariz.) Superior Court to a single count of disorderly conduct pertaining to his domestic violence case, according to The Arizona Republic.

Dwyer was sentenced to 18 months of probation and community service following the plea, according to a court spokesman.

The 25-year-old Dwyer was arrested Sept. 17 for a July 21 incident in which he allegedly headbutted his wife in the face and broke her nose after she refused his sexual advances and bit his lip, according to reports taken at the time.

Dwyer's wife told police she reported the incident in September because she feared for their child's safety after seeing reports of Vikings running back Adrian Peterson's arrest on child-abuse charges.

The Cardinals placed Dwyer on the reserve/non-football injury list after his September arrest. He did not play again during the 2014 season.


Tom Brady on Peyton Manning: 'I certainly hope he comes back'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:21 pm ET) While the football world anxiously awaits official word from Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning about his playing status for the 2015 season, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady -- and longtime Manning rival -- said Thursday he hopes the five-time NFL MVP will continue his career.

"What a great player he's been for this league," Brady said Thursday, per NFL.com. "He's a great competitor, and I've been fortunate to play against him a bunch of times. I certainly hope he comes back, 'cause the league will miss him if he doesn't. But those decisions are up to him. I'm sure it's up to whether he's mentally and physically -- that's what he wants to do. But I certainly hope he's back."

Archie Manning, Peyton's father, told NFL Network on Thursday that his son hasn't made a decision yet.

"Well, Peyton evaluates things; he's pretty good at that," he said. "I can't tell him what to do, and he hasn't told me what he's going to do. But I do know that he's really giving a lot of things a lot of thought. He's thinking about where he is physically, he wants to see how he can do this some more, trying to get over an injury."

Archie added starting over with new Broncos coach Gary Kubiak will not be an issue for Peyton, if he decides to return next season.

"Yeah, but he loves Gary. He likes Gary," Archie Manning said. "He liked John Fox. He liked Adam Gase. All those things, I think, are considered with. But my deal is he's always made good decisions; he's pretty thorough. He's going to evaluate a lot of things, and I think he'll make a good decision."


RG3: 'I could've sat out the rest of last year' after hurting ankle
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(12:04 pm ET) During a radio interview Wednesday night, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III indicated the dislocated ankle he suffered in Week 2 against the Jaguars hindered him the rest of the season. He missed six games due to the injury.

“I had never suffered an ankle injury of that severity before, so I didn’t really know what to expect,” Griffin said, per The Washington Times. “It just became more and more tough the more games that we lost, because you know how hard your guys work, and you want to get out there and help them win games.

“I could’ve sat out the rest of last year, with how bad the ankle was, but I felt like I could play, and I wanted to get out there and play with my guys and help them win games. And that didn’t happen when I got back out there. Then coach made a decision [to bench me]. That was an unfortunate decision, and something we all had to go with because that was coach’s choice.”

Griffin will be entering the final guaranteed year of his contract in 2015. The Redskins have until May 3 to decide if they want to exercise the fifth-year option on his contract for 2016. 

Griffin added his focus this offseason will simply be on getting healthy.

“Last year, I wasn’t healthy, and it sucked,” Griffin told ESPN 980. “There’s no other way to say it other than that. When you dislocate your ankle in the second week of the season, when you and your team had big things in mind. So I guess it’s just getting healthy, getting a mental break, getting a chance to spend time with family, and then formulate my plan going forward from this year so we can go out there and win games.”


DeMarco on free agency: 'At end of day it's about winning a Super Bowl'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:21 am ET) Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray was on The Dan Patrick Show on Thursday talking about his thought process heading into free agency. Murray obviously said all the right things about wanting to return to Dallas, and hoping the team can sign him and Dez Bryant, who will also be a free agent, to long-term contracts.

However, Murray was also very forthcoming about the notion of playing for another NFL team.

“Yeah. I understand the business aspect of it,” he said, per The Dallas Morning News. “There’s no hard feelings if we can’t reach a deal together. But hopefully we can and we’ll see what happens.”

Murray, who rushed for a career-best 1,845 yards in 2014, will likely sign the most-lucrative contract of his career this offseason. But he added money won't be the only factor in who he signs with.

“I don’t think about [the one big contract], I’m thinking about winning a Super Bowl,” Murray said. “What’s best for me to win a Super Bowl and win one now. At the end of the day, the money is irrelevant to some degree. But you definitely want to get what you’re worth and things like that.

“At the end of the day it’s about winning a Super Bowl.”


Patriots QB Tom Brady expects to be 100 percent by Super Bowl
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:32 am ET) Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who has been dealing with a cold for about a week, said Thursday he is feeling "pretty good." Brady is still expecting to be OK for the Super Bowl.

"I've been through it plenty of times," Brady said of having a cold, per NFL Network. "But I'm glad it happened early in the week. I expect to be 100 percent by Sunday."

Brady is 3-2 in five Super Bowl appearances. He has completed 127 of 197 passes for 1,277 yards, nine touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has a 93.8 quarterback rating and hasn't had lower than a 86.2 quarterback rating in five Super Bowl starts.

As of Thursday, the Patriots remain 1-point favorites for Sunday's game against the Seahawks.


Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell on injury: 'The knee is close to 100 percent'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:21 am ET) Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell missed Pittsburgh's playoff game against the Ravens and the Pro Bowl because he suffered a hyperextended knee in the regular-season finale against the Bengals in late December.

It's been about a month since Bell suffered the injury, but he said he has been able to work out on the injured knee.

"The knee is close to 100 percent," Bell told NFL Network on Wednesday night. "I'm probably about 85-90 percent, been able to run on it a little bit. So I'm getting back to work out a little."

Bell had a monster year in 2014, rushing for a career-best 1,361 yards. He averaged 4.7 yards per carry. He also had 83 catches for 854 yards and finished with 11 total touchdowns (eight rushing).


RG3 on Deflategate: 'I didn't know the ball had to be a certain weight'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:55 am ET)
As Deflategate pushes into Day 11 on Thursday, Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III is the latest in the long list of current or former professional football players to weigh in on underinflated footballs being used in the AFC Champhionship Game. Although, his take on the issue might be a first.

“I didn't even know that the ball had to be a certain weight,” Griffin told Chris Russell in an interview on ESPN 980 on Wednesday night, per CSNWashington.com. “I know they pump up the balls and they get inspected before every game. But I wasn't aware that the ball had to be at a certain limit, or higher, which is interesting. I think it’s very interesting.”

While Griffin said he was unaware of the rules, he added he does pay attention to how he can grip the football before each game. If the football doesn't meet Griffin's standards, he said he tosses it aside.

“I think it could be something that we look at going into the future about how much we pump up the ball,” Griffin said. “But at the same time, for me, going this far in my career, all we worry about is, can we grip the ball? Not how much air is in it.

“I just think it's really funny,” Griffin added with a chuckle, “especially when you don't specify that you're talking about footballs. …I think I said balls seven times already.”


 
 
 
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