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Dear Mr. Fantasy: What's the deal with/for CJ?

Senior Fantasy Writer
  •  

Chris Johnson ... safe to say people are down on him right now.

If you thought his numbers last year were bad, his performance through two games this year might be what causes you to lose all faith in humanity. So far, he has picked up 21 yards on the ground, which not only ranks dead last among starting running backs but would rank only 12th among starting quarterbacks. Even backup Colin Kaepernick has 17.

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So as you might expect, he's a hot topic on the Interwebs right now, with questions ranging from the specific ...

Is Chris Johnson worth trading if all I can get in return is Trent Richardson, Ryan Mathews or Peyton Manning? -- Chris Layton (via Twitter)

All you can get? That's pretty good stuff right there. I don't know about Manning if you're already satisfied with your starting quarterback, but either of those running backs could ultimately provide the numbers you were expecting from Johnson.

... to the optimistic ...

What do I do with Chris Johnson? What can I get for him in a trade? -- @d_parsons520 (via Twitter)

That's right. You're not throwing in the towel on Johnson. You're just using his slow start as an opportunity to explore the marketplace. And judging by some of the trades made in actual CBSSports.com leagues, the market hasn't exactly given up on him either. Doug Martin for Johnson. Reggie Bush for Johnson. I like the sound of those.

... to the narcissistic ...

Chris Johnson? I could have more rushing yards than him by now! -- everyone with a pulse (via various message boards across all of cyberspace)

Uh ... yeah. Normally, anyone who takes to titansfever.com with such bravado is full of it, but in this case, simply falling forward 19 times would probably do the trick.

... to, my personal favorite, the fatalistic ...

I am beyond frustrated with Chris Johnson. I also had him last year, so after two games, I'm done. I want to trade him, but I need to know which players you think I could get for him. You may provide a list of as many names as you can think of, as I plan to offer him to everyone and anyone who will listen. -- Jeff Ill (via e-mail)

Yes, the fatalistic. A man resigned to his fate doesn't waste time kicking around what-if scenarios. He acts.

And in this case, his action may be warranted. Sure, Johnson could come around -- he did last year, to a degree -- but if I had a shot at any of these players instead, I'd prefer not to sweat it out with him.

Yes, it's a list, but it's a list of every running back I'd take over Johnson right now. If that's too boring for you, just imagine I made a song out of it, like Yakko in front of the world map in the old Animaniacs cartoon.

Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Marshawn Lynch, DeMarco Murray, Maurice Jones-Drew, Trent Richardson, Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, Reggie Bush, Darren McFadden, Adrian Peterson, the C.J. Spiller-Fred Jackson tandem and the Michael Bush-Matt Forte tandem.

Not as extensive as you'd think? To be honest, I'm a little surprised myself, but knowing the way Johnson bounced back last season after looking similarly inept in the early going, I'd rather not bail on him for a platoon back like Darren Sproles or Jamaal Charles or an injury risk like Frank Gore or Steven Jackson. And I'm not completely sold yet on Alfred Morris or Stevan Ridley, especially given the tendencies of their coaching staffs.

Should I start Jay Cutler against the Rams, Joe Flacco at the Patriots or Ben Roethlisberger at the Raiders? -- @theonly1Avenger (via Twitter)

Most Traded Players (as of 9/19)
Player # of trades
1. Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins 1329
2. C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills 1135
3. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans 1051
4. Kevin Smith, RB, Lions 814
5. Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins 785
6. Michael Turner, RB, Falcons 781
7. Cedric Benson, RB, Packers 767
8. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Cardinals 764
9. Willis McGahee, RB, Broncos 753
10. Ben Tate, RB, Texans 749

SW: So ... I'm guessing you were the odd man out in the race for the top 11 quarterbacks on Draft Day. It's a shame you didn't target Robert Griffin III as No. 12 -- a shame, but nothing you can go back and change now.

And I'm sure you weren't the only one to go that route. Griffin offered the upside, but with your No. 1 quarterback, you wanted some sort of track record, which these three were able to provide. But you can't rely on stud numbers from any of them week to week, which leaves you with this same dilemma over and over again. Talk about agonizing.

The good news is all three of these quarterbacks should fare well with these matchups. The bad news is, accounting for the law of averages, one probably won't, and if you happen to go with that one, it could cost you a win.

So if the goal is to pick out which of these quarterbacks is least likely to disappoint this week, my choice is Roethlisberger, for three reasons:

1. He's the one who has most often performed like an elite option in his career, namely during the 2007 and 2009 seasons.
2. He's the one off to the best start this season, having thrown two touchdown passes in back-to-back games as the Steelers have struggled to find their running game.
3. He's the one facing what I perceive to be the weakest defense. I mean, the Raiders just gave up 35 points to the Dolphins, of all teams. How good could they be?

Sure, Flacco is facing the Patriots, who could force the Ravens into a shootout if they get back to their high-scoring ways. But they just got shut down by the Cardinals and have had trouble getting in sync under returning offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. If the potential for a shootout is your entire basis for starting Flacco, it could easily backfire, especially given the Ravens' defensive prowess.

As for Cutler, the downside is pretty obvious with him. He just threw four interceptions against the Packers and remains far too susceptible to such meltdowns for you to gamble on him when you have such favorable alternatives. The matchup against the Rams is attractive enough, but they have forced their share of turnovers this year. Why chance it if you don't have to?

Is it time to cut bait on Greg Olsen and pick up Martellus Bennett, Dennis Pitta, Brandon Myers or Kyle Rudolph? -- Gregory Koger (via Facebook)

SW: You mean you're still messing around with Olsen -- he of the one catch for 13 yards against the Saints last week? Get with the times, sir. I understand his Week 1 performance was fairly adequate, but was it really enough to grant him a reprieve? The Panthers pretty much phased him out at the end of last season. He had no more than three catches in any of his last seven games.

The abundance of tight ends we've already seen emerge off the waiver wire this season -- these four included -- demonstrates exactly why you were encouraged to wait at the position on Draft Day (assuming you didn't get Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, of course). Everybody wants a legitimate receiver there now, so the position only figures to get deeper with time. Clearly, you recognized that much, which is why you didn't mind settling for Olsen on Draft Day. But to take the next step, you have to make the switch here.

I'd feel pretty good about any of those as my starter, which is more than I can say for Olsen. If I had to rank them, I'd go Bennett, Pitta, Myers and Rudolph.

Bennett seems to have replaced Mario Manningham as Eli Manning's third receiving target in a pass-driven offense, and his size makes him an ideal red-zone target. I wouldn't be surprised if he put up similar numbers to the ones Aaron Hernandez had last year. Pitta, likewise, has been earning plenty of looks from Joe Flacco and should make an impact in the red zone. The difference between him and Bennett is that the Ravens aren't quite as reliant on the pass as the Giants. Myers is a bit of a wild card, but Carson Palmer has to throw to someone. So far, he's been the beneficiary there. Rudolph should score his share of touchdowns, but I'm not sure the yardage will be there for him in an Adrian Peterson-driven offense.

What's up with Larry Fitzgerald? -- James Harrison Padley (via Facebook)

SW: What is up with him? If the Cardinals were to upset the Patriots, as happened in Week 2, you'd think he'd be the main reason why, yet he had just one catch for 4 yards in the contest. The last time he had a game that unproductive was as a rookie in 2004.

Hey, he was on the field. He was running routes, commanding double teams and even getting a few passes thrown his way -- five, to be exact. But he wasn't getting the numbers.

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The biggest issue, of course, is that the Cardinals' quarterback situation is arguably the worst in the league. They keep going back and forth between John Skelton and Kevin Kolb, but the truth is neither is the answer. You can't expect Fitzgerald to be his complete self with those two throwing him the football.

That said, he had 80 catches for 1,411 yards with those same two throwing him the football last year, and I don't think anyone would complain about that. The difference is that last year the Cardinals were able to divert some of the defense's attention away from Fitzgerald by establishing a halfway decent running game. So far through two games this year, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams haven't gotten the job done.

But Wells was the main man last year and can do it again if he's able to bounce back from offseason knee surgery. He's not there yet, but he showed signs of coming around against the Patriots last week. If the trend continues, Fitzgerald's struggles could soon become a distant memory.

And even if it doesn't, I'd still expect Fitzgerald to come through with another productive season. He's arguably the most talented wide receiver in the league. The Cardinals aren't going anywhere if they don't deliver him the football, so sooner or later, you can bet they'll force the issue.

One way or another, he'll get his numbers. I'd rather be the one buying than selling him right now.

Do you like Jay Cutler or Alex Smith this week? What about Alfred Morris or Darren McFadden? Larry Fitzgerald or Demaryius Thomas? -- @S49erfan (via Twitter)

SW: Week 3, and we're already to the point where we consider benching our studs? Can't say I blame you. McFadden and Fitzgerald both were positively useless last week.

And I'm not sure this week will be better for either. McFadden faces the vaunted Steelers defense, which is one of the best against the run year after year. This year is shaping up to be no exception. Just look at the way Willis McGahee's production changed against the Falcons in Week 2 after facing the Steelers in Week 1. Just look at the way Shonn Greene's production changed against the Steelers in Week 2 after facing the Bills in Week 1.

Similarly, the Eagles defense has feasted on the pass this year, making a mockery of Brandon Weeden in his NFL debut and bringing Joe Flacco back down to earth last week. Fitzgerald's inability to get anything going against the Seahawks and Patriots doesn't bode well for his chances in this matchup.

Maybe if Morris and Thomas had stinker matchups themselves, I'd be inclined to stick with the status quo. But Morris' against the Bengals could be his best one yet, and Thomas' against the Texans, though not favorable in the strictest sense, should turn out OK just because the Broncos will be forced to pass. Based on what those two have done so far, I'm will to depart from my usual philosophy of sticking with the studs and roll with Morris and Thomas.

Not so sure about Smith over Cutler, though. The Rams have given up some yards through the air this season, and Cutler's ceiling from week to week is significantly higher than Smith's. He's perhaps not as steady as Smith, as his four interceptions last week showed, but I'm not going to let one bad game scare me away from him if Smith is my only alternative.

Both of my starting running backs -- Matt Forte and Ahmad Bradshaw -- have gone down with injuries, and my backups are Isaac Redman and Knowshon Moreno. Is now the time sell high on Danny Amendola, or am I giving away a diamond in the rough? Jeremy Maclin, Jordy Nelson, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Robert Meachem are my other wide receivers. -- Martyn Vanderlugt (via e-mail)

SW: First of all, do you still have a shot at landing Andre Brown off the waiver wire? If you do, your situation isn't so dire. You can just plug him in with Bradshaw out and trust him to deliver. He did against the Buccaneers in Week 2. Why not at the Panthers in Week 3?

If someone else beat you to him ... yeah, you're in trouble. Moreno doesn't have a significant role with the Broncos, and though Redman gets touches, he doesn't have enough big-play potential to make the most of them. He's already practically worthless when he doesn't score a touchdown, and he'll only lose opportunities when Rashard Mendenhall returns from offseason knee surgery, which could happen as soon as this week. In that scenario, what Amendola may or may not do for you is irrelevant. You have to make a trade.

Fortunately, you have the depth at wide receiver to pull it off. Trading Amendola would certainly be the safe way to go since he's still an unproven commodity, but in any trade scenario, you have to look at it from the other owner's perspective. Amendola isn't any more of a proven commodity on his team than yours, so how much can you honestly expect to get in return? It's the classic case of shopping the guy you just plucked off the waiver wire. To some Fantasy owners, it's downright offensive.

To make sure you maximize your return, why don't you be the one to take the chance on Amendola? Honestly, I think it'll work out OK. I'm not guaranteeing 15 catches every week, but the double-digit targets and short routes turned to moderate gains -- a la Wes Welker -- were exactly what everyone was expecting from him last year, before he suffered a season-ending arm injury. Plus, the Rams offense as a whole seems to be more stable under the new coaching staff, so chances are Amendola isn't going to disappear on you. Again, it's no guarantee, but when you're in a desperate situation, those are the chances you have to take. It's certainly better than relying on Moreno.

So who should you trade? Maclin would be ideal since his relative inconsistency makes his actual value less than his perceived value -- or at least, that's what I think -- but with him nursing a hip injury, I'm not sure he'd fetch you a big return either. Your only choice might be Nelson.

Granted, I'm not thrilled with the prospect, but the silver lining is that you'd no longer have to worry about how much his role could change with the emergence of Randall Cobb in Green Bay. That offense can only sustain so many wide receivers, after all. Plus, Nelson should fetch you the kind of running back that you'd be happy to start even after Forte and Bradshaw return, such as Maurice Jones-Drew or Doug Martin.

If that doesn't work, the easier (and cheaper) approach would be to just trade for Forte's and Bradshaw's replacements (Michael Bush and Brown, respectively). You wouldn't even have to give up Nelson in that scenario.

Who should I grab off the waiver wire: Mike Williams or Donnie Avery? Should I drop Titus Young for either of them? -- @Juan_S_Alba

SW: If we're talking disappointments, Young is at the top of the list. "Oh, he's going to emerge as a big-time receiving threat opposite Calvin Johnson" was a popular refrain coming into the season. But now two games into it, I'm having a hard time understanding the rationale. Because he's young and Nate Burleson is old? Is that all there is to it?

It's not, of course -- he also took on a bigger role in the passing game toward the end of last season and was routinely praised in training camp -- but in retrospect, his coronation was a bit premature with Burleson still in the picture. Burleson has been a steady contributor in the Lions' passing game over the last couple years and still has something left in the tank at age 31. I'm not saying Burleson will outperform Young every week or even most weeks, but with the two splitting looks under the long, long shadow of Johnson, I'm not so sure Young is worth the wait.

That said, I'm not so sure you can count on Williams for significant production either. He had a couple big catches Sunday and will have his share of those over the course of the season, but he's clearly the secondary target to Vincent Jackson. I don't think the Buccaneers' passing game can sustain two 1,000-yard receivers.

Can Indy's? Well, it's a more likely scenario. The team that drafts Andrew Luck doesn't intend to build around the running game. It intends to pass and, with questions on the defensive side of the ball, will likely be forced to pass much of the time. Reggie Wayne will get his, but what he doesn't get will go to Avery.

Of course, Austin Collie could muddy the waters if and when he returns from his concussion, but in the early-season rush for potential breakout players, Avery's production so far makes him well worth a flier.

I just picked up Martellus Bennett and Andre Brown and am starting them over Antonio Gates and Michael Turner in Week 3. Good idea? -- @Cweb1981 (via Twitter)

SW: Just when you thought lineup decisions couldn't get any more excruciating in Fantasy Football, Roger Goodell had to go and introduce Thursday Night Football. It's not just for Thanksgiving anymore.

These are the kinds of dilemmas owners will face on a week-to-week basis. If the Giants-Panthers game was on Sunday, you could just wait to see if Gates (rib) was healthy enough to return in Week 3. You wouldn't have to commit to your backup so soon. As it is, though, your options are limited. You could always replace Bennett with a backup who isn't playing Thursday, such as Dennis Pitta or Brandon Myers, but that's hardly a solution. Bennett is the best of the bunch, after all.

The good news is Bennett has been such a consistent part of the Giants offense so far that the drop-off from him to Gates probably won't be too significant. And rather than getting stuck with a big fat zero or being forced to pick up a third tight end Sunday, you'll live with that slight drop-off. Or at least I would.

The Brown-Turner dilemma is a bit easier. So far, Turner has struggled to pick up yardage in the Falcons' new offense, and he faces his toughest challenge yet at the Chargers this week. Plus, his playing time is in question following his DUI arrest early Tuesday morning. Provided Ahmad Bradshaw misses Thursday's game with a sprained neck, which seems a near certainty at this point, Brown is the obvious choice for your Fantasy team.

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
Falcons S William Moore slated for MRI on injured shoulder
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:44 am ET) Falcons safety William Moore will undergo an MRI on Monday to determine the extent of his injured shoulder, reports ESPN. Moore separated his shoulder in Week 4 and appear to have aggravated the injury after playing 41 snaps against New Orleans on Sunday.

At this point his status remains uncertain for the regular-season finale against Carolina. Atlanta is currently a 3 1/2-point home favorite against Carolina, according to Vegas Insider. The winner will advance to the postseason.


Report: Quad injury won't keep Falcons' Steven Jackson out Week 17
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(9:21 am ET) The quad injury Falcons running back Steven Jackson suffered in Sunday's 30-14 victory over the Saints in Week 16 is not believed to be serious, reports Vaughn McClure of ESPN.

Jackson left the game in the second quarter and was ruled out early in the third. He finished with four carries for 9 yards and one catch for 14 yards. Although coach Mike Smith didn't share many details on Jackson's injury, McClure reports that the veteran back will return to the starting lineup come Week 17 against Carolina.

Atlanta is currently a 3 1/2-point home favorite against Carolina, according to Vegas Insider. The winner will advance to the postseason.


QB struggles begin to impact Cardinals DST
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:13 am ET) The Cardinals DST scored just one Fantasy point in standard CBSSports.com leagues Week 16 against Seattle, interrupting a stretch of 10 games in which it averaged 15.1, and the Cardinals' offensive woes may have had something to do with it.

Specifically, they've been unable to find a decent quarterback since losing Carson Palmer to injury in Week 10. Backup Drew Stanton at least mounted some kind of threat, but with him sidelined by a sprained knee in Week 16, the Cardinals had to turn to third-stringer Ryan Lindley. He turned the ball over twice without once leading his team into the end zone, completing less than half of his passes in the process.

The quick trips back to the sideline gave the Seahawks more chances to pile up points and yards, and they did, finishing with 35 and 596. Only one other time have the Cardinals allowed more than 30 points in a game, and the 596 yards were a season high. Worse yet, they were lacking in big plays, recording one sack with no takeaways.

Fortunately, the Cardinals will take on a struggling 49ers offense in Week 17, so even if Lindley is back under center, the DST at least has a chance of a respectable performance. Still, if you've been relying on it all season, you might want to make sure there isn't an appealing matchups play on the waiver wire.


Seahawks DST can't be stopped
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:04 am ET) The Seahawks DST had another dominant performance Week 16 at Arizona, continuing a nine-week run that has made it once again arguably the top unit in Fantasy. During that stretch, it has averaged 16.2 Fantasy points, allowing 11.9 points on 231.3 yards.

It allowed only six points on 216 yards in Week 16, recording four sacks and one interception. Of the Seahawks' 33 sacks this season, 20 have come in their last five games.

Clearly, they had a favorable matchup in this one, but they also shut down the Eagles in Week 14. You don't have any reason to shy away from the Seahawks DST against St. Louis in Week 17.


Kenbrell Thompkins comes out of nowhere
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:58 am ET) After making only modest contributions since coming over from the Patriots in Week 6, Raiders wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins suddenly emerged as quarterback Derek Carr's favorite target Week 16 against Buffalo, catching five passes for 90 yards. He hadn't caught even one pass since Week 13, and his previous high in yardage was 47.

Of course, you should know how this goes by now. Fellow wide receivers James Jones and Andre Holmes have both had their stretches of Fantasy relevance this season, as has tight end Mychal Rivera. The Raiders have a multitude of viable receiving targets, but their roles aren't so clear, which makes the task of picking the most impactful from week to week next to impossible.

In other words, you'd need to play in an especially deep league to take a flier on Thompkins for the season's final week.


Latavius Murray trustworthy up to a point
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:51 am ET) If his 23 carries Week 14 against San Francisco didn't convince you, Latavius Murray's 23 carries Week 16 against Buffalo should make the message loud and clear: He is the Raiders' top running back, and they're putting more faith in him than they ever did Darren McFadden.

Granted, it hasn't translated to much production yet, but the 49ers and Bills are two of the toughest defenses against the run. Unfortunately, Denver, the Raiders' Week 17 opponent, is ranked even higher at both.

Can you trust Murray to get his carries? He's gotten them two of the last three weeks, so most likely, yes. And with 20-plus chances, there's always the chance he breaks a long one. But the matchup will make it difficult.

You'd like to start him given his ever-increasing role, but you shouldn't force him into your lineup if you have two (or maybe three) respectable running backs already.


One way or another, Fred Jackson gets his
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:44 am ET) Trailing early Week 16 at Oakland with their playoff hopes on the line, the Bills didn't stick with the running game for long, attempting only three runs in the second half. But in a way, that worked to running back Fred Jackson's advantage. He's such a good pass-catcher out of the backfield that he still topped 100 total yards, doing so for the first time since returning from a groin injury in Week 12.

Even with the return of C.J. Spiller from a long-term shoulder injury, Jackson still led the Bills in carries, but with only six for 10 yards. He also led the team in catches with nine for 93 yards. He had 10 catches just two weeks ago, so clearly, he's a PPR stud.

Is he worth starting in standard leagues as well? Well, he's also gotten 20 carries twice in five games since returning. He hasn't been as effective on the ground as through the air, but yards are yards, however he gets them.

Their matchup Week 17 at New England will probably force the Bills to go pass-heavy again, so unless you're stacked at running back, you can find a spot for Jackson in your lineup.


Desperation fuels Kyle Orton's performance
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:35 am ET) Bills quarterback Kyle Orton didn't have the most efficient day throwing the ball Week 16 at Oakland, but from a Fantasy perspective, it was a productive one. He threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns but also had two interceptions.

What's crazy, though, is that 196 of those yards came in the second half. The Bills were trailing a winnable game with their playoff hopes on the line, and their desperation showed. Unfortunately, that desperation also contributed to the second of Orton's interceptions.

The Bills have been eliminated, so no matter how much they're trailing Week 17 at New England, they probably won't be quite as desperate. You can expect more typical numbers from Orton -- maybe about 250 yards with one or two scores -- even if the matchup appears to be a favorable one, making him a player better left for two-quarterback leagues.


Kenny Britt clearly better with Shaun Hill
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:27 am ET) Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt caught a season-high nine passes on a season-high 11 targets Week 16 against the Giants, but his 103 receiving yards actually weren't a season high.

That's because he had 128, along with a touchdown, Week 11 against the Broncos.

That was Shaun Hill's first game back under center. Week 16, obviously, was his latest one. In the six games since Hill reclaimed the role, Britt has averaged 3.8 catches for 66.3 yards. In the nine games before then, he averaged 2.3 catches for 34.7 yards.

Britt has been especially good lately, averaging 73.3 yards in his last three games. Hill has also been fond of Stedman Bailey, but he doesn't seem to have a clear preference for one or the other.

Of course, the Rams passing attack isn't prolific enough to sustain both, so if you're going to target Britt or Bailey off the waiver wire, make sure it's in a deeper league. You wouldn't want to roll the dice on either in the season's final week if you can help it.


Andre Williams showing more ability
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:19 am ET) Carrying the load for the third straight game with Rashad Jennings sidelined by an ankle injury Week 16 at St. Louis, Giants rookie running back Andre Williams delivered his second 100-yard effort during that stretch, picking up 110 yards on 26 carries. Of course, just like in Week 14, it wasn't the steadiest performance. He had a 50-yard run in that one en route to a career-best 131 yards. He had a 45-yard run en route to his 110 yards in this one.

But that's true for most 100-yard rushing performances. The best backs break long runs occasionally, which makes up for all the 2- and 3-yard gains in between. It's easy to discount Williams' performance because of a long run here or a long run there because he's been so bad on a per-carry basis this season (take that 45-yard run away, and he averaged only 2.6 yards per carry -- oh noes!), but the fact is those long runs count, too. And he barreled over a couple of tacklers to complete it, which was nice to see.

Because Williams is short on receiving ability, his numbers don't look so great when he doesn't break a long run, but with all the carries he's getting now, his chances are better than not of breaking one. He's worth starting in standard leagues Week 17 against Philadelphia.


 
 
 
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