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Dear Mr. Fantasy: Maximize your rate of return

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Ah, the trade market. If you want to win your league, more likely than not you're going to have to take that bull by the horns at some point.

It's a scary thought, especially if you've never, um, taken a bull by the horns before. If you get a little overconfident, you could easily lose your footing and get trampled. Or gored. Or bitten, I guess. I don't know.

Clearly, I've never taken a bull by the horns before.

But I have made my share of trades over the years, and in doing so, I've learned that it's better to start too early than too late, that rejection is just a part of the process, and that, above all, the side that gets the best player is the side that improves the most. Quantity isn't as important as quality.

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Unless you're getting chased by bulls.

What type of package would be needed to land a top-five player at a position? -- @WhoopTheirItIs (via Twitter)

SW: This question is almost impossible to answer. I'll admit that upfront. You might wonder, then, why I chose to answer it, but hey, the more open-ended the question, the more applicable it is to masses. And that's kind of the point. Mass communication and all.

But in order to make the impossible possible, I'll need to lay out a few ground rules, starting with what exactly you mean by "top-five player."

Presumably, you don't mean a top-five player to start out or a top-five player right now, but a top-five player going forward, which is more or less a judgment call made by combining all available data. Following that criteria -- just so we're all on the same page -- here's who I've judged to be the top five players at each position.

Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning are the top five at quarterback. Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson are the top five at running back. Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Roddy White, Victor Cruz and Brandon Marshall are the top five at wide receiver. Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Tony Gonzalez and Vernon Davis are the top five at tight end.

You may have some players you like more, but in my estimation, these are the ones that should cost the most on the open market and the ones I'd be least willing to give up. Now, each set of five doesn't carry the same weight. The wide receiver position, for example, has a few more candidates for that group, and the tight end position I still see as having just a top two. But generally speaking, these are the players who form your team's identity. As they rise, you rise. As they fall, you fall. By owning one of them, you're assured of having an advantage at that position against half the teams you face. Thus, by trading one of them, you alter your team's identity in a way you can't make up for on the waiver wire.

In other words, the points these players provide individually are worth more than the sum of those provided by two or three players you could get in return. The league format makes somewhat of a difference. For instance, in deeper leagues, with fewer replacements available on the waiver wire, two good players come closer to equaling the value of an elite player. But as a general rule, elite is a synonym for untouchable in all but the direst of circumstances.

What circumstances might those be? If you've dug yourself into a 1-4 hole with a roster halfway comprised of table scraps, you might have to divide a Ray Rice into, say, a Marshawn Lynch and a Reggie Wayne just to stay afloat. And that's the kind of return you should demand. Rice is a monster well worth that price tag to an owner with more depth than you.

How would you handle Andre Johnson from now on? He doesn't look right, but what's the value in trading him? -- @SteveBako87 (via Twitter)

SW: Nearly a third of the way through the season, Andre Johnson has fewer Fantasy points than Andre Roberts and Andre Brown. That's the argument against trading him. When he's been next to useless for that long, how can you expect to get full value in return?

Of course, you also have to ask yourself what you stand to gain by waiting. In the typical case of a slow starter, you can hold out hope that the numbers will correct themselves in time, and quite often they do. But in the typical case, the reasons for the decline aren't so obvious. In Johnson's case, I contend that his full value was exaggerated to begin with.

Didn't we go through this with him already? Last year, after he returned from his hamstring injury, the Texans had become so enamored with their running game -- and for good reason -- that he ended up with less than 25 receiving yards in two of his three games. Yes, the Texans had third-stringer T.J. Yates under center then, but it didn't change the fact that Johnson's disappearance was part of a continuing trend. Since Arian Foster emerged in 2010, the Texans have become increasingly reliant on their running game, to the point that their passing game is used mostly as a change of pace these days. It's basically the way the 49ers run their offense, and you don't see any of their wide receivers putting up big numbers week after week.

And frankly, I don't see it changing anytime soon. With a great defense and great running game, what incentive do the Texans have to put the ball in the air? Even on those occasions when they have to throw more than usual, Johnson is so clearly the best receiving option on the team that he's usually double-covered, allowing Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter to cut into his numbers. I'm not saying he'll never factor again -- every few weeks or so, he'll break free enough to make you happy -- but more often than not, you can expect more of what he's delivered so far.

But he's still a big-name player and has been an early-round pick each of the last few years. Because of his credentials, someone out there is buying into the idea that he's simply off to a slow start, and for that reason, I don't see the harm in marketing him.

Obviously, the potential rewards for him are still higher than those for, say, Lance Moore, so I'm not suggesting you take whatever offer comes your way. But if you can find someone still willing to believe that he'd be upgrading by shipping you Reggie Wayne or Percy Harvin in return, you have to make that deal. Or maybe you can convince someone that he'd be selling high on Stevan Ridley or Alfred Morris right now. Or maybe you can target another early-season disappointment, like DeMarco Murray or Darren McFadden, and trade "junk for junk," so to speak.

It's not so far-fetched. Just go to Johnson's player page and check out the recent trades made for him. Some will surprise you.

With the injuries to Cedric Benson and Ryan Williams, who are the Packers and Cardinals running backs worth picking up? -- @LeNewf (via Twitter)

Most Traded Players (as of 10/10)
Player # of trades
1. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans 3,390
2. Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins 2,082
3. Steven Jackson, RB, Rams 1,852
4. Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders 1,797
5. Cedric Benson, RB, Packers 1,770
6. Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers 1,761
7. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys 1,753
8. Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers 1,738
9. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys 1,660
10. Michael Turner, RB, Falcons 1,658

SW: Usually when two starting running backs go down in the same week, the top two Fantasy owners in waiver priority feel like they had their numbers called in the lottery. But when those running backs are arguably the worst two in the league, it's more like they had their names called in the dentist's office.

Alex Green is the player you want here, if only because he has the advantage of the unknown. We've seen what James Starks has to offer, and it's not worth your or the Packers' time. He was so underwhelming in training camp -- in part because of a toe injury and in part because of who he is -- that he nearly didn't make the roster coming into the season. Granted, he has more production to his name than Green, whose career highlight reel consists of a 41-yard run late last week, but hey, at least Green hasn't flopped yet. He's young. He was a relatively early draft pick. He's on a stacked offense. He may be capable of something.

Plus, unlike any of the Cardinals' options, you know he won't have a Beanie Wells type raining on his parade six weeks from now. And you know he's definitively the next player on the depth chart. Between LaRod Stephens-Howling, William Powell and Alfonso Smith, the Cardinals could conceivably go any of three directions.

Stephens-Howling has the most experience and legitimate big-play potential, but I get the feeling he'll end up looking like a miscast special teams player, which will open the door for Powell, who's relatively unproven and has yet to earn the trust of the coaching staff. Smith is presumably the last line of defense if both fail, but who knows? Perhaps inserting him as the starter is the path of least resistance. Even if his talent doesn't quite measure up, it's not like the Cardinals were getting much production from their running game to begin with.

Ranking these five players today, I'd go Green, Stephens-Howling, Powell, Starks and Smith, but it's very much subject to change.

Should I drop Bilal Powell or Andre Brown for any of these: Danny Woodhead, LaRod Stephens-Howling, David Wilson, Ronnie Hillman, Shaun Draughn, William Powell, Joique Bell, James Starks and Lamar Miller? -- @FurrySpartan

SW: Must be a fairly deep league, huh?

If those are your best alternatives, I'd make a point to hold on to Brown, at least until we have a better idea how much time he's going to miss with his concussion. We already know he's capable of putting up stud numbers when given the opportunity, and considering starter Ahmad Bradshaw's propensity for injury, I'd say another opportunity is coming.

Bilal Powell, on the other hand, is not so interesting to me. He's a secondary option in a bad rushing attack. I'd take a flier on Stephens-Howling over him. I don't have high hopes for Stephens-Howling's ascension to the starter role in Arizona, but I know he has big-play potential from his experience as a return specialist. It's one of those you-never-know sort of pickups.

Most of these other players are little more than insurance policies for their respective teams. They won't factor unless something goes disastrously wrong. I'd place Starks and William Powell slightly above the rest since their teams' backfield situations are still getting sorted out, but I expect them to play supporting roles as of now.

Would you start Christian Ponder or Matthew Stafford this week? What about Torrey Smith or Dez Bryant? -- @HunterDorbandt (via Twitter)

SW: I understand the dilemma at quarterback. Ponder is facing a Redskins defense that ranks 32nd against the pass, which makes him, in my estimation, an ideal bye-week replacement this week.

But that's me recommending him over a quarterback who won't be playing. Recommending him over a quarterback who threw 41 touchdown passes last season is not something I'm prepared to do.

I know if you own Stafford in Fantasy, you're discouraged. You took him in the second round thinking he'd set you apart at the highest-scoring position in Fantasy with two or three touchdown passes every week, and he has yet to throw for multiple scores in a game this season. So I'm not saying he's unbenchable during this period you're waiting for him to turn things around (which, by the way, I'm confident he will). I'm just saying you need to have an airtight argument for doing it.

Do you? I don't see it. It's not like Stafford was forced to the sidelines the previous week with a leg injury, as was the case in Week 4. It's not like he's facing an impossibly good 49ers defense, as was the case in Week 2. He was just on bye, giving him a chance to rest and recover, and he's facing the Eagles.

Those same Eagles who have allowed just a 53.3 completion percentage and 67.1 quarterback rating to opposing quarterbacks this season, both second-best in the league? Yes, but keep in mind they were the beneficiaries of Brandon Weeden's NFL debut in Week 1, when the rookie completed only 34.3 percent of his passes for 118 yards and four interceptions. Since then, they've allowed quarterback ratings of 127.4 and 86.3 to Kevin Kolb and Eli Manning and have recorded just two interceptions in four games.

Am I saying Stafford is going to have a career-best performance this week? No. But given how much he throws, averaging 43.3 pass attempts per game, I don't think this matchup is going to prevent him from getting his yardage. And eventually, all that yardage has to translate to a touchdown or two, especially when you factor a monster like Calvin Johnson into the equation.

Ponder, meanwhile, is always vulnerable to a big game from Adrian Peterson. The way their offense is built, the Vikings would prefer to win by running the ball, and in this game, they might have that opportunity. Knowing that Stafford is the safer of the two for an OK performance this week and is always the more likely of the two for, say, a four-touchdown performance, why not just stick with him?

As for the dilemma at wide receiver (between two players whose teams are facing each other, strangely enough), I'd sit Smith for Bryant. Between Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, you never know which of Baltimore's receiving options is going to get the short end of the stick. Plus, the Cowboys defense ranks first against the pass, believe it or not.

Would you prefer Dennis Pitta or Owen Daniels for the rest of the season in a points-per-reception league? -- @DEA_217 (via Twitter)

SW: Pitta would be my choice regardless, but in a PPR league, the decision is that much easier.

So the last two games haven't gone so well for him. It happens. Last week, the Ravens offense as a whole faltered, and the week before, quarterback Joe Flacco rightfully set his sights on his wide receivers, picking on a Browns secondary that was without suspended cornerback Joe Haden.

Yet even with those two games when he virtually disappeared, Pitta still ranks third among all tight ends with 37 targets. The first two you know well: Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham. Pitta wouldn't be rubbing elbows with them if he didn't have a similar role on offense. True, he did get an obscene 15 targets in Week 2, boosting his season total, but even in Weeks 1 and 3, he had nine and seven targets, respectively.

Of course, Daniels has been the better of the two in actual Fantasy production so far. In fact, he ranks third at tight end, behind Tony Gonzalez and Vernon Davis. But he doesn't rank there if he doesn't score a touchdown each of the last three weeks. You know the most targets he had in any of those games? Six.

The decision ultimately comes down what you choose to trust. Do you trust a string of touchdowns that could easily be interrupted by an open Kevin Walter, a leaping Andre Johnson or a sneaky Arian Foster, or do you trust the inevitability of a player getting targeting over and over and over again?

Despite where he ranks right now, the Ravens' use of Pitta suggests he could be the next big thing at the tight end position. Daniels without the touchdowns is basically Fred Davis.

A guy wants my Brandon Marshall and Steven Jackson for Mike Wallace, Steve Johnson, Michael Turner and Stevan Ridley. It's a points-per-reception league. Should I do it? -- @bigdogtwodeep (via Twitter)

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SW: This was an easy call until you mentioned it was a PPR league. The most important aspect of a PPR league is the R, in my opinion. To put it bluntly, I don't think much of the players who don't get them.

So Ridley and Turner, as much value as they may have in standard formats, aren't such a big deal to me here. Yeah, they still get touchdowns and, in the case of Ridley, yardage, but those three or four extra receptions by players like Trent Richardson and DeMarco Murray every week add up over the course of the season. Last year, 12 of the top 14 running backs in PPR leagues had 35 catches or more compared to nine of the top 14 in standard leagues. Maybe Ridley will be able to hang with that group if he maintains his current place, but once players like Darren McFadden and Ryan Mathews get going, Turner is going to be buried.

Plus, the exchange of wide receivers works against you in this format. Marshall is a possession type whose size and strength makes him the go-to guy in the Bears offense. He's a threat for double-digit receptions every week, which gives him the equivalent of a one-touchdown head start over someone like Wallace, who is more of a big-play, yards-after-the-catch guy. And Johnson ... well, he just plays for an offense that doesn't complete many passes. You're basically crossing your fingers and hoping for a touchdown when you start him.

That said, Jackson doesn't look like he'll be much of a pass-catcher under coach Jeff Fisher and seems to be slowing down at age 29, so Ridley, even though he's not a great fit for this format, would be a definite upgrade at running back. Still, when it comes to the impact it would have on your starting lineup, this trade boils down to the monstrous Marshall and the underwhelming Jackson for the decent Ridley and passable Wallace, with Turner and Johnson serving as little more than fancy throw-ins. Maybe in a standard league, I could justify it, but in a PPR, the parts just don't add up.

How would you rank Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck going forward? -- @Mattyshack (via Twitter)

SW: The good news is none of them are bums. I know some Newton owners would beg to differ right about now, but the guy has scored more than 25 Fantasy points in two of his five games this season. You'd like to see a little more consistency from him, but he hasn't been the worst thing that ever happened to you. Shoot, he has more points than both Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Schaub this season, and you don't hear anyone complaining about them.

Concussion aside (and we shouldn't completely sweep it under the rug, even if he's been cleared to practice), Griffin's performance against the Falcons in Week 5 shows that he doesn't have it all figured out just yet. When defenses are able to neutralize the threat of the run, he looks more like you'd expect a rookie quarterback to look. Again, it doesn't mean he's a bum. It just means he's not a sure bet for 20-plus points every week, especially with matchups against the Vikings, Steelers, Ravens and Eagles (twice) in his future.

And if that's the case, what is it that separates him from Newton? I'd rather have the more proven of the two, especially since he has the more favorable schedule ahead.

Between Luck and Dalton, I give Luck the edge. He's gotten better as the Colts' matchups have improved, and he has mostly smooth sailing the rest of the way. Plus, I get the feeling the Colts will be playing from behind more often than the Bengals. Dalton will at times be a handoff specialist to close out games.

Both are on the verge of becoming every-week options in Fantasy if they continue to do what they're doing, but I'm not ready to place that level of trust in them after five weeks. In addition to Newton and Griffin, I'd also still rank Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers ahead of them, with Tony Romo potentially just one bad game from dropping out of the running.

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
Tamba Hali says he wants to be back in Kansas City in 2015
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1:45 am ET) Outside linebacker Tamba Hali once again expressed an interest in returning to the only team he's ever played for in the Chiefs.

"At this stage of my career, it isn’t about money," Hali said. "The Kansas City Chiefs have taken care of me, financially. I have some good people in my corner that have positioned me to be able to live a lifestyle a lot of people won’t be able to live. So I’m not one of those guys who gets all bent out of shape over money. I love playing the game, I want to win a championship in Kansas City."

Hali totaled 59 tackles including six sacks and three forced fumbles in 16 games. It was his lowest sack total since 2008.

"If money is going to be a hindrance in doing that, we’ll find a way … we’ve got to get Justin (Houston) paid and get our guys, Dee Ford, ready to be playing at a higher level … but we’ve got to get Houston paid, I’m optimistic about that … that’s something we’ve got to get done."


Report: Seahawks' Richard Sherman finishes elbow treatment
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said Tuesday his elbow is improving daily and he's finished with treat, according to Ed Werder of ESPN. 

According to Werder, Sherman tore ligaments in his elbow in the NFC Championship game against the Packers. Sherman was seen grimacing in pain throughout the game after suffering the injury.

The Seahawks are currently 1-point underdogs for the Super Bowl, according to VegasInsider.com.


Seahawks GM: Russell Wilson's contract to present roster challenge
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) The Seahawks are preparing to re-sign quarterback Russell Wilson. With Wilson making under $1 million per year in his first three seasons, Seattle has been able to give other players contract extensions. Now, general manager John Schneider knows it will be tough on the team to get Wilson at the hefty price tag.

"It presents challenges, there is no question," Schneider said. "We haven’t sat down with his representatives. We are still going to be drafting young players and playing young players, so we might not be able to dip into free agency like you may want to here and there or compensate somebody else that you want to compensate that is already on your team, but just the fact that we’re going to continue to keep drafted players and playing young players should help us compensate for whatever level of compensation (for Wilson’s contract) is."

Wilson threw for 3,475 yards in 2014 with 20 touchdown passes and seven interceptions. He also ran for 849 yards and six touchdowns.


Cardinals' Drew Stanton says he'll be healthy by April
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton is on the road to recovery. The 30-year-old quarterback is in the middle of a rehab program to be able to get back on the field this spring

"I’ll be full strength by time we start offseason program," Stanton said at Tuesday’s Super Bowl Media Day. "I don’t really need to do anything now so just kinda let my body rest to get away from the game a little bit, spend time with my family and get refreshed for next season."

Stanton said he would have needed one more week before trying to give it a go in the playoffs with the knee injury.

"I was going to need at least another week to have a shot," Stanton said. "That was my hope. So, I was trying to find ways to get ready to go, talking to the training staff and talking to guys (about) what I can be doing when we would get back from that flight from Carolina. It didn’t work out unfortunately, but it was a difficult situation the way everything ended. At the same time, I think that the building blocks are starting to fall into place for us." 


Bengals OC Hue Jackson still believes in QB Andy Dalton
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson missed quarterback Andy Dalton's Pro Bowl performance Sunday. Despite hearing about his 9 of 20 passing performance, Jackson said Tuesday to ESPN he still has faith in Dalton to get the job done.

"I'm not going to stop believing in him," Jackson said. "He's going to have to prove otherwise. I believe this guy has it in him. My job, my charge as I've said before is to have him do it on a consistent basis."

Jackson added he's seen the great Dalton and thinks it's something to build on.

"I see in the first three games of the season a guy that played with moxie and tenacity and aggressiveness, and who played extremely well down that 3-0 stretch," Jackson said.


Seahawks NT Brandon Mebane expected to be full go by April
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) Seahawks starting nose tackle Brandon Mebane said the surgery to fix his torn hamstring went well, and he should be full go by April, reports the Seattle Times. Mebane's season was cut short after nine games. He finished with 20 tackles and a sack.

DT Kevin Williams could retire if Seahawks win
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) Seahawks defensive tackle Kevin Williams did not rule out retiring if his team beats the Patriots in Super Bowl 49, reports the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Williams, 34, is a six-time Pro Bowler and five-time First-Team All-Pro.

He played in every game this season, recording 22 tackles, three sacks and two pass breakups.


Bills' Roman: EJ Manuel getting clean slate with new coaching staff
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) Bills offensive coordinator Greg Roman said Tuesday during his introductory press conference quarterback EJ Manuel will get a fresh start with the new coaching staff, per WGR 550. Manuel was benched in favor of veteran Kyle Orton in 2014. Orton has since retired.

"I'm not going to get into specifics. but I definitely think he's done some very good things and displayed some good traits," Roman said. "We just have to get his level of consistency a little bit greater. Really, he and everybody else, once we get thru this evaluation process, we're going to have a very clean slate, once we get going because what they might have been asked to do or done in the past is really not relevant to what we may or may not ask them to do. So to sit here and pontificate about this that and the other, is a little premature."

Manuel is 6-8 as a starter over two NFL seasons. The 2013 first-round pick has a career 58.6 completion rate. He has passed for 2,810 yards, 16 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 15 games (14 starts).


Bryan Stork not a lock to play in Super Bowl
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) Patriots rookie center Bryan Stork said he's working with the training staff in hopes of playing in Super Bowl 49, reports ESPN.com. Stork, who nursing a knee injury, has been limited in practice.

"Nobody's working harder than Bryan to play," coach Bill Belichick said.

Stork started 11 regular-season games but missed the AFC title game after getting hurt in the divisional playoff win over Baltimore. Ryan Wendell replaced Stork and played well in the 45-7 victory over the Colts.


Colts can void RB Trent Richardson's contract
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/27/2015) The Colts can void running back Trent Richardson's $3.18 million guaranteed salary for 2015 because he was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, reports CBS Sports' Joel Corry, a former agent who's an expert on player contracts.

Richardson, who missed a walkthrough before the AFC title game, received a two-game suspension from the team, general manager Ryan Grigson confirmed. If Indy chooses to keep Richardson, he'd serve the second game of the suspension next season.

ESPN.com expects the Colts to exercise their option to void Richardson's contract, and the players' union to challenge that move.


 
 
 
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