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Dear Mr. Fantasy: Weighing risk versus reward

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Falcons are 6-0. As undefeateds go, they're the last team standing.

In fact, no other NFC team is even 5-1. Wow-wee!

You know what that means, right? They're the talk of the NFL. They're No. 1 in all the power rankings. They're on their way to the Super Bowl. They're the best ... around.

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And of course, that's a terrible thing for your Fantasy team.

What if they can't be stopped? What if they're 14-0 heading into your league's championship game? What if all those Falcons you've come to depend on -- Matt Ryan, Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez, among others -- go missing for the final two weeks because the team is just so far ahead of everyone else? What would you do? How would you survive?

...

Are we really going to start this nonsense after only six weeks?

I'm 6-0 right now. Matt Ryan is my starting quarterback, and Andrew Luck is my backup. Should I trade Luck or hold on to him in case Ryan ends up resting during my league's playoffs? -- @mrpaultodd (via Twitter)

SW: Generally speaking, I don't see the benefit of having depth at a position if you're falling behind at other positions. In order to move up in the world, you have to expose yourself to some risk. Then again, if you're 6-0 with what you already have, is the risk worth it?

It's not so much the prospect of Ryan sitting that worries me. The idea that, if his team is too good, your starter could potentially sit for the playoffs is overplayed at this stage of the season. The Falcons will lose at some point -- they've looked vulnerable the last three weeks -- and even if they retain the best record in the NFC from start to finish, someone will emerge to challenge them for the top seed in the closing weeks. It's just what happens in a 16-game schedule. Other than a couple of those Colts teams during Peyton Manning's prime, I can't think of too many instances when a playoff-bound team opted to sit its starters prior to Week 17. And who cares what happens in Week 17? Your league will have already crowned its champion by then, right?

But if, heaven forbid, Ryan were to suffer an injury at some point, you'd be thankful you had a backup like Luck on your roster. You'd still be losing something at quarterback, but provided the rest of your roster is strong, you'd still have a fighting chance of going all the way. If, on the other hand, you had to replace Ryan with a Matt Cassel or Ryan Tannehill type off the waiver wire, you'd be doomed.

Look, I don't know the breakdown of your roster. I don't know if, despite your record, you still have a glaring need. Maybe Ryan has carried you up to this point, allowing you to get away with starting a Sidney Rice type as your second wide receiver. If that's the case, then maybe you should throw caution to the wind and take this opportunity to upgrade.

But before you do, consider this: How much can you honestly expect in return? Luck isn't one of the top 12 quarterbacks in Fantasy, so unless you play in an especially deep league, he'd most likely go from being a backup for you to a backup for somebody else. And what would a backup land you other than another Rice-type receiver?

Again, I can't say for sure without knowing the specifics, but I have a feeling you stand to lose more than you gain with this deal.

I need to start one of Brandon Weeden, Joe Flacco and Josh Freeman as a bye-week fill-in. Weeden has the best chance of a shootout against Colts, and Freeman has the best pure matchup. What do you think? -- @JeffGuy (via Twitter)

SW: And then, of course, Flacco has the advantage of being the steadiest of the three. You could make a compelling case for any of them, and for that reason, I don't think anyone would argue that one of them is a bad choice to fill in this week. I'll go ahead and move Flacco to the back of the line since his matchup against the Texans is easily the toughest, but if you already have him established as your backup and don't want to have to clear a roster spot to pick up one of the other two, you're probably fine just standing pat.

But if we're simply aiming for the best and not paying a second thought to any peripheral consequences, my choice is Freeman.

Here's what gets me about your premise: You're willing to consider Weeden because you like his chances of getting in a shootout, but isn't that scenario even more likely for Freeman? Weeden is facing the Colts, who are capable of putting up some points. But we saw last week they're not unstoppable. A depleted Jets defense brought them to a halt. That wouldn't happen to Drew Brees and company, who Tampa Bay is facing in Week 7. If Freeman doesn't pass, the Buccaneers don't win. End of story.

I'm not saying they'll need to win in order for him to have a good game. I'm saying that, because they're trying to win, he'll have a good game.

Maybe if they were playing the Falcons or another one of those high-scoring teams with opportunistic defenses, I wouldn't be so sure, but as you point out, the Saints are anything but opportunistic on defense. They've recorded just three interceptions all year. They've allowed the third-highest quarterback rating. They've surrendered the seventh-most passing yards. In every conceivable way, they give Freeman an invitation to succeed.

And with him coming off his best performance of the season, we know what he's capable of doing with that invitation.

I've been offered Rob Gronkowski and Brandon Lloyd for Ahmad Bradshaw and Dennis Pitta in a points-per-reception league. I have Darren McFadden, Ryan Mathews, Mikel Leshoure at running back. Pitta has been hurting me at tight end, but Bradshaw is on fire right now, making him my starter at the flex spot. Is it a good move, or should I hang on to Bradshaw? -- Bryan Roth (via Facebook)

SW: In a PPR league, you bet it's a good move. In a standard league, it's debatable, but even then, I think I'd take it.

Most Traded Players (as of 10/17)
Player # of trades
1. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans 3,025
2. Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins 2,172
3. Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers 2,170
4. Steven Jackson, RB, Rams 2,146
5. Andre Johnson, WR, Texans 2.089
6. Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders 1,899
7. Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers 1,832
8. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, Bengals 1,790
9. Stevan Ridley, RB, Patriots 1,772
10. Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions 1,764

Granted, it's not for everyone. If by dealing Bradshaw, you'd be left with, say, Vick Ballard or Alex Green as your second running back, then the upgrade at tight end wouldn't be worth it. But with your running back depth, you can more than withstand the loss of Bradshaw. Not only are McFadden, Mathews and Leshoure competent rushers with assured starting roles, but they're routinely involved in the passing game, making them an ideal trio for a PPR league. Shoot, with those choices, you might not even start Bradshaw every week.

Yes, Bradshaw is on fire right now, but he's still the guy who missed most of two games with a neck injury earlier this season after missing four games with a foot injury last season. Another injury wouldn't be the most unexpected thing ever. And though the game plan didn't call for it the last two weeks, more often than not, he's going to take a back seat to Eli Manning and the passing game. In my mind, Bradshaw is the definition of a sell-high candidate.

Some have lamented the struggles of Gronkowski to kick off this season, but those "struggles" have only made him the second-best tight end in PPR leagues. If that's his version of "struggling," imagine what he'll do when he starts meeting expectations. He still has arguably the greatest big-play potential of anyone at the position and remains a huge red-zone target for Tom Brady. In the end, those attributes should again make him the top tight end in Fantasy, which counts for even more in a PPR league than a standard league.

Now, you could argue that you'd be sacrificing running back depth with this deal and that, if something were to happen to one of your starters, maybe you'd regret the upgrade at tight end, but from my perspective, you still have a running back to spare with McFadden, Mathews and Leshoure. Sure, you could technically start all three with the availability of a flex spot -- and in some weeks, you will -- but in PPR leagues, you're generally better served starting a wide receiver there. It's basic math.

How Bradshaw rates compared to the other three running backs is debatable, but if he's the one who could land you the best tight end in Fantasy, he's the one you have to trade.

Between Domenik Hixon and Josh Gordon, who's your choice for this week? What about the rest of the season? -- @norrdeke (via Twitter)

SW: This week? Probably Gordon. Granted, he's been a big-play-or-bust-type option during this emergence of his, with three touchdowns on only five catches over the last two weeks, and that's always a little unnerving. But with those big plays, he has proven to be the best option quarterback Brandon Weeden has, so you know he'll be involved against a Colts defense that has allowed the fourth-highest quarterback rating this season.

With Hixon, you don't know what you're getting. You've gotten plenty from him the last three weeks, but with Hakeem Nicks back from injury and Victor Cruz and Martellus Bennett also high in the pecking order, this could be the week Hixon comes back down to earth. True, the Redskins allow more passing yards per game than anybody, including the Colts, so maybe he'll get his. But that's a big maybe.

And for him, it's always maybe. Maybe he's the one who gets the open looks because everyone else is so well covered, but maybe he ends up being the third wheel to Cruz and Nicks. Or maybe Ramses Barden or Rueben Randle fills that role instead, as has happened a couple times already this year.

With Gordon, you have to worry that maybe he won't catch a pass at all one of these weeks, but I have a feeling that now that he's proven himself on the deep routes, the Browns will involve him in the short gamea little more. It's not like he has much competition, really. They've just been waiting for someone to step up. I'm not saying he's a surefire stud now that he has, but I think he has a better chance of offering steady production than Hixon does.

A guy offered me Julio Jones, but he wants Jamaal Charles in return. My running backs -- which also include Matt Forte, Shonn Greene, Ben Tate and Michael Bush -- are doing fine. My wide receivers, though -- which include Marques Colston, Antonio Brown, Kendall Wright and Michael Crabtree -- aren't providing enough punch. Should I pass on this and hope my wide receivers get better or pull the trigger? -- Seth Partridge (via e-mail)

SW: Of course your running backs are doing fine. They're led by Jamaal Charles. Remove him from the equation, and you'll be forced to trust that Greene's miraculous Week 6 is the new norm in New York or that the Bears offense can honestly sustain both Forte and Bush every time out. Neither is my idea of a party.

In Charles, you have the rare rusher who's just as likely to handle 30 carries over the course of a game as he is to run for 60 yards on a single play. He's a top-five option at what's still the most important position in Fantasy. In Greene and Bush, you have no better than a 50-50 proposition. And actually, so far this season, they've been on the wrong side of the coin flip more often than not. With that in mind, I don't care if you have Alvin Harper and Bert Emanuel at wide receiver; you can't make this deal.

As it is, you have Colston and Brown, who are perfectly suitable starters in what I'm assuming is a 12-team league. I'm sure they're not the best duo in your league, but Colston is a legitimate No. 1 who has already gotten his bye week out of the way, and Brown is on pace for his second straight 1,000-yard season. Would Jones be an improvement? Over Brown, sure. But the upgrade from Brown to Jones isn't nearly as big as the downgrade from Charles to either Greene or Bush.

I don't know if you're 1-5 and just looking to shake things up or if you genuinely believe this is the kind of move you should make, but to me, it's a step back.

Which two of these five should I start: Darren Sproles, Alex Green, Daryl Richardson, Felix Jones and Steven Jackson? -- @MeInAcape (via Twitter)

SW: Sproles. With that group, you always start Sproles. I get that he's not entirely consistent, but the others -- at least in most weeks -- have so many hindrances to their production that you might as well go with the guy who could hit you a home run, whether it's by catching eight passes or breaking off a 60-yard run.

Granted, the Buccaneers defense makes the former more likely than the latter this week, but hey, at least that means you won't have to worry about the other Saints running backs interfering.

Now, of those other four, there is one who has lost his hindrances for this week. Jones figures to carry a full load for the Cowboys with DeMarco Murray sidelined by a foot injury. And his ascension to the starting role just so happens to coincide with the Cowboys' trip to Carolina, which ranks 23rd against the run. We saw after Murray left last week that Jones is plenty capable of handling the role, so I expect big numbers from him this week.

As for Green, Richardson and Jackson, you could certainly do worse than them in Fantasy. But Green is inevitably going to take a back seat to Aaron Rodgers, and Richardson and Jackson are just going to steal carries from each other.

I should mention, though, that if we're assessing these backs for the rest of the season, I do think Richardson has a chance of making a significant contribution. In spell duty, he has been a much more effective rusher than Jackson, and with Jackson slowing down at age 29 and most likely gone after this season, I could see a changing of the guard at some point.

But it hasn't happened yet, and right now, you have a terrific one-week sleeper in Jones.

Mikel Leshoure and Matt Schaub for Matthew Stafford and Brian Hartline. Which is the better side? -- Nick Iliopoulos (via Twitter)

SW: Why settle for a Matt when you can have a Matthew?

Stafford isn't scared off by that second syllable. He displays it like he displays that big arm of his, throwing the ball more than 40 times in four of his first five games this season. It may not always land in the end zone, as we know all too well this year, but as long as he keeps putting it up, it at least has a chance of coming down there.

Schaub too often disappears behind the running game. Yeah, that's the game plan and all -- why put that ball up for grabs when you have Arian Foster in the backfield? -- but it's still a hindrance in Fantasy. At times, Schaub will be the better source of touchdowns just because the Texans put themselves in better position to score, but with his reduced potential for yardage, his upside is limited.

Besides, Stafford is about to make up some ground in the touchdowns. Calvin Johnson hasn't really gotten going yet.

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That's the main reason I'd prefer the Stafford side of the deal. If he comes around, he'll be a player who can carry your team from week to week. Schaub is more like a backup quarterback in a 12-team league.

As for the exchange of Leshoure and Hartline, it's pretty much a lateral move. In a vacuum, I suppose I'd rather have the running back, but the two are equally regarded at their respective positions. Both have proven capable of big performances, but neither plays for the kind of offense that makes those performances routine.

If you're the side pursuing Stafford and you'd be leaving yourself in a sorry state at running back by making this deal, you should probably back off. But otherwise, the scales tip in your favor.

Which is the better flex option for this week: Alfred Morris, Hakeem Nicks or Randall Cobb? -- @Rolly_World (via Twitter)

SW: Am I right to assume this is a standard format and not another points-per-reception league? I'm getting pretty tired of those.

I think most of you know by now that, if the choice comes down to a running back and a wide receiver in a standard league, I'll pretty much always take the running back. Provided he doesn't split carries, as is true for Morris, he's an entire half of his team's offense, which means he won't disappear. In the wrong matchup, he might disappoint, but he won't disappear.

In this case, though, the wide receiver in question is Nicks, who is among the best at his position when he's able to take the field. And he just so happens to be facing Morris' Redskins, who rank dead last against the pass -- and by a fairly significant margin.

Of course, he's just coming back from knee and foot issues. He could always suffer a setback or an injury of another sort (he's never in the clear from those). Or he could end up with only 50 yards or so even if Eli Manning throws for 400. The Giants have options, as you know. Plus, it's not like Morris has a bad matchup. The Giants rank a mediocre 16th against the run and allow 4.6 yards per carry.

I can't see Morris having a bad game. I can see Nicks having a better game, but you're taking a bigger chance with him. Personally, I'd play it safe with the running back, but if you're in a position where most of your studs are on bye and you need a huge week from someone to have a decent chance of winning, I can see why you might opt for Nicks instead.

Notice I didn't even consider Cobb. Hey, he's a fine option for most Fantasy owners, but not the ones with the luxury of having to choose between Morris and Nicks.

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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