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Fantasy & Reality: The replacements

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It's that time of year. Players start getting hurt and their replacements are snapped up off waivers. It's inevitable -- football's a tough sport and the men who play get hurt by nature. As Fantasy owners, our eyes immediately turn away from the players who are hurt and to the players coming into the huddle off the bench. It's not that we're unsympathetic to the players who got hurt, it's that we know that players who are inactive or on injured reserve can't help us in our quest for Fantasy greatness.

This past week we saw three teams turn over their running back position. The Eagles lost LeSean McCoy to a concussion, sidelining him for the team's game vs. Carolina. Willis McGahee had significant leg and knee injuries that will keep him out of action for the rest of the Broncos' regular season. And the Jaguars changed their running back of choice last week at Houston, benching Rashad Jennings.

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The replacements for each of these running backs were the hottest names off the waiver wire leading up to Week 12. But only one seems like a shoe-in for Fantasy success.

Ronnie Hillman, Broncos: With McGahee going down, John Fox's bunch is expected to use a trio of backs. Lance Ball has served well as a part-time back for the Broncos and Knowshon Moreno has been inactive for weeks but should dust off the cobwebs for their matchup at Kansas City. But it's rookie Ronnie Hillman who is expected to get the first crack at being the primary rusher.

And that's exactly what he was for the Broncos after McGahee got hurt last week vs. the Chargers. Hillman played on 15 first downs, nine second downs and 29 snaps total after McGahee got hurt. By comparison, Ball played on just 15 snaps -- eight third downs and a handful of reps when Hillman had to leave the game with what is believed to be a minor hamstring injury. Moreno was inactive. Hillman worked in the two-minute offense, in the red zone, near the goal line and he got carries to kill the clock at the end of the game. When you see running backs working in all of those situations on top of being the primary back on first- and second-downs, you've got something.

Hillman's a smallish but quick back who was a stats beast in college, breaking many of Marshall Faulk's yardage records at San Diego State, but it has taken a while for him to adjust to the pro game as evidenced by the 31 carries he had in the Broncos' first nine matchups. The biggest problem he faces is something Fantasy owners might not think much about: pass protection. The running back who steps on the field next to Peyton Manning has to be a marvel at stopping an extra blocker or else Manning gets crunched. McGahee handled this role well as does Lance Ball, but Hillman seemed lost last week trying to protect his quarterback. What's more, defensive coaches will see Hillman's thin frame and encourage defenders to body rock him whether they can get to Manning or not. So there's a delicate balance in play for the Broncos: They want to use Hillman's speed and versatility but if he can't keep the defense out of the pocket he's not going to be on the field long.

This might be a major problem if the Broncos were taking on a team with a blitz-happy defense, but they have the Chiefs this week. Kansas City does boast a pair of good pass rushers in Tamba Hali and Justin Houston but they also boast a run defense that was slammed for 101 yards and a score last week by BenJarvus Green-Ellis. That might suggest that the Chiefs defense is pitiful but the reality is that they've allowed just five rushing touchdowns and four 100-yard rushers on the season. That's not atrocious, plus the Broncos haven't sported a 100-yard rusher more than three times all season.

The bottom line: Hillman should get the first crack at handling the majority of running-down snaps for the Broncos and has the potential for a good game. But also has the potential to get an early hook if he can't pass protect or if he can't get anything going against whatever kind of defense shows up for the Chiefs. Though there's tons of upside, there's some risk involved in starting Hillman this week.

Jalen Parmele, Jaguars: After watching Parmele's snaps from the Jaguars' surprising game at Houston last week, the phrase 'three yards and a cloud of dust' came to mind. Parmele ran hard and with some power but not with a lot of speed or elusiveness. Though he made some decent cuts running behind the Jags' offensive line, he was more battering ram than cheetah. And you'd think a back like this is a cinch to score from the goal line but on consecutive plays against the Texans he gained 1 yard with no scores. Sure, the opponent was tough but those scores should be automatic for burly backs against almost anyone.

Another issue with Parmele is that he's bounced around the league and is basically a back the Jaguars are settling for after the Rashad Jennings experiment failed and after Maurice Jones-Drew hurt himself. So by default, Parmele has this gig, his first starting job after three years in the league and one year out of the league (he didn't play in 2011). If he was so talented, why wasn't he in a starting role before now?

Last week Parmele had 24 carries and it got him 80 yards. He actually had 56 yards on 21 carries until the Jaguars caught the Texans napping in overtime and ran him left behind an unbalanced line the Texans seemed to not catch on to. That gave him 28 yards and was easy for the Texans defenders to catch. He lost four yards on his next carry and had no yards on his final carry.

The common thread among big, slow backs is that they usually need a lot of carries in order to be helpful in Fantasy. That's where Parmele can win. With MJD out and Jennings out of coach Mike Mularkey's mind, Parmele could easily land 20 carries against the Titans. But because of his style of running I just don't think he can finish a game with over 4.3 yards per carry. So maybe he gets that heavy workload but it might mean just 80 or 90 yards. There isn't a big ceiling for Parmele, and that makes me shy away from him even in a matchup at home against Tennessee.

Bryce Brown, Eagles: I saved the best for last. With McCoy expected to miss Week 12, Brown should step in as the Eagles' primary rusher. Unlike Hillman, he's got a little size to him, and unlike Parmele he has a lot of speed to him. This is the best running back of the three you could have picked off waivers, and he happens to have an excellent matchup too.

Let's go back to his limited snaps against the Redskins last week. Not only did he have 35 yards on five carries but another run of 18 yards was wiped out by a holding penalty. So was a 13-yard catch-and-run. The point isn't that the Eagles have a hard time blocking legally, it's that Brown can hit a hole very quickly and speed off for a nice gain. Brown curently has a 4.4 rushing average on the season.

Speed has been consistent with Brown going back to when he was a five-star recruit out of high school. The Wichita, Kan., native was considered a top running back in the country before going to Tennessee, where he played behind Montario Hardesty for a year before taking off one season to transfer to Kansas State with his brother. Then he left the Wildcats after one game (and an ankle injury) to pursue the NFL. That might raise some red flags about his commitment but we're focused on the short-term with Brown, not the long-term. We doubt he'll quit on the Eagles before Monday.

Moreover, Brown should hog reps against a Panthers defense that has struggled vs. the run compared to the pass. Carolina has allowed over 400 total yards and two touchdowns to running backs over its last three games. The Eagles will never be a pass-oriented team but in a game like this Brown could be in line for a good amount of work and should produce some numbers to go along with it. Knowing how long and how badly Brown has wanted to make it in the NFL, I'd be surprised if he completely flubbed his debut.

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
Chiefs' Mike Catapano on his health: I feel better than ever
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(6:41 pm ET) After missing the entire 2014 season with a gastrointestinal virus, Chiefs defensive end Mike Catapano was able to participate in the team's OTA on Wednesday, reports The Kansas City Star.

"Every time I step on the field now it's with purpose and with extra vigor that I never really had," Catapano said. "It feels great. I feel better than ever."

Catapano played in 15 games during his rookie season in 2013 and he totaled four tackles and one sack. He said he's ready to surpass that in 2015.

"I'm ready to show that I offer a lot to this team. I'm ready to step up in big situations and starting situations," Catapano said. "I just want to keep getting better every day… and play to the best of my abilities."


Broncos' Manning, Sanders keeping up with Thomas during holdout
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:05 pm ET) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is holding out of offseason workouts while he continues to negotiate a long-term deal with the team, but teammates Emmanuel Sanders and Peyton Manning have been keeping up with the star receiver, the Denver Post reports.

"One thing a lot of people don’t realize is when you’re playing on a one-year deal, there’s a lot of things going through your head," Sanders said. "As much as you guys want to say, ‘Don’t think about it,' of course it’s going to cross your mind because you’re talking about a lot of money at stake. When you’re playing these one-year deals, it’s a lot of stress on you. No matter how much you don’t want it to be, it’s going to happen. We’re all human."

Manning would like to have Thomas in workouts but understands the business aspects of his decision.

"I keep up with Demaryius. He’s my buddy," Manning said. "They got that business side of it to work out, but he’s been a great teammate to me, been a great friend to me since I’ve been here in Denver, so I keep up with him. Obviously want him to get back here as soon as possible, but we want what’s best for him, and he certainly deserves what’s best for him."

Thomas has started 16 games for three straight season, topping 90 receptions, 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns in each.


Raiders sign Horace Miller, Milton Williams
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:30 pm ET) The Raiders have signed linebacker Horace Miller and wide receiver Milton Williams, the team announced on Wednesday.

Miller was waived by the Panthers earlier this offseason after spending one week on the active roster but seeing no playing time. Williams originally signed with the Raiders earlier this month before being waived a few days later.


Titans project DE DaQuan Jones as starter
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:23 pm ET) Titans defensive end DaQuan Jones started the final game of his rookie season against the Colts and is on track to open the 2015 season in the same role, The Tennessean reports.

"He's a starter at end, it's what we project," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "In the last game against Indianapolis, Jones played really well."

A fourth-round pick out of Penn State, Jones finished his rookie season with 13 tackles and one sack, with the sack and more than half of his tackles coming in his lone start at the end of the year.


Browns waive Nick McDonald
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:13 pm ET) The Browns waived offensive lineman Nick McDonald with an injury designation (knee), the team announced on Wednesday.

McDonald made seven starts at center last season after spending the first six weeks of the season on the reserve/non-football injury list with a wrist issue.


Titans DT Sammie Lee Hill diagnosed with knee sprain
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5:08 pm ET) Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said Wednesday defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill was diagnosed with a knee sprain, reports The Tennessean.

Hill the sustained the injury Tuesday, but he won't require surgery.


Texans LB Brian Cushing on his health: Best I've felt in a while
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(4:53 pm ET) Texans linebacker Brian Cushing participated in Wednesday's OTA and he said he hasn't been this healthy in a long time, reports the Houston Chronicle.

"I'm the best physically I've been in a while," he said.

During the offseason, Cushing had surgery on his broken right wrist as well as arthroscopic procedures on his left knee and left ankle. He was able to play in 14 games in 2014 after only appearing in 13 games during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.


Broncos DE Shane Ray (toe) to miss OTAs this week
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(4:37 pm ET) A toe injury will prevent Broncos defensive end Shane Ray from participating in OTAs this week, reports 9News.com.

Coach Gary Kubiak said Ray will start participating in individual drills next week. The injury also prevented Ray from taking part in the team's rookie minicamp earlier in May. 


Report: Broncos TE Jeff Heuerman undergoes knee surgery
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(4:30 pm ET) Broncos tight end Jeff Heuerman underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, reports 9News.com.

He is expected to miss the entire 2015 season. Heuerman was drafted in the third round during the 2015 draft.


Cowboys RB Joseph Randle confident he can replace DeMarco Murray
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(4:19 pm ET) With last season's leading rusher no longer on the team, Cowboys running back Joseph Randle said he can replace the 1,845 rushing yards DeMarco Murray produced last season, reports The Dallas Morning News.

"He had a good year last year, and I got to sit back and watch a lot," Randle said, "and I felt like there was a lot of meat left on the bone."

Randle did get first-team reps during Wednesday's OTA session and he said he's ready to handle a heavy workload this season.

"I'm going to try to go out there and grind as hard as I can and see which role I end up in," Randle said. "If they ask me to do that, I'm ready for it. And if they believe in me, I believe in myself, that’s for sure."

Randle has been arrested twice in the last year, but he said he's learned from his mistakes.

"Everything you go through in life you learn from it and I learned from it and I've moved past it. I've grown up," Randle said. "I've made some young and silly mistakes, but I'm moving forward."


 
 
 
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