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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
Titans' Lewan says QB Mettenberger still views himself as starter
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(5/4/2015) Even though the Titans drafted quarterback Marcus Mariota with the second-overall pick, tackle Taylor Lewan said that QB Zach Mettenberger, who started six games last season as a rookie, still regards himself as the starter, reports the Tennessean.com.

"That is the mentality that Zach has. He thinks of himself as a starter, and the guys in the locker room do also," Lewan said. "I don't think he is going to give it up easily,"
Lewan was the Titans' first-round pick in last year's draft.

Browns' Pettine: Josh McCown favorite to enter camp as starter
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) Browns coach Mike Pettine said in a radio interview Monday that it's "fair to say" that Josh McCown will enter camp as the team's starting quarterback, the Northeast Ohio Media Group reports.

Pettine had said in April that he wasn't ready to name McCown the likely starter for anything, but after the Browns came out of draft weekend without a new quarterback on the roster, it appears the former Buccaneers starter is in line to open camp atop the depth chart at the position.

McCown started 11 games with the Buccaneers last season, completing 56.3 percent of his passes while throwing 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.


Bengals' Tyler Eifert (shoulder) on track for start of camp
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert is on target to participate from the start of training camp, Bengals.com reports.

Eifert tore his labrum last offseason and dislocated his elbow in the first quarter of his first regular-season game. Rather than return late in the year, he and the team opted for season-ending shoulder surgery. The tight end said that his elbow has been cleared and he's waiting to receive clearance on his shoulder in a few weeks.

"I tried to play through the year. Once I had elbow surgery and I wasn’t going to come back, then I just got the shoulder done," Eifert said. "That’s why I’m excited now because I’m feeling strong, feeling upbeat. I’m not in any pain. It feels good."


49ers' Justin Smith to announce retirement decision in May
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) 49ers defensive end Justin Smith plans to sit down with team officials in May and decide whether he'll return for one more season, the Sacramento Bee reports.

"You'll know in about three weeks or so," Smith said Monday.

Smith wouldn't say which way he was leaning. He indicated that the the team's decision to draft a defensive lineman in the first round of the draft did not signal his impending retirement.

"We gave Justin liberty to make his own decision on his time frame," Baalke said after selecting Arik Armstead Thursday. "We went into the draft not thinking about what decision Justin’s going to make or not going to make. We just went in to find the best football player, the best system fit that we could."


Texans agree to four-year extension with LB Whitney Mercilus
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) The Texans have agreed to a four-year contract extension with linebacker Whitney Mercilus, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Mercilus will receive $26 million under the terms of the deal, which will keep in Houston until 2019, ESPN reports. He has missed just one game in his first three years with the Texans, racking up 122 total tackles and 18 sacks while forcing four fumbles.


Titans tailoring offense to Marcus Mariota's strengths
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) Titans general manager Ruston Webster reiterated Monday that coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff have begun tailoring the offense to fit the strengths of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, NFL.com reports.

"Our coaches have been working on a plan for quite some time now for Marcus," Webster said. "Really to adapting our offense to his skill set -- he has a special skill set. There's really not much he can't do from physical standpoint and he's very bright. That combination is going to allow him to do his own adapting to the NFL game but our coaches have worked very hard on coming up with a system within our system for Marcus. I think it will work well."

The Titans believe that Mariota will work fine under center and reading defenses despite not being asked to do so while playing at Oregon.


Cardinals' Carson Palmer (knee) participates in drills Monday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (knee) worked out Monday, participating with the first-team offense in all drills, NFL.com reports.

Though the action wasn't close to replicating game-like conditions, the quarterback said he received a big mental boost by joining his team after missing the last eight games of the season due to a torn ACL.

"You want all your guys out there," Palmer said. "I know I want my five starting linemen and my two starting receivers. You don’t ever want to see guys on the sidelines. Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to do everything once OTAs start, but I’ll be able to do just about everything. It’s important (to participate) because I enjoy it. I can’t wait for tomorrow and I can’t wait for every day."

Palmer said the injury forces him to "start over from scratch" mechanically, as he works to regain the footwork and balance needed to be successful in the pocket.

“All those little things that still go through my head every couple reps, I’m fighting to get to the point where you just don’t think about that anymore,” Palmer said. “It just becomes natural. Just ingraining all those small mechanical movements is something that takes repetition after repetition.”


49ers GM says LB Aldon Smith developing as leader for team
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(5/4/2015) 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said that linebacker Aldon Smith has started to develop as a leader on the field and that he has a “a great look in his eye,” the team has reported.

"It’s a role I’m comfortable with,” Smith said. “I’m kind of one of the older guys on the team now. I’m one of the guys who has been here for a while, so I’m helping out people who need help with anything, whether that’s knowing where to go down here or football questions.”

Smith served a nine-game suspension during the 2014 season for violating the league's policies on personal conduct and substance abuse.

49ers place Chris Borland on reserve/retired list
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) The 49ers placed linebacker Chris Borland on the reserve/retired list Monday, CSNBayArea.com reports.

The move is a formality, as Borland announced his decision to retire in mid-March. The move clears $109.359 in immediate cap space. The 49ers didn't address the inside-linebacker position in this year's draft despite the retirements of Borland and Patrick Willis.


49ers waive/injured Chase Thomas
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) The 49ers have waived/injured linebacker Chase Thomas, the team announced Monday.

Thomas made two special-teams tackles in five games played with the 49ers last season. He tore an ACL while working out earlier in the offseason and will presumably miss the entire 2015 season.


 
 
 
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