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Fantasy & Reality: A potential first round for 2013

Senior Fantasy Writer
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If you made the Fantasy playoffs, I'm happy for you. It's an accomplishment to make the postseason and over the course of the next four weeks we'll have plenty of stuff to help you dominate en route to a championship.

But this column isn't for you. Well, it is and it isn't. It's really for the people who fought hard and still fell short of the Fantasy postseason, but it applies to every living and breathing human who loves Fantasy Football as much as I do. It's especially for those poor souls with no lineup to set or Fantasy box score to sweat until next fall.

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It's time to turn the page and look at 2013. Yes, already.

There will be time to hash over a full Top 200 rankings list and positional boards and get into the details of every single player you'll consider on Draft Day, but here's my initial look at my Top 12 players -- a first-round mock -- for next year's standard Fantasy drafts.

1. Arian Foster, RB, Texans
It's a very close call between Foster and AP for the top spot, but Foster's legs are younger and his schedule is expected to be easier, so he gets the nod. Though he's had just four 20-plus point Fantasy games so far this year, he's also fallen below 15 points only three times (AP has had twice as many). He'll also have over 300 carries for the second time in three years in 2012 but he's still got enough gas in the tank and tread on the tire to be highly used and effective in the Houston offense. If the Texans opt to trade Ben Tate this offseason it would only help Foster's cause.

2. Adrian Peterson, RB, Vikings
No one should argue Peterson or Foster as a Top 2 pick in 2013. AP's play this year has been mostly spectacular and after 12 games actually has more Fantasy points than any non-quarterback (one more point than Foster). He'll be 28 years old next year and rolling behind an offensive line that has been very good this year and will only get better next year. Expect the Vikings to upgrade their passing game in an attempt to give Peterson fewer seven- and eight-in-the-box defensive looks from opponents.

3. Trent Richardson, RB, Browns
I can't remember the last time I drafted a Browns player with a first-round pick but I can't wait to do it next season. Richardson had to knock off rust in Week 1 this year and then came back with 15 or more Fantasy points in six of his next 11 games. Though there were some single-digit outings mixed in (injuries played a role in Weeks 6 and 7 especially) Richardson has flashed enough to prove himself as one of the most versatile running backs in the NFL. The guy has four catches in seven of 12 games this year and has eight total scores through this point. Though his rushing average is a nightmarish 3.6 yards per carry, it serves as an area of focus for him to improve upon during the offseason. The Browns' offensive line should get better, the passing game should prove to be more of a threat and there's already some concern that the Ravens and Steelers' run defenses could struggle to be dominant.

4. Ray Rice, RB, Ravens
When you think about elite running backs, you tend to aim for talented speedsters who hog reps and can be effective out of the backfield as a receiver. That's been Rice for years and it keeps him as a mainstay in Fantasy. While he hasn't quite reached the expectations Fantasy owners had for him this year he still ranks as one of the best options at the position. Some concerns about who will call the plays in the Ravens offense along with just how much work he'll get compared to previous years (he's on pace for just 264 carries this season) could send his stock a smidge south, but he's still a fine first-round pick.

5. Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers
I had a hard time keeping Martin behind Rice and even debated him leap-frogging Richardson. What kept him from doing so? Eighty-three of the 196 Fantasy points he's produced this year came in two games: at Minnesota in Week 8 and at Oakland in Week 9. Those were Martin's only two games with 20 or more Fantasy points to date. Two more games were 17 and 18 point efforts -- everything else has been good for 13 points or fewer. I still expect Martin to have several 100-total-yard, one-touchdown games next year, especially once his offensive line gets back up to full strength. With his second year in the offense and a run-heavy mandate still to come from coach Greg Schiano, there are a lot of reasons to really like Martin, maybe even more than Rice.

6. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seahawks
Solid, not spectacular. The Seahawks offense should remain the same with Russell Wilson leading the charge, and as a result Lynch should contend for a touchdown and plenty of yardage most every week. I came into the season suggesting that every time Lynch has been the primary back, he's been effective. Entering his age-27 season, Lynch should maintain his standing in Fantasy. The only element to Lynch's offseason that could put a thorn in our side is if he can't shake the DUI charge he had from July. If he can't beat the case he'll probably get suspended and he'll be a Round 2 target. But if he can get past that, and his lawyer claims he will, then Lynch is in line for what could be a huge 2013.

7. Jamaal Charles, RB, Chiefs
This one comes with a major caveat: It must be proven that the new Chiefs head coach in 2013 buys into Charles as a 20-touch back. His track record over just the last four weeks has proven that Charles can shoulder a heavy workload and contend for over 100 total yards with a touchdown nearly every week. He needs to be promised that work and not get it taken from him like earlier this year. That's key. Peyton Hillis probably won't be in the picture in Kansas City and the offensive line will get a facelift. Throw in what should be a fairly good schedule thanks to their clunky finish and Charles could be off to the races.

8. LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles
Normally when it comes to first-round picks you want someone who's "safe." A running back expected to change playbooks and come back from a significant concussion isn't normally what you want here. But if the Eagles transition to a new offense with a new quarterback it only makes sense to lean on the ground game, which McCoy will be a big part of. Might he share with someone like Bryce Brown? Sure -- Brown averaged three carries per game in the Eagles' first nine matchups and will be due for more if he's not traded. But if the Eagles change as planned they could become more run-centric and that would favor both backs. While McCoy wasn't excellent when he was active this season, at the very least he delivered double-digit Fantasy points in all but two of the 10 games he played in this season. That consistency makes lineup setting with McCoy a no-brainer. And this was my selling point: If this was a bad year for McCoy, he did so averaging 98.5 total yards over 10 games with five touchdowns. That projects to over 1,500 total yards and eight touchdowns in a "down" year. That's OK by me.

9. Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions
Again, I'm looking for a safe first-round pick. I don't really love taking a receiver in the first round of a standard-scoring draft but I'm fine with a guy who will post consecutive 1,500-yard seasons with plenty of touchdowns. I'm also counting on the Lions fine-tuning their offense this summer by improving Matthew Stafford's pass protection and adding yet another receiver to help steer coverage away from him. If there's a running back who looks like a safe bet for 1,500 yards and around eight total touchdowns I'll take him over Calvin, but as of now I just don't see one. That makes Johnson my pick. The best news is that by taking Megatron here, I'm still guaranteed a stud quarterback or running back in Round 2.

10. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans
Expect a massive overhaul of the Tennessee offense this offseason, beginning with a change at coordinator (if not a change at head coach). We're taking a leap of faith here, similar to the one with Jamaal Charles, that Johnson will get a slew of carries and get lots of opportunities as a rusher and as a receiver. The positive to CJ1k is that he proved this year that he can still play well, even in the face of a tough opponent. I don't love committing a first-round pick to Johnson but at least I know I can come back in Round 2 and still find a rock-solid quarterback or receiver, if not another quality rusher. That's always the beauty of picking late in Round 1.

11. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jaguars(?)
I had a real hard time at this spot. I like that MJD will be 28 next year, in a contract year (if he stays under his current deal, which may not happen if the Jaguars deal him) and managed to skate by in 2012 with only 100 total touches. Sure the foot injury is a concern, but I bet he proves next spring and summer that it's a non-factor thanks to his diligent offseason training routine. The only reason why he slipped in drafts back in August was because of a nasty holdout that seems unlikely to repeat itself (and keep in mind MJD reported to Jacksonville and played mostly well in Week 1). He still averaged 4.8 yards per carry this year and at least 4.2 yards per carry every year of his career. He shouldn't slow down.

12. Stevan Ridley, RB, Patriots
Bill Belichick has been known to change running backs frequently, but we've seen a pretty solid commitment to Ridley this season and it's worth trusting in him as the battering ram in the Patriots' potent offense. Belichick has no reason to make a change after Ridley has done well through 225 carries over 12 weeks. The system is unlikely to change and the key players, save for Wes Welker, are unlikely to change. That suggests Ridley will still see the safeties play back against him and open the door for him to maintain a good rushing clip (he's been at 4.5 yards per carry so far) while hogging goal-line touchdowns (nine in 12 games). The lack of receptions is a bummer but you'll forget about that when you see him getting goal-line chances week after week.

2012 first-rounders moving down the board in 2013

Quarterbacks: Round 2
DeMarco Murray, RB, Cowboys: Round 3
Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders: Round 3-4

12 Round 2 candidates

Drew Brees, QB, Saints
Robert Griffin III, QB, Redskins
C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills
Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
Tom Brady, QB, Patriots
Rob Gronkowski, TE, Patriots
Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins
Demaryius Thomas, WR, Broncos
Brandon Marshall, WR, Bears
Matt Forte, RB, Bears
Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons

Some things to think about

• You'll notice that there isn't a first-round quarterback. Yeah, if you took a quarterback in Round 1 he probably worked out for you but it worked out better for the owners who waited a little bit (or a lot) and snagged Matt Ryan (drafted on average at 32.5 overall), Peyton Manning (49.1), Robert Griffin III (83.1), Andrew Luck (102.3) or Andy Dalton (133.5). With a deluge of quarterback talent, why burn an early pick on one if you don't have to?

That being the case, expect owners to crack in Round 2 and start taking quarterbacks like crazy. That's fine. As of now I have Drew Brees and RG3 as my top quarterbacks for 2013 but there probably won't be much of a case against Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Matt Ryan. They might slip into Round 3.

• Rob Gronkowski will be a hot-button Fantasy pick. Some will suggest he's a must-draft in Round 1 because of how dominant he is at his position. That's fine. I'd rather wait for Jimmy Graham knowing he's less likely to go in Round 1. I still view both as dominant players at their position. I only wish there was a third choice but since there isn't, owners should be prepared to rehash my "You Reach, You Lose" strategy for tight ends if they don't pick up Gronk or Graham by the 30th overall pick.

• Don't expect a lot of rookies to push toward the top of Fantasy drafts in 2013 like two did in 2012. You should feel vindicated if you took Richardson or Martin back over the summer. The closest candidate to getting some early/middle-round love in drafts is Eddie Lacy from Alabama. He's a lot like Richardson but might not be quite as good, but there will be hype around him and other rookies. I don't expect many Fantasy options to get taken in the first round of the NFL Draft.

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
Patriots' running back situation mostly clear
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:22 pm ET) Forget about Brandon Bolden. The Patriots' use of him against the Jets in Week 7 -- he played only one snap -- pretty much tells the story there. Granted, they've had their share of about-faces at the running back spot over the last few years, so I wouldn't dare claim to know what they're thinking, but if they've decided their next-best choice at the position is Jonas Gray, who at least saw the field for 11 plays Thursday, it's pretty clear what direction they intend to go, right?

With that in mind, I cautiously, carefully and with a preemptive tinge of regret plan to start Shane Vereen Week 8 against Chicago and hopefully every week thereafter. Yes, he played 80 percent of the snaps in Week 7, and yes, he scored two touchdowns. But you'll notice both of them came through the air. True, he also got more than two-thirds of the Patriots' carries, but I can't help but wonder if in a different matchup, one that encouraged them to pound the ball instead of rushing just 15 times as a team, they would have been more creative. That would work to Vereen's detriment, obviously.

For more of my biggest takeaways from Week 7, be sure to check out my latest post to the Fantasy Football Today blog.


Darren McFadden still carries limited value
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(2:16 pm ET) Raiders running back Darren McFadden has fallen on such hard times that even a three-week span with one double-digit Fantasy performance counts as a career renaissance. Does he have another level he can take his game to?

McFadden ranks 29th among running backs in Fantasy points over his last three games, but has just 25 Fantasy points. This might be more indicative of just how bad the position has been recently, as he isn't exactly lighting the world on fire. McFadden has topped 4.0 yards per carry just once this season, and has registered one or more Fantasy points through the air in just two games.

McFadden gets work, which will always make him an interesting Fantasy option, no matter how mediocre he is. Still, there are higher upside options out there than McFadden, who also carries the constant risk of injury. As a third Fantasy running back, McFadden is fine, but he doesn't have much more value than that at this point.  


Dolphins RB Lamar Miller wearing brace on right knee
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:14 pm ET) Dolphins running back Lamar Miller practiced Tuesday wearing a brace on his right knee, reports the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Miller has been on the injury report lately with a knee injury, but it's not believed to be serious. He has not missed a game.

Martavis Bryant a threat to Markus Wheaton
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:11 pm ET) Wide receiver Markus Wheaton didn't impress through the first six weeks of the season, so the Steelers saw fit to give someone else a chance Week 7 against Houston. Active for the first time this season, Martavis Bryant had as productive a day as any pass catcher not named Antonio Brown or Le'Veon Bell, hauling in two passes for 40 yards, including a 35-yarder in the back of the end zone for a touchdown. His five targets were third-most on the team, and no one after him had more than two.

That includes Wheaton, who was among those with two targets, going without a catch. He actually played 48 percent of the Steelers' snaps compared to Bryant's 34 percent, which makes his lack of production even more discouraging. Considering he's been up around 80 percent most of the year, he may be in danger of being overtaken.

Of course, Wheaton probably wouldn't disappear completely, and because Antonio Brown is still the go-to guy in the Steelers passing game, Bryant probably wouldn't have the opportunity for big numbers in his place. But in leagues deep enough that Wheaton is relevant, Bryant is now, too.


Bills put C.J. Spiller on short-term IR
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(2:10 pm ET) The Bills placed running back C.J. Spiller on injured reserve/designated for return, meaning he's eligible to return Week 16 at Oakland. Spiller had surgery Monday to fix the broken collarbone he suffered Sunday against the Vikings.

Outlook for Le'Veon Bell continues to improve
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:51 pm ET) Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell averaged 4.7 receptions per game through his first six games, but because he was involved in the passing game only intermittently as a rookie, you had reason to wonder if you could rely on him for that long-term.

But then he went and caught eight passes for 88 yards and a touchdown against the Texans in Week 7, putting him second among all running backs with 36 receptions, behind only Matt Forte (who remains in a class of his own). In PPR leagues, he's also third among running backs, behind Forte and DeMarco Murray, in Fantasy points to date.

Even better, his touchdown came from the 2-yard line -- a situation where the Steelers may have gone to LeGarrette Blount earlier in the season. Only one of Blount's seven carries even came in Texans' territory in this one.

Bell's touchdown total seven weeks into the season may be disappointing, but in terms of his receiving ability and role on offense, the verdict is in. If we were re-drafting today, he might be one of the first five running backs off the board.


49ers add QB Josh Johnson, cut S Raymond Ventrone
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:37 pm ET) The 49ers re-signed quarterback Josh Johnson and released safety Raymond Ventrone.

Travaris Cadet's role about to change
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(1:29 pm ET) With Pierre Thomas expected to miss a healthy chunk of time with a shoulder injury, Travaris Cadet is now the main receiving option out of the Saints backfield, and that should mean good things for the third-year man out of Appalachian State.

Cadet was already fifth on the team in targets through six games, and the absence of Thomas is only going to increase his workload. The two are averaging 8.3 targets out fo the backfield between them, and with Khiry Robinson and Mark Ingram more traditional backs, the majority of those looks should go Cadet's way.

Cadet has already shown he can be a useful receiver in a growing role recently, with 15 receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown over the last three games. The Saints have always featured running backs in the passing game prominently, and now it is Cadet's turn. In PPR leagues, he should make for a solid starting option moving forward, with 29 Fantasy points over the last three weeks already. 


When DeAndre Hopkins is targeted, good things happen
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:25 pm ET) In Week 7 at Pittsburgh, Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins was on equal terms with Andre Johnson for once, tying for the team lead with nine targets. It was the first time he got as many targets as Johnson in a game this season, and just as encouraging, it came only a week after getting a season-low two targets.

Hopkins led the Texans with 108 yards on six catches. Despite the disparity in targets, it wasn't the first time he went for more yards than Johnson, but the third. The first came in his only other nine-target game Week 3 at the Giants, when he had 116 yards on six catches.

Hopkins may not get the targets you'd like for a wide receiver to get in Fantasy, but he's efficient with what he gets, meaning when he gets a decent number of targets, like in Weeks 3 and 7, he's almost assured big numbers. With Johnson still the go-to guy for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, though, Hopkins also has the potential to underwhelm any given week.

He's best used as a No. 3 wide receiver in Fantasy, making him a bye-week replacement in some leagues. But if Johnson ever goes down, as he has done all too often in his career, watch out.


Eagles LB Mychal Kendricks practices Tuesday
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:21 pm ET) Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks, who's missed four straight games with a calf injury, practiced Tuesday and appears on track to return Sunday at Arizona. Kendricks had 13 tackles and a sack in the first two games.

 
 
 
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