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2013 Draft Prep: Warning signs for Draft Day

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Here's a cold, dark reality you probably didn't expect to read in a Fantasy Football column: You're getting old. Whether you're a teenager, a twenty- or thirty-something or a member of the "over the hill" gang, you're getting older. You're even getting incrementally older as you read these very words.

But before you get depressed and do something foolish like quit Fantasy Football for more enriching life experiences, there's good news: You're not alone. Everyone gets older. Even football players.

Even Steven Jackson and Frank Gore.

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Age discrimination is strictly forbidden in the workplace but in Fantasy it's allowed. It's fine to not want a player on your team because he's old, but it might be bad for your win-loss record. That's because it's not age that dictates an eventual breakdown but rather the number of career carries and impactful injuries he's had. This theory is what we've come to lean on going into our eighth year of analyzing older running backs and figuring out when they're ripe for a sudden dropoff in production.

Previously it was assumed that once a running back hit 2,400 career carries that he was ripe for a decline. Significant injuries could accelerate that decline and the only two running backs in recent memory to really go against the grain were Emmitt Smith and Walter Payton. But last year we made a change to our formula to better fit the kind of wear-and-tear that backs are taking on in this day and age, and it includes their touches as a receiver out of the backfield.

The basic premise is to take a player's career carry total (including the playoffs but not the preseason) and add it to one-third of the player's career receptions total -- not all receptions end the same way as a carry and after talking with a number of retired running backs on the issue we decided this fraction was appropriate. All told, it creates what we call a "total evaluation number" to better judge just how worn down a guy has become. The higher the number, the closer he is to being a physical liability to his NFL team and, by extension, your Fantasy team. We've identified 2,100 as the warning number for running backs that haven't had a major injury and 1,900 for running backs that have had a major injury.

Here are the notable running backs getting near those totals, along with a handful of other running backs who are at least 30 years old and are not near the point of breaking down.

Carries Rec. Evaluation # Major injury Week 1 age
Ronnie Brown 1,245 239 1,324 31
Frank Gore 2,003 330 2,113 30
Fred Jackson 1,482* 209 1,551* 32
Steven Jackson 2,414 410 2,550   30
Willis McGahee 2,068 212 2,138 31
Darren Sproles 437 342 551 30
DeAngelo Williams 1,181 148 1,230   30

Steven Jackson & Frank Gore

It's at this point where we have to take a deep breath. Two long-standing Fantasy success stories are breakdown candidates according to our analysis, yet both are consensus Top 20 Fantasy running backs this summer. One of them is coming off a season where he helped his team get to the Super Bowl (and posted 321 carries in the process) while the other landed a three-year deal to help a team finally get into the Super Bowl (and has taken on at least 250 carries each of the last five seasons). Steven Jackson and Frank Gore might be too worn out to get excited about drafting and building a Fantasy team around, but they also offer some incredible potential.

Let's start with Gore, who doesn't seem to be showing any sign of slowing down after posting 4.7 yards per carry last season -- but did see his carries shrink a little bit. In 2010, before Jim Harbaugh's staff joined the Niners, Gore averaged 18.5 carries per game. That number dipped to 17.6 carries per game in 2011 when Harbaugh came to town before sliding to 16.1 carries per game in 2012. Yet his production remained fantastic -- he finished last season as the 11th-best Fantasy running back (standard scoring leagues) and posted double-digit Fantasy points in 11 of 16 games.

It all seems like Gore will continue to roll, but the reality is that we haven't seen Gore since he crossed over the 2,100 evaluation number in Super Bowl XLVII. There's no evidence of a decline just yet, but you can't help but think it's coming. If it's not a physical breakdown then it could be a matter of losing opportunities. We've seen his carries decline three straight seasons and we've already seen his receiving skills get shelved (46 catches in 2010; 45 catches in 2011 and 2012). We'll also see Gore split up the running back duties with two other backs: LaMichael James and Kendall Hunter. While neither one can replace Gore's physical style, both could cut further into his work. Gore had just three games with 18 or more carries when Hunter was aiding him; when Hunter got hurt in November the rushing roles were altered and Gore saw more carries (six of eight games with at least 18 carries) while James made a dent in Gore's receiving stats (nine catches total in those eight games). With Hunter and James expected to contribute, Gore's chances of staying healthy might increase, but his production could decrease.

Throw in his body of work and we're looking at a back who can't be counted on as anything more than a fair No. 2 option and can't be drafted until at least Round 4. Suffice to say, he's a risk.

On to Jackson, who doesn't have the young running backs swiping snaps away from him but does have a dangerously high evaluation number: 2,550. In fact, Jackson has enough career carries to qualify as a breakdown candidate based on our original theory with 2,414. But Atlanta doesn't seem to care, signing the veteran after nine seasons of wrecking away (or is that wasting away?) in St. Louis. Atlanta's plan for Jackson is to likely ride him much like they did Michael Turner back when Turner had a better second gear. In those days Turner topped 300 carries and had double digit touchdowns every year (including last year).

The difference could be that the Falcons lean on Jackson more as a receiver and utilize his receiving skills to supplement his role on handoffs and tosses. By doing that they can keep defenses guessing as to whether Matt Ryan will throw or not, a vital element given they were fairly predictable last season when Turner was in versus Jacquizz Rodgers. Turner wound up playing 42.6 percent of the Falcons' snaps while Rodgers worked 45.3 percent of the time, a trend sure to reverse itself this season with Jackson in the fold.

That is, assuming he's healthy. But that's where Jackson has some appeal: the guy is built like a linebacker. Every account, from people with the Falcons to people associated with Jackson to my own personal run-in with him at an airport last summer paints him being in exceptional shape. That has translated to the field as he's missed just two games in his last four seasons -- totaling 1,171 carries in that span -- the most of any four-year span in his career. No one should have any problem accepting Jackson as a professional running back with the chops akin to those who are in the Hall of Fame, potentially making him a candidate to be considered a "special back" like the ones mentioned earlier. He has no major history of injury and has even done a nice job managing his workload with the help of his coaches by trimming some carries over the last two seasons.

Now factor in his spot in Atlanta where he'll see a good amount of playing time in an offense that has enough passing threats to scare off any safety duo in the league. The days of rumbling against eight in the box are over for Jackson and provided he stays on the field he should fall into incredible numbers, including a nice bouquet of touchdowns (if Turner could get 10-plus per season with the Falcons, why can't Jackson?).

I'll stand by research and my analysis, but even I can't tell you that Steven Jackson is a bad, worn down, old Fantasy option -- even with the big, fat red flag next to his evaluation number. He's a risk worth taking this year. If I get a crack at Jackson after the 13th overall pick in drafts this summer, I'm taking him. I think you should too.

Going forward

Whether you draft Jackson or not, he'll prove to be a litmus test for the conundrum we'll have in 2014: Adrian Peterson will top the 2,100 evaluation mark. At least he should, anyway.

Peterson has the fourth-most carries of any active running back with 1,847. Do the math and he's 153 carries away from 2,000. With an evaluation number of 1,907 it won't take much for him to get flagged at the not-old age of 29 in 2014.

While you're probably reading this and thinking to yourself "there's no way I'm going to pass on Peterson this year or next year or the year after that" (and I'm thinking it as I type it, to be honest), it's still something to keep in mind. Eventually, Peterson will slow down, and he won't be the only one. Knowing when it might happen will save you a headache. Enjoy them for now because you'll have an increasingly difficult decision to make on him and others over the next few years.

Carries Rec. Evaluation # Major injury Week 1 age
Matt Forte 1,304 280 1,397   27
Chris Johnson 1,474 231 1,551   27
Maurice Jones-Drew 1,584 299 1,683 28
Marshawn Lynch 1,511 170 1,567   27
Adrian Peterson 1,847 181 1,907 28
Ray Rice 1,404 348 1,520   26

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 .

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Player News
Texans' O'Brien: WR DeAndre Hopkins can 'be one of the best'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:28 am ET) Texans head coach Bill O'Brien is very encouraged by the performance of wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins last season, per ESPN. O'Brien went as far as to say that Hopkins can be one of the best.

"He had a really productive year," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "The thing that we really like about Hop and that we want him to continue to do is his work ethic. He’s a hungry player. He works every single day. He came into the spring a year ago and he was learning the offense and thinking out there, then all of a sudden you could see all the work he put in and learning, he just took off."

Due to the departure of wide receiver Andre Johnson, the progression of Hopkins will be under the microscope as he is now the focal point of the passing offense.

"We just want to see him continue and progress," O'Brien said. "We think he can be one of the best, we think he is one of the best. We have a lot of confidence in him and we’re looking forward to seeing him progress when the offseason program starts."

In two years with the Texans, Hopkins has reeled in 128 receptions for 2012 yards and eight touchdowns.


Giants won't rush WR Victor Cruz back to the field
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(12:12 am ET) Although Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is hopeful that wide receiver Victor Cruz will be ready by training camp, the team will not rush him back, reports ESPN.

"I shouldn't say this, because medically I really don't have a definite answer, but by training camp hopefully, even if it's just to bring him," Coughlin said. "We're not going to just throw him to the wind. He'll work his way through. But I hope that would be the target."

Cruz tore his patellar tendon in week six of the 2014 season, causing him to miss the rest of the year. Coughlin is hopeful that he'll return to be the player that he was before the injury.

"I think he'll be the player that he was, and hopefully better," Coughlin said of Cruz. "But as far as when, I would be careful of what I would say there. Hopefully it's the first game. But if it isn't, you know we've done that one before. We just went through it. But I'm hoping it would be."

The former undrafted free agent has tallied 264 receptions for 3,963 yards and 24 touchdowns.


Lions QB Matthew Stafford to take more chances through the air
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was in new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi's system for the first time last season. The team plans on taking more chances down the field in Stafford's second season in the new offense, Lombardi said, according to the team's official website.

“In his second year (in the offense) he’s going to be that much more comfortable,” Lombardi said.

“We’ll be able to tailor the offense a little bit more to what he likes and what he’s good at. I thought he played smart football and sometimes to a fault. We’ll look for him to maybe take a few more chances this year with the football.”

Although Stafford didn't take many shots down the field, he did throw a career-low 12 interceptions in 2014. 

The former first overall draft pick has thrown for 21,714 yards with 131 touchdowns and 85 interceptions during his six-year career.


Colts OLB Robert Mathis plans to be ready for training camp
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis is not ready to run yet, he told Alex Marvez of SiriusXM NFL. Mathis added that he plans to be ready for the start of training camp.

“It’s not going as fast as I would like to, but we are getting well and we should be clicking in camp,” Mathis told Sirius.

Mathis was suspended for the first four games of last season due to violating the league's substance abuse policy. He then suffered a torn achilles, forcing him to miss all 16 games of the 2014 season.

During his 11-year career with the Colts, Mathis has collected 487 total tackles, 111.0 sacks, 15 passes defensed and 48 forced fumbles.


Lions TE Eric Ebron has been working out with Matthew Stafford
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Lions offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said that tight end Eric Ebron has been working out with quarterback Matthew Stafford in Atlanta this offseason, reports the Detroit News. Lombardi also said that the plan is to have Ebron be the No. 3 weapon in the passing game this year.

Ebron, 21, finished his rookie season with 25 catches for 248 yards and one touchdown. 


Cowboys' Tony Romo: DeMarco Murray asked me to take a pay cut
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Eagles running back DeMarco Murray was really hoping to remain with the Cowboys this offseason. So much so, he asked quarterback Tony Romo to take a pay cut to remain with the team, Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday, per the Dallas Morning News.

"DeMarco ended up asking me, 'Why don't you take a pay cut?' I said, 'I will. I would take a pay cut to go do this,'" Romo said. "I was like, 'They're going to restructure me.' That's the same thing in some ways, just for the salary cap purposes. He was like, 'OK, now we're back to being friends again.' I would take $5 million less if meant getting him back.

"He knew that. It was just funny how he was literally worried about that part of it for a week. I'm like, 'That's not the reason.' I'm like, 'Obviously I'll restructure. I would even take a pay cut.' He was like, 'OK, we can be friends again.' It's amazing what you think about in those moments."


Giants QB Eli Manning wants to take offense 'to another level'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Giants quarterback Eli Manning is entering the second year in offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system. Manning is ready to take the next step now that he is familiar with the system, reports the NY Daily News.

““This year will be a much easier transition, knowing that we have been through so much of it already,” said Manning, who recently had been working out at Ole Miss with some of their receivers and alumni. “It’s definitely a different starting point. I feel good about it. I feel that I have a good understanding of it.

“But there is still room to grow and that is why I try to keep it as fresh in my mind as possible. Looking at old game-plan sheets and calling plays in my head – throwing routes with receivers trying to call out plays to myself, so you don’t let it slip away. It was new last year and it wasn’t something I have been doing for 10 years, so you want to keep it fresh and go through your reminders and all your checks. So when we come back I haven’t taken a step backwards and have to re-learn things. It is still all there. There will be new stuff and we will be taking it to another level.”

Manning has started all 16 games in each season since 2005, throwing for 39,755 yards with 259 touchdowns and 185 interceptions.


Saints TE Josh Hill wants to grow into new role
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) After trading trading Jimmy Graham to the Seahawks, tight end Josh Hill is ready to step into his new role with the Saints, according to the team's offical website.

“I think it might open a few opportunities for me as I continue to grow in my role and just do everything they ask me to do,” Hill said when asked about the trade of Graham to the Seahawks.

Hill recognized that Graham helped him transition from college to the professional level.

“It’s a big difference, especially coming from a smaller school and a smaller city," Hill said. "He was always there for me. We became pretty good friends over the past few years so it will definitely be different without him.”

Head coach Sean Payton believes that Hill is ready to step up.

“Josh Hill is a player that we value a lot," Payton said last week at the NFL annual meeting. "He’s not on anyone’s fantasy first three rounds, I promise you, but he’s a real good tight end. He’s versatile in the running game, in the pass receiving game, a special teams player.”

Hill, heading into his third year in the NFL, has recorded 20 receptions for 220 yards and six touchdowns. 


Cowboys QB Tony Romo excited about this offseason
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is excited about what the offseason holds for him, according to ESPN.

“This is the first offseason where I’ve been able to kind of get after it this early and be able to kind of improve in a lot of different areas that I think you aren’t able to until you get healthy enough to attack it,” Romo said on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Tuesday. “I’m just excited about that, really.”

Romo, 34, is encouraged by the fact that he is able to do a lot of different things during the offseason process while working out.

“Now I’m able to do that while actually doing functional strength training through different versions of squats,” Romo said. “I’m not putting anything on my back and doing stuff like that but you are doing a lot of single-leg stuff and different things that I started getting into during the season that helped a lot. Now it’s nice to be able to do that in the offseason.”

Romo has thrown for 33,270 yards with 242 touchdowns and 110 interceptions in his 12-year career. 


WR Dwayne Bowe looks to revitalize himself with Browns
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/31/2015) Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe is looking to revitalize his career now that he has joined the Browns, reports ESPN. Bowe was cut by the Chiefs in the middle of March.

"I have a chance to revitalize myself," Bowe, 30, told ESPN.com via telephone Tuesday. "Just sit back and watch."

Browns general manager Ray Farmer has familiarity with Bowe from their time with the Chiefs. The two sat down and watched tape from the 2010 season when he racked up 15 touchdown receptions.

"Him knowing what I can do, seeing me in practice, making crazy plays, splitting the safeties, he knows I still can do that," Bowe said. "I couldn't showcase that last year. He was pulling up old plays, saying, 'We are going to use you just like that.' Moving around, going on motion, trying to hit the deep ball, trying to break plays."

The 30-year-old wideout appreciated his time with the Chiefs and he has no regrets.

"It's been up and down, but it's been fun," Bowe said. "I don't regret nothing. People can talk about the NFL and playing wide receiver -- I feel I still have a good four more years in me."

Over his eight-year career, he has totaled 532 receptions for 7,155 yards and 44 touchdowns.


 
 
 
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