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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
Report: Buccaneers bringing in Dan Connolly for a visit
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Former Patriots offensive guard Dan Connolly will visit the Buccaneers on Tuesday, per a report by Fox's Ross Jones, citing a source. 

Connolly has played in 87 games for the Patriots in the last seven years and hasn't played in fewer than 13 games in a season since 2008. 


Steelers RB DeAngelo WIlliams says signing was easy decision
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) After playing his first nine seasons with the Panthers, running back DeAngelo Williams signed a two-year, $4 million contract with the Steelers this offseason. Among his many thoughts on the signing, he called it an easy decision, according to the Sporting News.

“I didn’t know they wanted me. I had never been on a visit before,” Williams said. “I was with the same organization for nine years. When I got the call and they said, 'hey we want to bring you in for a visit' I took it as that. Had they said we wanted to bring you in for a signing I would have had a different mindset. I had no idea what was going to transpire when I got here.”

Williams added that he is willing to do whatever it takes to get the team to the next level.

“It’s the opportunity to take maybe one or two reps or whatever it takes to make this team better,” Williams said. “That is what I will do. I want to make it to a Super Bowl and win it. I know this team has that potential and they can do it.

“Coming here was an easy decision. This is a Super Bowl contending team. Every veteran out there, veteran or rookie, they want to go to the Super Bowl and win it and get the best opportunity. I think the best opportunity is here in Pittsburgh.”

Williams has rushed for 6,846 yards on 1,432 carries with 46 rushing touchdowns in his career.


Lions WR Golden Tate doesn't feel pressure due to loss of Suh
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Although Lions wide receiver Golden Tate feels the loss of Ndamukong Suh is a blow to the team, he doesn't believe it puts more pressure on the offense, reports ESPN. 

When asked specifically about the subject, Tate was clear about his thoughts.

"No, I don't think it adds any pressure," Tate said by phone Monday. "We just need to be who we are. We know that we have a lot of weapons all over the field. We just need to reach our potential each and every week.

"We just need to go out there and play fundamentally sound football and I have no doubt our defense is going to be really good again this year and we just got to do our jobs. There's no pressure on anyone but to be ourselves and to play good football."

Additionally, Tate recognizes that Suh was a game-changing player for the Lions, but he likes the addition of Haloti Ngata.

"Obviously, losing Suh is a big hit," Tate said. "I don't care what team you are, he's the guy that can change the game. Change an opposing offense's game plan. He affects the game so much. But with that being said, I'm thankful to have [had] the opportunity to play with him for a year and be a part of something special. But the show must go on.

"The guy we got, [Haloti] Ngata, is a heck of a player. I think it's a good pickup for us. I know he has a past with coach Caldwell so he knows the ins and outs of the system, probably. But we're ready to move forward. We can't live in the past and football season must still go on. We're preparing to have a great year and build from last year."

The 26-year-old stated that he plans on focusing on the intricacies of the offensive playbook heading into this season.

"One thing I really want to focus on is learning the playbook a little bit better," Tate said. "I felt like I knew it for the most part, but details, running the plays exactly how Joe Lombardi draws them up, could help us win more games and create more opportunities for myself and our team."

Tate finished his first season with the Lions catching 99 passes for 1,331 yards and four touchdowns.


Report: LB Rolando McClain ends Patriots' visit without contract
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) After visiting the Patriots on Monday, linebacker Rolando McClain and the team did not agree to terms on a contract, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. The same report states that the visit was a positive one.

McClain played in 13 games last season for the Cowboys, collecting 81 total tackles and one sack. Over his four-year career, the 25-year-old has accumulated 327 total tackles, 7.5 sacks, 23 passes defensed, three interceptions and two forced fumbles.


Cardinals S Tyrann Mathieu looks forward to being healthy
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu believes that he is regaining his health and he's ready to make an impact this season, according to the team's website.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been healthy,” Mathieu said Monday. “Last year I felt like I took a back seat. I played well my rookie year and then last year it was kind of, eh, I was there but I wasn’t there. This (year) is more important for me because I really want to let everyone know I’m back and I can still make some plays.”

Mathieu tore his ACL and LCL toward the end of the 2013 season. He recently said that the comeback was "way harder than I thought."

Head coach Bruce Arians talked about how Mathieu was not himself last season.

“You saw him fight through it last year,” Arians said. “He was not the player he was used to (being) and it was very frustrating for him.”

Mathieu was aware of the chatter from the outside world and he is using that as motivation going forward.

“You hear people talk and I had time to listen to them talk, so it’s like … I hear it,” Mathieu said. “Like I said, I didn’t feel like I made enough plays last year to help our team. I am looking forward to this year because I know I can do it.”

The 22-year-old has registered 106 total tackles, one sack, three interceptions and one forced fumble in 26 games played during his two-year career.


Saints plan to rework Jahri Evans, Cameron Jordan contracts
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Saints coach Sean Payton said that the team has a plan in place to rework guard Jahri Evans' contract to help create salary cap space, per ESPN's Mike Triplett

Evans is scheduled to make $6.8 million salary in 2015 and cost $11 million against the cap. 

The team might also extend defensive end Cameron Jordan's contract. Jordan is entering the last year of his contract and is scheduled to make $6.969 million this year.


Rams have agreed to terms with OL Tim Barnes
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) The Rams have agreed to terms with offensive lineman Tim Barnes, reports the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The one-year deal has a maximum value of $1 million. 

Barnes recently visited had a visit with the Chiefs before signing with the Rams. The 26-year-old spent all three of his previous seasons with the Rams, starting four of the 45 games he appeared in.


Report: Brandon Tate visits Chiefs
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Free agent wide receiver/kick returner Brandon Tate visited the Chiefs on Monday, according to a report from the NFL Network's Ian Rapoport, citing a source.

Tate had 17 catches for 193 yards and a touchdown for the Bengals last year. He also had a combined 571 yards in kick and punt returns. 


Lions' Riley Reiff open to playing right tackle
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Lions coach Jim Caldwell said that Riley Reiff might start at right tackle next season. 

Reiff has started 32 games at left tackle over the last two seasons. The Lions aren't sure that last year's right tackle LaAdrian Waddle will be fully recovered from knee surgery, and backup tackle Cornelius Lucas is better on the left side. 

Reiff told the Daily Republic he doesn't care where he plays. 

 "I like playing, and wherever they want to put me, that's fine. I'll play," he said.


Broncos OL Michael Schofield looking to compete for starting job
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/30/2015) Broncos offensive lineman Michael Schofield is ready to come in and compete for a starting job this season, reports the Denver Post.

After not dressing for a single game as a rookie, Schofield added weight and he looks forward to fighting for a starting job.

"I am going in there with that mentality. In the NFL everybody is competing," Schofield said during a road trip to see family in Illinois. "They are looking for someone to step up and take over. I want to make that jump."

The third-round draft pick of the Broncos in 2014 struggled with weight issues, but he is now up to 305 pounds. He also recognized that his pass protection needs improvement.

"Personally, I felt there were reasons I wasn't out there (for games). I wasn't consistent enough in pass pro (protection). And my weight was really fluctuating," Schofield said.

Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak believes that the team's zone-blocking scheme can help Schofield elevate his game, and Schofield agrees.

"We like the Schofield kid, so we'll see. We think he's got some flexibility (in where he can play)," Kubiak said. "It will be very competitive."

"I feel like I am better suited for this," Schofield said. "You have to be able to reach block, and I feel the steps required fit me better."


 
 
 
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