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Fantasy & Reality: Offensive observations

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It feels like we're right back to square one with Tom Brady and his receiving corps.

No Shane Vereen (wrist) for a long time, no Rob Gronkowski (forearm, back) until maybe Week 3, presumably no Danny Amendola (groin) for at least one game and even Zach Sudfeld (hamstring) could find himself on the bench.

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It might only be for a week, but Brady is left with a near-empty cupboard. Available to throw to are rookies Kenbrell Thompkins, Josh Boyce and Aaron Dobson, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui and veterans Matthew Slater and Julian Edelman, who looked awesome in Week 1 but has a bad track record of foot injuries (he was in a walking boot as recently four months ago). The running back corps is down to veteran third-down back Leon Washington and a group of bigger backs not known for their receiving skills, including Stevan Ridley.

The Patriots have always been good at using what they have to stay competitive in games, and it's in that spirit that Ridley's Fantasy owners should keep calm and carry on even in the face of his benching for fumbling last week (the turnover led to a Bills touchdown). If the Patriots are going to lean on their playmakers then Ridley is going to get work, even after fumbling.

Ridley's been taken out of games before for fumbling but the punishment never lasted too long. In both 2012 games he lost fumbles in he came back the following week and had just about his normal slate of work -- 17 carries on average. The stats that came with them weren't great but game circumstances played a role in that.

Now the Patriots need him badly. A sensible person would bet Ridley starts and sees a lot of work against the Jets on Thursday now that the biggest threat to his touches -- Vereen -- is sidelined. Plus, with the game being on a short week and Ridley only getting nine touches before hitting the pine, one would argue he's the most rested Patriot starter. We'll get an idea of how the Pats will use their backs until Vereen comes back beginning this week.

What about Edelman, the waiver-wire darling following his two-score game at Buffalo? He's also worth starting in Fantasy. Of all the receivers left for Brady to throw to, he's the one he likely trusts the most. Edelman and Brady have been teammates since 2009 and have hooked up for touchdowns long before this past weekend. Edelman was even locked into a big role this past weekend -- he lined up for 47 plays with Amendola at Buffalo and was on the field for 31 snaps without Amendola including just four when Amendola left with a groin injury. Edelman's worth rolling with.

Thompkins is your other sure-fire receiver. He struggled in his debut but the targets say a lot: 14 total, including three deep pass attempts (20-plus yards) and two passes into the end zone. Those targets aren't going to go away if other key Patriots receiving threats are sidelined. This is a big week for Thompkins; a preseason's worth of playing time with Brady along with more snaps played in Week 1 than any other receiver (87) should give him enough work to finally flourish.

As for the matchup ahead, I wouldn't worry about the Jets pass rush rattling Brady or Antonio Cromartie lining up on a specific receiver all game long. The Jets flipped him from side to side last week and if that continues the Patriots will adjust by moving their receivers around. Brady himself threw five touchdowns and zero interceptions against the Jets last year with at least 22 Fantasy points per game. He'll be fine.

Last point: The Patriots' next four games after Week 2 come against the Buccaneers, Falcons, Bengals and Saints. They'll need those offensive weapons back then or else their record will have some serious blemishes.

Chipping away at the Eagles

When I was younger, before a wife and kids, I spent a lot of my spare time playing Madden. And I was pretty darn good at it. One year I figured out how to consistently tear apart the All-Pro level by memorizing three separate audibles and calling one additional play, then running the no-huddle using just those four plays. I'd go undefeated en route to the Super Bowl in franchise mode just by out-hustling the defense game after game.

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I was reminded of this when I watched the fast break Eagles offense on Monday at the Redskins. The Eagles have ditched the huddle and use signals from the sideline in part to call in plays immediately after the last play has been run. The offense keeps the defense on its heels and uses simple philosophies to pick up gobs of yardage in a hurry. It's fun to watch.

But my video-game team is fictional. The Eagles are real. These guys can't be counted on to hold up week after week like this. LeSean McCoy had a personal-best 31 carries but needed attention from the trainers during the second half. Michael Vick totaled three touchdowns but was gimpy by the fourth quarter -- not the best news for a guy known for getting hurt. Again, this is the first game of the season.

And while the players might wear down, defenses will catch up with what Chip Kelly's doing. Just consider the two halves for the Eagles: They ran 51 plays in the first half, totaling 341 yards and 26 points. In the second half they ran just 23 plays, totaled 125 yards and scored seven points. The Redskins adjusted to the scheme by hitting Vick repeatedly and being more physical defensively while taking their time offensively -- Washington owned the clock by more than five minutes in the second half.

What it means to me is that the players involved are among the most high-risk, high-reward in Fantasy Football history. It'll be this way until Kelly makes some changes to limit his players' exposure to big hits. DeSean Jackson might be little but he is a good start so long as Vick is the one throwing to him. McCoy is a no-brainer No. 1 Fantasy running back but the second he gets worn down too much the offense is in trouble -- Bryce Brown had a weak camp and couldn't accelerate to the edge against the Redskins. Chris Polk isn't exactly a burner. And as for Vick ... I mean, use him so long as he is upright, but it's a game of hot potato. You just don't know which week he'll end up needing help getting up off the turf. And sorry, I can't see this offense being as electric with Nick Foles under center.

The good news is that not many people drafted Vick without taking another quarterback. That's the way it should be -- no one should carry Vick without another good option. The outlook for McCoy isn't nearly as simple because the handcuff for him isn't very good. I own McCoy in several leagues and am aiming to carry a number of capable runners from other teams for the possible moment when McCoy doesn't suit up for a game.

Thinking more short-term, the Eagles host the Chargers this week in what should be an outstanding matchup. The Bolts are making a cross-country trip fresh off a heartbreaking loss against the Texans -- Houston dominated them offensively.

This is a good week to reap the rewards of Kelly's offense but things get ugly in a hurry. The Eagles are at home on a short week against a very good Chiefs defense next Thursday before playing three straight on the road at Denver, at the Giants and at Tampa Bay. Then Dallas gets a crack at them. That's quite a gauntlet. I'm not in the injury predicting business but I'll be surprised if Vick's name doesn't start popping up on the injury report.

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
Redskins pick up QB Robert Griffin III's fifth-year option
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(12:03 pm ET) Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan announced Monday that the team will pick up quarterback Robert Griffin III's fifth-year option for the 2016 season, a move worth $16.155 million, per The Washington Post

The Redskins have already announced that Griffin will be the starter this season, and locking him up would not affect the team's plans, if they have any, to draft a quarterback. NFL Media insider Albert Breer said the team views the option as a franchise tag of sorts. 

The risk comes in that if Griffin is hurt during this season, the Redskins would be on the hook to pay the full $16 million. If Griffin does not perform well in 2015, the Redskins could release the quarterback without taking a salary-cap hit. 

Griffin threw for 1,694 yards and four touchdowns with six interceptions last season.


Steelers WR Antonio Brown arrives at team facility
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(10:52 am ET) Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, who was noticably absent during the first few days of the team's offseason workout program, was back in camp on Monday, the team reported. 

Speculation bloomed that Brown was dissatisfied with his contract, which is scheduled to pay him $6 million this season, but Brown wrote on Twitter that he was spending time with his newborn child and would be back soon. 

The receiver racked up 1,815 yards and 138 catches for the Steelers last season.


Joe Flacco: Ravens don't need to draft wide receiver
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(10:35 am ET) When your Super Bowl quarterback doesn't believe his team needs to draft a wide receiver, then perhaps it doesn't.

Joe Flacco feels the Ravens are well-stocked in that area despite having lost Torrey Smith to free agency. They still boast Steve Smith, Marlon Brown, Kamar Aiken, Michael Campanero and Jeremy Butler, but are expected to seriously considering adding a wideout as early as the first round.

"Obviously, without Torrey now, the one thing we probably don't have as much of is that speed, is that one guy who can stretch the field," Flacco told ESPN. "But I'm not going to say we need it. I think we got really good guys and I think we're good with who we have."


Report: Cowboys out of running for Adrian Peterson; Cardinals still alive
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:28 am ET) The Cowboys, once considered the frontrunners to trade for Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, are now out of the running, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport, who added that only the Cardinals are serious contenders.

The claim is that a deal for Peterson must be made by Friday or Peterson will stay with Minnesota. That will be contingent on Arizona's ability or inability to identify its future featured back. Peterson could bring the Vikings a second-round pick.


Colts sign ILB Jerrell Freeman to qualifying offer
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(10:16 am ET) Linebacker Jerrell Freeman has signed his one-year qualifying offer for a reported $2.35 million and will remain with the Colts for a fourth season, the team website has reported. He had been a restricted free agent.

The three-year starter led Indianapolis in tackles in 2012 and 2013 before losing four games to a hamstring injury last year. He still finished with 95 tackles and 1 1/2 sacks.


Cardinals' Larry Foote '50-50' on playing in 2015
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/26/2015) Though Larry Foote is on the Cardinals' coaching staff at the moment, he hasn't ruled out a potential return to the team

Speaking to the team's website, Foote said he's "50-50" about playing in 2015. He talked about the factors that could play into whether or not he returns to playing. 

“Draft, what happens with (suspended linebacker) Darryl Washington, stuff like that, how my knee feels (after offseason surgery),” Foote said. “I’ll sit down with (Bruce Arians) and the next couple of months are really going to be the deciding factor.”

If Foote doesn't play, he'll be the linebackers coach for Arizona's upcoming season. He's been adjusting to the role of being a coach this offseason. 

“I am starting to like coaching,” Foote said. “It’s a little tough in the office, eating M&Ms, snacking all day, drinking coffee. I started my diet a couple days ago.”


Panthers pick up option on Luke Kuechly contract
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/25/2015) What was promised by general manager Dave Gettleman is now official - the Panthers have picked up the fifth-year option on the rookie contract of standout linebacker Luke Kuechly, per the team website.

The two-time Pro Bowler has led the NFL in tackles in two of his three seasons and was named NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. He has racked up 473 tackles since 2012, the most in the NFL.


Ravens TE Dennis Pitta hopeful for 2015 return
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(4/25/2015) Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta hopes to take the field in time for the 2015 season, but admits it's too early to determine if that goal can become a reality.

Pitta has undergone surgeries to repair a fractured and dislocated hip in each of the last two years.

"We still have some time to be able to assess where I'm at," Pitta told the Baltimore Sun. "I sure hope that I'll be on the field next year. That's my hope; that's my goal. We'll just see if I can get there."

Pitta has played in just seven games in the last two seasons combined.


Mark Sanchez: Eagles said Tim Tebow was just a camp arm
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4/25/2015) Eagles quarterback Mark Sanchez said he wasn't concerned that the team signed Tim Tebow, because the Eagles told him Tebow was just there to throw in camp.

"We needed another guy to throw while Sam's (Bradford) still recovering. So that's the reason (for the signing), at least as explained to me," Sanchez said, per CSN Philadelphia

The Eagles signed Tebow on Monday. He hasn't played in the NFL since getting cut by the Patriots at the end of training camp prior to the 2013 season. He spent last year as a television analyst for the SEC Network. 

Tebow and Sanchez were teammates on the Jets in 2012. Tebow's presence as a back-up created a quarterback controversy among fans and media that last ed throughout the season. 


Vikings CB Terence Newman has familiarity with Mike Zimmer
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/24/2015) Vikings cornerback Terence Newman won't have a steep learning curve now that he's with his new team. 

Newman played under Vikings coach Mike Zimmer when he was the defensive coordinator with the Cowboys. Drafted in 2003, Newman learned Zimmer's defense from his rookie season through 2006, before Zimmer left to take the same position with the Falcons. 

“I just know exactly what to expect from him as a coach, as well as everybody else in this locker room,” Newman told the Vikings' website. “You play your best football under him.”

In his career, Newman has recorded 741 tackles and 37 interceptions. Entering his 13th NFL year, Newman has already impressed his teammates with voluntary workouts underway. 

“I met with him and he seemed like a great guy,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “Like he’s going to come in and teach us what we need to know about the technique of the game and about the defense because he’s been in it before, so he’s going to help us out a lot. He’s a big asset to this team and the defense.”


 
 
 
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