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Reality Check: Not a passing fad

Senior Fantasy Writer
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You know my biggest regret so far this season? Drafting Chris Ivory in one of my leagues.

You know my second-biggest regret so far this season? Drafting Montee Ball in three of my leagues.

You know what position they play? Running back. (That was an easy one.)

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You know how much that means to me right now? Zilch.

Oh, but it meant something on Draft Day. "A third running back! I have to get a third running back!"

Did I? I mean, I understand I'll eventually need one for bye weeks and such, but did I have to prioritize one for my flex spot, especially if I had an inkling he wouldn't deliver starting-caliber numbers?

The NFL is a passing league. We've known it since about 2009, when the number of 4,000-yard passers jumped from six to 10. Then came the three 5,000-yard passers of 2011. Then came the 11 4,000-yard passers of last year.

Then came Week 1 of this year -- or what I'm calling our clearest indication yet that it's only getting worse.

Or better, depending on your perspective.

Of the little bit of data we have so far, what stands out to me most isn't the seven touchdown passes for Peyton Manning or the 208 receiving yards for Anquan Boldin. It's the fact that, of every running back who saw the field last weekend, between all 32 teams, only two ran for 100 yards.

Come again?

I don't know about you, but I still view the century mark as the standard for greatness. Touchdowns are obviously the game-changers in Fantasy, but they're so hard to predict from week to week that I try not to lose sleep over them. As long as I can trust my guy to drop triple digits more often than not, I know I'll feel good about his production in the end.

OK, so maybe more often than not is too much to ask, but half the time? Or even one-third?

Not if the new weekly standard is two. Between everybody. At that rate, I just hope mine gets a turn at some point.

I say that partly in jest, but even the two who achieved the feat in Week 1 aren't assured steady production going forward. Shane Vereen most definitely isn't. He's out until Week 11 with a broken wrist. LeSean McCoy at least has a chance, but I can't help but think his 184-yard outburst Monday night was at least partially a case of the up-tempo Chip Kelly offense taking the league by surprise. It might not be so easy once more game film becomes available.

And those who didn't reach 100 yards? Among them is Adrian Peterson, who nearly broke the single-season rushing record last year. He fell short even despite gaining 78 yards on his first carry. Arian Foster, the model of safe and steady production over the last three years, barely made it halfway to 100, and C.J. Spiller, everyone's favorite breakout candidate, didn't even lead his team in rushing.

I've done this Fantasy Football thing for a while now -- not as long as some of you, but long enough that ... well, let's just say I owned Chris Chandler once upon a time. I'm fully aware of the weirdness that ensues from week to week and understand that overreacting to it is irresponsible, in many ways.

But this particular weirdness was so widespread and so fitting with recent trends that I can't help but feel like it represents something bigger.

Just to use Week 1 of last year as an example -- when, remember, the NFL was still a passing league -- a good five running backs ran for 100 yards then.

Not impressed? OK, but what if I told you an additional four eclipsed 90 yards compared to only two this year? It's not like I picked some arbitrary cutoff to make my point. This year's crop wasn't coming close to 100.

Using the 90-yard threshold, the comparison is four running backs in Week 1 this year compared to nine in Week 1 last year. That's significant.

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Especially when you consider that effectiveness was as much this crop's issue as usage. I understand that the increasing number of split backfields will cut into rushing totals, but how do you explain Alfred Morris averaging 3.8 yards per carry? Or Trent Richardson averaging 3.6? Or Foster at 3.2, Maurice Jones-Drew at 3.0, Ray Rice at 3.0, Chris Johnson at 2.8, Matt Forte at 2.6, Marshawn Lynch at 2.5, Spiller at 2.4 and Frank Gore at 2.1? Those are just the high-end types.

I know. Weird.

If the NFL is a passing league and defenses are geared to stop the pass, why was every team's running game so ineffective? Have they all deteriorated from lack of use?

These are the questions that keep me up at night.

So now that I've thoroughly convinced you your team is doomed, the sky is falling and there's no hope for tomorrow, I give you the bright side: Those yards still have to go to someone. Teams are running less because they're passing more, which means whatever the running backs lose, the wide receivers and tight ends gain.

It's evident in the Week 1 results. Fifteen wide receivers eclipsed 100 yards compared to 10 last year. Three tight ends reached the century mark compared to zero last year. Using 90 yards as the basis for comparison, it's 20-to-11 for wide receivers and 4-to-0 for tight ends.

Fortunately, if you play with a flex spot in Fantasy, you can adapt to these developments. While conventional wisdom has always advised a third running back for that spot -- which is what compelled me to draft Ivory and Ball in the first place -- a third wide receiver or even second tight end could become standard fare.

Yes, tight end, that position so long begrudged by Fantasy owners for its uninspiring production, could suddenly be their saving grace. Because of who throws them the ball or who else could fill their role in the passing game, I don't so much trust Jerome Simpson, Brian Hartline, Rueben Randle, Harry Douglas or Kenny Stills just yet, but I didn't hesitate to put in a claim for Julius Thomas or Jordan Cameron this week.

In one league, I made a play for Thomas even though I had both Cameron and Martellus Bennett on my roster. And in an 18-team league where such a decision was viable, I prioritized Dallas Clark as a second tight end over Marlon Brown as a fifth wide receiver, remembering how much I liked Dennis Pitta to step up his production sans Anquan Boldin before breaking his hip July 27. Hey, 12 targets are hard to ignore, even for a 34-year-old has-been. Clark isn't a priority pickup in standard 12-team leagues just yet, but he gets consistent looks from Joe Flacco over the middle, he could get there.

Now, before you panic and offer up your Spiller or Lynch for Andre Johnson or Vincent Jackson, understand that I'm acting on this observation only with the fringes of my roster, with those peripheral pieces that probably weren't going to have a say in whether I won or lost anyway. I'm not dropping Ivory or Ball just yet, but I am dropping handcuffs like Bilal Powell and Ronnie Hillman.

Why them? Even if something happened to make them the lead rusher for their respective teams, I wouldn't trust them to put up relevant Fantasy numbers. I'm already wondering if I'll ever have reason to start Ivory or Ball. Based on what I saw in Week 1, I'm ditching any plans to use them in my flex spot and rostering them strictly for depth. Why back up the backups?

So why back up anyone? Well, look what else is out there. Plenty of interesting wide receivers and tight ends, but not so many running backs. As teams throw more and more, quality running backs become less and less, making the few who remain all the more valuable. Though I was discouraged by what I saw from Spiller and Lynch in terms of production, I still value them more than the top wide receivers and tight ends. Who on earth would I get to replace them?

To some degree, I believe these things are cyclical. If offenses continue to pile up yards like they did in Week 1, defenses will sell out even more for the pass, freeing up more running room and allowing for more 90- and 100-yard games. And of course, the average running back will always have a better opportunity for touchdowns than the average wide receiver or tight end just because of short-yardage situations. Chances are most of those Week 1 disappointments -- Spiller, Lynch, Richardson, Morris, Jones-Drew, etc. -- will still end up being huge assets for your Fantasy team.

But mostly because every team has to start two running backs, and I don't think there are enough to go around.

Good luck finding that third one.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Scott via Twitter @CBSScottWhite .

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Player News
Panthers RB Jonathan Stewart looking to build off strong finish
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(9:37 am ET) Over the last five weeks of the regular season, Panthers running back Jonathan Stewart rushed for 486 yards, second only to Dallas' DeMarco Murray. Stewart followed that up with 123 yards and a touchdown in the playoff win over Arizona.

"I'm really excited for next year," Stewart told the team's website. "You have to find your zone throughout the offseason. It starts now."

Stewart got the chance to be a workhorse when DeAngelo Williams fractured his hand Week 13. ESPN.com reports there's a "strong possibility" the Panthers will release the 31-year-old Williams this offseason, leaving Stewart, 27, as the unquestioned starter.

"It's just part of the journey," Stewart said of the individual success he had toward season's end. "The moment you start focusing on that, you miss out on other things along the journey."


Report: Patriots hoping to sign Darrelle Revis to long-term extension
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(1/26/2015) The Patriots are reportedly looking to sign cornerback Darrelle Revis to a long-term extension, according Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network.

However, New England has not ruled out paying Revis the $20 million team option in 2015, Rapoport reports. The decision needs to be made by April 1, when a $12 million roster bonus kicks in for Revis.

Revis totaled 47 tackles in 16 games for the Patriots, grabbing two interceptions and forcing one fumble.


C.J. Spiller expecting 'March Madness' style free agency
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Bills running back C.J. Spiller is getting healthy again. Spiller, who has fully recovered from a shoulder injury, just ended the final season of his contract and is looking at his options for next season.

"Physically, I’m back to 100 percent, back to doing normal activities," Spiller told The Post and Courier on Friday. "As far as football, free agency will start in March, and I’ll get with my people next week and get a game plan together."

Spiller has played five seasons for the Bills, only playing two full years. He ran for 1,244 yards in 2012 with six touchdowns.

"I guess you could say it’ll be March Madness," Spiller said with a smile. "It’ll be a fun March."


Report: Rams among teams interested in trade for Eagles' Foles
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) Teams are beginning to show interest in Eagles quarterback Nick Foles, as reports are surfacing Philadelphia is unsure of what to do with the third-year quarterback, per NJ.com. A source said the Rams have interest in Foles should the Eagles choose to trade him this offseason. 

The Titans and Texans have also been mentioned as teams that would have interest in Foles, if he hits the trade market.

It's still unclear if the Eagles would be willing to move Foles. NJ.com reported last week the Eagles, who have the 20th pick in the NFL Draft, are considering making a run at Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in the draft. 

"From No. 20, it's certainly not going to be easy,'' a source said. "It's probably going to take moving up twice to do it. There's going to be some wheeling and dealing involved.

"Can it happen? I don't know. But they're going to try."

Eagles head coach Chip Kelly recruited Mariota to Oregon and coached him for two years.

"Obviously, [with] my relationship with coach Kelly, it'd be a lot of fun to be a part of that offense and be a part of that team," Mariota said when asked about a potential reunion with Kelly.

Foles is 15-9 as a starter in the NFL, but he has yet to play a full season. He has completed 61.6 percent of his passes for 6,753 yards, 46 touchdowns and 17 interceptions.


Colts' Luck on new contract: 'There's nothing there right now'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) An ESPN report surfaced last week stating the Colts were working on making quarterback Andrew Luck the highest-paid player in the NFL. When asked about the subject at the Pro Bowl, Luck seemed surprise when he heard the news.

"There's nothing there right now," Luck said, per The Indianapolis Star. "I didn't think about it all during the season and it's only been a few days since it ended. I haven't thought about it. I will have conversations with my agent just because you have to prepare, but I'm not sure where that report came from."

Luck has two years remaining on the $22 million deal he signed as a rookie in 2012. It includes a team option for 2016, which must be exercised later this year.

Luck just completed his third season in the NFL. He has been to the Pro Bowl every year he's been in the NFL. He's gone 11-5 in every season as an NFL starter. He threw for a career-best 40 touchdowns in 2014 and led Indianapolis to the AFC title game this season.


Seahawks' Sherman disappointed he won't receive gifts from Pro Bowl
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) In case you missed Sunday's Pro Bowl, Team Irvin knocked off Team Carter, 32-28, thanks to a second-half rally, which included touchdown catches by Emmanuel Sanders and Jimmy Graham.

While many Pro Bowl players that made the original roster were absent from the game due to injuries, Pro Bowl players from the Patriots and Seahawks also did not play due to preparations for next Sunday's Super Bowl.

One player who seemed upset about missing the Pro Bowl was Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. However, it was for a reason you probably wouldn't suspect.

“Only thing I’m disappointed in is they won’t give us our gifts from the Pro Bowl, which is kind of dumb,” Sherman said, per The Boston Globe. “The NFL is the only league that punishes the players who actually make the All-Star game by not giving them their gifts. It’s supposed to be watches and some other stuff, but we don’t get them so I couldn’t tell you.”


Patriots' Tom Brady on Deflategate: 'My feelings got hurt'
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/26/2015) If you have been out of the loop for the last week, then you might be unaware the Patriots have been under a lot of scrutiny since the AFC title game due to improperly inflated footballs used against the Colts. The media hoopla has transformed the controversy into what we know as Deflategate.

If you haven't been out of the loop, then you are well aware of the nonstop coverage it has received the last week and despite the Patriots pleas for it to go away, it just won't.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has had to deal with the backlash from Deflategate, and he found himself talking about the subject again Monday morning during an interview with WEEI.

“It’s all speculation,” Brady said. “I’ve tried to wrap my head around it, too. I’ve done that and I’m trying to move past that, because I continue to try to rehash things. I personalized a lot of things and thought this was all about me, and my feelings got hurt. Then I moved past it, because it’s not serving me. What’s serving me is try to prepare for the game ahead. I’ll deal with whatever happens later. I’ll have my opportunity to try to figure out what happened and figure out a theory like everyone else is trying to do. But this isn’t the time for that. Honestly, I’m not interested in trying to find out right now, because we have the biggest game of our season ahead.”

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“I’ve never once felt that we’re not on the same page,” Brady said. “He’s a great coach. He’s the only coach I’ve ever played for; he’s the only coach I’d ever want to play for. There’s a lot of people over the years that have criticized him, but I’d say there’s not one player who’s ever played for him who’s not had an unbelievable amount of respect for him and how he prepares and his diligence and his preparation."


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Beckham took part in the Pro Bowl on Sunday, but admitted he's still not fully healed. Beckham said the injuries prevented him from getting to that "last gear that I wanted to have." He added that the injuries really bothered him against the Eagles and Colts. Beckham said he was "stumbling" and falling over during those games. He added that he's not sure whether he'll ever be 100 percent again.

The rookie had a tremendous season, hauling in 91 balls for 1,305 yards and 12 touchdowns. 


Patriots' Tom Brady meeting with NFL after Super Bowl 49
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(1/25/2015) Patriots quarterback Tom Brady doesn't expect to meet with the NFL until after Super Bowl XLIX, according to NFL.com.

The Patriots have been in the headlines all week due to Deflategate, and it appears the situation won't be resolved until after the season. "I believe they're going to do [a meeting] after the season," Brady said. "So we'll deal with it after this game. I think everybody is locked in, ready to go for the Super Bowl." Both Brady and coach Bill Belichick have held separate press conferences during the week to deny the team's involvement in deflating their footballs. 

The Patriots are subject to punishment from the NFL if the league finds any wrongdoing during the investigation. 


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by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1/25/2015) Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, who dislocated his shoulder in the NFC Championship Game, could remain limited in practice this week ahead of the Super Bowl, reports the Seattle Times. But he said he won't be thinking about the injury against the Patriots.

"When I come alive nothing is limited,’’ he said. “I’ll still play fearless, throw my body around, and let whatever happens, happens.’’

Thomas did allow that he might have to rely more on his teammates.

“My mindset is I have an opportunity to really trust my teammates,’’ he said. “This is the first game I’m going to have to trust them because of my injury. So I really, really, really trust my teammates, and that’s what I’m banking on, my teammates doing what they need to do and I need to come through myself.’’

It's unclear if Thomas will need offseason surgery.

The Seahawks are 1-point underdogs after opening as 2.5-point favorites.


 
 
 
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