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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
Dolphins to release WR Brian Hartline after six seasons
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:20 am ET) The Dolphins have officially released longtime wide receiver Brian Hartline on Friday, per the team's official website.

Hartline, drafted by Miami in the fourth round of the 2009 draft, signed a five-year, $30.775 million contract in 2013. His cap number for 2015 was $7.3 million. After registering 1,083 yards in 2012 and 1,016 yards in 2013, Hartline took a step back in 2014 with a disappointing campaign where he caught only 39 passes for 474 yards and two scores. The 28-year-old has 4,243 yards and 12 touchdowns through six seasons in the league.


Report: Falcons release longtime WR Harry Douglas
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(10:15 am ET) The Falcons have cut ties with Harry Douglas. The team released the 30-year-old wide out on Friday, according to Pro Football Talk.

Douglas has been with the Falcons since 2008, and had a year remaining in his deal. He racked up 258 receptions, 3,130 yards and eight touchdowns. Last season, he turned 75 targets into 51 catches for 556 yards and two scores. This comes a day after the team released veteran running back Steven Jackson, as new coach Dan Quinn prepares for roster shakeup this offseason.


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As part of Weinke's interview process with the team, he met with Bradford for roughly three-and-a-half hours. It wasn't really a formal meeting, though, it was more so the two could get to know eachother. 

Bradford has reportedly been granted permission to seek a trade, but it doesn't appear Rams' ownership wants to part with the 27-year-old quarterback. 


RB Steven Jackson, cut by Falcons, isn't planning to retire
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(2/26/2015) Though he's without a team at the moment, running back Steven Jackson has no plans to retire. 

The Falcons officially released Jackson Thursday night, with immediate questions emerging about his future. On his own website, though, Jackson posted a statement saying he isn't hanging up the cleats just yet.  

"A lot has been written lately about my future," Jackson wrote. "There are questions about my age, and what I have left in the tank. Of that, I will simply say this. For the first nine years of my career, I was used like a battering ram, punishing opposing defense over four quarters of a game. Maybe you stopped me the first five times I got the ball, but by the 15th or 20th time I got it, late in a game -- let's just say you were really feeling me at that point.

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Jackson also admitted his two seasons with the Falcons were a disappointment as the organization did not reach the postseason in either season. He combined for only 1,250 yards in 2013 and 2014 after posting eight consecutive seasons with over 1,000 yards when he was with the Rams. 


Raiders expected to release safety Tyvon Branch
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(2/26/2015) The Raiders will be parting ways with safety Tyvon Branch, according to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora

Branch only played in three games during the 2014 season due to a foot injury that placed him on injured reserve. That followed his 2013 season in which Branch was only able to participate in two games. 

However, Branch could be a commodity in what is otherwise considered a weak safety market. 

Branch signed a four-year, $26..6 million contract with the Raiders in 2012, with $17.6 million guaranteed.


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(2/26/2015) The Browns are hopeful they can re-sign cornerback Buster Skrine but are probably going to have to try to do so after he hits the free agent market, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer

Skrine had a single-season best four interceptions in 2014 and will be someone that could command a hefty price tag on the open market. The Plain Dealer reports that Skrine is expecting anywhere from $5.5 million to $7 million per season. 

The Browns should be in a good position to match an offer for Skrine. Depending on what the 2015 cap number per team is, the Browns are likely to have well over $30 million to spend in free agency. 


Colts, Matt Hasselbeck agree to one-year contract
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(2/26/2015) It looks like Matt Hasselbeck's NFL career will extend at least one more year. 

The Colts reached a one-year deal with backup quarterback Hasselbeck, the team announced on Thursday. 

Hasselbeck, 39, will enter his 17th year in the NFL. After starting out as Brett Favre's backup in Green Bay for his first two seasons in 1999 and 2000, he joined the Seahawks via a trade and quickly established himself as a starting-caliber quarterback. 

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Report: Vikings, Adrian Peterson can communicate with each other
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2/26/2015) Now that Adrian Peterson has been moved back to the Commissioner's Exempt list, the Vikings can reach out and communicate with him, according to a report from Pro Football Talk

Peterson had been suspended by the NFL until April 15 and upheld by an arbitrator. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge David Doty overturned the arbitrator's decision, sending the case back down to go through the CBA. The NFL has removed the suspension, for now, while moving Peterson back to the Commissioner's Exempt list. 

The NFL announced in a statement that it is appealing Doty's ruling

Since the Vikings want Peterson to remain with them, they can now reach out and hold talks directly. While suspended by the NFL, the Vikings were unable to communicate with him. This is an interesting development because the Vikings have publicly stated they want him to stay in Minnesota. 

However, at least one report as indicated Peterson wants to leave and continue his NFL career elsewhere


Falcons release running back Steven Jackson
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(2/26/2015) The Falcons released running back Steven Jackson on Thursday, the team announced.

Jackson was owed $3.75 million in 2015, but with running back Devonta Freeman on the roster, it appears Jackson is expendable. In 2014, Jackson rushed for 707 yards and six touchdowns on 190 carries.

By cutting Jackson, the Falcons saved $3.7 million against the salary cap, reports the NFL Network.


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(2/26/2015) The Redskins signed defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois to a three-year deal Thursday, reports the NFL Network.

The deal is believed to be worth $9 million with $4 million guaranteed. With incentives, the deal can reach $11.25 million.

Jean Francois was cut by the Colts on Monday. In 2014, Jean Francois totaled 28 tackles and three sacks.


 
 
 
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