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Fantasy & Reality: Running scared?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It's a passing league!

If you're reading that for the first time ever, you haven't been paying attention. We've done the legwork on how the league is tilting toward throwing more and running less for years (I wish I could link to a print article I wrote about it over five years ago). It just so happens that a perfect storm of talented quarterbacks and receivers on teams using an exciting and successful offensive concept are beating up on a relative lack of defensive back talent. It's resulted in what we've seen through two weeks: 111 passing touchdowns and a league average of 511 passing yards per team through two games.

Quarterbacks have been more productive than initially believed, tight ends have become more than just a Fantasy necessity and it feels like receivers have never been deeper than they are right now.

Meanwhile, running backs are the ugly kids at the prom sitting in the corner eating prom cake.

To further illustrate just how incredible the pass game has become across the league, I took the cumulative stats from each major position, placed the players into groups of 12 to create the equivalent of a tier (you guys love your tiers) and came up with what has been the average Fantasy point production per game and per tier in a standard-scoring league. And I also compared that average to what it was after two games in 2012. The results are probably a bit more than what you might expect.

Tier 2013 2012 Diff.
QB 1-12 28.4 22.8 +5.6
QB 13-24 17.8 17.0 +0.8
RB 1-12 14.4 16.4 -2.0
RB 13-24 8.7 10.6 -1.9
RB 25-36 7.0 6.8 +0.2
WR 1-12 16.8 12.9 +3.9
WR 13-24 11.5 10.5 +1.0
WR 25-36 8.3 8.4 -0.1
TE 1-12 12.3 10.7 +1.6
TE 13-24 5.8 5.2 +0.6

You can see that so far this season running backs have averaged the equivalent of what 2012 receivers produced at their respective tiers. And you can also gather that top-tier tight ends this year are close to averaging what their wide receiver counterparts averaged a year ago. For two weeks anyway the passing game has ruled the roost.

But let's not confuse this with "running backs aren't what they used to be." Fifteen running backs totaled 20 touches in Week 1 and 14 did it in Week 2. We might have imagined a few more running backs hitting the 20-touch mark, but if you go back to my running back tiers and review the number of rushers in the first three or four tiers, you might have expected no more than 18 to get 20 touches per game in the first place.

It's also early -- you can't rush to judgment after two games. Just because air attacks are dominating now doesn't mean they will. Quarterbacks started off with a bang in 2012, too -- there were an average of 14.3 passers that scored 20-plus points per week through the first four weeks. By Weeks 13 through 16 that average dropped to 10.5 quarterbacks per week. Meanwhile, running backs started hot in 2012 -- 18.3 rushers per week got at least 10 Fantasy points. By Week 13 through 16, 19.8 running backs -- nearly 20 of them -- hit that 10-point mark. That's how many got there in Week 2 of this season.

The point I'm getting at is that owners should merely refocus their expectations. If your No. 1 running back scored "just" 14 points in a game this year, that's not bad. It's on average with what a Top 12 running back has averaged so far. If everyone has to start the same amount of running backs in your league, then no one's getting a decided advantage. If anything, you might choose to roll with a receiver at Flex, something our Chad Johnson suggested on Fantasy Football Today last Sunday. Eight of the current Top 12 rushers were consensus Top 25 picks with another four running backs in the consensus Top 25 trailing by six points or less.

Remember, running backs have historically been the hardest to replace in Fantasy. We've already seen breakout receivers and tight ends and rejuvenated quarterbacks. The only running back you might clamor for that wasn't taken with a Top 80 pick is Knowshon Moreno, who in the Broncos' backward backfield has come out as the best option. For now.

Based on who has been doing well among running backs, the owners who spent early picks on rushers are probably doing better than those who waited. That should make you feel better about going with running backs early on when you drafted earlier this summer.

Is Royal royalty?

Eddie Royal has five touchdowns in two games, a remarkable feat for a player who had two touchdowns in his last two seasons and five in his last four! He's been a big reason why Philip Rivers is off to such a smokin' hot start.

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Before I went back and watched the Chargers' games to see what made Royal tick, I assumed he was just an experienced, speedy slot guy who was in the right place at the right time for both of San Diego's games. That doesn't sound like I'm giving him enough credit, but after watching each of his 90 snaps over two games, it turns out my initial assessment is dead on. And that's a good thing.

Royal is indeed the Chargers' slot receiver, though his playing time increased from 29 snaps in Week 1 to 61 in Week 2, partially because the Bolts threw more in Week 2. But he saw more time even on running plays, a sign that the team recognizes him as a threat and will force defenses to manage against him even on runs.

Royal is a good, smart, fast route runner and can run whatever is asked of him. That kind of flexibility obviously appeals to the Chargers as they continue to look like a pass-first team under Mike McCoy. He has taken advantage of the nickelbacks and safeties who have lined up on him. Two of his scores came on screen passes where Royal either made a play on his own or got some help by a blocking teammate, one score saw him race to the pylon after getting open near the sideline on an out route and one saw him beat his man to the corner. Only one touchdown came on a complete defensive collapse (thank you, Philadelphia).

The bad news is that with two games of film, defensive coordinators are going to start planning for Royal. He's been great but he's not uncoverable. The Titans play at the Chargers in Week 3 and have mixed how they've used their cornerbacks in two games. Maybe they'll have top pass defender Jason McCourty drop into the slot to defend Royal, or they'll give the job to physical nickelback Coty Sensabaugh. The Titans' pass defense isn't the best in the league but that nuance of how they cover Royal might make all the difference in the world in how he does. The Titans have already allowed one score to a slot wideout and another to a tight end that lined up in the slot. Hopefully the Chargers' five-score secret weapon can make it six.

You can't help but give him a shot in Fantasy lineups so long as the defenses the Chargers play aren't great at silencing slot receivers. Good news -- they're not. San Diego's schedule is favorable over the next couple of months and might even have the team fighting for a wild card berth.

Fantasy & Reality

Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) from around the league.

Fantasy: Cam Newton is a reliable No. 1 Fantasy quarterback. It's been two weeks but it's evident that the big quarterback bust so far in 2013 is Cam. In Week 2 he missed on 17 of 38 passes, 10 of them were deep balls and three of those incompletions were laughably off target. I think a major issue is that beyond Steve Smith and Greg Olsen, Newton has no one to throw to. Ted Ginn isn't the answer, Brandon LaFell hasn't been the answer and I question why he doesn't throw to his running backs more (Williams and Tolbert have 26 combined receiving yards). Newton also isn't running as much. Something's gotta give for Newton -- he can't be a pocket passer all the time. Because there are so many good quarterbacks in Fantasy right now I'd bench him until he straightens himself out. That might happen in Week 5 -- after a Week 4 bye -- when he plays at Arizona.

Reality: Jared Cook isn't a flash in the pan. There are a lot of nervous nellies out there after Cook caught one pass in Week 2 against the Falcons. Some blame him becoming a blocker after Rams right tackle Roger Saffold left the game with an injury. That's not it -- Cook blocked on only seven plays (officially six, one was penalized) following Saffold's departure. What it was was the Falcons double-teaming Cook, making him an unappealing target. That also explains why Chris Givens went over 100 yards, why Tavon Austin scored two touchdowns and why Austin Pettis had the best game of his career. That won't last. Stick with Cook.

Fantasy: Coby Fleener was only good in Week 2 because Dwayne Allen was out. In Week 1 Fleener had just one target to Allen's two. Allen happened to score. But Fleener played on 76 percent of the plays -- way more than Allen (55 percent). With Allen out in Week 2 Fleener played on 80 percent of the plays, basically the same amount. But he had eight targets, four catches, one touchdown that counted and another nullified by a penalty. Fleener had more targets in Week 2 in huge part because Andrew Luck threw it 43 times! In Week 1 Luck attempted just 23 passes. I'm not sure Allen would have been a factor anyway but having him go on season-ending injured reserve with a hip injury doesn't hurt Fleener's chances one bit. The more Luck throws, the better Fleener's chances. I like Fleener's chances at San Francisco in Week 3.

Reality: It doesn't matter how you get the stats, it just matters that you get them. I say this in reference to Robert Griffin III, who has played two amazing second halves of football against uninterested defenses in blowout losses. Hate on Griffin's throwing mechanics or lack of running all you want but know this: He ranks seventh among quarterbacks in Fantasy, ahead of Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo and Tom Brady. He's not going to get benched so if his defense gives up a ton of points and RG3 has to throw a ton in the second half, I'm definitely fine with that. Fantasy is about stats, not wins.

Fantasy: Steven Jackson will be right back. Jackson's thigh injury will only keep him out for the "short term" according to coach Mike Smith. That could mean a couple of weeks. The Falcons play at Miami, vs. New England and vs. the Jets before a Week 6 bye. I'd bet a box of cronuts (half croissants, half donuts) that he returns in Week 7 vs. Tampa Bay. Remember when the Texans said they didn't want to rush Arian Foster back because they wanted him healthy for the games that count? The Falcons are of the same mindset -- they probably think they can scrape by with Jacquizz Rodgers and Jason Snelling for a few weeks. Jackson will be given time. By the way, I like Quizz only marginally better than Snelling in a PPR league. Otherwise I'd bet on Snelling.

Reality: Buying low is part of the game. Whether you think it's too early to trade or you're just not the trading type, it's worth your while to at least look into acquiring some players while their values are low. Tom Brady might be able to be had for cheap; Trent Richardson, Stevan Ridley and David Wilson aren't going to be forgotten by their teams but Fantasy owners are already sick of them; Eric Decker isn't going to get any worse. If someone in your league is impatient, swoop in and take the guy they are upset over off their hands. Our Trade Chart will help.

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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