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Reality Check: New quarterback dilemmas

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Continuing our examination of just how wackadoodle this season is shaping up to be, we come to the quarterback position -- a position of excess and, therefore, lower priority.

Because the two are usually connected, you see.

But while the former has certainly proven to be true -- beyond even what I expected with Michael Vick, Philip Rivers, Matt Schaub and Jay Cutler returning to prominence and Sam Bradford, Terrelle Pryor and Ryan Tannehill entering the fold -- I'm not so sure about the latter anymore.

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It's different from before. The fear of going without a competent player at the position is silly and has been for a few years now. But I'm sensing quarterback has become so deep, with so many good options available for every team in your league, that the need to distinguish between good, better and best is paramount.

After all, the key to winning in Fantasy is having an advantage over your opponent. How can you have an advantage at a position where everyone is equally good?

The answer, of course, is that everyone isn't equally good. Not really. They all meet the expected level of production at the position, but they don't do it at the same time or to the same extent.

When the number of players who meet the expected level of production at a position increases, it seems like a luxury at first -- an opportunity to wait longer to fill that position. But if it continues from year to year, with those players only growing in number, eventually the expected level of production at the position changes. It's exactly what Fantasy Baseball owners have encountered with starting pitchers in recent years.

And when an already high-scoring position becomes even higher-scoring, it only raises the stakes at that position. Particularly in standard CBSSports.com formats, where passing touchdowns are worth a full six points, the quarterback spot has the greatest say in whether you win or lose in a given week. It typically won't have as much fluctuation as other positions, but if your quarterback performs to one extreme or the other, what the rest of your team does is virtually irrelevant.

Now, before I stray down a path that undermines decades of Fantasy Football philosophy, let me be clear: A top running back is still more valuable than a top quarterback. The team with the biggest advantage at quarterback doesn't automatically win the league, after all. You still need advantages at other positions, and a replacement-level quarterback is a much more viable option than a replacement-level running back.

The purpose of this column isn't to compel you to shop your first-round running back for the best quarterback you can get. The purpose is to help you get the most out of a position with far too much to go around.

Basically, I just added Philip Rivers to a roster that already included Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, and looking at what all is still available at the position, I can't help but think other people are in a similar situation. Nobody wants to give up on a quarterback who can consistently deliver two touchdowns, but at the same time, a two-touchdown performance is probably the new baseline at the position. Any more than that, and you've distanced yourself from the competition. Any less, and you better hope to hit the jackpot elsewhere.

With an average of two touchdowns (passing and rushing) in his two games, Luck hasn't been bad, but he hasn't stood out like I hoped he would. Maybe that changes over time. Two games don't make a season, and if Luck goes and throws four touchdown passes at San Francisco this weekend, I won't have much of a dilemma anymore. But what if he doesn't? What if he continues with 1-2 touchdowns week after week? And what if San Diego's new offense under coach Mike McCoy relies so much on Rivers' arm that 3-4 touchdowns becomes the norm for him? Could I really pass up on him now, recognizing that possibility?

That's the differentiator right there. Granted, both classes of quarterback will have some overlap, but the 6-18 points that the 3-4 touchdown guy has on the 1-2 touchdown guy each week will decide many a matchup this season.

To get a sense of which quarterbacks fit where, I've sorted all 32 starters into three groups based on what they've done so far this season ...

The 3-4 touchdown guys (those averaging more than two touchdowns per game):
Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Michael Vick, Philip Rivers, Sam Bradford, Matt Schaub, Robert Griffin III, Eli Manning and Jay Cutler

The 1-2 touchdown guys (those averaging 1.5 to two touchdowns per game):
Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Alex Smith, Matthew Stafford, Colin Kaepernick, Drew Brees, Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, E.J. Manuel, Tony Romo, Cam Newton, Carson Palmer and Tom Brady

Everyone else:
Terrelle Pryor, Ryan Tannehill, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Jake Locker, Christian Ponder, Brandon Weeden, Josh Freeman, Geno Smith and Chad Henne

That basically sums up the position, doesn't it? Everyone in the first two groups is worth owning, and everyone in the last group (apart from Wilson, Pryor and maybe Tannehill, who's leading a pass-first offense now even though he doesn't have the touchdowns to show for it) isn't.

But again, two games don't make a season. I'm not classifying these quarterbacks this way forever more. I still think of Brees as being in that first group -- too much of a track record there -- and I consider Ryan, Stafford, Romo and Brady safer bets than not to join him. I also think Kaepernick's and Newton's rushing abilities elevate them over the other 1-2 touchdown guys.

But seeing the way some of those other names stack up makes the rest of the position not so black-and-white.

For instance, if you drafted Vick to be your backup, as so many Fantasy owners did, do you continue to start Ryan, Stafford and Romo over him? As long as he's healthy and the Chip Kelly offense continues to take the league by surprise, I don't see how. But of course, trading Ryan, Stafford or Romo gives you no fallback in the likely event of another Vick injury, which means the best place for them might actually be your bench. Plus, with bargain-bin finds such as Bradford and Schaub outperforming them, you have to wonder just how much they'd fetch in a trade anyway.

Which brings me to my next point. Do Bradford, Schaub and, yes, Rivers really belong in this discussion? Based on what they've done through two games, with each of their offenses leaning more on the pass as part of a growing trend of pass-happy offenses across the league, would you consider sitting your intended starter for them, if only on occasion? Should you?

Ryan, Stafford and Romo are one thing, but does Luck deserve preferential treatment over them now, especially with the Colts likely to adopt a more balanced approach with the acquisition of Trent Richardson? What about Wilson or, shoot, Brady? Compared to the rest of the league, the Patriots' offense is looking positively balanced. Or what about Eli Manning? He has the touchdowns, but with seven interceptions is he still more trustworthy than that guy you just plucked off waivers? Any way you look at it, it's a mess.

My guess is you'll have to pick and choose. The few true standouts at the position -- guys like Peyton Manning, Rodgers and, yes, I'll include Brees -- remain must-starts, and a few others -- Vick, Griffin, Ryan, Stafford, Kaepernick, Romo, Newton and Brady -- should be heavy favorites each week. But with so little differentiation between the second and third tiers at quarterback now, the position, quite frankly, has become matchups-oriented.

And it stinks. The more options you have to choose from, the more potential you have to choose wrong, and if you continually choose wrong, you miss out on all the good weeks, putting you in a worse predicament than if you had just stuck with one guy.

But again, two touchdowns is the baseline for a quarterback now. If you can't trust your guy to do that with the matchup at hand, you're putting yourself at a serious disadvantage. Most likely, your opponent has someone who can.

Of course, playing the matchups is easier said than done, particularly at quarterback. Teams tend to pass more when trailing than when leading, so if the matchup is too favorable, it can actually backfire. Then again, starting the quarterback most likely to be involved in a shootout can sometimes backfire as well. Neither Ryan nor Freeman lit up the Saints, you may have noticed.

Trust me: In that league where I own Luck, Russell and Wilson ... or the one where I own Griffin, Wilson and Rivers ... or the one where I own Stafford and Bradford, I don't look forward to making that decision each week. But I think it's the way of the future, and to demonstrate that point, I asked my Twitter followers to provide me with what they anticipate to be season-long quarterback dilemmas. Let's do our best to sort them out:

Rivers vs. Luck -- @Trantice99
For what it's worth, I plan to go with Rivers this week, but I suspect it'll be a week-to-week thing, assuming the Richardson acquisition doesn't cut into Luck's production too much.

Vick or Newton? -- @yeah2low
If I'm going with Vick over Ryan, Stafford and Romo, I'm going with him over a struggling Newton. Newton showed last year why you shouldn't count him out, though. I suspect he'll be your preferred option down the stretch.

Deciding between Pryor and Brady ... sad to say. -- @NoToryousone1
Sad only because Brady underachieved against the Jets, but in the long run, this one won't be much of a dilemma. I don't anticipate the Raiders scoring too many touchdowns.

Griffin and Bradford. Agonized over it last week will again this week. Rams will have to throw a lot, right? -- @wilkinson81
With Steven Jackson gone, their offense has a different look, relying more on short passes than traditional runs. I could see Bradford closing the gap on Griffin in time. But the Redskins' defense has them perpetually in catch-up mode, which has worked wonders for Griffin's numbers.

Vick and Kaepernick. Trying to solve the dilemma by trading one. -- @knowITall_sport
Yeah, but ... for what? A third running back? Vick might fetch more than that if you find someone flipping out over his potential in the Eagles' new offense, but is it worth losing his monster production for however long he's healthy? I might just stand pat.

I have Romo and Eli Manning. -- ‏@BoughtAndPaid9
This one should become a dilemma at some point, but I need to be convinced Manning won't be throwing three interceptions a game first.

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

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Player News
Four Saints receive red light for Week 8 game
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:23 pm ET) Running backs Pierre Thomas (rib/shoulder) and Khiry Robinson (forearm) are only two of four Saints ruled out for the Sunday game against the Packers. The others are linebacker Kyle Knox (ankle) and center Jonathan Goodwin (knee/ankle).

Listed as questionable probable are defensive back Keenan Lewis (knee/shoulder), linebacker Ramon Humber (ankle), tight end Jimmy Graham (shoulder) and nose tackle Brodrick Bunkley (concussion). The lone probable is defensive back Patrick Robinson (hamstring).


Report: Saints TE Graham likely to play Sunday despite injury
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(5:14 pm ET) Saints prolific tight end Jimmy Graham has been deemed questionable for the Sunday night game against Green Bay with a shoulder problem, but seems likely to play after practicing on a limited basis, according to ESPN.

Graham played 30 snaps despite the physical issue in Week 7 against Detroit, but was held without a catch.


Colts WR Hakeem Nicks expected to see more targets Week 8
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(5:13 pm ET) With Reggie Wayne ruled out with an elbow injury, Colts wide receiver Hakeem Nicks is expected to have an increased role on offense Sunday against Pittsburgh, according to ESPN. Nicks has gotten off to a slow start, with 17 catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns as the No. 3 receiver. He was targeted only once and was held without a grab in Week 7 against Cincinnati.

"I look forward to every opportunity," Nicks said. "Each week I prepare accordingly, prepare like I’m going to play, just like I’m going to play this week. Just have to go out there and play within the offense and everything will be good."

Raiders enter Week 8 at Cleveland pretty banged up
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(5:06 pm ET) The Raiders listed a lengthy injury report for Week 8 at Cleveland. The team ruled out the following players for Sunday: tight end David Ausberry (foot), wide receiver Vincent Brown (hamstring), cornerback Keith McGill (groin), defensive end LaMarr Woodley (bicep) and safety Usama Young (knee).

Deemed questionable were offensive lineman Khalif Barnes (quadriceps), fullback Marcel Reece (quadriceps), cornerback Carlos Rogers (knee) and defensive end Justin Tuck (knee). Guard Austin Howard (neck) was the only player on the list deemed probable.


Browns list eight players on final injury report for Week 8
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:01 pm ET) The Browns listed defensive lineman Phil Taylor (knee) and wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring) out for Week 8 against Oakland. Deemed questionable were defensive end Billy Winn (quadriceps) and safety Jim Leonhard (ankle).

Meanwhile, defensive end Desmond Bryant (wrist), outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (shoulder), defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin (ankle) and cornerback K'Waun Williams (concussion) were all labeled probable.


Bengals Week 8 injury report features 10 probables
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:52 pm ET) Outside of A.J. Green and Rey Maualuga, the Bengals enter Week 8 at home against Baltimore relatively healthy despite having 14 players on the final injury report for Sunday's game. Green (toe) was ruled doubtful, while Rey Maualuga (hamstring) was officially ruled out. Brandon Thompson (knee) was limited in practice and questionable.

Meanwhile, the following players were labeled probable for the Bengals: Giovani Bernard (ribs), Kevin Brock (neck), Vontaze Burfict (neck), Robert Geathers (toe), Wallace Gilberry (eye), Leon Hall (back), Emmanuel Lamur (shoulder), Marshall Newhouse (back), Mike Pollak (knee) and Andre Smith (shoulder).


Saints rule out backs Thomas, Robinson against Packers
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:43 pm ET) Running backs Pierre Thomas (rib, shoulder) and Khiry Robinson (forearm) have been ruled out by the Saints for the Sunday game against Green Bay.

Their absences should mean increased work for Mark Ingram and Travaris Cadet.


Chiefs rule Donnie Avery, Chris Owens out against Rams
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:42 pm ET) The Chiefs have labeled wide receiver Donnie Avery (groin) and cornerback Chris Owens (knee) out for Sunday's Week 8 clash against the Rams.

Junior Hemingway (hamstring) was the only player listed on the final injury report as questionable. Meanwhile, Travis Kelce (ribs), Sean Smith (groin), Cyrus Gray (hand) and Justin Houston (ankle) were all full participants in Friday's practice and were officially deemed probable.


Rams CBs Jenkins, Johnson questionable Week 8 in KC
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4:39 pm ET) Cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are questionable with knee injuries, according to the injury report released Friday by the Rams for their Sunday game at Kansas City.

The only other non-probables are defensive back Brandon McGee (foot) and center Tim Barnes (shoulder). Both have been ruled out.

Deemed probable are wideout Kenny Britt (ankle), running back Benny Cunningham (knee), linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar (toe), defensive linemen Ethan Westbrooks (hand) and William Hayes (illness), safety T.J. McDonald (concussion), tackle Rodger Saffold (knee) and kicker Greg Zuerlein (illness).


Patriots add Vereen to final injury report for Chicago game
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(4:35 pm ET) The Patriots listed 13 players on their final injury report for their Week 8 home game against Chicago. Chandler Jones (hip) is the only player on the list to be ruled out for the game.

Shane Vereen was a late addition to the report because of an illness. He missed practice Friday and was labeled questionable. Dan Connolly (concussion), Dominique Easley (shoulder, knee), Nate Ebner (finger), Cameron Fleming (finger), Matthew Slater (shoulder) and Bryan Stork (concussion) were deemed questionable.

Meanwhile, Tom Brady (ankle), Brandon Browner (ankle), Jamie Collins (thigh), Dont'a Hightower (knee) and Devin McCourty (rib) were all full participants in Friday's practice session and officially ruled probable for Sunday.


 
 
 
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