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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
QB struggles begin to impact Cardinals DST
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:13 am ET) The Cardinals DST scored just one Fantasy point in standard CBSSports.com leagues Week 16 against Seattle, interrupting a stretch of 10 games in which it averaged 15.1, and the Cardinals' offensive woes may have had something to do with it.

Specifically, they've been unable to find a decent quarterback since losing Carson Palmer to injury in Week 10. Backup Drew Stanton at least mounted some kind of threat, but with him sidelined by a sprained knee in Week 16, the Cardinals had to turn to third-stringer Ryan Lindley. He turned the ball over twice without once leading his team into the end zone, completing less than half of his passes in the process.

The quick trips back to the sideline gave the Seahawks more chances to pile up points and yards, and they did, finishing with 35 and 596. Only one other time have the Cardinals allowed more than 30 points in a game, and the 596 yards were a season high. Worse yet, they were lacking in big plays, recording one sack with no takeaways.

Fortunately, the Cardinals will take on a struggling 49ers offense in Week 17, so even if Lindley is back under center, the DST at least has a chance of a respectable performance. Still, if you've been relying on it all season, you might want to make sure there isn't an appealing matchups play on the waiver wire.


Seahawks DST can't be stopped
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:04 am ET) The Seahawks DST had another dominant performance Week 16 at Arizona, continuing a nine-week run that has made it once again arguably the top unit in Fantasy. During that stretch, it has averaged 16.2 Fantasy points, allowing 11.9 points on 231.3 yards.

It allowed only six points on 216 yards in Week 16, recording four sacks and one interception. Of the Seahawks' 33 sacks this season, 20 have come in their last five games.

Clearly, they had a favorable matchup in this one, but they also shut down the Eagles in Week 14. You don't have any reason to shy away from the Seahawks DST against St. Louis in Week 17.


Kenbrell Thompkins comes out of nowhere
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:58 am ET) After making only modest contributions since coming over from the Patriots in Week 6, Raiders wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins suddenly emerged as quarterback Derek Carr's favorite target Week 16 against Buffalo, catching five passes for 90 yards. He hadn't caught even one pass since Week 13, and his previous high in yardage was 47.

Of course, you should know how this goes by now. Fellow wide receivers James Jones and Andre Holmes have both had their stretches of Fantasy relevance this season, as has tight end Mychal Rivera. The Raiders have a multitude of viable receiving targets, but their roles aren't so clear, which makes the task of picking the most impactful from week to week next to impossible.

In other words, you'd need to play in an especially deep league to take a flier on Thompkins for the season's final week.


Latavius Murray trustworthy up to a point
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:51 am ET) If his 23 carries Week 14 against San Francisco didn't convince you, Latavius Murray's 23 carries Week 16 against Buffalo should make the message loud and clear: He is the Raiders' top running back, and they're putting more faith in him than they ever did Darren McFadden.

Granted, it hasn't translated to much production yet, but the 49ers and Bills are two of the toughest defenses against the run. Unfortunately, Denver, the Raiders' Week 17 opponent, is ranked even higher at both.

Can you trust Murray to get his carries? He's gotten them two of the last three weeks, so most likely, yes. And with 20-plus chances, there's always the chance he breaks a long one. But the matchup will make it difficult.

You'd like to start him given his ever-increasing role, but you shouldn't force him into your lineup if you have two (or maybe three) respectable running backs already.


One way or another, Fred Jackson gets his
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:44 am ET) Trailing early Week 16 at Oakland with their playoff hopes on the line, the Bills didn't stick with the running game for long, attempting only three runs in the second half. But in a way, that worked to running back Fred Jackson's advantage. He's such a good pass-catcher out of the backfield that he still topped 100 total yards, doing so for the first time since returning from a groin injury in Week 12.

Even with the return of C.J. Spiller from a long-term shoulder injury, Jackson still led the Bills in carries, but with only six for 10 yards. He also led the team in catches with nine for 93 yards. He had 10 catches just two weeks ago, so clearly, he's a PPR stud.

Is he worth starting in standard leagues as well? Well, he's also gotten 20 carries twice in five games since returning. He hasn't been as effective on the ground as through the air, but yards are yards, however he gets them.

Their matchup Week 17 at New England will probably force the Bills to go pass-heavy again, so unless you're stacked at running back, you can find a spot for Jackson in your lineup.


Desperation fuels Kyle Orton's performance
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:35 am ET) Bills quarterback Kyle Orton didn't have the most efficient day throwing the ball Week 16 at Oakland, but from a Fantasy perspective, it was a productive one. He threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns but also had two interceptions.

What's crazy, though, is that 196 of those yards came in the second half. The Bills were trailing a winnable game with their playoff hopes on the line, and their desperation showed. Unfortunately, that desperation also contributed to the second of Orton's interceptions.

The Bills have been eliminated, so no matter how much they're trailing Week 17 at New England, they probably won't be quite as desperate. You can expect more typical numbers from Orton -- maybe about 250 yards with one or two scores -- even if the matchup appears to be a favorable one, making him a player better left for two-quarterback leagues.


Kenny Britt clearly better with Shaun Hill
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:27 am ET) Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt caught a season-high nine passes on a season-high 11 targets Week 16 against the Giants, but his 103 receiving yards actually weren't a season high.

That's because he had 128, along with a touchdown, Week 11 against the Broncos.

That was Shaun Hill's first game back under center. Week 16, obviously, was his latest one. In the six games since Hill reclaimed the role, Britt has averaged 3.8 catches for 66.3 yards. In the nine games before then, he averaged 2.3 catches for 34.7 yards.

Britt has been especially good lately, averaging 73.3 yards in his last three games. Hill has also been fond of Stedman Bailey, but he doesn't seem to have a clear preference for one or the other.

Of course, the Rams passing attack isn't prolific enough to sustain both, so if you're going to target Britt or Bailey off the waiver wire, make sure it's in a deeper league. You wouldn't want to roll the dice on either in the season's final week if you can help it.


Andre Williams showing more ability
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:19 am ET) Carrying the load for the third straight game with Rashad Jennings sidelined by an ankle injury Week 16 at St. Louis, Giants rookie running back Andre Williams delivered his second 100-yard effort during that stretch, picking up 110 yards on 26 carries. Of course, just like in Week 14, it wasn't the steadiest performance. He had a 50-yard run in that one en route to a career-best 131 yards. He had a 45-yard run en route to his 110 yards in this one.

But that's true for most 100-yard rushing performances. The best backs break long runs occasionally, which makes up for all the 2- and 3-yard gains in between. It's easy to discount Williams' performance because of a long run here or a long run there because he's been so bad on a per-carry basis this season (take that 45-yard run away, and he averaged only 2.6 yards per carry -- oh noes!), but the fact is those long runs count, too. And he barreled over a couple of tacklers to complete it, which was nice to see.

Because Williams is short on receiving ability, his numbers don't look so great when he doesn't break a long run, but with all the carries he's getting now, his chances are better than not of breaking one. He's worth starting in standard leagues Week 17 against Philadelphia.


Rueben Randle not overshadowed for once
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:08 am ET) Since the emergence of rookie Odell Beckham in Week 9, and especially since his even bigger emergence in Week 12, wide receiver Rueben Randle has been an afterthought in the Giants passing game, averaging 2.3 catches for 31.8 yards in the four games leading up to Week 16 at St. Louis. But quarterback Eli Manning finally had enough yards to go around in that one, delivering Beckham his usual eight grabs for 148 yards and still finding Randle on six passes for 132 yards.

Randle even caught a touchdown pass, his first since Week 5. Of course, Beckham caught two and is now up to eight in his last five games, averaging 9.6 catches for 131.4 yards during that stretch.

You see the problem here, don't you? Manning was able to sustain both Beckham and Randle in this one, but that's only because he threw for a season-high 391 yards. If he regresses to a more modest total Week 17 against Philadelphia, we all know Randle is the one taking a back seat. Beckham has other-worldly talent, and Manning is smart enough to deliver him the ball as often as possible.

Of course, the Giants will probably have to throw a lot to keep pace with the Eagles, which bodes well for Randle, but you should still treat him as no more than a No. 3 wide receiver in Fantasy.


Odell Beckham making Eli Manning a stud
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:58 am ET) Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham had another eight catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns Week 16 at St. Louis, which has become par for the course for him. It was his second straight game and third game in five with more than 140 receiving yards and multiple scores.

What you may not have noticed, though, is that quarterback Eli Manning has taken off during that same stretch. He had a season-high 391 yards and three touchdowns in Week 16, completing 25 of 32 passes. Over his last five games, he has averaged 297.2 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions.

It stands to reason, of course. Beckham couldn't be putting up all those numbers without someone throwing him the ball. This may be one of those rare cases of the wide receiver making the quarterback as opposed to the other way around. Beckham is clearly a special talent, and Manning has made a point to deliver him the ball as often as possible.

It's reason enough to give Manning another chance Week 17 against Philadelphia if you've been suffering with Matthew Stafford or Colin Kaepernick and are somehow still alive in spite of it.


 
 
 
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