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Reality Check: Strategies for underachievers

Senior Fantasy Writer
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You know the worst thing about Fantasy Football? You get only 16 samples of a player over the course of the season.

Each of those samples has a huge impact on whether you win or lose that week, so if you just sit around collecting data, hoping to make an informed, well-reasoned determination on a player, the season will pass you by.

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As much as the Fantasy Baseball analyst in me would like to say three games means nothing and advise continued patience, driving home the point that the Broncos and Patriots were a combined 2-4 after three games last year only to go a combined 23-3 the rest of the way, the Fantasy Football analyst in me knows it's not that simple.

Even if you've survived with an underachiever so far, the losses could pile up pretty quickly if he continues to underachieve. And a couple more weeks of shoddy production will drop his trade value to virtually nothing.

The game almost promotes rash decisions. As self-defeating as it may seem, now is the time to look deep inside and determine if you really trust that player.

Because after Week 4, we'll be 25 percent of the way through the season. In most Fantasy leagues, we'll be 31 percent of the way to the playoffs. You hear me, Andrew Luck? Time to put up or shut up.

That's my underachiever, at least in one league. Two of three games with less than 200 passing yards would be bad for any era, much less one where seemingly every quarterback is destined for 4,000, and considering the Colts just traded a first-round pick to bolster their running game, I'm not sure they'd have it any other way.

Granted, Trent Richardson is a phenomenal talent, but they already had a satisfactory option in Ahmad Bradshaw. And they're not just kicking him to the curb. They say they'll have enough carries to go around, and they backed it up in a statement win over the 49ers last week, running the ball 39 times while throwing it just 27 times.

If they plan to win through the air like everyone else, they have a funny way of showing it.

Their Week 4 matchup at Jacksonville should give us a pretty good idea what direction their offense will take. They basically can do whatever they want against the Jaguars, who rank dead last against the run but allowed five passing touchdowns to the Seahawks last week. I have a sinking suspicion they'll want to showcase their new acquisition and save their franchise quarterback for another fight.

Luck will have good games this season. When the Colts fall behind, they'll have to make up ground with the pass, like everyone else. But if I have to wait around for those games to get adequate production from him, I'm sorry, but I have to move on.

It's not the difference in me dropping Luck, but it's the difference in me scooping up Philip Rivers or Sam Bradford or perhaps even trading for someone better.

So then ... who's that player for you? I took to Twitter to find out.

Luck worries me so much I'm considering trading Reggie Bush and Joique Bell for Tony Romo and Darren McFadden. -- ‏@kcford76

Ah, a man after my own heart. I certainly understand the appeal of Romo for a Luck owner. Running back is the still the toughest position to fill, though, and the Lions' starter, whoever it happens to be in a given week, is awesome.

Not that McFadden is bad, but with teams geared up to stop the run against the Raiders, he'll be hit or miss each week. A steady double-digit scorer at running back is the biggest advantage a Fantasy owner can have.

In most cases, I'd pass on this deal, but in most cases, I'd have a Rivers or Bradford type (Russell Wilson? Jay Cutler?) to sub for Luck. If those options are already off the table, you may have no choice.

Chris Johnson. No 100-yard games, no touchdowns and virtually no pass catches. -- ‏@SNolot

You know, my sister -- a relative newcomer to the game -- said something similar when I called her for our weekly waiver wire strategy session on my drive home Tuesday night, and it nearly put me in a ditch. The level of dissatisfaction from Johnson's Fantasy owners is positively flabbergasting.

I can't argue any of those points. They're 100 percent factual. But using them as your baseline is only setting yourself up for disappointment.

This isn't 2001, OK? The running backs who run, catch and score touchdowns en masse are few and far between. They were basically the first nine picks of every draft, and even among that illustrious group, not all are delivering as promised.

In most leagues, Johnson wasn't going off the board until the middle of the second round, which means nobody expected him to be that type of running back. What they expected him to be is reliable, and he has been with back-to-back 90-yard games. No, it's not 100 but, honestly ... close enough. Add the 70 he picked up in Week 1, and he's sixth among running backs with 256 rushing yards. Oh, woe to the Johnson owner!

Even more encouraging are his 69 carries, good for second among running backs. In an age when more and more teams are eschewing a traditional running game for bubble screens and option reads, Johnson remains a true 20-carry-per-game back. What a luxury that is.

With all those carries for a player with legitimate big-play potential, the touchdowns are inevitable. Two this week would put him on pace for one every other week, which would be an improvement from last year. And while it's not as good as a touchdown every week, you can't expect him to be Adrian Peterson.

Now, I'm not saying Johnson will score two touchdowns against the Jets this week. In fact, looking at his schedule, his best performances may not come until after his bye in Week 8, when the matchups suddenly begin to work in his favor. But as consistently as the Titans feed him the ball, would a two-touchdown game any given week surprise you?

It's like I told my sister: You can spend all season chasing touchdowns and always be a week behind, or you can put your faith in the workload and trust the touchdowns to follow.

She's 2-1 doing the latter, by the way. The horror of it all. Let it be known: Fantasy Football is not a game for perfectionists.

Mr. Kaepernick -- ‏@NoToryousone1

My, how formal. Just how any biceps kisser would have it, no doubt.

Colin Kaepernick is one of those quarterbacks I outlined last week who has so many comparables in terms of Fantasy production that you shouldn't expect to ride him all season long -- not if you want to give your team the best chance to win, anyway. In short, the second tier at quarterback has become so massive that they're all basically just platoon options.

Of course, even if you were open to sitting Kaepernick, you probably wouldn't have seen his dud against the Colts coming (which is the challenge every quarterback platooner faces), but judging by his superhuman performance against the Packers in Week 1, I'd say he has plenty more in store. Maybe the Colts defense deserves more credit than we're giving it. From my perspective, they're the first to throw Kaepernick a curveball. I mean, you can't be surprised he struggled against the Seahawks in Week 2. Who wouldn't?

The most encouraging part for Kaepernick is that the 49ers defense appears to have taken a step back this year, which should mean he plays from behind more, which should mean he throws more. Let's just hope he handles it better than he did last week.

C.J. Spiller, Stevan Ridley and Dwayne Bowe. Somehow I'm still 2-1. -- @AndrewTornetta

Hey look, another perfectionist.

Yeah, Ridley concerns me. Deep down, Bill Belichick is like every other crusty old coach whose face is affixed with a permanent scowl: He hates fumbles. Not only did Ridley fumble in Week 1, but the other team returned it for a touchdown! Belichick hasn't forgotten.

Well, why should he? None of the Patriots' other running backs have fumbled so far. On a team with a long history of interchanging running backs, Ridley's goose may be cooked, at least as far as Fantasy production goes.

Yeah, I'm being a little dramatic. He's had double-digit carries each of the last two weeks, after all. But in the role he's been reduced to, he'll disappoint as more than part-time flex option or bye-week replacement.

Bowe's outlook is just as discouraging. Despite quarterback Alex Smith's quality play, he has yet to put together even a 60-yard game, and considering the history of wide receivers in the Andy Reid offense, it's not too surprising.

The only two to put up big stats during Reid's long tenure in Philadelphia were Terrell Owens and DeSean Jackson -- freakish athletes who almost couldn't help but make plays for themselves. Put the ball in their hands, and the numbers would flow. Bowe has always been more of a possession guy. He has good size, but not much play-making ability. In a passing attack known for casting a wide net, that type is sure to get lost in the crowd. Bowe is worth rostering, but maybe not in more than a Golden Tate sort of way.

Now then, Spiller ... I think Mr. Michael Link puts it best:

C.J. Spiller and/or Maurice Jones-Drew. Too much preseason hype? -- @MrMichaelLink

In Spiller's case, maybe. But keep in mind the workload has been just as disappointing as the production so far. Back in August, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said the Bills would give Spiller the ball until he threw up, but so far, he's been the same 15-carry-per-game back he was most of last year.

Last year ... when he had 1,703 total yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns.

I don't know that we could have hyped Spiller any more than we did this preseason, so anything short of Adrian Peterson-like production makes him a disappointment. With his currently workload, he'll fall short. But he showed last year just how much damage he can do as a platoon back. He doesn't need to throw up to measure up to other first-round backs.

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Of course, he does need to break off the big runs he did last year, and so far, he hasn't had the space. He summed up the situation pretty well to the Buffalo News the other day, pointing out that opposing defenses are loading up the box to stop him and force rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel to beat them. It makes sense and isn't at all surprising.

But sooner or later, something has to give, whether it's Manuel actually beating them like he did the Panthers in Week 2 or Spiller breaking through the eight-man box and racing all the way to the end zone.

After all, the downside to a stacked front is its vulnerability to the big play, which happens to be Spiller's specialty. I don't know who you have as your third running back -- a Darren McFadden or Giovani Bernard type might give me pause -- but if it's the typical Daryl Richardson or Knowshon Moreno or Jacquizz Rodgers, I don't know what you gain by sitting Spiller. He's an explosion waiting to happen.

Jones-Drew is in a similar situation but has the added advantage of having survived without a quarterback for several years now. He's not as explosive as he used to be, which might limit his yards per carry, but he and Cecil Shorts are the only weapons the Jaguars have. More likely than not, they'll begin to involve him more in the passing game just to get the ball in his hands, and that should make him good for 70-plus yards per week, with the occasional touchdown.

If you drafted him hoping he'd get back to performing like a first-rounder -- and I held out some hope myself -- he'll probably continue to disappoint, but at this point, who can you get to replace him?

Daryl Richardson -- @somsensneighbor

Why, because he's hurt? Doesn't seem like a long-term thing. Surely, you're not complaining about his production. The guy had at least 80 combined yards each of the first two weeks.

Based on where you drafted Richardson, you couldn't have expected to use him as more than an occasional flex option, and I'd say he's met that low standard and then some. I'd hope for the occasional touchdown down the line, but two games without one is no epidemic. It's not like anyone else in the Rams backfield is giving him reason to sweat.

Tom Brady and Steve Smith -- @B_donmyers

I've gone back and forth with Brady. The Patriots have relied on the run more than most teams, as bizarre as that sounds, but that's partially a product of circumstance. Clearly, they're playing with less than a full deck in the passing game.

Even so, Brady has multiple touchdowns in two of his first three games, so in a worst-case scenario, he's another of the many platoon quarterbacks that make up the position's massive second tier. But when Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola return from injury -- and vague reports out of New England hint of it happening soon -- I'm thinking the Patriots go back to airing it out like everyone else, making Brady more of a buy-low than a trade-at-all-costs kind of player.

Smith was probably the one player I made a conscious effort to avoid in drafts, routinely selecting wide receivers ranked behind him. He was way too hit-or-miss for my liking last year and no longer seems to be a priority in the red zone. I don't know if that has more to do with him being 5-feet-9 or 34 years old, but neither is something he can fix.

Even with his poor production so far, I could see how a couple big games might bring him close to last year's numbers, but if you have any amount of depth at wide receiver, you'll drive yourself crazy trying to pinpoint those games. Unfortunately, I get the sense he'll be one of those players who just eats a spot on your roster. While I agree he shouldn't go unowned in any leagues, I personally wouldn't leap at the opportunity to trade for him.

Lamar Miller -- @rb2030

I'm with you there. Looking back, I can't help but feel like the hype on Miller was mostly out of desperation to find another Fantasy relevant running back. Yeah, he's the best the Dolphins have, but those touting him overestimated his ability to grind out yardage and underestimated the influence of Daniel Thomas. The two are splitting carries about 60-40.

But the biggest impediment to Miller is the Dolphins' game plan. If they're going to win this year, they're going to do it on the strength of their defense and the arm of their quarterback. It's the formula fueling their 3-0 start, and I fully expect it to continue.

If you want to keep Miller around as a bye-week replacement or for the occasional matchups play, fine. He's probably better than what the waiver wire has to offer at running back. But if you're trusting in him as an every-week option, I'd say you have a need to fill.

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
Broncos QB Manning fine Friday in practice
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(6:50 pm ET) Broncos quarterback Peyton manning had a "really good day at practice" Friday, per wideout Emmanuel Sanders. He was limited with a thigh injury that had him receiving extra treatment during the Thursday session.

Manning and his team plays at Cincinnati on Monday night.


Cowboys RB DeMarco Murray medically cleared, will decide status
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:11 pm ET) Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (hand) will make the final call on whether he plays in Week 16 against the Colts after being medically cleared Friday, NFL.com reports.

Murray is listed as questionable to play after participating in Friday's practice in a limited fashion, but since he's received medical clearance, it would be surprising to not see him active Sunday. The Cowboys lead rusher has racked up 1,687 yards on 351 carries with 11 touchdowns as well as another 395 yards on 54 receptions.


Marshawn Lynch among notable Seahawks probable for Sunday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:56 pm ET) The Seahawks have ruled tackle Russell Okung (chest) out for Sunday's game at Arizona. Center Max Unger (ankle) and defensive end Demarcus Dobbs (ankle) were labeled as questionable. Tight end Tony Moeaki (shoulder) is the only player labeled questionable and is expected to be a game-day decision.

Meanwhile, the following players were labeled probable: Running back Marshawn Lynch (back), wide receiver Paul Richardson (hamstring), guard J.R. Sweezy (ankle) and tight end Cooper Helfet (ankle).


Saints list Armstead, Hicks, Sanford questionable for Week 16
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:49 pm ET) Saints tackle Terron Armstead (neck), defensive end Akiem Hicks (ankle) and safety Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) were unable to practice Friday and were all ruled questionable for Sunday's game against Atlanta.

New Orleans remains a 6 1/2-point favorite at home against the Falcons.


49ers unveil lengthy injury report for Saturday game
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:38 pm ET) The 49ers have ruled the following players out for Saturday's game against San Diego: Linebacker Chris Borland (ankle), cornerback Tramaine Brock (hamstring), running back Carlos Hyde (ankle), wide receiver Stevie Johnson (knee).

Linebacker Ahmad Brooks (thumb), wide receiver Michael Crabtree (knee), right tackle Anthony Davis (concussion), running back Frank Gore (concussion), safety Raymond Vetrone (groin) and linebacker Michael Wilhoite (hip) were labeled as questionable.

Meanwhile, cornerback Perrish Cox (ankle), cornerback Chris Culliver (knee), defensive tackle Quinton Dial (knee), defensive end Tony Jerod-Eddie (foot), right tackle Jonathan Martin (illness), center Marcus Martin (knee), long snapper Kyle Nelson (back) and defensive end Justin Smith (back) were all deemed as probable.


49ers RB Frank Gore ruled questionable for Saturday
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:33 pm ET) 49ers running back Frank Gore (concussion) was a limited participant in practice for the second consecutive day on Friday. San Francisco officially designated him as questionable for Saturday's home game against San Diego.

Because Carlos Hyde (ankle) was ruled out, third-stringer Alfonso Smith will shoulder the load in the ground game if Gore can't play. San Francisco is currently a 1 1/2-point home favorite.


Fitzgerald, Mathieu among notable Cardinals probables Week 16
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:26 pm ET) The Cardinals have ruled guard Jonathan Cooper (wrist) out, quarterback Drew Stanton (knee) doubtful and wide receiver Jaron Brown (toe) questionable for Sunday's home game against Seattle.

Meanwhile, the following players were deemed probable: Outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander (knee), defensive end Calais Campbell (hip), guard Paul Fanaika (ankle), wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (knee), inside linebacker Larry Foote (knee), safety Tyrann Mathieu (thumb), tackle Jared Veldheer (ankle) and running back Kerwynn Williams (knee).


Browns list Joe Haden, Karlos Dansby as questionable for Sunday
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(5:21 pm ET) The Browns listed cornerback Joe Haden (shoulder) and linebacker Karlos Dansby (knee) as questionable for Sunday’s game at Carolina. Haden was able to practice Friday on a limited basis.

Also listed as questionable are Gary Barnidge (ribs), Marlon Moore (knee), Robert Nelson (hamstring) and Jabaal Sheard (foot).

The Browns ruled K’Waun Williams (hamstring) and Tashaun Gipson (knee) as out. Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins (illness) is the only player listed as probable.

The Browns are 3 ½ point underdogs to the Panthers.


Cardinals QB Drew Stanton ruled doubtful for Seattle game
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:15 pm ET) Cardinals quarterback Drew Stanton (knee) was unable to practice on Friday, just a day removed from a being a limited participant in practice. The Cardinals officially designated Stanton as doubtful for Sunday's contest at home against Seattle. If Stanton can't play, the Cardinals will have Ryan Lindley under center, with a special package also designed for rookie Logan Thomas.

Arizona is a 7 1/2-point home underdog on Sunday.


Rams list three players probable for Week 16
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(5:01 pm ET) The Rams enter Week 16 against the Giants relatively healthy, listing only three players on its final injury report. Guard Davin Joseph (not injury related), defensive end Chris Long (ankle) and center Scott Wells (not injury related) were all deemed probable.

 
 
 
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