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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
WR Andre Johnson: I didn't join Colts for revenge against Texans
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(4/18/2015) Perennial Pro Bowl wideout Andre Johnson insists that he did not sign as a free agent with the Colts with two matchups against his old Texans team in mind. He claims the move was because Indianapolis, led by quarterback Andrew Luck, gives him the best chance to win.

Johnson was surprisingly released by Houston, but revenge was not part of his game plan.

"(Leaving the Texans) hasn't even really set in," he told the Houston Chronicle. "I was just talking about that with someone (Thursday). Everybody thinks that I went to the Colts to try and get back at the Texans and stuff like that. That had nothing to do with it. I just went to the ... place where I felt was the best fit for me and where I can have a chance to win a championship.

"It wasn't about circling (game) dates or nothing against the Texans. I had 12 great years here. Been around some great people, built some great relationships, a lot of great friends. Houston's always going to be my home."

Johnson remained productive in 2014, but his yards-per-catch average declined to 11.0, its lowest since 2005.


Report: Jaguars restructure contract of Marcedes Lewis
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4/18/2015) The Jaguars restructured the contract of tight end Marcedes Lewis, according to a report by Jacksonville.com.

Lewis did not receive an extension. This year will be the last year of his contract. The restructuring should reduce his cap number, which is currently $8.2 million. 


Jaguars sign Stefen Wisniewski
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4/18/2015) The Jaguars announced the signing of free agent center Stefen Wisniewski on Saturday. 

Wisniewski reportedly signed a one-year contract for $2.5 million, per Jacksonville.com.

"We had the opportunity to spend time with Stefen earlier this month and remained in contact with him with the hopes of getting a deal done," GM David Caldwell said. "We are excited to get him on board before we officially start our offseason conditioning program next week. He gives us great position flexibility along our offensive line as he has started at both center and guard during his career. He has a familiarity with our offensive system and brings a lot of experience to our offensive line room."


49ers looking to extend Michael Wilhoite
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) After the unexpected retirements of two linebackers, the 49ers are looking to lock up Michael Wilhoite to a contract extension. 

Wilhoite is an exclusive rights free agent, but GM Trent Baalke told the media he hopes to negotiate a long-term deal. 

"We’re working on something with him as we speak … He’s kind of in a unique situation. He was kind of caught in a numbers deal," Baalke said, per SFGate.com.


DeMeco Ryans likes improved Eagles' defense
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans likes the changes that the team has made to its defense in the offseason.

"We got better on the outside, which we struggled at last year,” Ryans said, per ESPN. “We had a lot of struggles there on the outside at the corner position, so I feel we've upgraded there with (Byron) Maxwell , a guy that you've seen make a lot of plays for the Seahawks. A guy like Kiko (Alonso), who his rookie year was a really outstanding player, up for defensive rookie of the year, a playmaker all over the field, and another guy in (Walter) Thurmond , who is expected to definitely push guys to be the starting corner on the other side. So I feel like we upgraded at a lot of positions, and I feel like it's really going to improve our defense."


Kubiak: Time for Broncos' backup Brock Osweiler to step up
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler hasn't had much playing time, as Peyton Manning's backup, but coach Gary Kubiak wants to see progress from him.

"I think it's time for Brock to take a big step as a player," Kubiak said, per NFL.com. "A lot of times in this league, the young quarterbacks don't get the opportunity to be behind a player of Peyton's status and learn before they get the opportunity in this league ... I think Brock needs to take advantage of this. But he's going to be very competitive. I'm very impressed with his skills. I'm very impressed with how hard he works in the classroom. I know he's got all of the ability."


Kubiak: Broncos will run no-huddle with Peyton Manning
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) Gary Kubiak said he plans to take advantage of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning when designing the Broncos' offense for next season. 

We'll definitely be running the hurry-up offense," Kubiak said per NFL.com. "Peyton's been the best at the business at it for many years, so that's a strength that we'll stay with."

That doesn't mean everything will be the same for Manning. Kubiak said he planned on having Manning under center more than in recent seasons. 


Steelers claim LS Brandon Hartson off waivers
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) The Steelers announced on Friday that they claimed long snapper Brandon Hartson off of waivers. 

Hartson was waived by the Chiefs on Thursday. 


S Chris Banjo signs EFA tender with Packers
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) Packers safety Chris Banjo signed his exclusive-rights tender on Friday, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

The tender is good for one year and is worth $585,000 for the 2015 season. 


Trent Baalke praises 49ers LB Aldon Smith's offseason work ethic
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith has had plenty of off-field issues since entering the NFL.

After serving a nine-game suspension a year ago for violating the NFL's personal-conduct and substance-abuse policy, Smith returned and only tallied two sacks. 

The time off followed by sub-par performances has ignited Smith on the practice field thus far, according to general manager Trent Baalke. 

"He’s probably in as good a shape as he’s been in a long time," Baalke said, via the San Jose Mercury News. "He’s starting to develop into a leader out there, which is good to see and been a pleasure to watch."

Baalke knows that Smith has an uphill climb in repairing his image. But while Smith attempts to do so, Baalke wanted the San Francisco media to know that Smith is doing what he can to improve ont he playing field. 

“He’s got a great look in his eye,” Baalke said. “He’s doing well. I look forward to having you guys visit with him.”


 
 
 
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