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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
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians: 'It's really (Fitzgerald's) decision'
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(10:33 am ET) Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told reporters Friday he really wants to see wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald back in Arizona next season.

"I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t," Arians said. "We definitely, desperately want him to stay. He knows that. It’s really his decision."

Fitzgerald has a salary cap hit of $23.6 million for 2015 and the team will work to get that number down in the offseason. Team president Michael Bidwill said this week contract talks won't start fully until after the Super Bowl.

"I’m hoping and praying every day that it does happen," Arians said. "I’ve expressed to him personally how much it means to us."

Fitzgerald has not reached 1,000 yards receiving in the past three seasons and totaled 784 in 2014 on 63 catches with two touchdowns.


Seahawks corner Byron Maxwell set to test free agency
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(9:25 am ET) Seahawks cornerback Byron Maxwell is ready to hit the free-agent market during the upcoming offseason and feels the Super Bowl will be his last game in Seattle.

"I’m the prettiest girl at the dance right now," Maxwell said. "But yeah, it’s one of those things I’m excited about it. I would love to be here, but I’m ready to see what’s out there and see how things work out."

Maxwell, who was heavily targeted this year with the Seahawks secondary filled with Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, grabbed two interceptions and defended 11 passes.

"Coming into the season I already knew teams were going to try me," Maxwell said. "But it was cool. I accept that. That’s more opportunities for me to get the rock and put my name out there."


Report: Titans S Bernard Pollard wants to be released
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(12:52 am ET) Titans safety Bernard Pollard has requested a release from his contract, The Tennessean reports. He is scheduled to make $3.1 million in the final season of his two-year deal in 2015.

Pollard submitted his request to general manager Ruston Webster at the end of the regular season, per the report. He is recovering from a ruptured Achilles and wants to play in 2015, but said on The Tennessean's Bernard Pollard Show earlier this month that he was unsure of his future with the Titans.

"I am not getting any younger, so I want to win, I really do. I want to win,'' Pollard said. "Looking at how things took place this year, looking at where (the Titans) need to be for next year, that is a tough, tough question, and I don't even know if they can give me the answer. I have one year on my deal, but it is going to take some time."

Pollard has been out of his walking boot for a month and is making progress in rehab. He suffered his Achilles injury in Week 5 and was placed on injured reserve.


Patriots fairly healthy heading into Super Bowl Sunday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Patriots will be at nearly full strength for Sunday’s Super Bowl as the following players have been listed as probable: Tom Brady (ankle), Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), Chris Jones (elbow), Akeem Ayers (knee), Darrelle Revis (non-injury-related) and Sealver Siliga (foot).

All except Brady were limited participants in practice Friday. The only question mark is center Bryan Stork, who is questionable with a knee injury and was limited in practice Friday.

The Patriots are currently 1-point favorites against Seattle.


Seahawks unveil final injury report in preparation for Super Bowl
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Seahawks have listed the following players as probable for the Super Bowl on Sunday: J.R. Sweezy (ankle), Justin Britt (knee), Marshawn Lynch (back), Earl Thomas (shoulder), Richard Sherman (elbow) and Kam Chancellor (knee).

Chancellor was a late addition to the injury report, when he fell on the next-to-last play of practice and missed the last play. He was not limping on his way off. All other players were full participants in practice Friday.

The Seahawks are currently 1-point underdogs against New England.


Saints tight end Jimmy Graham to avoid surgery on shoulder
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Saints tight end Jimmy Graham said Friday he will avoid surgery on his shoulder after testing it at the Pro Bowl. 

"I’ve been doing rehab and I’m going to start back on my rehab Monday and really there’s going to be no surgery," Graham told SiriusXM radio. "I’m just going to do rehab, strengthen the area. That’s what’s best — not having to take six months off and try to heal up with a surgery, but now have those six months to work on all things I need to to try and hopefully get to a place like (the Super Bowl) next year."

Graham, who had 85 catches for 889 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2014, fought off the injury for most of the season. He was still unsure about having surgery before the Pro Bowl last week.

"It was something that really needed some rest and unfortunately it wasn’t able to get that during the season," he said. "It happened early and then you have about 10 straight weeks of trying to make it to the game. Now after having about three or four weeks and last week kind of testing it at the Pro Bowl, it feels great."


Vikings' Greg Jennings: We all want Adrian Peterson back
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Vikings veteran wideout Greg Jennings said during a SiriusXM NFL Radio interview on Friday that embattled running back Adrian Peterson is wanted back by everyone in the organization, per ESPN.

"I don't know if he'll be back. I can't answer that question," Jennings said. "But what I do know is that if he does come back, he'd be accepted with open arms. As an organization from the Wilfs on down, we all want him back. So, I mean, it's a touchy subject and he's been the franchise player -- face of that team -- for eight years. So it will be a loss, a huge loss, if we can't get him back, and that's the nature of this business."

In November, Peterson was suspended by the league without pay for the rest of the season, making him ineligible for reinstatement until at least April 15. The move came after Peterson pleaded no contest to recklessly injuring his 4-year-old son last May. He is under contract with the Vikings for next season, and is set to earn $12.75 million.

It's unclear at this point if Jennings has talked to Zygi and Mark Wilf about the Peterson situation. What is clear is that the team is not allowed to communicate with Peterson during his suspension.


Eagles' Maclin believes contract will take care of itself
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin believes he will be back in Philadelphia in next season. His representatives and the Eagles are in the process of negotiating a new contract for the 27-year-old, who will become a free agent in March unless he is re-signed.

"I'm excited about what the future holds," Maclin said on Friday. "Once again, both sides have made it known what we want to do. I think it will take care of itself."

He could be franchise tagged if a deal is not signed. The tag number for wide receivers is yet to be determined.

Maclin had 85 catches in 2014 for 1,318 yards and 10 touchdowns in Philadelphia.


Bears sign LB DeDe Lattimore to two-year contract extension
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) The Bears have signed linebacker DeDe Lattimore to a two-year contract extension. He appeared in 10 games as a rookie in 2014, recording five special teams tackles.

Jaguars' Khan 'very optimistic' about WR Blackmon being reinstated
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(1/30/2015) Jaguars owner Shahid Khan said Friday he is "very optimistic" about wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who missed the 2014 season after being suspended indefinitely for a third violation of the league's substance abuse policy, being reinstated to the NFL.

"I think he's paid his dues and I think he's got his life together," Khan said, per The Florida Times-Union.


 
 
 
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