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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
Levine Toilolo bulks up
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(10:39 am ET) Falcons tight end Levine Toilolo "added a lot of muscle in the offseason, especially to his upper body," reports the team's website. The 6-8 Toilolo played at 265 pounds last year. The website did not say how much Toilolo weighs now.

Toilolo figures to start now that Tony Gonzalez has retired. He won't get nearly as many passes thrown his way, but could become a red-zone factor. Toilolo caught 11 balls for 55 yards and two touchdowns last season while appearing in every game.


Andre Johnson hints at Texans return
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(10:01 am ET) Disgruntled wide receiver Andre Johnson told NFL.com that he will "hopefully" be at Texans training camp. 

"We'll see what happens," Johnson said. "Camp is three weeks away." 

Johnson held out of the Texans' offseason program after expressing disappointment with the direction of the team, though he never formally asked for a trade. Johnson will be 33 when the season starts and has played in four postseason games in 11 seasons. 


'Possibilities are endless' with Dwayne Allen's return
by Dave Richard | Senior Fantasy Writer
(9:43 am ET) Colts tight end Dwayne Allen played just 32 snaps last season before suffering a season-ending hip injury. His loss took a lot of unique formations out of Indianapolis' playbook as they intended to use a lot of two-tight end sets and feature Allen, the official team website reports.

However, with Allen healed and ready to start training camp, the site says the "possibilities are endless" in how the Colts use Allen and teammate Coby Fleener this season. 

"It makes us a better football team," tight ends coach Alfredo Roberts said of a healthy Allen. "Getting him back is like getting a brand new player."

The Colts expect to be more creative on offense with Allen back in the fold.


LaRon Landry dealing with 'soft-tissue' injury
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Colts safety LaRon Landry missed voluntary workouts and mandatory minicamp with what the team called a "soft-tissue" injury, reports ESPN.com. He's coming off a disappointing first season in Indianapolis in which he made 87 tackles and no interceptions.

The website said the Colts need a big year from Landry after the departure of fellow safety Antoine Bethea.

"The thing with LaRon is and I know [coach] Chuck (Pagano) alluded to it, he's a guy that his throttle is always full-bore," general manager Ryan Grigson told the website. "He's out there in parts unknown working out. We trust him in the fact that we know he's going to go harder than anyone."


Marquise Goodwin ticketed for change-of-pace role
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) The Bills view speedy receiver Marquise Goodwin as a change-of-pace option behind Sammy Watkins, Robert Woods and Mike Williams, according to WGR550.com. A former track star, Goodwin averaged 23.6 yards on his 17 receptions last year, scoring three touchdowns.

Mike Williams expected to be No. 3 receiver
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods are projected as the Bills' top two receivers, with Mike Williams expected to see the field in three-receiver sets, reports WGR550.com. Still, coaches view Williams "as a potential instant contributor and someone who could help EJ Manuel in both the red zone and as a player with high-pointing ability on all areas of the field," the report said.

Kendall Wright working out with Robert Griffin III
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Titans receiver Kendall Wright returned to Baylor to work out with his former college quarterback, the Redskins' Robert Griffin III, reports the Tennessean. Wright posted a picture of himself with Griffin and another former Baylor wideout, the Cowboys' Terrance Williams.

"Good grind session with my bros … where it all started at BU," wrote Wright, who caught 94 passes for 1,079 yards and two touchdowns last season.

Aaron Rodgers talks up tight end Richard Rodgers
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) The Packers are unsettled at tight end, which means rookie Richard Rodgers could emerge as an option. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers certainly liked throwing to the 6-4, 257-pounder in the spring, and Richard Rodgers could be the starter "sooner rather than later," reports the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

"When we made the pick, some of the so-called experts on the draft channel said he was a late sixth-round pick ... which is pretty laughable when you watch the talent he's got and the ability," Aaron Rodgers said. "You have to be excited about his body type and the hands.

"He's made some incredible catches, makes it look easy. I think he's going to push for some playing time if he can transfer what he's done in the spring now to the fall and have the potential to be an impact player."

Richard Rodgers ran a 4.87 forty coming out of California, two-tenths of a second slower than Jermichael Finley ran back in 2008, and often lined up in the slot in college, the paper said.


Jermichael Finley still hoping to return to Packers
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Free agent tight end Jermichael Finley told ESPN.com he's working as hard as he can to return to the Packers. While Finley said this is the best he's felt "during this entire crazy process," he has yet to be cleared by team doctors.

Finley underwent neck fusion surgery last fall.


Ryan Kerrigan planning to stay with Redskins long-term
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(7/9/2014) Redskins outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan is under contract through 2015 after the team picked up his option. The 2011 first-round pick envisions staying in Washington beyond that.

"I’ve worked hard these past few years to be the best I can for the team and for the organization," he told the Muncie Star Press of Indiana. "I’m going to be a part of it for at least an additional year and hopefully after that, even longer."

Kerrigan has 24.5 sacks over his first three years.


 
 
 
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