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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
Titans sign CB Brandon Harris to one-year deal
by Igor Mello | CBSSports.com
(12:09 pm ET) The Titans have signed cornerback Brandon Harris to a one-year contract on Friday, per the team's official website. Harris played 11 games in 2014, his first season with the Titans. He finished with 11 combined tackles and three pass deflections last season.

Redskins' Thompson, Redd to compete for third-down back role
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:24 am ET) Redskins coach Jay Gruden said this week at the NFL owners' meetings running back Chris Thompson will get the first chance to secure third-down responsibilities, according to The Washington Post. Silas Redd will also get consideration for the role of third-down back.

“Chris [Thompson] came in last year at the end and did some things, and we’re hoping that he can come back and stay healthy in the offseason and give us a little jolt back there,” Gruden said. “And Silas Redd will get every chance to do some things also.”

Although, the Redskins could look to bring in some competition before training camp begins.

“I also think that at the running back position in the draft, there’s a ton of them,” Gruden said. “It’s a very deep running back draft in my opinion, and we’re excited to add another piece at some point, hopefully. We have seven picks. Hopefully one of them will be a running back, or a free agent to compete. There are some good free agents that haven’t been signed yet. But, giving Chris an opportunity, Silas, Alfred (Morris), that’s where it starts. And we’ll add some more later on for competition.”


Falcons could bring in Matt Schaub to vie for backup QB role
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:10 am ET) Falcons coach Dan Quinn is not ruling out bringing back former Atlanta quarterback Matt Schaub to compete for the backup role behind starter Matt Ryan, per ESPN.

"Schaub is certainly somebody that we could [add]," Quinn said. "As we get through it, we'll let you know if we go down that road."

The 34-year-old Schaub was released by the Raiders in mid-March. T.J. Yates and Sean Renfree are the other quarterbacks on the Falcons' roster.


Panthers' Rivera expecting Stephen Hill to contribute in 2015
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:45 am ET) Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes wide receiver Stephen Hill is ready to make an impact in 2015 after spending the 2014 season on the practice squad, per ESPN.

“Very much so," Rivera said Wednesday during the NFL owners meeting in Phoenix. “He’s a guy we feel has an opportunity. We’re very excited about [seeing] Stephen during OTAs and minicamp.

“With his size (6-4, 215) and speed and his ability to get vertical, if he can assimilate to what we do -- and I think he will; he seems to be a very smart man -- he might be a guy that has an opportunity to contribute for us."

Rivera felt Hill's year on the practice squad was beneficial after the 2012 second-round pick failed to live up to expectations during his tenure with the Jets. 

“I thought it was a good opportunity to take a step back and take a break," Rivera said. “The thing I liked about Stephen was how he contributed to our football team’s success. He came in. He had been a second-round pick. He had no assumptions, no entitlement.

“He ran all the scout teams for us. He ran them hard. Gave us great looks, which is what makes us excited 'cause you watch a guy perform who could very easily dog it, and he didn’t. And you saw him grow. You saw him make catches. You saw him get comfortable in his own skin again."


Terence Newman reunites with Mike Zimmer in Minnesota
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:16 am ET) The Vikings announced Friday they signed cornerback Terence Newman, who played for coach Mike Zimmer in Dallas and Cincinnati.

“That’s the biggest thing. He can still play. He came in the league later. I think he was 25 when he came in,” Zimmer said, per the team's official website. “He struggled a little bit in Dallas and then played great in Cincinnati. Last year, he didn’t play quite as good, so seemingly with me, we get things fixed a little bit. I really respect him, and I think he really respects me.”

Although terms of the deal were not officially released, NFL.com reported earlier this week the veteran cornerback's deal is a one-year, $2.5 million contract.


Gruden: Redskins 'keeping a close eye' on Santana Moss
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:55 am ET) With wide receiver Santana Moss still looking to continue his NFL career, Washington coach Jay Gruden said there is a chance the Redskins might re-sign the veteran receiver, who had just 10 catches in 2014.

"We're keeping a close eye on Santana," Gruden said at the NFL owners' meetings in Phoenix, per ESPN. "You know, that's something that we know where Santana is and he knows where we are, and something may work out down the road.

"I could always play with Santana. Santana's a great person. He's great in the locker room for us. He knows all the positions. I know he's going to be in great shape, and I would not hesitate one bit to call him."


Jaguars' Thomas won't try to measure up to Broncos' numbers
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(9:11 am ET) New Jaguars tight end Julius Thomas told SI.com he has already begun working with quarterback Blake Bortles.

"It’s exciting, that first time you get to work out with your new quarterback," he said. "We’ve got a couple thousand more reps to go, but I’m really looking forward to that chemistry and growing with that entire offense."

The expectations will be elevated for Thomas, who is coming off two great seasons with the Broncos. However, Thomas isn't out to prove he can have the same production without Peyton Manning throwing him passes.

"I think I’ve got to be a little bit cautious on trying to prove so much," he said. "I think I’ve just got to go out there and work my hardest, and do everything I can to win every route, and see what happens. I don’t want to set a goal of 'I gotta have these numbers.' I’m just going to work my hardest every day, do everything I can to become a better player, and do everything I can to help out my team and this offense."

Thomas is also confident he will be able to coexist on offense with veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis, who has been with the team since 2006.

"I don’t think we’ll have any problem playing together," he said. "I was actually talking to him this weekend. I ran into him; we both live in L.A. He’s a really good guy. I’ve met him a couple times before. We both have the same marketing company, so we know the same people, and people that I respect speak very highly of him. I think we complement each other very well. There are going to be things that he can teach me, and I can learn from him."


Former Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin: I still believe in Chip Kelly
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(8:59 am ET) Former Eagles wide receiver Jeremy Maclin apparently has no ill-will toward Philadelphia coach Chip Kelly. Although the Eagles could not match the Chiefs' five-year, $55 million contract offer, which Maclin signed in mid-March, Maclin is still a fan of Kelly, who has overhauled the Eagles' roster this offseason.

"I still believe in Chip," Maclin said, per The Philadelphia Inquirer. "I think Chip's going to do great things here. I have the utmost respect for him. Unfortunately, we couldn't get something worked out. But at the end of the day I'm very excited about playing for Kansas City and playing for Big Red."

As well as Maclin not being brought back, the Eagles traded LeSean McCoy and quarterback Nick Foles. They also released defensive end Trent Cole and offensive lineman Todd Herremans.

Maclin missed the 2013 season -- Kelly's first in the NFL -- due to a torn ACL. However, he returned in 2014 to post career highs in targets (143), catches (85) and receiving yards (1,318), while tying a career high with 10 touchdowns.


Lions' Caldwell: Don't expect Stafford's numbers to change much
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(8:36 am ET) Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford is just one of five quarterbacks in NFL history to throw for 5,000 yards. However, since he accomplished the feat in 2011, his passing yards have declined each season.

Stafford passed for 4,257 yards and attempted 602 passes in 2014 -- his first year under coach Jim Caldwell. While at the NFL owners' meetings in Phoenix this week, Caldwell said it's probably safe not to expect Stafford's numbers to change much in 2015.

"Here's the thing I want to make certain you guys understand, and see what I see just in terms of my vision," Caldwell said, per MLive.com. "When I tell you we're not going to throw the ball anymore than we threw it, that's a fact. We're probably not going to throw it (more).

"If we do throw it more, that means we're struggling, we're not winning, we're not a very good football team. OK? Plain and simple. Maybe that ball's got to be distributed a little bit differently, but I don't anticipate those numbers changing, overall, a significant amount."


Nick Foles' acquisition won't change Rams' plans to draft QB
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(8:26 am ET) Rams coach Jeff Fisher said the team is still looking to draft a quarterback this year, despite the acquisition of quarterback Nick Foles, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“It’s our intention to draft one,” Fisher said. “The Nick (Foles) trade has no bearing over what we do in the draft.”

The Rams have the 10th pick in the first round. It's unlikely Jamies Winston or Marcus Mariota fall that far, so unless St. Louis trades up, then they are likely looking to draft from the second-tier of quarterbacks, which includes Bryce Petty, Brett Hundley, Sean Mannion and Garrett Grayson.

“There’s some outstanding players once you get beyond (Winston and Mariota),” Fisher said. “We’re just starting the process. My understanding based on our first-wave draft meetings is that there’s some young quarterbacks that can play.”

Petty, who played at Baylor, said in a radio interview earlier in March he intends to visit with the Rams before the draft.

“Good combine,” Fisher said. “Got a very strong arm. Good athlete. You don’t see him do things that we’re gonna ask him to do, so I think you have to see him actually work out, private workout, things like that.”


 
 
 
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