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Fantasy & Reality: The spin on Spiller

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It's been four weeks. Consensus first-round pick C.J. Spiller has not scored and has only one game with 100 yards. Meanwhile, Bills teammate Fred Jackson has two touchdowns and two 100-total-yard games. Jackson's numbers have propelled him to the Top 10 among Fantasy rushers. Spiller? You don't want to know ...

OK, fine, I'll tell you. He's tied for 31st with Ronnie Hillman and Andre Ellington in standard Fantasy play. He's produced one fewer point than BenJarvus Green-Ellis. There. Depressed yet?

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Spiller's weak statistical start makes him the front-runner for Fantasy bust of the year. But it's absolutely not because of a lack of opportunities nor is it because of an offensive philosophy shift in Buffalo. That's part of what I learned after watching every offensive snap from the Bills this season.

Eagles coach Chip Kelly made headlines because of his new-fangled hurry-up, run-leaning offense, but the Bills aren't too far off from doing the same thing. In fact, they've run more plays from scrimmage than any other team in the league save for the Texans, averaging 72.0 plays per game. And while Buffalo's run-pass ratio is basically even, the 136 plays involving Spiller and Jackson represent 47 percent of the total offense. Spiller even has more touches than Jackson, 75 to 61, and that's with Spiller missing all but three plays in the second half of Week 3 against the Jets and the tail end of Week 4 against the Ravens.

In the Bills first three games, Spiller served as the lead guy while Jackson was more of a change-of-pace back. The only time Jackson had dedicated roles was in the two-minute offense and in goal-to-go situations, though Spiller got in on a handful of goal-line plays. Otherwise, Jackson participated in three consecutive plays just four times. That makes what he's done even more incredible -- and what Spiller hasn't done even more concerning.

Last week there was a change. Jackson took over third-down work as well as two-minute drill snaps. Jackson also popped in for some other plays but again wasn't in consecutively for more than three or four at a time until Spiller hurt his ankle. Then he took on a bigger workload while Tashard Choice rounded out the run game, including work on three third downs.

Maybe last week's change was by design because Spiller was hurt. Or maybe it was an acknowledgement by the coaches to give Jackson, the running back with the hotter hand, more playing time. Though Spiller ended up with more touches in Week 4, it was Jackson who outproduced him yet again.

Spiller's running style hasn't changed. He remains a quick, shifty runner with very good speed. He hasn't been as elusive; many of the first defenders he runs into take him down. He's also run east-west a lot, dancing behind the line and trying to make a play by running sideline to sideline. It's also worth noting his O-line hasn't given him many clean creases, though there were also a number of plays where Spiller had room to bounce a play outside but instead cut inside for just a few yards. There have also been a number of plays where Spiller ran right into his own linemen and ultimately got wrapped up and hit hard by defenders. That hasn't helped.

Spiller seems to be looking for the home-run play, but he's not getting it with nearly as much frequency as expected. Spiller has carries good for 21 and 46 yards on the year (an additional 28-yard gainer was called back by a penalty). Those all came in the same game -- Week 2 against the Panthers. In the other three games combined Spiller has had nothing greater than three carries of 10 yards. Two came last week, including one when he came back after hurting his ankle.

In fact, it's that ankle injury that forced him out of action late last week and had him sidelined earlier in practice this week. That's on top of a quad injury that knocked him out of the game prior. Already this week Spiller said he'd play if he were at 80 to 85 percent but hasn't practiced as of Tuesday. Looking into a matchup against a Browns defense (Thursday night) that ranks third best against running backs in Fantasy, I'd say Spiller would be in for a tough time on limited work if he did play. The Browns happen to be the fifth straight opponent the Bills will play that ranks highly in Fantasy points allowed to running backs. Buffalo's other opponents were first, tied for sixth and two tied for 11th in Fantasy points allowed to rushers so far this season. Spiller hasn't had a gimme matchup yet and frankly will not have anything resembling one until Week 7 at Miami, and even that's not a cakewalk. Week 8 at New Orleans won't be easy either.

But remember, while Spiller has mostly stunk in tough matchups, Jackson has been great. So maybe the matchups aren't the problem. Maybe it's his health, or the workload (he has 75 carries through four games this year; he had 50 through four games last year), or his dancing behind the line and his impatient running, or all of the above. He's got the chops to take any carry at any time to the house, but the combination of his bad start, his injuries and Jackson's hot start could further dampen his playing time. The coaches have already taken notice. It might take a breakout game for those coaches to reconsider upping his workload, and he'll have to be healthy to do that.

If you own Spiller, I would not only sit him in Week 5 -- whether he's active or not -- but I'd entertain hearty trade offers for him. If I could land a capable running back and another decent starter for him, I'd take it. That's how concerned I am about him turning this season around and becoming the 1,600-yard back we all hoped he'd be.

Managing expectations

Two weeks ago I figured out that the passing game had become incredibly more productive in Fantasy compared to a year ago. But has that remained the case?

Just like before, I took the total Fantasy production in a standard scoring league from each of the top positions in Fantasy, then made tiers based on the first 12, second 12 and in some cases the third 12 of ranked players. From there I calculated the average Fantasy point production you could expect from each tier. Keep the number in mind -- it's what constitutes a fair performance from your starter at each respective position.

Tier Wks 1-2 Wks 1-4 Diff.
QB 1-12 28.4 24.0 -4.4
QB 13-24 17.8 16.8 -1.0
RB 1-12 14.4 13.9 -0.5
RB 13-24 8.7 8.9 0.2
RB 25-36 7.0 5.7 -1.3
WR 1-12 16.8 13.3 -3.5
WR 13-24 11.5 10.3 -1.2
WR 25-36 8.3 8.3 0.0
TE 1-12 12.3 10.5 -1.8
TE 13-24 5.8 5.0 -0.8

So what does this mean exactly? Through the last two weeks we've seen passing numbers take a dip after a hot start. Quarterbacks, receivers and tight ends are all scoring less than they did to open the season. Running backs are basically steady, not falling like their counterparts. In fact, the only spot where there was any gain was at No. 2 running back, and it's by a fraction of a Fantasy point. We'll keep tabs on these numbers and run them in this space every two weeks.

Fantasy & Reality

Quick observations about the misconceptions (Fantasy) and truths (Reality) from around the league.

Fantasy: Tony Gonzalez will get bottled up by the Patriots. Out of all the calls I made last week, this bad one hurt the most. For his entire career Bill Belichick schemed to take out Gonzalez every single time he played him -- and succeeded all but one time. Well, make it two times now after Belichick decided to contain Julio Jones in the early going instead. It worked out fine for Matt Ryan, who threw to Gonzalez enough to get him to a 7-90-1 stat line at halftime (Julio had 6 yards on two catches). Gonzalez was invisible in the third quarter before rallying along with Jones, Ryan and the rest of the Falcons in the fourth quarter when they were down 30-13.

Reality: The Saints shouldn't forget about Darren Sproles. Most players get slower as they get older. Sproles looks as fast -- if not faster -- this year compared to last year. When the Dolphins ganged up on Jimmy Graham, Sproles did a ton of damage. When the Dolphins peeled off even one defender from Graham to contain Sproles, Drew Brees hammered them over the top with Graham. Both players should be regulars in the offense every week.

Fantasy: It's time to give up on David Wilson. Believe it or not, I'm trying to trade for Wilson. I want him for this week's game against the Eagles. The 0-4 Giants are at home and desperate for a win. Eli Manning just saw brother Peyton carve up the Eagles with his receivers and surely could apply some of what big bro did to his game this week. But he also should hand off a lot -- the Eagles have allowed 179.0 total yards per game to running backs over the last three weeks. With Da'Rel Scott sent packing, the Giants have to come around on Wilson in this must win. Plus, Wilson hasn't looked so awful the past five quarters.

Reality: Jim Caldwell temporarily lost his mind. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall when John Harbaugh approached Caldwell, his offensive coordinator, and asked him why he called nine run plays last week against Buffalo. They ran the ball nine times! Twice in the second half! This game was never a blowout where the Ravens had to throw, they just decided to fling it again and again against the Bills. No wonder why Joe Flacco threw five picks (not all were his fault). Ray Rice fans, I'd expect a change in that direction this week against the Dolphins.

Fantasy: Giovani Bernard will have to wait until midseason to take the running back job away from BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Gio disappointed statistically on Sunday but still played on 74 pct. of snaps to The Law Firm's 26 pct. He had 16 touches too, all thanks in part to playing from behind. Bernard has the primary workload in his hands and should rebound nicely against a Patriots defense missing defensive line game changer Vince Wilfork.

Reality: Chris Johnson should spend less time sounding off on his Fantasy owners and spend more time looking to improve his game. After racking up 14 yards on his first two carries against the Jets, Johnson had one carry for 4 yards, another for three and the rest went for 2 yards or less, including negative yardage. There were even some plays where it looked like Johnson freelanced while the O-line followed out the orders given by the coaches. Johnson ran for minus-6 yards on his first two carries with Ryan Fitzpatrick in part because of one of those runs. I'll admit it's not all Johnson's fault -- you can tell he's trying this year and you can see it in the number of 10-plus yard runs he has. His line is not always great and in the case of last week he faced a very tough run defense. And he'll continue to for the next three weeks when the Titans play the Chiefs, at the Seahawks and vs. the Rams before taking a week off. Maybe he should spend more time in the film room and less time on Twitter.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard .

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Player News
RB Steven Jackson, cut by Falcons, isn't planning to retire
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:05 pm ET) Though he's without a team at the moment, running back Steven Jackson has no plans to retire. 

The Falcons officially released Jackson Thursday night, with immediate questions emerging about his future. On his own website, though, Jackson posted a statement saying he isn't hanging up the cleats just yet.  

"A lot has been written lately about my future," Jackson wrote. "There are questions about my age, and what I have left in the tank. Of that, I will simply say this. For the first nine years of my career, I was used like a battering ram, punishing opposing defense over four quarters of a game. Maybe you stopped me the first five times I got the ball, but by the 15th or 20th time I got it, late in a game -- let's just say you were really feeling me at that point.

"Make no mistake: I can still punish a defense. I still have a warrior's heart. There are 1,000-yard seasons left in these legs. I know what I am still capable of, and I have every intention of proving it."

Jackson also admitted his two seasons with the Falcons were a disappointment as the organization did not reach the postseason in either season. He combined for only 1,250 yards in 2013 and 2014 after posting eight consecutive seasons with over 1,000 yards when he was with the Rams. 


Raiders expected to release safety Tyvon Branch
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(9:34 pm ET) The Raiders will be parting ways with safety Tyvon Branch, according to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora

Branch only played in three games during the 2014 season due to a foot injury that placed him on injured reserve. That followed his 2013 season in which Branch was only able to participate in two games. 

However, Branch could be a commodity in what is otherwise considered a weak safety market. 

Branch signed a four-year, $26..6 million contract with the Raiders in 2012, with $17.6 million guaranteed.


Browns working to re-sign CB Buster Skrine
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:00 pm ET) The Browns are hopeful they can re-sign cornerback Buster Skrine but are probably going to have to try to do so after he hits the free agent market, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer

Skrine had a single-season best four interceptions in 2014 and will be someone that could command a hefty price tag on the open market. The Plain Dealer reports that Skrine is expecting anywhere from $5.5 million to $7 million per season. 

The Browns should be in a good position to match an offer for Skrine. Depending on what the 2015 cap number per team is, the Browns are likely to have well over $30 million to spend in free agency. 


Colts, Matt Hasselbeck agree to one-year contract
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7:44 pm ET) It looks like Matt Hasselbeck's NFL career will extend at least one more year. 

The Colts reached a one-year deal with backup quarterback Hasselbeck, the team announced on Thursday. 

Hasselbeck, 39, will enter his 17th year in the NFL. After starting out as Brett Favre's backup in Green Bay for his first two seasons in 1999 and 2000, he joined the Seahawks via a trade and quickly established himself as a starting-caliber quarterback. 

In 16 NFL seasons, Hasselbeck has totaled 34,948 yards, 203 touchdowns and 148 interceptions. He'll be the top candidate to back up Andrew Luck next season. 


Report: Vikings, Adrian Peterson can communicate with each other
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(7:32 pm ET) Now that Adrian Peterson has been moved back to the Commissioner's Exempt list, the Vikings can reach out and communicate with him, according to a report from Pro Football Talk

Peterson had been suspended by the NFL until April 15 and upheld by an arbitrator. On Thursday, U.S. District Judge David Doty overturned the arbitrator's decision, sending the case back down to go through the CBA. The NFL has removed the suspension, for now, while moving Peterson back to the Commissioner's Exempt list. 

The NFL announced in a statement that it is appealing Doty's ruling

Since the Vikings want Peterson to remain with them, they can now reach out and hold talks directly. While suspended by the NFL, the Vikings were unable to communicate with him. This is an interesting development because the Vikings have publicly stated they want him to stay in Minnesota. 

However, at least one report as indicated Peterson wants to leave and continue his NFL career elsewhere


Falcons release running back Steven Jackson
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(7:27 pm ET) The Falcons released running back Steven Jackson on Thursday, the team announced.

Jackson was owed $3.75 million in 2015, but with running back Devonta Freeman on the roster, it appears Jackson is expendable. In 2014, Jackson rushed for 707 yards and six touchdowns on 190 carries.

By cutting Jackson, the Falcons saved $3.7 million against the salary cap, reports the NFL Network.


Redskins sign Ricky Jean Francois to three-year contract
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(6:58 pm ET) The Redskins signed defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois to a three-year deal Thursday, reports the NFL Network.

The deal is believed to be worth $9 million with $4 million guaranteed. With incentives, the deal can reach $11.25 million.

Jean Francois was cut by the Colts on Monday. In 2014, Jean Francois totaled 28 tackles and three sacks.


Report: Browns believe they still have a shot at Josh McCown
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(6:44 pm ET) The Browns remain confident that they can snag quarterback Josh McCown from the free agent ranks, according to a report from ESPN.com

McCown visited the Browns this week and has also received interest from the the Jets, Bills and Bears. The Browns are in the market for a starting-caliber quarterback with Brian Hoyer possibly leaving in free agency and with Johnny Manziel's status up in the air with the off-field issues hes working through. 

McCown threw 13 touchdowns to just one interception with the Bears in 2013, doing this while filling in for an injured Jay Cutler. His performance earned him a contract with the Buccaneers, though injuries and poor play resulted in a season that saw him throw 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. 

McCown was released by the Buccaneers earlier this offseason. 


Report: Cardinals sign cornerback Damond Smith
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(6:12 pm ET) The Cardinals signed cornerback Damond Smith on Thursday, reports The Baltimore Sun.

Smith did not play during the 2014 season after being cut by the Chiefs. He has never played in an NFL game.


Chargers officially cut OL Jeromey Clary from roster
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5:52 pm ET) Chargers offensive lineman Jeromey Clary announced his retirement in January. However, the Chargers finally removed him from the offseason roster with a failed physical designation, according to the NFL transaction wire. 

Clary did not play during the 2014 season due to two hip surgeries. 

Clary spent all nine of his NFL years with San Diego. 


 
 
 
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