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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
Vikings adjust practice squad
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:44 pm ET) The Vikings signed guard Austin Wentworth to their practice squad and waived cornerback Kendall James from the squad.

T.Y. Hilton a divisive figure Week 1
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:40 pm ET) T.Y. Hilton is the Colts' most explosive receiver and he opens the season with a projected shootout in Denver. Indy will throw plenty to keep up with Peyton Manning, making Hilton an easy start, right?

Senior Fantasy Writer Dave Richard thinks so, ranking Hilton 13th among wideouts. Colleague Jamey Eisenberg isn't on board.

Eisenberg buries Hilton at 41st in his rankings, noting Hilton's struggles when playing outdoors. Hilton averages 79.9 receiving yards in indoor games, 48.6 yards outside. Hilton averages 7.3 yards after the catch indoors, 4.5 yards outdoors. But he's scored the same number of touchdowns, six, in each setting.

Hilton ranked 16th in the NFL last year with 138 targets; that will be tough to duplicate this season with a healthy Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen and Hakeem Nicks' arrival.

But in this game, with Andrew Luck expected to throw 40 times, consider Hilton a high-end WR3 with the potential to go off.


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(1:38 pm ET) Falcons running back Steven Jackson, who missed most of training camp nursing a hamstring problem, says he's amped up to face the Saints on Sunday.

"I'm extremely excited for Week 1," he told the team's website. "It's been a training camp that I missed the majority of the time, but I've been working hard physically and mentally to prepare for this coming Sunday. I feel good about it."


Julio Jones looking to make up for lost touchdowns
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:26 pm ET) Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, who missed the final 11 weeks last year with a fractured foot, will be taking on the division rival Saints for the first time in nearly a full calendar year when they come to town in Week 1. He scored a touchdown in that last meeting, catching seven passes for 76 yards, and seems eager to do so again.

"That's a big emphasis this year," wide receiver Julio Jones told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "We have to score in the red zone. We have too many weapons to get [stopped] in the red zone."

Jones was referring to last year's season opener -- a game the Falcons lost 23-17 after stalling twice inside the 10-yard line. Given the Jones' size and physicality, the Falcons will obviously look to him in those situations, especially with tight Tony Gonzalez now out of the picture.

Jones has expressed concern recently that he's not quite ready for a full workload yet, but even if the Falcons rest him a little more than usual, you can bet they'll take advantage of his time on the field. Even though the Saints technically ranked second against the pass last year, allowing 194.1 yards per game, you shouldn't hesitate to start Jones in Fantasy. Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard both rank him fifth among wide receivers for the week.


Bill Belichick: No decision on Gronk's status yet
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:15 pm ET) While Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski (knee) said he'll definitely play Sunday at Miami, coach Bill Belichick said no final decision has been made, reports CSNNE.com.

"I'm glad that Rob's optimistic about this situation," Belichick said. "We'll go through the week of practice and take a look at everything, everybody, and see where everybody's at and try to do what we like is best for the team. With all due respect to Rob -- I'm glad he feels the way he does -- but in the end, we'll have to make the decision we feel like is best for the team and we'll do that as we go through the week."


Antonio Brown to return punts
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(1:02 pm ET) Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said receiver Antonio Brown will return punts along with rookie Dri Archer. "He's a Pro Bowl-caliber return man, so that's how you play him," Tomlin said of Brown.

Matt Ryan begins with familiar foe
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While last year's opener was at New Orleans, this one is at home, where Ryan went without a touchdown against the Saints in Week 12 last year. But he was without star wide receiver Julio Jones in that game. The Saints did rank second against the pass last year, allowing 194.1 yards per game, but against the Falcons, coming off a year in which they threw the ball more often than any other team, that probably won't impact a Ryan's numbers too much. It certainly didn't limit his yardage last year. Even in that Week 12 meeting, he threw for 292.

Bottom line: Based on where you drafted Ryan, you'd need an awfully good reason to consider sitting him in Fantasy, and this matchup against the Saints isn't it. Jamey Eisenberg ranks him ninth among quarterbacks for the week, and Dave Richard is even more optimistic, ranking him sixth.


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by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(12:56 pm ET) Colts receiver Reggie Wayne, 35, looked sharp in training camp in his return from a torn ACL. The comeback continued in the third preseason game, when Wayne suited up for the first time and caught two passes for 11 yards and was targeted a third time. (Both receptions were negated by penalties).

"It felt good," Wayne told reporters. "Everything felt normal and that's what I expected. Coach tells you you've got about 8-10 plays and you feel like that's the perfect number, but once you go out there and start playing and getting involved, you feel like that's not enough.

"It was good to get a real live game under my belt," Wayne added. "There is no way you can simulate that."

Wayne didn't play much, however, and it will be interesting to see if he plays a full complement of snaps in Sunday night's anticipated shootout in Denver. Wayne caught five of eight targets for 50 yards against the Broncos in Week 7 last year before reaching for an underthrown pass midway through the fourth quarter and ripping up his right knee.

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The Falcons threw the ball 68.7 percent of the time last year, according to TeamRankings.com, tops in the league. They ranked seventh in passing offense, averaging 265.2 yards per game. The Saints limited the Falcons to 271 yards through the air in their second meeting with them last year, but of course, star wide receiver Julio Jones was out for that game. The Falcons threw for 341 yards in the teams' first meeting.

With Jones back to full health, both Jamey Eisenberg and Dave Richard expect the Saints DST to struggle in this one, ranking it 21st at the position. Even if the Saints are able to slow the Falcons' passing attack, they're vulnerable against the run, having allowed the fifth-most yards per carry last season.


 
 
 
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