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Reality Check: Surviving without Julio Jones

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Some people tried to deny it, noting the incredible catch he made on his team's final drive.

Others made no bones about what happened to Julio Jones Monday, when the screw in his surgically repaired foot broke, ending his season.

They're called CBSSports.com users, and they're the best. Where else but Jones' player page could you find a full gamut of commentary ranging from the reactive ...

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Wow! -- DntGetMurkd

... to the reflective ...

Crushing blow. -- NY Swag

... to the tabloidian ...

Welcome to dumpsville. -- IDI

... to the instructive ...

Run to the wire and grab Kenny Britt! -- GOGREEN2010

... to the sublime.

Why Britt? -- CTRL-FRK

For real. Somebody needs to tell GOGREEN2010 that he already went green and it's 2013. He seems to be living in the past.

But at least his heart is in the right place. Obviously, part of the discussion on Jones is how to replace him, but an injury of this severity to a player of his prominence has so many tangents, both practical and philosophical, that sticking to one shortchanges the discussion. And what better way to tackle them all than to turn it over to the floor?

What follows is a conversation artificially created by pulling user comments from the mysterious depths of the Internet, cleaning them up for mass consumption and interspersing them with my own thoughts and observations. It's less science-fictiony than it sounds.

It's also more valuable than it sounds. The thing about tangents is they take you where never thought you'd go. I promise even the non-Jones owners will come away with something useful.

Just once I'd like to go through a Fantasy Football season without my best player getting injured. [Feeble attempt at euphemism deleted.] -- VeryUndude

Some euphemisms are so clever in their construction or effortless in their usage that they take on a life of their own, actually enriching a language that never knew what it was missing. Others are just thinly veiled efforts to get by the censors. How very undudely of you, VeryUndude.

But at the same time, how very fitting of the circumstances. Most Jones owners would have considered him their best player at the time of his injury. If nothing else, he had reliability going for him, leading the league with 41 receptions while putting up more than 75 yards every week. Losing a player of that caliber, no matter how the rest of the season unfolds, would lead anyone to wonder, "What if?"

Before moving on to "why me," though, keep in mind most everyone in your league has a "what if." What about the owner who lost Steven Jackson -- a player he drafted even before Jones, most likely -- in Week 2? What about the owner who opted for Matt Ryan (we'll get to him in a minute) over Peyton Manning, not wanting to hitch his wagon to a 37-year-old only a couple years removed from neck surgery? What about the owner who's having to adjust his expectations for C.J. Spiller, Trent Richardson, Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew or, to a lesser extent, Doug Martin?

You could argue their misfortunes are the result of bad decisions and that they're getting exactly what they deserve, but it's not like they went rogue with those picks. They followed the consensus. OK, maybe not with Ryan over Manning, but even that wasn't so unreasonable, was it?

As a Jones owner, you feel like you're getting a raw deal because you were completely convinced you made the right call before having the rug pulled out from under you, but you could argue you're also getting exactly what you deserve. Jones hasn't been a model of health during his time with the Falcons and wasn't in college either, which explains why he had a screw in his foot in the first place. Some might argue an injury of this severity was a long time coming. Not saying I am, but it's a valid point.

I'm also not trying to kick you while you're down. Just offering some perspective. Things go wrong in Fantasy Football. It's a vicious, fiercely team-oriented game with too many variables to predict. As you've learned from experience, you're unlikely to avoid the misfortune, so even though it's a bummer when it happens, you have to be prepared for it.

That's why you don't get complacent. You keep playing the waiver wire, religiously putting in your claims Tuesday night, because in the end, an Alshon Jeffery is just as likely to win you the league as a Julio Jones.

Out for the year? I hate Fantasy Football. Everyone is hurt. -- sargent2424

It's kind of crazy how much we all invest in something so volatile. I'm not just talking money, but time, emotion, brain power, etc. Think of all we could accomplish if we applied those to something a little more substantive.

But we all know that's not going to happen. Fantasy Football may be the most unpredictable of the Fantasy games, but it's so widespread and accessible that the love-hate relationship is only going to continue. So maybe instead of obsessing over its unpredictability, you take advantage of it.

Counting on everyone to get hurt is exactly why Fantasy owners began handcuffing their running back however many years ago. Granted, not all handcuffs are worth it, but the ones with a strong skill set and natural fit in the offense hardly miss a beat when the starter goes down. Just look at how Joique Bell owners fared with Reggie Bush sidelined in Week 3. It's proven to be an effective strategy.

Of course, it's not so applicable to Jones owners. Fantasy-caliber wide receivers are a little more prevalent than running backs, and it's not like anyone expects Jones numbers from Harry Douglas. Still, it's worth mentioning for the Steven Jackson owner who might be on the fence about dropping Jacquizz Rodgers. Or the Eddie Lacy owner who just saw James Starks go back on waivers. Or the Ray Rice owner who thinks he's gotten all he can from Bernard Pierce. Or the Jamaal Charles owner who feels like he's wasting a roster spot on Knile Davis. Shoot, I'm still stashing Montee Ball. Not like Knowshon Moreno is known for staying healthy.

And speaking of Moreno, maybe he's the type of player you target in the middle rounds next year over dime-a-dozen types like Steve Johnson and Miles Austin. If everything's going to blow up anyway, you might as well get a head start on the players you can actually get excited about starting. Moreno, Jordan Cameron, Josh Gordon -- they all had plausible opportunities for big-time production even if they weren't quite as "safe" as Johnson or Austin.

Everyone is freaking out about Matt Ryan losing Julio Jones, and I know it's serious. But he basically hasn't had Roddy White all season. If White can come back healthy after the bye, it shouldn't be a huge dent to the offense. -- Zr0Tolerance (via Matt Ryan's player page)

Ah, yes ... White. If he can come back healthy, I'm right there with you. He was a stud before anyone had even heard of Jones and still has Tony Gonzalez to keep defenses honest. Though he's been limited by an ankle sprain this season, a week off might be exactly what he needs to get to feeling himself again.

But of course, it's not just the ankle now. White strained his hamstring against the Jets in Week 5, which might put him out of the lineup altogether.

More often than not, that second guy makes all the difference. Gonzalez will have defenders draped all over him now, forcing Ryan to broaden his horizons. I mentioned Harry Douglas, and he's sure to get open looks from time to time, but receivers like Jones and White never needed open looks. Ryan could throw the ball to them in coverage and trust them to come down with it. If he takes those chances with Douglas, he's likely to get picked.

Ultimately, I think the yards will be there for Ryan. He's a good player in his own right, and the Falcons offense is designed to throw the ball. But I could see his interceptions rising as he compensates for the talent around him, and I could see the Falcons opting for more running plays inside the 10-yard line.

Well, Julio ... like the Falcons, my team is 1-4 and doesn't deserve you. -- Mugiwaraboi

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Wait, wait ... hold up a minute. Given what the Falcons gave up to draft Jones, couldn't you argue he's the player they most deserve? I'm just saying ...

He was the only player on my team pulling his weight. (Looking at you A.J. Green, Doug Martin, David Wilson and Vincent Jackson.) Good luck with your recovery, pal. -- Mugiwaraboi (continued)

One thing that gets lost in the uproar over Jones' injury: The numbers he was putting up weren't entirely sustainable.

That's not to say he wouldn't have continued to be one of the top wide receivers in Fantasy, but he was on pace for 131.2 catches and 1,856 yards. You don't see numbers like that every year.

Because his season ended after only five games, he never had a chance for a down week. Somewhere along the line -- maybe after Steven Jackson came back or Roddy White fully recovered -- he would have had a clunker or two. Everybody does.

Just because he hadn't yet doesn't mean someone who has isn't pulling his weight. You've allowed Jones' consistency to set an impossible standard for everyone else.

Green is on pace for 99.2 catches for 1,155.2 yards and 9.6 touchdowns. Aren't those about the numbers you expected when you drafted him? He's had some ups and downs along the way, but that's normal even for the great ones. Maybe because his best game came in Week 1, you're worried defenses have him figured out or something, but to some degree, it's cyclical. The Bengals just used a two-headed rushing attack to take down a previously undefeated Patriots team, which means defenses will have to shift some of their focus to BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard, which means they'll have to shift some away from Green, which means, sooner or later, he's putting up another 160 yards.

Martin is lacking in touchdowns so far and hasn't been particularly efficient with his carries, but especially now that the Buccaneers have turned to rookie Mike Glennon at quarterback, he's the entire offense. He's on pace for 1,368 rushing yards, for crying out loud. In today's NFL, any running back who reaches 1,000 is pulling his weight.

I can understand your frustration with Wilson and Jackson. Wilson has yet to offer any reason for optimism and is now dealing with injury, and Jackson, as compared to Martin, is a more likely casualty of the Buccaneers' switch to Glennon. I don't have especially high hopes for either going forward.

But my point is you have enough heavy hitters to make a run at the playoffs even without Jones. If you feel like you need a little extra something, you can always try the trade market. Maybe a couple of your better bench players could land you an undervalued Fred Jackson or Frank Gore. Or maybe you could make up for the loss of Jones by upgrading at quarterback. I don't know who you have there, but if it's someone relatively high-end like Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan or even Philip Rivers, now might be a decent time to make a play for Aaron Rodgers, provided you have a good enough second player to include in the deal.

I rejected a trade involving Julio Jones and Willis McGahee on Friday. I could have had Doug Martin and DeSean Jackson, but I was drinking the Ryan-Jones Kool-Aid. Now, my season is over at 2-3. -- Mr. Niceguy

I hate to introduce Mr. Niceguy to Mr. Meanman, but I can't fathom why you would have turned down that trade in the first place. Given the shortage of quality running backs, Jones straight-up for Martin would have been at worst dead even, and Jackson is miles ahead of McGahee, who I consider a fringe waiver guy.

I understand every situation is different, but turning down two must-start guys (including a first-rounder) for the price of one would have required incredible depth, which you clearly don't have. If you did, you wouldn't be saying your season is over at 2-3.

Either way, I don't think it's over. If you've been playing the waiver wire all season, you should at least have a couple serviceable wide receivers on your bench, which should be enough to keep you competitive as long as you're stable at quarterback and running back. And then, if you keep playing the waiver wire, eventually you might strike gold at the position.

You've already missed out on Alshon Jeffery, I'm sure, but if history holds, we haven't seen the last big waiver claim at wide receiver.

Keenan Allen is a hot ticket! -- slippydog19

Who knows? Maybe it's him. He's already been claimed in all of my leagues, but he's still owned in only 47 percent. Clearly, he fills an important role in the Chargers passing game. I worried what might happen to Philip Rivers' numbers after downfield threat Malcom Floyd went down with a neck injury, but after back-to-back games of 400-plus yards for Rivers, I'm thinking Allen is sufficiently meeting that need.

Other potentially available wide receivers who I'm eyeing include DeAndre Hopkins, who has struggled recently but clearly has tons of potential playing opposite the injury-prone Andre Johnson, Nate Washington, who had back-to-back 100-yard games for the Titans before understandably taking a step back against the Chiefs, Golden Tate, who was finally the Seahawk' most targeted receiver Sunday after earning rave reviews this preseason, Terrance Williams, who has been terrific in place of the injured Miles Austin, Donnie Avery, who made the most of a couple downfield looks before hurting his shoulder last week, Rueben Randle, who has shown enough as a No. 3 to have me longing for the next Hakeem Nicks injury, and Harry Douglas, who -- as much as I've pooh-poohed him here -- is sure to offer something halfway decent if both Jones and White are missing.

And if you're lucky enough to have more than just a couple serviceable wide receivers on your bench, it's probably overkill. See if you can find a guy with a couple holes to fill and offer up a 2-for-1. A buy-low would be ideal. Someone on CBSSports.com recently swapped Vernon Davis and Dwayne Bowe for Larry Fitzgerald. That's the sort of trade that, if it works out as I think it will, with Carson Palmer making better use of his top target in the weeks ahead, will bring you just about back to where you started with Jones in your lineup.

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
Giants' Coughlin: WR Victor Cruz looks 'really good'
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(10:18 pm ET) Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is encouraged that wide receiver Victor Cruz can return to form, according to the NY Daily News. Cruz suffered a torn patellar tendon that forced him to miss 10 games last season.

“I think he will be back to the player that he was and hopefully better. Victor looks really good, he’s starting to run, I was in the field house watching him rehab, he’s coming along well.” … As for when Cruz will be back at practice, full-time, Coughlin added, “I don’t know. I shouldn’t say this, because medically I really do not have a definite answer, but by training camp, hopefully. He will work his way through.”

Through his five years in the NFL, Cruz has 264 receptions for 3,963 yards and 24 touchdowns.


Patriots LB Dont'a Hightower to miss at least six months
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(8:40 pm ET) Patriots linebacker Dont'a Hightower is going to miss between six and seven months, according to the Boston Globe.

Hightower had surgery this February to repair a torn right labrum. The team is concerned that he might not be able to be ready for the start of the reguar season. He played through the injury for a good portion of the 2014 season prior to surgery.

The 25-year-old started all 12 games he played, collecting 89 total tackles, six sacks, two passes defensed and one forced fumble.


Packers to use pistol formation more often this season
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(8:27 pm ET) After implementing the pistol formation into the offense to help take stress off of quarterback Aaron Rodgers' leg in 2014, the Packers are considering to use it more often this season, according to the Journal Sentinel.

"I like the pistol," head coach Mike McCarthy said during a break at the NFL owners meetings this week. "I think there's a lot of value regardless of the injury to Aaron. I know he likes it. There's a place for it year-round in your offense."

Although McCarthy has no intention of turning Rodgers into an option quarterback, the system provides unpredictability for opposing offenses.

"I would say this is about the third year it's been part of our pace and installation," McCarthy said. "Really, when we moved to it exclusively there at the end of the year it really wasn't a change for us.

"I liked it from a self-scout standpoint. It gives you another self-scout variable when you're in the gun, but you also have the tailback behind you. (There are a) lot of benefits to it."


Report: Vikings sign CB Terence Newman
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(7:29 pm ET) The Vikings have signed cornerback Terence Newman to a one-year, $2.5 million contract with $750,000 in guarantees on Thursday, according to NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport. 

Newman spent the last three seasons with the Bengals after playing nine years for the Cowboys. The 36-year-old has had at least one interception in each year of his 13-year career. The cornerback has recorded 741 total tackles, two sacks, 147 passes defensed, 37 interceptions, and eight forced fumbles. 


Kubiak wants Peyton Manning comfortable with playbook
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(6:54 pm ET) Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak wants to make sure that all of his players are comfortable with the new offensive playbook, including quarterback Peyton Manning, reports ESPN.

“I think you prepare to help him call that game throughout the course of the week," Kubiak said. “A lot of people put emphasis on him calling plays at the line, but you’ve also prepared to do that throughout the course of the week, so you, as a coach, 'Here’s what I think is best in that situation.' In a lot of ways you’re still working together. You’re just going about it a different way."

“You never want to put a player in a position where he’s doing something he’s uncomfortable with," Kubiak said. “One of things about having a veteran, especially like Peyton, he’s going to let you know, 'This is what I do best and this is what I feel comfortable with.' That’s what you need to go do as a coach. You might tweak things here or there that you think may help, but you’re never going to take him out of his comfort zone and what he feels like he does best.”

Manning, 39, recently took a pay cut of $4 million to help clear salary cap space for the team.


LB Brandon Magee still committed to playing in NFL
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(5:49 pm ET) After being released by the Buccaneers, linebacker Brandon Magee is going to participate in spring training with the Boston Red Sox. That being said, he is still committed to playing in the NFL, according to Pro Football Talk. 

Magee's agent, Blake Baratz, emailed Pro Football Talk regarding his client's desire to resume his NFL career.

“There have been rumors circulating that Brandon Magee, who was recently released by Tampa Bay, has given up football with the intention of playing professional baseball. This could not be further from the truth,” Baratz wrote. “While he does attend spring training for a few weeks up until the beginning of the NFL off-season program, he is 100% fully committed to playing in the NFL.”

Magee, 24, has seen action in 17 games the last two seasons, nine of which were in 2014 with the Buccaneers. He has registered 10 total tackles in his career.


Bill O'Brien: 'Sky's the limit' for WR DeAndre Hopkins
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:34 pm ET) With Andre Johnson now in Indy, DeAndre Hopkins enters the 2015 season as the Texans' undisputed No. 1 receiver.

“He had a really good year last year and the sky’s the limit with Hop (Hopkins)," coach Bill O'Brien told NFL Network. "He’s an excellent young player who works extremely hard and we’re looking forward to putting together our whole receiving corps and he should be the leader of that.”

Hopkins led Houston with 1,210 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns last year. He has 128 catches for 2,012 yards and eight scores in his two NFL seasons.


Giants RB Shane Vereen will be more than third-down back
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(5:28 pm ET) Giants running back Shane Vereen is being viewed as much more than just a third-down running back, according to nj.com.

The team is excited about his ability to catch passes out of the backfield, but he'll be relied on to do more than that.

"I see him in that regard as a pass receiver coming out of the backfield, a pass protector, a guy who runs the ball in the three-wide offense in the run game, if you will, which is very prevalent today in our sport," coach Tom Coughlin said at the NFL Annual Meetings this week. "So I see him in that regard."

Last season the Giants did not have one receiving touchdown by a running back. Vereen, formerly of the Patriots, had three receiving touchdowns out of the backfield last year.

"Well, you know what [Vereen] can do. Quite frankly, it's something from an attack standpoint we've had some success with, but not to the extent that he has," Coughlin said. "When you look at Vereen, a lot of the [Tom] Brady hookup with Vereen was the ball was almost automatically going to him. First down, if it was zone coverage, they were dropping the ball down and he would scoot. So we know that. Will we open it up to more parts of it?"

The 26-year-old has 907 yards rushing and seven touchdowns on the ground, adding 107 receptions for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns through the air in four years. 


Chiefs confident they'll reach deal with Justin Houston
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(5:00 pm ET) Chiefs chairman Clark Hunt told the Kansas City Star he's confident the team will sign standout outside linebacker Justin Houston to a long-term deal. The Chiefs put a $13.1 million nonexclusive franchise tag on Houston, which he has yet to sign.

“He knows, and his agent knows, how much we want him back,” Hunt said. “We just all have to be patient, and eventually, we’re going to get him signed to a long-term deal.”

Houston has 48.5 sacks in his four-year career. 

“I’ve been very consistent in saying that we not only value Justin as a football player, that we not only value Justin as a person and leader, and we want him to be a Chief for life,” Hunt said.


49ers waive OT Jonathan Martin
by Larry Hartstein | CBSSports.com
(4:42 pm ET) The 49ers announced they waived offensive tackle Jonathan Martin, who played in 15 games last season, sarting nine. Martin, 25, was acquired by San Fran in a March 2014 trade with the Dolphins.

He has played in 38 career games with 32 starts.


 
 
 
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