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Fantasy & Reality: First round frustration?

Senior Fantasy Writer
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A hip injury here, a twisted ankle there, a trade to Cleveland and a number of other issues have decimated what once looked like a murderer's row of Fantasy studs atop our pre-draft rank lists.

It's resulted in major frustration. Of the first 10 rushers drafted on average this summer, there are major question marks with more than half of them. Heck, four of them aren't even averaging 10 Fantasy points per game. It's made for a nightmare -- no one likes to be "that guy" who misses on a first-round pick and this year there are a lot of them.

Who should be benched? Who should be dropped? Here's a review of the Top 10 drafted running backs through seven weeks of the season.

Adrian Peterson, Vikings
Draft average: 1.11
Start percentage last week: 100
Top 12 finishes this year: 3 of 6 games

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There's some concern over Peterson after totaling 12 Fantasy points over his last two games against the Panthers and Giants. In that span he's averaged 14 touches per game, an uncharacteristically low number for him considering he had at least 22 touches in each of his first four games. It could be because of his hamstring, which reportedly tightened up on him at New York, or it could be because the coaches have implored their quarterbacks to take advantage of "what the defense gives you" and not force Peterson into eight-in-the-box situations. Coach Leslie Frazier said Monday he plans to get the situation fixed fast, so there's some confidence Peterson could see his workload improve. But it's a concern: He hasn't had a two-week skid this bad since 2010 (and he snapped it after two games).
Cut him? Never
Trade him? Only if someone offers a no-brainer. Now's the time to try and trade for Peterson.
Start him? Definitely. Expect the Vikings to utilize their best offensive weapon in their game plans moving forward.

Doug Martin, Buccaneers
Draft average: 4.61
Start percentage last week: 96
Top 12 finishes this year: 1 of 6 games

Martin has a torn labrum in his shoulder but there's no definitive timetable for his return. Multiple media reports have Martin missing the rest of the year; Bucs coach Greg Schiano won't rule him out past Week 8. But with the Bucs staring at another losing season they'd be foolish to rush Martin back in a meaningless season. It's that kind of thinking that should lead Fantasy owners to consider cutting Martin.
Cut him? You don't have to, but if you need someone off waivers and don't have someone else to cut, then do it.
Trade him? No one is going to give you anything for him unless keepers are involved.
Start him? Not anytime soon.

Arian Foster, Texans
Draft average: 5.21
Start percentage last week: 99
Top 12 finishes this year: 3 of 7 games

Fantasy owners were satisfied with Foster going into last week's game. Despite just three Top 12 finishes he also had one Top 13 finish, another Top 20 finish and couldn't finish his Week 7 game at Kansas City because of a hamstring injury. Coach Gary Kubiak called him "day-to-day" which is good news, considering it took Foster a lot of time to get healthy after offseason calf and back injuries. If Kubiak is being honest -- which he hasn't always been when it comes to his running backs -- then Foster should be expected back in action in Week 9. Either way, now's the time to trade for Ben Tate (who is also hurting with broken ribs but says he'll play) if you don't have him already.
Cut him? Unless the hamstring injury that's "day-to-day" becomes "month-to-month" he should be on rosters.
Trade him? If you can get a haul in trade for Foster, including a reliable starting rusher, then go for it. There has to be some concern about Foster suffering another injury, no matter how small.
Start him? He's on bye in Week 8, but assuming all is well come Week 9 he remains a must-start.

Jamaal Charles, Chiefs
Draft average: 5.95
Start percentage last week: 100
Top 12 finishes this year: 7 of 7 games

Charles is the engine in Andy Reid's offense, maybe even more than LeSean McCoy was in Philadelphia. Charles already has at least 19 touches per week and at least one touchdown and over 100 total yards in every single game! About the only helpful advice I could offer here is to pick up his backup, Knile Davis, in case Charles misses any playing time. Nothing suggests Charles is headed for a downturn.
Cut him? Child please.
Trade him? No way.
Start him? Of course.

C.J. Spiller, Bills
Draft average: 6.66
Start percentage last week: 58
Top 12 finishes this year: 1 of 7 games

Even with Fred Jackson taking on more work than we thought he would, the Bills lived up to their promise of giving Spiller as much work as he could handle early on as he averaged 16.5 carries and 4.0 catches per game through the first two weeks. Then he hurt his quad against the Jets in Week 3. Everything went sour from there as Spiller limped off the field the following week and has limped off after decent runs each of his last two games. It's obvious he's not close to 100 percent and the Bills have moved away from giving him a big amount of reps. Though it's believed Spiller will regain his role once he's healthy, there's no telling when it will happen. It probably won't be in the Bills' next four games against staunch defenses in New Orleans, Kansas City, Pittsburgh and the N.Y. Jets before their bye. Owners might feel compelled to make a move involving Spiller.
Cut him? I wouldn't go that far since he could have some really nice late-season value. Plus, if he hit the waiver wire in my league I'd pick him up in a heartbeat for my bench.
Trade him? I'd deal him so long as I got a fair offer for him. Expect someone in the neighborhood of Alshon Jeffery or DeAngelo Williams. Seriously. You can't expect first-round value for a player who's delivered like a late-round pick, but you should still be able to get a decent starter for him. If you need to win now this should be the route you take.
Start him? Last week I thought he'd be healthy enough to contribute vs. Miami and then he got hurt again. The Bills would be wise to let him rest a week and let Jackson and Tashard Choice handle the game action. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but I wouldn't risk a starting spot on Spiller.

Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks
Draft average: 7.93
Start percentage last week: 100
Top 12 finishes this year: 4 of 7 games

Lynch remains the bully in the Seahawks backfield. He's even taken on a little more work as a receiver, catching 14 passes through seven games (it took him 10 games to catch 14 passes last year). Only three tough games remain on his schedule.
Cut him? Never.
Trade him? Someone is offering you Jamaal Charles or LeSean McCoy? Cool. Otherwise, nope.
Start him? Always.

Ray Rice, Ravens
Draft average: 9.31
Start percentage last week: 95
Top 12 finishes this year: 2 of 6 games

There's a lot to be worried about with Rice, the biggest of which being his absolute lack of production in five of his last six games. Take away his Week 1 success against the Broncos and his multi-score game at Miami in Week 5 and you've got a back who has totaled 183 yards in five games. That's brutal. He doesn't have a play good for more than 14 yards this year and he's averaged 3.4 yards per carry or less in every game! Some of this is because the Ravens' offensive line is in flux, but a lot of it has to do with Rice struggling through a hip injury suffered in Week 2. Rice claims he's "looking forward to doing some damage" after the Ravens' Week 8 bye, but the Ravens' schedule has a lot of tough opponents ahead for Rice to deal with.
Cut him? Can't do it. And why do it when you have options?
Trade him? If you're sick of Rice then a deal is your best alternative. I wouldn't mind buying low on Rice in a deal -- others in your league might feel the same way. A trade for someone like Eric Decker or Andre Johnson should be considered fair.
Start him? On a bye in Week 8, Rice's Fantasy owners should maintain mild expectations headed into Week 9.

Trent Richardson, Colts
Draft average: 9.47
Start percentage last week: 74.
Top 12 finishes this year: 0 of 6 games

When we drafted Richardson it was with the idea that he'd work in Norv Turner's running-back friendly offense, catching passes and plowing in at the goal line. A blockbuster trade after Week 2 changed Richardson's course, landing him on a Colts offense that wants to be run-friendly but can't effectively do it. That's no excuse for Richardson's play -- he's been downright putrid -- and as a result the Colts have been relying on Donald Brown to help pick up the slack. Brown has been the better Fantasy back in two of the Colts' last three games! Maybe Indianapolis uses its Week 8 bye to find ways to get Richardson going (he has two catches with the Colts compared to seven in two games with the Browns earlier this season) but right now he's nothing more than a big name with a big draft price tag and nothing to show for it.
Cut him? There will be owners so disgusted with Richardson that they'll punt on him. Don't be one of those owners. I might give him a chance after the bye week even though the Colts' remaining schedule features several tough run defenses, none meaner than at the Chiefs in Week 16.
Trade him? This option stinks because no person will give up something great for Richardson. You're probably looking at a depressing trade for another underachieving player, maybe straight up for someone such as Marques Colston or Cecil Shorts or even Spiller. It's enough to make you keep him.
Start him? When the Colts reconvene in Week 9 it'll be against a Texans defense that has allowed a touchdown to a back in four of its last five and will be without linebacker Brian Cushing. That might be enough to make you consider starting Richardson as a Flex, not a No. 1 or No. 2 Fantasy running back.

LeSean McCoy, Eagles
Draft average: 9.89
Start percentage last week: 100
Top 12 finishes this year: 5 of 7 games

It's crystal clear that Chip Kelly's offense agrees with McCoy. It's also clear he remains effective even without the crazy workload we saw him get in Week 1 (32 touches). Still on pace for over 320 carries, McCoy carries a little injury risk but no one is sweating it so long as he remains in a manageable role. There aren't many tough defenses left for him to face this year, either.
Cut him? No! No! No!
Trade him? You might be talked into it if it means getting Peyton Manning or Jamaal Charles, but realistically McCoy shouldn't be moved.
Start him? Yes! Yes! Yes!

Alfred Morris, Redskins
Draft average: 14.16
Start percentage last week: 95
Top 12 finishes this year: 2 of 6 games

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Our guy Alf has been disappointing but has finished as a Top 20 running back in all but one week this season. That's better than Spiller and Richardson, to name two. What's missing are those games where he decimates a defense like he did last year. Maybe they're coming -- many of Morris' great games in 2012 came because he was used in conjunction with Robert Griffin III in the zone-read offense. Washington has begun to let RG3 run more so that could help Morris as defenses prepare for both him and Griffin. Unfortunately for Morris, the Redskins have given some prime touches to Roy Helu -- he's their passing downs and no-huddle back. It'll take him off the field more than he was last season, though it hasn't meant a total collapse in stats -- he's been under 70 yards rushing once this year (Week 1).
Cut him? That would be drastic.
Trade him? You could, but because there isn't a lot of excitement about Morris you probably won't get what's fair for him. He is still considered a near-elite Fantasy rusher.
Start him? You might be squeamish doing it this week against Denver and in home matchups against San Diego, San Francisco and Kansas City, but unless you have a lot of other choices then Morris will be a regular in your lineup.

Checking in on the averages

After looking at the Top 10 running backs picked back in August, I thought the time was right to see what those guys should be scoring from week to week. Three weeks ago we took a gander at the scoring averages for each tier of player per position. If anything, it's just to get an idea of what to expect from those roster spots week in and week out.

I took the averages from the first, second and third groups of 12 players at each position based on Fantasy points scored in a standard league, then calculated their respective per-game averages. Use this data to grade how your starters have been performing and for some perspective on what to count on going forward.

Tier Wks 1-4 Wks 1-7 Diff.
QB 1-12 24.0 22.1 -1.9
QB 13-24 16.8 15.3 -1.5
RB 1-12 13.9 13.2 -0.7
RB 13-24 8.9 7.8 -1.1
RB 25-36 5.7 6.2 0.5
WR 1-12 13.3 11.8 -1.5
WR 13-24 10.3 8.6 -1.7
WR 25-36 8.3 7.3 -1.0
TE 1-12 10.5 8.9 -1.6
TE 13-24 5.0 4.9 -0.1

The takeaway: Scoring is down across the board from when we did our measurement three weeks ago -- and not just at a certain position. The drop in receiver production is especially confounding, but it goes hand-in-hand with the drop in quarterback stats. Some passers that got off to a hot start have slowed down (Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, Sam Bradford) while others are getting hot after a dry spell (Aaron Rodgers, Robert Griffin III, Andy Dalton). Also note that zeroes from the bye are taken into consideration, so that drives down the averages a bit as well. We won't check the numbers again until after the "Bye-nados" of Weeks 8 and 9.

But just for fun, I also cross-referenced the numbers between now and this time last year, with the better averages bolded.

Tier 2012 Wks 1-7 2013 Wks 1-7 Tier 2012 Wks 1-7 2013 Wks 1-7
QB 1-12 21.0 22.1 WR 1-12 11.5 11.8
QB 13-24 15.0 15.3 WR 13-24 8.7 8.6
RB 1-12 12.6 13.2 WR 25-36 7.2 7.3
RB 13-24 8.5 7.8 TE 1-12 7.3 8.9
RB 25-36 5.6 6.2 TE 13-24 4.3 4.9

So even though you might be disappointed in your team's Fantasy performance this season, most positions are still scoring more points now than they were a year ago this time.

Fantasy & Reality

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

Fantasy: I'm actually nervous I didn't project Nick Foles for enough Fantasy points. That was my closing line for the analysis I wrote for him in Winning Fantasy Calls last week. Embarrassing! I watched the Eagles quarterback take apart the Bucs defense in Week 6 -- I have no idea where that guy was in Week 7. The quarterback I saw -- and started in several of my leagues -- was way off of the mark and slow to get the ball out, even though he regularly had plenty of time to throw against the Cowboys. Foles actually made the Dallas defense look better than it really is. If there's a lesson learned, it's that we all need more than six quarters of a game to be thoroughly convinced a player will be "flawless" (another word choice of mine).

Reality: Harry Douglas took my expectations and tripled them. Another player I was way off on was Douglas, who torched the Bucs last week for a career game. I even wrote a review about him on his player page, only to be completely blown away by his performance. But remember what I learned from my mistake with Foles: Don't fall in love with a player without enough of a track record to justify it. Douglas, like Foles, did very well against the Bucs. His two biggest plays involved him breaking away from coverage, which isn't something he's known for. I might still be cautious in starting him as anything more than a decent No. 2 choice at Arizona this week.

Fantasy: Hakeem Nicks is the second-best receiver in New York. If I had a choice between Nicks and Rueben Randle for this week, I'd go with Randle. The second-year wideout has been better than Nicks in Fantasy points each of the last three weeks, despite having fewer targets and catches. Randle has averaged more yards per catch and has been a regular in the end zone; Nicks hasn't scored yet this season and has had his chances. I saw Nicks struggle last year with his technique while being a step slower than I remember and here we are again seeing it. I'll track these two going forward, but I'd bet on Randle to keep beating the coverage he gets compared to what Nicks sees.

Reality: Mike James will have a chance. If you're looking for a player comparison for new Bucs starting running back Mike James, it's Pierre Thomas. Both are stocky backs without great speed but the tenacity to break tackles and lean forward to pick up a couple of extra yards. James is worth starting as a bye-week replacement or as a Doug Martin replacement with the expectation he delivers along the lines of what we've seen from Martin so far. Those kinds of numbers might be soft for a former first-round Fantasy choice, but they're solid for a guy you might have just picked up off the scrap heap.

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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