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Fantasy & Reality: Anything but terrific

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Tom Brady has one game over 300 yards passing, three with two touchdowns, four straight with an interception and less than 10 Fantasy points in three of his last four (and just one on the year with over 20 Fantasy points).

Just in time for a date with a Steelers defense that's allowed five passing touchdowns and zero 300-yard passers through seven games.

Fantasy owners can't start Brady anymore "just because he's Tom Brady." Circumstances have changed. There's definitely something amiss with his right hand. His offensive line is depleted. His receiving corps isn't as qualified as it has been in the past. And all of this is showing up on film, in the stat book and in the Patriots' play calling.

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Consider this: Two of Brady's passes that could have been good for at least 10 yards each were dropped last week with a third pass that should have counted for a 30-yard touchdown to Rob Gronkowski called back because of a holding penalty. If Gronk's touchdown stood and if those drops were caught, Brady would have finished with two touchdowns but still wouldn't have had 20 Fantasy points. He would have had 16 in a standard league, good enough for his highest total in four weeks.

Playcalling was especially a factor last week -- Brady officially attempted 22 passes and handed off 33 times, including a dozen times in the Pats' final 16 plays. To put it in perspective, it was the third time in his last 46 games including the playoffs that Brady didn't attempt at least 30 passes. Not that it would have helped him -- even in his games where he's thrown a bunch this season he's averaging 5.94 yards per attempt this year and has completed 55.7 percent of his passes. Christian Ponder has better numbers there.

Brady's mysterious hand injury seemingly wasn't a big factor last week, but it's something to monitor. Save for some long passes to the sideline, Brady's passes seemed fine but he stuck his hand into a warmer on his waist between plays. I don't know what that's about but it seemed awkward given the weather for the game was clear and 50 degrees. He didn't have the warmer in Week 7. It's very possible that the Patriots' run-heavy game plan -- namely in the first half -- was decided upon in part because of Brady's hand.

Protection was a factor last week and could be a big factor going forward. Brady was sacked three times by the Dolphins, twice after starting right tackle Sebastian Vollmer got hurt (excluding a third sack wiped out by a Miami penalty). Losing Vollmer is a problem for New England but a leaky offensive line has been a factor all season -- Brady's been sacked 23 times through seven games including 16 times over the last four weeks. By comparison, he was sacked 14 times or less through seven games in each of the last four years.

And obviously his receiving corps has become a major factor. Danny Amendola looked like Wes Welker in Week 1 but has pretty much resembled, well, Danny Amendola in every other game. Kenbrell Thompkins has faded, Aaron Dobson needs to show more consistency and Julian Edelman is a nice slot receiver but not a consistent stat producer. None of these guys are game breakers, save for Gronkowski (and Amendola when he's healthy, and maybe Dobson someday).

So Fantasy owners with Brady should be nervous. The right plan of attack isn't to start Brady, especially this week against the Steelers (five passing touchdowns allowed) nor in two weeks at the Panthers (six passing touchdowns allowed).

The worst part about all of this is that Brady's history against the Steelers isn't so bad. In eight games including two playoff games, the Pats are 6-2 under Brady with the passer getting the equivalent of 20 or more Fantasy points in half of those games (and four of six wins). This is a Steelers scheme the Patriots are familiar with and have attacked in the past -- but there's some doubt about just how much they can manipulate it now.

Brady's matchups ease up in Week 12. Until then, a handful of good quarterbacks are out there for the taking:

Replacing Tom Brady
1. Jake Locker at STL, vs. JAC, vs. IND
2. Terrelle Pryor vs. PHI, at NYG, at HOU
3. Ben Roethlisberger at NE, vs. BUF, vs. DET
4. Ryan Tannehill vs. CIN, at TB, vs. SD

I like Locker the best -- he has posted two or more touchdowns in four straight games and has played great. A favorable schedule really helps him out. I could go either way on Big Ben and Pryor -- Pryor has more sizzle but both quarterbacks have one game this year with more than one touchdown (like Brady). Pryor has three games with 20-plus Fantasy points; Big Ben has one with more than 18 points. Tannehill would kill for a 20-point game but a decent schedule helps him out.

The idea of benching Brady is frustrating but you've lived with his results pretty much all season. If you're not going to bench him before a tough matchup, knowing he's not the same guy he's been (at least statistically), then at least you know what to expect.

Saint happens

Marques Colston and Darren Sproles have been freaking Fantasy owners out with their weak stat lines. While New Orleans has averaged 28.0 points and 396.0 total yards per game, the veteran duo has averaged 118.0 total yards per game and have three touchdowns combined.

Sproles' case is weird -- typically a guy who plays a little less than half a game, he's been reduced to under 25 percent of the Saints' total plays in two of the team's last three. That's not the only number out of whack -- he's had five carries or less in five straight, including no carries last week vs. Buffalo. And over his last three he has 13 catches on 19 targets, low for him. It feels like a lack of opportunities for Sproles, especially lately, and you just can't be a Fantasy stud without getting the ball on a regular basis.

Colston's problems are attributed to a lack of opportunities as well, but there's more to it than that. He has 40 targets on the season and hasn't made the most of them. His most recent target, a second-quarter bomb from Drew Brees, was pretty much on target but he sort of pulled up short on making the catch. He didn't get a sniff from Brees the rest of the game. Colston also looks as if he's not running at 100 percent, not gaining separation from defenders. Not that he was ever a speedy receiver but if you can't get open you can't get the ball. Colston has posted single digits in each of his last six and a single Fantasy point in each of his last three.

This is a good week to chill out on Sproles as the Jets' run defense is pretty stiff (not that he's getting many carries in the first place) and have handled running backs out of the backfield relatively well. It's tougher to suggest going in another direction from Colston because the Jets have treated receivers well. The matchup is really favorable but Colston has never been a beast outside of the Superdome. Two of 10 touchdowns last season came outdoors with only one 100-yard game. With his targets limited, it's probably best to treat him as a third receiver, nothing more.

Fantasy & Reality

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

Fantasy: Josh Gordon would struggle with the Chiefs. For their first three possessions in Week 8, the Browns offense looked as expected. Then the magic of a flea-flicker changed the course of the game as Gordon hauled in a 39-yard touchdown on a perfectly-executed trick play. From then on the Browns played with confidence and the Chiefs defense struggled to contain them. The odds were stacked against Gordon -- he had seven Fantasy points or less in two of his last four games and was getting Jason Campbell as his quarterback. Well, he kicked butt -- and a huge amount of credit goes to Campbell, who looked good. It'll be hard to sit Gordon going forward.

Reality: Colin Kaepernick is warming up. 'Kap finally broke through the 19 Fantasy point barrier last week against the Jaguars. I suspect he's starting to get his groove back just in time for a Michael Crabtree return in about a month. If you're hurting at quarterback, now's the time to trade for Kaepernick since he's on a bye.

Fantasy: Marvin Jones is a one-week wonder. Catching four touchdowns in a single week is pretty tough to repeat, but catching touchdowns in consecutive games is also tough to do. Jones has done it for three straight weeks. He's been the key to Andy Dalton's sensational hot streak. The second-year wideout has eight red-zone targets and caught them all, seven for touchdowns. It's like he's this year's James Jones! Why wouldn't the Bengals bump up his playing time this week? I'd feel pretty good about starting him because defenses can't pay too much attention to him with A.J. Green on the other side of the field.

Reality: Andre Ellington should be the man in Arizona. After torching the Falcons, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians wouldn't commit to making Ellington his primary running back going forward nor giving him more touches going forward -- but he should. His concern is that Ellington isn't big enough to handle the position and doesn't want to give him more than, say, 40 snaps. It's depressing because we finally saw the rookie's potential and it's going to get stifled by Rashard Mendenhall. Hopefully Arians has a change of heart during the bye week.

Reality: Mike Tolbert is legit. Tolbert has scored five times in his last five games and 10 times in his last 10 games going back to last season. Almost as impressive is that he's found at least 10 touches in each of his last three games, a sign the Panthers don't mind using him beyond the goal line. But he's fun to watch celebrate in the end zone and I think the Panthers players get a kick out of him too. I wouldn't be shocked if he made it 11 for 11 this week against a decimated Falcons defense.

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
Lions DT Caraun Reid taking strides during early OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:28 am ET) With Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley gone, there will be a lot of opportunities for defensive tackle Caraun Reid to contribute for the Lions, per mlive.com.

Though it's still early during organized team activities, Reid has impressed coach Jim Caldwell thus far. 

"I think he's done a tremendous job just in terms of his approach to it," Caldwell said. "He looks good, increased his strength, his lean muscle has gone up, I mean, the whole gamut. So, hopefully we'll see that translate when we get an opportunity to go out there and go after it."

Reid, a fifth-round pick out of Princeton in 2014, has gotten a majority of the first-team reps during OTA's, which defensive coordinator Teryl Austin says ties back to the hard work he put in during the offseason.

"He's trained really hard, he's in really good shape," Austin said. "He looks good right now. Obviously, we'll have to wait and see once we get to pads where we are, but I like what he's done so far."

Reid appeared in 12 games last season and recorded just two tackles.


Colts Bjoern Werner: 'I can be a baller' when healthy
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:26 am ET) Since he was selected in the first-round of the 2013 draft, Colts defensive end Bjoern Werner has been banged up and bruised with various injuries. 

For Werner, playing through these ailments has frustrated him through the first two years of his career. He's totaled 68 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks through 28 regular-season games int wo seasons. 

"I don't want to sound cocky, but personally, I feel like when I'm out there and healthy, I can be a baller," Werner said, via the Indianapolis Star. "I can do it all. You always have to get that mojo going of course. But I'm telling you, I'm confident I can be an NFL player and a starter in this league."


Jets' Bowles: Leonard Williams 'more mature than the average rookie'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:20 am ET) Jets coach Todd Bowles has been impressed with rookie defensive end Leonard Williams' maturity since bringing him on board. 

"He's more mature than the average rookie," Bowles said, via NJ.com. "He's grasping the system quickly and he's moving around well out of pads, but to really judge him, you have to see him in pads for the linemen."

Williams was taken by the Jets with the sixth-overall pick, even though the organization has plenty of defensive line talent on the roster. Bowles said that Williams doesn't look the part of someone coming out of college when it comes to the way he presents himself on and off the field. 

"Just the way he carries himself," Bowles said. "He doesn't carry himself like a young 20-year-old. He's got years beyond his age and the way he comes in and walks into it, treating it professionally."


Jaguars DE Dante Fowler has surgery to repair torn ACL
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:14 am ET) Jaguars rookie defensive end Dante Fowler underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL sustained in rookie minicamp, according to the Florida Times-Union

Dr. James Andrews performed the surgery. 

Fowler will miss his rookie season as a result. He was the team's first-round selection and the draft's third-overall selection. 


Lions TE Eric Ebron struggling with drops early in OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:13 am ET) The Lions need tight end Eric Ebron to be one of their primary offensive weapons, but the second-year player has not looked like that early on in organized team activities, per mlive.com.

The 22-year-old is suffering from a severe case of butter fingers. He dropped at least three well-thrown balls and mishandled a high pass that hit his hands.

Ebron, though, is confident he will work through the drops and expects them to be a thing of the past.

"The one over the middle I shouldn't have dropped. Got down on myself, and it made me drop the next one," Ebron said. "That's just stuff that I've been practicing (to prevent), and I let it get to me.

"But it's Day 2 of OTAs. We're just out there competing. I'll settle down. Today was a bit jittery, but I'll settle down and that'll never happen again."

Ebron caught 25 passes for 248 yards and a touchdown in 13 games last season.


Colts getting Jack Mewhort reps at right tackle
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:10 am ET) Colts offensive lineman Jack Mewhort received the majority of his snaps on Wednesday at right tackle, according to ESPN.com. 

Mewhort was getting these reps due to Gosder Cherilus unavailable. Mewhort entered the league as a left guard. 

"Versatility is hard to find," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "So obviously him playing a bunch of spots and playing everywhere along the line is definitely the more you can do. I think everybody is well aware of that spot and us trying to fill that hole right now. I'm fully confident that we've got the guys in this building right now that we're going to be fine there."


Broncos LB Brandon Marshall still rehabbing foot injury
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:01 am ET) Broncos inside linebacker Brandon Marshall was able to lift weights with his teammates during Wednesday's OTA practice, according to the team's website. 

Marshall is still recovering from a foot injury which has kept him off the practice field thus far. 

"I think it will be fairly soon," Marshall said, "because I feel really good, honestly."

Marshall injured his foot in a December game against the Chargers and later played through the pain in the playoffs against the Colts. He said that watching practice hasn't been as much fun as being out there. 

"It's kind of tough, because while I'm out here, I need to pay attention; I need to watch more film, because when you do it more, you get a better feel for it," he said. "I have to learn through visual learning and just trying to soak up as much information as I can, because when training camp comes, it's going to come fast, and I've got to learn fast. I'll be all right.


Giants new-look offensive line on display in OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:00 am ET) The Giants have completely remodeled their offensive line unit for the start of organized team activities.

Compared to last year's o-line, only two players are back but even those guys have switched positions and shifted along the line. Justin Pugh has gone from right tackle to left guard and Weston Richburg shifted from left guard to center.

Will Beatty, who was a mainstay at left tackle last season, will miss five to six months after undergoing surgery to repair a torn pectoral muscle. Beatty's injury has paved the way for rookie Ereck Flowers to step in at the left tackle position.

Quaterback Eli Manning is still adjusting to all the moving pieces in front of him.

"Obviously, having a new center can be an adjustment," Manning said. "But (Weston) Richburg was here last year and I got snaps with him last year, so that hasn't been a big deal. Anytime you have a rookie at left tackle, it can be an adjustment."

Geoff Schwartz and John Jerry are splitting time at right guard, while Marshall Newhouse has been taking the snaps at right tackle.


Texans' Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett splitting first-team reps
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(9:52 am ET) As expected, Texans quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett split reps with the first-team during Wednesday's OTA practice, according to the Houston Chronicle

Hoyer is no stranger to competing for a starting job after going through the process in Cleveland against Johnny Manziel a year ago. 

“I’ve been through it before,” Hoyer said. “I’m not going to let it affect me and I’ll just be myself and really focus on the things that I can control.”

Hoyer, behind an offensive line that struggled following Alex Mack's season-ending injury, finished 2014 with 3,326 yards, 12 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Mallett, who suffered a season-ending torn pectoral, appeared in three games for Houston and threw for 400 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. 


Eagles CB Nolan Carroll: 'I want to start again'
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(9:41 am ET) Eagles cornerback Nolan Carroll has been taking reps with the first team during the start of organized team activities.

Carroll has gotten first team reps while Byron Maxwell, who signed a massive free-agent contract in the offseason, has played on the other side of the defensive formation.

“I’m not putting stock in it at this point, because we’re all getting the same amount of reps,” Carroll said. “Every time I’m out there I’m focusing on my technique no matter where I’m lining up. It’s not about going against the guy across from me, it’s about what I can do every single time and how much I can focus on my technique on every snap.

“We’re out there now and things are going so fast that you’re going to get tired after three or four reps and the next guy is up."

Whether his first-team reps are just for the time being, Carroll plans on fighting for a starting position.

“I want to start again, sure,” Carrol said. “Last year was challenging. I did what they asked me to do and it was something that took some time becoming accustomed to doing. I felt I became a lot more comfortable with later in the year. It was another opportunity to help the team. Same thing now. Whatever they want. I want to be out on the field. Right now it’s me out there with the ones, but everybody is going to get a chance. I just have to take advantage every time I’m out there.”


 
 
 
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