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Reality Check: The C.J. Spiller debacle

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Thanks a lot, C.J. Spiller.

Just when you thought it was safe to bench him, just when you had finally come to terms with the idea that your top pick wouldn't be anywhere close to your best player, he went and piled up 155 yards against a Chiefs defense that had single-handedly won its Fantasy owners about four games this year.

It's enough to make you wonder what it's all for -- you know, rankings, projections, matchup info, real-time scoring, Sunday afternoons, football, competition, humanity, life. Assigning random outcomes to each of your players each week simply won't do. This isn't a study in chaos theory. At some point, the numbers have to actually mean something.

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They have to, right? Well, right? Please, tell me they mean something!

You see that? You see what this game is doing to us? All that time, all that effort spent trying to get an edge, and what do you have to show for it? Madness! You want an edge? I'll give you an edge ...

Crash!

Just imagine I toppled a giant stack of plates or did something similarly loud, showy and completely incongruous to what I just said.

And with that, you're in the middle of an after school special -- the kind designed to wake you from your trance, enlighten you to the ramifications and return you to meaningful pursuits like horticulture and rocketry.

But since you and I know that won't actually happen, let's instead work to be smarter about the way we process certain information. Specifically, our approach to underachievers is at times less than sensible.

Most require patience and a reminder that they're better than their last week's numbers. Others legitimately aren't worth the trouble anymore, though they're fewer and farther between than the typical angry commenter would have you believe.

Anger -- that's an emotion that won't win you games. It can serve as a motivator, sure, but if you're this deep into a Fantasy Football column this abstract this far into the season, motivation is the least of your concerns.

Frankly, we'd be better off eliminating emotion from the start-sit and add-drop processes. If we approached them as a machine would, using past data to predict future data and recognizing that any anomalies are just additional data and not part of some vast conspiracy to thwart our sincerest efforts, we'd make fewer boneheaded moves.

Like sitting Spiller?

See, I wouldn't go that far. Based on the information we all had collected on him (and on the Chiefs, for that matter) up to that point, sitting him made perfect sense. But would you believe that in my shallowest league, for the briefest of moments, I actually considered dropping him?

Dun dun dun!

And to further the conversation, I did drop Trent Richardson ... like, just a couple days ago ... after Spiller's resurgence.

Those who can't remember the past are condemned to repeat it, right? Having just survived a brush with boneheadedness, here I am following through on it with a player of similar standing.

But you know, I feel good about it. They're different players with different sets of circumstances. And while I ultimately talked myself out of dropping Spiller, the arguments for keeping Richardson just weren't as compelling.

Of course, knowing when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em is the eternal dilemma of gaming, but if you can recognize the difference between a Spiller and a Richardson, you won't be so hesitant to pull the trigger. And I don't know about you, but after a week chock-full of attractive waiver claims -- with more to come, to be sure -- I'd rather not devote any more roster space to deadweight.

So how do you act decisively in a game where so much changes from week to week?

The No. 1 pitfall in Fantasy Football is an overemphasis on the micro. You could argue the game is built for it. It has the shortest season of any major professional sport and yet the longest wait between samplings. Had the inventor anticipated the ensuing torment, he would have thrown up his hands and gone back to bed, but alas, here we are.

Every player has a range of potential outcomes from week to week. Though you can't predict where he'll land within that range, you can predict the range itself by weighing a variety of influences, which include ability, health, workload, role, scheme, supporting cast and opposition. Let's go ahead and call that the definitive order. Sounds about right to me.

The one that changes most often is opposition, so it tends to get the most attention from week to week, but in the grand scheme of influences, it's relatively low on the list.

And the rest? Well, unless you're in win-or-die mode -- which, admittedly, some Fantasy owners are this time of year -- they keep you from doing something boneheaded, like dropping Spiller.

Allow me to demonstrate with a side-by-side comparison of Spiller and Richardson. We'll begin with supporting cast. For Spiller, it's at least adequate, judging by Fred Jackson's production. Richardson has Andrew Luck to keep defenses honest, but it's not like the Colts have churned out productive running backs in recent years. The Bills and Colts are two of the few teams in the NFL that would prefer to run, so both players have scheme going for them. As for role, they're both platoon backs, though the Colts intended Richardson to be a workhorse when they acquired him. Workload? Again, the Colts want to give Richardson as much as he can handle, but you could argue the same is true for the Bills with Spiller judging by offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett's comment this preseason that they'd give him the ball until he threw up. In terms of health, Spiller had played on a bad ankle for three weeks before finally getting a break in Week 8 while Richards, as far as we know, is as right as rain.

Now ability ... that's the kicker. We know Spiller has it from his 6.0 yards per carry last year and penchant for breaking long runs. All Richardson has backing him up is the fact he went third overall in the 2012 draft.

So in Spiller, you have an explosive back capable of taking any play all the way whose struggles are at least partially explained by injury, and in Richardson, you have a plodder who has yet to prove capable of more than 30-40 yards and maybe a touchdown if Luck doesn't take matters into his own hands. Shoot, James Starks could do better than that.

One of those players strikes me as somebody worth protecting in all leagues. The other strikes me as just roster filler.

The focus here is on those two, but as with every "big picture" column, the concept is meant to apply beyond just them. You could try it on any player who has you on the fence. Steven Jackson? His team isn't the most committed to the run, but he gets a full workload and has been mostly productive with the carries he's gotten. He deserves a longer look after missing so much time with injury. Ray Rice? He has been embarrassingly unproductive this year, but the Ravens remain committed to him. Given his track record, you shouldn't discount the possibility of a Chris Johnson-like resurgence. Doug Martin? His ability was never in question. His health is a concern, but until the Buccaneers rule him out for good, you have to stick with him, especially with his supporting cast showing signs of improvement. BenJarvus Green-Ellis? An obvious beneficiary of being in the right place at the right time a couple years ago, he has zero big-play ability and is splitting carries with an up-and-comer who seems to be gaining trust by the week. Cutting him loose wouldn't be the most regrettable thing ever.

Of course, just because you could justify dropping someone doesn't mean you absolutely should. I've limited this discussion to running backs not because it couldn't apply elsewhere, but because they're generally in higher demand and, thus, more deserving of protection. At most every other position, your best bet is obvious, and your next best is comparable to what's already on waivers. Cutting somebody loose doesn't have the same repercussions as at running back, where virtually anyone getting regular carries has value. That said, in a league where I also have Reggie Bush, the Tampa Bay duo, Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden, Starks and, what could be the biggest find of all, Ben Tate, I'm fairly confident I won't be missing Richardson.

But again, this isn't about me or him, but those tough decisions we all face every time we enter our waiver claims for the week. If your inner robot can't find reason for optimism, by all means, pull the plug.

But if that inner robot made the wrong call in Spiller, take a moment now to recalibrate.

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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