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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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Player News
Report: Lions ready to make a change at kicker
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:22 am ET) The Lions are going to make a change at kicker, according to the Detroit Free Press. Detroit is planning to sign former Eagles kicker Alex Henery after kicker Nate Freese missed another field goal attempt Week 3.

Freese has converted just 43 percent of his field goal attempts (3 for 7) through three games. All four of his misses have come from 40-49 yards.


Niles Paul taking advantage of Jordan Reed's absence
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:20 am ET) Redskins tight end Niles Paul entered this season with 14 receptions through his first 44 NFL games, so his ascension to the top of the tight end ranks has been a huge surprise, to say the least. Can he keep it up?

Washington has thrown the ball around a ton this season, as the team's 121 passing attempts through three games ranks fifth in the NFL. 24 of those passes have gone Paul's way, and he has hauled in 18 of them for 253 yards, landing him squarely in the top-10 in receiving yards so far. Only Jimmy Graham has more yards than Paul, among tight ends.

Unfortunately, one player looms large with the potential to derail Paul's breakout season. Fellow tight end Jordan Reed has not played or practiced since leaving Week 1's game with a hamstring injury, but he was supposed to be the team's big breakout candidate this season. If he gets back to health, Paul's time in the spotlight could come to an end.

Fortunately for Paul's Fantasy owners, Reed's recovery from his injury has been extremely slow. Paul looks like a must-start Fantasy option, at least as long as Reed is out, so watch those practice reports. 


Coach confident DeMarco Murray will fix fumbling issue
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:13 am ET) Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray is off to a great start in 2014. He's rushed for more than 100 yards and has a rushing touchdown in each of the first three games.

However, it hasn't been all positives for Murray, who has also lost a fumble in each game this season.

"It’s very disappointing," Murray said of his fumbling issues, per ESPN. "I’m very disappointed in letting that one go. I’ve got to get it fixed and I will get it fixed."

Cowboys coach Jason Garrett has the utmost confidence in Murray correcting his fumbling problems.

"We’re going to continue to give him the ball and he’s got to get it right," Garrett said. "He’s going to get it right."


How will the Chargers replace Danny Woodhead?
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(11:09 am ET) With do-everything running back Danny Woodhead reportedly out for an extensive period of time, the Chargers find themselves looking to plug some major holes in the backfield. Though Donald Brown did a serviceable Ryan Mathews impression while carrying a truly massive load in Week 3 against the Bills, Woodhead's absence leaves the team searching for another dimension.

Among the players on the depth chart, neither Brown nor reserve Branden Oliver seems likely to replicate Woodhead's skillset -- few players in the NFL can. Brown's career-high in receptions came a year ago, when he hauled in 27 passes for the Colts -- that's about four good games of work from Woodhead. Oiliver is likely to see a larger role than the three carries he received in Week 3, and he might be the nearest thing the team has to what Woodhead leaves behind. 

Oliver had just 25 receptions as a senior at the University of Buffalo, but was a much more productive receiver earlier in his career. He hauled in 38 passes for 365 yards as a sophomore in 2011, good for third on the team in both categories, so he has some skills as a receiver.

With just three carries and no receptions under his belt in his NFL career, Oliver is very much an unknown quantity at this point. You won't want to rush out and add him this week, but keep an eye on how the team utilizes him in Week 4 against the Jaguars, a matchup which could get him plenty of work.  


Cecil Shorts plays every snap in return from injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(11:06 am ET) Jaguars wide receiver Cecil Shorts played all 60 snaps Sunday against the Colts after missing the first two games due to a hamstring injury. He was targeted 10 times, hauling in five catches for 35 yards and a touchdown.

"I felt good," Shorts said, per ESPN. "I tell you what, our training staff and our strength staff does a great job. They got me back real fast. It felt good to be back out there with the guys." 


Report: Marcus Easley to miss 4-6 weeks due to knee injury
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:59 am ET) Bills wide receiver Marcus Easley is expected to miss 4-6 weeks due to an MCL sprain, a league source told ESPN. Easley primarily plays on special teams and has no catches through three games.

Owen Daniels to step into larger role
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:47 am ET) With Dennis Pitta going down with another hip injury, Ravens tight end Owen Daniels is likely to be thrust into a larger role than he has had the first three games, and it is one he should be well-suited to fill.

It is easy to forget, but Daniels was considered a borderline No. 1 tight end last season, before he suffering through a season of Matt Schaub's quarterbacking and a fractured fibula. In 2012, he finished 8th among tight ends in Fantasy scoring -- just two points behind Pitta. Daniels caught 60.2 percent of passes thrown his way to finish the season with 62 receptions for 716 yards that season, and could put up similar numbers the rest of the way.

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco likes to throw to his tight ends, as Ed Dickson, Dallas Clark and Pitta combined for 128 targets a year ago. With Daniels the best receiving option left among the team's tight ends, expect most of the looks to go his way, and he already showed in Week 2 he can be a solid red-zone target for Flacco.

Daniels is still unowned in three-quarters of CBSSports.com leagues, but should be worth targeting if you lost Pitta or are otherwise looking for help this week. 


Could Bortles time make Allen Hurns more effective?
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:25 am ET) Generally speaking, rookies are tough to rely on in Fantasy. They tend to produce inconsistent numbers while learning the game, making them incredibly tough to rely on from a week-to-week perspective. That has certainly been the case for Jaguars rookie Allen Hurns, who has sandwiched two double-digit Fantasy efforts around a near no-show in Week 2. Now that he has a rookie in Blake Bortles throwing it to him, why should we expect Hurns to be any more reliable moving forward?

Hurns has shown an impressive ability, thus far, to get open down the field. Even during his 2-catch, 13-yard stinker against Washington, he was open downfield and dropped a sure-fire long touchdown. Chad Henne might have lost faith in Hurns after that, as he failed to target him once in Week 3, but newly appointed starter Bortles looked Hurns way three times in the second half of Sunday's game, with the duo eventually hooking up for a 63-yard score.

The long touchdown is starting to become Hurns' signature play, and he will have real home-run potential for Fantasy. He will also likely certainly be wildly inconsistent, as both he and Bortles feel their way through their first weeks together in the NFL. Still, he has a chance to be one of the top rookie wideouts in the league this season, and is worth taking a chance on in waivers this week -- he is owned in just 41 percent of CBSSports.com leagues.  


Randall Cobb frustrated with play after three weeks
by Michael Hurcomb | CBSSports.com
(10:21 am ET) Packers wide receiver Randall Cobb was not happy following his team's 19-7 loss Sunday against the Lions. Cobb totaled only three catches for 29 yards, and the entire offense struggled against a Lions defense that was decimated by injury.

"Our defense played their butts off tonight," Cobb said, per the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "We did nothing for them. It was kind of embarrassing as an offense, embarrassing myself the way I played."

Although Cobb had two touchdowns Week 2 and three on the season, he has just 14 catches for 126 yards through three games. He also has just one catch of 20-plus yards.

"I have to do more, I have to give this team more," he said. "I have to look in the mirror first and see where it is that I can do more to help this team out."


John Brown unlikely to be a reliable source of scores
by Chris Towers | CBSSports.com
(10:15 am ET) Arizona rookie wide receiver John Brown is sure to be one of the hottest names on the waiver wire ahead of Week 4, but Fantasy owners might be searching for fool's gold if they are looking to bolster their receiving corps with the young Cardinals wide out.

Through the first three weeks of his career, Brown looks like a bonafide red-zone monster, having hauled in three touchdowns, including two in Sunday's win over the 49ers. However, he also had just 52 receiving yards in the game, with almost all of his value coming from those two scores. Unfortunately, an early proclivity for scoring doesn't necessarily mean a player has a nose for the end zone.

Over the past five seasons, 14 rookies have caught two touchdowns in a game while failing to top 55 yards in that same game, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com's play index. And though some of them -- Jimmy Graham, Dez Bryant, Rob Gronkowski -- went on to stardom, the collective isn't particularly impressive as a whole. Over their next two games played, the 14 players accounted for 10 total touchdowns but just 149 Fantasy points overall, an average of just 5.3 points per game.

Brown has been the best Fantasy option in the Cardinals' receiving corps so far, but he won't be much use if -- when -- the touchdowns run dry. He is just third on the team in targets and could be a big-time disappointment moving forward. 


 
 
 
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