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Fantasy & Reality: Making the cut

Senior Fantasy Writer
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So I'm in the thick of my 14-team PPR league playoff race. If I win out I should make it. My lineup's loaded and I feel good about my chances. I really like my team, save for the running back languishing on my bench. The guy I took with my first-round pick, the guy I championed as a Top-3 pick back in August.

Standing out like a sore, slow thumb is Trent Richardson.

The time is coming where I will cut him from my team. I have no use for him as other backs on my roster are more than capable of helping my crusade to a title. And even though the waiver wire is thin, we're at the point of the season where it doesn't hurt to prepare for the Fantasy postseason by locking up handcuffs, speculate on guys coming back from injury and even pick up a second DST for the Week 16 scrum (can't help but like the Titans there).

Richardson is just one of 14 names Fantasy owners are on the brink of cutting, but not all of them should be released.

Colin Kaepernick, QB, 49ers: The second-year passer has two games over 20 Fantasy points and another two with 19 points. Tight end Vernon Davis has double-digit Fantasy points in three of those four games, making it clear that for Kaepernick to thrive as a passer he needs his top threat to do well. Without Davis, be it because of how a defense schemes against him or because of an injury, Kaepernick would have to rush for a score in order to have a chance at posting a decent stat line. Considering how little he's actually run for touchdowns, it's tough to get behind Kaepernick until he gets a legit receiving weapon back in Michael Crabtree, someone who will at least help change how defenses play against the Niners. It's up to you if you want to carry Kaepernick on your roster through the Fantasy playoffs and into what should be a sensational matchup vs. the Falcons in Week 16. You shouldn't be compelled to -- Kaepernick can be dropped now and added in a couple of weeks.
Cut or keep? Cut Kaepernick in seasonal leagues with 10 owners or less. Keep him stashed in the rest.

Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers: The hot start Rivers gave Fantasy owners has fizzled. After posting 22-plus Fantasy points in four of his first five games, Rivers has done a 180 and has been over 17 Fantasy points just once in his last five. The guy hasn't been bad, he's just not throwing as many touchdowns as he did at the beginning of the season. The Chargers have also rediscovered their run game and have used it against weak run defenses. There are several tough run defenses on the horizon for the Chargers, meaning Rivers will have to throw a decent amount in order to have a chance at winning. I might expect a bounce-back from him, meaning he shouldn't be cut unless you're loaded at quarterback and simply have no reason to keep Rivers on your bench.
Cut or keep? Keep Rivers in all leagues, assuming you don't have a supreme quarterback option.

Matt Ryan, QB, Falcons: Ryan had a relatively good stat line last week against the Buccaneers, totaling 18 Fantasy points thanks to some late touchdown strikes. But losing Julio Jones along with a number of offensive linemen has and will continue to take its toll. Ryan has a few matchups left where he could put up some nice numbers but counting on him as a week-in, week-out starter will take some serious bravado. Since the Jones injury, Ryan has had one game over 20 Fantasy points and three straight under that number. He's also thrown nine interceptions in five games since Jones' injury. He's worth keeping to play the matchups in deeper leagues but in typical formats you can get away with tossing him. Worst case scenario: You lose him to someone else off waivers and pick up another quarterback.
Cut or keep? Cut Ryan in all leagues with 12 owners or less. Keep him in the rest.

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Andre Ellington, RB, Cardinals: Ellington continues to face an uphill battle for playing time against a running back currently sporting a 2.9 rushing average. That would be Rashard Mendenhall, a rusher many Fantasy owners have left for dead. It's almost inexplicable, but Cardinals coach Bruce Arians trusts Mendenhall with the ball over the rookie, giving him more touches the last two weeks even after Ellington blasted the Falcons for 154 yards when Mendenhall was hurt three games ago. It is believed that Arians' concern is that Ellington will get beaten up if given too much playing time and the coach would rather use him on a limited basis then get him on the field at less than full speed. I can't point to evidence that says Ellington will be "the guy" in Arizona, but I can point to a mostly over-the-hill running back in Mendenhall who has totaled 51 yards or less in seven straight games and suggest that, eventually, the coaches will make the appropriate move to enhance their run game. Hopefully it's before their Week 16 game at Seattle.
Cut or keep? Cut Ellington in seasonal leagues with eight teams or less, keep in the rest.

Steven Jackson, RB, Falcons: Jackson continues to run hard and with some burst and toughness but not necessarily with a lot of speed. The biggest problem Jackson has is playing on a team that has consistently played from behind. Because the Falcons are chasing points the team gets away from the run. That's evidenced by the four straight games where Jackson has no more than 13 carries and no more than 16 touches. Those numbers have resulted in four straight with under 80 total yards and six Fantasy points or less with no touchdowns. The Falcons will probably be in competitive games in Week 13 (vs. the Bills in Toronto) and Week 15 (vs. the Redskins), but otherwise Jackson might not get the volume of work to be an effective stat producer. If you desperately need his roster spot then cutting him is an option, but I might keep him if only for those two games.
Cut or keep? Keep Jackson for now in all leagues.

Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders: No surprise, McFadden is still sidelined with a hamstring injury. There's no word on when he'll be back, but coach Dennis Allen has already said that even when he does return running back Rashad Jennings will "continue to get opportunities to run the ball." It's not worth fussing about a running back who was supposed to prove that last year's lack of production was a fluke but hasn't. So far this year he has two games with over 3.4 rush yards per carry. The Raiders' last favorable matchup for their run game is this week, and as of now McFadden isn't expected to play.
Cut or keep? It's over. Cut McFadden in all leagues.

Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins: Aside from some sporadic spurts where Miller posted great numbers, he's been harpooned by his own coaching staff unwilling to give him consistent playing time. He's had 15 touches in three of 10 games and 10 or fewer touches in five of 10 games, including each of his last two. It's tough to swallow as an owner considering he leads Dolphins running backs in yards per carry, 20-plus yard runs, first downs, receptions and yards after catch. Seeing him total 11 carries for 19 yards and four catches for 29 yards over his last two games has been brutal, but a three-game stretch coming up against the Panthers, Jets and Steelers is the final nail in the coffin.
Cut or keep? Cut Miller in all seasonal leagues.

C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills: When Bills offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said this offseason that he's going to give Spiller the ball until he throws up, little did he know he was going to make his Fantasy owners throw up first. Spiller is coming off a miserable game where he had 9 yards on his first nine carries and then somehow managed to go backward over his remaining four carries. But plenty of this is because of the matchup he just had against the Jets -- once the Bills come back from their Week 12 bye they play the Falcons in Toronto, at the Buccaneers, at the Jaguars and vs. the Dolphins in Week 16. It's a pretty darn good slate for the run-minded Bills. Spiller should be able to get near 15 touches and deliver some solid numbers, enough to help your team put up multiple good games in the precious Fantasy postseason.
Cut or keep? Keep Spiller in all leagues.

Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants: Nicks is getting the targets and the chances to make plays but is falling short. Some of that is on his quarterback -- the more pressure Eli Manning has to deal with this season, the worse his passes seem to be. But Nicks still has 10 red-zone targets and one catch to show for it. He also hasn't scored in 13 games and has watched second-year receiver (and eventual replacement) Rueben Randle score in five of the team's last six games. The Giants have only one game left against a tough defense -- Seattle at home in Week 15. But they've had a number of great matchups already this year and Nicks (and Eli) have come up empty in pretty much all of them. It's the favorable schedule that keeps Nicks worth holding on to in the event he puts it all together, but finding the confidence to start him before then ultimately depends on your other lineup choices.
Cut or keep? Keep Nicks for now in all leagues.

Cecil Shorts, WR, Jaguars: This season hasn't worked out like we thought, or how Shorts thought. After last week's loss, Shorts vented about not getting the ball enough, essentially calling the playcalling "dumb" since he showed support for quarterback Chad Henne. Shorts has by far the most targets in Jacksonville but isn't catching them with much efficiency, as he's dropped some touchdown passes this year. Drill into his red-zone stats and you'll see him with 11 targets but just one catch for a touchdown. Now, often you'll see receivers vent and then pick up a big game the following week, and that's possible against the Texans in Week 12. But trusting Shorts while his numbers have been in a downswing is difficult, and the matchups aren't going to be easy until Week 15 at the earliest.
Cut or keep? Cut Shorts in PPR leagues with eight teams or fewer and in standard leagues with 10 teams or fewer. Keep in the rest for now.

Steve Smith, WR, Panthers: The timing really favors making the argument against Smith because the Panthers just had a game where three other receiving threats scored while Smith didn't. But the truth is that Smith's been a disappointment all year, falling under 70 yards every week and scoring in just three. Over the next two weeks he'll take on top-receiver taming defenses in the Dolphins and Buccaneers, likely thwarting any chance of running for over 100 yards -- or even 80. There are so many other receivers out there you can get away with starting, and since no other receiver in Carolina is doing anything to warrant taking coverage away from Smith, there's not much optimism for a fantastic finish.
Cut or keep? Cut Smith in all leagues with 12 owners or less.

Mike Wallace, WR, Dolphins: Wallace had a great game at Indy and topped 100 yards against the Ravens but has otherwise been about as good as Dwayne Bowe. No, really, he has one more Fantasy point than Bowe on the season. Nate Washington, Ted Ginn and Julio Jones (who hasn't played in five weeks!) each have more than both of them! Wallace has caught just over half of his 85 targets but has 82 yards or less in seven of his last eight games. With tough matchups in his future, it's just too much to ask to keep trusting him in Fantasy.
Cut or keep? Cut Wallace in all leagues.

Jordan Cameron, TE, Browns: With Jason Campbell under center Cameron hass been heartbreaking. Over Campbell's 131 pass attempts to date, Cameron has been thrown at 16 times, catching 12 for 120 yards and no touchdowns. Worse yet, Campbell has thrown at Cameron just once in the red zone this season. Cameron's a great player but his quarterback's penchant for throwing check-down passes is hurting his overall potential. But it's that potential that keeps him in play, particularly in larger leagues where finding a replacement isn't a piece of cake. In two weeks we'll see the Browns host the Jaguars and that'll be a favorable matchup for Cameron, but it doesn't mean we'll be ready to start him blindly. If Campbell continues to hamper the tight end then the matchup is basically meaningless.
Cut or keep? Cut Cameron in seasonal leagues with 10 teams or less, keep in the rest.

As for Richardson, the time has come to let him go, regardless of your league size or scoring. The running back I pegged for greatness was expected to be a heavy-workload talent in Cleveland, not the lost slow-poke in Indianapolis. Donald Brown has completely usurped him as the top rusher for the Colts -- I'd be surprised if they split reps evenly going forward.

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If I didn't get to a player you're thinking about cutting, don't assume it means I wouldn't do it. Instead, remember my long-standing axiom when it comes to drops: If it is likely that the player you're dropping will get picked up quickly off waivers then maybe you reconsider dropping him. Your trash could be someone else's treasure and you'd hate to let someone else get into the playoffs because of your generosity, right?

Is this the week for Eli?

The Giants have morphed from a team leaning on its quarterback to a team leaning on its ground game. They've won four in a row not because of Manning's sweet throws but because of a balanced, methodical approach on offense and a rapidly improving defense. That formula should continue against the Cowboys in Week 12, especially since Dallas lost two starting linebackers in their last game, including middle man Sean Lee.

But it's worth noting that Manning looked really good in his Week 11 game against the Packers. He did throw an interception but it came on a play where a receiver -- Louis Murphy -- ran the wrong route. Otherwise, Manning completed a season-high 71.4 percent of his passes, a welcome sign considering the troubles he's had.

The Cowboys allowed four touchdowns to Drew Brees in Week 10 but held quarterbacks to one passing score or less in the previous four games. That includes Nick Foles, Robert Griffin III and even Matthew Stafford. It's just enough evidence to suggest the Cowboys pass defense isn't terrible.

Manning's weakness continues to be dealing with a pass rush. Chances are the Cowboys will try some blitzes along with their front-four pressures to disrupt him from throwing downfield. The Giants can negate that with the run, which is a matchup definitely in their favor. All of this points to what should be a good day for Manning, but not one that will make Fantasy owners forget about his disappointing 2013.

Fantasy & Reality

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

Fantasy: Bobby Rainey is a mirage. My favorite aspect to Rainey's game isn't his speed as much as the way he hits a hole and bursts through it. Turns out the guy stashed on the Ravens and Browns' rosters has quite a bit of talent and just needed the opportunity. There's something to be said about who Rainey played against over the last two weeks -- the Dolphins and Falcons defenses aren't exactly run stuffers. The Lions and Panthers, however, are run stuffers. Rainey is worth sitting on in anticipation of matchups against the Bills, 49ers and Rams.

Reality: That Panthers defense is good. Tom Brady came close to throwing two touchdowns against Carolina on Monday night but close doesn't count in Fantasy Football. The Panthers continue to be a shining example of a defense loaded with talent up front to help the corners and safeties in the back. I'm looking forward to the Panthers' game against Drew Brees in Week 14.

Fantasy: Delanie Walker won't help anyone win in Fantasy. You have to be encouraged by how Ryan Fitzpatrick leaned on Walker in what was a difficult matchup on paper. Against the Colts we saw Walker catch 10 of 10 targets for 91 yards and a touchdown, easily the best game of his career. But we've also seen Walker get a lot of attention from Fitzpatrick, receiving 28 targets and catching 22 of them for 225 yards and two scores. Compare that to the 26 targets he got from Jake Locker, good for 17 catches, 178 yards and three scores. Favorable matchups should help Walker become a decent Fantasy starter, which is the case this week against the Raiders, who have been brutalized by tight ends over their last two games.

Reality: Calvin Johnson is worth a Top 5 pick in 2014 Fantasy drafts. I never like to think too far ahead, but if the running backs across the league turn out to be as deep as they were this year come draft time, then Johnson will merit a first-round look. Johnson has posted over 10 Fantasy points in seven of nine games and over 20 points in five of those seven. Only Marshawn Lynch, LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles and Frank Gore have more games with over 10 Fantasy points, though none have as many with 20 points. Expect Johnson to get taken immediately after all the "safe" Fantasy rushers get swiped in Round 1.

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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