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2014 Draft Prep: Draft him, not him

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Your doctor will tell you to switch red meat for white meat. Your spouse will beg you to swap your rowdy friends for the quieter ones. Your trainer will tell you to diet, exercise and get a good night's sleep instead of eating carbs late at night while watching football (that happens to everyone and not just me, right?).

Everyone has an easy time telling you to do this, not that. Really, it's just people giving the best advice they can. They want to help you. It's taking their advice that can be a little tricky.

Taking Fantasy advice is equally tricky, though it shouldn't impact your diet/health/marriage. There are a lot of big names in Fantasy Football that might underperform, and other lesser-known names that are comparable who should perform to better expectations. So here are some alternatives to some of Fantasy's better-known players.

Draft Robert Griffin III, not Cam Newton
Newton has made our bust lists because of offseason ankle surgery he's not quite all the way back from, a suspect offensive line and an equally suspect receiving corps. RG3 looks better given a full year back from a torn ACL, a new offense that should see him pass more (and run less) along with a boosted group of wideouts to help him out. We wouldn't draft Newton until Round 9 at the earliest but he could go higher in your leagues. Griffin, on the other hand, is certain to land in Round 7 or 8 in every league.
Bonus suggestion: Draft both and use one as a trade chip if both end up doing well.

Draft Nick Foles, not Tony Romo
Foles is going to be a wild card on Draft Day: Someone might take him as soon as Round 6, or he could fall to Round 10. Romo isn't quite in the same boat as most Fantasy owners recognize his ability but still wait for him as a bargain pick. What's appealing about Foles is that his offense should remain challenging for defenses to figure out and he did exceptionally well running it last season. Both quarterbacks carry 250-yard, two-touchdown potential every week but Romo has a bit more of an injury risk to him and might not deliver as many monster games as Foles, who is worth taking a round or two ahead of Romo.
Bonus suggestion: If you're jittery about either quarterback, aim for Carson Palmer as your backup. He has lots of upside and has good matchups for both Foles' and Romo's bye weeks.

Draft Carson Palmer, not Andy Dalton
It was stunning to see Dalton finish as a Top 5 Fantasy quarterback last year but it's a longshot he'll do it again. The Bengals figure to be more of a running team this season even though Dalton has reportedly cleaned up his mechanics. In Arizona, the opposite is true: Palmer heads an offense likely to pass plenty, particularly as they added two deep threat receivers to go with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd, both of whom are awesome targets. Palmer's offensive line has also been addressed to the point where it might wind up being one of the better ones in the NFL -- Dalton's is a little more suspect. Palmer is among the best Fantasy backups and sleepers you can find.
Bonus suggestion: If you take an elite quarterback like Peyton, Brees or Rodgers, pass on a backup quarterback and use the roster spot to build depth/hunt for a sleeper at another position.

Draft Toby Gerhart, not Reggie Bush
The Jaguars' run game was gross last season, including how rarely their backs had goal-line chances. That's going to change in 2014 now that the team brought in Gerhart. The backfield beast, who is 27, has 276 regular-season carries and is going to be the main man in Jacksonville with nobody stealing significant reps. Bush, 29, has 450 carries in just the last two seasons and is going to end up splitting with at least one guy in Detroit. Both will be third-round picks, though if one had a shot at falling into Round 4 it would be Gerhart since some owners are afraid of him playing like your typical heavy-workload back. As for the Jags' O-line, improvements were made that make it better than the paltry fivesome from last year. Gerhart's opportunities to get consistent touches and bang away at the goal line make him a more lucrative choice than Bush.
Bonus suggestion: Assuming Joique Bell plays well this preseason, he's the better Lions running back bargain with a pick in Round 5 or so. You could be in for a touchdown windfall with Gerhart and Bell as your second and third backs.

Draft Shane Vereen, not Stevan Ridley
Vereen and Ridley are going to be the Patriots' primary backs to begin the year: Vereen to work in passing down situations and the hurry-up offense, Ridley in running down situations (including the goal line) and the clock-killing offense. Of course, Ridley won't get many chances if he can't hang on to the football. Vereen doesn't have the same kind of fumbling problem -- his issue is that he doesn't get enough handoffs. But he makes up for it by catching passes, something he did 5.8 times per game during the regular season. That average would make for 94 grabs over 16 games and give Vereen a shot at 1,000 total yards with some touchdowns to boot. The odds of him getting there seem better than Ridley getting over 1,000 yards with some touchdowns since one more fumble could mean a permanent benching for Ridley. Vereen's the safer Patriots back to draft.
Bonus suggestion: Take a look at Patriots rookie running back James White with a late-round pick. He could end up serving as the backup to both Vereen and Ridley, which means if Ridley fumbles White would get a shot to lead the ground game.

Draft Devonta Freeman, not Steven Jackson
One of these guys has more than 2,700 career carries, one of these guys has none. One of these guys has been in the NFL for a decade, one of them is just now coming into the pros. One of these guys averaged 3.5 yards per carry last year, one of these guys might not have averaged below 4.0 yards per carry through his amateur and collegiate career. Know which way I'm going with this? Jackson is the old man in the Falcons' running back room and is a high-risk break-down candidate given his history. Freeman has to be counted on to spell S-Jax while he's healthy and full-on replace him when he's out. Jacquizz Rodgers? He had his chances over the last two years and seems locked into a third-down role. Very often we look at a player as "future stud" only to see the future accelerate to the present day. It's possible we see that with Freeman, who can be had with a Round 9 pick, several rounds after Jackson.
Bonus suggestion: You could draft both, but we wouldn't recommend a big investment in Jackson. A Fantasy owner desperate for a second back or a flex could find Jackson appealing in Round 6 and Freeman a great handcuff/sleeper three rounds later.

Draft Terrance West, not Ben Tate
Every year Ben Tate gets the gold star from Fantasy analysts and every year he delivers anywhere from "meh" to "blah." So we're falling for him again just because the Browns signed him this offseason and he's going into a scheme he's familiar with? OK, if that's your thing. Here are three secrets everyone knows: The Browns are going to try to run the ball a ton this year, Tate is injury prone and West is a sky's-the-limit rookie who has adapted quickly to what the Browns are asking from him. So much so that someone familiar with the situation in Cleveland told me West is the one to watch. You could go with the Browns running back combo platter and hope Tate falls in Round 6 and come right back for West in Round 7, or you could just go for the home run and go for West in Round 7.
Bonus suggestion: A lot of people will tell you the Browns' run game will stall because their pass game will struggle without Josh Gordon. Don't buy it. The Browns' defense is much improved, the Browns offense will have some good moments passing and West will get more than a few charity carries per week. West is worth it before the middle of your draft.

Draft Michael Crabtree, not Larry Fitzgerald
This might be the closest call of any "Draft him, not him" on this page. Both guys are great and borderline No. 1 Fantasy receivers. In fact, getting either of these guys to be your WR1 after taking two running backs should be looked at as a win. Crabtree's never been better than he was in 2012 when he had 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns, or roughly 164 Fantasy points (and that's with Colin Kaepernick for half of a season). It's been two years since Fitzgerald's done way better than those numbers but last year's 954 yards and 10 touchdowns was worth effectively 154 points. Pretty close. Crab's average over 19 games with Kaepernick is basically five catches for 72 yards and a touchdown every other game. Over 16 games you'd get 90 grabs, 1,150 yards and eight touchdowns. Now ask yourself, can Crabtree keep that average up with the Niners adding Stevie Johnson? And also ask, can Fitzgerald beat those numbers? In the Cardinals' pass-heavy offense, it's entirely possible he could, though last year's numbers might suggest otherwise. Here's where Crabtree wins the arm-wrestling match: He's four years younger than Fitz, has a younger and stronger-armed quarterback and is in a contract year. Those are the tiebreakers for me, and why I'll take Crab ahead of Fitz in Round 3 or maybe even early Round 4.
Bonus suggestion: Owners in 8- or 10-team leagues could go for both receivers in Rounds 3 and 4, especially if we're talking the swing picks at the end of Round 3 and the top of Round 4. Planning for it would mean going with two rushers with two early round picks. Lucky 12-team leagues could also end up with this duo after taking two running backs.

Draft Emmanuel Sanders, not Eric Decker
Decker's last two career seasons came with Peyton Manning, not Geno Smith, as his quarterback. Kinda important since now Smith is throwing to Decker ... and Manning is throwing to Sanders. Sanders isn't as big as Decker but he's definitely quicker and faster, far more capable of taking a short, precise Peyton pass to the house. And the Broncos will throw a lot -- will the Jets? In PPR formats both are good No. 2 receivers but in standard leagues Sanders offers more potential to score and rack up some crazy yardage. Those career years Decker had with Peyton are about to become Sanders' property.
Bonus suggestion: Don't bother with Decker. When's the last time the Jets had a great Fantasy receiver anyway? Think Decker's going to turn it around with Smith as his quarterback and the offense still in a run-first mentality? You have a better chance of getting a wink from Jessie James Decker.

Draft Rueben Randle, not Hakeem Nicks
Nicks is coming into a whole new world in Indianapolis, and while he'll probably exploit single coverage a bunch and become a better red-zone receiver than he was last year with the Giants, he won't be as prolific as Randle. Motivated by offseason mud-slinging by coaches past and present, Randle has come to training camp refocused and sure to serve as the Giants' top outside receiver. In the new offense they're running it means a lot of targets and plenty of chances to make a play after the catch. He did a bunch of that last season. If he can correct his errors, the third-year receiver should take another big step forward statistically. He's a Round 8 pick. Nicks is one of my sleepers, so I like him with a pick later on, but given the two I'd ride with the younger, healthier receiver.
Bonus suggestion: This is another situation where you could draft both as backups and be done at the position. For instance, if you take two stud receivers, these two would provide depth and you'd head into Week 1 with four wideouts.

Draft Zach Ertz, not Jordan Reed
Like an 80-year-old grandmother, I'm already nervous about Reed surviving the season after suffering multiple concussions (and not coming clean with them) in 2013. Reed is a phenom, but so is Ertz. And while Reed's offense might tilt a little bit toward being more pass-heavy than Ertz's, it's Ertz who stands to serve as a difference-maker. He's big, strong, fast and can do anything Chip Kelly asks of him. He finished strong last season and spent part of this offseason hanging out with Nick Foles, developing that all-important chemistry. Ertz, who can be had with a Round 9 pick after Reed in Round 8, has more potential than Reed without the injury concerns.
Bonus suggestion: Both tight ends offer a great deal of hope but both could also disappoint. It's not necessarily a wrong idea to draft a second tight end with one of these guys, especially if you're happy with your depth at running back and wide receiver. Lions rookie Eric Ebron and Chargers tight ends Ladarius Green and Antonio Gates should end up being good options as insurance policies.

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Player News
Eagles RB DeMarco Murray sidelined by hydration issue
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(8:34 pm ET) Eagles running back DeMarco Murray was forced to miss the first day of team drills on Sunday because of poor hydration levels, coach Chip Kelly said per the Philadelphia Inquirer.

"We did a hydration status test and he was a little bit high and obviously when you see guys that are high from a hydration standpoint, then you kind of pull them back a little bit because that's when they are susceptible for an injury," Kelly said.

"He's probably the most conditioned athlete on our team, but if you don't drink the requisite amount of water and electrolytes and have them in your system, it doesn't matter how fit you are," Kelly said of Murray. "Especially the weather - that was a big factor for us, too. We have had back-to-back, and going into three, 90-degree days. . . .You don't want to lose a guy in the first day."


49ers' Bruce Ellington, Ben Gottschalk dealing with injuries
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(7:55 pm ET) 49ers wide receiver Bruce Ellington will be held out of the next few practices because of a strained left leg, reports the Bay Area News Group. Ellington sustained the injury during Monday's practice.

"I'm holding him [out]," coach Jim Tomsula said. "I want to make sure we're good there."

Meanwhile, offensive lineman Ben Gottschalk underwent a foot procedure and is out indefinitely.


Rams DE Chris Long returns to practice
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(7:42 pm ET) Rams defensive end Chris Long was able to practice on Tuesday after missing the first three days with a back issue, according to The St. Louis Post-Dispatch

The veteran is expected to anchor a strong defensive line this year after playing just six games last season because of an injury. Long 51 1/2 career sacks in seven seasons in St. Louis.


49ers' Alex Boone shifting from right guard to left
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(7:37 pm ET) 49ers offensive lineman Alex Boone is expected to switch from right guard to left guard for the upcoming season, the veteran said per ESPN.com. He will replace three-time Pro Bowler Mike Iupati at the position.

"It's great," Boone said. "It's different, obviously, [after] playing next to Anthony [Davis] all those years, now you move over play next to Joe [Staley]. Both great tackles. Footwork's a little diferent, handwork is a little different, but at the end of the day it’s come along real well."


Report: RB Pierre Thomas to visit Texans
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:51 pm ET) The Texans could be in the market for a running back now that Arian Foster could be dealing with an injury. Veteran free agent Pierre Thomas is reportedly going to visit with Houston, according to NFL Network. 

He is expected to workout for the team on Wednesday. Thomas spent his entire career in New Orleans where he ran for 3,745 yards and 28 touchdowns in eight seasons. 


Cowboys 'like the fight' in cornerback Tyler Patmon
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:43 pm ET) Cowboys cornerback Tyler Patmon made news over the weekend when he got into a skirmish with star wide receiver Dez Bryant running the down the field. For the second-year player, it showed his tenacity and desire to play the game, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

"Well, Patmon is a great story for our team," coach Jason Garrett said. "He came to the rookie mimicamp as an undrafted, unsigned tryout guy. For him to do what he did over the course of those three days his first year to show us that, 'hey, he's one of the better guys. I don't care who we drafted or who we signed we need to make sure that he's one of the guys that has a chance to make our football team.'

"So what he is all about was demonstrated right from the start. He's a guy that's all about what he does. It doesn't really matter where he comes from and what has happened to him and other people in the past. He wants to show you what he's all about by what he does each and every day. And I think he’s done that since he's been here. He's a competitor. He's a fighter. He's an instinctive player. He loves to play the game. I think he’s gotten better and better."

Patmon is fighting for a roster spot and the fourth cornerback position on the team. 


Jets DE Muhammad Wilkerson misses practice on Tuesday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:14 pm ET) Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson was unable to practice on Tuesday while dealing with a sore hamstring, according to ESPN.com.

Wilkerson left Sunday's practice while dealing with the injury and is being held out as a precaution. 

"He’s feeling OK, [the hamstring is] tight," Jets coach Todd Bowles said. "It’s day to day -- we’re gonna err on the side of caution."


Lions negotiating to re-sign Haloti Ngata, DeAndre Levy
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:12 pm ET) The Lions are making a big push to re-sign defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and linebacker DeAndre Levy, according to The Detroit News. General manager Martin Mayhew said the team is in discussions with both player's agents on new deals. 

"[Levy's] a heck of a football player, just a playmaker on our defense," Mayhew said before training camp Tuesday. "Versus the run and the pass, the guy's an impact player, so we definitely want to keep him on our defense — very important to our football team. His leadership is also excellent, professional in every sense of the word, so he has a lot of value to us. And he's one of our own guys, so we want to definitely keep him around."

Ngata is entering his first season with the Lions after being traded from Baltimore in March.

"He's a phenomenal player," Mayhew said. "He can be an impact player for us as well along the defensive line. I don't really need to see a whole lot more. … I've seen enough to know that I want to have him around."


Eagles release WR Devante Davis, sign Josh Reese
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(6:08 pm ET) The Eagles have released wide receiver Devante Davis and signed free agent rookie Josh Reese, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Davis a rookie pickup and yet to play in the league.


Report: Eagles waive OLB Travis Long
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(5:56 pm ET) The Eagles have waived outside linebacker Travis Long, according to ESPN.com. Long suffered a torn ACL on Monday and if he goes unclaimed, he will be placed on the team's injured reserve list.

Long has been with Philadelphia since 2013, but is yet to play a game after suffering multiple injuries.


 
 
 
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