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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
Cardinals S Tyrann Mathieu finally cast-free
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(7:11 pm ET) After a couple of injury-plagued seasons, Cardinals safety Tyrann Mathieu enters training camp almost completely healthy, without a brace on his knee or cast on his thumb, per NFL.com. 

The Cardinals will need a healthy Mathieu to offseason the loss of former defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and cornerback Antonio Cromartie. In two seasons, Mathieu has 100 tackles and three interceptions but has been hampered by nagging injuries. 

"It just feels good to be free," he said. 


Giants' Bennett Jackson making transition to safety
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) Giants second-year cornerback Bennett Jackson is spending the offseason transitioning to safety. 

"At the end of the day, I’m a DB,’" Jackson said, per the New York Post. "I think my strengths are cover skills, I got good speed and I got good ball skills. The thing it’s gonna take for me to get out there and make an impact is, I just got to learn the defense and really just communicate the calls fluently."

"It is all in front of him," coach Tom Coughlin said. "We think he can cover. He has done a good job of getting us lined up and then we will see how he plays."


O'Brien impressed with Jadeveon Clowney's work ethic
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) Texans coach Bill O'Brien has been impressed with the work defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has put in to recover from microfracture surgery in his knee. 

"I've been impressed with the way JD's been working," O'Brien said, per HoustonTexans.com. "He's been out there. He's in early. He's rehabbing. But he's also being able to take part in some of the things that we do in the weight room. He's not able to do all of the things that we do on the field just yet, because of his rehab. But he's on the right track."


AJ McCarron throwing deep for Bengals
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron has recovered from the shoulder soreness that bothered him for most of his rookie year. 

McCarron is now throwing deep again. "I feel great," McCarron said, per the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Body feels great and I feel like I'm slinging it better than I ever have, really."


Brooks Reed injured, may miss time at Falcons' OTAs
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) Falcons linebacker Brooks Reed suffered a groin injury during the recently-completed voluntary minicamp, per ESPN.

The injury was termed "minor", but it still might keep Reed from full participation in the Falcons' upcoming OTAs, which start Tuesday. 


GM: EJ Manuel on 'equal footing' with Bills' other QBs
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) Bills general manager Doug Whaley denied reports that the team is moving on from quarterback EJ Manuel

The team acquired Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor in the offseason.

In an interview with Jim Rome, Whaley said, "I look at it this way, in this business controversy sells,. The more controversy that you can drum up then the more intereste people are going to be."

"For us we’re excited about the future of all three of those guys," Whaley said. "It’s going to be a great competition. And we can keep three quarterbacks. So I dismiss that as just someone trying to get something stirred during this down time and lack of media stories for the NFL." 

Whaley said all three quarterbacks have an equal shot of winning the starting job. 

"I look for him to come in and compete and try to take the job," he said. "Everybody has got an equal footing. It’s a clean slate for all four of our quarterbacks. We’re not tied to anybody. We just want the best man to start."


Bengals' Vontaze Burfict may start year on PUP
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict's rehab may not be progressing as quickly as the team had hoped.

Burfict had microfracture knee surgery and initial post-surgery reports said that he could be recovered by the start of training camp. 

This week, the team's website said that Burfict's status was "up in the air" and that a return by the start of the season would be a "tight call".

If Burfict isn't ready by the opener, the Bengals may choose to put him on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. 


So far, so good for Texans rookie CB Kevin Johnson
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) First impressions aren't necessarily important for first-round picks in the NFL. They are far more critical to lower selections and undrafted free agents who desperately need to raise a few eyebrows immediately lest they be back out looking for work.

But whether necessary or not, Texans first-rounder Kevin Johnson is making one heck of a first impression on Bill O'Brien. The clornerback opened some eyes at minicamp.

"This is a guy that's a very quick guy," O'Brien said. "He's a tall guy. He's a guy that has really good transition ability. He's got what I call really good recover transition. If he's getting beat, he can stick his foot in the ground and really make up a lot of ground.

"He's a very bright player. If you ask him questions in the morning meeting, he really has obviously studied the night before. He's working out on his own and doing things to help stay up on material that's being installed."

Johnson believes he needs to do the little things right to make a big impact in his rookie year.

"From the training room to the classroom to the film study, everything is just more detailed," he told the team website. "I'm just trying to take it all in and use everything around here and just get better."


Bears CB Tim Jennings could transition into slot role
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) Bears cornerback Tim Jennings is "still trying to figure out" where he will fit into the secondary this season, the Chicago Tribune is reporting.

The nine-year veteran, who is entering his sixth season in the Windy City, has 95 career starts and led the league in interceptions in 2012. He is even a two-time Pro Bowler. But he spent significant time as the slot corner in minicamp. That's an unsatisfying role for him that he just might be forced to embrace.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio prefers his outside corners tall and physical. Jennings is 5-8, 185 pounds. He might still earn an outside role opposite Kyle Fuller, but do achieve that goal he must at the very least outperform free agent pickup Alan Ball, who better fits the ideal description.

If the words of new coach John Fox are any indication, that's unlikely to happen.

"Dimension-wise, he's built like a nickel corner," Fox said. "He's played it before."

Jennings has started all but three games over the last seven years.


Report: Cardinals' Daryl Washington unsure of NFL standing
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/22/2015) Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington is approaching the one-year mark for his suspension though his NFL status is still in limbo. 

But according to a report from FOX Sports 910 in Phoenix, Washington is unsure about his status with the league. He was suspended a year ago on May 30, 2014 for being a multiple offender of the NFL's substance-abuse policy. 

However, he was expected to apply for reinstatement a month ago but did not do so. 

Assuming Washington is reinstated to the NFL at some point he will likely be subjected to punishment under the NFL's domestic violence policy. On March 24, 2014, he pleaded guilty to assaulting his ex-girlfriend. 


 
 
 
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