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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
49ers looking to extend Michael Wilhoite
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) After the unexpected retirements of two linebackers, the 49ers are looking to lock up Michael Wilhoite to a contract extension. 

Wilhoite is an exclusive rights free agent, but GM Trent Baalke told the media he hopes to negotiate a long-term deal. 

"We’re working on something with him as we speak … He’s kind of in a unique situation. He was kind of caught in a numbers deal," Baalke said, per SFGate.com.


DeMeco Ryans likes improved Eagles' defense
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) Eagles linebacker DeMeco Ryans likes the changes that the team has made to its defense in the offseason.

"We got better on the outside, which we struggled at last year,” Ryans said, per ESPN. “We had a lot of struggles there on the outside at the corner position, so I feel we've upgraded there with (Byron) Maxwell , a guy that you've seen make a lot of plays for the Seahawks. A guy like Kiko (Alonso), who his rookie year was a really outstanding player, up for defensive rookie of the year, a playmaker all over the field, and another guy in (Walter) Thurmond , who is expected to definitely push guys to be the starting corner on the other side. So I feel like we upgraded at a lot of positions, and I feel like it's really going to improve our defense."


Kubiak: Time for Broncos' backup Brock Osweiler to step up
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) Broncos quarterback Brock Osweiler hasn't had much playing time, as Peyton Manning's backup, but coach Gary Kubiak wants to see progress from him.

"I think it's time for Brock to take a big step as a player," Kubiak said, per NFL.com. "A lot of times in this league, the young quarterbacks don't get the opportunity to be behind a player of Peyton's status and learn before they get the opportunity in this league ... I think Brock needs to take advantage of this. But he's going to be very competitive. I'm very impressed with his skills. I'm very impressed with how hard he works in the classroom. I know he's got all of the ability."


Kubiak: Broncos will run no-huddle with Peyton Manning
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) Gary Kubiak said he plans to take advantage of future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning when designing the Broncos' offense for next season. 

We'll definitely be running the hurry-up offense," Kubiak said per NFL.com. "Peyton's been the best at the business at it for many years, so that's a strength that we'll stay with."

That doesn't mean everything will be the same for Manning. Kubiak said he planned on having Manning under center more than in recent seasons. 


Steelers claim LS Brandon Hartson off waivers
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) The Steelers announced on Friday that they claimed long snapper Brandon Hartson off of waivers. 

Hartson was waived by the Chiefs on Thursday. 


S Chris Banjo signs EFA tender with Packers
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) Packers safety Chris Banjo signed his exclusive-rights tender on Friday, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

The tender is good for one year and is worth $585,000 for the 2015 season. 


Trent Baalke praises 49ers LB Aldon Smith's offseason work ethic
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith has had plenty of off-field issues since entering the NFL.

After serving a nine-game suspension a year ago for violating the NFL's personal-conduct and substance-abuse policy, Smith returned and only tallied two sacks. 

The time off followed by sub-par performances has ignited Smith on the practice field thus far, according to general manager Trent Baalke. 

"He’s probably in as good a shape as he’s been in a long time," Baalke said, via the San Jose Mercury News. "He’s starting to develop into a leader out there, which is good to see and been a pleasure to watch."

Baalke knows that Smith has an uphill climb in repairing his image. But while Smith attempts to do so, Baalke wanted the San Francisco media to know that Smith is doing what he can to improve ont he playing field. 

“He’s got a great look in his eye,” Baalke said. “He’s doing well. I look forward to having you guys visit with him.”


WR Greg Jennings still available on free-agent market
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) Greg Jennings is back home in Minnesota but still without a new NFL team. 

The free-agent receiver recently visited the Saints but left without signing a contract, according to the New Orleans Times-Picayune. Jennings has also visited the Dolphins, Panthers and Jaguars. 

Jennings caught 59 passes for 742 yards and six touchdowns in 2014. Assuming he does find a team for 2015, Jennings will enter his 10th NFL season. 


Ravens' Supernaw, Trawick, Melvin, Jensen sign EFA tenders
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) The Ravens announced on Friday that tight end Phillip Supernaw, safety Brynden Trawick, cornerback Rashaan Melvin and offensive lineman Ryan Jensen signed their exclusive-rights free agent tenders.

Supernaw was mostly a reserve in 2014 and had two catches for 27 yards. Trawick is a backup safety that plays on special teams coverage units. Melvin was signed off of the Dolphins' practice squad after injuries decimated the cornerbacks. Jensen was a 2013 draft pick that ended up spending the majority of 2014 on the practice squad.

 


49ers RB Carlos Hyde down to 220 pounds
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4/17/2015) 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said running back Carlos Hyde has trimmed down to around 220 pounds so far this offseason, according to the Sacramento Bee

Hyde was listed at 235 pounds during the 2014 season, which would mean Hyde has lost somewhere int he area of 15 pounds. Baalke said that Hyde hasn't been in the 220 range since his early days in college at Ohio State and that he's looking "extremely good."

Hyde will compete with Reggie Bush for starting tailback duties this preseason, though both should contribute quite a bit in the 49ers' backfield. Bush, 30, was signed by the 49ers after the Lions released him this offseason. 


 
 
 
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