Fantasy & Reality: Rounding out your roster

by | Senior Fantasy Writer
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What do Bernard Scott and Jacoby Ford, Lance Ball and Antonio Brown, Lance Ball and Matt Cassel and Montario Hardesty and Lee Evans all have in common?

They reside in the final two spots on some of my Fantasy Football teams' benches, and they're all about to get cut.

That's not to say those guys don't have value. If Peyton Hillis breaks something, Hardesty will suddenly become a factor. If Jacoby Ford heals everything he could get back on the field and stretch defenses. But as a Fantasy owner, I'm inclined to do two things with my last two roster spots: Protect my studs and speculate on some sleepers.

You can't say it's a bad idea -- tell that to the guy who had Jamaal Charles. Now, if you owned Charles, you have to hit waivers and either push for Dexter McCluster or settle for Thomas Jones. If you come up empty on getting one or both, you're going to be hurting. You might even be wishing you could have shored up Charles with one of his backups before Week 2. Meanwhile, the guy who drafted Ben Tate with a late pick back in August is grinning proudly at his find.

Just because you botched your chances then does not mean you're going to botch your chances now. And just because Charles wasn't your stud who got hurt doesn't mean your stud won't get hurt. Someone will be "next." You have to be prepared.

The concept of drafting your stud's real-life backup is pretty simple: Stud goes down, backup replaces him. The Arian Foster-Ben Tate scenario is a crystal-clear example of the proverbial Fantasy "handcuff." But not every situation is as easy as that one, and some backup situations are downright ugly.

Breaking down the backups
Starter Backup (Owned Pct.) Starter Backup (Owned Pct.)
James Starks Ryan Grant (96 pct.) Peyton Hillis Montario Hardesty (33 pct.)
Ahmad Bradshaw Brandon Jacobs (91 pct.) Joseph Addai Delone Carter (32 pct.)
Steven Jackson Cadillac Williams (88 pct.) Tim Hightower Roy Helu (31 pct.)
Darren McFadden Michael Bush (79 pct.) Rashard Mendenhall Isaac Redman (26 pct.)
Fred Jackson C.J. Spiller (74 pct.) Chris Johnson Javon Ringer (26 pct.)
LeSean McCoy Ronnie Brown (55 pct.) Adrian Peterson Toby Gerhart (18 pct.)
Ray Rice Ricky Williams (53 pct.) LeGarrette Blount Earnest Graham (16 pct.)
Maurice Jones-Drew Deji Karim (43 pct.) Marshawn Lynch Justin Forsett (16 pct.)
Matt Forte Marion Barber (42 pct.) Cedric Benson Bernard Scott (13 pct.)
Michael Turner Jason Snelling (40 pct.) Jahvid Best Maurice Morris (12 pct.)
Complicated backup situations
Starter Backup situation
Frank Gore Anthony Dixon (3 pct.) would work with Kendall Hunter (23 pct.).
Shonn Greene LaDainian Tomlinson (86 pct.) would get help from Joe McKnight (2 pct.).
BenJarvus Green-Ellis Danny Woodhead (79 pct.) would get help from Stevan Ridley (12 pct.).
Felix Jones Tashard Choice (25 pct.) and DeMarco Murray (36 pct.) would split the workload.
Beanie Wells Several mediocre backups would split the workload.
Team Running back situation
Texans RBs Ben Tate, Arian Foster on verge of sharing.
Dolphins RBs Daniel Thomas, Reggie Bush already sharing.
Chargers RBs Ryan Mathews, Mike Tolbert already sharing.
Chiefs RBs Thomas Jones, Dexter McCluster already sharing.
Panthers RBs DeAngelo Williams, Jonathan Stewart already sharing.
Broncos RBs Willis McGahee temporarily replacing Knowshon Moreno.
Saints RBs Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas already sharing.

Every single Fantasy owner should take a moment to check out their roster and consider adding the handcuff to your top running back. If your depth is too strong, that's a good thing and a great reason not to add the backup (for now). But if you're carrying dead weight -- a player you're pretty sure you're never going to start and can't trade away for much -- then don't hesitate to make a quick switch. Shoot, even if you have a sleeper from the summer who hasn't panned out yet and you want to get your stud's handcuff (example: Antonio Brown for Ronnie Brown), offer the sleeper for the handcuff. Chances are a fellow owner will give it some thought.

Not every backup can be had, obviously, and not every backup should be had. It might take a lot to acquire Mike Tolbert if you're relying on Ryan Mathews. Or it might not pay to carry Chester Taylor if Beanie Wells is your top starter. So in the event that you cannot or do not want to grab the real backup to your Fantasy running back, you're going to have to acquire some depth in the event that your stud tears, ruptures or breaks something. You're looking for the next LeGarrette Blount, the next James Starks or the next Ben Tate.

This is what that second open roster spot should be for: Speculating. A revolving door of players who represent a "lottery ticket." And everybody would love to cash in a winner at running back. Not that this is a shining example but last week I trumpeted Lance Ball as a running back worth stashing since he'd be involved in the Broncos run game with Knowshon Moreno out. It turned out he wasn't used much because Willis McGahee stampeded over the Bengals, but he got some looks. What if McGahee had gotten hurt? What if Ball did more with the looks that he had? And, what if Moreno continues to stay sidelined? Ball's a low-risk guy to just stuff on your bench.

There are plenty of players who should be on your list of guys to scout, but any of these six running backs -- all of whom owned in 35 percent of leagues or less -- could become breakout talents that can push your Fantasy team to higher scores. All they need is the opportunity.

Delone Carter, Colts: Not quite as versatile as Joseph Addai, but certainly starting to get a head of steam when he runs the football. Lest we forget that Addai hasn't played 16 games since his rookie year, so it seems like a matter of time before Carter gets some good playing time.

Roy Helu, Redskins: Tim Hightower is easily entrenched as the Redskins' top back, but Helu looked good with 10 carries in Week 2 and is averaging 6.9 yards per carry overall.

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Maurice Morris, Lions: The only way Morris will see significant reps is if Jahvid Best gets hurt. That's why he's way more of a good handcuff for Best owners than a guy Fantasy owners should keep on the bench. But we've seen how defenses are playing the Lions and any back playing in that offense is bound for big stats.

Isaac Redman, Steelers: The Steelers have done a good job so far monitoring Rashard Mendenhall's reps, and the upside of that is giving Redman some time to play. He looked like more than a goal-line back on his 20-yard touchdown run against the Seahawks last week and could continue to see some touches, especially in blowouts. That might include Week 3 at the Colts.

Stevan Ridley, Patriots: Not that BenJarvus Green-Ellis is in danger of losing his job anytime soon, but if he were to start fumbling or get hurt, Ridley is the clear-cut replacement for him. He started to get some work against the Chargers in Week 2.

Javon Ringer, Titans: We'll have more for you on Chris Johnson in a second, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that the Titans' $30 million running back isn't playing like himself. Ringer has actually been the better Fantasy back so far despite playing in one fewer game and getting 28 fewer carries. Do I expect that to last? No. Does it mean Ringer is useless? No! He's worth being on your radar.

Fantasy & Reality

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

Fantasy: Beanie Wells will struggle with the Redskins. How great must you feel if you drafted Wells with a fifth- or sixth-round pick? Through two games he's been dynamite, including a superior second half against the Redskins in Week 2 (only 6 yards in the first half). He's really proving his naysayers (read: me) wrong so far and is earning his coaches' trust game by game. He'll be tested soon, though: After Week 3 at Seattle he'll play vs. the N.Y. Giants, at Minnesota, vs. Pittsburgh and at Baltimore. One could reason that if there was a time to "sell high" on Wells, now is it. I'm pretty sure the Jamaal Charles owner will pay dearly.

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Reality: Ben Tate isn't going away. The Texans' run game has always been ... interesting. They haven't had much stability there through the franchise's existence and head coach Gary Kubiak hasn't done Fantasy owners many favors. But we do know this: When Kubiak finds a running back who gives him what he wants, he doesn't steer away from him (exhibit A: Arian Foster, 2010). Foster's hamstring is allegedly strained for the third time in two months, but this time Kubiak doesn't have to be concerned about how the team can replace their leading rusher. Tate's been great, averaging 109.5 rush yards per game while easily replacing Foster. So long as Tate keeps this up, he'll at worst split carries with Foster. Just note: Like Wells, Tate has dates with the Steelers and Ravens in his future. After Week 6, the Texans' backs could be off to the races.

Fantasy: Mark Ingram is a bust. If you own Ingram, I implore you to be patient. He hasn't been exciting and was famously stonewalled at the goal line in the first game of the year. One reason for it: He had two tough matchups. Another reason for it: He's splitting playing time way more than first believed. The schedule will ease up for the Saints and it could be a matter of time before he starts getting more work. If you don't own Ingram, see what the asking price is after two weak games to start the year. If it's reasonable, get him on your roster.

Reality: Devery Henderson has earned the respect of Fantasy owners. Back-to-back weeks with over 100 yards and a touchdown will do that. But some things to consider: He hasn't posted back-to-back 100-yard games since 2006. He hasn't scored in consecutive weeks ever. So while he's got 12 targets and nine catches to go with it, the odds of this deep-ball receiver remaining a regular stat monster aren't high. But then again, so were his chances of scoring another long touchdown, and he did that. If he keeps it up, Henderson will be this season's Brandon Lloyd: A career underachiever who finally puts it all together. In case you were wondering, next year is his contract year.

Week 3 waiver-wire DSTs

Cardinals (at Seahawks): Tarvaris Jackson at quarterback? Check. Sidney Rice sidelined with a shoulder issue? Check. An offense that's totaled twice as many turnovers as touchdowns? Check. This is about as good as it gets if you're picking up DSTs from week to week.

49ers (at Bengals): The Niners aren't even owned in half of CBSSports.com leagues, yet they boast the league's best run defense so far this year. Don't ask about the pass defense, but even with rookie Andy Dalton coming off of an amazing game in Week 2, the matchup isn't awful.

Panthers (vs. Jaguars): Carolina will either take on Luke McCown fresh off of a four-interception performance or Blaine Gabbert in his first NFL start. Either way, if you're desperate, they'll do.

Parting shot: What to do with Chris Johnson?

Johnson was a lightning rod for owners leading up to the draft, and now the people who drafted him (myself included) are just as anxious about him following two weeks.

The feeling here was that Johnson would be good, not great, against the Ravens because of a bigger workload. He got that workload -- 24 carries and five targets (three catches), making up 40 percent of the Titans' offensive snaps. He finished with 65 total yards. Massive disappointment.

I told you last week that he ran tentatively against the Jaguars and that his rushing lanes were getting jammed quickly. That happened again this week; Johnson seemed especially slow when he went into his cuts and seemed to run better on delay handoffs and stretch plays toward the edges. He also telegraphed all of his receptions, turning to the quarterback on designed screens before the pass was thrown.

Not every problem is on him. The Titans' offensive line isn't giving him the holes he's had in the past and he's without the fullback he's ran with for years, Ahmard Hall (out two more games with a suspension). As a result he's been grinding for small yardage. He seemingly hasn't flashed his trademark speed because he hasn't had the chance to. These specific issues might not be his fault, but they're certainly impacting him.

Then again, Javon Ringer got 21 yards on five carries including a 10-yard touchdown scamper.

Is Johnson a bust, or does he need more time, or a better matchup? Titans coach Mike Munchak pretty much called out his run game -- O-line, tight ends, fullbacks and Johnson too -- on Monday, saying they all need work. He seemed disappointed that the team didn't get more out of their rushing attack after going on the ground 29 times. He also made it clear, rightfully so, that the Titans will throw more if that's what it takes to win.

If you're the least bit concerned, it's fine to accept a deal for one great player (we've seen some Vincent Jackson-for-Chris Johnson and Larry Fitzgerald-for-Chris Johnson deals) or two very good players (Ryan Mathews and Jeremy Maclin for Chris Johnson). Don't panic and turn Johnson into a pile of trash; if you don't get an offer that's fair, roll with him.

In Week 3 the Broncos come to Nashville. They allowed 191 rush yards on 32 carries to the Raiders in Week 1 before settling down against the Bengals last week (69 yards allowed on 18 carries). If Johnson shows the same struggles against the Broncos in Week 3 as he's shown in the previous two weeks, you can officially get nervous. If he dominates Denver, then you can breathe a sigh of relief. If you don't trade him, that's about all you can do.

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 and on Facebook .

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