Dear Mr. Fantasy: Maximize your rate of return

Ah, the trade market. If you want to win your league, more likely than not you're going to have to take that bull by the horns at some point.

It's a scary thought, especially if you've never, um, taken a bull by the horns before. If you get a little overconfident, you could easily lose your footing and get trampled. Or gored. Or bitten, I guess. I don't know.

Clearly, I've never taken a bull by the horns before.

But I have made my share of trades over the years, and in doing so, I've learned that it's better to start too early than too late, that rejection is just a part of the process, and that, above all, the side that gets the best player is the side that improves the most. Quantity isn't as important as quality.

Unless you're getting chased by bulls.

What type of package would be needed to land a top-five player at a position? -- @WhoopTheirItIs (via Twitter)

SW: This question is almost impossible to answer. I'll admit that upfront. You might wonder, then, why I chose to answer it, but hey, the more open-ended the question, the more applicable it is to masses. And that's kind of the point. Mass communication and all.

But in order to make the impossible possible, I'll need to lay out a few ground rules, starting with what exactly you mean by "top-five player."

Presumably, you don't mean a top-five player to start out or a top-five player right now, but a top-five player going forward, which is more or less a judgment call made by combining all available data. Following that criteria -- just so we're all on the same page -- here's who I've judged to be the top five players at each position.

Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning are the top five at quarterback. Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy, Jamaal Charles and Adrian Peterson are the top five at running back. Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Roddy White, Victor Cruz and Brandon Marshall are the top five at wide receiver. Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Tony Gonzalez and Vernon Davis are the top five at tight end.

You may have some players you like more, but in my estimation, these are the ones that should cost the most on the open market and the ones I'd be least willing to give up. Now, each set of five doesn't carry the same weight. The wide receiver position, for example, has a few more candidates for that group, and the tight end position I still see as having just a top two. But generally speaking, these are the players who form your team's identity. As they rise, you rise. As they fall, you fall. By owning one of them, you're assured of having an advantage at that position against half the teams you face. Thus, by trading one of them, you alter your team's identity in a way you can't make up for on the waiver wire.

In other words, the points these players provide individually are worth more than the sum of those provided by two or three players you could get in return. The league format makes somewhat of a difference. For instance, in deeper leagues, with fewer replacements available on the waiver wire, two good players come closer to equaling the value of an elite player. But as a general rule, elite is a synonym for untouchable in all but the direst of circumstances.

What circumstances might those be? If you've dug yourself into a 1-4 hole with a roster halfway comprised of table scraps, you might have to divide a Ray Rice into, say, a Marshawn Lynch and a Reggie Wayne just to stay afloat. And that's the kind of return you should demand. Rice is a monster well worth that price tag to an owner with more depth than you.

How would you handle Andre Johnson from now on? He doesn't look right, but what's the value in trading him? -- @SteveBako87 (via Twitter)

SW: Nearly a third of the way through the season, Andre Johnson has fewer Fantasy points than Andre Roberts and Andre Brown. That's the argument against trading him. When he's been next to useless for that long, how can you expect to get full value in return?

Of course, you also have to ask yourself what you stand to gain by waiting. In the typical case of a slow starter, you can hold out hope that the numbers will correct themselves in time, and quite often they do. But in the typical case, the reasons for the decline aren't so obvious. In Johnson's case, I contend that his full value was exaggerated to begin with.

Didn't we go through this with him already? Last year, after he returned from his hamstring injury, the Texans had become so enamored with their running game -- and for good reason -- that he ended up with less than 25 receiving yards in two of his three games. Yes, the Texans had third-stringer T.J. Yates under center then, but it didn't change the fact that Johnson's disappearance was part of a continuing trend. Since Arian Foster emerged in 2010, the Texans have become increasingly reliant on their running game, to the point that their passing game is used mostly as a change of pace these days. It's basically the way the 49ers run their offense, and you don't see any of their wide receivers putting up big numbers week after week.

And frankly, I don't see it changing anytime soon. With a great defense and great running game, what incentive do the Texans have to put the ball in the air? Even on those occasions when they have to throw more than usual, Johnson is so clearly the best receiving option on the team that he's usually double-covered, allowing Owen Daniels and Kevin Walter to cut into his numbers. I'm not saying he'll never factor again -- every few weeks or so, he'll break free enough to make you happy -- but more often than not, you can expect more of what he's delivered so far.

But he's still a big-name player and has been an early-round pick each of the last few years. Because of his credentials, someone out there is buying into the idea that he's simply off to a slow start, and for that reason, I don't see the harm in marketing him.

Obviously, the potential rewards for him are still higher than those for, say, Lance Moore, so I'm not suggesting you take whatever offer comes your way. But if you can find someone still willing to believe that he'd be upgrading by shipping you Reggie Wayne or Percy Harvin in return, you have to make that deal. Or maybe you can convince someone that he'd be selling high on Stevan Ridley or Alfred Morris right now. Or maybe you can target another early-season disappointment, like DeMarco Murray or Darren McFadden, and trade "junk for junk," so to speak.

It's not so far-fetched. Just go to Johnson's player page and check out the recent trades made for him. Some will surprise you.

With the injuries to Cedric Benson and Ryan Williams, who are the Packers and Cardinals running backs worth picking up? -- @LeNewf (via Twitter)

Most Traded Players (as of 10/10)
Player # of trades
1. Chris Johnson, RB, Titans 3,390
2. Alfred Morris, RB, Redskins 2,082
3. Steven Jackson, RB, Rams 1,852
4. Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders 1,797
5. Cedric Benson, RB, Packers 1,770
6. Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Steelers 1,761
7. Dez Bryant, WR, Cowboys 1,753
8. Doug Martin, RB, Buccaneers 1,738
9. Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys 1,660
10. Michael Turner, RB, Falcons 1,658

SW: Usually when two starting running backs go down in the same week, the top two Fantasy owners in waiver priority feel like they had their numbers called in the lottery. But when those running backs are arguably the worst two in the league, it's more like they had their names called in the dentist's office.

Alex Green is the player you want here, if only because he has the advantage of the unknown. We've seen what James Starks has to offer, and it's not worth your or the Packers' time. He was so underwhelming in training camp -- in part because of a toe injury and in part because of who he is -- that he nearly didn't make the roster coming into the season. Granted, he has more production to his name than Green, whose career highlight reel consists of a 41-yard run late last week, but hey, at least Green hasn't flopped yet. He's young. He was a relatively early draft pick. He's on a stacked offense. He may be capable of something.

Plus, unlike any of the Cardinals' options, you know he won't have a Beanie Wells type raining on his parade six weeks from now. And you know he's definitively the next player on the depth chart. Between LaRod Stephens-Howling, William Powell and Alfonso Smith, the Cardinals could conceivably go any of three directions.

Stephens-Howling has the most experience and legitimate big-play potential, but I get the feeling he'll end up looking like a miscast special teams player, which will open the door for Powell, who's relatively unproven and has yet to earn the trust of the coaching staff. Smith is presumably the last line of defense if both fail, but who knows? Perhaps inserting him as the starter is the path of least resistance. Even if his talent doesn't quite measure up, it's not like the Cardinals were getting much production from their running game to begin with.

Ranking these five players today, I'd go Green, Stephens-Howling, Powell, Starks and Smith, but it's very much subject to change.

Should I drop Bilal Powell or Andre Brown for any of these: Danny Woodhead, LaRod Stephens-Howling, David Wilson, Ronnie Hillman, Shaun Draughn, William Powell, Joique Bell, James Starks and Lamar Miller? -- @FurrySpartan

SW: Must be a fairly deep league, huh?

If those are your best alternatives, I'd make a point to hold on to Brown, at least until we have a better idea how much time he's going to miss with his concussion. We already know he's capable of putting up stud numbers when given the opportunity, and considering starter Ahmad Bradshaw's propensity for injury, I'd say another opportunity is coming.

Bilal Powell, on the other hand, is not so interesting to me. He's a secondary option in a bad rushing attack. I'd take a flier on Stephens-Howling over him. I don't have high hopes for Stephens-Howling's ascension to the starter role in Arizona, but I know he has big-play potential from his experience as a return specialist. It's one of those you-never-know sort of pickups.

Most of these other players are little more than insurance policies for their respective teams. They won't factor unless something goes disastrously wrong. I'd place Starks and William Powell slightly above the rest since their teams' backfield situations are still getting sorted out, but I expect them to play supporting roles as of now.

Would you start Christian Ponder or Matthew Stafford this week? What about Torrey Smith or Dez Bryant? -- @HunterDorbandt (via Twitter)

SW: I understand the dilemma at quarterback. Ponder is facing a Redskins defense that ranks 32nd against the pass, which makes him, in my estimation, an ideal bye-week replacement this week.

But that's me recommending him over a quarterback who won't be playing. Recommending him over a quarterback who threw 41 touchdown passes last season is not something I'm prepared to do.

I know if you own Stafford in Fantasy, you're discouraged. You took him in the second round thinking he'd set you apart at the highest-scoring position in Fantasy with two or three touchdown passes every week, and he has yet to throw for multiple scores in a game this season. So I'm not saying he's unbenchable during this period you're waiting for him to turn things around (which, by the way, I'm confident he will). I'm just saying you need to have an airtight argument for doing it.

Do you? I don't see it. It's not like Stafford was forced to the sidelines the previous week with a leg injury, as was the case in Week 4. It's not like he's facing an impossibly good 49ers defense, as was the case in Week 2. He was just on bye, giving him a chance to rest and recover, and he's facing the Eagles.

Those same Eagles who have allowed just a 53.3 completion percentage and 67.1 quarterback rating to opposing quarterbacks this season, both second-best in the league? Yes, but keep in mind they were the beneficiaries of Brandon Weeden's NFL debut in Week 1, when the rookie completed only 34.3 percent of his passes for 118 yards and four interceptions. Since then, they've allowed quarterback ratings of 127.4 and 86.3 to Kevin Kolb and Eli Manning and have recorded just two interceptions in four games.

Am I saying Stafford is going to have a career-best performance this week? No. But given how much he throws, averaging 43.3 pass attempts per game, I don't think this matchup is going to prevent him from getting his yardage. And eventually, all that yardage has to translate to a touchdown or two, especially when you factor a monster like Calvin Johnson into the equation.

Ponder, meanwhile, is always vulnerable to a big game from Adrian Peterson. The way their offense is built, the Vikings would prefer to win by running the ball, and in this game, they might have that opportunity. Knowing that Stafford is the safer of the two for an OK performance this week and is always the more likely of the two for, say, a four-touchdown performance, why not just stick with him?

As for the dilemma at wide receiver (between two players whose teams are facing each other, strangely enough), I'd sit Smith for Bryant. Between Smith, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, you never know which of Baltimore's receiving options is going to get the short end of the stick. Plus, the Cowboys defense ranks first against the pass, believe it or not.

Would you prefer Dennis Pitta or Owen Daniels for the rest of the season in a points-per-reception league? -- @DEA_217 (via Twitter)

SW: Pitta would be my choice regardless, but in a PPR league, the decision is that much easier.

So the last two games haven't gone so well for him. It happens. Last week, the Ravens offense as a whole faltered, and the week before, quarterback Joe Flacco rightfully set his sights on his wide receivers, picking on a Browns secondary that was without suspended cornerback Joe Haden.

Yet even with those two games when he virtually disappeared, Pitta still ranks third among all tight ends with 37 targets. The first two you know well: Tony Gonzalez and Jimmy Graham. Pitta wouldn't be rubbing elbows with them if he didn't have a similar role on offense. True, he did get an obscene 15 targets in Week 2, boosting his season total, but even in Weeks 1 and 3, he had nine and seven targets, respectively.

Of course, Daniels has been the better of the two in actual Fantasy production so far. In fact, he ranks third at tight end, behind Tony Gonzalez and Vernon Davis. But he doesn't rank there if he doesn't score a touchdown each of the last three weeks. You know the most targets he had in any of those games? Six.

The decision ultimately comes down what you choose to trust. Do you trust a string of touchdowns that could easily be interrupted by an open Kevin Walter, a leaping Andre Johnson or a sneaky Arian Foster, or do you trust the inevitability of a player getting targeting over and over and over again?

Despite where he ranks right now, the Ravens' use of Pitta suggests he could be the next big thing at the tight end position. Daniels without the touchdowns is basically Fred Davis.

A guy wants my Brandon Marshall and Steven Jackson for Mike Wallace, Steve Johnson, Michael Turner and Stevan Ridley. It's a points-per-reception league. Should I do it? -- @bigdogtwodeep (via Twitter)

SW: This was an easy call until you mentioned it was a PPR league. The most important aspect of a PPR league is the R, in my opinion. To put it bluntly, I don't think much of the players who don't get them.

So Ridley and Turner, as much value as they may have in standard formats, aren't such a big deal to me here. Yeah, they still get touchdowns and, in the case of Ridley, yardage, but those three or four extra receptions by players like Trent Richardson and DeMarco Murray every week add up over the course of the season. Last year, 12 of the top 14 running backs in PPR leagues had 35 catches or more compared to nine of the top 14 in standard leagues. Maybe Ridley will be able to hang with that group if he maintains his current place, but once players like Darren McFadden and Ryan Mathews get going, Turner is going to be buried.

Plus, the exchange of wide receivers works against you in this format. Marshall is a possession type whose size and strength makes him the go-to guy in the Bears offense. He's a threat for double-digit receptions every week, which gives him the equivalent of a one-touchdown head start over someone like Wallace, who is more of a big-play, yards-after-the-catch guy. And Johnson ... well, he just plays for an offense that doesn't complete many passes. You're basically crossing your fingers and hoping for a touchdown when you start him.

That said, Jackson doesn't look like he'll be much of a pass-catcher under coach Jeff Fisher and seems to be slowing down at age 29, so Ridley, even though he's not a great fit for this format, would be a definite upgrade at running back. Still, when it comes to the impact it would have on your starting lineup, this trade boils down to the monstrous Marshall and the underwhelming Jackson for the decent Ridley and passable Wallace, with Turner and Johnson serving as little more than fancy throw-ins. Maybe in a standard league, I could justify it, but in a PPR, the parts just don't add up.

How would you rank Andy Dalton, Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck going forward? -- @Mattyshack (via Twitter)

SW: The good news is none of them are bums. I know some Newton owners would beg to differ right about now, but the guy has scored more than 25 Fantasy points in two of his five games this season. You'd like to see a little more consistency from him, but he hasn't been the worst thing that ever happened to you. Shoot, he has more points than both Ben Roethlisberger and Matt Schaub this season, and you don't hear anyone complaining about them.

Concussion aside (and we shouldn't completely sweep it under the rug, even if he's been cleared to practice), Griffin's performance against the Falcons in Week 5 shows that he doesn't have it all figured out just yet. When defenses are able to neutralize the threat of the run, he looks more like you'd expect a rookie quarterback to look. Again, it doesn't mean he's a bum. It just means he's not a sure bet for 20-plus points every week, especially with matchups against the Vikings, Steelers, Ravens and Eagles (twice) in his future.

And if that's the case, what is it that separates him from Newton? I'd rather have the more proven of the two, especially since he has the more favorable schedule ahead.

Between Luck and Dalton, I give Luck the edge. He's gotten better as the Colts' matchups have improved, and he has mostly smooth sailing the rest of the way. Plus, I get the feeling the Colts will be playing from behind more often than the Bengals. Dalton will at times be a handoff specialist to close out games.

Both are on the verge of becoming every-week options in Fantasy if they continue to do what they're doing, but I'm not ready to place that level of trust in them after five weeks. In addition to Newton and Griffin, I'd also still rank Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers ahead of them, with Tony Romo potentially just one bad game from dropping out of the running.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB or Facebook . You can also follow Scott via Twitter @CBSScottWhite .

Senior Fantasy Writer

Raised in Atlanta by a board game-loving family during the dawn of the '90s Braves dynasty, Scott White was easy prey for the Fantasy Sports, in particular Fantasy Baseball, and has devoted his adulthood... Full Bio

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