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Run 'N' Shoot: The Year of the Injury

Mark Stopa

Mark Stopa has been sharing his fantasy insights for Rotowire since 2007. Mark is the 2010 and 2012 Staff Picks champion (eat your heart out, Chris Liss) and won Rotowire's 14-team Staff League II in consecutive seasons. He roots for the Bills and has season tickets on the second row, press level to the Rays.

If 2011 was the Year of the Quarterback and 2012 was the Year of the Rookie Quarterback, then 2013 is the Year of the Injury. I'm not going to list all the names - it's too damn depressing. Instead, just look at the first round draft choices who flamed out in 2013. Doug Martin. Arian Foster. Ray Rice. CJ Spiller. Trent Richardson. Steven Jackson. Even Aaron Rodgers. Yikes. Not all of these busts were injury-related, but hitting on your first-round pick was roughly a 50/50 proposition in 2013.

If you were able to avoid the first-round minefields, it was either by dumb luck or avoiding the running back position altogether. A few first-round backs have been fine (Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Marshawn Lynch and LeSean McCoy), but the returns from other positions have been far more consistent. Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham, Dez Bryant, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall, Drew Brees, and Peyton Manning all justified their draft-day price and then some. Randall Cobb, Julio Jones, and Rodgers didn't, but that's a much shorter list. The problem with the backs is there was no way to know which ones would succeed and which would flame out. Some failed due to injury (Martin, Foster, and Jackson), but others have just played poorly (Richardson, Spiller, and Rice). Some backs with lots of mileage have been bad (Jackson and Rice), but young runners have crashed and burned, too (Martin, Spiller, and Richardson). Martin and Spiller play on bad offenses, but Foster, Rice, and Jackson were on 2012 playoff teams, and Richardson has been equally inept on the Browns as the Colts. We often talk about stashing "lottery tickets" in fantasy, but it seems every running back is a lottery ticket nowadays. My top-10 list entering 2014 will have as few as two or three running backs.

Part of what makes running back production so unpredictable is that teams can't evaluate talent. The Colts were horribly wrong on Richardson, and while we credited the Browns for selling T-Rich high, if Cleveland was so smart, why are two of its castoffs - Dennis Johnson and Bobby Rainey - now fantasy options for other teams, even as the Browns own backfield continues to rank among the NFL's worst? Johnson couldn't get off the Browns practice squad but has looked spry in limited action behind Ben Tate in Houston. Rainey was just cut by Cleveland, yet he looks like the Buccaneers best back with Mike James out for the year. With Tate intent on playing through his broken ribs in a contract year and Brian Leonard closer to a fullback than a breakaway threat, I'd prioritize Rainey among my Week 11 fantasy adds. If Rainey sticks as the third-down guy, then I'd rather have him than Leonard or Johnson on a Tampa team that should be playing from behind more often than not.

Only two NFL teams are allowing 5.0 yards per carry - the Chiefs and Saints - yet they're both among the NFL's best defenses. That's the right way to play defense in today's NFL - give up the run, protect your back end. Apparently Mike McCoy and Jason Garrett didn't get the memo. Facing the high-scoring Broncos and Saints, the Chargers and Cowboys seemed intent on playing conservative, ball-control offense, even as the Saints and Broncos were content to let them run. Do McCoy and Garrett not realize time of possession is irrelevant and they need points to win? There's no such thing as a 60-minute drive - you're going to have to give the ball to Peyton and Brees at some point, so you might as well do your best to score when you have it, not merely run clock. It was maddening to watch San Diego fail in this regard at 4pm and then see the Cowboys do the same thing in the night game. Dallas probably would have lost even with a different game plan, but the Chargers held Denver to 28 points but fell short by wasting 16 carries on Ronnie Brown, Danny Woodhead, and Eric Weddle. 29 throws for Rivers versus 35 runs in a game the Chargers trailed throughout is hard to fathom.

McCoy and Garrett have nothing on Doug Marrone and Wade Phillips. Facing 4th and 5 from the Steelers 36 yard line down by 14 points in the fourth quarter, the Bills punted. Down by 10 with five minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Texans punted. There are no words.

What's with all the hate for the Chiefs D/ST in fantasy? Sure, the upcoming schedule isn't ideal, with Denver twice in the next three games. But most of fantasy football scoring is about turnovers and sacks, not points allowed. As good as Peyton's Broncos have been in 2013, they've proven susceptible to the sack-fumble - Peyton has five of them already. Against a Chiefs defense that leads the NFL in sacks, why can't that happen again? It's not like streaming defenses is a sure-fire recipe for success, either - look at the eggs laid by the Colts and Titans, two Week 10 favorites among streamers.

I pity the poor bastard who lost in Week 10 to a dead team that hadn't removed Tavon Austin, Marques Colston, and Mark Ingram from their lineup.

The Texans have been a perennial playoff team for years now with mediocre quarterback play, so how strange is it that they found a quarterback this year but are among the league doormats in the standings?

If NFL referees were gambling on the games they officiate, Tim Donaghy style, and called the games 100% fairly except for plays that are reviewed for complete vs. incomplete and incomplete vs. fumble, how would we ever know?

Speaking of gambling, I may not mention it often, but I regularly check Super Bowl futures bets in my ongoing attempt to hit it big. (I call it fun, the public calls it an addiction, but whatever.) This week, I found the Packers at 40:1. Can my peeps help me out here and help me get some action there? (Do I even have any peeps?) Sure, Rodgers might not come back soon, but Tolzien is certainly an upgrade in the interim. Plus, this type of bet isn't about what can go wrong, it's about what can go right. I can see Rodgers coming back for the Thanksgiving game, beating the overrated Lions, running the table in December, and the Packers being about 15:1 as we start the playoffs.

Is Eli Manning the Hall of Fame quarterback who led the Giants to two Super Bowl titles, or the middling also-ran who barely resembles a top-10 real-life QB right now? Could it be both? How is possible for any QB to be a Hall of Famer when he's arguably not in the top third at his own position in the prime of his career? Confounding stuff.

I haven't mentioned my Bills yet because it's just too damn depressing. What an awful showing by the offense against a subpar Steelers defense. Robert Woods being out hurt a little, but EJ Manuel has to play better down the stretch or I'll be clamoring for Buffalo to take another early-round quarterback. This isn't the 1990s - it no longer takes years to see if a young quarterback can develop, so there's no sense wasting years with a young QB who's not getting it done. Of course, my take on Manuel can change as quickly as you can say "Case Keenum," particularly if he can somehow beat a nasty Jets defense this week.

It's against the law in 43 states to use the term "nasty defense" without mentioning the Panthers. That showing over the 49ers was so impressive, on the heels of several blowouts against bad teams, that I'd play Carolina in Week 14 at home against the Saints. Bench Ron Rivera's crew for the Week 16 tilt in New Orleans, though. (He won't win, but why can't Ron Rivera get some Coach of the Year votes? There's something to be said for a guy willing to so fundamentally alter his coaching style.)

Congratulations to John Serio and Joe Nowak for being randomly selected on Twitter (@MarkStopa) to win a free subscription to Rotowire for the next year, courtesy of Stopa Law Firm. Keep submitting those start/sit or trade questions with hashtag #stopalawfirm.