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News-Herald Assistant Sports Editor Kevin Kleps doesn’t just write headlines and stories. He also checks on his fantasy sports teams. A lot. See if the moves and news from the world of sports affect your fantasy teams.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fantasy baseball: Early 2012 rankings -- first basemen

The Tigers might have overpaid Prince Fielder.

They might have ruined the Tribe's AL Central hopes with the signing.

But, hey, it wasn't all bad.

Fielder's $214 million contract will result in Miguel Cabrera moving to third base, which I think vaults him to No. 2 overall heading into the season -- behind Albert Pujols. (The move should also result in plenty of comical highlights of Cabrera and shortstop Jhonny Peralta trying to get to a hard-hit ball in the hole.)

Fielder should thrive hitting cleanup in a Tigers lineup that is expected to feature Cabrera batting third, Delmon Young fifth, promising catcher Alex Avila sixth and Peralta seventh.

Cecil's son batted .299 with 38 homers and 120 RBI in Milwaukee last season. He walked one more time than he struck out (107 and 106, respectively).

We have him ranked fourth at first base and 11th overall -- an ideal late first-round pick in a 12-team league.

All of which brings us to our top fantasy baseman as we get ready for spring training.

Note: All players are ranked at the positions at which they are expected to spend the most time in 2012, not all positions at which they are eligible. ... Stats are from 2011.

Rank, player, team R-HR-RBI-SB-Avg.
1. Albert Pujols, Angels 105-37-99-9-.299
2. Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox 108-27-117-1-.338
3. Joey Votto, Reds 101-29-103-8-.309
4. Prince Fielder, Tigers 95-38-120-1-.299
5. Mark Teixeira, Yankees 90-39-111-4-.248
6. Paul Konerko, White Sox 69-31-105-1-.300
7. Lance Berkman, Cardinals 90-31-94-2-.301
8. Ryan Howard, Phillies 81-33-116-1-.253
9. Eric Hosmer, Royals 66-19-78-11-.293
10. Adam Lind, Blue Jays 56-26-87-1-.251
11. Gaby Sanchez, Marlins 72-19-78-3-.266
12. Ike Davis, Mets 20-7-25-0-.302
13. Freddie Freeman, Braves 67-21-76-4-.282
14. Justin Morneau, Twins 19-4-30-0-.277
15. Carlos Lee, Astros 66-18-94-4-.275
16. Carlos Pena, Rays 72-28-80-2-.225
17. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks 28-8-26-4-.250
18. Mitch Moreland, Rangers 60-16-51-2-.259
19. James Loney, Dodgers 56-12-65-4-.288
20. Justin Smoak, Mariners 38-15-55-0-.234

Last three out: Todd Helton, Rockies; Yonder Alonso, Padres; Kendry Morales, Angels.

Eligibility notes: The Tribe's Carlos Santana and The Rangers' Mike Napoli are eligible at first base, but are much more valuable at catcher. They are ranked first and third there, respectively. ... Orioles strikeout machine Mark Reynolds should spend some time at first base, but is primarily a third baseman. ... The Rockies Michael Cuddyer and the Nationals' Michael Morse are listed as outfielders. ... The Ranges' Michael Young plays almost everywhere in the infield, but is our top-ranked designated hitter because that is the position at which he spends the most time.

Key stats: Last season was the first in which Albert Pujols failed to hit at least .300 with 100 RBI. He couldn't have come any closer to reaching the milestone for the 11th consecutive season. Pujols hit .299 with 99 RBI. Don't worry about such a "down" season in 2012, Pujols' first in the American League.

PREVIOUS: Catchers

NEXT: Second basemen

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Fantasy baseball: Early 2012 rankings -- catchers

Last week, we broke down the top 12 catchers in fantasy baseball following the news of Victor Martinez's knee injury.

In the first of a 10-part series leading into the start of spring training, we're going to give you our top 20. In the next couple weeks, we'll follow with the top players at first base, second base, shortstop, third base, designated hitter, the outfield, starting pitcher, closer and the overall top 100.

Note: All players are ranked at the positions at which they are expected to spend the most time in 2012, not all positions at which they are eligible. ... Stats are from 2011.

Rank, player, team R-HR-RBI-SB-Avg.
1. Carlos Santana, Indians 84-27-79-5-.239
2. Brian McCann, Braves 51-24-71-3-.270
3. Mike Napoli, Rangers 72-30-75-4-.320
4. Buster Posey, Giants 17-4-21-3-.284
5. Alex Avila, Tigers 63-19-82-3-.295
6. Joe Mauer, Twins 38-3-30-0-.287
7. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks 65-18-86-1-.282
8. Matt Wieters, Orioles 72-22-68-1-.262
9. Jesus Montero, Mariners 9-4-12-0-.328
10. Yadier Molina, Cardinals 55-14-65-4-.305
11. Russell Martin, Yankees 57-18-65-8-.237
12. Wilson Ramos, Nationals 48-15-52-0-.267
13. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays 47-23-78-1-.219
14. Geovany Soto, Cubs 46-17-54-0-.228
15. Kurt Suzuki, Athletics 54-14-44-2-.237
16. Salvador Perez, Royals 20-3-21-0-.331
17. Chris Iannetta, Angels 51-14-55-6-.238
18. Nick Hundley, Padres 34-9-29-1-.288
19. Jonathan Lucroy, Brewers 45-12-59-2-.265
20. A.J. Pierzynski, White Sox 38-8-48-0-.287

Last three out: John Buck, Marlins; Carlos Ruiz, Phillies; Devin Mosoraco, Reds.

Eligibility notes: Santana and Napoli can play first base, but obviously are much more valuable in fantasy behind the plate.

Key stats: Napoli achieved his lofty numbers in only 369 at-bats last season. His career year, not coincidentally, occurred in a season in which he cut down on his strikeouts. In his six-year career, Napoli has fanned once every 3.5 at-bats. Last season, he struck out once per 4.3 at-bats. Hey, it's progress.

NEXT: First basemen

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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Fantasy baseball: Miguel Cabrera returns to third base

If you're an Indians fan, the news of the Tigers' signing of Prince Fielder was a Travis Hafner-sized blow to your team's hopes of winning its division.

If you're a fantasy baseball owner who takes the fake game more seriously than the real one, Fielder's nine-year, $214 million comes with a bonus: Miguel Cabrera's return to third base.

Prior to the news, I had Cabrera ranked second at first base, behind Albert Pujols. I have yet to compile my overall top 100, but Cabrera was a given to crack the top five.

Now, he seems to be a lock to be No. 2 overall -- again behind Pujols.

If you draft Cabrera with the intention of playing him at third base, keep in mind you'll likely have to wait a couple of weeks until he becomes eligible at the hot corner. But it will be well worth it.

Prior to the news of Cabrera's position switch, another player changing positions -- the Marlins' Hanley Ramirez -- seemed set to be the top fantasy third baseman.

In the early rankings I have compiled, the top eight third basemen prior to Cabrera's move were Ramirez, Evan Longoria, David Wright, Adrian Beltre, Kevin Youkilis, Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Zimmerman and Pablo Sandoval. None of the eight had 500 at-bats last season.

Ramirez batted .243 -- one point worse than Longoria -- in 2011. Wright hit .254, Beltre is injury-prone, Zimmerman failed to get 400 at-bats because of injury, Youkilis has had a combined 793 at-bats the last two seasons, and A-Rod finished 27 at-bats shy of 400. Sandoval had only 426 at-bats, 55 runs and 70 RBI last season.

All of which makes Cabrera a much more valuable third baseman than a first baseman. Especially when you consider that in eight full major-league seasons (discounting his 314 at-bats as a rookie with the Marlins in 2003), he has batted .320 with averages of 102 runs, 33 homers and 115 RBI.

Miggy is a career .317 hitter. His on-base percentage is .395 and his OPS is .950.

In the last three seasons, he has batted .324, .328 and .344.

In the last two years, his OPS is 1.042 and 1.034.

He's been so good he will get serious consideration at No. 1 overall.

I'd take Pujols ahead of Cabrera, though the latter's move to third makes it a much more difficult decision than we're accustomed to in the annual Albert vs. Miggy debate.

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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Fantasy basketball: Analyzing Evan Turner's value

Evan Turner was the second overall pick in what appears to be a decidedly mediocre 2010 NBA draft.

That draft had John Wall and ... a lot of questions. That obviously worked in the former Buckeye's favor.

In Year 2, Turner has been a reserve in all but 14 of his 91 NBA games. He hasn't been terrific, but his primary obstacle has been Philly's depth at shooting guard and small forward.

This season, four shooting guards and small forwards on the 76ers' roster -- Andre Iguodala (34.4), Thaddeus Young (27.9), Turner (26.2) and Jodie Meeks (25.2) -- are averaging more than 25 minutes per game.

The glut, and the resulting lack of huge playing time (Turner has played more than 31 minutes twice this season), have limited Turner's fantasy value.

He's owned in only 23.8 percent of the leagues on Thus, if you are among the few who play fantasy hoops, you probably don't consider Turner a starter.

I would disagree on the latter point.

Turner has played more than 25 minutes in nine of his 13 contests this season. Let's compare his per-game averages in the nine contests in which he has played more than 25 minutes, and the four games in which he hasn't:

-- Games with more than 25 minutes: 13.9 points, 7.0 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 50.0 percent from the field, 75.6 percent from the free-throw line.

-- Games with 25 minutes or fewer: 3.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 33.3 percent from the field, 33.3 percent from the line.

If you need help at shooting guard or small forward (the two positions at which Turner should be eligible), know this before you acquire Turner:

He won't help you at all in 3-pointers (he has made two this season) and he's not as productive in steals as you might think (0.7 per game).

But he makes up for it with his ability to rebound (he had 11 in 29 minutes Wednesday) and his potential to help you in field-goal percentage and scoring, and not hurt you in turnovers (1.7 per game) or free-throw percentage.

Discount the 76ers' games last Saturday and Monday (Turner played 13 minutes in the former and sat out the latter because of a quad injury), and Turner has played at least 28 minutes in four consecutive games.

We know what we does with increased playing time. Wednesday, in his first game back from the quad injury, he had 20 points, 11 rebounds and two steals.

Pick him up before it's too late.

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Fantasy baseball: How Victor Martinez's injury affects the 2012 catcher rankings

Victor Martinez was going to be a full-time designated hitter in 2012.

The Tigers have a very good, much younger catcher in 24-year-old Alex Avila, making Martinez a perfect fit for DH.

The news this week that the 33-year-old could miss the season after tearing the ACL in his left knee during offseason conditioning was still a big blow to the fantasy catching ranks, however.

Many leagues allow you to use a player at the position at which he played the season before, even if said player has changed positions and might never go back. Thus, if you had the option of playing Martinez at catcher or utility in fantasy, you certainly would have selected catcher.

Sadly, we probably won't have that choice this year. The Tigers said this week Martinez likely needs surgery, making his chances of playing in 2012 remote at best.

Martinez no longer seems to be much of a power hitter -- he had 12 home runs last season, down from his average of 21.5 in 2009 and '10 -- but he still rakes. In 2011, he batted a career-high .330, drove in 103 runs and had an OPS of .850 (up from .844 the year before).

In his career, he's a .303 hitter who has had at least 20 home runs five times and driven in 100 runs or more four times.

Martinez's injury thins an already-skinny catching position in fantasy.

He would have been our top-ranked catcher. Now, we're left with his long-term replacement in Cleveland, Carlos Santana, leading a list that features five very good options, a former stud who is a risky pick before the middle rounds (Joe Mauer), two solid-but-unspectacular choices (Miguel Montero and Matt Wieters), a touted rookie (Jesus Montero) and ... a Molina?

Our early top 12 at catcher as spring training nears:

1. Carlos Santana, Indians: Batted .239, but had 27 homers, 79 RBI and 84 runs in 2011.

2. Brian McCann, Braves: He's not the stud he once was, but McCann has still averaged 23 homers and 74 RBI the last two seasons.

3. Mike Napoli, Rangers: We doubt he can come close to duplicating his sensational 2011 (.320, 30 homers, 75 RBI and 72 runs in 369 at-bats).

4. Buster Posey, Giants: He was productive as a rookie in 2010, but is coming off a frightening ankle injury sustained in a home-plate collision early last season.

5. Alex Avila, Tigers: He batted .295 with 19 homers and 82 RBI in his first full big-league season.

6. Joe Mauer, Twins: He says he's recovered from an illness- and injury-plagued 2011, but we're left with the realization he can hit for average and not much else.

7. Miguel Montero, Diamondbacks: He was solid in three categories in 2011 (.282, 18 homers, 86 RBI).

8. Matt Wieters, Orioles: OK, so maybe he isn't as good as we thought he would be, but Wieters did hit 22 homers and drive in 68 last season.

9. Jesus Montero, Mariners: He batted .328 in 61 at-bats as a rookie for the Yankees. He was traded to the Mariners in the Michael Pineda deal.

10. Yadier Molina, Cardinals: Granted, he hit .305 with 14 homers and 65 RBI last season, but this is where the rankings seem to take a dive toward A.J. Pierzynski levels.

11. Russell Martin, Yankees: He started strong for the Yankees last season, but tailed off and finished with a .237 average, 18 homers and 65 RBI.

12. Wilson Ramos, Nationals: He hit .267 with 15 homers and 52 RBI in 389 at-bats in his first full major-league season. In a 12-team league, he could be a starter, which makes me miss Martinez already.

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

Fantasy football: Would you take Rob Gronkowski in the first round in 2012?

ESPN fantasy analyst Matthew Berry started an interesting debate Tuesday when he ranked Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski ninth overall in his early top 100 for 2012.

A tight end in the top 10?

Even during Antonio Gates' back-to-back boom seasons of 2004 and '05, he was a fourth-round pick in fantasy. In those two years, Gates had a combined 170 catches for 2,065 yards and 23 touchdowns in 30 games.

This season, Gronk was much better. Ninety receptions for 1,327 yards. Seventeen receiving touchdowns (and 18 overall) -- the most ever for a tight end.

Berry's ranking, and the cyber-arguing that ensued, compelled me to look up Tony Gonzalez's numbers during his time as a stud with the Chiefs.

In 2000, Gonzalez posted similar numbers to Gronkowski in receptions (93) and yards (1,203), but he reached the end zone nine times. In 2004, he had 102 catches for 1,258 yards -- and seven TDs. In 2007 and '08, he had norms of 98 receptions for 1,115 yards, but he scored only five and 10 times, respectively.

Again, no comparison to the Gronk. Maybe the latter really is that good.

Here's my problem with taking a tight end in the top 10 of a draft:

OK, two problems: 1. There is no guarantee Gronkowski will come close to those numbers in 2012, especially in TDs -- the area in which he truly separated himself from past versions of Gates and Gonzalez. 2. He has a very good teammate who plays the same position, Aaron Hernandez, who was among the top three or four tight ends in fantasy in 2011.

Yes, the Patriots will throw it enough to make both Gronkowski and Hernandez happy, especially since the tight ends are their best options aside from wide receiver Wes Welker.

But if you're going to take a tight end that high, he better be as good as Gronkowski -- and the Saints' Jimmy Graham -- were in 2011.

I also understand the argument that there is a bigger difference between the top two tight ends -- Gronk and Graham -- and the rest of the position than there is at other positions.

I still can't shake this thought, though: If you take a tight end in the first round, you might be left scrambling at running back and/or wide receiver in the latter rounds.

You could get lucky -- see Jackson, Fred; Bush, Reggie; Cruz, Victor; Nelson, Jordy; or several other examples.

Or you could get the Felix Jones-Jonathan Stewart, no-playoffs platter.

Maybe I'm old school, but I'd rather take my chances at tight end with the likes of Jermichael Finley, Jason Witten, Brandon Pettigrew, Gates or Vernon Davis later in the draft, after I select a stud quarterback and, hopefully, a very good running back and receiver.

If you take Gronkowski in the top 10, you can still get a very good back or receiver early in Round 2. And you'll be left to hope you hit a couple of home runs in Rounds 3, 4 and/or 5.

It was the Year of the Quarterback.

Will 2012 be the Year a Tight End Makes the First Round?

My guess is no.

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fantasy football: Playoff pools, top WRs and TEs

In the latest edition of the Year of the Quarterback (see Part I in this series), the elite tight ends were historically prolific, too.

The top two in the rankings that follow -- the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and the Saints' Jimmy Graham -- combined for 189 receptions for 2,637 yards and 28 touchdowns in the regular season. The combined totals for Gronkowski and Graham (JimRob Grahamkowski?) were very comparable to the top two receivers below -- Wes Welker and Jordy Nelson, who combined for 190 catches, 2,832 yards and 24 TDs.

As is the case with the quarterbacks, the tight ends have a few no-doubt-about-it choices, followed by a huge gap. After the Packers' Jermichael Finley and the 49ers' Vernon Davis, there is a future Hall of Famer (the Falcons' Tony Gonzalez) who will be lucky if he plays more than one playoff game, followed by the Steelers' No. 3 or 4 receiving option (Heath Miller).

On to the rankings (note that we ranked only one receiver from each team, since most pools only allow you to select one player from each NFL playoff team):

1. Wes Welker, Patriots
2. Jordy Nelson, Packers
3. Marques Colston, Saints
4. Mike Wallace, Steelers
5. Victor Cruz, Giants
6. Roddy White, Falcons
7. Anquan Boldin, Ravens
8. A.J. Green, Bengals
9. Calvin Johnson, Lions
10. Michael Crabtree, 49ers
11. Andre Johnson, Texans
12. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos

1. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots
2. Jimmy Graham, Saints
3. Jermichael Finley, Packers
4. Vernon Davis, 49ers
5. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons
6. Heath Miller, Steelers
7. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals
8. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions
9. Owen Daniels, Texans
10. Ed Dickson, Ravens
11. Jake Ballard, Giants

More on the tight ends

If we could somehow have the option of choosing a team's tight ends, the Patiots would be a must-have with Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The latter, if included in the above rankings, would be No. 4, ahead of the 49ers' Davis, after catching 79 passes for 910 yards and seven TDs in the regular season. ... After Gonzalez, I would avoid the other tight ends if at all possible. The Texans' Daniels and the Giants' Ballard have both been limited by a knee injury, and the run-happy Broncos don't even have a tight end worth mentioning.

Notes on the wide receivers

Welker is an easy top choice in point-per-reception formats after racking up 122 catches for 1,569 yards and nine TDs. That is, if you want to select him instead of two of his teammates (Tom Brady or Gronkowski). ... I selected Nelson over stud teammate Greg Jennings because Nelson had 277 yards and five TDs in his last two games, and Jennings missed the Pack's last three contests with a knee injury. He is expected to play next week in the divisional round. If we were ranking more than one receiver on a team, I would put Jennings fourth, behind Colston. ... The Steelers' Wallace also has a very productive teammate at the same position (Antonio Brown, who had 69 catches for 1,108 yards), but Wallace has eight TDs to Brown's two. ... The Falcons' White is a narrow choice over teammate Julio Jones, who has reached the end zone six times in his last four contests. ... The Giants' Cruz had 82 catches for 1,536 yards and nine TDs in the regular season. I'd take him over Hakeem Nicks (76 receptions, 1,192 yards and seven TDs). ... Boldin is expected to play following late-season knee surgery. Teammate Torrey Smith (50 catches, 841 yards and seven TDs) is a tempting choice in his place. ... The great Calvin Johnson is ranked so low because we don't expect him to play more than one game, and the once-great Andre Johnson has been a shell of himself because of a hamstring injury.

PREVIOUS: Quarterbacks and running backs

NOTE: If you're hoping for defense/special teams and kicker rankings, a few words of advice: Fill out the remainder of your lineup, then take the best two options from the remaining five playoff teams. Selecting the best quarterback, running back, wide receiver and tight end combination (usually a total of seven spots) is infinitely more important.

Good luck, and may you follow the wise words of Mike Holmgren: Stay the course.

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Fantasy football: Playoff pools, top QBs and RBs

It was -- for what seems like the third consecutive season -- the Year of the Quarterback.

Drew Brees shattered Dan Marino's single-season record by throwing for 5,476 yards. Tom Brady also handily beat Marino's former mark of 5,084 by throwing for 5,235 yards, and Detroit's Matthew Stafford nearly reached Marino's 1984 record, finishing 46 yards shy.

It only makes sense, then, that if you play in a fantasy playoff league -- one in which you can select no more than one player from each NFL playoff team -- that you have to start with the quarterback.

Unless you believe the Steelers will make another Super Bowl run -- and to do so, they would likely would have to win at Denver, at Baltimore and at New England, in some order (well, we know the order starts with the Tim Tebows on Sunday) -- there are only three choices at QB.

Aaron Rodgers, Brees and Brady.

Take your pick.

We'll go with Rodgers for two reasons: 1. Despite sitting out the regular-season finale (and thus starting the Possibly Irrational Matt Flynn Is Going To Be A Free Agent! Frenzy), he accounted for 48 touchdowns (45 passing and three rushing) -- one more than Brees (46 passing, one rushing) and six more than Brady (39 passing and three rushing). 2. He plays for the team that seems most likely to win it all.

With that in mind, here are our rankings for the quarterbacks and running backs in playoff pools:

1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers
2. Tom Brady, Patriots
3. Drew Brees, Saints
4. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers
5. Eli Manning, Giants
6. Joe Flacco, Ravens
7. Matt Ryan, Falcons
8. Alex Smith, 49ers
9. Matthew Stafford, Lions
10. Andy Dalton, Bengals
11. Tim Tebow, Broncos
12. T.J. Yates, Texans

1. Ray Rice, Ravens
2. Darren Sproles, Saints
3. Arian Foster, Texans
4. Frank Gore, 49ers
5. Michael Turner, Falcons
6. Isaac Redman, Steelers
7. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Patriots
8. James Starks, Packers
9. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
10. Cedric Benson, Bengals
11. Willis McGahee, Broncos
12. Kevin Smith, Lions

More on the quarterbacks

Roethlisberger is banged up and isn't playing his best, but he does have the chance to play three times, even if the Steelers fall a game short of the Super Bowl. That possibility makes him the only real "sleeper" pick outside the top three. ... Brees is ranked third because of the combination of a second-round game at San Francisco and, should the Saints make it that far, an NFC championship matchup with the Packers at Lambeau. Advantage: Rodgers and Brady. One disadvantage for the latter: The Pats could face the Steelers and Ravens back-to-back, though both games would be at home. ... Stafford has the numbers, but his Lions, who play at New Orleans on Saturday, likely will be one-and-done. ... One outside-the-box candidate, if you believe the Giants can make a run in the NFC: Eli Manning, who finished 67 yards shy of 5,000 and threw for 29 scores.

Notes on the running backs

Rice likely will be the choice at one of the running back spots in the vast majority of playoff leagues. He has the numbers (a combined 2,068 rushing and receiving yards, and 15 TDs), and his team doesn't leave many other viable options aside from its defense and kicker Billy Cundiff. ... Sproles is a tempting choice in any league that awards a point for a reception. He had nine total TDs, rushed for 603 yards and caught 86 passes for 710 yards in the regular season. ... Foster is the best back other than Rice, but he will only play two games if his hobbled team can beat the Bengals on Saturday. ... Gore (1,211 yards rushing, eight TDs) and Turner (1,340 yards, 11 TDs) are the next-best selections. After that, it gets so dicey we ranked Redman No. 6. The latter is the Steelers' replacement for Rashard Mendenhall. You might remember him for fumbling twice against the Browns last week, but he was productive in a backup role prior to those miscues (479 yards, 4.4 yards per carry, three TDs).

NEXT: Wide receivers and tight ends

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