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Monday Brunch: Selling low on Chris Johnson

Scott Pianowski
Roto Arcade

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Pack up, I traded you to New Jersey (USP)

One of the pitfalls of being an agnostic drafter is landing players you're not completely sold on. You're playing the market, slanting against the room. Chris Johnson, come on down.

I landed Johnson in the Stopa Law Firm League (a Yahoo-Rotowire bloodbath for 5K) but it wasn't by design. I was simply advancing the tag by a buck, price enforcing if you will, and the music stopped. Three weeks ago, I was fine to land Johnson at $40.

And two weeks into the season, I'm fine to trade Johnson away for an unheralded back who went for $12. Fantasy Football is like that. It's a race to figure out the new season. Values are not static. Our opinions are always shifting, evolving, changing.

Every fantasy player knows all about Johnson's terrible start to the year. He's been held to 21 yards on 19 carries, with a long run of eight yards. He's also caught eight passed for 58 yards, not that anyone is soothed much by that. No touchdowns. Not much blocking. The Titans are 0-2, blown out in both of their matches.

There are two legendary offensive linemen in the Tennessee locker room - unfortunately, they're head coach Mike Munchak and OL coach Bruce Matthews. They're both Hall of Famers from a different era, with 23 Pro Bowl trips between them. The current offensive line in-house has been overmatched and embarrassed in the losses to New England and San Diego.

I'm not giving Johnson a complete pass for the nightmare start, mind you. He's frequently indecisive after the handoff and you expect an elite back to make an unblocked defender miss now and then. But you also get the idea the Titans might be taking the wrong approach with their running game. Johnson's best moments in San Diego came out of the spread package; while you have less blocking in that arrangement, you also have more natural running lanes. Perhaps the old-school Tennessee coaches are relying too much on a style of play that's no longer the best way to operate. When your line isn't blocking well consistently, why invite more defenders to the point of attack?

After rewatching all of the offensive snaps (Tennessee had just 40 of them at San Diego), I shifted into adjustment mode. My Stopa 5K roster already has a wait-and-see lottery ticket in the injured Matt Forte; I don't want a roster full of them. We only have five bench spots to play with. Let's see what the slumping Johnson can bring on the open market. I fired off a league-wide e-mail, let everyone know the stock was in play.

It wasn't hard to scare up offers. Andy Behrens put Willis McGahee on the table. Stopa tried a dumpster dive, offering Danny Amendola. Kevin Payne dangled Michael Turner. And while I was considering (and ultimately dismissing) those offers, I made a Twitter-suggestion to my Breakfast Table pal, Michael Salfino, a trade proposal at 12:46 a.m.

Okay ‪@michaelsalfino‬, here's an offer: my Chris Johnson for your Law Firm in the ‪#stopa5k‬. Ball is in your court. Buy low, I'll sell low.

Mike was already dreaming of Alfred Morris when I made the proposal, but he accepted the offer in the morning. We discussed it shortly thereafter on Sirius/XM Fantasy Radio. Salfino wanted to swing for the fences, I wanted a safer floor player. There's a path and an argument for both of us.

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Firming up (USP)

I know BenJarvus Green-Ellis doesn't move the needle for a lot of rotoheads. He's a straight-line back all the way, a car without blinkers or a turning radius. He's never caught more than 12 passes in a season. A career 4.1 YPC doesn't make the angels weep.

I also recognize that I probably respect the Law Firm's fantasy value more than most - focusing on the fact that he's a volume-secure player on a balanced offense. The Bengals don't have a major threat to Green-Ellis's playing time. He'll receive most of the goal-line work. And he's catching the ball more in his new city, with a respectable four grabs through two weeks.

And then I flip back to the Titans, with their erratic sophomore quarterback (Jake Locker, let's face it, looks confused thus far) and their shoddy offensive line. The Titans also seem to have a horrendous defense, which could tax Johnson's value all year. I want out of this offense. I want Chris Johnson out of my fake-football life. I'm not afraid to sell a name-brand low, or to do a move that invalidates ranks I made less than a month ago. I remember all the tomatoes thrown after the Andre Johnson-Marques Colston swap last year.

Go ahead and bat it around, Arcadians. How are you dealing with Johnson's slow start? Would you move him for any of the players listed above? Who is the least-impressive back you'd accept for Johnson, 1-for-1? What's the most you'd move for him, 1-for-1?

Let's get to the bottom of this CJ401K business. The floor is yours.

• It's easy to get carried away with positional points allowed data; just because a defense can't stop Jimmy Graham doesn't mean it won't stop Kevin Boss. That established, the Titans have allowed a whopping five scores to tight ends through two games (Gronkowski, Hernandez, and then the Rosario hat trick); until Tennessee shows a change in this trend, fantasy owners have to consider picking on what looks like a weak unit. Here are the potential beneficiaries for the next few games: Brandon Pettigrew (Week 3), Owen Daniels (Week 4), Kyle Rudolph (Week 5) and Heath Miller (Week 6). I'll stop at that point, because there's never much reason to look past one month on the NFL schedule; things change too fast.

Alfred Morris was more efficient in Week 2 (16-89, 5.6 a pop), though the fantasy score was less fun because he lost 12 touches and didn't get into the end zone. Two douses of cold water on the Morris story: he still hasn't caught a pass through two weeks, and Robert Griffin III scored twice Sunday on designed runs at the goal. I'm not suggesting an aggressive sell-at-all-costs plan with Morris, but I'd definitely be looking for a possible move.

We also have to consider how favorable first two matchups (Saints, Rams) were; eventually Morris will face a team that is actually capable of stopping the run. Griffin's presence makes it harder, of course, but Griffin also takes away some of Morris's potential value at the stripe.

• One reason I shied away from Ryan Mathews all summer: his time zone. An injury prone player on the west coast is a tricky commodity, as the late starts play havoc with fantasy rosters, decisions and options. Antonio Gates owners know all about this. It's nice to have a late-game caddy for cloudy situations, but sometimes that's impossible or impractical.

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Pilates of the Caribbean (AP)

• No one's ever going to get a straight or honest disclosure from the New England coaching staff, so all we can really do is speculate on Wes Welker's brief sitdown against Arizona. My pet theory, and it's 100 percent speculation: Welker did something that merited a short-but-unannounced benching, and after that it was business as usual. While I see some ability in Julian Edelman (and I'll consider him in deeper pools), I refuse to accept the coaching staff suddenly concluded he's a superior player to Welker.

Four quick takeaways from the upset that rocked the football (and survivor) world: I still trust New England's offense to be a Top 5 unit, but it's going to take some time to make that offensive line effective; I was stunned the Patriots didn't try to get closer in the final minute; Arizona's defense is a plus unit, largely because of tackle Darnell Dockett and corner Patrick Peterson (the next league-wide star at the position); I've seen Larry Fitzgerald produce with shoddy quarterback play before, so I'm not worrying much about him today. Go get Fitzgerald if your market offers even a slight discount.

• Just when I learned to stop worrying and fully appreciate Gus Johnson, he's locked out of the NFL. I am not happy about this.

• The Saints are in big, fat trouble and I can't see how they completely dig out of the hole. The defense can't stop anyone or anything right now; it was kind of New Orleans to allow three different players to rush for touchdowns on Sunday (Newton, Williams, Tolbert), while Jonathan Stewart scored on a reception. Tim Biakabutuka hated missing out on this.

Drew Brees will continue to be a strong volume play on offense, but that unit also has its troubles. Mind you, Graham and Darren Sproles are always matchup problems for any opponent, and Pierre Thomas continues to be an efficiency star tied to a low workload. But the primary wideouts (Colston, Lance Moore) struggle to separate, there's no vertical element on the outside (scary but true - they miss departed Robert Meachem and injured Devery Henderson), and every carry to slogging back Mark Ingram is a gift to the opponent.

And perhaps most of all: Sean Payton isn't walking through that door. I'm expecting New Orleans to be a fun-but-flawed team that lands somewhere between 6-10 and 8-8.

Darren McFadden's start hasn't been much better than Johnson's: 26-54 rushing, a long carry of eight yards. The 13 receptions on opening night were fun, of course, but he's yet to score a touchdown. How long will it take McFadden to adjust to a new offense and blocking scheme? Can Carson Palmer keep this offense on schedule? And just for fun, what's the over/under on DMC starts this season?

I don't own McFadden anywhere. It wasn't my plan and it wasn't a pan, it just fell that way. This is your guy, your hike to navigate. You DMC Wrap is welcome in the comments.

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