Back in the 1980s there was a television campaign in which "Fred the Baker," a Dunkin' Donuts franchise owner, dutifully (and groggily) pulled himself out of bed at 3:30 AM in order to get to his shop to make fresh donuts for the day. The line, delivered by actor Michael Vale (who also starred in other famous ads of the period as the Breakstone dairy man and elegant wine-swilling gadabout Aldo Cella), has become part of the football vernacular as a way to express that it's time to go to work, to give the extra effort, the willingness to go above and beyond what the next guy is doing. That's where we are in the fantasy football season.
Most fantasy owners consider the draft the hard part, get through that and the season is a breeze. Check in on your team once or twice a week for injuries and check the box score on Mondays to see how many points you or your opponent can get in that night's contest. Check your email on Tuesday and maybe you won. If nobody gets hurt or is on a bye, you move forward and as long as your squad is in contention, you repeat the process. That's what the supermarket donut guy does. But to win regularly, you have to take extra steps instead of leaving things to chance. Here are a few tips on how to successfully manage your team throughout the season.
1) Be Proactive: Many people are averse to moves, only willing to alter their roster when forced to by injuries or bye weeks. They're banking on the fact that the team they drafted will be good enough to go all the way. But it's been my experience that except for extreme cases of good fortune, for an owner to be successful he or she must constantly manipulate the team, whether by trade, waivers or free agency. By simply sitting back and waiting for the action to come to you, you're not only letting the Cam Newton's and Victor Cruz's of the world pass you by, but you're allowing your opponents the opportunity to pick them up, weakening your chances for success.
One such player who could come from nowhere this year is rookie Russell Wilson, the Seahawks new starting quarterback who won the job as a rookie despite the presence of high-priced, and highly sought after free agent Matt Flynn, late of the Packers. Wilson, a third-round pick from Wisconsin, will quickly become the face of the Seattle franchise and Pete Carroll has a long history of mentoring very successful quarterbacks. That means, like Newton, it may not be too long before Wilson will be seen thriving in fantasy lineups.
2) Take Chances: When picking up free agents, don't always go for the top-rated player available, the one with the best stats to date or the biggest name. Do your homework to find out who has the best chance to be great from that point on. You don't get credit for someone's past, only present and future. And there is no league in any sport in which a "name brand" falls off the table quicker than in the NFL.
One player to watch in this category is U.S. Olympic silver medalist Jeff Demps of the Patriots. Undrafted due to his commitment to the London Games, the former Florida Gator is not likely to have much of an impact early in the season as a third-down, change-of-pace running back, but with the ability to use his world-class speed to fly through holes, he'll be someone to have front-and-center on your free agency watch list.
3) Stay on top of the news. Ratings and values are constantly changing in the NFL and the fortunes of players can turn on a dime. Take preseason for example. When camp began, Cedric Benson was unemployed and searching for someone, anyone, to give him a chance. James Starks looked entrenched as the Packers starting running back all offseason and there was little reason to think otherwise.
Now, not only has Benson overtaken Starks for the lead back job, but also he's most likely going to be the workhorse for a team that sorely needed some stability at the running back position. At this point and going forward, Benson, whose 3,429 rushing yards over the past three seasons ranks seventh in the NFL, is a clear RB2 and could find himself among the league's touchdown leaders. Those relying on publications and lists made weeks or months ago will completely whiff on him.
And to that point, here are my updated Top 25s for the skill positions.
1. Aaron Rodgers, Packers2. Tom Brady, Patriots3. Drew Brees, Saints4. Matthew Stafford, Lions5. Cam Newton, Panthers6. Eli Manning, Giants7. Peyton Manning, Broncos8. Tony Romo, Cowboys9. Matt Ryan, Falcons10. Philip Rivers, Chargers11. Jay Cutler, Bears12. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers13. Michael Vick, Eagles14. Robert Griffin III, Redskins15. Andrew Luck, Colts16. Matt Schaub, Texans17. Joe Flacco, Ravens18. Andy Dalton, Bengals19. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills20. Sam Bradford, Rams21. Jake Locker, Titans22. Carson Palmer, Raiders23. Russell Wilson, Seahawks24. Alex Smith, 49ers25. Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins
1. Ray Rice, Ravens2. LeSean McCoy, Eagles3. Arian Foster, Texans4. Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks5. Darren McFadden, Raiders6. Chris Johnson, Titans7. Fred Jackson, Bills8. Trent Richardson, Browns9. DeMarco Murray, Cowboys10. Ryan Mathews, Chargers11. Matt Forte, Bears12. Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars13. Reggie Bush, Dolphins14. Darren Sproles, Saints15. Adrian Peterson, Vikings16. Cedric Benson, Packers17. Doug Martin, Buccaneers18. Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants19. Jamaal Charles, Chiefs20. Steven Jackson, Rams21. Peyton Hillis, Chiefs22. BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals23. Stevan Ridley, Patriots24. Willis McGahee, Broncos25. Jacquizz Rodgers, Falcons
1. Calvin Johnson, Lions2. Victor Cruz, Giants3. Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals4. Jordy Nelson, Packers5. Hakeem Nicks, Giants6. Steve Smith, Panthers7. Andre Johnson, Texans8. Julio Jones, Falcons9. Brandon Marshall, Bears10. Greg Jennings, Packers11. Mike Wallace, Steelers12. A.J. Green, Bengals13. Marques Colston, Saints14. Demaryius Thomas, Broncos15. DeSean Jackson, Eagles16. Dez Bryant, Cowboys17. Brandon Lloyd, Patriots18. Roddy White, Falcons19. Antonio Brown, Steelers20. Wes Welker, Patriots21. Eric Decker, Broncos22. Torrey Smith, Ravens23. Vincent Jackson, Buccaneers24. Pierre Garçon, Redskins25. Steve Johnson, Bills
1. Jimmy Graham, Saints2. Rob Gronkowski, Patriots3. Vernon Davis, 49ers4. Aaron Hernandez, Patriots5. Brandon Pettigrew, Lions6. Antonio Gates, Chargers7. Jermichael Finley, Packers8. Kyle Rudolph, Vikings9. Tony Gonzalez, Falcons10. Joel Dreessen, Broncos11. Jason Witten, Cowboys12. Jermaine Gresham, Bengals13. Owen Daniels, Texans14. Dustin Keller, Jets15. Jared Cook, Titans16. Greg Olsen, Panthers17. Fred Davis, Redskins18. Heath Miller, Steelers19. Anthony Fasano, Dolphins20. Dwyane Allen, Colts21. Ed Dickson, Ravens22. Brent Celek, Eagles23. Jacob Tamme, Broncos24. Coby Fleener, Colts25. Martellus Bennett, Giants