The season is underway, and a successful season isn't all in the draft but how you manage what you got out of the draft.
Earlier this week, I was talking with my friend Chris about bench strategies. Namely, he asked me what sort of players I like having in reserve. "Should I have sure things on my bench for bye weeks and injuries, or should I have high-upside guys and hope they pan out," Chris wondered. He wanted to put in a waiver claim for the most sought after man in America, Brandon Jackson, and wasn't sure if he should drop Josh Cribbs or Fred Taylor (this was before the Patriots shipped Laurence Maroney off to Denver).
Before we get to my answer, I want to talk about managing your bench. This is a particularly useful time in the season to discuss strategies for your backups, as many fantasy owners have a tendency to overreact to what happened in the season's first week. Now you've seen something (or maybe nothing) out of a player on which you took a late-round flier. Maybe you own Ryan Grant or Kevin Kolb and now you're feeling the pinch to buttress a position where you've suffered an injury. Or maybe a fringe starter of yours, someone like Jerome Harrison or Felix Jones, disappeared on Sunday. Chris' dilemma illustrates a quandary occurring in leagues from coast-to-coast. Owners want to make moves, but they don't want to be too hasty in the moves they ultimately make. Following is the Beller Manifesto for Fantasy Football Bench Management (I know, kind of a mouthful. But I've always wanted my own manifesto).
1. Lead with your backs. It's true that wide receivers have become just as important fantasy players as running backs over the last few years. The fact that running backs are potentially interchangeable and more prone to injury makes them a riskier commodity. But that's why they are more valuable on your bench. The chance a high-upside back on your bench suddenly finds himself in a great fantasy situation is much greater than that of a receiver. It happens every year. The 2007 season gave us Ryan Grant. In 2008, it was Steve Slaton. Last year, Jamaal Charles and Jerome Harrison swung fantasy championships. All four of them were either undrafted or late-round selections the year they burst on the fantasy scene. Opportunities arise for running backs to make major splashes out of nowhere far more often than they do for receivers.
2. And follow with your receivers. An average league has somewhere about bench spots. No fewer than five of those spots should be filled by running backs and receivers. With our first rule in mind, that generally means that at least three of your bench players should be backs, meaning another two should be receivers. These are the two positions where depth is a must. If you have an elite quarterback, you don't need a backup. No matter whom your tight end is, you don't need another. If you have a backup kicker or defense, you should find a new hobby.
3. Never downgrade your starting lineup to upgrade your bench. Seems like a no-brainer, right? Still, fantasy owners hit the panic button and justify a seemingly small drop-off in their starting lineup to support a position on their team that could use some help. As an example, I have a team where my top three receivers are Brandon Marshall, Michael Crabtree and Pierre Garcon and my tight end is Antonio Gates. Tuesday morning, I woke up to an e-mail from an owner in my league offering me Jason Witten and my choice of Mike Williams, Austin Collie and Jabar Gaffney for Gates. I like Williams, but never in a million years would I make this trade. None of those receivers would crack my lineup on an average week. Now maybe Williams might have a better matchup than Crabtree in a given week, and maybe he'd make a better bye week fill-in that Garcon, but that isn't worth making the week-in, week-out downgrade from Gates to Witten.
4. Cross the bye-week bridge when you get there. Far too often, fantasy owners worry about having a player to fill in during their regular starter's bye. This is especially problematic at quarterback and tight end, where you're only starting one guy a week. As long as your starter is healthy, you know how many times you need a bye-week sub at quarterback and tight end? ONCE! Don't let a roster spot be held hostage by David Garrard because you need someone for when Matt Schaub has a bye. I'm not saying a backup quarterback isn't valuable. As I stated in rule No. 1, you should have a backup unless you have an elite signal caller. I'm just saying you shouldn't have one strictly for bye-week purposes. By time your starter's bye rolls around, there will be someone on your team you can afford to drop. Even if you have to go with a Kyle Orton or a Jake Delhomme, it's just one week. I'd rather have the roster spot free all year than waste it on a guy I'm going to start once.
5. Handcuff only when appropriate. I'm not a huge fan of handcuffing. I think it limits the overall upside of a fantasy team. Sometimes though, handcuffing is essential. That occurs when the player in question is either injury-prone or has a clear-cut backup. I own Michael Turner in two leagues. In both those leagues, I also own Jason Snelling. I also have Maurice Jones-Drew in one league, but I don't own Rashad Jennings. That insurance policy is simply too pricey in terms of opportunity cost. I'm supremely confident that Mo-Jo will remain healthy and would rather use the roster spot on a player with far greater fantasy potential than Jennings.
6. Don't overreact to Week 1. This could really be applied across the board, not just on your bench. The first week of the 2009 season saw Julius Jones rumble for 117 rushing yards and a touchdown. He had slightly more than 500 yards and one more touchdown the rest of the season. Conversely, Chris Johnson had just 57 yards on 15 carries. Don't break the bank trading for Steve Breaston and don't give up on Shonn Greene. It's a long season. Act accordingly.
So what did I advise my friend Chris to do? You remember Chris from about 1,000 words ago, right? Well, I told him to drop Cribbs and hold on to Fred Taylor (again, seems obvious now, but when Maroney was still in town, it was a harder decision). It would take a confluence of a number of unlikely events for Cribbs to become fantasy-relevant, while Taylor finds himself as one of a handful of legitimate backs in one of the league's most high-powered offenses. Taylor's a better bet to make an impact this year.
The buy-low window slams shut much quicker in fantasy football than it does in fantasy baseball. You need to strike early if you want to capitalize on an undervalued player or an owner in your league with an itchy trigger finger. Here are some guys I'm inquiring about this week.
Beanie Wells: We have to assume that Tim Hightower's two fumbles (although it looked like he was down on the second one) only boost Beanie's stock in coach Ken Whisenhunt's eyes once he's back from his knee injury.
Felix Jones: There's no way Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett continue to marginalize him the way they did all last year and last Sunday night against the Redskins. Is there? I'd at least get a price check.
Mike Sims-Walker: Do you realize David Garrard completed 76 percent of his passes and threw three touchdown passes, yet Sims-Walker had zero catches and just two targets? What's up with that? As long as Garrard is throwing the ball, he can't stay away from MSW for too long.
Michael Crabtree: The bottom-line is San Francisco is the best team in the NFC West and Crabtree is an elite talent. Couple his putrid line in Week 1 (two catches, 12 yards) with the pathetic showing from the 49ers in general, and you may be able to convince his owner he's a malcontent not worth keeping around.
Mike Wallace: Let's make it a trifecta of Mikes. You could probably wait a couple weeks on this and let his price really bottom out. The scaled back, Dennis Dixon-playbook doesn't suit Wallace's talents. When Ben Roethlisberger returns, Wallace becomes his deep man, and you will have struck fantasy gold if you buy low on him.
You want a few guys I'd look to sell high on right now? Well, don't mind if I do.
Carson Palmer: I'd bet anything he just had his best game of the season. And it was only good from a fantasy perspective, which does not bode well against a seemingly mediocre Patriots defense. Sell now.
Darren McFadden: It might be a tough sell, but Michael Bush will be back eventually and McFadden has simply failed too many times for me to buy in just yet. Remember, half of his numbers against the Titans, including the touchdown, came when the game was already out of hand.
Two of my passions in life are Lynyrd Skynyrd and survivor pools. The classic rock fans among us will recognize the title of this section as that of a 1977 Skynyrd album. Henceforth, it will serve as the title of my weekly survivor pick. In survivor pools, we get out on that busy street, cars whizzing by us, and pick the one most likely to make it to the other side unscathed.
Here are my top three survivor picks this week:
Green Bay Packers (vs. Bills): I see two reasons for not picking the Packers this week. The first is you picked them last week against the Eagles. The second is so many people in your pool are going to pick them that you want to maximize your potential payoff by going in another direction. The Bills inexplicably threw the ball 34 times while giving C.J. Spiller, Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch just 14 combined carries in a close game. They probably won't have that choice against the high-powered Packers this week, which managed 27 points against a solid Eagles defense in Philadelphia despite a below-average game from Aaron Rodgers. Even without Ryan Grant for the rest of the season, I can't see them falling in this game at Lambeau. Back the Pack with confidence.
Atlanta Falcons (vs. Cardinals): Don't penalize the Falcons offense for sputtering against the Steelers in Pittsburgh. That remains an elite defense. On the other side, Atlanta's defense did what it needed to do against a Ben Roethlisberger-less offense, minus a questionable angle taken by safety Erik Coleman on Rashard Mendenhall's game-winning touchdown in overtime. The Cardinals looked pretty underwhelming in a win at St. Louis, and could be without Beanie Wells (knee) for the second straight week. I expect a big game out of Michael Turner against what should be a weaker run defense than he saw last week.
Indianapolis Colts (vs. Giants): I don't love picking against the Giants and little brother Eli in Manning Bowl II, but I just can't see the Colts starting the year 0-2, or Peyton losing a prime-time game at home. It might not be the most scientific analysis, but you shouldn't over-think survivor. That's what leads to you switching your pick at the last second in Week 1 from the Patriots to the Bears and then sitting through an agonizing three hours of football (like a certain Fantasy Clicks writer I know who will remain nameless ...)
Speaking of the Bears, I thought I too might weigh in on the controversial finish to their win over the Lions last week, mostly because I seem to be the only person who thinks this is a good rule that just needs some tweaking, and it's not due to my allegiance to the Bears. I think it's a sound rule most of the time, but needs to be changed to allow for a play like Calvin Johnson's to be ruled a catch. Two feet down in bounds, with clear control of the ball in the endzone should be a touchdown, and that's that. Anywhere else on the field, I think Johnson's apparent catch should always be ruled incomplete. If a receiver is going to the ground after making a catch, he should have to maintain control of the ball until coming to a stop. I just hope the uproar doesn't completely change or eliminate the process rule, because I think it makes a ton of sense, more times than not.
Might as well take this in because it probably won't last much longer:
Texans 1-0Titans 1-0Jaguars 1-0Colts 0-1
That's the Indianapolis Colts in sole possession of last place. The last time that happened was when they brought up the rear of the old AFC East at 3-13 in 1998.
If you've made it this far, congratulations. As your prize, you get a pair of starting pitcher stream options for Friday (assuming you're still paying attention to baseball):
Carlos Carrasco @ Kansas CityAlex Sanabia vs. Chicago Cubs