Much like the NFL regular season in December or the MLB regular season in September, the fantasy football regular season takes on a new personality beginning in Week 10 with one month left before the playoffs. Not only have playoff races begun to crystallize and playoff berths been earned, the approaching trade deadline and the end of bye weeks (four teams have byes Week 11) put a premium on maximizing the potential of your starting lineup and doing so through the trade market. Now that you've weathered the bye-week storm, there's no incentive to have a ton of depth at any one position. Your bench guys who played key roles in the fantasy season's middle weeks likely won't do you any good with your team at full strength. Now is your last chance to turn that depth into a more explosive starting lineup.
Making a trade at this stage of the season is easier said than done. The conventional targets are hard to pry loose from their current owners because they're likely at the center of contending teams. While the personality of the fantasy season may change every month or so, one constant is the gains that come from bucking that conventional wisdom and finding the undervalued assets that remain. The key is identifying who they are in you're league. Here are a few good places to start, depending on your area of need.
Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars -- If you're going to swing for the fences for a huge deal this time of year, Jones-Drew is your best bet. To complete a trade of this magnitude at this point of the season, you need a few factors to be in place. First, you need an owner within striking distance but not safely in the playoffs. Second, your strengths need to match that owner's weaknesses. Finally, forget about trading for a top-five player. No one is trading LeSean McCoy or Adrian Peterson now. Focus on the players a tier or two down, and you can cash in that depth for an elite player.
Obviously, certain elements of that perfect storm will change from league to league, but the perfect player to target in that situation is Jones-Drew. The lack of touchdowns is no longer random, and he plays for a team destined for a top-10 pick in the draft. That makes him an easy guy to discount when, in reality, his yardage totals alone make him as consistent a force as they come. He'll be a top-seven back at worst the rest of the season, and his mix of strengths and deficiencies places him right at the upper end of guys who could still hit the trade block.
Victor Cruz, Giants -- Every year a receiver goes from undrafted to weekly starter, and no matter who that guy is, he's typically not a guy you're going to target in a trade. A major percentage of Breakout Receiver X's value is in picking him up, getting a starter at replacement level price. So why is Cruz different?
The truth is, it's not so much Cruz that's different. It's the team for which he plays. The Giants are an elite offense featuring a quarterback playing at a high level. Cruz isn't a product of garbage time stats or an unsustainable number of targets. He has a specific set of skills that makes him the perfect fit for the high-powered Giants' passing game. The return of Hakeem Nicks will only be a good thing for Cruz, but it was encouraging to see him have a productive game against the Patriots with Nicks on the sideline. His production isn't going anywhere, and he's the kind of guy who is attainable on the trade market by dealing from an area of depth.
Shonn Greene, Jets -- Greene has at least 19 carries in each of the last four weeks, averaging a little more than than 86 yards per contest. The Jets have started to lean on him in the run game, and there's no reason to expect that to change. With LaDainian Tomlinson relegated to third downs and obvious passing situations, Greene can be a consistent fantasy weapon. On top of that, five of the next seven teams the Jets face rank in the bottom half of the league in yards per carry against.
With Greene the focal point of the Jets' rushing attack, he should be the top-15 back many expected him to become this year. With his underwhelming season to this point, he's likely a guy who can be had at a more than reasonable price.
On the flip side, here are a few guys you may feel comfortable with that should be worrying you heading down the stretch.
A.J. Green, Bengals -- The rookie out of Georgia has been great all season and no doubt has a bright future ahead of him. However, his immediate future looks a bit dim. The Bengals have been a nice story this year, but their season is about to start unraveling. This is a team whose production is totally dependent on winning, and there's a chance they'll lose four of their next five games. The remainder of their schedule during the fantasy regular season is a nightmare for a passing game, including Baltimore, Houston and a second game against Pittsburgh. In any other year, Green would be looking at a shot at the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award, but he has a few rough weeks ahead of him. The good news is that Green is a legitimate asset, and is just the type of guy you can pair with a deep receiver or back to improve one spot in your starting lineup.
Darren Sproles, Saints -- Like Green, Sproles fits the profile around whom you can base a 2-for-1 trade. He has had a great season, is tied to an elite offense, and is an attractive player as part of a package. He's also the kind of guy who won't kill you to deal, especially if you're upgrading at running back. The selling points are obvious, even more so in PPR leagues, but there are some factors at work below the radar that dampen Sproles prospects for the rest of the season.
New Orleans draws pretty strong run defenses the rest of the season, facing just one team, the Giants, in the bottom half of the league in rush defense. Second, he's one of the few impact backs who still has a bye on the schedule, making him one game less valuable than nearly everyone in the league. If you can use Sproles and depth to upgrade from Sproles, it's a slam dunk.
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