You're watching the TV on that most wonderful of all days - opening weekend when both your favorite NFL team and all of your fantasy teams are still tied for first place. Maybe you have a beer, some chips, the remote control and your handy-dandy starting rosters on a piece of paper nearby for easy reference as your fantasy teams start racking up those points. First stop now is to check on <insert first round pick> in time to see his first touchdown.
".Ummm.who is that laying on the ground?"
Welcome to the never lengthy shelf life of your fantasy roster. Welcome to Plan DOH! in case you had not been formally introduced.
So much effort goes into a starting line-up that too often filling in behind them because less a planned event. The reality is that too often those back-up players will be your starting line-up in part or whole by the season's end, so let's take a look at some considerations that should used for each of your positions.
Drafting Order of Back-ups
The drafting of back-up players will intermingle with the selection of some of your starters. Assumedly, you will not be grabbing, say, a kicker before backing up a running back. How early you need to get replacement players depends greatly on the scoring rules of your league and the size of the league. For instance, if it is an eight team league, then you can likely wait a good while before getting a back-up quarterback. Figure every team could have almost four starting quarterbacks and you can see that there is no rush to grab the middle tier guys. If you played in a twenty-four team league, and some actually do, then the need to replace a high-scorer like quarterback becomes more pressing.
Every league will be a little different, but in basic terms you cannot go wrong by understanding how the scoring of your league effects the player's values. There is little doubt that running backs are in short supply compared to need and holding off on getting a back-up is almost always folly. Running back should be your first foray into back-ups unless your league is very large and has skewed scoring towards one position.
Taking replacement receivers for your team is quite important. While the position incurs far less injury than most (Jeffers and Scott owners aside), the reality is that it is also the position with the most breakout players and the most players who fail to meet expectations. With the passing game, it will always become impacted by schedule, quarterback and the need to throw and that will adversely or positively impact certain receivers. Consider last year with Marcus Robinson, Patrick Jeffers, Michael Westbrook, Muhsin Muhammad and Germane Crowell. None of these receivers were likely selected as starters if even drafted at all.
Kickers can wait. I'll refer to it later, but kickers can wait. They really can. They really should.
Overall, you need to understand the relative value of positions to each other in your league and the depth available for them. If you have never done so, one of the greatest tools you will ever have is reviewing the final league statistics for players from last season using your scoring rules. Know how players score and what is more valuable before worrying how deep they might be.
Chances are you are only starting one and at a minimum they are at least as valuable as the other positions. Possibly even more. While one school of thought is to grab the back-up of your stud quarterback, there is one problem with that idea. While yes, that means you will likely always have a quarterback to play, it also means that as a second string player, he is considered by NFL teams to be somewhere between the 32nd and 62nd best quarterback in the league. Jeff George in Washington is the one exception to this rule. No others are.
Never wait to grab a second quarterback. Only eight Quarterbacks managed to play a full, productive sixteen games last season. Numerous top signal callers missed considerable time like Steve Young, Steve McNair, Jake Plummer and Vinny Testeverde. The two best quarterbacks last season - Kurt Warner and Steve Beuerlein - were undoubtedly taken in all fantasy drafts as back-ups and ended up winning a good share of fantasy championships for the lucky owners.
In looking for a good back-up quarterback, keep an eye out for offenses with good offensive systems that can score points. Teams like Denver (Brian Griese), Baltimore (Tony Banks) and Seattle (Jon Kitna) have a better shot at scoring than defensive teams like Miami (Damon Huard) or Tampa Bay (Shaun King). And in any case, ensure that the quarterback you choose is a lock for being the man for their team. Troy Aikman may not score a lot, but you know he will be the quarterback. That could prove a safer choice than other teams with less certainty at the position like Miami or even Pittsburgh.
Back-Up Running Backs
There are few positions that will incur injury - particularly the stats-draining "nagging" type - as often as running backs. Last season saw a dramatic number of top rushers eliminated or hampered by mid-season. Once the starting rushers are all acquired, and they all too quickly will, you need to know what second string players are the best and most likely to play. While you can never know for certain which player will be holding their knee and writhing on the ground, there are certain players with a history of falling short of a full season. Strongly consider the back-ups of Robert Smith (Doug Chapman), James Stewart (Rueben Droughns) or Tim Biakabutuka (Natrone Means) to name a few.
In short, after the starters are gone you need to determine the most likely players to be replaced and the teams with the most high-powered offenses. It is usually better to avoid the third-down backs that will have a good game about every four weeks with a score. You need consistency and that means a starting, every-down back or a player that is next in line to fulfill that role. Teams like Kansas City will use numerous rushers in a season (if not a game) and make sure you have expended all other options before going to the well for a bucket of running-back-by-committee. Go for the consistent player, not the one-week wonders.
Unlike almost all other positions, running backs succeed in part according to team. If a team has a good line, a good defense to keep opponents at bay and can offer a balanced attack, then the second string running back will often seem to surprise. Consider Olandis Gary a prime example.
In selecting your receiver depth, understand that this is a fairly volatile position in terms of production. Not only will a receiver rise and fall by his own merit, he must depend on the quarterback, offensive line and even the rushing game to have a positive effect on the passing game. Your best bets are to look for receivers who fall into one of three categories.
First, look for the possession receivers. While almost each team has their long-ball receiver with the occasional 60 yard catch for a score, the fact is that you need production every week even if it is only in yardage. Make sure that the possession receivers are all taken before you start digging deeply into secondary receivers.
Secondly, of course, look for the passing teams. Clubs like St. Louis, Carolina, Green Bay, Indianapolis and Washington. If the ball is not thrown around much, it does not matter how good the receiver is. This may become evident in Tampa Bay this year. Conversely, shy away from receivers from poor passing teams like San Diego or Philadelphia. Quite often the second best receiver on a good team is more productive than the best receiver on a bad team.
Lastly, keep an eye out for the developing players. Rookie receivers very rarely contribute much in that first year, Randy Moss being an incredible exception, and generally it takes about three years for a player to understand the position, defenses and gain chemistry with a quarterback. Players in their third year include Kevin Dyson, Jerome Pathon, Pat Johnson, Tony Simmons, Jacquez Green and Jammi German. In the "do it now or else" NFL, second year receivers are performing better than in the past. This season the second year players looking to step up will be Torry Holt, Troy Edwards, David Boston and Peerless Price. In case there is a late bloomer in the crowd, consider too the fourth-year receivers like Ike Hilliard, Kevin Lockett and Albert Connell.
No positions will have as many players break out later in the season as receivers will. Draft your depth from possession players on good offenses in their second to fourth year and you just might land one of those sleepers we all crave. But by the same token, keep your eye out later in the season for the ones not yet on a team!
Back-up Tight Ends
For those leagues that require the tight end as a separate position, the reality is that either you grab an early one - Tony Gonzalez, Rickey Dudley, Wesley Walls, Shannon Sharpe - or you might as well wait. If you do not have one of the top three or four tight ends, then the difference is minimal between the next eight players. The fraternity of productive tight ends in the NFL is currently a "table for four". Only kickers rank lower on my totem pole.
Many leagues use a form of team defense - awarding points on the basis of an entire defense's game production. While there are a few teams that have overall good defenses - Miami, Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and Tennessee to name a few, you have to do your homework to know which to select. Each league will have it's own variation on scoring for defenses and award, or even deduct, points based on their game. You must know how defenses are valued in your league and how the teams fall in your scoring scenario.
For most fantasy leagues, points are gained from sacks, turnovers or defensive touchdowns. In general, this means look not only for good defenses, but also for the ones that also have an offense most likely to score well. Almost all fantasy points are derived from something happening on a passing play like an interception, sack or a safety. The other team needs to be pressured into a passing offense as often as possible to gain these points. The best fantasy defenses often will come from the teams with the better offenses. Better defenses often come from good teams with better schedules.
Again - understand your scoring scenario. If your defenses are given negative points for yielding yardage, or positive points for limiting yardage, then the teams which encourage passing by opponents are not the route to take. Teams that gain a big lead early will invariably give up lots of "garbage" yards and even points while they play in a prevent defense. In the NFL it does not matter if the opponent gains 400 yards passing or scores 42 points. What matters is that an offense outscores their opponent by at least one point. The same is not true of most fantasy teams.
If your league scoring places a premium on a good defense, then understand what defenses are most likely to satisfy your scoring criteria the best. And then be the third person to take a defense. Let the first two use up draft picks too early and then take a top defense with the third. Quite often at the third defense taken a run on the position begins which only helps you by leaving other positions alone you may still need.
In searching for a kicker, my formula for determining when to start drafting a kicker is [# of total rounds - # of kickers I need]. Invariably, however, each season some fantasy team owner feels he must grab the highest scoring kicker from the season before and by the year's end, he's likely looking at a wasted draft pick. Consider that the top three field goal kickers from 1998 - Gary Anderson, Steve Christie and Al Del Greco ended their 1999 season ranked 19th, 16th and 17th respectively. Woo-Hoo! Sign me up!
And yet someone will want to grab 1999's best kickers - Mike Vanderjagt, Olindo Mare and Todd Peterson - before you can get to them. And you should let them. Kickers succeed in relation to the opportunities afforded by the offense they play on. The only way to know what team will provide the best kicker is to be able to know which offense will stall at the 20 yard line the most. Fill every position before worrying about a kicker and use the in-season waiver wire for any kicker who looks like this year's King of the Kickers.
This is the one spot that watching bye weeks might not be a bad idea.
The Huddle Back-up motto: "Build a second team independent of your starters"
This could also be called Plan "DOH!" when your starter flops or is injured.
Think as much about your replacement players as your starters because all too often, they will become your starters. Many fantasy players will consider the most significant factor in a replacement player to be their bye week. The week that they have to cover that can't-miss-now stud which was drafted. Can you imagine an NFL team determining their roster depth based upon what a player might do for one game?
Draft your replacement players the same as an NFL team does. You are building a "second team"
The reality is that about half of the players are not going to meet expectations for your starting squad. And injuries are certain to take their toll this year as in every year. Do yourself a favor and disregard covering the bye week and just take the best players. By week 12 both your starter and his replacement may not be playing or at least fantasy-worthy anyway. You can cover that later. You really can.
Those fantasy replacements are often tomorrow's stars so look for upside, youth, good development and good team dynamics. Start building a second team - not some patchwork affair that considers your possible need in week 9 for a running back. You just might need them sooner than later.
"DOH AGAIN!. They're bringing the cart this time!"