The NFL is a fickle landscape. No player is guaranteed
a clean bill of health for 16 games, or the right to
remain a starter should his production tail off. There
is not a surefire path to statistical success. Each
season, there are new faces among the league leaders
at the respective skill positions. That instability
means that nothing in fantasy football is a given either.
There is, however, a way for fantasy owners to mitigate
the capricious nature of this game. You can fight flux
by drafting and stockpiling key backups. It doesn’t
matter whether you draft backups as handcuffs for your
star players or use them as trade bait when they get
a chance to shine. If you remember what Clinton Portis
or Tommy Maddox accomplished last year you will quickly
appreciate how drafting the right backups can reap
fortune for your fantasy team.
Obviously, fantasy owners
do not need to follow every backup. Players like Robert
Holcombe and Doug Pederson – backups
to durable stars Eddie George and Brett Favre respectively – are
not going to get on the field. Try to find players
who are on the bench behind a star with a history of
injuries instead: think Fred Taylor. It also goes without
saying that the backups need to have talent of their
own. If Peyton Manning goes down, Brock Huard is not
going to take your team anywhere, even with Marvin
Harrison on the field.
Below are some key backups for
the 2003 fantasy season. Eliminated from the groups
are certain candidates,
such as rookie quarterbacks Carson Palmer and Kyle
Boller, who would struggle given the opportunity to
start, and committee backfield players like Dunn/Duckett
or Barlow/Hearst. Draft the remaining players in later
rounds as insurance or as a gamble to thwart other
owners. Either way, you won’t need to wage a
waiver-wire battle to acquire a potential difference-maker
for your team.
Tim Couch, Browns – Kelly Holcomb has earned
the right to the starting job, for now. However, should
he falter Couch would take hold of an offense with
multiple budding stars at the wideout position.
Marc Bulger, Rams – Marc won his games last
year as a starter, so if Kurt hurts his hand again,
Bulger would benefit, and so could you.
Doug Johnson, Falcons – Johnson is not the multi-talented
threat that Vick is, to be sure. Still, he’s
not raw meat. Doug has a pair of hungry wide receivers
and two good running backs to siphon off some defensive
heat. He should hold his own while Mike mends.
Tim Rattay, 49ers – Tim doesn’t have enough
starting experience, but he is behind a starter with
some back issues, and would be playing toss with Terrell
Owens. If you have Jeff Garcia, see if you can handcuff
Rattay in the last round.
Steve Beuerlein, Broncos – Steve is simply old.
He has had some time now to heal from his many maladies
though, and he is a backup on a team loaded with talent
at the tailback and wide receiver positions. Because
Jake Plummer is as erratic as quarterbacks come, Shanahan
may tire of the potential and opt for known commodities
Marcel Shipp, Cardinals – Marcel scored nine
times last year and was on the verge of making a name
for himself behind the huge Arizona line. Shipp may
have to wait until Smith sinks this season before he
can be a fantasy force. He is worth stocking on your
depth chart though, as Emmitt is likely to lose time
at his age with little help from the passing game.
Jerome Bettis, Steelers – Bettis is an all-time
great. As such, he deserves respect. He was recently
demoted to backup, but Zereoue has not been an overly
effective back, and he gets hurt an awful lot. When
healthy, Bettis can be a great second fantasy back,
and he punches it in when the Steelers give him the
ball at the goal line.
Olandis Gary, Bills – I fully expect Travis
Henry to have a monster season. But, if he should get
hurt, it will be Gary – not McGahee, who takes
over at halfback. The former Bronco has bucked the
1,000-yard barrier in the past, so he has skills. Olandis
makes a fine late-round insurance pick.
Adrian Peterson, Bears – Anthony Thomas is still
the starter, but Peterson is the better back. His durability
and ability to score on demand will win out over the
course of the season. Peterson may be the type of pick
who helps you win some games during the stretch when
your starter is out.
Najeh Davenport, Packers – Najeh could look
good in gold if Ahman Green gets nicked up again this
season. Remember that Davenport had to play behind
Edgerrin James and Clinton Portis at Miami and you
see that he could be special in his own right.
LaBrandon Toefield, Jaguars – With Fred Taylor
already nursing the injuries this season, Toefield
could become a rookie phenomenon. A con for Toefield
is his own injury history (two ACL surgeries).
Derrick Blaylock, Chiefs – Blaylock has outplayed
rookie first-round pick Larry Johnson for the right
to caddy for Priest Holmes. Holmes has looked healthy,
but Blaylock would step into a vigorous offense if
Holmes has down time.
Doug Chapman, Vikings – Right
now it looks like rookie Onterrio Smith has the inside
track on the starting
job. Still, the rookie might run into trouble once
the regular season starts and coach Mike Tice seems
reluctant to hand him the staring job. Chapman may
be good for a string of games this season behind a
strong offensive line.
LaMont Jordan, Jets – Curtis Martin is not ready
to begin a descent into mediocrity just because he’s
30, but there is no doubt that Jordan could shoulder
the load alone. LaMont already takes some of Martin’s
touchdowns, and will get more carries as the year goes
on. He is still being groomed as an eventual replacement.
Lamar Gordon, Rams – With the Orlando Pace contract
talks heating up, Marshall Faulk’s backup is
a good pickup in fantasy leagues, particularly if you
draft Faulk. Gordon has ability, and can put up some
terrific numbers in spot duty.
Musa Smith, Ravens – Smith plays behind a troubled
runner. Though Lewis is amazing when healthy, he has
been injured a lot in the past, and he is in risky
waters with the league office. Musa might be forced
into relative fantasy stardom evermore.
Justin Fargas, Raiders – I know it’s the
preseason, but you have to like what Fargas has been
doing for Oakland so far. He is the back of the future
there, a true feature runner who could cause the team
to rely less on their passing attack. When does he
take over for Garner though?
Shawn Bryson, Lions – If Bryson has all of his
speed back, he could be a surprisingly effective fantasy
back for people this year. He will need for Stewart
to get hurt or play poorly enough to be benched in
order to get a shot. Those are not unrealistic potential
James Mungro/Dominic Rhodes, Colts – These guys
are great handcuff players. Each has performed well
when James has been less than 100%.
Ladell Betts/Kenny Watson, Redskins – Either
of these high-effort players could oust Canidate at
any time. Betts is the bigger back with shifty moves,
and Watson endeavors to gain a touchdown on every play.
Ashley Lelie, Broncos – Reports out of Denver
have him catching everything but the kitchen sink from
Plummer. He will see touchdowns and yards as a third
receiver, but will explode onto the scene if Rod Smith
or Ed McCaffrey leave for any length of time.
Javon Walker, Packers – Robert Ferguson is the
second starter for now, but Walker still has serious
game. He makes a terrific target in the red zone because
he is easy to locate.
Marc Boerigter, Chiefs – Boerigter may continue
to make big plays in 2003. The thing he needs is more
opportunities. If Kennison or Morton can’t cut
it, Green will be searching for Marc downfield – as
David Terrell, Bears – It is too early to give
up on this much talent. Terrell has been injured and
slow to learn when to keep his mouth shut. Once he
drops the attitude and starts working, he will take
over as the team’s go-to receiver.
Wesley Walls, Packers – Packers quarterback
Brett Favre will appreciate a hard worker like Walls
on the team. Look for that to translate into passes
Wall’s way. Wesley will cut into Bubba Franks’ yards,
and could steal some touchdowns too.
Dallas Clark, Colts – Starting tight end Marcus
Pollard will be aided by the rookie. The team did not
draft Clark in the first round merely to block though.
Dallas is very skilled at shifting roles from blocker
to receiver at the last instant, and converting yards
after a catch. If something happens to Pollard, Clark
will be a top-ten fantasy tight end.