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Backups 2003 -- The Bench Warmers With Bang For Your Buck
by Joe Levit
August 25, 2003
 

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.

QUARTERBACKS

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 by midseason.

RUNNING BACKS

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 circumstances.

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.

WIDE RECEIVERS

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 a starter.

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.

TIGHT ENDS

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.