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Serving Suspensions -- The Surprising Statistics of Returning Players
By Joe Levit
October 9, 2003

Fantasy Football is highly competitive by nature. Gone are the days when you can win your league simply by drafting well. To succeed in today’s game you must use any tactic that you can discover by yourself, or steal from someone else, which gives you even a small advantage over your peers. During the season, you look at future game matchups, injury return dates and even practice squad transactions to determine which players to start in a given week or trade for at a bargain – anything to get you ahead.

One method often overlooked is the purposeful acquisition of semi-star and stud players who are coming off league-mandated or team suspensions. Week five in the NFL saw the return of three players from suspension that excelled in their first game back in action. The production is not surprising when you stop to examine the likely causes of the statistical surges.

A suspension forces a player to the sidelines. This means the player is not subject to the thousand natural shocks the flesh is heir to when tacklers are in pursuit. The time off allows the player to heal and become fresh. During the Patriots game against the Titans last Sunday, you could see how fresh Mike Cloud was coming off his four-game suspension. The jukes he laid on Tennessee made the spring in his step evident immediately.

Suspensions to start the season do not affect players as much as they used to. Most players, particularly skill-position players, keep themselves in shape year-round now. They can be ready at the drop of a hat to jump into a starting lineup. Jimmy Smith, a second returning player, needed only half of his normal repetitions in the game to post very good fantasy numbers (13 points in most leagues).

Lastly, players coming off of a suspension have a chip on their shoulder. They want to prove, quickly, that they are still able to do what is necessary to win. Usually this translates into a huge one-game effort or string of strong games for the lucky fantasy owner. Let’s take a look closer look at week five’s three returning players:

David Boston, Chargers – Boston has had more than his fair share of controversy so far in his young career. Many people view him as a talented WR who has maturity issues. He created his own issue again this year, after starting the season slow with some injuries, by breaking some team rules and entirely missing meetings. Coach Marty Schottenheimer suspended Boston for a game in week four as a disciplinary measure.

During the subsequent week, Boston said, “First of all, I want to apologize to my teammates, the organization and the fans for not being able to participate in this Sunday's game. I'm anxious to get out on the football field this week. I know I've made a lot of mistakes in the past and I've learned from them and I'm moving on. It was funny, I was watching the game and I ordered some food and I couldn't even eat because I was too very disturbed. And I let my teammates down and I want to get back out there and play. So that's what I'm here to do.”

This is exactly the type of chip-on-the-shoulder situation I mentioned earlier. Boston was embarrassed by his own behavior, and wanted to show he is worth what the Chargers are paying him. He responded with 14 catches for 181 yards and two touchdowns in week five. He even added a rushing attempt for 13 yards. Owners who decided to start him after his suspension got a terrific boost.

Jimmy Smith, Jaguars – After serving a four-game suspension because he desecrated the league-instituted substance abuse policy, playmaker Jimmy Smith returned to success on the field last Sunday. He grabbed eight passes for 137 yards, quickly re-establishing himself as the go-to receiver in Jacksonville.

This kind of instantaneous production should not be unexpected from a veteran like Smith. His statistics fall in line with the idea that players who know a system are able to pick right up where they have left off because they are in such great shape physically. All Smith needed was a few snaps to get into the flow of an NFL game again.

Interestingly, like David Boston, we also find Smith exuding gratitude and desperate to prove his worth. After his big return, Smith said, “I was very grateful to go out there and do whatever I could to help the team.”

Mike Cloud, Patriots – When it was announced late last week that running back Kevin Faulk would sit because of injury, that was a signal that Mike Cloud might get some action in his return from suspension. For a player like Cloud, who is talented, but was not a starter before his suspension, it is necessary that opportunity present itself. Antowain Smith was injured in the game after putting up a respectable rushing total, and that was Cloud’s chance to shine. Remember, Cloud has been riding the pine a lot in Kansas City the last few years, playing behind Priest Holmes, which is not exactly an indictment of Cloud’s potential, considering the damage Holmes has done statistically during those campaigns.

Like Jimmy Smith, Cloud was returning from a four-game substance-abuse suspension. Unlike Smith, Cloud is a young player without a lot of carries in his career. That fact, along with his down time this year, meant he was completely ripe to rip off a few nice runs. He responded with 73 yards on seven carries, and two touchdowns, one a spectacular ankle-breaking dash.

Identifying the players ready to put up gaudy statistics right after a suspension is another tool fantasy owners can use to accumulate more points than their opponents. Trading for these star players during the suspension, when they are not worth as much, can bring you a bargain later.