Roster Construction Late in the Fantasy Season

carlos hyde

At this point in the season, you should be done stockpiling depth.  Bye weeks are all but over, so scouring the waiver wire for low-upside backups is no longer much of a boost to your team.  This is when the potential of Carlos Hyde means more than the volume of Steven Jackson.

Entering the playoffs, your team should have the following components on board:

–          Either a trusted every-week QB1 or a TWO-MAN platoon of QB1/2 types;

–          Three playable RBs with acceptable floors;

–          Your weekly starting requirement of WRs plus two high-floor backups;

–          A trimmed-down TE depth chart

–          ONE kicker and ONE spot to stream a defense (or the minimum number of streaming IDPs required)

So how do you fill out your bench?  With lottery tickets, that’s how.  You know, a lottery ticket: a dirt-cheap flier taken on a player with realistic potential to both see significant time AND produce start-worthy fantasy numbers.  Potential is, of course, an operative term here because any point-scorers who have already spun their potential into production are likely unavailable by now.  Realistic is the other key term here, because a lottery ticket with too many ifs – much like an actual lottery ticket – is worthless.  You may love love love the long-term outlook of De’Anthony Thomas, but his chances at fantasy relevance probably require a handful of injuries and a coaching change, so he’s not the type I’m talking about.

Simply put, the low-impact benchwarmers aren’t going to contribute anything down the stretch.  But the lottery tickets might, and they’re much better uses of your bench space and your waiver priority/FAAB dollars.  As you careen toward the playoffs, your roster should be constructed thusly:

 1. A quarterback whom you can trust to post a minimum of 15-17 FP each week, regardless of matchup –OR– two reliable guys with whom you can play the matchups to ensure that 15-17 mark.

 That’s all you should be holding at quarterback, and if you haven’t yet ditched your backup, do it this week.  (Unless, of course, you hit the QB2 jackpot in your draft.  If you’re sitting on Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers, hold tight or deal Rivers.)  Quarterbacks tend to have much less variance than other positions in terms of season-long value, so their turnover is low; generally speaking, your QB1 is your QB1 and little will change that.  These aren’t RBs or WRs, which are typically much more susceptible to shifts in health, game flow, usage patterns, etc.  Examine the top-eight drafted QBs from this offseason and their relative stability:

  ADP Among QBs* Current QB Rank** Fantasy Pt/Gm**
Peyton Manning 1 2 26.8
Drew Brees 2 6 21.9
Aaron Rodgers 3 3 26.4
Matthew Stafford 4 17 18.4
Andrew Luck 5 1 28.4
Tom Brady 6 7 21.4
Nick Foles 7 21 17.6
Matt Ryan 8 11 19.9

* According to FantasyPros.com

** Based on a system that scores 1pt/25 pass yds, 4pt/pass TD, and -2pt/INT

If you drafted a QB1, you’ve sunk or swim by the guy; either you’re cruising with Rodgers, you lost Nick Foles, or you gave up on Stafford a month ago and made other arrangements.  In any event, you need to make sure you’re nestled snugly into one of the two categories above.  Quarterbacks not only have much more stable roles than guys at other positions; they lose time to injury far less often, and any QB1 you drafted isn’t in any danger of being benched.  So don’t feel the need to hold so tightly to depth.  If you’ve got Rodgers but are stashing Blake Bortles and Josh McCown “just in case,” the time is now to cut them loose.  Both of them.  Actually, the time came about two months ago.  Bottom-level starters aren’t going to rescue your season in the event of a Rodgers injury.  Utilize your roster space for players at other positons who could conceivably see your lineup AND score relevant fantasy points.

 2. At least three RBs who are playable on any given week – I’m talking Bishop Sankey-level or better – to form a streamlined depth chart.

 Whether you’ve got a stud RB1 or a rotation of RB2/3 types, only three start-worthy guys are necessary to feel confident going forward.  If your league allows a large bench stash, keep four; I’m certainly not advocating that you cut loose Frank Gore for the sake of holding fast to some mystical three-RB rule.  My point here is that keeping moderate-volume, low-production RB5 types as a security blanket is a waste of valuable roster space.  That’s a spot to use on a potential game-changer.  Beyond those top three or four backs, you really only want to roster the lottery tickets – guys with a realistic chance to wind up with a heavy role down the stretch AND put up real production in it.  Your Carlos Hydes, your Alfred Blues, your Isaiah Crowells, your Christine Michaels: these are the lottery tickets.  They cost you next to nothing to acquire, but the upside for fantasy production is monumental.

Remember, we’re looking for production potential here, not just raw volume.  Clinging to Steven Jackson and Matt Asiata because they’ll occasionally see a 12-carry game isn’t going to help you much, as they’re unlikely to produce anything of note with those touches.  If you’re stocked with three or four startable guys, then your RB5 isn’t going to come into any relevance or value.  Unless he has a legitimate shot at seeing the field AND cranking out statlines of RB2/3 quality, cash him in for a free agent who does; it’s the only way to effectively utilize the end of your RB bench.

3. Your lineup’s full requirement of startable WRs, plus two reserves – no more – who could bring reliable WR3/4 production in a pinch.

This is the most vital position in fantasy football, so you should already be starting two or three WR2s or better; if you’re not, you’re probably not playoff-bound anyway.  For depth, you’ll need to take an honest look at who could realistically bring you fantasy points if pressed into the starting lineup.  Ask yourself some important questions: What is this guy’s ceiling?  His floor?  Does he fit the profile of a touchdown scorer, drawing significant looks in the red zone?  Which way has he been trending over the last three or four weeks; is his QB looking his way a little more or less nowadays?  If you’re clinging to Robert Woods or Greg Jennings – a guy in a crowded or flat-out struggling passing game – as your WR5, just move on.  You need the bench space.  Toss the security blanket (which isn’t all that secure anyway) and fill that spot with someone who could contribute.

Once you’ve trimmed your WR corps to the four or five guys you could start tomorrow and feel secure with, you need to make your move on lottery tickets.  Search your waiver wire for guys who could post WR3-or-better numbers if they catch a break.  Deep threat Justin Hunter could click with the cannon-armed Zach Mettenberger and post some 5-90-2 lines down the stretch.  An injury to T.Y. Hilton or Reggie Wayne makes Donte Moncrief an every-week starter with tantalizing upside.  Kenny Britt has legitimate WR2 tools and could benefit from the switch back to Shaun Hill.  Follow storylines like these closely and fill the end of your bench with upside plays, as opposed to a what-you-see-is-what-you-get WR5 type whom you’d never confidently start.

4. A weekly top-eight TE start – someone on the level of Dwayne Allen or higher – or a roster spot devoted to streaming.

The TE spot is and has always been very fickle, but that’s been amplified this season.  Four shoo-in top-ten TEs from your draft have missed a significant chunk of time and/or have been lost for the year (Dennis Pitta, Vernon Davis, Jordan Reed, Kyle Rudolph, potential top-tenner Tyler Eifert).  Some dynamic young talents you paid a premium for have yet to assert themselves into their passing games (Zach Ertz, Ladarius Green).  Some talented veterans haven’t carried over the 2013 success you paid for (Jordan Cameron, Charles Clay, Garrett Graham).  As a result, the position has thrown most of us for a loop, and we’ve struggled to field consistent production.

At this point, however, your plan should be simple.  You’re currently sitting in one of three boats:

  1. You own Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, Greg Olsen, or Martellus Bennett.  That’s that, Mattress Man.  You have a weekly starter who requires no real concern – or even a TE2.
  2. You’re juggling two of the mid-tier guys – Dwayne Allen, Travis Kelce, Jason Witten, Ertz, etc. – based on flow and matchup.
  3. You’re streaming from free agency, following weekly matchups closely and utilizing Heath Miller or Mychal Rivera for a week at a time, hoping for a dirt-cheap ten-point line.

If you fall into the first category, there’s no need to roster a TE2.  You’ve got a weekly stud that you’ll never bench, and you can certainly wait until injury strikes to grab his replacement.  If you’re in the second, keep both your guys as long as it’s feasible; they’re quality fantasy producers with weekly touchdown upside and could easily come in handy.  If you’re in the third, there’s obviously no TE2 spot on your roster, since streaming involves one-week rentals that strip away bye weeks and injuries.

Simple as that.  As much of a crapstorm as the TE spot has been this year, your depth chart can be easily streamlined, and it’s likely you only need to roster one at a time.

5. ONE kicker.

Please don’t be That Guy.  The one who feels the need to roster two kickers and “play the matchups.”  Kicker output can be tracked and predicted to a small degree, but not nearly on the level of other positions.  And that tiny bit of evaluation simply isn’t worth your precious roster space.  So ditch your backup kicker, even if it means your top guy still has a bye approaching.  There is no fantasy kicker that can’t be replaced by 4-8 near-equal options on any given week.  Thus far this season, 22 different kickers have posted top-five fantasy weeks.  Cling too tightly to Stephen Gostkowski and you’ll find yourself wasting a roster spot, only to see five kickers on your waiver wire outscore him that week, and five more the next.

6. ONE defense, which should stream from week-to-week, or the minimum number of IDPs your league starts.

Similarly, clinging to a team defense you feel is dominant has never been a great option.  The league has changed, and mediocre offenses now routinely carve up even the elite defenses on a week-to-week basis.  And even if they don’t, great defenses usually belong to great teams who pile up early 31-7 leads and play prevent, giving way to late garbage-time yards and points.  Nowadays, there is no matchup-proof defense in fantasy football, no unit you should draft early and protect like your child.  Check out the ADPs of team defense/ST units from this offseason and how they’ve fared:

  ADP among DEF* Current DEF rank** Fantasy Pt/Gm**
Seattle 1 20 7.5
Carolina 2 27 6.0
San Francisco 3 8 10.1
St. Louis 4 15 8.2
Denver 5 17 8.0
Kansas City 6 13 8.7
Cincinnati 7 25 6.1
New England 8 9 9.9

* According to FantasyPros.com

** Based on a system that scores 1pt/sack, 2pt/turnover, and a sliding scale for points allowed, with typical kick-return scoring

Ugh.  Only two defenses drafted top-eight have posted a top-nine fantasy season thus far, and heavy investments in Seattle, Carolina, Denver, and Cincinnati have exploded in our faces.  In other words, don’t invest heavily in one defense, and definitely don’t keep it rostered late in the season so you won’t lose it during its bye.  No, your best bet is to stream your defense based on matchups.  Who plays the Jaguars, an anemic offense who turns the ball over and gets sacked like it’s a bodily function, this week?  Who gets to rush through the Steelers’ Swiss cheese line this week?  Keep turning over your defense weekly and save that spot for someone who matters.

If your league uses IDPs, don’t fall in love.  I can’t think of a single defender aside from J.J. Watt that I’d keep rostered at the expense of a valuable lottery ticket elsewhere – and even Watt makes me stop to think.  Just roll them over; every waiver wire has attractive options week in, week out.

This, friends, is how your roster should be constructed as you (hopefully) enter your postseason.  Make it so and maximize your roster spots, as opposed to burning them.

 

Lead photo credit: By Jeffrey Beall (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>