Monday, November 21, 2011

Bolster bench depth for your title run

Week 11 marks a welcome end to the much-reviled NFL bye schedule. Much like the sense of relief Rick Perry experiences every time he remembers lists of three or more items, fantasy owners can relax knowing they no longer must prepare for battle with one or more star players taking mid-season siestas.

Now that the bye weeks are history, this is an excellent time to give your roster a thorough checkup to be certain you are best equipped for the stretch run. The most important strategic move you can make this week is to release any dead weight from excess kickers, defenses and even tight ends. There’s little justification for carrying more than one at each position any longer unless, for instance, you are fortunate enough to own two elite tight ends. You’re much better served by stocking your bench with fresh legs that can be instrumental to your title run.

Injuries to Michael Vick (ribs), Jay Cutler (broken thumb) and fantasy backup Matt Hasselbeck (elbow) underscore the importance of reinforcing your quarterback depth this week. Though the pickings are fairly slim, guys like Carson Palmer, Andy Dalton and Matt Moore are still widely available and can help out in a pinch against favorable matchups.

But your primary goal should be adding the understudy to your lead running back, if you haven’t already. As DeMarco Murray, Michael Bush and, most recently, Kevin Smith have proven, an unheralded backup can be an invaluable contributor when injury strikes.

And with Sunday’s knicks to Adrian Peterson (ankle), Fred Jackson (calf) and James Starks (knee), the threat of disaster should be top-of-mind for every contending owner.

Some of the most important backups in the game are flying well below the radar and are still available in the vast majority of leagues. As sure as the next Perry gaffe, it’s going to happen. One or more of these ball carriers will undoubtedly be thrust into the limelight during the upcoming fantasy playoffs thanks to an untimely, yet inevitable, injury to a star runner.

Consider adding Marion Barber, Ronnie Brown, Ricky Williams, C.J. Spiller, Deji Karim, Bernard Scott or Jason Snelling to hedge your bets on your key runners. Ryan Grant has been abandoned in many leagues, yet he could see the majority of carries against the Lions on Thanksgiving thanks to Starks’ balky knee.

Don’t play running back roulette. Take steps now to avoid the waiver-wire frenzy that will occur should your lead horse pull up lame at the worst possible time.


FREE AGENT PICKS AND PANS

To win a fantasy championship, it helps to start with a great draft. But filling in your roster throughout the season with the right free agents is also important. Here's a look at players worth considering, and others who would look better in someone else's lineup.

Catch ‘em while you can

Vince Young, QB, Eagles. Only if you were counting on Vick or Cutler should you consider adding Young, whose three interceptions should not be overlooked in the euphoria over his game-winning touchdown drive on Sunday night. Young gets a short-term recommendation solely due to the Eagles’ schedule, which has them facing New England’s awful secondary in Week 12.

Kevin Smith, RB, Lions. There’s little question that Smith will be the prized waiver-wire acquisition this week after his scintillating 201-total-yard, three-touchdown outing against the Panthers. Jahvid Best (concussion) does not appear anywhere close to returning, so Smith could conceivably remain the starter through the remainder of the fantasy season.

Toby Gerhart, RB, Vikings. The truth is, even after Peterson left Sunday’s game early, Gerhart was only a bit player in the Vikings’ offense. Percy Harvin got nearly as many carries, and he will likely be the greatest beneficiary if Peterson sits out a game or two. But Harvin’s not available, and Gerhart should at least be a goal-line option.

C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills. Spiller has yet to translate his seemingly sky-high potential into production during his first two seasons. But the dual-purpose tailback could have his best opportunity yet, with injuries to both Fred Jackson and wideout Donald Jones (ankle). Though the Bills’ offense is sputtering, Spiller’s role will inevitably increase.

Don’t be fooled

Jay Cutler, QB, Bears. With news that Cutler could miss the remainder of the regular season after surgery to repair his broken thumb, there’s no reason to let him take up valuable space on your bench. Ditto for his inexperienced backup, Caleb Hanie. Earl Bennett’s bubble just burst as well.

Jerome Simpson, WR, Bengals. Unless A.J. Green (knee) misses more time, Simpson is unlikely to be a worthy pickup in most formats. As surprisingly effective as Dalton has been throughout his rookie season, there aren’t enough balls to go around in Cincinnati to make two wideouts consistent contributors.

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