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Stretching Your Bench

Welcome back to the BrainBlog... an exclusive here on RotoWire.  Here we de-emphasize player rankings and statistical comparisons and instead look at strategies, tactics, and tips that can help you think through potential roster moves and start/sit decisions.

Today's topic is pretty straightforward but it's something that many fantasy football managers fail to think through this time of year.  We tend to be focused on our starting rotation and how to maximize our point totals, which is obviously most important.  However, are you still thinking critically about how you are using your bench.

Maybe you've never thought about strategically using your bench before and you may not even know what I'm talking about, so please allow me to explain.

First, the typical or default mentality with a fantasy football bench.  Most people try to stockpile as much talent as possible at these positions.  It's almost as if there is a secondary competition in fantasy where we compare points scored by the bench and that factor can make you feel better about your team in a loss or even feel like you crushed your opponent that much more in a win.  Hey, I get it, you want to fill out that roster with as much quality as you can.  And, I will say that this tends to give you more matchup flexibility and more firepower to get through the bye weeks.  Those are great things, and important, especially earlier in the season.

At this point we have a pretty good idea of who these guys are for 2012.  There is enough game film to watch that we have a pretty solid history on which to judge their likely future outputs for the rest of the season.  That goes for defenses, too. 

Also, the bye weeks are done next week folks.  You probably don't have too many more to account for, especially since this week has started and the Week 10 waiver wire process is over.  You may have something to look at here for Week 11, but for the most part the consideration of bye weeks is behind you.

Furthermore, you are starting to figure out where you stand with regard to the fantasy playoffs.  It's either looking like you are pretty much assured of a spot, you are definitely out, or you are battling for one of the final positions.  Each of these three situations will dictate how you need to think about your bench.

1.  You're Probably Out - If this is a keeper league or a dynasty league you need to be thinking about next year.  Simple as that.  Grab upside guys and clear-cut backups who may have a starting role next year.  Also, you probably have a little bit of time before your trade deadline so it isn't too late to trade a high-priced stud for a couple of low-cost keeper candidates.  Win-win situation.  And, if the league is a total re-draft league with no carryover to next year (not even draft position) then it is your job to play for pride and do your best to beat your remaining opponents just like you were trying early in the year.  It's not fair to the rest of the league to not even set your lineup.

2.  You're Probably In - Congratulations!  Let's go win a championship.  Examine who you have on your bench.  What can they do for you going forward?  Go ahead and plan out what your lineup will look like for every week through your championship.  What are the weaknesses?  Are there any players that you just don't foresee cracking the lineup?  You may have (for example) a 2nd string RB on your roster that had upside and promise in their current situation but now, if you think critically about it, just isn't going to do anything for you other than to take up a roster spot.  A great example of this is Daryl Richardson.  He had some moments this year and emerged as the clear handcuff to Steven Jackson.  Plus, with the rumors of Jackson possibly getting traded, he had a ton of upside as a possible fantasy starter  All of that is done now.  All we have left is a guy who is getting a moderate amount of work and has a really tough schedule (SF, NYJ, ARI, SF, BUF, MIN, TB, SEA).  He's still a good handcuff if you own Jackson and he's also a good keeper candidate, but if you are trying to win a championship that roster spot may be used better elsewhere.  Maybe on a handcuff for a RB you do have?  (Bernard Pierce for the Ray Rice owners, for example.)  Think about how you are going to use the players on your bench each week going forward.  Examine their matchups.  And, when possible, handcuff your studs.  (If Rice goes down, I would much prefer to start Pierce than Daryle Richardson.)

3. You're Fighting for a Spot - Let's do this.  Once the playoffs start, everyone goes back to a 0-0 record.  Just get in and you can win this thing, but you may need help from your bench.  Just like if you already had a spot in the playoffs, I want you to map out what your lineup will look like every week going forward.  Eliminate the players that will have no role for you.  You may even want to do the unthinkable and plan a week in advance for an optimal DST.  The Bengals have Kansas City in week 11...  Now would be a good time to grab them if you have a spot on your roster and you don't have a stud defense like Chicago.  Normally you wouldn't want to carry two defenses, but at this point you need every potential edge you can get.  And, on a related subject, never carry two kickers.  Please.  Unless you have some really weird rules in your league, one kicker at a time.  Use any available roster spots to grab some upside guys.  There are some receivers out there (Cecil Shorts was a great example up until he proved it last night) who have shown something and they could give you an edge in week 11, 12, or 13.  With Shorts locked for the week, maybe you are looking at a Josh Gordon (if available) or a Danny Amendola.  Nevertheless, the point here is to give yourself a chance to bust out in the next few weeks.  If you have an Anquan Boldin type on your bench and he is not projected to get any starts for you, why not roll the dice on an Amendola who might?  You know what you have in Boldin and you know if it is better than what you are putting in your lineup.  You don't know what Amendola has to offer the rest of the year, but he could bust out.  Right?  Give yourself a chance to have an edge...  Every bit matters when you are battling for a spot.

Best of luck in the drive to the playoffs, folks.