Strategy for the Playoff Drive

Welcome to the first installment of the BrainBlog, an exclusive to RotoWire.  I’ll talk about players in this space, but my primary goal is to help you think strategically about the game of fantasy football.  We won’t just look at the here-and-now but how all of the pieces work together to make you more competitive over the long haul.

This time of year I’m looking at where I can pick up value, specifically with an eye toward the playoffs.  Just about any team at this point will fall into one of two categories:  (1) Gearing up for the playoffs; or, (2) Trying to make a desperate push to get into the playoffs.  I hope you are in the former group, but either way I think I can help.

If you are gearing up for the playoffs you should be looking to buy low on guys that might be injured or who have been off their game for some reason.  If you are trying to make a push to get into the post-season you are going to be looking to grab those high draft picks that just having been playing up to their potential.  You’d be hoping that you can add under-performing assets cheaply so that they start playing up to their normal standards thereby lifting your team into contention.

Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford spring to mind as players who has underperformed their draft day value.  If you are in need of a QB you might be able to pick one of these guys up for a song.  Look to see if the current owner has someone like Robert Griffin III or Ben Roethlisberger as a starter.  They may be just frustrated enough with their projected starter that they will deal them to you for pennies on the dollar.  Look, Newton and Stafford might not turn it around but this sort of hail mary is the only thing that can catapult you into the playoffs,

On the other side, maybe you are looking good for the playoffs.  I’m in enough leagues that I’ve got a bunch in this category and I own Greg Jennings in a few of those leagues.  I’ve got to tell you that it hasn’t been too much fun this year.  When healthy he is definitely an "A" player who is worthy of a start on your fantasy squad regardless of the matchup, but as we all know he hasn’t been healthy.  They say that his surgery next week will put him on the shelf for three weeks, plus rehab.  So, could he be back in week 12?  Yeah, maybe.  Week 13?  Could be.  Fantasy playoffs?  Well, yes, I think so.

Let’s look at the positives:  Jennings is in the prime of his career, he’ll be a free agent after this year (for those of you who attach meaning to that sort of thing), he’s got an amazing quarterback throwing the ball to him, and he is the #1 receiving option on one of the best offenses in the NFL.  He’s an "A" player.

Even with the injury, Jennings is so good that if you drop him he’d certainly be picked up right away.  Someone is going to be willing to stash him on their roster.  It might as well be you since you have already made the investment.

We’re all about strategy here on this blog, so I don’t want us to limit ourselves to just Jennigns or just this point in the season.  There have been other obvious players in this situation like DeMarco Murray right now and Hakeem Nicks a couple weeks ago.  Ahmad Bradshaw was banged up earlier this year, came roaring back, and might be injured again.  CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson were out and are now working  themselves back into shape.  Antonio Gates is also an "A" player, and up until recently his picture was on a milk carton.

So, what do you do with these guys?  You really only have two options:

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  1. Trade them for a "B" player
  2. Stash them and hope for the best

That’s pretty much it.

In general I’m an advocate of stashing the player, and I’ll explain why.

Back to Jennings.  You probably took him in the late second round or more likely somewhere in the third, which is a sizable investment.  You probably drafted something like two "B" player receivers a little later and maybe a fourth option who is a "C" player with upside.  Something like that: A stud WR1, two guys to rotate at WR2, and a bench guy who could blow up.

In any given week, let’s say you start two WR’s and possibly three if you put a WR in your flex spot.  Additionally, for the sake of argument, let’s say that Jennings won’t play until week 14.  You might be able to deal him for a "B" player right now and get the production of that guy for the next six weeks (big bonus) and beyond.

But, let’s think about what that does for you.  Sure, you have the option of playing the matchups with your (now) three "B" receivers.  You can mix and match and use that flexibility to help you win each week.  This is an undeniable benefit.

But, to me, there are greater advantages to stashing the "A" player.  Look, you’ve already got your two "B" guys plus another guy with upside.  You might also be able to grab someone off of the waiver wire who is a good one-week fill-in.  You can still play the matchups almost as effectively as if you had that third "B" level player. 

The big thing, though, is that you’ll have Jennings for weeks 14, 15, and 16.  He can be a difference-maker for you in the post-season, and winning the championship is all that matters.  Flags fly forever.

That is huge.  I don’t care if you go 13-0 in the regular season or if you limp in with a 7-6 record, when those playoffs hit everyone is 0-0 again.  Give yourself every advantage you can in those weeks, assuming you can get in fact get there.

So, if you have a guy like that do your best to stash him.  If you don’t have Jennings, or Nicks, or Murray, or someone like them, start testing the waters to see if you can acquire one on the cheap.

You saw what Nicks did for the Giants in the real-life playoffs last year.  Give him a chance to lead you to victory this year.