Roster management 101

I knew this was going to be an interesting fantasy football season when it began in the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic. It didn’t take long for things to get dicey. In Week 4, the Tennessee-Pittsburgh game was called off due to positive tests in the Titans’ locker room, and the teams were forced to take premature bye weeks.

Since then, positive tests and rescheduling of games has become a part of the season, and fantasy managers have become nimble to avoid taking the dreaded zero in their starting lineups. Adding to the mess is a rash of injuries tied to the absence of a preseason.  Never has been team depth been more important than this year.

To illustrate this point, let me describe my week (so far). On Tuesday morning, I took a moment to celebrate being 6-2 in both of my leagues. I checked the waiver wire over a cup of coffee and found nothing to get excited about. JaMycal Hasty, DeeJay Dallas, Damien Harris, Jordan Wilkins, Marvin Jones, Sterling Shepherd. Yawn.   

My Wednesday morning started in similar fashion. I poured a cup of coffee and checked the transactions that had processed overnight in my home league. JaMycal Hasty, DeeJordan Wilkins, Tyler Ervin. What? Allen Lazard, seriously? He’s on the IR and probably won’t be activated to play in a Thursday night game. Big yawn. More coffee.

A few hours later, I was wide awake, and things started to get interesting – not in a good way. I am notified that Ezekiel Elliott was limited in practice and has the dreaded red “Q” by his name. Great. With Elliott circling the drain after two straight single-digit performances, I thought about dropping Tony Pollard. I’m glad I didn’t.

Around dinnertime, things got even more interesting – not in a good way. I am notified that Brandon Aiyuk, my last good waiver wire acquisition, was placed on the COVID-19 list by the 49ers and would miss the TNF game against the Packers. That sucks. I put him on my bench and quickly added Jerry Jeudy from the waiver wire.

After dinner, I was back online looking at injury reports and found out that Alvin Kamara was questionable after having missed practice that afternoon.  I added Latavius Murray from the waiver wire since Kamara’s manager didn’t think it was important to have the backup player for the No. 1 running back in fantasy football. 

On Thursday morning, I was dismayed to learn that I had forgotten to make coffee the previous night. I won’t tell you what I said. I grounded up beans, got the coffee going and checked waivers. When the coffee was ready, I was still scouring the waiver wire. The last thing I look at is my defenses and kicker. Ka’imi Fairbairn. Hmm. I added him.

As I write this column, it’s Thursday evening. My editor is waiting for me to post, so I’d better get around to telling you all about roster management. Actually, there’s too much for just one column, so I’m going to break this into two parts. Roster management is important. Really important. It will determine how you finish the 2020 season. 

Roster management is more important than your draft. You can draft a great team, but if you don’t manage it properly, you won’t win your league championship. You can also have a subpar draft and win your league if you work the waiver wire, make some good trades and start the right players each week, you’re headed for the winner’s circle.

However, you must take stock in your team now. If your team has a winning record after eight weeks, your chances of making the playoffs are pretty good. If you have a losing record, it will be tougher. Let’s consider some different scenarios and how to adjust your thought process on player acquisitions and lineup decisions based on the standings.

SLOW START (3-5, 2-6, 1-7)

Starting the season poorly doesn’t mean the season is over. I started out 1-5 in the 2017 season and still won my home league championship. A slow start does mean that you should be aggressive on the waiver wire and in trades. Fantasy managers have a tendency to fall in love with the players that they draft – especially in the early rounds. Don’t.

When your team is in the cellar, there’s no time for sentiment. Instead, use your desperation to your advantage. Since some of your top players are underperforming, it’s going to be hard to sell them. Your opponent knows that your stars are shining dimly now, so they’re going to lowball you. Selling low is seldom a good investment strategy.

If you have players performing above expectations, determine if their success appears unsustainable. Negative regression is real. If your eight-round wide receiver is performing as top WR1, you might be able to trade him for a good running back. If you have Stefon Diggs, you can trade him. Wide receiver is a deeper position than running back.  

Did you know that Diggs’ trade value is now greater than Elliott’s and the same as Joe Mixon’s? That’s according to the Week 9 CBS Trade Value Chart. Elliott was the No. 3 draft pick in most drafts, and Mixon was drafted late in the first or in the second round. Diggs was drafted with the first pick in the eighth round in my home league.

You might be thinking Diggs is too valuable to your own team to trade away. No one can say for sure that the best part of the season is behind him, but consider this. Diggs has 79 targets through eight games. If he continues at this pace, he will finish with 158 targets – if he plays 16 games. Only one player had more than 158 targets last year – Michael Thomas.

If you’re going to trade one of your overperforming players, target an underperforming player who’s trade value is depressed. I’ve stressed repeatedly that I thought Mixon was overvalued at the beginning of the season, but he’s not overvalued now. If you’re desperate for a high-volume running back, see if his fantasy team manager will trade you straight up.

There is a caveat on trading for Mixon, or any other player in a sell high, buy low scenario like this one. Offer the trade if it helps your team. If you’re one of those rare and lucky birds who has three RB1 (top 12) backs, you don’t need to trade Diggs for Mixon. Of course, if you have three RB1 backs, your team probably doesn’t have a losing record.   

While a timely trade can make your team better in a hurry, working the waiver wire can make your team better with more stability. There are five more weeks to find some gold on the waiver wire. In my opinion, the most likely scenario would be where someone in your league drops a really good player because he’s injured, or on a bye week. Keep your eyes open!

if you are in a league that uses a blind bid waiver system, with a FAAB budget, you should be ready to pounce with a big bid on an impact player who was dropped. This player might show up on the waiver wire on a Wednesday morning after he was dropped by another manager to acquire the flavor of the week. But a gold nugget could show up at any time.

If you have a losing record at this point in the season, you might have another problem – poor decision making when you set your starting lineup. Are you looking at matchups each week, or just starting the players you drafted higher, or players with higher projection numbers. I’ll tell you a secret. Those projection numbers can be way off. 

If you don’t want to spend the time digging out stats about matchups, there are plenty of good sites where fantasy analysts will tell you who to start and who to sit. Don’t look at just one site. Look at numerous sites, and see what names keep popping up. It is also interesting to monitor these sites, and see if their recommendations are right.

If you’re doing your homework and you really don’t expect a big-name player to live up to expectations, don’t be afraid to bench him for a player. Getting back into playoff contention might take extreme measures, and the winning fantasy managers will put the highest scoring players in their lineups, regardless of the name on the back of the jersey.

If you’re going to win in fantasy football, you must be able to assess their team. There’s a significant level off luck in fantasy football, and understanding how luck has impacted your team and league standings is important. Just because your team is at the bottom of the standings doesn’t necessarily mean that you have a bad team.

NEXT WEEK: Roster management tips for teams off to a better start.

Follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter at ThomasLSeltzer1.

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