Roster management, 2

In the first part of my two-part series on roster management, I told you that this fantasy football season, unfolding in the midst of a global coronavirus pandemic, was challenging. And that’s an understatement. I went on to say that roster management is more important than the draft in determining the outcome of your season.

Last week, I provided some tips that can help you come back from a slow start. This week, I’ll offer tips on how to manage your team going forward with a mediocre or fast start. Please keep in mind that the following scenarios assume that your team’s record is an accurate reflection of the strength of your roster. This is not always the case. 

In part one, I told you that in addition to working the waiver wire, you should be prepared to cut bait on players you can’t envision helping your team. A.J. Green has been a big disappointment this season, yet the name value alone has kept him around on many teams. If you’re in need of points and a win, don’t be afraid to move off big-name talent on your bench.

I have had problems of my own with big-name talent that has disappointed. My first-round draft pick was Ezekiel Elliott. Zeke had been good player to have rostered on fantasy teams most every year since he led the league in his rookie year. The one exception was 2017, when he was suspended for six games for violating the league’s Personal Conduct policy.

Elliott was off to a fine start before Dak Prescott went down with a season-ending injury. But in the last four weeks, he’s averaged 8.8 fantasy points. I actually started trying to trade Zeke after Week 4 when his stock was still high because I saw his volume dropping as Prescott passed more to his trio of talented wide receivers. But I had no good offers.

With the fantasy trade value approaching, I’m still trying to trade Elliott. But no one wants to pay anything, and I can’t blame them. So, I’m stuck with him. While I probably won’t drop Elliott, I will probably bench him when he returns from his bye week – if Nick Chubb returns from IR. There was a reason why I drafted running backs in the first three rounds.

It’s likely that you have had you own challenges. If you drafted Christian McCaffrey, like I did in one of my leagues, you’ve been struggling without him. If you drafted Saquon Barkley, you’ve been trying to fill a big hole in your starting lineup for nine weeks. If you drafted McCaffrey, Barkley or Elliott, and you’re still in playoff contention, you can take one victory lap.

Okay, let’s not call it a victory lap but a survivor lap. Now, it’s time get back to work because you’re going to have to make those difficult roster decisions in the next few weeks. Who can you trade to make your team better? This is a priority because the trade deadline in your league is probably this week. Or, who can you pick up off the waiver wire to improve your lot?   

MEDIOCRE START (5-4, 4-5)

One of the hardest decisions in fantasy football might be for the manager whose team is on the brink of a playoff berth, but has been far from dominant. Is it best to stay the course, or take some risks that could pay off, or leave you on the outside of the playoff picture looking in and yearning to be part of the postseason fun? Let’s try and answer this question.   

Many fantasy football managers believe that if you can get to the playoffs, then anything can haippen. From a mathematical perspective, this is true. But in reality, one of the teams dominating your league at this point is probably going to be winning the championship. The question you must ask yourself whether my team realistically win it all?

If the honest answer is no, I’ve got to find a way to turn my average team into a championship team. Like the team that is struggling, if my team is just mediocre and I have a chance at a hot waiver pickup, I’m happily dropping a middling starter and spending all of my free agent budget in the hopes of landing the next fantasy playoff superstar.

You should also be looking to trade with anyone trailing you in the standings. A team that is looking up at you likely has holes to fill. If you’re 6-3, or 5-4, and another team is 3-6, or 4-5, the manager is more desperate for a win then you are. A waiver wire acquisition with a good matchup in Week 10 might be traded for a player who can help you more in later weeks.

If you have a surplus of talent at any position, you should be looking to trade. For example, I was deep in wideouts and traded Will Fuller for Lamar Jackson. This came one day after I watched Tom Brady, my only quarterback, put up 2.36 fantasy points. Keep in mind that I have Calvin Ridley, Robert Woods, JuJu Smith-Schuester, Jerry Jeudy, Brandon Aiyuk and Jamison Crowder rostered.

FAST START (9-0, 8-1, 7-2, 6-3)

If you’re off to a fast start, with a first-round playoff bye possible, you’ve done the work necessary to build a good team. That doesn’t mean that you should become a spectator, though. Again, the key question you must ask yourself is whether your team is good enough to win it all. A good way to determine this is to compare your total points scored to others in your league.

In my home league, I am alone in second place at 6-3 but fourth in total points scored. This tells me my team today is only good enough to make it to the semifinals. It’s no surprise that my big need is running back help. Unfortunately, this is the position where the demand far exceeds the supply. My best chance is to have Chubb come off the IR and pick up where he left off before his injury.  

However, I’m not going to stop there. I just sent a trade offer to a manager who’s 4-5. He is a rare bird because he’s loaded with running backs: Derrick Henry, James Robinson, Miles Sanders and Raheem Mostert. I’ve been trying to get him to trade Mostert for more than a month. I pointed out to him that his team weakness is tight end, with only Eric Ebron rostered. Maybe, he’ll bite. 

Depth is always important, but it’s less important after Week 11, with bye weeks mostly behind you. But you can’t wait until Week 11 to trade unless your trade deadline is later than most. Unless you are confident you have a starting lineup that can win a championship, you should be willing to sacrifice team depth. This might mean trading two good players for a really good one.

If you have players on your bench who are putting up good numbers, dangle a couple of players out there for a team hurt by injuries and desperate for a win. If they need a couple of good players, they might part with a stud. I’m not talking about Alvin Kamara or Dalvin Cook. But perhaps they’ll trade McCaffrey this week for Joe Mixon and Todd Gurley and Terry McLaurin?   

THE PLAYOFF PUSH

There are a few strategies that all managers should be implementing as the playoffs near. If you’re matched up against a team that is projected to beat you by ten or more points, you should start volatile players with high ceilings. You might start Tyler Lockett, who will give you anything between 6 and 53, points, over a steady player like Allen Robinson.  

When gearing up for the playoffs as a big underdog, you can extend this concept to your entire roster. Stock up on volatile, high upside players. If things break just right, you could be the team that barely gets into the playoffs that everyone thinks got lucky on a championship run. Usually the best fantasy managers create their own luck.

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

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