Roster Machinations

How did I go from having five solid running backs to having just one? This is the question that I’m asking myself as I prepare for week 5 of the 2021 fantasy football season. Perhaps, you’re in a similar situation. After all, we’re all managing the same small number of NFL players. Four of the five RBs that I drafted on Labor Day are no longer rostered on my home league team. The five were Derrick Henry, Najee Harris, Gus Edwards, Myles Gaskin and Raheem Mostert.

Things started to unravel for me just three days after the draft. Edwards suffered a season-ending torn ACL in practice. Edwards had soared into the top 50 after J.K. Dobbins tore his ACL in the preseason finale. Edwards earned the nickname Gus “The Bus” because of his physical downhill rushing style that reminds us of a bus rolling down a hill. I saw the Dobbins injury as a golden opportunity for him to embrace the role of a bell cow running back in Baltimore.

But The Bus ran off the road before the race ever started. It was a small, dark cloud, I wasn’t discouraged yet because it was only September 9th, and I still had four solid running backs. Or, so I thought. Hours after the Edwards injury, I settled in to watch the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Bucs host the Dallas Cowboys. I had no dog in this fight, so I watched the game and remember congratulating myself for not drafting Ezekiel Elliott, who scored 5.9 fantasy points.

Three days later, Mostert went down with a knee injury in the first quarter of San Francisco’s first game. I had confidently put him in my starting lineup. After all, this is the same Mostert who flashed so much talent in leading the 49ers to Super Bowl LIV. He capped off the 2019 season with a memorable, record-setting performance in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers, carrying the ball 29 times for 220 yards and four touchdowns. 

But Mostert was out after two rushes for 20 yards. The initial report was that he had chipped knee cartilage and would be out for about eight weeks. I could live with that, planning to stick him in the IR spot and waiting patiently for him to return. But then the tail back announced on Twitter that after consulting with multiple doctors, he planned to undergo season-ending surgery in order to fully repair his knee. Good for him and bad for me (and all those who drafted him).

Three weeks ago, I wrote about the trials and tribulations of week 1. For me, winning matchups in my two public leagues was small consolation since I scored only 80.98 points in my home league. This was one of the lowest point totals I’ve ever had in a week. Mostert wasn’t the only RB downer for me that week. Harris, my RB2, matched Zeke’s 5.9 total. Even Henry had a subpar day, rushing for only 58 yards and scoring 10.7 points in a loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

Henry more than made up for underproducing in week 1. The following Sunday, he went nuts against Seattle, carrying the ball 35 times for 182 yards and three touchdowns. He also caught six receptions for 55 yards. That added up to 47.7 points in PPR. Henry wasn’t the only back that improved in week 2. Harris put up 19.1 points, helped by five receptions for 43 yards and a touchdown. But he only rushed for 38 yards behind the a terrible Pittsburgh Steelers line.

I purposed on that day to trade Harris while I could still get something for him. I also made a decision after the second game to trade wide receiver Robert Woods. Ol’ Bobby Trees wasn’t awful in the first two weeks, scoring 12.4 and 12.0 points, but Los Angeles Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford clearly preferred Cooper Kupp over Woods. Like Harris, I decided to trade Woods while I could still get something for him. A few days later, I made the trade.

The Woods trade may have been the best trade I’m going to make this year. In return for Woods and Mark Ingram, I received James Robinson and Devin Singletary. On the same day, I traded Myles Gaskin for Stafford, after my starting quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, had looked anything but impressive. Time will tell, but I think this was also a good trade because Gaskin was (and still is) a depreciating asset. The talented Gaskin has had little opportunity to shine in Miami.

But I wasn’t done. The day after making the two above-mentioned trades, I was offered a deal for Harris. I was offering Chris Carson, and I hit the accept button on my phone very quickly. After all, Carson has been a tremendous player in reality and fantasy. In his first full years in the NFL, he rushed for 1,151 and 1,230 yards, before missing some time last year with an injury.   

Carson, who had two solid outings in the first two weeks, had another one in week 3. I was feeling good about having Henry and Carson in my starting lineup, but what about Robinson? He put up more points that week than either Henry, or Carson. The only reason he wasn’t in my flex was because I had added Alexander Mattison from the waiver wire on a hunch that Dalvin Cook wasn’t going to play. Cook was ruled out Sunday, and Mattison put up 23.10 points.

With Cook returning in week 4, Mattison was quickly relegated to a backup role. That was okay because I knew I wanted Robinson in my starting lineup, and he delivered again. Unfortunately, Carson had a terrible game. The usually-reliable back had 13 carries for 30 yards and had only target. Alex Collins took over for Carson in the fourth quarter and looked good. I wasn’t worried about Carson because there was no indication at this point that he had suffered an injury.

The fifth week started before week 4 was in the books. My son, Nathan, approached me about trading for one of my backs. He had lost David Montgomery the previous day, and he said he was desperate enough to trade away Tyreek Hill. At this point, I was convinced that I had enough running back depth with Henry, Carson, Robinson and Mattison all rostered. I had to try for Hill. The trade negotiations started with me offering Nathan Carson and Julio Jones for Hill.

The Hill for Carson and Jones was quickly rejected, and the counteroffer was Hill for Carson and Keenan Allen. I didn’t like that offer at the time. In retrospect, I wish I had accepted it because Hill is a lot better than Allen. What I didn’t know at the time was that there was something wrong with Carson. I rejected the offer, and I pivoted to Robinson. We quickly struck a deal where I sent him Robinson in exchange for Allen Robinson and Mike Davis.

One day after I agreed to trade James Robinson away, I found out that Carson has a neck injury and is likely to miss Thursday night’s game against the Rams. A neck injury can be a serious injury, and this news was chilling. The injury certainly explained why Carson had a subpar performance last Sunday. I put in a claim for Collins and got him as an insurance policy. But I now have a much weaker team than I had a few days ago, and I have only myself to blame.

I don’t blame myself for not knowing about Carson’s injury before the trade because there was no news out there until he missed practice on Tuesday. What I do blame myself for is trading away a solid running back (Robinson) for a marginal running back (Davis) and a good receiver (Allen Robinson) who may be stuck in a bad situation in Chicago. I know that there are a lot more good receivers than running backs, so the decision to trade Robinson was foolish.

If you’re trading players anywhere near as much as I am, you are going to make some bad trades. I started making the trades that I made because I had already lost two backs to season-ending injuries and had a bust (Gaskin) and a player who I had lost confidence in (Harris). I am still not sure about the Steelers tailback. He’s had three solid fantasy games in a row, but he’s never rushed for more than 62 yards. Can he really catch enough passes to continue to be an asset?

In summary, my advice is to look at your team each week and make decisions based on your roster needs. You should always be working the waiver wire because there are a few gems out there. There is also some fool’s gold (like Chuba Hubbard and Ty’son Williams). You should also be looking to make a timely trade if you notice one of your fellow managers has a need. Look for a win-win. But realize that trading is risky, as this story illustrates. 

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

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