Eleven weeks down and just two to go in most leagues before the fantasy postseason begins. (Please tell me your championship game isn’t scheduled for Week 17.)
Thankfully, the bye-week schedule wraps up next weekend and we can finally play without a stud or two tied behind our backs. It’s also the time of season when every fantasy contender needs to re-examine his or her roster with an eye toward not only fielding the most explosive starting lineup possible but weathering the storm should a key member of your squad succumb to an ill-timed injury.
The first steps are simple: Unless you need a one-week substitute for the Seahawks’ or Bengals’ defense/special teams, or for Seattle kicker Steven Hauschka, there’s no reason to carry more than one player at either of those positions into the stretch run. You are much better served by adding a backup RB or secondary WR with the potential to soar should they get a break.
So where do we look for these diamonds in the rough?
For starters, examine your own squad. You’re probably sick of reading this, but have you handcuffed your starting running backs? Arian Foster’s owners are kicking themselves now if they didn’t lock up Ben Tate. Reggie Bush’s owners got another scare on Sunday against the Steelers, and Bobby Rainey showed just how valuable a “no name” with opportunity can be.
Once you’ve hedged your bets from within, the next place to look is at free agents with favorable schedules to close out the NFL regular season. The most appealing rushing matchups are against the Dolphins, Vikings, Jags, Redskins, Rams and Cowboys. Largely available backups such as the Eagles’ Bryce Brown, the 49ers’ Kendall Hunter and the Packers’ James Starks have multiple favorable matchups in their future.
Among receivers, look for players facing such passing doormats as the Eagles, Bills, Chargers, Lions and Redskins. Intriguing options include the Ravens’ Marlon Brown, the Giants’ Reuben Randle and the Eagles’ Riley Cooper.
Whatever you do, make sure you’re not clinging to deadwood such as Doug Martin, Julius Jones, Reggie Wayne and Mike Williams, who are still inexplicably owned in a majority of leagues. Outside of keeper leagues, which comprise a slim minority, this defies all logic.
FREE AGENT PICKS AND PANS
To win a fantasy championship, it helps to start with a great draft. But filling in your roster throughout the season with the right free agents is also important. Here's a look at players worth considering, and others who would look better in someone else's lineup.
Catch ‘em while you can
Bobby Rainey, RB, Buccaneers. The undrafted rookie castoff from Cleveland is the latest answer to the question, “Who can generate more fantasy production behind Tampa Bay’s line than Doug Martin?” He also answered the question, “Should I pick up Brian Leonard or Rainey after Mike James went down?” By turning a whopping 30 carries into 163 rushing yards and 2 TDs, and adding another score through the air, Rainey has absolutely earned a spot on your roster.
Joique Bell, RB, Lions. Reggie Bush isn’t going to lose his starting job, but he did get benched for fumbling against the Steelers. The Lions know that Bell is a talented, multi-purpose weapon, and they aren’t hesitant to use him to send a message or to cover for an injured or winded Bush. Bell should be on every Bush owner’s bench and, if he’s not, put him on yours to keep him out of your competitor’s hands. Unless the prognosis on Bell’s ankle injury is worse than initially reported, he’ll remain one Bush hamstring tweak or fumble away from being a postseason gem.
Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals. Arizona finally got what they were hoping for from their 2012 first-round pick when Floyd torched the hapless Jags for 193 receiving yards, including a highlight-reel 91-yard TD catch and run. While consistency will likely remain a concern, Floyd is worth a pickup for those needing injury or bye-week help. If he and Carson Palmer can build off Sunday’s mojo, he has the potential to be very helpful down the stretch.
Don’t be fooled
Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins. He’s been of little value – to the Dolphins or his fantasy owners – for most of the season. But Miller has set new lows over his last two outings, and gave way to Daniel Thomas on Sunday. Behind Miami’s depleted offensive line, neither back need reside on any contender’s roster any longer.
Jarius Wright, WR, Vikings. His pair of TDs on Sunday were his first of the season and matched his scoring production from all of 2012. Wright benefited from the absence of Greg Jennings (Achilles); though in all fairness, he did it against stout competition. That said, he still plays for the pass-challenged Vikings, meaning his moment in the spotlight has already passed.
Ladd Biro was named Football Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association for two consecutive years (2010, 2011). Follow all his advice daily at the Fantasy Fools blog (fantasy-fools.blogspot.com), on Facebook and via Twitter (@ladd_biro).