Without a doubt, fantasy football seasons can be won or lost by the quality of your free agency and waiver wire pick-ups. Last year the biggest difference maker for my season was Jacob Tamme, who I scored after Dallas Clark went down with his season-ending injury, and I went on to win my league’s championship. The second place finisher was led by the undrafted Michael Vick.
Being super confident that the team that you drafted is the best team ever can be one of the biggest mistakes a fantasy manager can make. Even without factoring in injuries, guys who should be at the top of their game fizzle out at some point or get injured, and seemingly nobody’s pop up in their places. This is mainly true with running backs and wide receivers (though qb’s can pop up too), so the best fantasy competitors will keep track of shifts in offensive schemes or quarterback favoritism.
By Week 4 or 5, a lot of this information is already out on the table, and as key starters get injured, the free agency pool thins even more. One of the leagues I play in is 14 teams and very competitive. The guys I play against are, for the most part, on top of things and quick to react to player news as it concerns waiver wire pick-ups. Over the past couple weeks, the most recommended free agency picks included: Nate Washington (OWNED), Kendall Hunter (OWNED), Montario Hardesty (OWNED), David Nelson (OWNED), Dexter McCluster (OWNED), Stevan Ridley (OWNED), Isaac Redman (OWNED…by me), Victor Cruz (OWNED), Torrey Smith (claimed Week 4 for $52 of FAAB money by the former owner of Kenny Britt) and Ryan Torain (claimed Week 5 for a whopping $81.)
So how do you fill holes and improve your team when there are little to no upside players to go after???
1. Get rid of dead weight. Any players on injured reserve (or otherwise indicated out for the season) do not deserve a place on your roster. I don’t care if you’re in a dynasty league and it’s Jamaal Charles or Peyton Manning, and you want to hold onto them for future years. A) It’s too early in the season to worry about your dynasty–you need players who can win you games now; and B) You have no guarantee that those players will return at a level better than any other potential keepers on your roster. You can make dynasty moves in the last couple weeks of the season, if that’s your strategy. As far as dead weight, same rule also applies to mediocre players who have nagging injuries or are out for several weeks.
2. Get rid of old news. Did you pick someone up who plugged for an injured starter for a couple weeks? If that starter back now, sending your guy to the bench? Unless the starter has a nagging injury (and in so case even so) drop the plug. For example, did you pick up Devery Henderson when Marques Colston went down? Now that Colston is on the mend, Henderson (already an erratic fantasy performer) becomes an even more unpredictable starter. Cadillac Williams also becomes irrelevant with Steven Jackson back. Dump them.
3. Don’t get cute with kickers and defense. DO NOT, under any circumstance, carry more than one kicker or defense for more than one week. Even for one week I would ONLY do it if your starter is on a bye and is one of the top 5 in that position. You’re taking up valuable roster space with a limited upside position. No one is going to ever trade for a kicker or defense (unless you’re in a league of idiots), as there is always a one week plug-and-play option available for byes. The same argument might be made for tight ends, though I’m noticing a little thinness at this position this year. (Also, I’m currently carrying 3 TE’s on my team, breaking one of my own cardinal rules.) I drafted Jason Witten, I picked up Fred Davis early on to potentially play in my flex spot (and not realizing he had the same bye as Witten), so now I own Jermaine Gresham for the week as well. Depending on how desperate I expect my competitors to be for TEs, I may hold on to them and see what kind of trade I can work out, otherwise Gresham (and potentially Davis) could be kicked to the curb as soon as I identify another high flyer.
4. So now that you know who you can get rid of…go deep and take risks. In a competitive league, the only way to get hidden gems at a bargain is to try to identify them when they’re still hidden and not yet a gem. Keep players on your watch list and revisit that watch list every week, twice a week. Take a chance on guys who play behind injury-prone workhorses. Right now Lance Ball, Jacquizz Rodgers and Keiland Williams are all available in my deep league and all play behind guys who could go down any week. Why wouldn’t you lose your extra kicker to take a chance on one of them?
5. Don’t be afraid of sloppy seconds. Even the smartest managers in your league can be quick to pull a trigger or have to make a necessary drop to fill a bye week hole. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Comb the waiver wires to see who’s been dropped, and pounce on anyone you like.
6. And, finally, be patient. At least, hopefully you’re in a situation where you can afford patience. If you are one of the top 6 teams in a 12-14 team league, you don’t need to make desperate roster moves. Yes, everyone is looking for the next Arian Foster, but there are a lot of one hit wonders out there too. For the last three weeks I have been *this* close to dropping Isaac Redman in favor of I-can’t-even-remember-who. But I held onto him, knowing that the Steelers work Mendenhall into the ground. This week that patience may pay off. (Please, please, please let it pay off!)