2012 Fantasy Football: Rely On Your Studs Not Gut Feelings

By Matt Buffington
October 16, 2012 10:22 am
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I was reading about substitutions that random fantasy owners made this week, and I found a number of alarming moves. Here are some examples that I saw:

- Many people started Vick Ballard this week with Donald Brown out. Players riding the pine so Ballard could get a spot in various starting lineups: Ahmad Bradshaw, C.J. Spiller, Mikel Leshoure, Fred Jackson, Steven Jackson.

- Julio Jones and Percy Harvin over A.J. Green and Victor Cruz

- Wes Welker for Miles Austin

- Andre Roberts over Ahmad Bradshaw and Demarco Murray

All of these examples show how some fantasy owners overreact. Now one of these is debatable (I’ve heard that Jones and Harvin are pretty good), but it still counts as an alarming move. 

In general, the proven players were benched for enticing players who may have had some decent games so far this year. Some fantasy owners may have been concerned about matchups (Green going up against Joe Haden, Bradshaw going against the 49ers defense), but putting in Ballard over those other guys is inexcusable.

Every week I hear about owners who sat a guy after a bad week and then he scores 3 touchdowns while riding the bench. This is how fantasy teams crumble over the course of a season. Sometimes it may be tough to stick with certain guys (*cough* McFadden *cough*), but you can’t just sit them for a waiver wire pickup who “might” get all of the carries.

Winning games is all about consistency. Guys like Jackson and Chris Johnson have been anything but consistent, so it makes sense to bench them. They’re dealing with issues outside of their control, such as offensive line problems, bad play calling and quarterback struggles. They’re subject to the other 10 guys on the field with them.

Let’s take a look at Welker. The three weeks previous to the Patriots game against the Seahawks, Welker caught 8, 9, and 13 passes, respectively. In Austin’s previous three games (he had a bye week during that span, so we’ll include his week two numbers), he caught 5, 5, and 4 passes. Over the past three games, Welker gained 375 yards and Austin gained 227 yards.

Does Austin have the talent to post numbers like Welker’s? Sure he does, but he’s also got a quarterback who’s had struggles and a team with a very poor running game over that time span. Austin may not have been the problem, but if his team can't keep the ball moving, he’s not going to be putting up huge numbers. Austin is dealing with a problem outside of his control.

Now every player is going to have a bad week, but some players have higher chances of getting points on a regular basis than other players. We can try and gauge this in a number of manners (carries, targets, etc.), but this doesn’t always tell the whole story. Outside factors can have a huge effect on players; just look at what Reggie Wayne did last week after seeing his coach recently or the numbers Torrey Smith put up after his brother was tragically killed on the day of the game. They’re human. Emotions and other factors affect the players just like it would affect me or you.

This same sentiment applies to who a player has around them. Why is Arian Foster so good? Is he getting all of those yards by himself? No, he’s got one of the better offensive lines in the league and they give him room to run. Look at McFadden’s poor yards-per-carry average this season. Has he lost it after all of those injuries? Judging by the long run he broke off against the Steelers earlier this year, he’s still got the goods. However, he’s in a new blocking scheme, and the offensive linemen are trying to learn it just like he is. The plays being called for him have changed, so naturally we’re seeing a different result.

Let’s go back to Ballard. He took over for Donald Brown, who was the clear starter for the Colts until his injury. Brown never did anything that special so far this season, so why would anything change for his backup who was barely averaging above 2 yards-per-carry before their game against the Jets? He hadn’t showed anything spectacular before then, so why did so many owners think he would do better than Bradshaw going up against a tough run defense?

Matchups can sometimes be a factor, but it changes each week in the NFL. Players get hurt. Teams play on short rest some weeks. Multitudes of other factors come into play. Just because a team was good against the run last week, doesn’t mean that they’ll put up the same numbers the next week. However, if a team is playing well and has one bad week, there’s no reason to hit the panic button. This week people will probably be talking about how Gore or Lynch didn’t do so great and then they’ll think about benching them. Others may be looking at Jordy Nelson’s 3-touchdown performance and deem him start-worthy the rest of the season and bench someone like Brandon Marshall in favor of him next week.

This is how you end up knocking yourself out of the playoffs. Don’t start guessing which player may breakout and then replace a consistent performer with that risky player. Keep in mind that this does not apply to filling a spot that’s empty due to the bye weeks. If you’ve got a so-so guy who you don’t really like filling a spot and you decide to take a chance at a homerun, you may end up winning the game because of it. But if you’ve got the option between a healthy running back who’s the starter for a team and facing a tough defense or an unproven player who has a good matchup, always go with the stud.

Bad matchups don’t automatically equal a bad fantasy day. Don’t feel bad about leaving a guy like Shonn Greene on your bench to start a guy like Jamaal Charles. Anomalies happen and unknown or sub-par players will have great weeks. If you think a waiver-wire pickup may blow up, pick them up and put them on your bench. But don’t start sitting your consistent players for these unknowns until the anomalies begin to turn into regularities.

I want to finish this by also suggesting that you take all advice with a grain of salt. Nobody actually knows what’s going to happen. We can argue all week long about how player A is supposed to be better than player B, but we don’t actually know until it’s too late. However, we can make decisions based on our judgment that we deem to be right. Just because the “experts” say a player won’t do well doesn’t mean it will happen. Just be happy with your decisions and make changes if you’re unhappy. You have control over your lineup, so make the most out of it. 

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By Matt Buffington
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