Starting lineup options and decisions rightfully dominate fantasy football discussion. How owners manage the back end of the roster might be the key ingredient over the remaining weeks.
We've concluded the first quarter of the fantasy football season, which is around the time the free agent pool starts having that picked over look. Sure, some interesting options like Duke Johnson, Allen Hurns and Coby Fleener might be available. However, even those players and certainly the next rung down are not necessarily better than those at the end of your bench unless you're like an owner in one of my friend leagues and still holding Kai Forbath. Yet bye weeks and injuries are starting to wreck havoc on your weekly options. What to do, what to do.
Before we get to the Week 5 fre agents, some strategy talk. Here's one random tactic I've used when in a roster pinch: Cut the kicker.
We could also call this "How to finagle an extra roster spot each week" and it goes something like this.
Unless you own Stephen Gostkowski, Matt Bryant, Mason Crosby, Brandon McManus, Justin Tucker and perhaps Cairo Santos or Josh Brown, cut your kicker. Specifically, use your kicker as your initial cut man each week if you don't have an obvious player to otherwise axe.
Imagine you're a DeSean Jackson owner hoping your guy returns from his hamstring injury this week. Alas, you also have Brandon Marshall on a bye, meaning you're on to plan C or possibly needing two helpful options in three-receiver leagues. Maybe Marvin Jones is on your roster. He isn't bad, but is facing Richard Sherman and the Seahawks. Meanwhile Leonard Hankerson looks like a nice free agent pickup seeing as the Falcons are facing the beat up Redskins secondary.
The standard moves involves cutting a position player from your roster -- there is almost, almost no reason to have a backup defense or kicker for anything more than needing a one-week rental. That's not always an easy call. That's why you instead cut your lone kicker.
Now in theory you added Hankerson. Yes, you will eventually need to add another kicker by Saturday night or Sunday morning depending on your league rules. Until then, you have 4-5 days with which to, in this case, wait on Jackson news and contemplate options.
Oh, you also suddenly have an extra chip for trade talks. Since you need an open spot eventually, a generous 3-for-2 trade works perfectly. Worst case, you cut Hankerson or Jones -- though both are worthy of rostering -- or another player at the end of the week. No harm, no foul other than maybe a few free agent dollars. (Don't give up the top waiver spot for this gambit). Also note the late drop means nobody else will be able to pick up that released player for next week's waivers. If you miss having Hankerson or Jones or Alex Smith or Larry Donnell, get him back next week.
* All of this also applies to defenses when you don't have say the Seahawks, Broncos, Panthers, Cardinals or Jets. Speaking of defenses, another level of this cutting a player move is the "defensive look ahead." Those that stream defenses often wait until that week to snag the unit of choice. When possible, avoid the rush and make the move the week before. Not a full week out, but when you get to the weekend, take an honest look at your roster. If you have some dead weight, help your future lineup out. In Week 6, the Lions hosting Jay Cutler works. No need to grab the Jaguars against the Texans in advance, however.
* If you didn't listen to me about the importance of adding handcuffs during drafts, I implore you to do so now. Absolutely worth the investment for most of your top runners. Beats massively overspending with FAAB or being snaked in waivers. Not all backups are true handcuffs because they have standalone value (Giovani Bernard, Matt Jones, Ryan Mathews, etc). If you have their respective starters, owning Knile Davis (Chiefs), James Starks (Packers), Lorenzo Taliaferro (Ravens), Tre Mason (Rams) and perhaps even Charles Sims (Bucs) makes far more sense than sixth WR or maybe even a backup QB.
Week 5 free agents
1. Jay Cutler - Can never feel terribly comfortable with Smokin' Jay especially on the road, but the Chiefs are allowing the most fantasy points to QBs this season.
2. Blake Bortles - Keeps posting productive fantasy numbers largely because of his two totally viable receiver playmakers, Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns. Expect good numbers against the Bucs.
3. Alex Smith - Hold your nose and just note Smith faces a Bears defense is one of three that has allowed at least 10 touchdown passes this season.
4. Kirk Cousins - Unless they stun the world, good chance the Redskins are in catch up mode during the second half, which means lots of pass attempts.
1. Ronnie Hillman - The Broncos backfield is no less than a true timeshare with Hillman looking like the better option over the laboring C.J. Anderson. The number one pickup overall if available.
2. Duke Johnson - Cleveland finally turned their rookie loose as a pass catcher. More importantly, Johnson received significantly more snaps than Isaiah Crowell. He could steal the job outright.
3. Thomas Rawls - Sounds like Marshawn Lynch will play in Week 5, but injury setbacks happen. Lynch owners should certainly own Rawls. Others can take a flyer knowing Rawls could be a weekly RB2 as a starter in this run-heavy attack.
4. Darren McFadden - Anybody else notice Joseph Randle only received four carries in the second half of the Sunday night loss to the Saints? McFadden is the obvious short-term get. For those thinking long-term, the Christine Michael train is starting to gain momentum.
5. David Johnson - Just keeps making explosive plays, but not receiving enough work to use and now Andre Ellington is set to return. Lottery ticket stash.
6. Antonio Andrews - The lead RB job for the Titans isn't exactly the most secure of job, but Andrews grabbed in Week 3. In case you forgot that with Tennessee on a bye last week, this is your reminder. More of a depth pickup than Week 5 start against the Bills seventh-ranked run defense against fantasy backs.
Others: Chris Thompson, Christine Michael, Andre Williams, Theo Riddick, Charles Sims
Reminder - Martavis Bryant is back from suspension this week. Grab above all others on this list if available, though need to rush him into your lineup in his first game back considering Michael Vick.
1. Leonard Hankerson - Not sure how this happened, but Hankerson is fantasy viable and extremely so against the Redskins' thin secondary. The ex-Redskin has passed Roddy White on Atlanta's passing game hierarchy. If Washington sends half the defense to cover Julio Jones, Hankerson should receive plenty of work from Matt Ryan. WR3 start this week.
2. Allen Hurns - Remains under the radar simply because of the team he plays on. Get past the Jaguars stigma and add the playmaking Hurns to your WR 2/3 rotation.
3. Nelson Agholor - Many thanks to the impatient owners who cut the rookie last week. I scooped him where possible and I'd recommend you do the same. Agholor played nearly every snap against the Redskins and most of all, Sam Bradford finally starting throwing deep. For those in a Week 5 lineup pinch, Saints-Eagles should be a high-scoring matchup.
4. Dorial Green-Beckham - The physical freak only has three receptions, but two went for scores. Stash the rookie because of his potential. He could emerge as the Titans go-to red zone target before long.
Others: Willie Snead, Rueben Randle, Ted Ginn, Eddie Royal, Cole Beasley, Jamison Crowder
Notes - Antonio Gates is back from suspension. Grab him above all others if available. ...Coby Fleener is the top option, but could lose value with Dwayne Allen expected back from injury.
1. Owen Daniels - One week rental alert. Daniels and the Broncos face the Raiders. Oakland is allowing an insane 18 points per game to fantasy TE. The next team down on the list (Giants) is giving up 13. Daniels hasn't been anything special this season, but Peyton Manning knows how to target a weakness.
2. Gary Barnidge - Bizarre two-week surge for the journeyman TE, but follow the momentum if needed.
3. Derek Carrier - Jordan Reed's lengthy list of injuries combined with his history makes him a dicey for Week 5 and possibly beyond. The Redskins target the position almost regardless of who is active so Carrier should be good for 4-5 catches.
Others: Richard Rodgers
Defenses/Special Teams - Week 5 only
1. Giants - vs. Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers.
2. Jaguars - on the road against Jameis Winston and the Bucs.
3. Falcons - hosting the Redskins. We saw what Washington did in its only other road game.
1. Chandler Catanzaro - Don't count on five field goals ago, but you should be able to count on Catanzaro indoors against the Lions.
2. Cairo Santos - Tied for second most points among kickers and faces a Bears defense allowing eighth most to kickers this season.