Taking Advantage Of the Situation
By Jeff Tefertiller
June 7th, 2010

No, this is not about The Jersey Shore television series. This season, more than any other in recent memory, has star players who are definitely going to miss games to begin the season due to suspension. There are other good players who are likely to miss the first few games with an injury. How can a fantasy owner take advantage of this situation? It is interesting that some of the players have dropped way too far in early drafts while the ADPs (Average Draft Positions) of others have not caught up with reality. These situations offer a savvy owner a way to gain value in redraft leagues. If the owner can plan his draft around a good starter at a reduced price, then he can invest in star players at other positions.

There are a couple of players that we already know the length of their suspensions and two more that a suspension is likely. Knowing that the specific player will miss certain games allows an owner to plan around the issue during the draft.

1. Commissioner Goodell assessed a six-game suspension for Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for his off the field troubles. The Super Bowl hero's problems are well documented. His presence in the news for such a long time has led to fantasy owners letting him slide in drafts. Roethlisberger can have his suspension shortened to four games if he complies with the commissioner's orders. Part of the reinstatement process includes completion of psychological testing and evaluation. The league has stated guidelines for the Pittsburgh quarterback to follow in the future. With all of the risk, is Roethlisberger even worth the hassle of drafting? The answer is a resounding "Yes!". He has finished as a Top 10 fantasy passer two of the past three seasons, while missing a game in both years. Roethlisberger currently has an ADP of QB15, and player 102 overall. This is an absolute steal. The Steelers have a week five bye so a fantasy owner who drafts Roethlisberger must have a good option for those weeks. The best complementary fantasy quarterback would be inexpensive with a later bye week and a nice, easy schedule.

So, which quarterback should I target to complement Roethlisberger? Below are a few options that would provide a solid quarterback committee:

a. Eli Manning has an ADP of QB12, player 80 overall. He has a week eight bye, meaning Roethlisberger will be back in action for a few weeks before Manning has his bye. This is a great pair of quarterbacks to match together. The Giants have the Panthers, Colts, Titans, Bears, and Texans the first five weeks of the season.

b. Alex Smith has some of the best weapons in the NFC. Fantasy owners want their passer to have strong options in the passing game. Michael Crabtree gets the benefit of training camp for the first time. Josh Morgan should be a fine WR2 in San Francisco. Add in last year's top fantasy tight end, and Smith's favorite red zone target, Vernon Davis, and you can see why 49er fans are optimistic. In addition, Frank Gore is a good receiver out of the backfield. San Francisco has given the former first overall pick good options in the passing attack. Smith has a week nine bye and an easy early schedule. The 49ers face the Seahawks, Saints, Chiefs, Falcons and Eagles to begin the season. Those are some great matchups with the two most difficult contests, against the Saints and Eagles, coming at home. Smith has an ADP of QB22, player 152 overall.

c. Kyle Orton is under the gun after the Broncos traded for Brady Quinn and selected Tim Tebow in April's NFL Draft. With this uncertainty, he is very cheap in fantasy drafts, going off the board as QB25, player 176 overall. Considering Denver has a week nine bye, Orton can easily keep your fantasy team in contention until Roethlisberger gets back into the lineup. The Broncos have a favorable early schedule with the Jaguars, Seahawks, Colts, Titans, and Ravens to start the season. All but Baltimore are great matchups. Orton is the heavy favorite to be start those games for the Broncos, even with the new competition. The newcomers have effectively reduced Orton's draft stock, much to the benefit of fantasy owners.

All three of these passers are inexpensive and give a fantasy owner a good quarterback to cover Roethlisberger's missed games to start the season. Manning is the best option, but he also costs the most. Getting a Manning/Roethlisberger combo means investing a seventh round pick on Manning and a ninth rounder on Roethlisberger. The pair should yield very good results at a fair price. If a fantasy owner wants to go an even cheaper route, Smith and Orton are good alternatives. Both have late bye weeks and soft early schedules. Smith has the better chance of the two to keep his job all season. Getting Roethlisberger in the ninth round and then spending a late pick on Smith or Orton gives the fantasy owner a chance to load up on running backs and wide receivers early on in the draft. What a huge advantage! When going this route, it might be best to spend a late pick on Byron Leftwich, who is expected to be the starter for the first four weeks of the season while replacing the suspended Roethlisberger. The addition of Leftwich would give two options each week, other than the Steelers' week five bye.

Planning a draft around selecting Roethlisberger late in drafts is risky, but has high upside. Going down this path takes planning and risk management, but the Steelers passer is a proven fantasy producer.

2. Santonio Holmes is a player that is being over-drafted this season. He was given a four-week suspension earlier in the offseason by Goodell. With an ADP of WR28, and player 82 overall, Holmes has little chance of meeting those draft expectations. Why so down on Holmes? First of all, he is only going to play in twelve games. His numbers would have to be spectacular for him to be worth the draft pick used. This is a long shot. Also, the Steelers traded the speedy Holmes to the New York Jets. Mark Sanchez should be improved in year two, but Rex Ryan will still want to run the ball. So, we have a talented receiver who will miss a quarter of the season and is now on a team that is less conducive to great wideout numbers. He is a better bet to finish outside of the Top 50 fantasy pass catchers than inside the Top 30. The Jets threw for fewer approximately 2,500 yards last season. The Steelers total was almost 2,000 more. With such a reduction in passing yards available, there is little chance of Holmes amassing 800 receiving yards, even if the Jets opened up the offense a little. Let someone else take Holmes way too early this year. New York still has Braylon Edwards and Jerricho Cotchery for Holmes to compete with for pass targets.

3. Vincent Jackson has had a problem staying out of trouble with alcohol-related issues. This has led to a likely one- or two-game suspension to start the season. Jackson has emerged to become a big play receiver for the Chargers. Compared to the two players above, he is being drafted appropriately. After finishing as WR10 last season, Jackson is being taking as WR11 off the board. With LaDainian Tomlinson now playing in with the Jets, the Chargers may throw more as to not overwork rookie tailback Ryan Mathews. If Philip Rivers does pass more frequently, Jackson has a good chance to equal his draft status. With the suspension possibility, there is risk fantasy owners should take account.

4. There is a chance that Redskin receiver Santana Moss will miss games because of his rumored usage of a banned substance (HGH) while returning from injury. He is fair value when drafted as WR32 in the eighth round. The expectations in Washington are high that Donovan McNabb will upgrade the passing attack. If worrying about a pending Moss suspension, Malcolm Kelly would provide insurance with a very late pick. The Redskins only have Moss, Kelly and Devin Thomas as viable receivers on the roster.

Like most seasons, there are prominent players who are likely to be less than at full strength to begin the season. Most times, if the player is not able to practice fully as season approaches, the team will place the injured player on the PuP (Physically Unable to Perform) list. This means that the player must sit out the first six weeks of the season.

5. Wes Welker is likely to begin the season on the PuP list. He tore up his knee very late in the season. So, fantasy owners must decide if, and where, to select the star possession Patriot pass receiver. His ADP is WR42, player 118 overall. If he plays half of the games, Welker is a good value in the last part of the tenth round. This is the player who finished as WR12 last season in non-PPR leagues. He could be the key to leading a fantasy team to the title. Pairing Welker with fellow New England receiver, Julian Edelman, would yield a strong fantasy WR2 option at a bargain price. Edelman has an ADP of WR43, one spot after Welker. He produced two strong games (total of 16 catches, 147 yards, and 2 TDs) after his mentor was injured. Those are Welker-type numbers. Drafting the Welker/Edelman combo offers tremendous value with little risk.

6. The Detroit Lions have a pair of former starters who might begin the 2010 season on the PuP list. Running back Kevin Smith and tight end Brandon Pettigrew were both injured late enough in the 2009 season that their status for the start of the season is in jeopardy. Neither is a good option to be a fantasy factor this season so it is best to avoid. The Lions brought in replacements for each. Detroit traded up to select running back Jahvid Best in the NFL Draft. Best was chosen to be the starting ball carrier, pushing Smith down the depth chart when he is healthy. The Lions also traded for tight end Tony Scheffler. He was misused by the new regime in Denver. When healthy, Pettigrew will split time with Scheffler. It is best to avoid both injured Lions.

When planning for fantasy drafts, owners should consider planning their drafts around Roethlisberger and the pair of Patriot pass catchers. Both situations offer great value and upside.

Questions, suggestions and comments are always welcome to tefertiller@footballguys.com.