Of all the adjustments I considered in this unusual fantasy year, I underestimated the value of increasing bench spots. It's not that a lot of players (outside of Tennessee) have contracted Covid-19. It's the hamstrings, ankles and other vulnerable areas that are especially susceptible due to a lack of a normal offseason and preseason. If your league added spots, you're in better shape than most.
If not, well, it's time to get creative.
Here are a few things you can do to try and make those static bench spots stretch to cover your increasing needs.
Ditch unnecessary backups. If he's not a receiver or a running back, throw him back. An exception would be two-QB leagues, of course, or if you're platooning quarterbacks as part of your strategy. But in 2020, there are still some teams that keep a pair of tight ends or even kickers on their roster (they draft backups and keep backups). Don't ask me why.
Even if you prefer that philosophy, you can't afford it this year. Your bench should (ideally) be as many receivers and running backs as you can carry. And if you have a clear-cut QB that you're starting every week, don't bother with a backup. You're never going to sit Mahomes, Jackson or Wilson (or even Allen or Prescott), so why bother with a backup? Yes, the waiver wire has garbage as a replacement, but let's be honest: If your main guy goes down, you're in trouble either way. And it might not be as bad as you think. The next Justin Herbert might be out there, and the guy you're keeping might get hurt or benched, anyway.
Give up on the big names. Can you believe that some moron dropped T.Y. Hilton in one league? His loss was my gain. And then it became my team's loss in week 4, so I'm the moron.
In a normal year I'd tell you to be more patient, but circumstances might not allow for that luxury. With a rash of injuries and bye weeks on their way, you need every player to be worthy of a start. If a player isn't providing that flexibility, their spot is in jeopardy. If you can't afford to wait for someone to come around, cut your losses early. It might burn you later, but the risk of not having a player you can actually play now could be more damaging.
Tend to your own garden. Every year I use a bench spot to stash a talented backup for someone else's starter. I guess I'm hoping I have the Larry Johnson to their Priest Holmes (tip of the cap if you get my meaning).
But not this year. No lottery tickets for me. I have my own starters to worry about, and I'm trying to pack my roster with qualified replacements if (more like when) the starters need to take a back seat. I can't waste a spot on a guy who might pay off down the road. That strategy has helped me win titles in the past, but I need to focus on week 5 and maybe 6 in the present. Week 16 feels like years away, and I have to get there first.
Don't plan too far in advance. Is this all sounding like counter-intuitive advice? In most years it would be. How can planning be bad in fantasy football?
This year it's more like survivor pools. You know those folks who map out most of the season in advance so they can "save" the really good defenses for later and cruise to victory? And what usually happens to those people? They get bounced in week 3, that's what. Plan too far ahead and you never get there at all.
That bye you have to cover in week 9 is too far away to plan in week 5. The player you need to cover might get hurt, the player you're using as cover might get hurt, or the bye itself could disappear altogether. No sense carrying a guy on your roster earmarked to do something a month from now. Too many things can change. If you'd keep him anyway, great. But if he's there for a specific week in the future, don't waste the space. Deal with it when you get there.
Offer 2-for-1 or 3-for-1 trades. This is crazy, right? Nobody would be dumb enough to take a few middling players for one good one. Well, the people who say that are the same ones who complain that their "league is ruined" because other teams made that exact trade. If you don't make an offer, someone else might. You think your fellow players are too smart to fall for that, and maybe most are. But all it takes is one.
Besides, if they do bite, the benefits are twofold. You get a better player, and you get to free up a spot or two on your bench (the fill-ins to complete the trade can be dropped immediately). And if they say no, so what? You're no worse off than you are now.
Sure, some of these moves seem a little desperate. But these are desperate times. Roster spots are at a premium this year, and you can't afford to waste them on players who won't help you win. Make each one count and it will show up in the standings eventually. Good luck this week.
How do you use your bench? Are they all potential starters, are there some fliers or are they injured players you hope will come back soon? Share your thoughts below.