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Large Bench Leagues

How to plan for a league with a large bench

Quite often I get asked the same questions over and over by Footballguys subscribers (and non-subscribers too, but I answer the subscribers first of course).  When that starts to happen, I think about how I can help more people – and usually that is how the idea of an article is born.  This article is another example of just that circumstance.

Fantasy football leagues vary – we all know this to be true.  Some leagues use PPR, some don’t.  Some like to avoid kickers, while others use two quarterbacks.  Despite all of that variation, I try and find a few commonalities across different formats to give some truths and advice to help as many people as possible.

One common situation is a fantasy league with a "large" or "deep" bench  I put that term in quotes, simply because many fantasy players often argue about the depth of a league.  Some hardcore fantasy leaguers play in 53+ roster spot IDP Dynasty leagues – that’s great, but that’s not our focus here.  We are talking about a fantasy league where there is 220-260 players selected during the draft in which the bench is deep and the roster spots are plentiful, robbing the free agent pool of a ton of valuable players.

For the purpose of this discussion, I am going to define a deep bench as eight players or more, but 10-12 is not unreasonable either.  If the league does not use a kicker, I would have to adjust that statement to 7-11 spots for a large bench.  Unlike in the other article (Short Bench Leagues), league size does play a part here as we are talking about the total amount of players drafted.  If there are 10 teams in the league and 20 roster spots, that represents 200 selections, so the depth of the free agent pool is not too bad.   If we go up to 16 teams with the same roster spots (20), now 320 players (and defenses) are gone, so now the benches can definitely be ruled to be deep.  That's why we need to consider the total amount of draft picks in your league's draft.  Anything over 220 selections (200 or more if no kicker) means that we are talking about a deep bench, so we need to plan accordingly.  Note that I am only discussing non-IDP leagues, as IDP leagues make for different viewpoints.   I will discuss IDP later in the article. 

 

Now that I have defined what a large bench means, let’s start talking about how to manage a team like this.  Again, it cannot be stated enough – every roster spot matters, and you have to have a plan when you are drafting because of the shallow free agent pool that will exist after your draft.  You need to look at each type of position and decide if it is worth carrying that type of player on the bench or not, and if you do, just how many.  That leads to our first guiding principle for large benches:

Large Bench Rule #1:  Taking ADP into account, try and predict how many of each position will be drafted.   

That may sound obvious, but it is not to everyone.  The problem with large bench leagues is that you have to decide not just whether to back up your quarterback or tight end, but also kickers and defenses.  Will more than 20 be taken of each?  If so, then you have to consider taking two.  Usually you can grab a second defense or kicker off of the waiver wire, but if they are all drafted, that will create a problem.  I'll come back to this, but for now let’s talk about each skill position and how to manage the deep bench.

QUARTERBACKS

Looking at the ADP numbers, in a league with 220 picks, roughly 28-30 quarterbacks are expected to be taken - and you can bet that the number is even greater in leagues where you can start two passers.  Since there are just 32 teams, that represents almost every projected starter, so you need to grab your backup in deep leagues.  Now we all know that backups can and do start during the season, but you do not want to count on that to cover your starter's bye week or to back him up if he gets injured.  Grab two starters, preferably in the Top 20 quarterbacks, and consider yourself covered.

RUNNING BACKS

Running backs are gold, no matter what type of fantasy league in which you play.  Most leagues require at least two in a starting lineup, so you better have several backups at the position - but how many?  That's one of the key questions, and the ADP tells us what to expect.  With 220 picks in a draft, on average 65-70 running backs are selected.  That means every projected starter and his direct backup are taken from all 32 NFL teams plus a few third stringers.  With that perspective, it is clear that if you want to handcuff your top back, you better draft the handcuff because if you don't, someone else will.  Also, if there are any backups with upside, these will go quickly as well.  The free agent pool will be slim, so grab as much talent as you can. 

WIDE RECEIVERS

Wide receiver is usually the second-most important position in a deep bench league.  This comes from the overall need of your starting lineup.  Many leagues require three starting wide receivers, and if you can start three or more and if the scoring has wideouts comparable to running backs, a good team may be very competitive starting four receivers each week.  Considering the ADP numbers once again, 70-75 wideouts will be taken in the first 220 picks - which means that the free agent pool will be topped by the third and fourth options in practically every NFL team - and some of them will be drafted.  Do you think you can fill a starter's bye week with the third wide receiver on a mediocre team?  Probably not, so you better have at least twice as many receivers as starters by the end of your draft.   

TIGHT ENDS

The tight end position is very similar to the quarterback position.  Based on ADP, roughly 27 tight ends will be drafted after 220 picks, which means every team is going to grab their second string on draft day.  Looking at the talent pool, you can see that there is not much talent left at TE27 and beyond, so you have to plan on grabbing at least two.  If your league offers extra bonuses for tight ends (1.5 PPR, usage in flex spots) then 30 or more may be drafted, forcing you to consider a third tight end in deep leagues. 

KICKERS AND DEFENSES

Most of the time, kickers are still only going to go as one per team.  That means the free agent pool will have plenty of choices on your kicker's bye week, so do not worry to grab a second one - unless your league has quirky scoring or you cannot make waiver wire moves during the season.  That's rarely the case, so plan on just taking one kicker.  

As for defenses, that's a trickier consideration.  Based on ADP, 12 defenses are going to be taken by the 220th pick.  That means over half of the defenses will be on the waiver wire, which should be just fine for bye week coverage for your primary defense.  The correct way to plan for this is to wait and see if 18-20 defenses are picked.  If it gets that high, take a second one just so you are not caught short. 

IDP PLAYERS

IDP leagues with large benches can be tricky.  There are many variations of IDP leagues, including those where you can have different types of players in broad definition (IDPs overall), semi-broad definition (DL, LB, DB), or very specific definition (DE, DT, LB (possibly inside and outside), CB, S).  For these leagues where bench spots are plentiful, a value for each type of performer has to be looked at closely, on offense and defense.  I usually like to think of the IDP bench as being short and then look at the remaining bench spots for offense (or just 100% offense).  If, for example, you have a 12-team league with nine offensive players (1QB, 2RB, 3WR, 1TE, 1 flex, 1K) and then 11 IDP players, that would be 20 starters.  If your roster is 30 spots, allotting 2-3 for IDP should be OK, and that leaves 7-8 for offense.  That's not a deep bench.  If the roster was 36 or more, now we are looking at more elbow room for both offense and defense.  Using a similar ratio of 20-30% for IDP, I would plan for 4-5 IDP bench players and 11-12 spots for offense in that deep of a league.  Again, IDP leagues vary greatly, so use this 25% for IDP, 75% for offense as a rule of thumb.  If IDP is less emphasized (such as just 4-5 players) then push offense up to 80-85%. 

DRAFT STRATEGY

When you have a large bench, you need to make every draft pick count – and go in to the draft with the idea of what positions you will have to select backups for starters.  That translates to principle number two for deep bench leagues:

Large Bench Rule #2:  Take your starting roster and double the number of skill position players as a baseline for your draft.

This has to be kept in mind when you draft both a quarterback and a tight end.  Odds are that you will have to take one backup of each, so you can try a committee approach or go after an elite player with a backup for his bye week.  Adjust your draft plans accordingly.  Since 24-30 of each position (QB, TE) will be drafted, get two quality starters before the pickings get slim.  I would not wait beyond QB20 for my backup, nor TE20 at the tight end position.

In short bench leagues, bye weeks are another concern.  That is usually not a problem with deep benches, aside from quarterback and tight end backups.  As long as you have enough players for each week, do not worry about the bye weeks of your backup running backs or wide receivers.  As for defenses and kickers, it is still not a bad idea to keep them from sharing the same bye week.  Usually your roster will have just one of each, so if you want to keep your defense and/or kicker all year long, you do not want to force two cuts from your roster the same week just to cover two byes at once.

For maximum draft value, you will want to draft as many running backs and wide receivers as you can and get just the minimum backups for all the other positions.  Remember that it is much harder to find a starting running back or wide receiver off of the waiver wire that can be a productive starter than it is for the tight end or quarterback positions.  Even with 24-30 tight ends and quarterbacks drafted, there are usually a couple of starters on the waiver wire each week.  That will not be the case for starting wide recievers and running backs.   Another good option is to draft two wide receivers or running backs competing for a starting role.  If one emerges (or gets hurt), now you have the whole backfield covered.  The extra roster space allows you to try this option.

IN-SEASON MANAGEMENT

Once you have your roster set, see how it develops in the first few weeks - and always have an idea who you can drop in mid-September.  Waiver wire moves happen all year long, and knowing who is your last player or two can afford you room to pick up a new and emerging player.  This goes back to drafting two competing players - if one pulls ahead, cutting the other guy can give you room to make a move.  

As for other smart choices, look at the injury report every week.  If someone on your team starts to be probable or questionable, consider getting his backup just to cover him.   Quite often players get hurt, and the hottest waiver wire pickup will be their replacements.  To stay ahead of the game, grab the backup to the new starter, because quite often that new starter gets hurt or underperforms.  When that happens, your team will be well positioned to have the next man up ready to enter your lineup.

Best of luck this season.

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