To fix fantasy team, try to line up a deal

FANTASY FOOTBALL

The Kickoff

Commentary

September 29, 2005|By CHILDS WALKER

So your fantasy football team is 0-3 and you can't decide whether to panic (your first instinct) or hold tight (after all, you really did prepare for your draft).

Your actions in the next week or two could determine whether the season gets interesting or becomes a write-off.

I learned the fantasy ropes playing rotisserie baseball, where you can tank the first month and come back to finish in the money.

But football is a different, more reductive animal. Most leagues play head-to-head, and you can't erase early season defeats, so you have to fix problems quickly. Worse, you can have a terrific week and lose or have a bad week and win, so it's sometimes hard to gauge the true state of your team.

If you're above your league average in total points but happen to have lost two or three games, hang tight and wait for your fortunes to turn.

Conversely, if you're 2-1 but have squeaked out your wins because of down weeks by opponents, don't hesitate to pull the trigger on changes. Don't let the record fool you into complacency.

Here are some things to think about if you're trying to dig out of a hole.

The toughest personnel calls involve veteran stars, guys you were counting on when you drafted them in the first three rounds but who are struggling. There is no general rule to cover such situations. You have to call them case by case.

Proven talent often rewards patience. Peyton Manning is 29 and has never had a bad season. It would be virtually unprecedented for such a player, if healthy, to fall off the table. The same can be said for Daunte Culpepper. You can count on those guys to rebound, though perhaps not to last season's remarkable levels.

On the other hand, stars fade more quickly in the NFL than in any other major sport. This is especially true at running back, where featured backs take tremendous punishment, and longtime producers like Curtis Martin are the exception, not the rule.

Jamal Lewis, Ahman Green and Corey Dillon might come around, but history says they also might not.

Lewis is exactly the sort of back who might have seen his best days. He has suffered knee and ankle injuries, carried a huge workload and is running behind a suspect offensive line. Much of the same can be said for Green. Both runners dropped a yard per carry between 2003 and 2004 and are off to poor starts.

Dillon will turn 31 next month, ancient for a top runner, and he hasn't shown the old burst so far, averaging 2.7 yards a carry.

It's hard to get good trade value for such players, so you almost have to hold on to them and hope for the best. But don't just assume they'll return to peak value and carry your team. Try to bolster your roster in other areas.

Now is a good time to make deals based on unexpected depth. If you drafted Culpepper but also snagged Carson Palmer as a backup, you might want to dangle one or both and take the best deal for a running back or wide receiver. It's great to discover an unexpected gem, but if you sit on depth all season, you fail to take advantage of your good fortune.

Be careful, though. Don't flip Culpepper because Drew Bledsoe or Trent Dilfer are playing well for you. Palmer is coming into his own. Bledsoe and Dilfer have proved for years that they can't be trusted as fantasy starters.

Good trade targets include young players with strong potential who haven't done much in the first few weeks or who are stuck behind veterans. Kevin Jones of Detroit comes to mind. He finished strong last season, averaged a solid 4.7 yards a carry and hasn't been around long enough to get pounded. LaMont Jordan in Oakland, Larry Johnson in Kansas City and receiver Michael Clayton in Tampa Bay are some other buy-low targets.

Search for hidden values on the waiver wire. These are hard to come by at this stage but if you see a backup who's doing well in limited action, like running back Tatum Bell in Denver, snag him. You might be surprised how much simple vigilance is rewarded, especially in more casual leagues.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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