One-week fantasy fill-in: Do you want risk or reliability?

Some players have some opportunity every week. Others rise and fall. Who makes the most sense as an emergency fantasy replacement?

| 3 weeks ago
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

One-week fantasy fill-in: Do you want risk or reliability?


(“Today’s Crazy Fantasy Stat” is an occasional offseason offering from PFF that highlights something that catches our eye and aids in our preparation for the 2017 fantasy season.)

Every fantasy season, nearly all fantasy owners troll the waiver wire looking for someone to fill in. Maybe it’s injuries, maybe it’s bye weeks, maybe it’s just trades messing with the roster, but if you haven’t done that a time or two in a given season, you’ve lived a blessed fantasy life.

Probably the most common method of waiver-wire trolling is also the easiest—sorting players by fantasy points scored (year to date), and looking for the most points by an unowned player. This is obviously a woefully incomplete method, for myriad reasons, but for those in a hurry, it does the job to some level.

One of the things this method misses is upside. If you’re desperate for a waiver-wire add, it’s likely that you need real help, not just a warm body. And to that end, you want a player who has at least a chance at a big performance. Getting a known 5-7 fantasy points has some value, but in general, a desperate waiver-searcher would prefer a guy who could put up 0-1 but has a shot at 15-20.

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To that end, there were six players in 2016 who put up 50-plus fantasy points but didn’t have a single game with double-digit points (in standard scoring): WRs Victor Cruz, Jermaine Kearse and Chris Conley, and TEs Ryan Griffin, Garrett Celek and Jermaine Gresham.

So let’s look at the situations for these six guys in a sentence or two:

  • Cruz was behind Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard on the Giants’ roster, and had to compete with tight end Will Tye and the team’s assortment of running backs.
  • Kearse was behind Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and Jimmy Graham.
  • Griffin was behind DeAndre Hopkins, Will Fuller and C.J. Fiedorowicz.
  • Gresham was behind Larry Fitzgerald, John Brown, David Johnson and occasionally Michael Floyd.
  • Conley was behind Jeremy Maclin, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.
  • Celek didn’t have much in the way of competition while he had the 49ers’ tight end job, but he did have Vance McDonald in front of him most of the season.

In every case (with the possible exceptions of Celek), these guys were well down the totem pole of target allotment on their own team. And that’s a common conundrum in these situations: Do you take a not-very-talented player who has a line on a gig, or a more-talented player who might be blocked? Obviously, these six aren’t a conclusive study, but it does paint the picture that, if you’re looking for emergency waiver-wire help, the talented-but-blocked guy isn’t nearly the benefit that the opportunity-but-less-talented options might be.

For example, these players fit the latter bill and ended the season with similar total fantasy points as the above group: Dion Sims, Kendall Wright, Eddie Royal, Rex Burkhead. Obviously, those names are cherry-picked, but the results tend to the same — none of those four had regular, full-season roles last year, but when they had opportunities, they put up bigger performances (all four had at least one game with 15 or more fantasy points) for the owners who gave them a shot. Their end-of-season totals might have aligned with the above group of six, but in a given week, they might have lagged well behind if their given productive week hadn’t yet happened.

We recorded a waiver-wire podcast every Tuesday, and in at least half of those, Gresham came up in conversation as a possible tight end fill-in, and every time I opposed it. Gresham will get you five, six, seven fantasy points a lot of the time. He will almost never get you 14. Give me the guy who can put up 14 or zero in a situation where I’m desperate. Every time.

This is a specific situation, to be clear. It’s rare that you are in a desperate, “I just need a starter” situation where you are otherwise feeling solid. Those situations are often must-win. And in a must-win, you want the guy who at least has a shot at the big numbers.

| Fantasy Editor

Daniel Kelley is the fantasy editor for Pro Football Focus. He has previously appeared at SB Nation.

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