By Mikey Ostrowski

Picture this: the 2022 NFL season has just kicked off and you’re excited for your revamped team. You’ve built the perfect roster… Lamar Jackson is your quarterback, you’ve got Chrisian McCaffrey and Javonte Williams in at running back, while also having a healthy mix of Cooper Kupp, Tee Higgins and Mike Evans in at receiver. You have the best starting lineup in the entire league and in your mind, you know that it’s finally your year.

Now picture this: it’s week five. McCaffrey is hurt already, Jackson is getting punished by opposing defenders, Evans is in a slump and Javonte hasn’t got the workload that you expected him to get. What now? Well, if you’ve built depth into your roster, you’re probably still strong enough to compete. However, if you completely sold out and your WR4 is Corey Davis and your third-string RB is Kenyan Drake… well, you might be cooked pretty early on.

It’s 100% correct to state that the goal in fantasy football is to start better players than your opponent. After all, the higher scoring team wins, and more often than not it’s going to be whoever starts the “better” roster. Unfortunately for many dynasty players, they don’t put the same emphasis on acquiring depth players. And a lack of depth almost always comes back to haunt you.

Assuming we’re in a 1QB league (honestly this rule can apply to 2QB formats as well), the position you’re going to want the most depth at is running back. The reasoning? Out of all positions held in fantasy football, they have the highest probability of getting hurt. Look at some of the “top dawgs” in recent memory:

Christian McCaffrey: frequently hurt

Derrick Henry: missed half of the season last year

Dalvin Cook: has missed six games over the last two seasons

Ezekiel Elliott: played the entire 2021 season hurt

Hell, even looking at some of the younger guys we had Travis Etienne suffer a Lisfranc injury before the season had even started, David Montgomery missed some time… and don’t even get me started on Cam Akers and JK Dobbins. The point is that running backs are easily injured and are something that I’ve always considered to be a double-edged sword in fantasy.

In my opinion, it is the most important position in 1QB leagues. The cornerstone of many championship rosters that I’ve built over the years include a solid running back tandem… and also solid options behind them in case of emergency.

You obviously don’t want to break the bank on an insurance plan, but you do need to try to make something happen. If the running back isn’t going to be touching your starting roster from week one, I wouldn’t spend a ton to grab him. With that being said, there are a ton of cheap options to acquire at the running back position that could offer some short-term upside in a pinch. Here are some of my favorites:

– Melvin Gordon (Free agent but will sign somewhere as a “1B”)

– Chase Edmonds (Is a starting caliber RB but not treated as one in recent valuations)

– Damien Harris (people are too caught up on the Rhamondre Stevenson train)

– Darrell Henderson (the less sexy option in a split backfield)

– JD Mckissic (PPR monster)

– Nyheim Hines (worth a shot in PPR leagues… Matt Ryan needs a checkdown guy)

Any handcuffs for your current starting runners aren’t typically too expensive to grab (with the exception of Tony Pollard or Alexander Mattison type of guys)

Honestly, the list could go on and on, but the point is, you can target guys like this and not have to pay a premium to get ’em. Sure, they may never touch your starting roster, but it’s a hell of a lot easier to buy backup running backs in the off-season than it is in-season when people know that they can take advantage of you. Take advantage of the off-season discounts on the less-sexy names. You’ll thank yourself when the season comes around.

Now what about wide receivers? Is depth as important there? Some would argue that it is just as important as running back depth… and I’d consider myself to be one of those people.

Let’s say CMC and Javonte are performing fine. Neither of them is injured and you’re living the good life. But what happens when one of your receivers goes down and suddenly, you’re plugging in Corey Davis every week? What happens when the BYE weeks start, and you’re reduced to starting Terrace Marshall in your WR2 slot?

You lose. That’s what happens.

Let’s take a look at some cheap depth receivers to potentially inquire about:

– Curtis Samuel (over 1,000 scrimmage yards in 2020, was hurt last year)

– Robert Woods (prior to 2021, he had 3 seasons in a row of 230+ PPR points)

– Odell Beckham Jr. (still a free agent and may miss the start of the season, but is very cheap right now and can be a fill-in in the 2nd half of 2022)

Corey Davis actually ain’t a bad option as a depth guy

– Tim Patrick (one of fantasy’s quietest solid options)

Again, the list can go on and on. It’s not names that you’d wake up one morning and get excited about formulating a trade for, but there is most definitely a spot for these types of guys on any roster out there. If you’re a legitimate contender, there aren’t many reasons not to throw a couple of taxi squad players and a 2nd or 3rd round pick at someone for guys like this. 

You see, a stellar starting lineup can only get you so far. You will likely never have a single season where one of your players doesn’t get injured and you always need to be ready to pivot. Building a league-winning starting roster is both difficult and expensive, but grabbing depth is quite the opposite. You can buy Curtis Samuel at a cheap cost in the off-season. You can grab Melvin Gordon for a late-2nd (or even early-3rd) while we’re waiting for him to sign somewhere. You can plan ahead for your BYE weeks and injuries well before the season starts… and I’d highly recommend making those plans sooner rather than later.

At the end of the day, is it possible to win your league with a shallow roster? Absolutely. But you’re leaving quite a bit of it to luck. The deeper that your roster is, the higher chance you have of staying afloat if one of your stars goes down with injury. Like I said, I wouldn’t sell the farm to stack your team with studs that are going to sit on the bench… you just need serviceable options that you can toss into your starting lineup in a pinch.

Don’t be the overly optimistic guy in your league that thinks bad things can’t happen to him… because bad things WILL happen, and you’ll be screwed. I know this time of year is for buying and selling the big guns like Jonathan Taylor and Ja’Marr Chase, but take a step back. Look around your league. See who has players sitting on their bench that will likely never be used and try to poach them for under market value. You’re going to swing and miss on some of them, but that’s the beauty of trading. When one person says no, you move on to the next person until you find yourselves shaking hands after a successful business deal.

Plan for tomorrow. Buy depth today.

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