Building the Perfect Bench (Fantasy Football)

by Jason Katz | @jasonkatz13 | Featured Writer
May 13, 2019

It is better to fill you bench with upside than with unexciting “plug and play” options, like Frank Gore in recent years

There is a 0% chance that your starting lineup in Week 13 will be the same as your starting lineup in Week 1. Many things happen throughout the season that affect which players you start. Between trades, injuries, unexpected breakouts, unexpected failures, etc., your roster is constantly in flux. That is why it is crucial to construct your bench as optimally as possible. The focus will be on a standard starting roster with a six-player bench, but I will also touch on what adjustments to make for shorter or deeper benches.

Regardless of roster size, your bench should almost exclusively be comprised of wide receivers and running backs. Since you have to start at least two of each compared to just one of the other positions, it is most imperative to ensure you have alternatives at WR and RB for all of the various reasons you may need to replace a starter.

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WRs and RBs
You want your WRs and RBs to be players that can conceivably take the job of one of your starters. Given the nature of the flex position and the flexibility it provides, every team should draft one safe “plug and play” backup. This is someone that isn’t as good as your starters, but you know you can trust him to fill in when necessary and produce reliably.

One of the biggest mistakes I see fellow fantasy owners make is filling their bench with these types of players. I call them the “Frank Gores,” because, when you think about it, is there any better way to explain what I mean here? You can read this in the year 2030 and still understand what I mean by a “Frank Gore” bench player (also because Gore will still be playing in 2030).

If you start Gore, you know there is virtually no chance you’re getting a splash week. He’s not getting 20 points. He’s probably not even getting to 10 points. But he’s not getting you zero. Plug in a Frank Gore player and you know you can pencil in somewhere between six and 10 points.

Your bench needs this type of player for situations in matchups where you know you just need something. But what is the point in having more than one? If you need to start two bench players in a given week, two Frank Gores is not going to be a successful approach.

The rest of your bench WRs and RBs need to have plausible upside, like a WR4 that can potentially take the job of your WR2, an RB on the wrong side of a timeshare that just needs one injury or a good enough performance to flip the scales so he can take the job of your RB2. Ideally, your bench players are capable of replacing your starters, but you don’t need them to. In that case, you have players you can confidently start to cover bye weeks and the ability to consolidate talent via trade to upgrade your starting lineup.

So what does this actually mean? What do you look for in bench WRs and RBs? The answer is ceiling. Do not worry about floor.

Every year, dozens of players emerge on the waiver wire that you can start for a couple of weeks. Every year, there are waiver wire gems that become useful season-long starters. Every year, you drop at least half your drafted bench. All you should care about is ceiling.

This doesn’t mean to ignore the likelihood of a player breaking out. You want ceiling, but you also want ceiling that has a decent chance of being realized. Just because a player could conceivably become a high-end WR2 doesn’t make it likely.

Take RBs that you are confident would assume a large portion of the starter’s workload should something happen to the starter. Take WRs that have game-breaking ability and splash play capability. I can’t tell you who those players will be every year or the best way to find them (without referencing specific players). I can tell you to do your due diligence and focus on drafting those types of players.

QBs and TEs
Some fantasy analysts will tell you to never draft a backup QB or TE. I find that my teams often have a backup QB or TE (but never both outside of deep leagues). Spending two roster spots on backups for a “onesie” position is a bad process. It hinders your ability to find a breakout WR or RB, which is more valuable than a breakout QB or TE. You can burn one late-round dart throw that would otherwise be for a WR or RB on a QB or TE, but not two.

My decision on whether to backup my QB or TE depends on a lot of factors. Usually, with TE, it comes down to value. Since very few fantasy owners draft a second TE, there may be someone I really like that just falls too far.

In that case, I am chasing the upside just like I am with a WR or RB. I will rarely backup my TE just to back him up. I’ve done it in the past with injury prone players like Jordan Reed or Tyler Eifert, but if I’m taking your average TE, I don’t need two. And if I’m taking an elite TE, I definitely don’t need two.

The only reason to ever back up your QB is if you intend to try and play matchups. We know that streaming QBs is a very viable strategy and you can stream your way to a mid-to-low-end QB1 based on matchups. So even if you’re playing matchups, you can still just take one QB and then stream if you see a better matchup out there.

There is never a reason to backup an elite QB. No caveat to this…literally never. If you are never benching your starting QB, regardless of matchup, then you do not need to waste a roster spot on a backup. If your QB gets hurt, just stream.

I employ the late-round QB strategy. You will seldom see me grab a QB before the double-digit rounds. For that reason, I do often select two. My strategy is to take one reliable veteran QB and one younger breakout option.

One QB is someone I can reasonably trust to start every week. The other QB is someone that has top-five upside. By the quarter mark of the season, I hopefully know what I have.

Shallow Leagues
In leagues with small benches, you do not need a Frank Gore at all. Your bench should be 100% ceiling and 100% WRs and RBs. If benches are short, then the waiver wire is deeper. There will be plenty of plug and play guys available and plenty of streaming options at QB and TE. When you are limited to only a few players on your bench, they have to be guys that can hit big.

Deeper Leagues
In leagues with large benches, things are a little trickier. You need more Frank Gores because it will be more difficult to find weekly replacements for injured or struggling starters since more players will be owned. At the same time, the value of hitting big on a bench player is increased.

Deeper leagues that also have deeper starting lineups mean you are starting less reliable players. If you can find that breakout WR or RB, it can provide you with a significant edge over your opponents. In this regard, you must balance the need to have safe, trustworthy backups against the potential advantage of finding a legitimate starter at a spot where most people are just throwing darts weekly.

Final Thoughts
In my experience, bench construction is an area where less savvy fantasy owners tend to struggle. If you can master this art, you will see your performance in fantasy leagues improve significantly.

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Jason Katz is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Jason, check out his archive or follow him @jasonkatz13.

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