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Cutting Bait on Early Underperformers (Fantasy Football)

by Zachary Hanshew | @ZaktheMonster | Featured Writer
Aug 26, 2019

Your fantasy draft is in the books, and you’ve crafted a winning roster full of high-scoring studs that’s sure to lead you to the promised land.

Fast forward. It’s two weeks in, and your second-round gem has lost his luster after some less-than-ideal performances. You’ve invested a lot in this guy, and it’s unclear if his poor showings will be the new norm or if better days are ahead. You’re 0-2 and need to turn your season around, but what are your options? When should you cut bait on players who underperform early in the season?

There is no clear-cut answer here, but a number of factors go into making the decision to cut ties with an early-season disappointment. I’m going to outline some of those factors today, so you have a guideline in case 

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Upside and Past Performance

A player’s ceiling should be a big deciding factor when you are thinking about cutting an early underperformer. What is the highest level of play that he can reach based on his skill set? Size, speed, and other athletic abilities can be indicators, but team and opportunity are equally important. A receiver playing with an elite quarterback will be far more valuable than a receiver playing with a game-manager in a run-heavy offense. The same is true of a three-down back rather than a member of an RBBC. 

Past performance matters. Ask yourself these two questions about a player when deciding if it’s time to cut bait: First, have you seen his peak? Second, is there a pattern of consistent or inconsistent play? If the player in question has been a stud the last several years, identify why he’s faltering now, and determine if he will rebound. That said, don’t be blinded by past performance. It’s always a detriment to your team to keep a guy around much longer than you should simply because of his stats from another season. If the player in question is known for peaks and valleys, there’s a good chance he’ll have some strong weeks throughout the season but still provide uneven play game-to-game. In that case, you must decide if that’s the type of player you want on your team. More on that later. 

Draft Capital

How much did you spend to draft the underperforming player? It’s important to look at this rationally, as you’re not going to drop one of your first three picks within the first five weeks of the season. That’s just not a smart idea given how much you invested in those players. That said, once you allow proper time to marinate on a player’s performance and you can evaluate his rest-of-season outlook, don’t continue to roster, or (heaven forbid) start a player who just isn’t getting it done. After draft day, any player on your roster should be considered a sunk cost. Hanging onto those players past their expiration date for the current season won’t net you any return on investment unless you trade them (more on that later). Pack it in, cut bait, and focus on the other players on your roster who will score points.

Don’t let pride get in the way of your decisions. It’s bad enough to drop an early pick, but admitting you made a mistake and having to face yourself and your fellow league members can be brutal. It may be painful at first, but ripping the bandaid off is the best way to go when dealing with early underperformers. 

Roster Construction

Before you click the “drop” button, ask yourself, “Can I afford to lose this player if he starts playing well?” If the answer is yes, cut him loose. If the answer is no, leave him on your bench. Dropping players should always decided on a team-by-team basis. There is no set answer for this question. 

Even with big potential upside and needed fantasy points from a guy who could blossom into a stud, take a look at your depth. If you have two “set and forget” RB options and a hole to fill at TE, dropping an early-season underperformer at RB for a better TE than the one currently on your roster is a good move to make. Conversely, if your RB options are unreliable and could be replaced with a better option, it makes sense to hang onto an early underperformer with a lot of upside. He could pay off for you later in the season.

Fit matters here, too. As mentioned above, some players are home-run hitters who can win or lose you a matchup on any given week. If your entire team is built on upside and big-play potential with some built-in uncertainty, you may be wise to keep the early underperformer. If your team is built around high-floor options, weekly volatility may not be suited for your roster.

Check your bench. If you really need to pick someone up from waivers, does it make sense to drop the underperformer, or is there another player you can afford to drop more?

Waiver Wire and Trades

Who’s available on the waiver wire? You should ask yourself this every time you go to drop a player when you’re on the fence. Dropping a player who has underperformed to pick up a better option with more upside or the ability to contribute to your team immediately is a smart way to play fantasy football. However, dropping that same player for another guy with less upside who will just take up a bench spot isn’t a good way to do business. In-season management is essential in winning a fantasy championship, and every move you make should make your team better — if not immediately, then in the near future. Don’t give up on a potential late-season stud for a flavor of the week. Unless your team benefits from cutting the early-season underperformer, you’re better off hanging onto him.

Cutting bait doesn’t just mean dropping a player. If you can identify a trend that a player may continue to underachieve, you can trade him based on name value early on before he becomes unmovable. Dropping an early pick within the first five weeks of the season makes no sense because all you’re getting in return is a chance to pluck someone from waivers. Trading, however, is decidedly different and can give your team a much-needed boost. Making a deal can be a wise decision if you can sell the underperformer based on name value or if you can package him with another player to upgrade. If you’re considering cutting bait on an early underperformer, always shop before you drop.

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Zachary Hanshew is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Zachary, check out his archive and follow him @zakthemonster.

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