Somewhat famously, the creators of the TV show 24 didn't really plan out their full season in advance. They would come up with the season's general concept, plot out the first few big moments and then, six or seven episodes in, they'd be out of plans and have to figure out the rest of the season on the fly.
Most seasons, this made for a really strong first few episodes, some lackluster ones after that, and *fingerscrossed* a whole lot like Season One or Season Five that can be held up as TV amazingness. The point is, though, the TV guys never played it safe. They swung for the fences. They fill-in-another-cliché-here'd.
Early in your fantasy draft, you know what you are going to do. You worked out your strategy beforehand (if that doesn't take you through at least round five or six, you didn't work hard enough on that strategy). But once you get out of those rounds, you want to play it faster and looser (I knew I'd find another cliché). In other words, early on, you want to play "What's probably happening?", while later, you want to go "What's the best thing that is fairly possible?" You want to wonder what your late picks will give you. You don't want to draft a guy and know exactly what is in store, because if he's there in round eight, the answer of what's in store is "not much."
Look, you've filled out your starting lineup. With some possible exceptions, you're plugging those guys into your lineup and watching them go, barring injury, until their bye weeks. So it makes no sense to draft high-floor, low-ceiling players to hang out on your bench and watch the proceedings. No, for your bench, it's the exact opposite - you don't care how low the floors are, but you want the highest ceilings you can possibly find. And, outside of the starters, the highest ceilings are almost universally running backs and wide receivers.
I'll put this in the simplest terms I can: Do not draft a backup quarterback or tight end.
Okay, if you have a Robert Griffin III or a Rob Gronkowski, maybe you find a known quantity as a backup, since there are so many questions surrounding guys like that. But assuming that isn't true, you have to think about what good a backup is really going to do for you.
There are some truths by position that we must acknowledge:
Quarterback: With very few exceptions, we know what we are getting. Compare ESPN's preseason position rankings for 2012 with the season-ending player rater, and you'll see that only three of the season-ending top 20 finished more than six spots better than they were to start the season, and they were the three guys who will always be linked together - Robert Griffin III (preseason 15th, finished ninth), Andrew Luck (23rd to ninth), and Russell Wilson (30th to 11th). Other than those three rookies - and no, there are likely no similar guys this year, and there aren't any similar nine years of every ten - no player managed to improve his pre-draft ranking by anything significant. You aren't finding a diamond in the rough at quarterback. If you draft a backup, he's going to be just about as good as the next guy off the waiver wire. And if the production off the waiver wire is the same, what good is wasting the draft pick?
Tight end: The exact opposite of quarterback - we don't know crap. You saw me comparing preseason to postseason rankings of quarterbacks? Run the same comparison on tight ends, and you'll find that, after Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, Martellus Bennett was literally the only top-20 tight end to finish within five spots of his preseason ranking. Heath Miller came back from the dead to finish fourth at the position. Vernon Davis fell all the way to 15th. But here's the thing - 12 different tight ends scored in the 60s and 70s in standard leagues last year. Another three scored in the 80s. Other than the elite guys, the starters, even if a guy jumps up the overall rankings, he simply isn't outscoring his compatriots by enough to make the difference.
Running back: Someone is going to skyrocket up the list. A few someones, actually. Six different running backs finished in the top 30 last year after not having been ranked in the top 50 in the preseason. No top-20 quarterbacks were unranked in the preseason. Only Brandon Myers was among tight ends. Beyond that, guys like C.J. Spiller, Doug Martin, and Stevan Ridley climbed 15 or more spots. And there is a lot more separation at the position; you've got to get past the top 25 to find any four point totals within ten of one another. A high-ceiling, low-floor running back might outscore his waiver-wire replacement by 100 points; a high-ceiling, low-floor tight end might not score 100.
Wide receiver: This position is running back on steroids (not real steroids! Don't suspend me, Mr. Commissioner). Four of the top 22 at the end of the season weren't top-50 preseason. After Calvin Johnson - the obvious No. 1 and the only player across the league who was ranked first preseason and also finished there - wide receivers 2-6 all climbed at least five spots in the rankings; other than A.J. Green, they all climbed at least 10. Eric Decker was 26th preseason; he finished eighth. Michael Crabtree went from 37th to 14th; Reggie Wayne from 39th to 15th; Mike Williams from 48th to 18th.
All of that was to show that backup quarterbacks and tight ends are extraneous. If you draft Matt Schaub or Dustin Keller or Andy Dalton, they aren't going to run wild and single-handedly put you in contention. While we don't know which running backs or wide receivers will rise - Giovani Bernard or Chris Givens or Daryl Richardson - there will be guys who shoot up the list, guys you can slide into your lineup and suddenly win a week single-handedly. If a high-ceiling, low-floor guy is more floor than ceiling, you can get out quickly and move on. The simple truth is, at that point in the draft, if you know what you're getting, you aren't getting a lot.
So why limit yourself? In a standard league, you have 16 roster slots. After your nine starters, you have a seven-man bench. A single one of those slots becoming a super-stud can give you a fantasy win. So don't waste it on Jermaine Gresham. If there are seven chances to get a super-stud, take seven shots at it.
Just like the writers of 24, you've planned your early draft, and just like the writers of 24, you will hit a point where you can't realistically have forecast where you will end up. At that point, when you have your starters, your strong core, it's good to swing for the fences. Maybe you come through with a stud, and if not...well, Jack Bauer never dies.
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