Desperation is a Stinky Cologne: Extreme Sleepers for Week 9, 2008

Managing a team over the course of a fantasy football season is a bit like taking part in a poker tournament. At the beginning, you can afford to be conservative and take a wait-and-see attitude with your players, in the hopes that the underperformers will come around (just as it’s usually smart to play conservatively early on in a poker tourney, while you’ve still got the luxury of low blinds). As the season (or tournament) wears on, you have to adjust your style of play. If you’re at .500 or worse, you’re the equivalent of a low-stacked player at the final table – it’s high time to make some bold moves. Hesitate, and you’ll be doomed to watch your subpar squad slowly fade out of contention.

If you’re on the playoff bubble at this point in the season, you’ve got to field the best squad possible every week. It’s now time to give up on the “high-potential” players and handcuffs you’ve been hoarding on your bench, guys like Robert Meachem, Michael Bush, Felix Jones, Maurice Morris, Le’Ron McClain, Fred Jackson, and others of their ilkĀ (obviously, if you’re in a keeper league, they might be worth holding on to). Drop them in favor of free agent/waiver acquisitions that you can start now, even if they’re only startable when the matchups are right. The only hard part, of course, is identifying which players to start, and when. Which brings us to this week’s desperation-start options at QB, RB and WR…

Note: “% owned” statistics are an average of that player’s ownership percentage in all Yahoo and ESPN leagues, rounded to the nearest percent.

Quarterbacks

Dan Orlovsky, DET (9% owned) True, the Bears are likely getting their cornerbacks back, but with both Nathan Vasher and Charles Tillman starting their first games after missing a few (it’s been since Sept. 28 for Vasher and Oct. 12 for Tillman), they’re not likely to be in top form. That means Orlovsky, with megatarget Calvin Johnson to throw the ball to, will be facing a pass defense that isn’t likely to look much more menacing than the 4th-from-the-bottom unit it’s been so far.

Marc Bulger, STL (61% owned) – Bulger’s ownership is a little bit higher than the usual “desperation” start, but I think he’s a particularly intriguing play this week, and there’s still a pretty good chance that he’s available in your league. The emergence of Donnie Avery has finally forced opponents to respect the Rams’ big-play potential, giving the rest of the offense some much-needed breathing room. If he could throw for 304 yards last week in New England, I see no reason to expect that Bulger, a top-notch fantasy QB not long ago and still only 31 years old, won’t have a nice game at home against the Cardinals.

Running Backs

LaMont Jordan, NE (7% owned) – The New England running back corps is a hobbled mess at this point. Kevin Faulk‘s never been a guy the Pats have liked to use to anchor their rushing attack. My guess is that Belichick will give as many carries as possible to Jordan, since he’s got the size to overpower Indy’s undersized defensive line. Jordan’s the kind of running back the Colts (who allow the 6th-most rushing yards and 7th-most rushing touchdowns per game) fear most. He’s a good bet for a goal-line score at least, and he might get a lot more work than that.

Wide Receivers

Matt Jones, JAC (34.7% owned in ESPN leagues, 54% owned in Yahoo leagues) – I’m not sure what’s up with ESPN fantasy players, but in the vast majority of those leagues, there’s a perfectly legitimate WR2 going to waste. News flash, folks – he ain’t suspended yet. As of around 5:00 pm on Friday, anyway. I highly doubt there are any other receivers on your waiver wire who get nearly as many targets as Jones. If you’re in need of WR help and the NFL doesn’t bring the hammer down on him by Sunday, he’s a no-brainer pickup.

Rashied Davis, CHI (16% owned) – Brandon Lloyd is still unsure that he’ll be able to start, so he’ll likely be pretty limited even if he does play. That means that Davis will get plenty of opportunities to pillage the second-from-the-bottom Detroit passing defense.