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When Michael Crabtree takes the field this Sunday, it marks the second time in two weeks that a 2012 playmaker will take the field for the first time during the 2013 season. Week 11 saw the debut of Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin who underwent major hip surgery back in August and now, after recovering from a torn Achilles he suffered back in May, Crabtree makes his return. Both players were fantasy football phenoms last season and both were highly coveted “stashes” during the early part of the year. Some owners actually drafted them late with the intention of stashing them all season long while others simply kept tabs on their progress and grabbed them when news began to break that they would soon return. But while the strategy may be worthwhile in a keeper league, is it really worth the roster spot in a re-draft format? Based on what we’ve seen so far, the answer seems to be no.

Many will dismiss the notion that a roster spot on the bench holds significant value throughout the season, and while, in leagues that have large benches, I am inclined to agree, many leagues allow only five or fewer bench spots to maintain the competitive balance of the league. It may not promote much trading, but the roster turnover becomes significant, and playing the waiver wire becomes that much more important. If you’re automatically down one spot because you’re holding a guy who won’t even sniff the field until Week 12 or 13, you’re putting yourself in a bind should injuries arise. You force yourself to make moves you wouldn’t normally make because you are holding out hope that A. you make the playoffs and B. that this guy will contribute when he does finally return.

And that for me is the biggest issue. Well, both of those reasons. You’re never guaranteed a playoff spot, so playing the first five weeks of the season as if you already know you’re going to the dance is dangerous ground. A lot can happen over the course of the season and while you may have a great overall points total, you could drop a few games and see a poor total in the loss column affect your standings. You need to play each week as if it is a must-win.

Then there’s the issue of whether or not this guy will even contribute. Ask those who started Harvin for his big return against his former team in Week 11. Numerous owners who adamantly clung to Harvin on their benches were so excited to see him step back onto the field that they didn’t even take into consideration that he would simply be more of a decoy because his hip wasn’t entirely ready to take the routine pounding it is expected to take over the course of a full NFL game. Sure, he looked great on that punt return, but if you take that, his one catch for 17 yards and wrap it all up together, what did it get you? One point in a standard league? Two in a PPR format? Maybe you got credit for return yards, so let’s just go best-case scenario and say it’s a PPR league with partial points that counts one point for every 10 return yards and, at best, you ended up with eight points for that game. You know who had more than eight points in that week, in that format? Almost everyone. No, seriously, you could probably print out a list of at least 30-40 other options you could have used, between your bench and the waiver wire, who would have put up more fantasy points than that. So really, how important is that player to you now?

With Crabtree making his return, how many owners are going to plug him into their lineup, hoping for a big upside play here? Probably a bunch. I’m not saying he’s going to sh*t the bed completely, but with the 49ers likely to limit his reps, with the chemistry already developed between Colin Kaepernick, Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin and even Mario Manningham, how much attention is Crabtree actually going to garner? Could it be that he will serve his first game much in the same capacity as Harvin did in his? Shake your Magic-8 ball and you’ll probably get a “it is decidedly so” response.

 Most people, at least the ones who have built their teams to not be so dependent on a stash like Crabtree or Harvin, are probably going to leave him on the bench this week and simply hope for the best in the future. Maybe they’ve clinched a playoff spot, maybe they need a win this week to get in, but overall, how much has the Crabtree stash helped you? How many roster adjustments did you need to make to be able to keep him stashed away? If the answer is anywhere close to “a lot,” then you better be in those playoffs and he better bring you a championship. Anything less and the whole idea of holding onto him was a mistake. You overthought things, planned too far in advance and probably blew your shot when it was first presented to you earlier in the year.

Again, a keeper league is a totally different story. I have Crabtree in my primary keeper league for $1. I spent that on him around Week 8 for the purpose of having him for next year. I wasn’t even thinking about this year even though I was 6-2 and likely headed towards a playoff berth based on my division. Will it be a bonus if he comes back strong and I can use him during Weeks 14 or 15? Sure, but I’m certainly not banking on it.

I guess what I’m really trying to say here is to not look too far down the road because you’re going to miss a lot of what’s right in front of you. Maybe it’s a free agent you could have taken a chance on; someone like Keenan Allen who blossomed into a top option but you passed on him because you didn’t want to let Harvin go. Harvin, who just had another flare-up and could have his start in doubt now for Sunday. You see? You just never know, especially in this game where injuries are abundant and jobs can be won or lost at the drop of a hat. Yes, if your league affords you the roster flexibility to do so, then go right ahead, but limiting yourself in the now because of a “who knows, maybe” down the road is a sure-fire way to screw yourself out of the final prize.    

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