Fantasy Football Strategies: Building A Bench
Published: Aug 18, 2021
You are here right now getting fantasy football advice at Fantasy Alarm. That means that you at least take this game mildly seriously. Because we take it wayyy too seriously. And in doing so, that means we don’t throw away picks - we make every pick with purpose and intent. We even have a plan for the last few picks of the draft. And having that plan in advance is especially helpful for leagues like some of mine where you might enjoy a few libations in the early rounds.
So rather than just throw your hands in the air and “take whoever”, we’re going to give you some of our best advice on how to handle your bench. And, believe it or not, the strategy can completely change from league to league and format to format so make sure you are reading closely and thinking about how YOUR LEAGUE is set up. To best help you out with that, we are going to go over some bench terms that apply to all leagues as well as some that only apply to specific leagues.
First, here is an example team and then we’ll define each bench term below.
Reserve: Believe it or not, I mentally separate my bench into two different overarching categories. “Reserves” and “Stashes”. Reserves are guys who I KNOW will enter my lineup at some point. It could be a third running back or a fourth wide receiver that I know I will need for an impending bye week coming up. Maybe I drafted a late quarterback or tight end so I took another reserve in case they are a bust and I need to swap them out. And that’s the key for reserves - you drafted them because you can trust them to start for your team right away if need be.
Stash: A stash on the other hand is at the end of the bench and they are upside plays. The key difference between a “reserve” and a “stash” in my opinion is that a stash is a guy that you can’t trust to start right away but they have some hint of upside that makes them appealing to gamble on. If you have too many stashes, you could be stuck in a spot where your starters suffer an injury and you have no one to trust in your lineup. Too many reserves and you might not give yourself the upside you need to win the league - you might miss on breakouts like Justin Jefferson or James Robinson. The players that both have a safe floor and high upside are almost always drafted as starters so at some point we have to make a choice between one or the other. I’d advise to have a couple reserves ready to go but also some big upside stashes if possible.
Lottery Ticket: Under the category of stashes, I actually have THAT broken down even further into two sub categories. As we mentioned, you are gambling on upside with your stashes. With a lottery ticket, you are playing the long game. These are players where we don’t get the answer right away but the potential payoff if they do hit is HUGE. The most common version of the lottery ticket is the handcuff. These are players that have tremendous upside but only if another player on the team gets hurt. An example of that would be Mike Davis last year with Christian McCaffrey getting hurt. When CMC was healthy, Davis was not a good fantasy asset but with CMC out, he was great. Other versions of lottery tickets are injured players who might return or might not - especially when you have an Injured Reserve spot (which are increasingly important during COVID). Or maybe you are investing in rookies who may take awhile to break out like Trey Lance - which becomes much easier if you have a Taxi Squad (additional bench spots that are not part of your active roster which are sometimes reserved for rookies only).
Lottery tickets, and, especially taxi squad spots, end up being much more important in deeper leagues like dynasty or best ball leagues. If you have 8-10 bench spots, those guys who are 9th or 10th on your roster really only have a shot at cracking the roster if they hit BIG. In best ball, there also might not be waivers so you won’t have a chance to add the hot breakout - you have to draft them. This is where lottery tickets can win you a league.
Scratch Ticket: Some people don’t differentiate between a “lottery ticket” and a “scratch ticket” for fantasy but I find the distinction incredibly important. With a lottery ticket, you are often waiting for some event to occur during the season - for instance, Andy Dalton gets benched and Justin Fields becomes the quarterback or Dalvin Cook gets hurt and Alexander Mattison becomes the starter. The payoff could be big but we have no clue if or when it might happen. With a scratch ticket we expect to find out the answer right away - much like an actual scratch ticket. I’m usually targeting uncertain situations where we’ll get the answer by week one or two. Is there a battle for starting running back? Take one of the players and see if you got it right! Last year a lot of people got James Robinson this way. Maybe you are using the Yin & Yang Tight End strategy and you stashed Evan Engram or Hunter Henry hoping one of them has a big role. Maybe you drafted Nico Collins to see if he will be the starting split end opposite of Brandin Cooks. Whatever it is, we should have some answers week one.
The distinction is important based on format. If I’m in a redraft league with shallow benches and weekly waivers, that not only means I have less room for stashes but it also means there are likely better players available each week on the wire. So I want answers as soon as possible so I know who to drop to add the hot waiver pickup. Every year there are breakouts on waivers so the bench spot is often more valuable than the player. If I draft Chuba Hubbard as a handcuff and CMC doesn’t get hurt week one, Chuba is just clogging up my bench. I didn’t even give myself a chance at improving my lineup and now I might have to drop him anyway. On the other hand, let's say I waited on tight end in the draft and took Tyler Higbee as my starter with Hunter Henry on the bench as a scratch ticket. And let’s say that Higbee blocks the whole game week one while Hunter Henry leads the Patriots in targets. Now I’ve actually improved my lineup with Henry at starter and I can drop Higbee (who I shouldn’t have drafted in the first place). I know it seems like a small and nuanced distinction but it’s these little pieces of strategy that can make the difference between getting the breakout guy or not.
Bonus: Handcuff Scratch Ticket Game
If you play on certain platforms like Yahoo or Sleeper, the bench players don’t lock when they play. That means you can stash guys for say, Thursday night, then drop them for another player for Sunday. For instance, the Cowboys and Buccaneers play the first game of the season on Thursday night football. You stash Tony Pollard on your bench to see what his usage is like. If Zeke gets hurt - boom, you just hit the jackpot. If Zeke doesn’t get hurt, you drop Pollard if you want and add someone else for Sunday. I’ve been known to use my kicker spot for this on Thursday nights then I just add a kicker for the weekend. This game is all about giving yourself the best odds of success so every little trick you can deploy counts!