Playing the matchups is more important than ever

Adrian Peterson might be the last elite RB left in fantasy football. (Tom Olmscheid / Associated Press)

Adrian Peterson might be the last elite RB left in fantasy football. (Tom Olmscheid / Associated Press)

I miss the good old days.

You know, the days when I could keep studs like Dan Marino, Marshall Faulk, Barry Sanders, Emmitt Smith and Jerry Rice in my starting fantasy lineup week in and week out without every having to worry about it.

Those days are over.

Now the term “stud” refers to a much smaller handful of players. Sure, maybe you took Steve Slaton in the first round of your fantasy draft. But would you call him a stud? Certainly not this season. In fact, he’s been very replaceable if you have backfield depth. Give me Fred Jackson or Cadillac Williams. Both have been better than Slaton after three weeks.

Yes, the list of the elite fantasy players is shrinking like George Costanza after a dip in the pool.

I would argue, that at this very moment, there aren’t even 10 studs that I feel safe starting every week regardless of the matchup. That list includes Drew Brees, Tom Brady (yes, he’s still a star), Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson, Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss and Andre Johnson among the top three positions.

OK, so guys like Maurice Jones-Drew and Calvin Johnson are darn close. They would really have to go through some hard times to ever consider benching them. But even if we include this duo, that’s still just nine players who we keep in our lineups every week without fail.

Nine out of how many players currently being owned in your fantasy league? Maybe 192 in a 12-team league with 16-man rosters?

That’s a minute percentage.

Heck, you could make an argument for benching Matt Forte right now. He did have a good game on the field this past weekend — and it would have been better had he not been tackled on the Seahawks’ 1-yard line and denied a touchdown catch– but he hasn’t been nearly as good compared to his rookie season.

Forte was a top-five pick in just about every draft.

It doesn’t help that more and more NFL teams are utilizing multiple running backs in their offense. Sure, it helps keep players fresher during what is a punishing 16-game season. But it does nothing but cause confusion in fantasy circles because of the clutter of talent at the position.

Do you start Joseph Addai or Donald Brown? What about Knowshon Moreno or Correll Buckhalter? Who is the better option? Who will see more carries in a given week? Not even the most seasoned NFL expert or fantasy prognosticator can predict that.

No one can, unless of course you happen to be their respective coaches,  Jim Caldwell or Josh McDaniels.

The NFL is also becoming more of a passing league, so there are more and more viable quarterback options to choose from. Want proof? Look at the numbers of Joe Flacco, who is on pace to throw for close to 4,500 yards in an offense that’s been based on the run for what seems like forever.

That means that in more cases than not, you’re going to have to play the matchups and make educated decisions when setting your lineup. In some scenarios, it means rolling the dice on a players with great matchups.

You drafted Ryan Grant ahead of Cedric Benson, but guess who you should start this week? Here’s a hint — it’s not the guy you drafted first. Oh, and if you landed Willis McGahee somewhere in the middle to late rounds, chances are you’ll now be starting him ahead of second-round pick Clinton Portis.

Combine the decrease in must-start players with the growth of backfield committees, not to mention an increase  in good quarterbacks, and this has become the most challenging time to be a fantasy owner.

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