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Betting on Backups
Joe Levit
September 13, 2006

Last year a lot of fantasy owners selected Chiefs running back Larry Johnson fairly early in their drafts. Some were owners trying to sew up the Chiefs’ backfield with Johnson as insurance after drafting Priest Holmes early. Others saw a risk/reward scenario that was worth a high pick. Both types of owner took this chance because Holmes did not seem impregnable anymore, and because Johnson showed a ton of promise behind a strong Kansas City offensive line. We all know how that speculation paid off.

This year, there weren’t any obvious backups to buy into early, at least as far as the majority of fantasy owners were concerned. But after one set of games, in a week of disappointing returns for the owners of Larry Johnson, Shaun Alexander, Carson Palmer and others, it may be time to start employing riskier strategies in the hopes of soon jumpstarting a few fantasy lineups.

There are a number of backups worth taking a chance on, either in trade or certainly if they happen to be available to add via waiver wire in your league. A prerequisite of these picks is that the backups are talented. This strategy makes no sense if the players coming in cannot do anything from a fantasy standpoint.

All of the guys below are nearer than the average “one play away” from starting because the players they are behind are aging or susceptible to injury. This listing of potential breakout backups doesn’t include committee approaches, so you won’t find Denver’s Bell Boys here, or see Deuce McAllister and Reggie Bush come marching into this article.

Don’t put this practice into effect if it will place you in a bind come the bye weeks. But, if you have dead weight on your roster and can free up the space, why not stash men with serious potential, rather than that second defense, kicker or tight end. Or even that fifth wideout who enamors you but never gets off your bench. If you like to gamble, try some of these guys on for size.

Quarterback Backups

Tony Romo, Cowboys – If Bledsoe can’t do better than his opening act, his next game will be a curtain call. Both Jerry Jones and Bill Parcells have said very favorable things about Romo recently. It’s not all designed to get Bledsoe going.

Matt Leinart, Cardinals – Kurt Warner looked well in week 1, and will continue to do so as long as he stays healthy. With Warner, that health streak could end at any time, allowing Leinart to play with superstars Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald.

Matt Schaub, Falcons – Starter Michael Vick was solid last weekend, actually passing for two touchdowns. But, should he get hurt in a reckless run through a defense, Schaub could actually be a fantasy quarterback of note. He would have three talented young receivers and a top tight end at his disposal. Atlanta has spurned trade offers for him for a reason.

Jay Cutler, Broncos – It’s awfully tough to count on a rookie quarterback to perform well for you, but if Cutler gets in the game, he’ll have some nice receiving options.

Vince Young, Titans – Young has seen some game action already. When Tennessee fails to win in the first quarter of the season, don’t be surprised to find the club willing to give Young serious game experience. He can do a lot of damage just by running the ball, and those scores count for six instead of four in most fantasy scoring formats.

Andrew Walters, Raiders – Aaron Brooks played terribly in the opener against San Diego. The change to Walters could come at any time. Randy Moss and Ronald Curry could make Walters look good in a hurry.

Running Back Backups

Laurence Maroney, Patriots – With few wideout options, New England will keep relying on its running backs. This is a recipe for injury to starter Corey Dillon, who is a bruiser with enough age to have bruises affect him. Maroney has electrifying speed and moves, and could be outstanding will enough carries.

Joseph Addai, Colts – Currently behind Dominic Rhodes on the depth chart, Addai did much better with the carries he had than did Dominic. Edgerrin James he is not, but Addai would be a solid starter minus the timeshare.

Travis Henry or LenDale White, Titans – As you can see with my double listing here, I’m not a big believer in Chris Brown. I think White will win out in the end, but until he is healthy and up to speed, Henry is clearly the player to prepare to use.

Brandon Jacobs, Giants – It’s not likely Tiki Barber misses much time, but if did, look out for Jacobs. He is a load, and one nimble on his feet. He already is a star in touchdown-only leagues. He would have quick crossover performance league appeal with more carries.

Correll Buckhalter, Eagles – Stop laughing, this isn’t a joke. When healthy, there has never been anything humorous about Buckhalter’s hard running style. He posted a strong 6.3-yard average against the Texans last weekend, and Brian Westbrook has been known to succumb to injuries.

Jerious Norwood, Falcons – It may seem sacrilegious to call out the league’s leading rusher, but Warrick Dunn, though dynamite, is also a mini mite. If he gets squashed, Norwood seems capable of pin-balling himself off defenders.

DeAngelo Williams, Panthers – Not much is going right for Carolina so far this season. Williams could provide a breath of fresh air once DeShaun Foster proves inconsistent.

Michael Turner, Chargers – The San Diego plan to run LaDainian Tomlinson all day makes sense in theory, but may prove disastrous as a long-term plan. Turner has been an impressive backup for a couple of years now. If he gets a chance, he’ll do well with it.

Marion Barber, Cowboys – When will Julius Jones become damaged goods this season? Barber has a nose for the endzone.

Cedric Benson, Bears – Although not inspiring so far, Benson can still be a star for the Bears. Whether he is for your fantasy team also depends upon Thomas Jones, reluctant to give up the starter post.

Samkon Gado, Packers – Ahman Green topped 100 yards recently, but Gado now does not have competition in the backfield should he be called to duty.

Najeh Davenport, Steelers – Davenport could become the touchdown vulture that Jerome Bettis used to be. And if wee Willie Parker gets a wee bit dinged up, hello statistics!

Joe Levit provides fantasy football presentations for corporate outings or client appreciation events. Go to and find out what this service is all about. Joe can be reached at