Josh Freeman, Beanie Wells among top fantasy bye-week plays

If you want to have a successful draft, there's more than just having an in-depth knowledge of players. You also need an intimate understanding of the bye weeks. There aren't many owners who wouldn't love to have Aaron Rodgers on their team. But when he's on a bye (Week 10), who would be the best backup to start in his absence? That's valuable information, but most owners don't think about it. Wouldn't it be nice to have the backfield duo of Darren McFadden and DeMarco Murray? Well, both of them are off in Week 5. It doesn't make sense to pass on them to avoid the bye-week conflict, though. Instead, it's a better idea to target other runners with good matchups in that week.

Below is a list of all the starting quarterbacks and running backs and their respective bye weeks for the upcoming 2012 season. More importantly, we've also included the best bye-week replacements for those starters. While it's harder to avoid drafting running backs with the same bye based on value, it's still important to know which alternative runners have attractive matchups. What's more, it's also vital to know which No. 2 fantasy runners should thrive based on favorable opponents when your No. 1 running back is on a bye week.

Week 4 byes

Quarterbacks: Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers; Andrew Luck, Colts.

Replacements: Roethlisberger is the lone fantasy quarterback with starting value who is off this week. Luck, the new Colts quarterback, will be more of a No. 2 fantasy option. The reserve signal-callers with the best matchups include Robert Griffin III (at Buccaneers), Carson Palmer (at Broncos), Matt Cassel (vs. Chargers) or Ryan Fitzpatrick (vs. Patriots).

Running backs: Isaac Redman, Steelers; Donald Brown, Colts.

Replacements: Mendenhall is coming off ACL surgery and might not even be available at this point in the season, and no one is going to lean on Redman, Brown or Carter in prominent roles. Looking at the schedule, the runners with the most favorable opponents include Roy Helu (at Buccaneers), Willis McGahee (vs. Raiders) or Stevan Ridley (at Bills).

Week 5 byes

Quarterbacks: Matthew Stafford, Lions; Tony Romo, Cowboys; Josh Freeman, Buccaneers; Carson Palmer, Raiders.

Replacements: Stafford and Romo are the lone surefire No. 1 fantasy quarterbacks off this week, so owners who draft one of them should look to add Matt Hasselbeck (at Vikings), Andrew Luck (vs. Packers) or Matt Flynn (at Panthers). Owners is deeper leagues or two-quarterback formats could also decide to kick the tires on Brandon Weeden (at Giants).

Running backs: Darren McFadden, Raiders; DeMarco Murray, Cowboys; Doug Martin, Buccaneers; Kevin Smith, Lions.

Replacements: McFadden and Murray are going to be prominent fantasy backs this season, Martin is a sleeper, and Smith is a risk-reward No. 3 options. The secondary runners with the best matchups this week include Beanie Wells (at Rams), Isaac Redman (vs. Eagles) or Cedric Benson/James Starks (at Colts).

Week 6 byes

Quarterbacks: Drew Brees, Saints; Cam Newton, Panthers; Jay Cutler, Bears; Blaine Gabbert, Jaguars.

Replacements: Brees and Newton both have first-round value and are solid No. 1 quarterbacks, while Cutler will be a high-end No. 2 option across the board. Matt Schaub (vs. Packers), Robert Griffin III (vs. Vikings), Matt Cassel (at Buccaneers), Matt Flynn (vs. Patriots) and Alex Smith (vs. Giants) all have favorable matchups this week and will be worth a look if you need a starter.

Running backs: Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars; Matt Forte, Bears; Darren Sproles, Saints; Jonathan Stewart/DeAngelo Williams, Panthers.

Replacements: Jones-Drew, Forte and Sproles are starting options in all leagues, while the Panthers backfield duo are flex options at best. Looking at the matchups, Beanie Wells (vs. Bills), Reggie Bush (vs. Rams), Shonn Greene (vs. Colts), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (at Browns), Kevin Smith (at Eagles) or Rashard Mendenhall/Isaac Redman (at Titans) all look good this week.

Week 7 byes

Quarterbacks: Philip Rivers, Chargers; Michael Vick, Eagles; Peyton Manning, Broncos; Matt Ryan, Falcons; Matt Cassel, Chiefs; Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins.

Replacements: This is a tough week for fantasy owners, as four No. 1 quarterbacks are on a bye. That includes Rivers, Vick, Manning and Ryan. Owners who land one of these signal-callers on draft day should also go ahead and target Josh Freeman (vs. Saints), Mark Sanchez (at Patriots), Sam Bradford (vs. Packers) or John Skelton (at Vikings). Owners in much deeper leagues could also consider Blaine Gabbert (at Raiders).

Running backs: LeSean McCoy, Eagles; Ryan Mathews, Chargers; Jamaal Charles, Chiefs; Michael Turner, Falcons; Reggie Bush, Dolphins; Willis McGahee, Broncos.

Replacements: Much like the quarterback position, a number of prominent runners including McCoy, Mathews, Charles and Turner, find themselves on a bye this week. That makes backs with good matchups like Fred Jackson (vs. Titans), Mark Ingram (at Buccaneers), Cedric Benson/James Starks (at Rams), or Donald Brown (vs. Browns) potential starting options in fantasy land.

Week 8 byes

Quarterbacks: Matt Schaub, Texans; Andy Dalton, Bengals; Joe Flacco, Ravens; Ryan Fitzpatrick, Bills.

Replacements: Unless you're in a league with 12-plus teams, there isn't a surefire No. 1 fantasy quarterback on a bye this week. Schaub would be the closest, but even his stock has fallen after the 2011 campaign. Regardless, the reserve fantasy field generals with the best matchups include Jay Cutler (vs. Panthers), Josh Freeman (at Vikings), Sam Bradford (vs. Patriots), Matt Cassel (vs. Raiders) and Christian Ponder (vs. Buccaneers).

Running backs: Arian Foster, Texans; Ray Rice, Ravens; Fred Jackson, Bills; BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals.

Replacements: Two of the best running backs in fantasy football are off this week, as Foster and Rice will both be on the sidelines. Jackson and Green-Ellis are closer to No. 2 options at the position. Stevan Ridley (at Rams) and Donald Brown (at Titans) are the lone backs that aren't No. 1 or 2 fantasy runners with highly positive matchups.

Week 9 byes

Quarterbacks: Tom Brady, Patriots; Mark Sanchez, Jets; Alex Smith, 49ers; Sam Bradford, Rams.

Replacements: Outside of Brady, there isn't a quarterback off this week that will enter the season as a legitimate No. 1 fantasy option. If you do land Brady and wait to take a second quarterback on draft day, the players to target based on matchups are Josh Freeman (at Raiders), Carson Palmer (vs. Buccaneers), Andy Dalton (vs. Broncos), Matt Flynn (vs. Vikings) or John Skelton (at Packers).

Running backs: Steven Jackson, Rams; Frank Gore, 49ers; Shonn Greene, Jets; Stevan Ridley, Patriots.

Replacements: Unless you wait to draft a running back, there isn't a true No. 1 option off this week - Jackson and Gore are closer to second runners in fantasy leagues at this point. If you need substitutes at the position, look to Reggie Bush (Dolphins), Roy Helu (vs. Panthers), Doug Martin (at Raiders) or Mark Ingram (vs. Eagles).

Week 10 byes

Quarterbacks: Aaron Rodgers, Packers; Robert Griffin III, Redskins; John Skelton, Cardinals; Brandon Weeden, Browns.

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Replacements: Rodgers is the lone No. 1 fantasy quarterback with a bye this week. Now with the Redskins, RG3 is the second-most valuable player at the position who won't be on the field. Josh Freeman (vs. Chargers), Andy Dalton (at Giants), Joe Flacco (vs. Raiders) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (at Patriots) are all looking at favorable slates based on 2011 fantasy points.

Running backs: Roy Helu, Redskins; Beanie Wells, Cardinals; Cedric Benson/James Starks, Packers; Trent Richardson, Browns.

Replacements: Richardson is the lone potential No. 1 fantasy back off this week, with Helu and Wells being the most valuable secondary options at the position who won't be on the gridiron. Reggie Bush (vs. Titans), Willis McGahee (at Panthers), Stevan Ridley (vs. Bills) or Rashard Mendenhall/Isaac Redman (vs. Chiefs) will be the backs to target as the best alternatives.

Week 11 byes

Quarterbacks: Eli Manning, Giants; Matt Flynn, Seahawks; Jake Locker, Titans; Christian Ponder, Vikings.

Replacements: Manning is the lone quarterback worth starting on a weekly basis from this list, as Flynn, Locker and Ponder are all no more than No. 2 options. Owners who decide to roll with Manning as their top signal-caller should look to grab Josh Freeman (at Panthers) or Carson Palmer (vs. Saints), Andrew Luck (at Patriots) based on the level of opponent.

Running backs: Chris Johnson, Titans; Marshawn Lynch, Seahawks; Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants; Adrian Peterson, Vikings.

Replacements: All four running backs on byes this week have immense value in fantasy leagues, so checking out the matchups is important. Reggie Bush (at Bills), Roy Helu (vs. Eagles), Shonn Greene (at Rams), BenJarvus Green-Ellis (at Chiefs), Doug Martin (at Panthers), Jonathan Stewart/DeAngelo Williams (vs. Buccaneers), Stevan Ridley (vs. Colts) and Mark Ingram (at Raiders) all have attractive opponents.

Michael Fabiano is an award-winning fantasy football analyst on NFL.com. Have a burning question on anything fantasy related? Tweet it to @Michael_Fabiano or send a question via Facebook!

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