We've had three major suspension bombshells come across the newswire the last few weeks. Le'Veon Bell and Tom Brady are set to miss the first four games while Josh Gordon was reinstated and will return after serving his own four-game ban to start the 2016 season. At different points of their careers, all three finished in the top-two among their respective positions in fantasy.
Three fantasy stars at three different positions and all will come at discounts in drafts. Naturally, the fantasy world is abuzz with the possibilities of taking advantage of this situation. There's even been some talk among members of the fantasy community of drafting all three players on one team. Our own Michael Fabiano even dubbed the potential lineup the "Suspension Squad" after drafting Josh Gordon and Tom Brady in our latest 12-team mock draft. From what I've observed, he's not alone in finding the idea appealing.
In some ways, I understand the appeal. You're getting Bell, the clear-cut top running back in fantasy football when he's healthy, at a value in the second round. There are layers of risk with Gordon, but we have real physical evidence with his 2013 season that a top-two finish at the wide receiver position is within his range of outcomes. Taking an aggressive stab at that upside in the middle rounds could end up as a steal. Tom Brady was the QB2 overall in fantasy last year, is one of the greatest to ever play the game, and arguably has better weapons around him this year. Snagging him in the 10th round and making contingency plans early in the season sounds like a shark move.
With all that being said, the idea of drafting all three of them on one team might be the most implausible strategy ever put forth in the fantasy football realm. Given where they are all likely to fall on draft day it's possible, but under no circumstances is it a plan that will benefit your team.
It's hard for me to not endorse a highly aggressive strategy such as this. I'm an incredibly risk-tolerant fantasy player and person. I believe that you play fantasy football with the goal in mind to finish first in your league, and first alone. Coming in second, third or fourth place after a nice little run to the playoffs does nothing for me. It shouldn't for you either; the idea is to win as many weeks as you can.
In order to accomplish that goal, I'm willing to fly a little closer to the sun than may be advised. "If you're not first you're last" has never been truer than in fantasy football, so I'm absolutely willing to take calculated risks to get to the mountain top. I'll reach a round or two early to assure I come away with an Allen Robinson-style sleeper. If there's a Dion Lewis-type ascending talent making waves early in the year following a steady drumbeat from the offseason, I have no issues spending big on the waiver wire for him. Hell, I am completely open to taking one of Josh Gordon, Tom Brady, or Le'Veon Bell on my team at that alluring discount.
"No risk-it, no biscuit," as the great Bruce Arians says, "if you don't try a great shot you won't hit one." That's how we should approach life and our fantasy teams. Take chances, be risk-tolerant and ready to reap the spoils when we succeed.
However, even Arians tells Andrew Luck in that clip, "there's a time for that shot and that ain't it right there." The riverboat gambling Cardinals head coach even knows that while taking chances is a must in order to win, those need to be measured and come at the proper time. You don't just take risks for the sake of doing so, you take the calculated risks with proper preparation.
The most important component in risk management is to insulate yourself from the potentially damaging downside of the decision. Skydiving out of a plane is an adventurous risk, but you don't do it without the insulation of taking a parachute with you. This line of thinking is not talked about enough in fantasy football; it's all about roster construction. Much in the same way, if you're drafting Bell, Gordon, Brady, or any other risk-laden suspended players you need to take the necessary steps throughout the rest of your draft to insulate those players on your roster.
Le'Veon Bell might be the easiest suspended player to insulate on your roster since DeAngelo Williams proved himself as a clear-cut RB1 when the Steelers starter was out last year. If you're taking Bell in the second round, you'll almost certainly want to double-down with Williams. The veteran back's ADP already crept up into the late sixth round on Fantasy Football Calculator over the last few days, so you'll likely need to reach in the fifth round to assure you snag him. Now, that's a risk worth taking. You lock-in a likely RB1 in a high-powered offense for the first four games of the season and are prepared to take on the risk that Bell gets hurt once again. It's the ultimate realization that fantasy football is a weekly game, and not overrating season-long outputs
Of these three, Josh Gordon requires the most roster insulation. Drafting Gordon is still as risky as ever, no doubt about it even with his individual upside. Not only could he slip-up and find himself in trouble again before he even steps on the field in Week 5, it will be 22 months since he's taken an NFL snap when he does return. He could come in out of shape again, unprepared to learn the offense or just fall short of the massive target share he held during his dominant 2013 season.
In assessing his reinstatement to the NFL, I asserted that drafting Gordon is only viable in a wide receiver-heavy draft approach. If you go with three or more wideouts in your first four or five picks, then it makes sense to take on the risk of Gordon in the sixt or seventh round. As a WR4, your team is not counting on him in any way. Yet, in this setup, you have access to the unfair advantage he provides if he reaches his immense ceiling, but are completely insulated from his downside. However, should you load up on multiple running backs in the first five rounds, you simply cannot afford to take Gordon at his likely draft cost. If you're counting on Gordon as a WR2 or WR3 you're accepting all the risk without any protection. If he's one of your top two or three receivers and the incredibly plausible scenario of his failure comes to pass upon his return, you'll likely be chasing points at the receiver position all season. Given that wideouts are now the established kings of fantasy football, that's something you simply cannot endure.
Drafting Tom Brady is something of a double-edged sword in terms of being able to insulate him. The quarterback position is so incredibly deep right now, it's easy to pluck a Kirk Cousins, Tyrod Taylor or Derek Carr to fill in for the first four games while Brady serves his suspension. Then again, that begs the question of whether it's even worth sinking a draft pick into Brady at all.
Of course, Brady was an elite fantasy quarterback early last season and is a perennial top-five option at the position. It's tempting to go in on his theoretical upside, no question. However, the specter of having to burn a roster spot for four weeks looms large when you consider the replicability of the quarterback position. JJ Zachariason, the face of the strategy, penned his manifesto "Why You Should Draft Your Quarterback Late Every Single Year" a few seasons back and noted that in the 2013 season, 44 quarterbacks provided at least one usable week and 33 provided at least one elite scoring week. The sheer volume of how many quarterbacks are viable in fantasy football, especially relative to other positions where you need more than one starter, makes the idea of making a significant investment in the position hard to justify. Even though you're getting Tom Brady at a theoretical discount in your drafts, the fact that you have to take a backup and hold a roster spot for four weeks makes it a significant investment.
Drafting two quarterbacks is generally an unnecessary move. If you're streaming the position or just need a one-week fill-in there will almost always be a usable option on the waiver-wire. You don't need to carry a backup quarterback on your roster; this isn't real football where you need to have one on your team in case your starter gets hurt. In our most recent mock draft only one of 12 teams took two quarterbacks (Fabiano, who drafted Tom Brady) and a wealth of passers are currently on the waiver wire. Matthew Stafford, Jameis Winston, Andy Dalton, Marcus Mariota, Matt Ryan, and more are available for any of the other 11 owners to use for streaming or bye-week purposes. Carrying two to "play the matchups" is a disadvantage because of the limitations you place on having options at your flex spot or for potential depth starters at running back and wide receiver.
Drafting Tom Brady at his current discounted value is not a bad move, even if I personally would not be the one to do it. All this evidence just goes to show it's a massive hamper on your roster and it's not as simple as many will paint it.
What is hopefully apparent after running through these three suspension-discounted players on a case-by-case basis is that it is categorically impossible to construct a strong fantasy roster when drafting all three of Brady, Bell, and Gordon to one standard-sized squad.
To properly take on Le'Veon Bell and Tom Brady you will have to sink a whopping four picks into both players -- two for each of them and another two for DeAngelo Williams and a four-week quarterback fill-in. Spending that early capital on one running back spot in your lineup compromises your ability to create the wide receiver-heavy team you need to insulate yourself from the risk of taking Josh Gordon. The multiple later-round picks you'll need to sink into the quarterback position means you'll compromise your chance to obtain potential sleepers and values that could help fill leaky spots in a roster where you're intentionally creating holes with this trio of picks.
It is difficult enough to hold one roster spot for the first four weeks of the season, which are inherently the most active weeks on the waiver-wire as "new reality" breakouts reveal themselves. In drafting Bell, Gordon and Brady you'll be a hold a whopping three spots on your bench for the first month of the year. That is unsustainable in every sense of the word. In a typical league, that leaves you with a measly two spots on your bench if you have to start both a kicker and a defense. You're essentially passing up all roster flexibility and the ability to add players on the waiver wire.
Lastly, while it is important to draft with confidence in fantasy football, drafting with extreme arrogance is as faulty a strategy as there is. Believing you can no doubt overcome a probable 0-4 start to your fantasy season to make a championship run comes with a shocking amount unbridled confidence in a game that is inherently unpredictable. Even once these three potential fantasy stars return from suspensions there is not guarantee they'll all three work out in fantasy to the degree you want.
Le'Veon Bell could suffer yet another ligament injury when he returns to the field and the now 33-year old DeAngelo Williams could run out of the borrowed time he's already running on and break down mid-season. There goes the RB1 you hoped you drafted. Even if Josh Gordon comes back 100 percent the player he was, clean and in shape, he could get well below the 27 percent share of the team targets he saw in 2013 on an inconsistent offense. That scenario would bring you a boom-bust WR3 instead of the WR1 you needed him to be because you failed to insulate him in this strategy. Father Time is undefeated, and there's every chance that Tom Brady is his next victim. Almost 39-years-old, no matter what angry narratives you have to offer, if Brady even takes a marginal step back this season waiting on a replacement level, low-end QB1 in fantasy for four weeks will look foolish.
Drafting the all-suspension squad is not among the viable savvy and risk-tolerant moves you need to take to win a fantasy football league. Drafting one of these players certainly qualifies as such. However, taking on all three of them is a move steeped in fragility and arrogance, that offers far lower of a ceiling than you believe it does. There's plenty of risk in the strategy, but it offers none of the calculation and insulation you need to take them.
Even if you're all about "no risk-it, no biscuit" and "if you're not first, you're last" philosophies like I am as a fantasy owner, this weak strategy is not for you. You're not flying too close to the sun, you're steering right into it. Drafting the all-suspension team likely won't give you a team carrying three top players ready to break through after four weeks onto your already strong roster. Instead, it likely leaves you chasing multiple positions all year on your painfully leaky fantasy team, and limping to at best a fourth-place finish. Please play fantasy aiming higher than that.