- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
It gets tougher and tougher to truly be sneaky about fantasy football pickups in the latter half of November, but it bears repeating that owners should at least make sure there's a good reason why the players on your bench are there. Bye weeks end in a few days, so start parting with those extra players who don't have upside and aren't likely to matter. You don't need a second defense or kicker -- you never do -- but in many cases, a backup quarterback or fifth wide receiver is superfluous as well.
This is also a wise time to start handcuffing backup running backs to your squad in case injury or early playoff clinching removes the starter from the equation. In most cases, the names of the readily available are well-known. They were selected on draft day but later dumped due to lack of performance for other team needs. Houston Texans backup Ben Tate is a fine example. Once a must-own, he has done next to nothing in fantasy terms for two months, but that is largely irrelevant. He remains an insurance pickup if something goes awry with Arian Foster or if the Texans don't need to risk anything in Weeks 16 and 17 and sit the stud. It was nice when Tate was productive in tandem with Foster a season ago and was worth an occasional flex play, but his value as a pure handcuff remains. It's certainly not Justin Forsett next in line.
In the NFC, the Atlanta Falcons are similar in terms of perhaps grabbing a top conference seed and adjusting the late-December lineup, but Michael Turner is no Foster. Foster is a fantasy monster. Turner was a fantasy disaster in Week 10. While I've generally been a Turner defender -- and of older players remaining relevant, which he is -- Turner the Burner was anything but against the New Orleans Saints. That was an ugly performance, especially near the goal line. To be fair, my Turner argument has been mainly about opportunity rather than ability, and that's proved accurate. He keeps getting the football, and might have another 20-point fantasy game in him at some point, but this is a big week for his backups and a wise time for fantasy owners to slyly move in and add them.
Let's face it, Jacquizz Rodgers doesn't look special. If he did, he would be getting more touches. I can't make any legitimate case for Jason Snelling, mainly because he has eight rushing attempts this season and no more than two in any game. He is considerably bigger than Rodgers, though, so if Turner cannot play, and he is listed as questionable with a groin injury at this time, I could see Snelling leapfrogging Rodgers for early-down work. This is an odd situation; there's no evidence Rodgers will see significant touches -- though he has outscored Turner from a fantasy aspect in two of the past three games -- and also no proof he'd do anything with them.
Regardless, Rodgers is owned in roughly 13 percent of ESPN standard leagues, which seems a bit low considering Turner owners have to be angry that their guy mustered a pathetic 15 rushing yards on 13 carries in an awesome matchup against the Saints and wasn't much better in Week 6 against an Oakland Raiders defense that Doug Martin ran a mile against. Now is a wise time to add Rodgers in case Turner doesn't play or doesn't play well. Those in 14-team formats should take a shot on Snelling, as he has proved himself in the past, even if it was years ago.
Quarterback: Even though Alex Smith figures to start Monday night, adding Colin Kaepernick isn't such a bad idea. Studies show one concussion often leads to more. And I'd rather own Kaepernick, who adds value with his legs, than Jason Campbell. ... Cleveland's Brandon Weeden hasn't played well lately, but the schedule for Weeks 13-15 (Raiders, Chiefs, Redskins) is friendly. This is no Billy Volek, but then again, nobody knew about Volek in 2004 (Titans) either. ... Finally, I realize as soon as I write this that the ridiculous New York Jets situation will be turned upside down, but it sure doesn't look like Tim Tebow will do a thing this season. Move on.
Running back: Using the same argument as with Tate and Rodgers/Snelling, now is the time to add San Francisco's Kendall Hunter, Michael Bush of the Bears and Ronnie Hillman in Denver. These are first-place teams with, in two cases, older running backs with younger legs on deck. ... Getting tired of the Ryan Mathews act? Now he is healthy but not productive. The Chargers know what Jackie Battle can do, as should you. ... Reggie Bush looked so awful Thursday night that I'm moving on from him as an RB2. Daniel Thomas didn't do much either, but he is younger and part of the future. ... This was mentioned in this space a few weeks ago, but Cedric Benson is still a Green Bay Packer and could return soon. James Starks starts over Alex Green this week, but he's nothing special. ... I defend BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but I've wondered what Cedric Peerman could do with more touches.
Wide receiver: With Denver's schedule, I'm surprised No. 3 wide receiver Brandon Stokley remains available in 88 percent of leagues. ... The Bears' Alshon Jeffery should return from his broken hand Monday. Add him in deep formats for the better matchups. ... Pierre Garcon's big Week 1 has kept him owned in many leagues, but check your free-agent list just in case.
Have a great weekend. Good luck in Week 11 and beyond!
Eric Karabell discusses his pickup strategy with the end of bye weeks upon us, targeting handcuffs and high-upside players.