ESPN's standard-league trade deadline arrives Wednesday at noon ET. As we all know, a major part of the fun of fantasy is getting to play GM at the deadline. My first piece of advice for the deadline is to listen to the Fantasy Underground podcast Trade Deadline Special from last week. Its hosts are handsome and wise.
The second piece of advice is to figure out what type of team you have. This time of year, fantasy football squads match one of three types:
1. The Playoff Pusher. You've got two games left in your fantasy regular season. You need to win these next two weeks, or it doesn't much matter what happens in December. You are a shining beacon of mediocrity.
2. The High Seed. You've had a great regular season, and you're a lock for the playoffs. You're only looking at Weeks 14 through 17. Nobody likes you.
3. The Bottom-Feeder. You're all done. You were crushed by injuries, unfortunate draft-day decisions and bad advice from your current correspondent, so you're looking ahead to 2015. Assuming you're in a keeper league, your year isn't quite over, as you can still work on your roster. (But if you're in a re-draft league, don't be a colluding jerk. No trades for you.)
Your deadline decisions will be guided by your circumstances. The Playoff Pusher will study Week 12 and 13 opponents, and try to find a player or two with favorable schedules. The High Seed will ignore the next two games, and study December. And the Bottom Feeder in a keeper league will sell anything that isn't bolted down, trying to acquire young players for the future. Here are some trade targets for each category:
The Playoff Pusher
The way I evaluate fantasy schedules has evolved into something my ESPN masters have dubbed "The Harris Index." Yeah, it's only available on Insider. (Funny, though, you're so perceptive and wise, I would've thought you were already an Insider subscriber.) Anyway, here's a taste of the H.I. In this case, the chart specifically refers to RBs:
Harris Index: Running Backs for Week 12-13
Here's how you read it: The number beside each opponent represent the average number of fantasy points that opponent adds or subtracts from an opposing RB's total over the past five weeks. So looking at the Arizona Cardinals' schedule: In Week 12, the Seattle Seahawks have tacked 3.8 fantasy points onto opposing RBs lately, while in Week 13, the Atlanta Falcons have removed 1.0 fantasy points from RBs. And the color coding indicates good (green) and bad (red) matchups that are either one (light) or two (dark) standard deviations from the mean.
Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans. Over the next two weeks, the Texans get a home schedule (CIN, TEN) that should make someone in their backfield mighty happy. Alfred Blue carried it 36 times for 156 yards in Week 11, but Foster is tentatively expected to return from his groin injury. He won't come cheap, but he may be slightly less expensive thanks to the uncertainty.
Denard Robinson, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars. Perhaps the Robinson owner in your league still doesn't believe, but Shoelace's next two games (@IND, NYG) are mighty attractive, especially considering the way Jonas Gray just ran all over the Indianapolis Colts.
Tre Mason, RB, St. Louis Rams. Mason doesn't play on third downs or obvious passing situations yet, because the Rams don't trust him in pass protection. That means he can suffer if the team falls behind. But otherwise, I've really liked what I've seen from the rookie, and his schedule (@SD, OAK) looks pretty good.
Trent Richardson, RB, Colts. No, he's not very good right now. But the "T-Rich balloon" (as he's affectionately known to Fantasy Underground listeners) gets a dual boost in the short term: a friendly schedule (JAC, WAS) and Ahmad Bradshaw's broken ankle. At least you won't need to pay much to get him.
And here are some names to think about acquiring at other positions:
A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals. Green won't come as cheaply as he might've before Week 11, but he still may not be valued as the truly elite WR he is. Plus the schedule (@HOU, @TB) contains two struggling pass defenses.
Odell Beckham, WR, New York Giants. This isn't really about schedule. This is about a freak playmaker the fantasy world still appears not to be valuing properly. I know Rueben Randle got some work done Sunday, but when the chips were down, Beckham was the guy. Get him.
T.Y. Hilton, WR, Colts. Hilton's poor night at the hands of the New England Patriots may have deflated his sky-high fantasy value just a bit, and two good forthcoming matchups should solidify Hilton's status as a borderline elite WR.
Tony Romo, QB, Dallas Cowboys. There's no guarantee you can keep Romo healthy, but hopefully his back feels better after his bye. A nice schedule (@NYG, PHI) gives him more of a bump than most of the fantasy-palatable options in your league that are likely to be available. Romo is currently 16th in fantasy points among QBs. He'll be better than that down the stretch. I think.
The High Seed
You long-term thinkers have a few tasks ahead. As the bye weeks come to an end, you don't need as much of your depth, but you should think strongly about getting handcuffs for your studs. Here's a list of RB backups I'd strongly think about getting, if you own the starter:
Yes, there are probably other backups who'd shine given the opportunity, but you can't handcuff everyone. And yes, I didn't mention guys such as Blue and Jeremy Hill who already were starting in Week 11 because of injury. But you get the picture. Think about RB handcuffs. And here are some other names worth considering:
Le'Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers. I wrote a draft of this piece before Bell put up 222 total yards and a TD Monday night. You're going to have to pay more to get him now. But to my eyes, Bell has the best December schedule of any RB (@CIN, @ATL, KC, CIN), and the weight he lost this offseason has made him a complete back. No doubt, in this season of troublesome RB situations, Bell won't come cheap, but I think he'll be worth it.
LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles. I'm not claiming I know exactly what ails Shady. It looks like a combination of things: an inconsistent line, weird game flow, lack of QB continuity and Darren Sproles vulturing. But I know he'll never come cheaper. Do I promise he'll be a no-doubt starter by the playoffs? I don't. But it's a long time between now and then.
Odell Beckham, WR, Giants. Did I mention I don't care about his schedule? This rookie is "the man." Almost no matter what price you pay for him, you're getting him at a discount.
DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans. Hey, let's admit it: Ryan Mallett was OK. Don't get carried away, the Texans ran a remarkably conservative attack and Mallett had accuracy troubles early, but he looked better than Ryan Fitzpatrick. And I like Houston's December schedule (@JAC, @IND, BAL, JAC). Hopkins has a chance to be a top-20 WR the rest of the way.
Tony Romo, QB, Cowboys. Him again? I know. He's not exactly Mr. December. But Romo's late schedule (@CHI, @PHI, IND, @WAS) is also about as tasty as they come.
C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos. It's never bad to own Peyton Manning's caddie. Montee Ball reinjured his groin Sunday and figures to miss more time, and Ronnie Hillman could be out more than a month with his foot injury. It's possible Juwan Thompson gets involved again, so I'm not giving up a king's ransom for Anderson, but he totaled 115 yards from scrimmage Sunday. If he's still the starter late in the year, his final three matchups look easy.
Isaiah Crowell, RB, Cleveland Browns. Why not take the chance that Week 11's shift in the Browns backfield sticks? I don't mind Crowell's December schedule, with only Week 17 against the Baltimore Ravens looking like a toughie. You shouldn't pay much for Crowell, because his depth-chart position is unknowable. But his talent is real.
If you're in a keeper or dynasty league, you know the drill. Maximize value from veterans you can't or don't want to use in '15, and find some young guys with the potential to bust out. Special marks go to potential '15 stars with very little current value, because they tend to come cheap. And you sure are cheap. Think about these guys:
Khiry Robinson, RB, New Orleans Saints. Mark Ingram is having a good year, but he's a free agent in '15 and the Saints aren't expected to spend big to keep him. Robinson is a good young player who could handle early-down work next year.
Christine Michael, RB, Seattle Seahawks. Can Michael play? We've seen this kid light it up in the preseason in back-to-back summers, then turtle come prime time. But Marshawn Lynch is due a bunch of dough next year, and there's rampant speculation Beast Mode won't be back.
Bryce Brown, RB, Buffalo Bills. Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are both free agents next year. Spiller is prone to injury and Jackson will be 34. I doubt the Bills retain either. That could give Brown a crack at the starting job. He doesn't always (ahem) show good instincts, but he's a great raw talent.
C.J. Spiller, RB, Bills. Listen, someone will sign him. Maybe he finds a home in a good offense that knows how to use him. He's been nothing but a fantasy tease, but you know he's got incredible speed and moves.
Jordan Matthews, WR, Eagles. In Chip Kelly's offense, Matthews has limitless potential, and Jeremy Maclin is a free agent in '15. That means Matthews could be the No. 1 pass-catcher in Philly's offense as soon as next year.
Allen Robinson, WR, Jaguars. The rookie broke his foot last week, so he should come cheap, and to me he looks like a future No. 1 wideout. Of course, the Jags need good QB play, something I'm skeptical Blake Bortles will ever provide.
Victor Cruz, WR, Giants. Coming back from a torn patellar tendon is no sure thing, especially for a player who relies on quickness. But if your league allows you to stash injured guys on the cheap, you know the kind of upside Cruz offers, Beckham's presence notwithstanding.
Some other names: Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons; Brian Quick, WR, St. Louis Rams; John Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals; Cody Latimer, WR, Broncos; Tyler Eifert, TE, Bengals; Austin Seferian-Jenkins, TE, Tampa Bay Buccaneers; Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions; Latavius Murray, RB, Oakland Raiders.