Fantasy & Reality: Addition by subtraction

There isn't a ton of advice to impart with two games left in the regular season of Fantasy Football (assuming your playoffs kick in Week 14). But if there's a basic principle that everyone should keep in mind when looking over their rosters, it's this: Be prepared.

What if you lost Adrian Peterson to a high-ankle sprain? Or Jay Cutler to a broken thumb? Or Jeremy Maclin, Julio Jones or Miles Austin to a nagging hamstring injury? Would your roster be ready for such calamities? If it's not, then it's time to get ready. You've got two important games left to play in your leagues, so getting your rosters fine-tuned so that they're ready for the playoff push is mighty important.

You need to have the right guys on your bench -- just in case.

Let's start at running back, where there are all sorts of depth issues to cover. If you did well on Draft Day or played the waivers right, you might be loaded at running back -- so much so that you're making tough lineup decisions among Top-15 players every week. Obviously you're not cutting anyone there; you just need to make good choices from week to week.

Then there are the real-life handcuffs, who are important for obvious reasons too. If Arian Foster is your top back, it makes sense to have Ben Tate or even Derrick Ward, so that if bad news comes you won't have to panic.

Not all handcuffs are created equal, though. Think Toby Gerhart will produce anything close to what Adrian Peterson puts up in a given week? Ditto that for Cadillac Williams in St. Louis with Steven Jackson and the pair of underachieving rushers in Seattle behind Marshawn Lynch. In some cases it might be better to back up your studs with the best available running backs out there rather than their second stringers, though getting both might be ideal.

Here's a look at all the backup running backs in the league as it stands right now. We've ranked them in order of most desirable to least in the event the backup becomes the starter. This way, you can see which starting running backs should be handcuffed, and which backup running backs simply aren't worth adding to rosters in place of other players at the position.

Ranking the backup running backs
Backup (Own Pct.) Starter Backup (Own Pct.) Starter
1 Michael Bush (99) Darren McFadden 17 Peyton Hillis (90)/
Montario Hardesty (38)
Chris Ogbonnaya
2 Ben Tate (92) Arian Foster 18 LaDainian Tomlinson (66) Shonn Greene
3 Mike Tolbert (99) Ryan Mathews 19 Toby Gerhart (10) Adrian Peterson
4 Pierre Thomas (88) Darren Sproles 20 Delone Carter (39)/
Joseph Addai (60)
Donald Brown
5 Felix Jones (82) DeMarco Murray 21 Stevan Ridley (18) BenJarvus Green-Ellis
6 DeAngelo Williams (80) Jonathan Stewart 22 Lance Ball (62) Willis McGahee
7 Daniel Thomas (84) Reggie Bush 23 Justin Forsett (4) Marshawn Lynch
8 Brandon Jacobs (98) Ahmad Bradshaw 24 Thomas Jones (20) Jackie Battle
9 Marion Barber (55) Matt Forte 25 Ryan Grant (57) James Starks
10 Jahvid Best (95)/
Maurice Morris (76)
Kevin Smith 26 Ryan Torain (53) Roy Helu
11 Ronnie Brown (12) LeSean McCoy 27 Bernard Scott (25) Cedric Benson
12 Jason Snelling (12) Michael Turner 28 C.J. Spiller (29) Fred Jackson
13 Kendall Hunter (85) Frank Gore 29 Cadillac Williams (20) Steven Jackson
14 Ricky Williams (26) Ray Rice 30 Deji Karim (10) Maurice Jones-Drew
15 Javon Ringer (45) Chris Johnson 31 Kregg Lumpkin (11) LeGarrette Blount
16 Isaac Redman (26) Rashard Mendenhall 32 Chester Taylor (1) Beanie Wells

Long story short, if you're carrying any of these backup running backs, there better be a reason for it.

The same logic applies for wide receivers: Know who you're starting and carry a backup or two in case of an emergency. But here's something that might fry your brain: Only 33 wide receivers are started in at least 50 percent of leagues when healthy (this includes currently injured receivers like Miles Austin and A.J. Green).

Recognizing the dead weight at wide receiver will help. Here's a simple rule of thumb for finding those unnecessary players: Any receiver starting in less than 30 percent and owned in less than 70 percent of leagues isn't going to help your team unless you're totally weak and need all the help you can get.

Now if you have receivers who fit this criteria, it doesn't mean you must cut them right now. It just means they're candidates to be cut if you want to get help elsewhere, such as adding running back depth. Here are some receivers worth hanging on to based on the kind of league you're in or if you're willing to carry one as a sleeper for late-season success (note that sleepers are worth holding on to in any format unless specified below).

Receivers worth owning
Worth owning as: Standard PPR Sleeper
Doug Baldwin X
Arrelious Benn X
Steve Breaston X
Vincent Brown X
Nate Burleson X X X
Josh Cribbs X
Malcom Floyd X X X
Jacoby Ford X
Jabar Gaffney X
Darrius Heyward-Bey X
Lance Moore X X
Santana Moss X X
Greg Little X X
Jerome Simpson X X X
Demaryius Thomas X
Damian Williams X
Titus Young X

Quarterbacks and tight ends are sort of in the same boat: You know who the studs are and you know who the studs aren't. If you have a stud at either position, is it worth it to carry a backup? For instance, if you're only required to start one and you're not in a league 14 or more teams, does it make sense to have more than one quarterback and tight end?

The answer, in my opinion, lies on the waiver wire. If your league already has a bunch of free-agent quarterbacks and tight ends suitable for starting duty on waivers, then you don't need to hog a roster spot with a backup. Let the waiver wire carry the backup for you.

Pretty much any quarterback regularly started in less than 60 percent of leagues is pretty much a backup, with one very notable exception: Tim Tebow. As long as he stays productive, he's a consideration to start from week to week based on who else you have on your team. Everyone else isn't quite there -- guys like Joe Flacco and Mark Sanchez probably won't start for many of you and are only worth keeping if everyone else in your league is keeping a backup.

The only way it pays to carry a second tight end is if you have no confidence in your first tight end. There are not many reliable No. 1 tight ends this year -- the turnover at the position has come at an alarming rate. Only nine tight ends are regularly started in at least 70 percent of leagues. If you have one of those tight ends, it's a safe bet that he'll be the only one you need. Let's call them Dominant-Tier tight ends.

If you don't have one of them, carrying two from the secondary group of tight ends isn't the end of the world. It's not ideal, because you have to make lineup decisions from week to week and of course spare an extra roster spot.

Tight ends worth owning
Dominant Tier Low-end starter/
High- to low-end backup
Jimmy Graham Kellen Winslow
Rob Gronkowski Greg Olsen
Antonio Gates Fred Davis
Jason Witten Brent Celek
Tony Gonzalez Jake Ballard
Vernon Davis Brandon Pettigrew
Aaron Hernandez Dustin Keller
Jermichael Finley Ed Dickson
Owen Daniels Jermaine Gresham
  Anthony Fasano

If you own a dominant tight end and another tight end from the second list, it's probably a safe call to cut the second tight end.

Nothing fancy when it comes to kickers and DSTs, people. Unless your league requires you to do so, don't carry any more than one kicker and one DST. Again, the byes are over. Yes, this includes the sneaky Fantasy owners who drafted the Packers DST and poached the 49ers DST off waivers back in September. There's no need to carry two -- pick one and go with them.

Finally, there's an all-encompassing rule I wanted to pass along, a rule I've followed my entire life when it comes to adds and drops. Call it Dave's Law of Drops: If you think the player you're looking at dropping would get picked up in a heartbeat, then he's not worth letting go.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

Senior Fantasy Writer

Dave Richard has spent nearly his entire career covering the National Football League. Beginning with at the boom of the Internet, Richard was that site's first Fantasy Football writer before transitioning... Full Bio

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