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Grand Theft Roto: Complementary players

10/15/2008

When I write the word "complimentary," what definition springs to your mind?

If you're prone to vanity, you probably think of a comment that speaks well of you. "My, what well-developed calves you have!" That's certainly complimentary.

If you're used to getting free stuff, either because you're famous or you tend to gamble quite a bit at certain casinos, then complimentary means something else to you.

But if I swap out the letter "i" for the letter "e" we get "complementary", which speaks to the idea of two or more pieces that fit well together. In making lunch, peanut butter has its own value. But unless jelly (or bananas, in certain instances) plays a complementary role, it's just not a sandwich.

So when I talk about "complementary players" in this column, I want to be clear. I'm not referring to Clinton Portis' giving you kudos for your fashion sense or the possibility that you could get a free wide receiver with the purchase of an offensive-line box set.

I'm talking about players who fit together to give you more value than either could supply on his own because identifying these dynamic dyads is a way of scoring a grand theft roto while the other guy doesn't even notice he's missing anything.

Casing the Joint

We all love every-week starters, but they're getting harder to find. Tom Brady and Tony Romo are both on the shelf, letting their famous hot girlfriends kiss their boo-boos. LaDainian Tomlinson's owners thought they were getting a plug-and-play guy when they took him first overall, but so far, that hasn't worked out for them. Randy Moss was the first receiver off the board, and even he has felt the sting of pine on his posterior.

So with all this in mind, the next best thing to owning a player who you can start regardless of matchup is having two players whose schedules synch up to the extent that you can avoid their worst matchups. Most owners grasp this concept on draft day, when they back up their star quarterback with a mediocre talent who plays a creampuff on their stud's bye week. But the strategy works all season long, and best of all, allows owners to trade for a player whose shortcomings are brushed away as soon as he's on a roster with a complementary player.

For example, if you have David Garrard as your quarterback, you've been pleased that he seems to be rebounding, but you certainly don't consider yourself "all set" at the position. Likewise, Jake Delhomme's owners know they have a guy who has some big games, but he's only the 18th-ranked quarterback by ESPN fantasy point standards. But what do you get if, by trade, you put them together? "Dake Garhomme." Hmmm … no, not that. What you get are two players whose schedules fit together like puzzle pieces. Garrard's Jaguars face the Titans, Vikings and Ravens in Weeks 11, 12 and 17, respectively. Each of those teams is allowing opposing quarterbacks to average no more than 15.2 fantasy points a week. Meanwhile, Delhomme's Panthers see the Lions, Falcons and Saints those weeks. Oh, and did I mention Delhomme faces the Saints this week while Garrard's on his bye? Trading for one when you already own the other turns both quarterbacks into legit starters in the weeks you'll use them.

Let's look at running backs. Even though Ryan Grant was taken well before Thomas Jones in most leagues, Jones has outscored Grant 56-31 so far. Neither is considered an elite back right now, but together, they might just be more potent than most of the runners who are in the top 10. Grant still hasn't scored a touchdown yet, but he has rushed for 173 yards the past two weeks, so he's coming around. More importantly, Jones has a stellar schedule the rest of the way, except in Week 12 versus the Titans and Week 17 against a Dolphins D that has been shutting down opposing backs in the past three games. Those weeks, Grant sees New Orleans and Detroit -- matchups I like much more. This is a match made in fantasy heaven.

When it comes to receivers, this approach isn't as clear-cut because anything from weather to opposing game plans to the score of the game can turn a top option into an afterthought or vice versa. Still, there are opportunities, like with Plaxico Burress, who has been consistent, but whose behavior has already cost him a game this year. The Giants face the Steelers in Week 8 and have two games against the stout Eagles secondary in Weeks 10 and 14. Those are two of the five toughest teams on opposing wide receivers, according to ESPN.com's "points against" rankings. Compare those matchups to Isaac Bruce's, who sees the Seahawks, Cardinals and Jets in those weeks. Bruce is owned in 90.2 percent of ESPN leagues, but it's doubtful his owners see him as reliable source of points. He'd be plenty reliable for a Burress owner who needs him for three weeks, tops.

To be fair, the three examples I've listed are just a tiny glimpse at the viable options out there. So study your team, identify those players whom you like but don't love, and then find the player who complements them in a fantasy sense.

Three I'm Stealing

Jake Delhomme, QB, Panthers: Even if I don't own Garrard, I'm buying on Delhomme, whose only daunting defensive challenge will be in Week 14, when he faces the same Bucs defense that tore him apart this past Sunday. Delhomme has scored double-digit points against teams like the Chiefs, Falcons and Chargers, but he has been shut down by the Bears, Vikings and Bucs. He has a pattern of success against lesser defenses, and that's what Carolina is facing from here on out. If you just watched Tony Romo go from point-scorer to pinky-buster, you could do worse than to grab Jake.

Brian Westbrook, RB, Eagles: I know how dinged up Westbrook is, but I also know the Eagles realized that by sitting him this past Sunday, they could give him two full weeks off, including this week's bye. He may never be healthy this year, and chances are that Westie's owner is feeling frustrated that he wasted the second or third pick in the draft on a guy whom he can't count on every week. So if you have depth at running back, I'd say you can offer up Brandon Jacobs or the suddenly fading Steve Slaton and see if you can score a guy who could carry you into and through the playoffs, even if he's never at 100 percent

Wes Welker, WR, Patriots: Consider this a decent buy in most leagues, and a strong "steal" in point-per-reception formats. Matt Cassel clearly is more comfortable throwing short routes rather than standing in and looking downfield as the pocket collapses. The beneficiary is Welker, who catches bubble screens and underneath patterns. Only two wide receivers have more catches than Welker's 36, and among receivers who 30 receptions or more, Welker is the only one who hasn't found the end zone. That will change, and even in the weeks when he doesn't take it to the house, Welker's yardage and catches make him solid at worst.

Three I'm Dealing

Brandon Jacobs, RB, Giants: You're not dealing him now. Not when he has a date looming with the Niners in Week 7. But after that, Jacobs and the rest of the Giants have nothing even resembling a favorable schedule. Every defense he will face in the final 10 weeks is among the 13 toughest in terms of fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs. If and when Jacobs bowls over San Fran this week, he'll be a top-10 running back. That's when you make your play. But you can start putting feelers out now.

Santana Moss, WR, Redskins: I do not panic when a receiver has a couple of bad weeks in a row in terms of production, especially when facing a couple of good defenses. But Moss has been wretched two weeks in a row despite facing the Rams this past Sunday, and even more disconcerting is the fact that he has only seen five passes come his way in October. I know this past week's column was the one about consistency, but really there's always time to point out that Moss historically has been a guy who has huge games or awful outings -- rarely in-between.

Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions: Jon Kitna is on injured reserve, Roy Williams is deep in the heart of Texas and the Lions are now sporting a "platoon" of Kevin Smith and Rudi Johnson in the backfield. I'm sorry, but if I'm the opposing defensive coordinator, I'm triple-teaming Megatron and daring Dan Orlovsky & Co. to beat me some other way. Market Johnson as the undoubted top option in Detroit now, even if you don't believe that's a good thing.

Pulling the Job

No deals to report this week, although considering the fact that I own Romo in half the leagues I'm in and backed him up with Matt Hasselbeck wherever possible, I have a feeling I'll be making offers for any quarterback with a working arm.

Until next week, don't just win your league. Steal it.

Shawn Peters is a fantasy baseball, football and golf analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him your own grand theft rotos by clicking here.