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Like They Say,
Always Start Your Studs
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Mike Davis

This year I am playing in a thirty-team league divided into three conferences (each with a separate draft). There are all kinds of players in this league--most of them lurking in one cubicle or another around my office. Some think fantasy football is little more than a lottery. Some are genuine experts. Some fool themselves into thinking they know more than they do. Most fool everyone else into thinking they know more than they do. As in most leagues, an owner needs only to speak with confidence in order to take on the air of an expert. And the easiest way to speak confidently is to proclaim (with as much gravity as possible) that this or that generalization is the "most important thing to bear in mind" when deciding upon a lineup.

The favorite generalization--the one bandied about most frequently on email and during lunchbreaks--is that fantasy owners should always start their studs. I guess this little nugget of wisdom wouldn't bother me so much if I knew exactly what it meant. But more often than not, as far as I can tell, it seems to mean nothing more than that the person sharing it intends to say "I told you so" on Monday morning.

"Which two should I start," asked the rookie fantasy player in my office on Tuesday, "out of Fred Taylor, Ricky Watters, James Stewart, and Emmitt Smith?"

"Always start your studs," came the chorus of replies. And once the chorus was over, a couple of other voices chimed in, "They're right! You have to play the percentages."

The rookie should have let it go there. But he really needed advice. So he continued: "But which ones are my studs? Stewart is playing Tampa Bay. Emmitt faces Arizona. Watters is . . ."

"The opponent doesn't matter," roared last year's commissioner. "A stud is a stud no matter who he's up against."

The rookie, eager to absorb some information, waited for the ex-commissioner to finish. He waited in the hope of learning which two running backs were his studs. He was sure that he had a stud or two on his team because he had done exactly what the guidebook told him to do. But the ex-commissioner had nothing further to say. The rookie had learned that studs can be defined as players who are reliable even in the face of superior opposition. But he still didn't know which players were his studs.

Fred Taylor, according to everyone in the league, used to be a stud. For that matter, so did Emmitt Smith. And historically speaking, Ricky Watters has always been on the verge of clicking with an offense and becoming a stud. James Stewart, everyone whispers, MIGHT be a stud. But no one seems to know for sure.

It's a shame that Edgerrin James, Marshall Faulk, Stephen Davis, and Eddie George were taken before the rookie was able to draft a running back. And it's a shame that the guys who took Jeff Garcia and Rich Gannon and Elvis Grbac seem to be doing as well as he is doing with Peyton Manning. And it's a shame--or maybe it isn't, since he always starts Manning anyway--that he traded Daunte Culpepper for Emmit Smith and James Stewart because he believed the people who said that Culpepper wouldn't succeed outside of the Metrodome. But all of that is in the distant past. What he needed on Tuesday was information pertaining to Week 8 of the 2000 season.

And the information shouldn't have been very difficult to come by. Since everyone is always talking about studs, it stands to reason that they all know what studs are. And yet, the rookie was not even sure that everyone would agree with the ex-commissioner about a stud being someone whose status does not change based on the opposition. The guy in the rookie's conference who owns Stephen Davis was proud of himself for starting Davis against the Ravens because Davis had more success than other runningbacks against the Ravens' Defense. But another Davis owner (in a different conference) was proud of himself for benching him since he was held to less than a hundred yards and a single touchdown. According to the second owner, Curtis Martin looked more "studly" going up against his former teammates.

Like most of us, the rookie probably wishes he had to choose between the likes of Davis and Martin. But since his RB foursome didn't provide him the luxury of facing such a dilemma, he sounded some other people out about what constituted "studliness."

The woman in the cubicle behind him (who decided not to play this year, and clearly regrets it) said that the most important quality of a stud is that his status does not change on the basis of one or two poor performances. "Even if a stud gets shut down one or two weeks in a row, he's still a stud." A few people in the office overheard their conversation and grunted their approval, including one gentleman who traded Eddie George after week two because of his "disappointing numbers for a first round pick."

By the time the rookie made his way over to my desk, I had my answer prepared for him. "Don't worry about what a 'stud' is," I said. "Playing your studs is just code for using your best players on any given week. People use the term to mask their own sloppy thinking and the fact that they're too lazy to do research. If you're motivated enough to check your numbers, you'll know who your studs are. I don't know which two you should start. All I know is that you have to bench Stewart for the week. He got thirteen yards vs. Tampa in the Silverdome. I don't see any reason he should do better against the Buccs on their own turf."

I'm staying home from work today because I don't want to run into the rookie. So the next time you're tempted to steer clear of a vague generalization, remember that the risk you run when you attempt to provide a specific, meaningful prediction is that you just might not be able to say, "I told you so."

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