This year, there are some big-name players who won't be seeing action in the first few weeks of the season. Whether it's due to off-field antics or an injury, these players pose a big decision-making dilemma on draft day. In this article, I'll try to simplify these decisions and examine the individual cases surrounding each player and how they may offer value to your fantasy team.
My first piece of advice is this: Treat any player, regardless of skill, who you know will miss the first 3 games or more like a rookie or sleeper pick who is going to be available to play in Week 1. That's right, you heard me. For the purposes of your fantasy draft this year, Vincent Jackson, Santonio Holmes, Sidney Rice, and Ben Roethlisberger are Dez Bryant, Dexter McCluster, Joshua Cribbs, and Matthew Stafford.
Let me explain: When you pick up a rookie or a sleeper, you already have your starting roster filled. You're not going to start him in week 1. The plan is to let him occupy a spot on your bench for a few weeks and wait to see if he lives up to all that potential or not. If you see his team start using him a lot, and he starts making a big impact, then you bump him up to a starter. If not, you dump him for a free agent who has stepped up and started making an impact. Sound familiar?
Any of the big four players mentioned above won't be available for the first 3 games of the season, at least. Therefore, even though they're all guys you'd plan on starting every week, you already know you're going to fill your spot with someone else for several games, not including their bye week. So, my advice to you is this: Don't take any player who's going to be guaranteed to miss time until you've already got solid starters filling the key spots in your roster. Now, with that covered, let's move on to the specifics of each players individual situations...
Ben Roethlisberger: His situation is, in many ways, the most straight-forward. He's out 4-6 weeks, but it's likely to be just 4 as he's been doing everything he needs to do to get the suspension reduced. However, when he comes back, we know which team he'll be playing for (the Steelers), how he'll play on that team (very well), and what his position on the depth chart will be (the top). Big Ben was a top-ten quarterback last year, and when he returns, he'll put up top-ten numbers for the rest of the year. Draft him as your QB2 behind a guy you're willing to take some risk on, like Jay Cutler or Kevin Kolb, who you can pick up in rounds 6-8. If those guys pan out, you've got two QB1's who you can play matchups with or use for trades. If they don't, they're only going to hurt you for a few weeks, and then you can replace 'em with a true QB1.
Santonio Holmes: After Roethlisberger (now I know why everyone likes to call him "Big Ben" - it's much easier to type!), Holmes' situation is the next easiest. He's out for 4 weeks, cut and dry. When he returns, however, he's with a new team he's never played for (the Jets), in an offense helmed by a young and erratic quarterback (Mark Sanchez), and has some competition for the number one spot (Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery). It's very likely he'll be the no. 1 wide receiver when he comes back in week 5, but the rest of the receiving corps will have had 4 weeks to build that all-important chemistry with their young quarterback. If Braylon Edwards stops dropping passes that hit him in the chest and starts playing like a no. 1 wideout, he may remain Sanchez's favorite target, at least for a few weeks, after Holmes returns. Add into that equation how little the Jets passed the ball last year, and there's a lot to consider when drafting Holmes.
Vincent Jackson: He's suspended for 3 games... and he's engaged in a contract battle that could last until the Charger's 10th game of the season. The Chargers, none to pleased by the drama he's created, have placed him on the roster-exempt list. That carries with it an additional 3-game suspension, which can be served concurrently with his existing 3-game suspension if Jackson signs with a team before Sept. 4th. Otherwise, he won't play until week 7. And when he does play, there's no way of knowing who will be throwing to him or what his supporting cast will look like. It could be Brett Favre, or it could be Matt Hasselbeck.
Sidney Rice: After 2 of the 3 specialists he visited in the off-season recommended hip surgery, Rice elected to go with a rehab program instead. Last week, he had a setback in that program, and this week he finally went ahead with the surgery. Now, he's looking at a recovery program that will be a minimum of 8 weeks. It could be longer, and Vikings' head coach Brad Childress has said that placing him on the Injured Reserve list (which would end his season) hasn't been ruled out. Either way, we're looking at a minimum of 6 games missed and no guarantee he'll be the same guy when he comes back after that (there are always risks when a player comes back from an injury).
So, as I said before, treat these guys like rookies or deep sleepers on draft day and fill in your starters without relying on them - because there's no guarantee if or when you'll be able to make them your starter. Unless you can take them after the 8th round, let someone else deal with the headaches - and take a player who might be underrated this season (Santana Moss, Matt Forte, Johnny Knox, Malcolm Floyd, or Mike Wallace for example) and let some other owner in your league deal with the headaches.