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The Boston area finally enjoyed our first official heat wave of the year this week, as long-awaited 90+ degree weather finally hit the Hub. Many flocked to local beaches to soak up some sun. Others hung by the pool to keep cool. I, instead, being a hater of all things hazy, hot, and/or humid, took time this week to stay in my air conditioned house and study up for my favorite season of the year: fantasy football season.
The unofficial start of fantasy football season kicks off this weekend, when many of us fantasy geeks will launch into full draft mode. Between now and Labor Day, draft season heats up, as groups of fantasy enthusiasts gather together to choose up teams, eat greasy food, and drink some cold beer!
So in true “Starting ELEVEN” fashion, I decided to participate in ELEVEN different fantasy mock drafts over the past few days, to see what trends and habits I could learn about from fellow fantasyheads. I jumped from web site to web site, format to format, and took notes on how the drafts each shook out. I know, who is this geek, right? I hate the sun, and the sun hates me…just leave it alone.
Here now with further ado, are eleven things I learned on my fact-finding mock draft mission. Feel free to print out this article and take it to the beach with you.
In years past, if you didn’t lock up two top running backs in the first two rounds of your draft, other owners were poking fun at you as if you had just shot yourself in the leg with your own unregistered gun (Sorry, too soon Plaxico? See you in 2011, we’ll miss you). This year, there has been a noticeable diversion from the standard RB-RB draft habits. Top WRs like Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson, as well as QBs like Drew Brees and Tom Brady, all are being chosen as early as mid-first round. So choose your early round strategy now, but don’t be surprised if your old school RB-RB philosophy leaves you in the minority come Round 3.
In all eleven mock drafts I took part in, the draft began the same, with Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson getting the nod at the top spot. After A.P., the next three picks went to the combination of Matt Forte, Michael Turner, and Maurice Jones-Drew, in different orders from draft to draft. Then came the fifth slot, which is turning into the ultimate wild card pick.
Out of the eleven different drafts, there were ten, count ‘em, TEN different players selected. Anyone from Stephen Jackson to Frank Gore to Deangelo Williams. Even Drew Brees and Larry Fitzgerald were picked that early, breaking the run of runners at just four. So if you find yourself sitting in that five slot, know that if you don’t have a clue who you’re “supposed” to pick, you’re not alone. I’d lean towards taking a running back, but go with your gut.
The top tier of fantasy tight ends generally is considered to be four deep, with the likes of Antonio Gates, Jason Witten, Tony Gonzalez, and Dallas Clark. These four studs have been seen going off the board beginning anywhere between late third round to early fifth round. If you don’t get the chance to grab one of these fine gentlemen, wait on filling that spot and move on.
The production you’re going to get out of tight end #5 on your list and tight end #12 is not going to be that different. If you can spend your fifth and sixth round picks on wide receivers or a better QB, do it. Having Owen Daniels on your team vs. picking up Dustin Keller later on won’t make too much a difference. That being said, I’m spending my fourth rounder on getting one of those top TEs before the cream of the crop is gone…but that’s just me.
Please, please, please, pay attention to your players’ bye weeks during your draft. Nothing says “I’m a dopey fantasy football rookie” like drafting two quarterbacks with the same bye week. You may be psyched about landing Drew Brees in the second round, and you should be. But don’t go salivating over Phillip Rivers and Jay Cutler being on the board come backup time, because when week 5 rolls around, you’ll be up crap’s creek without a paddle. Yup, crap’s creek,that’s what I said (hey, this is a family article).
This is the simplest of rules when it comes to fantasy football drafts. Do not draft your kicker before the last round. The LAST round. No one is going to pat you on the back for getting the top rated kicker if you spent your 9th round pick on the guy. But every draft I did this week, some mental midget took Stephen Gostkowski or David Akers super early, and I laughed out loud at my monitor each and every time. Don’t be “that guy.”
Whether you’re able to admit it or not, you’re not going into any draft without some sort of bias for and against certain players or teams. In one mock draft, I was drafting ahead of a guy with the user name “NinerGuy.” When I took Frank Gore in the first round, right before his spot, he flew off the handle because he didn’t get “his guy.” That happens. It can work the other way too. While I totally acknowledge that Peyton Manning and Jason Witten are productive fantasy players and warrant being in the top three at their respective positions, you’ll never see me putting them on any of my fantasy teams. My level of hatred for the Colts and Cowboys is unnatural, and we’ll just leave it at that. I can’t spend my Sunday rooting for them, I just refuse to do it.
That little bit of random knowledge about your fellow league members can be very valuable come draft time. If you have the 11th pick right before me in a 12-team serpentine draft and you’re confident I won’t pick Marion Barber with pick 12 or 13, but you think I might grab Steve Slaton if he slips to me, nab Slaton in the pick before me, and you’re likely to still get Barber in the next round too. So don’t stop at just studying the NFL players, study up on your fantasy opponents, it may make a huge difference on how you draft.
It was amazing to me how early people would draft players coming off injuries just months ago, or players whose careers have been riddled with bumps and bruises year after year. My golden rule: when wrestling between two players, choose the one with the healthier history. Granted, injuries happen everywhere, to everyone, but take your chances with a guy who plays week after week over a guy who is in plain clothes on the sidelines more often than not during game time.
The latter rounds of your draft are when team depth charts can come in handy and be very useful in giving your fantasy team some added bench depth. The average sports fan and fantasy football amateur can’t name you the second wide receiver on the Browns’ depth chart, or the backup running back in Kansas City. Taking a flier on guys like that (Brian Robiskie and Jamaal Charles, for the record) in the late rounds will provide you players with excellent upside, likely to gain playing time over guys deeper on depth charts, especially in case of injury to guys ahead of them.
Here is a short list of players I’m seeing drafted much higher than I would ever expect: Deangelo Williams (as high as 5th overall), Chris Johnson (as high as 5th overall), Brian Westbrook (as high as 7th overall), Greg Jennings (as high as mid-2nd round), Terrell Owens (as high as late 2nd round), and Aaron Rodgers (as high as 3rd round).
I might be alone, but I’m not projecting these guys to be valuable picks as early as they are going off the board. I might eat my words if they all have career years, but if I were a betting man (and I clearly am), I’m waiting a bit on these gents.
And now to the opposite end of the spectrum, a short list of players who are staying on the board a lot longer than I would expect: Steve Slaton (as low as mid-2nd round), LaDainian Tomlinson (as low as late 2nd round), Kevin Smith (as low as late 5th round), Ryan Grant (as low as 6th round), Anthony Gonzalez (as low as 7th round), and Matt Ryan (as low as 9th round).
I guess you could call some of these guys my “sleepers,” but I’ve been really surprised at where these folks have been drafted at times.
Above all, make sure you treat your fantasy draft as the fun, bonding event it should be. It’s not every day you get to hang out with your closest friends, whether it be in person or online, and just shoot the breeze about football, so make the most of it. And for God’s sake, talk some trash! Get those competitive juices flowing. This is a game, there will be a winner, there will be plenty of losers, so bring the noise! Come December you’ll either be cashing in those winnings or you’ll be eating your words, but no matter what, make it a fun ride either way.