Oakland's Darrius Heyward-Bey (64 catches, 975 yards, 4 TDs) made big strides in his third NFL season, drawing 60 targets and scoring three TDs in his final six games.
On Monday, I participated in my third live mock draft of the summer (ESPN.com/12 teams/standard-scoring rules)—drawing the No. 10 slot.
For most standard-scoring leagues, I adhere to the time-tested principle of four running backs, two receivers and either a high-end quarterback or top-notch tight end in the first seven rounds. But at the 10 slot, it's wiser to skip the games of pre-draft chicken and just take the best player each time.
Here's my squad and first alternate with each pick. To see the first 48 selections, click here:
Round 1, Pick 10 overall: RB Ryan Mathews, Chargers
Backup Plan: QB Matthew Stafford, Lions
Round 2, Pick 15 overall: RB Matt Forte, Bears
Backup Plan: RB Darren McFadden, Raiders
Round 3, Pick 34 overall: RB Frank Gore, 49ers
Backup Plan: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants
Round 4, Pick 39 overall: RB Roy Helu, Redskins
Backup Plan: WR Victor Cruz, Giants
Round 5, Pick 58 overall: WR Percy Harvin, Vikings
Backup Plan: RB Shonn Greene, Jets
Round 6, Pick 63 overall: WR Jeremy Maclin, Eagles
Backup Plan: RB Shonn Greene, Jets
Round 7, Pick 82 overall: QB Robert Griffin III, Redskins
Backup Plan: RB Doug Martin, Buccaneers
Round 8, Pick 97 overall: QB Jay Cutler, Bears
Backup Plan: WR Pierre Garcon, Redskins
Round 9, Pick 106 overall: WR Laurent Robinson, Jaguars
Backup Plan: RB Daniel Thomas, Dolphins
Round 10, Pick 111 overall: WR Darrius Heyward-Bey, Raiders
2nd option: WR Sidney Rice, Seahawks
Round 11, Pick 130 overall: TE Dustin Keller, Jets
Backup Plan: TE Brent Celek, Eagles
Round 12, Pick 135 overall: D/ST Green Bay Packers
Backup Plan: D/ST Pittsburgh Steelers
Round 13, Pick 154 overall: RB Evan Royster, Redskins
Backup Plan: RB Mikel Leshoure, Lions
Round 14, Pick 159 overall: TE Jermaine Gresham, Bengals
Backup Plan: TE Ed Dickson, Ravens
Round 15, Pick 178 overall: WR Jerome Simpson, Vikings
Backup Plan: WR Kendall Wright, Titans
Round 16, Pick 183 overall: PK Mike Nugent, Bengals
Backup Plan: PK Shaun Suisham, Steelers
After grabbing Ryan Mathews and Matt Forte in the first two rounds, I made a conscious decision to go RB-RB for Rounds 3 and 4, as well (Frank Gore/Roy Helu)—as a means of softening the receiver market for Rounds 5-11.
As a pre-emptive move, nothing disturbs fantasy drafters more than an unscheduled run of tailbacks in Rounds 3-6; this forces owners to start fixating on rushers, knowing the elite players (and high-quality backups like C.J. Spiller/Toby Gerhart) could be swept up earlier than expected.
Percy Harvin represents a strong WR1 for Round 5. When choosing an anchor wideout, fantasy owners can't settle for talents that historically average about 65 catches or less per season (DeSean Jackson, Vincent Jackson). The No. 1 receiver must have an upside of 80 catches, and in Harvin's case, he racked up 87 catches, 1,312 total yards (345 rushing) and eight touchdowns last season.
Come August, I will only entertain scenarios of drafting Robert Griffin III in the middle rounds, if I can land a quarterback in the class of Jay Cutler, Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Fitzpatrick or Carson Palmer immediately after that. That's progress for me: Before Cam Newton entered the NFL scene in 2011, I had a firm rule against drafting rookie quarterbacks in the first 14 rounds.
Roy Helu produced 1,039 total yards and three touchdowns out of only 200 touches (5.02 yards per touch) last year, and with 50-60 more touches—an ultra-conservative estimate for a high-end back—that's 1,300 easy yards.
I am supremely confident that Helu can take a big leap forward this season, but I'm also aware of Evan Royster's development in the Redskins offense (they're the perfect handcuff in fantasy circles). For Helu to gain the ultimate respect in 2012, he must be a force around the goal line.
My top four receivers—Harvin, Jeremy Maclin, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Laurent Robinson—are all viable candidates for 80 catches and/or seven touchdowns. In his last six games, Heyward-Bey collected 60 targets and three touchdowns, and Robinson has been continually overlooked this offseason, despite scoring 11 touchdowns with Dallas and reuniting with progressive offensive guru Mike Mularkey, now the Jaguars' head coach, in Jacksonville.
With Cincinnati last year, Jerome Simpson drew seven or more targets seven times, but only once after Week 11. In his first 10 games, Simpson collected 70 targets, 30 catches, 562 yards and two touchdowns.
Assuming he can get the receptions-to-targets ratio above 50 percent and avoid clunkers of zero, six or 14 yards (five times last year), Simpson has room for interesting growth with his new club. Verdict: Even with his three-game suspension, Simpson still has a good shot at 49 catches, 738 yards and five touchdowns for 13 games.
Jay Clemons can be reached on Twitter, day or night, at @ATL_JayClemons.