Darren McFadden, Oakland Raiders
I have been in more mock drafts over the last two months than, well, most sane people. I have tried many different draft strategies and have come up with many rotten teams from a diverse array of drafting positions (well, 12 to be exact).
I can say, I like to draft from certain positions more than others, but every draft is different and sometimes the chips just don't fall the way you foresee. But there are some trends that may help you decide who to take and when.
I'm going to take a look at the current consensus average draft position from The Football Guys' ADP chart, which aggregates the fantasy sites of CBS, ESPN, MFL, RTSports and The Fantasy Football Calculator. I'll then do a one-person mock draft, using no hands!
It wasn't that long ago the top three running backs were the top three choices for your average draft, but I had to do a discount double take when I saw Aaron Rodgers had sneaked into the top three, because that's not much of a discount.
There is much debate on when to go after the top quarterbacks in your draft. I for one, am going to wait, at least until I'm out of the first round, if at all possible.
From all my drafting this year, I've come to the conclusion that if you take a quarterback in the first round, your chances of fielding a strong team throughout, is more difficult. It isn't impossible, of course, and if Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers falls toward the end of the first round, I will have a hard time not taking them, but I rather take a running back.
With the injuries to Trent Richardson and Ryan Mathews, we've seen a shake up in ADP of the first round. Mostly because Mathews and Richardson were themselves, in the first round of many mocks and because running back injuries worry people, which then makes them go after quarterbacks, due to their safety.
I understand the desire to play it safe, but there are two factors that lead me to want a running back in the first round. The first is the old, but true, idea of value based drafting. The position that holds the most value is running back. Your league needs to draft a total of 24 to 36 running backs compared to just 12 quarterbacks. It's the law of supply and demand.
Secondly, there just aren't many good running backs in good fantasy situations this season. Two of the few every down running backs are already injured and the majority of the rest are either injury risks or aren't on the field for every down. So after the first two rounds, you are starting to scrape some running back gunk out of the barrel bottom.
For the most part, I am coming out of the first round with a running back. The first three picks are easy. Arian Foster, Ray Rice and LeSean McCoy are every down backs, who have been relatively healthy in their careers. And they are friggin awesome.
After those three, your fantasy mates will be grabbing the big three quarterbacks and Calvin Johnson. Johnson is head and shoulders above the other receivers right now, but I'll be passing on him because wide receivers are good and deep this season.
If I don't get the big three running backs, I very much want to come out of the first round with Darren McFadden or Chris Johnson. Both have questions surrounding them, but both have No. 1 upside.
For the sake of picking one, I'm going to go with Darren McFadden. His upside is out of this world and I'm a big fan of Run DMC.
After selecting a running back in the first round, it would seem that we would be more flexible in the second round to pick whatever position we darn well please, but we're not! You must draft another running back! Well, you can do whatever you want of course, but my best drafts have come using the two running back approach.
And the good news is, the second round is flush with quality running backs, unlike the third, fourth, fifth and well, you can count. There are seven backs in this round who would make a quality second running back on your roster. My rankings have Marshawn Lynch and DeMarco Murray as my go-to second backs, while the upside of Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles, Trent Richardson and Ryan Mathews is very tempting.
And let me let you in on a little secret: running backs get hurt, and maybe one of these guys will blow his knee out in the first game, but we are going to keep drafting running backs and more running backs until our team is saturated with backs of all different shapes and sizes.
So why put all our eggs into the running back basket? Well, because they are fragile, and it's not really just one basket. We are drafting back-up eggs! The more running backs you have, the more of them can get hurt and you'll have a replacement.
I'm going to grab Marshawn Lynch here. I'm not a huge fan of his, but he is the no-doubt workhorse for the Seahawks and it doesn't look like he will be suspended. Woo hoo?
Round three is the wild west. This, if you've followed the running back scenario, is the round that you are going to look for the best value and consider your starting lineup more carefully. If you start three to four wide receivers, you should look hard at receivers, which there will be plenty to choose from.
You'll also be looking to see if any top quarterbacks have fallen. The ADP doesn't show any, but I have seen it happen. And you can also make a preemptive strike on Michael Vick here. His ADP shows him going in the top of the fourth round, but if you are high on him, you could reach.
With the players on the ADP board, I'm going with Julio Jones. His upside is tremendous and I want to own him if I can. And most of my leagues start three wide receivers and have another spot for a flex receiver, so I have to grab at least three good starters.
If I get scooped on Jones, there are plenty of solid, No. 1 receivers in this group to choose from. And some that will most likely fall to the fourth round, if you need yourself another No. 1receiver to fill your No. 2 receiver spot. Awesome receivers for everyone!
OK, you're starting to worry a little. The top quarterbacks are long gone and you are cussing me like I'm your sister's gerbil who chewed up your Joe Montana rookie card. I get it. You wanted Rodgers and Brady and Brees, oh my! But did you notice in the third round, all of those amazing running backs? No? That's right, there weren't any.
Yes, Fred Jackson and Ahmad Bradshaw could have huge years, but both will most likely have their numbers hurt by their equally awesome counterparts sitting next them on the bench.
So, we have a few more choices here in the fourth round. Michael Vick has a ton of upside. There are six wide receivers who I would be ecstatic to own. Doug Martin is one of the few running backs with every down upside, who you can get this late (I've actually seen him going in the third round a lot). And Eli Manning is now a solid fantasy producer with Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks flanking him.
My two players I'm choosing between here are Percy Harvin and Michael Vick. I absolutely love Harvin this season and have felt good every time I've drafted him. I'm scared of Vick, but it seems that some people have forgotten that not long ago he led the league in everything.
If I take Vick I'm going to have to grab a solid backup quarterback, but at this point, I feel like I will want to do that with just about any quarterback I choose.
Harvin fills that deep receiver position on my team and insures me a strong base. The question I have to ask myself is, how deep is the quarterback position this season? If I don't get Vick, will I regret it? My answer is, drum roll please, it's deep enough.
Percy Harvin it is.
The fifth round is usually when I start looking to draft a tight end. I am all aboard the Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski trains, but I believe the tight end position is also full of talent and you also only need one of them starting.
Hernandez is the last tight end that I would consider grabbing this early though. I could also see waiting even longer if needed.
I have targeted Aaron Hernandez quite a few times this season. If he hadn't missed a couple games last year he would have had 80-plus receptions, 1,000 yards and seven-plus touchdowns. That's a pretty good line from a tight end you can grab in the fifth round.
But we have to do our due diligence here. We still need a quarterback and we have Tony Romo, Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers just waiting to be scooped up. I like all three and believe they are capable of leading my team, but I am now looking to pair up my No. 1 wide receiver with his quarterback, so I shall wait.
Aaron Hernandez is my guy.
Well, I cheated. I saw that Matt Ryan was going to fall to me in the sixth round so I waited. You may not have that luxury in a real draft. His ADP keeps rising and you may have to add him to that fifth round discussion, but I don't, so hah!
I really like Matt Ryan this year for multiple reasons. You can see some of them here if you have a hankering.
As you can see, the running back options in these last two rounds have been slim. If I was hurting for a running back, I most likely would have grabbed Willis McGahee, but I didn't have to, because I have a solid foundation at that position and I am still finding solid players at wide receiver, tight end and quarterback.
On to the next round gentlepersons!
The seventh round is where anything can happen. Players will have fallen that you may like or you can start reaching for players who you might be able to wait on, but you don't want to risk missing them. I still need a wide receiver and a flex to fill out my lineup.
I like the group of running backs in this round as flex plays. Peyton Hillis, C.J. Spiller, Donald Brown and Mark Ingram all have either the ability or the opportunity, or both, to be worthwhile picks.
But I think this is where I will finally play it "safe" with a running back and go with Hillis. The Chiefs are going to run the ball a bunch and Jamaal Charles is going to get it down to the goal line so Hillis can push it over the line, much to the chagrin of his fantasy owners, at least thirty-seven times, or thereabouts.
First off, the San Francisco 49ers? Please, please don't take a defense in the eighth round. Really, as long as you can pick up a defense and a kicker from waivers before the season starts, just take fliers on offensive players who might win a starting spot during training camp and wait to pick a defense and kicker up. But I digress.
So I've let wide receiver take a back seat in this draft. I started well, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices. If I could do it all over again, (which I could because the delete button is fully functional on my laptop, but I won't because I've cheated enough already) I'd most likely skip on Aaron Hernandez and grab Jeremy Maclin, and then pick a tight end like Fred Davis, Brandon Pettigrew, Jared Cook or Greg Olsen, but let's play this out and see how it goes, shall we?
I'm not enamored with any of the receivers this round, so I'm going to reach. In the next round I see Darrius Heyward-Bey and Titus Young, both players I like this season. So I'm just going to grab one for my third receiver slot. Hmm, let's see, eeny-meeny-miney-Bey.
Darrius Heyward-Bey wins!
So now we start filling up our bench. This is the fun part! Well, it's all fun, but grabbing upside bench players is my favorite part.
This one is easy for me. I've been a proponent of Kevin Smith his whole career, but he just hasn't been able to stay on the field and now with Mikel LeShoure hurting/suspended and Jahvid Best most likely being placed on the physically unable to perform list, it's time to give Smith another shot.
And this is also the beginning of the great running back hoarding of 2012. I want plenty of high upside guys to have on my bench in case one of my starters gets hurt. I rather have guys I really like versus backups to my starters, so unless I really like the backup, I'll pass.
Smith's ADP is probably moving on up, but for now, you can still find him at value, and that's what I'll do this round.
I'll take, who directed Clerks and Gigli for $200 Alex.
OK, this will be our last round. ADP starts to lose its usefulness the further you get into the draft. People's evaluation of players start to differ wildly and ADP can only average those wide differences out. Your individual drafts won't resemble ADP very closely this late.
I'll give you a list of some guys I'm targeting late, so take that and put it in a bushel basket!
The 10th round is a good place to look for a backup quarterback. I'm a big proponent of getting a good backup. Say Matt Ryan breaks his finger in a good old-fashioned game of thumb war. Who do you go to? The waiver wire is a hot mess. If you wait too long to back up your guy, you are throwing John Skelton out there. The choices just aren't as good as if you were to lose a wide receiver or tight end. So grab someone!
At this point the pickins are already getting slim. I really wish I could have gotten Robert Griffin III or Ben Roethlisberger, but they are gone. I like Josh Freeman to rebound, but his upside is still pretty low. For me it's going to come down to Carson Palmer or Andrew Luck. Both have pretty high ceilings for where you can get them and of course, both could fall on their faces.
I'm going with Andrew Luck because I think the Raiders defense will be better this year and the Colts defense won't. Luck will need to throw the ball early and often.
Rounds 11 To Infinity
As you move further into your draft, there are plenty of players worthy of grabbing. The late rounds are where many leagues are won.
Like I said, I want the majority of my bench to be running backs, but of course they don't all have to be. Here's a list of some guys I'll be targeting in the later rounds: Nate Washington, Mike Williams, Jacquizz Rodgers, Jared Cook, Kendall Wright, Rashad Jennings, Greg Olsen, Austin Collie, Evan Royster, Kyle Rudolph, Brandon LaFell, Isaiah Pead, Vincent Brown, Alshon Jeffery, Kendall Hunter, Jake Locker, and Bilal Powell.