The other day, I had my first of three fantasy football drafts. I thought I'd take this time to share my draft results and theory so you can get a feel for the thought process and strategy during a real live draft.
As I mentioned in my last article, drafts will be different depending on the league size, roster structure and scoring system. This particular league was a 10 team league where we start one quarterback, three running backs, three wide receivers, one tight end, one kicker and one defense/special teams with seven bench slots. Scoring is relatively standard, although it is a .4 point per reception league. There are also bonuses for big games, but for the most part, that wasn't really a factor for me when making any of my decisions.
My strategy going into the draft was to get a QB, an RB and a WR with my first three picks. If I could get an elite QB I would either take a flier as a backup or perhaps not even bother taking one. I had the same thought process regarding the tight end position.
For RB and WR, I wanted as many options as possible. Since we start three RB and three WR, I knew I was going to draft at least five of each. Even if I miss on one or two I should still be able to field a strong unit at each position in any given week, and, worst case scenario, I have an easy drop in case I need to make a waiver claim early on in the season.
I was going to wait until the last two rounds to take a defense and a kicker because they're all relatively comparable, and in a 10 team league, the difference between the No. 1 QB or TE and the No. 10 QB or TE is way greater than the difference between the No. 1 D or K and the No. 10 D or K.
I knew that if I had the first pick, I would take Adrian Peterson, but after that, I view many of the other players as interchangeable. Sure enough, I landed the No. 2 pick in the draft, which I was not crazy about.
As expected, the team with the No. 1 pick selected Peterson, which left me with a tough decision. There were several candidates, some carrying more risk than others. I decided to make this draft interesting right off the bat…
With my first pick, I select RB LeSean McCoy. I suppose this pick would have been easier to justify if I were in a full PPR league, but I just have a really strong feeling about him this year. He took a huge step forward last season, and I see him taking another one this year as well.
McCoy is Michael Vick's favorite checkdown receiver, and with the Eagles' offensive line struggling, McCoy should see a lot of receiving targets. Couple that with a 5.2 yards per rush average last season, and you have the potential for an elite fantasy season.
I can easily see an average of about 75 rushing yards per game and 50 receiving yards per game, which would equate to a 2,000 yard season. The downside with McCoy is that his TD potential is somewhat limited because the Eagles often employ Michael Vick and a red zone rushing threat, but I think he'll provide enough production across the board to make it worth the pick.
As with everything else, timing is everything. If this draft had taken place a few weeks ago, there's almost no way I would've taken McCoy with the second pick. I likely would've selected Arian Foster or Chris Johnson. However, Foster's hamstring issues and Johnson's holdout made me wary about taking them.
You could obviously make the argument for Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles or any number of others, but as I said, I feel Shady McCoy is in line for an elite fantasy season.
The rest of Round 1 was pretty normal, with the exception, in my opinion, of three QBs getting taken. I suppose this isn't so strange, as both Michael Vick and Aaron Rodgers have been taken in Round One in a majority of drafts. However, Tom Brady was selected No. 8 overall, pushing Ray Rice all the way to No. 9, which I think is an absolute steal.
At this point, I'm thinking about taking a WR in Round Two. However, as with all drafts, you have to be able to adapt depending on what is happening around you. You don't want to completely submit control and let the draft dictate your actions, but you must remain flexible.
Round Two sees six WR come off the board before it's my turn to pick. Couple that with the fact that I had a feeling the player with the No. 1 pick might want to take a QB with pick No. 20 or No. 21, and it pushes me to alter my thinking a little here…
At this point, I was thinking about taking a WR in Round Two. However, as with all drafts, you have to be able to adapt depending on what is happening around you. You don't want to completely submit control and let the draft dictate your actions, but you must remain flexible.
Round Two sees six WRs come off the board before it's my turn to pick. Couple that with the fact that I had a feeling the player with the No. 1 pick might want to take a QB with pick No. 20 or No. 21, and it pushes me to alter my thinking a little here
With my second selection, I take QB Drew Brees. I toyed with the idea of taking a WR here, but as I mentioned earlier, I was afraid the owner drafting behind me was going to take a QB. After the three QB who had already been taken, I viewed Brees and Philip Rivers to be the next best options, and there was no way either of them would be around in Round Four.
I suppose if it was truly a toss-up in my head, I could've taken a WR and let the other owner make my decision for me. But I decided that I'd rather have Brees over Rivers. Rivers is certainly no slouch, but I figure that Brees was more likely to give me consistent, week to week production.
Brees has thrown for at least 250 yards in over 75 percent of his games over the past three seasons under offensive guru Sean Payton. He's surrounded with a ton of weapons as always and should be in line for another monster campaign.
Sure enough, the guy drafting behind me selects a QB with the No. 20 overall pick (though certainly not the one I expected) and then takes Mike Wallace at No. 21. At this point, there are several WR I'm looking at, but I just can't justify taking any of them at No. 22. Odds are that at least one WR I like is going to be available to me in Round Four.
However, there is still a RB on the board that stands out to me beyond all others...
In Round Three, I select RB Darren McFadden. McFadden had a 5.2 yard per carry average last season and totaled at least 100 yards in 10 out of 13 games in which he played. He also has the backing of new head coach Hue Jackson, who employed a power-blocking scheme as opposed to a zone-blocking system which they had previously used.
Run DMC is an absolute beast when healthy, and early reports say he's the best player in camp despite missing time due to an orbital bone fracture. This, of course, is the issue with McFadden. He has had a number of injuries which have limited his production to an extent, but the upside here is too hard to ignore.
As we transition into Round Three and Round Four, we see the rest of the upper tier RB get drafted (DeAngelo Williams, Steven Jackson, Peyton Hillis, Frank Gore, Ahmad Bradshaw, Matt Forte) and a number of WR go as well, including Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson, Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Reggie Wayne.
I find it interesting at this point of the draft that 16 RB have been selected and 12 WR are off the board, so I decided to do some research via FantasyFootballCalculator.com. Again, as I mentioned in my last article, there are precious few every down backs nowadays. As a result of this, you are seeing a lot of fantasy owners waiting on RB. This season, there are an average of 11 RB being selected in the first 20 picks of all drafts. Compare that with 2007, where 13 of the first 14 players taken in drafts were RB. This isn't your daddy's fantasy football landscape.
At this point in the draft, only one other team besides mine has not yet drafted a WR, so now is the time to spring into action and take one. After weighing a number of options here, I select WR Vincent Jackson.
He's coming off a horrible 2010 season which was marred by off the field issues, but when this guy's on the field, he produces huge numbers. He averaged over 1,100 yards between 2008 and 2009 and is Philip Rivers' favorite downfield threat in a pass-happy offense.
There's no reason for me to think that Jackson can't at least match his numbers from 2008 and 2009. Jackson has a tremendous amount of upside and can easily be a top 10 WR this season.
In Round Five, I select RB Felix Jones. I still have no idea if this was a good pick or not. There were a ton of players I was considering here. Among these players I was coveting were LaGarrette Blount, Santonio Holmes, Dallas Clark, Jermichael Finley, Stevie Johnson, Wes Welker and Jason Witten.
Again, I can't say with any great certainly that Felix Jones will be better than all of those players. Or even half of them. However, again, since I plan on drafting a larger than normal number of RB and WR, I want to go with players with big upsides. I don't mind "missing" a couple of picks as long as I "hit" enough to make it worth the risk.
As for Jones, once Jason Garrett took over the head coaching duties for the Dallas Cowboys last season, he tallied at least 75 total yards in every single game. He is not the greatest between the tackles running back you'll ever see, but he's extremely elusive in space and I trust Garrett to get him the ball in situations where he can thrive, whether it be on sweeps, tosses or swing passes out of the backfield.
He only scored one rushing touchdown last season, but my hope here is that with Marion Barber out of the picture, Jones will see a little more red zone work. I'm not expecting 10 TD, but if he gives me six, I'll take the rest of the package along with it.
With my sixth round pick, I draft WR Kenny Britt. As I just mentioned, there were a ton of WR who went immediately following my Felix Jones pick, so I debated between picking a WR and TE here. The only TE I would feel comfortable justifying here is Vernon Davis, but I really like three WR here: Britt, Mario Manningham and Percy Harvin, especially Britt and Manningham. Here's where I made a tactical error. Not necessarily with the pick itself, but with my failure to gauge my opponents.
Oftentimes drafting a fantasy football team takes on the characteristics of playing poker in terms of reading your opponents. The guy drafting behind me in Round Six and ahead of me in Round Seven named his team "Bronx Eagle Haters." Assuming that meant he was a Giants fan and knowing he would likely draft a WR, I should have selected Manningham. I could have used him as trade bait in the hopes that this particular owner would overvalue him. Or I could have simply held onto him and hoped he'd outperform Britt. Either way, I probably should have taken Manningham.
Now that doesn't mean I have a problem with Britt per se. He scored at least 12 fantasy points in five of his last seven games last season and should be a prime target of Matthew Hasselback in Tennessee.
But he's still rounding himself back into shape from a hamstring injury and is always a risk to do something stupid off the field.
Sure enough, after I select Britt, the other owner takes Manningham and Harvin. If I had to do it over again, I'd have taken Manningham, but only time will tell. No sense in dwelling and throwing myself off for the remainder of the draft. On to the next one.
In Round Seven, I select TE Vernon Davis. Davis was the fifth tight end selected in our draft, which seems about right. I feel as though I always have an anti-Vernon Davis bias because I had him in 2008 when he was supposed to break out. He posted a whopping 358 receiving yards that season. That was also the year I drafted Tom Brady in Round One. Good times.
Anyway, Davis has bounced back with consecutive 900 yard seasons and 20 TD combined in 2009 and 2010. More impressive is his doing so with, shall we say, less than spectacular QB play. Davis should be the main target of Alex Smith, and I view Davis as a better option than those TE being drafted later, though there are a couple of lower tier TE that I like.
Between my Round Seven and Round Eight picks, every position is selected, including a kicker. I am thrilled by this. As I mentioned in the beginning of this column, I am of the opinion that defenses and kickers are a dime a dozen. The difference between the No. 1 QB or TE and the 10th best is always going to be greater than the difference between the No. 1 D or K and the No. 10 D or K. I guarantee that at the end of the season, if you add up the total points of the best QB, best TE, 10th best D and 10th best K, they will destroy the combination of the 10th best QB/TE and No. 1 D/K.
Besides, defenses and kickers are so hard to predict. It's simply not worth it. But by all means, league mates, draft kickers and defenses in Rounds Seven and Eight. That just gives me more RB/WR options to mix and match.
In Round Eight, I pick WR Chad Ochocinco. I honestly have no idea what Chad Ochocinco is going to do this year. He's struggled mightily in camp according to various reports, and he's going to have to fight with Wes Welker and Deion Branch for Tom Brady's affection.
But #85 has to have something to prove, and Bill Belichick knows how to maximize talent. Brady should be able to keep him happy and in check throughout the season. I wouldn't predict a Randy Moss like 2007 season, but a 1,000 yard, eight TD season certainly seems reasonable.
At this point, I have the core of my team established. I have my QB, my three RB, my three WR and my TE. I have the next seven rounds to acquire as much depth as possible. If you are at this point in your draft and you're not particularly happy with your team up to that point, you do not need to panic.
There is still plenty of talent to be had. We're 80 picks in right now, and we still have a ton of starting players available.
With my ninth pick, I draft RB Joseph Addai. Addai is not someone who's going to necessarily impress your league mates, and he's a huge injury risk. But this is the type of player I love taking with a bench slot. If he doesn't pan out or if he gets hurt, I can cut him without much damage to the structure of my team. However, if he remains healthy, he can be a huge boost.
Over the past two seasons, Addai has only played 23 games. But in those 23 games, he has amassed over 1800 yards and 14 TD. Keeping up that pace over the course of a full season would likely make Addai a top 10 RB. Not entirely out of the realm of possibility. And I have him as my No. 4 RB.
At this point in the draft, we see five QB selected, presumably as backups. Again, this is all fine with me. There are plenty of options that I would feel comfortable with as my No. 2 QB, especially considering I don't plan on playing my No. 2 more than once or twice during the season. This is another luxury that drafting an elite QB will afford you.
AJ Mass wrote a very good piece recently where he broke down the impact of having an elite No. 1 QB against having two second-tier options. He concluded that having the stud QB is more beneficial because too often, when given the choice between two similar QB, you will make the wrong decision through no fault of your own. Games aren't played on paper, and playing the matchups doesn't pan out all the time.
With my 10th pick, I select WR Mike Thomas. I think Mike Thomas can be a very sneaky WR play this year. As far as I can tell, he's Jacksonville's No. 1 WR, and by a rather large margin.
The main threat is Thomas' targets will be TE Mercedes Lewis, but Thomas managed 66 receptions to go along with 12 rushes last season. And that was with Mike Sims-Walker as the perceived Jaguars' No. 1 WR. Thomas should be an uptick in targets and receptions and is a good value at this point in the draft, particularly in a PPR format.
In Round 11, I select RB Tim HIghtower. Hightower has impressed in camp and should be the main man in Washington to start the season.
To further illustrate what I alluded to earlier, we're now past pick No. 100, and I selected a starting RB. This never would've happened five years ago. Furthermore, there are still more on the board.
Now obviously, this may not be the case in your draft depending on roster makeup and the like, but who's to say that Tim Hightower won't be better than Felix Jones, who I drafted six rounds earlier? It's not likely, but it is possible and certainly worth the risk this late in the draft.
Between my Round 11 and Round 12 picks, there were five TE taken, including my personal favorite sleeper Jimmy Graham. He actually went a lot lower than he has been going in most recent drafts, and I probably should have taken him ahead of Hightower to ensure getting him. I could have had Graham in Round 11 and either a Hightower or Reggie Bush type in Round 12.
In hindsight, that probably would've been better than what I ended up doing. But again, they're all theoretically backups for me at this point, which limits the potential negative effect.
In Round 12, I select WR Lance Moore. Purely a flier, as he has established a pretty good rapport with Drew Brees at this point. If Marques Colston's health remains a concern, Moore may end up with a boost in production.
Of course, Moore himself remains a health risk, but in my opinion, it's worth the risk as my No. 5 WR in a three WR league. If I had to depend on him week in and week out, I'd be concerned. As it stands now, I am not.
I thought really hard about taking a backup QB here even though it's essentially a wasted roster spot on my team, especially since I'm not in love with Moore. I thought about this mainly because the guy behind me had Josh Freeman without a backup, and I figured he'd take a backup QB with one of his next two picks. Instead I chose Moore, and sure enough, he selected Sam Bradford at pick #120.
In Round 13, I draft QB Kevin Kolb. After losing out on Bradford, I decide to go with the QB on the board who has the most potential upside.
I figure if Kolb gets off to a fast start in Arizona, I could potentially use him as trade bait to improve other areas of need. If he falls flat on his face, I can just cut him.
Odds are he'll never see the light of day in my lineup anyway, so I figure I might as well take a shot and see what happens.
In Round 14, I select RB Willis McGahee. Simply bench filler at this point, but looking back, I probably made a bad choice here. McGehee's ceiling is pretty low, and his main value is as a touchdown vulture, which makes him virtually impossible to plug into the lineup even when he has a good matchup or when one of my other RB will be on a bye.
I should have taken Ryan Torain or Roy Helu here. If Hightower were to go down, Torain or Helu could easily step in and give top 20 RB value, something McGahee has almost no chance of doing.
In Round 15, I take TE Jared Cook, my second favorite TE sleeper behind Jimmy Graham. If Jimmy Graham is a poor man's Jermichael Finley, Cook is a poor man's Graham.
He averaged nearly 50 yards per game over his last six games last season and should see an increase in opportunities. He's been splitting out wide this preseason and can create matchup problems for opposing defenses. Another backup with huge upside.
For my kicker and defense, I decided to go with Alex Henery and the Arizona defense.
Henery should put up good numbers in a high-powered offense in Philadelphia.
I plan on streaming defenses as much as possible, and I liked Arizona's early schedule, as they face Cam Newton, Rex Grossman/John Beck and Tarvaris Jackson to start the season. They should get off to a fast start.
So there you have it. Again, here's the final squad:
QB: Drew Brees
RB: LeSean McCoy
RB: Darren McFadden
RB: Felix Jones
WR: Vincent Jackson
WR: Kenny Britt
WR: Chad Ochocinco
TE: Vernon Davis
K: Alex Henery
D/ST: Arizona Cardinals
Bench: Kevin Kolb
Bench: Joseph Addai
Bench: Tim Hightower
Bench: Willis McGahee
Bench: Mike Thomas
Bench: Lance Moore
Bench: Jared Cook
What did I get right and wrong? Is there another strategy you prefer to employ when drafting in such a format? Feel free to post feedback and thanks for reading.