Tony Gonzalez Today
Photo Credit: Bengt Nyman
When discussing draft strategies, one is accustomed to hearing what positions to take and when. With the evolution we’re witnessing in the passing game, the days of going RB-RB in the first two rounds are virtually gone. Right now, fantasy drafts are not an exact science and there is no one approach that will assure you a fantasy championship. But there are players that can assure you success.
Rather than tell you what positions to take and when, I’d prefer to tell you what players I’m high on, who will see a decrease in production, who has ADP value, and who you can’t afford to gamble on.
Clearly it’s still early, and the plan could change, but there are ADP numbers from drafts that are already taking place which will provide us with a barometer from which to go on.
More after the jump:
There are two approaches you can employ with your draft. The first is to get an elite QB with your first pick. Yes, a quarterback. By elite I mean last year’s top five (Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Drew Brees and Matthew Stafford). Why? Passing is up across the board. From 2008 to 2011, the top QB has seen an increase in fantasy production by as much as 20%. The truly elite QB’s stand out more than ever and are incredibly safe picks with the rules that have been instituted to protect the passer and those put forth to assist receivers. That said there are a few players that you could take before the top QB (Rodgers). The players I am referring to are Calvin Johnson, Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice and Trent Richardson; more on them later.
Let me digress for a moment to talk about an issue that affects almost every fantasy team: injuries. If you take a quarterback who scrambles and isn’t built like Cam Newton, you are of course rolling the dice. We all know it’s hard to win a fantasy ring when your starting quarterback is on the sidelines (here’s looking at you Michael Vick). Avoid Vick who hasn’t played a full season since 2006. You know you’re injury prone when the President is telling you to slide.
Another quarterback who I think has tremendous upside but should be avoided is Robert Griffin III. Griffin is a pocket passer who likes to run. If you can get him at his ADP, which is 88, then maybe I’m a buyer. Just keep in mind that Griffin is not used to the physicality that is the NFL. In my opinion, he will also spend some time on the sidelines due to his proclivity to scramble.
What we know is that every draft is unique. If you think you can get an elite quarterback in the second or even the third round, then pull the trigger. I don’t know the format of your league, the nature of the competitors in your league, or their draft tendencies. But there is someone who does. You. So draft accordingly.
The second strategy you can employ with quarterbacks is to wait on a lesser one who can still put up consistent numbers. Naturally, by drafting a quarterback who might not be elite, you can fortify the rest of your team in the earlier rounds. As far as drafting a backup quarterback, you can wait. The depth this year at the quarterback position is strong. Some solid backup options that come to mind are: Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer, Matt Schaub, Andrew Luck, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Andy Dalton, Alex Smith and Josh Freeman. Of course, all this depends on how deep your league is. If you’re in a 16 to 20 team league, all the above can be considered starters.
Since the average league runs about twelve teams deep, here are my top 12 Quarterbacks:
• Aaron Rodgers
• Tom Brady
• Cam Newton
• Drew Brees
• Matthew Stafford
• Tony Romo
• Matt Ryan
• Eli Manning
• Peyton Manning
• Philip Rivers
• Jay Cutler
• Ben Roethlisberger
I didn’t list Mike Vick or RG III because I like my quarterbacks healthy.
Running Back Thesis
While the days of the workhorse running back are a thing of the past, there are still a select few running backs who are worth their weight and should be taken with your first pick. Again, it all comes down to who’s on the board and when. In my opinion, only four running backs exist who I would consider taking ahead of the elite five QBs we discussed. These four are: Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy and Trent Richardson. Some fantasy players might find Richardson too speculative of a pick. Well… I don’t. The Browns have a strong offensive line and are anchored by one of the best tackles in the game in Joe Thomas. Richardson was taken higher in last year’s draft than Adrian Peterson was in the 2007 NFL draft. Does that mean Richardson will outperform AP’s rookie season? Probably not. But expect Richardson to put up big numbers as the Browns offense will revolve around him. For me Trent Richardson supplants Maurice Jones-Drew this year as a top tier RB.
If you can’t get Foster, Rice, McCoy, or Richardson in the first round, you can take Matt Forte, MJD or Darren McFadden with a late first-round pick and or early second-round pick. For second and third round value, one should look at Chris Johnson, Ryan Mathews, and DeMarco Murray. Chris Johnson is actually in training camp this year and could be a slam dunk if he can return to his 2010 form. He could also be underwhelming. Only time will tell. Yet if he’s around in the second or third round of your draft I would recommend giving him a shot. Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles, on the other hand, should be avoided unless you find them still available in rounds where not drafting them is a sin. Keep in mind that both Charles and Peterson are coming off serious knee injuries and durability issues are a concern. Also, Peterson will be spelled by Toby Gerhart and Charles by Peyton Hillis, diminishing whatever value other fantasy pundits may be giving them.
Players I like in the third or fourth rounds in 12 team leagues are as follows: Fred Jackson, Doug Martin, DeAngelo Williams, Roy Helu, Willis McGahee, Darren Sproles (PPR leagues), Steven Jackson, Marshawn Lynch, and Michael Turner. Be aware that Frank Gore will see his role decreased this year with the additions of LaMichael James and Brandon Jacobs, and will most likely be overvalued by others in your league. Michael Turner, although another year older, still figures to get a majority of the workload.
My sleeper picks, who should be taken in the later rounds, are David Wilson and Ryan Williams. Both are abounding in talent and will vie for time with the Giants and Cardinals, respectively. What needs to be pointed out is that the running back position is the easiest to improve upon through the waiver wire. So, if you don’t put an emphasis on drafting a running back early, be quick to snag that backup running back who’s replacing an injured starter when the situation arises.
Wide Receiver Thesis
What needs to be stressed with the wide receiver position is patience. Almost every year the wide receiver position boasts the most depth. And this year is no different. The only player I would be compelled to take in the first round is Calvin Johnson. Larry Fitzgerald and Wes Welker, who in past years were worth first round picks, should see their production fall with the additions of Michael Floyd and Brandon Lloyd. My case in point concerning Fitzgerald and Welker is Roddy White, who saw a decline in receptions, yards and touchdowns with the addition of Julio Jones last year.
Let your competition reach for Fitz and Welker and try and get two solid receivers instead of one great WR. Given the age and injury issues regarding Andre Johnson, Steve Smith and Roddy White, you are best served to wait until the fourth round to draft a receiver. Unless you’re getting Calvin Johnson, your first three picks should either be a quarterback and two running backs or a quarterback, a running back and Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski.
The one exception I might make for drafting a receiver in the first three rounds not named Calvin Johnson would be AJ Green. Because Green seems to be the only offensive threat for the Bengals, he will be the number two fantasy receiver in the league this year.
I’m high on receivers who have value based on the benefit of improved quarterback play. Eric Decker, Demaryius Thomas, and Austin Collie will be exceptional late round picks in PPR leagues. One could feasibly snatch up these under-the-radar WRs in rounds five through eight in 10-12 team leagues. Again, let your competition reach for players that are overvalued while you draft players whose stock is on the rise. Remember the cliché adage “buy low, sell high” when thinking of the wide receiver position this year.
A few more players I feel you can snatch up in the later rounds who will outperform where you take them are: Antonio Brown, Doug Baldwin, Malcolm Floyd, Greg Little, Brian Quick, Jacoby Ford and Sidney Rice. With the wide receiver depth chart murky until the end of training camp, it is hard for me to list more players who could be of benefit to your team. Until then, remember that patience is more than a virtue, it’s a fantasy necessity when dealing with WRs.
Tight End Thesis
Let’s not beat around the bush, if you’re not committed to spending a first, second or early third round pick on Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski, you won’t find yourself with an elite tight end in a 10-12 team league. A case can be made that Graham and Gronk are more valuable than Ryan Mathews, Darren McFadden or even MJD. I say this because Graham and Gronk are young and much more equipped to play a full season than any of those RBs. However, if Graham and Gronk aren’t what you’re looking for, then you can still find value in other tight ends.
After Graham and Gronk, ADP numbers say that you should wait until the fifth or sixth rounds to take the next batch of tight ends: Aaron Hernandez, Jermichael Finley, Vernon Davis, and Antonio Gates. None of them should be taken earlier than round five.
After that, Jason Witten is a solid option who never disappoints on a consistency level. If you’re looking for upside, then look no further than Brent Celek. If Vick continues to develop a rapport with the young product out of Cincinnati, your team could reap the benefits. Tony Gonzalez is a name, but in reality is a relic of former days past and is generally overvalued for the year to come. If you’re not hitting on some of the names above, you’ll probably find the greatest worth in names like Jacob Tamme and Coby Fleener who have pre-existing relationships with their QBs Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck. For Tamme and Fleener, this should translate into solid late-round production.
Tight End seems to be a position that is flexible this year. Be sure to avoid malcontent and troublemaker Fred Davis who seems to be an incident away from suspension. In summation, it wouldn’t surprise me to see championship teams starting tight ends from opposite ends of the spectrum a la a Rob Gronkowski or Coby Fleener.
My hope in this draft plan is that it gets the ball rolling. You don’t have to agree with everything I’ve said. But you should agree with my principled philosophy of drafting on value. The deadliest sin when it comes to drafting is reaching. Don’t reach. Don’t draft on previous year’s production. Draft on what you expect for this year. Do that and you’re ahead of the game. Good luck and happy drafting.