It’s fantasy football’s most popular time of year—draft season.
While the real world works through the paces of training camps, owners work through practice mock drafts. The real world organizes a depth chart; owners organize the best team names they can find. Coaches make cuts; owners lock in sleepers.
Nothing stands more important to success in fake football than the initial draft. Waivers and trades are nice, but they can’t make up for a whiff at the majority of spots.
Strategy is the name of the game. Like the real world, where mock drafts might be opinion but give a comprehensive look at a broad range of details, fantasy mock drafts give owners an idea of strategy.
Here’s one based on 12-team standard leagues:
Now, most leagues won’t have just three quarterbacks come off the board in two rounds. Then again, with so much information available to owners these days, who knows?
Just four quarterbacks surpassed the 300-point mark last year. Peyton Manning might have come off the board first in more than a few leagues, but he wound up as just the fourth-highest scorer. It’s impossible to know if, say, Aaron Rodgers should be a top-five pick after losing Jordy Nelson.
In the grand scheme of a draft, it doesn’t make sense to roll with a quarterback in Round 1 for an extra possible 40 or so points, not when 15 gunslingers scored between 205-295 points last year.
The argument at tight end is much the same. Right now, owners take New England’s Rob Gronkowski at an average draft position (ADP) of 2.03. Fine, he scored 178 points last year, but nine players at the position scored more than 100 points last year.
There just aren’t as many options at tight end. When it comes to tight end, Gronkowski hasn’t played in a full 16-game season since 2011, Jimmy Graham now resides in a run-first offense and Antonio Gates is 35 years old. The position can wait.
Running back can’t. One year ago, just six players went for more than 200 points. None of them may do so again. DeMarco Murray is in a new locale. Le’Veon Bell? Suspended. Marshawn Lynch has a lot of wear and tear. Matt Forte is in an unstable situation. Arian Foster is already on the injury report. Eddie Lacy might suffer with defenses able to better focus on him with Nelson out.
Above all else, the simple violent nature of the position causes change. It’s important to load up. Last year, owners weren’t thrilled on the prospects of Murray, who carried an ADP of 2.01, only to watch him blow up for a position-best 282 points.
Who will it be this year? How about Jeremy Hill in Cincinnati, who won’t have any rookie training wheels. Maybe C.J. Anderson in Denver. Mark Ingram started to look like an every-down back in New Orleans when healthy. Heck, old reliable Frank Gore could have a renaissance behind Andrew Luck.
Receiver is much of the same. Four names went for more than 200 points last year. Nelson is already out for the year, Dez Bryant is Dez Bryant and Antonio Brown and Demaryius Thomas rely on older quarterbacks and plenty of targets.
Meanwhile, 10 players at the spot went for 149-197 points last year. Many were new faces, including Mike Evans and Odell Beckham Jr., so loading up on high-upside talent like an Amari Cooper in Oakland or a breakout candidate such as Jordan Matthews in Philadelphia isn’t the worst idea.
In short, fantasy football isn’t like the real world (surprise!), where an iffy arm can waste talent at skill positions. The skill positions make or break a fantasy campaign and should be drafted as such.
It’s not that a player like Rodgers isn’t a safe pick in the first round, but while an owner makes the pick, a combination of nine or 10 backs and receivers will come off the board, leaving the QB-happy owner to scraps in the second round and blind gambles in the third.
ESPN.com’s Matthew Berry explained there are different viable approaches to championships:
You could have easily won your league last year if you went RB-RB (Forte and Murray), if you went RB-WR (Charles and Brown) or WR-WR at the turn (Dez-Brown). Hell, even the QB-TE combo of Aaron Rodgers (20 percent ownership on championship teams) and Jimmy Graham (16 percent) worked for some people last year.
It comes down to scarcity and creating player tiers using the strategies above. Top-tier players at any position come with minimal projected fluctuation, and a sure thing is never a bad thing unless it impedes on others spots.
Such is the beauty of fantasy football. Owners, well, own their rosters with their picks and personal touches. A look at winning strategies never hurts, though.
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