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.
Great pic of Tony G. Love what you've done here. My two QB disagreements are as follows: I put Tony Romo one notch ahead of Stafford. Then I would completly remove Payton from the picture, and replace him with Vick. Your very high on Vick's injury likelyness, but your not mentioning the fact that Payton's neck is prob more vulnerable to injury then Tebow is to losing his viginity. Payton will be lucky to make it past week 3 without a season ending injury. Later says Bigtimer's go big.
@BDubz33 I don't know how you can put Romo over Stafford to be honest; though I like both. Romo isn't going to throw more than 520-530 times; potentially around 500 if Murray stays healthy. Even if he's super efficient again and gets a lot of good, deep reads...that isn't going to translate into more than 4200 yards or so. And with a more balanced offense, he likely won't be throwing for more than 30-35 TDs. Stafford on the other hand are in an even more iffy situation at RB now than they were last year. So Stafford should be slinging it again in excess of 650 attempts again; flirting with 5k yards and 40 TDs.
Also on the Peyton thread...don't look at his previous stats. He's in a different offense with 0 chemistry, different pass blocking, much less arm strength, and a head coach who is known for running the ball. If he tops 4200 yds and 32 TDs, I will be REALLY surprised. I'm being very generous with a 4000 yd 30 TD 15 INT projection; hoping for Peyton to rise up above it all.
I do NOT like Big Ben this year. He already has a slight tear in his shoulder, Mike Wallace is holding out still, running game in shambles, and an o-line still iffy at best. I'd bet Carson Palmer would put up as good numbers.
Cam Newton will be a wildcard. They have 2 of the best backs in the league behind him and a 3rd who is a bowling ball. I can't possibly see him repeating his rushing TDs. Cam 1st half 287 attempts vs 2nd half 230 attempts. The first 6 games of the year = 38.2. The last 6 games of the year = 25.3. First 6 games record = 1-5....last 6...4-2. I know it's wrong to just make judgement calls from all that....but if anything it's a breadcrumb. If he settles around 30 attempts a game coming in around 7.5 Y/A ...that's only 3600 yds passing. Food for thought.
more QB notes:
ATL is planning on opening up the passing game (new off coord), so it wont be the overly play calling. So Ryan will likely have less accuracy but better numbers fantasy-wise. But that coordinator is also widely known for being run-first and very run-centric. So there could be a bit less attempts.
I really like the situation RG3 walked into. A very pass-happy team who was able to put up over 3800 yds passing and 20 tds (I think...from memory) with McNabb, Grossman, and Beck at QB. So yeah, could RG3 improve on that...quite possibly. From what I understand, he's pretty accurate. And he's very intelligent/fast, so he's going to extend plays or get a few yards rushing if things break down. It's setting up for this year's Cam Newton without all those rush TDs.
Tony homo is going to be on the bench rubbing Jerry Jones feet cutler and rivers should be where homo is @Grod
BDubz, I'm happy you enjoyed the column. As far as Peyton Manning is concerned I'm going on reports that his neck is in fact up to speed. Peyton also doesn't take the kind of hits Vick does. Peyton Manning is a computer. He knows that he has three seconds to get rid of the ball before he takes a hit and he almost always does. That's why I'd take
Peyton as the number 9 quarterback on your big board and would avoid Vick altogether.
Nice run through. Some notes I have myself: Ryan Williams is still having issues with swelling. This far removed from injury, I am very skeptical there. While ADP and Charles both had serious knee injuries, Charles has an extra almost 3 months of recovery time which is crucial for a back based on speed. Few backs have ever had successful years after such injuries though (Jamal lewis is the only one I can say for sure). KC is an interesting situation. Don't believe that Hillis being there will take away from Charles. When Charles had 1935 total yards 8 tds in 2010, that was WITH Thomas Jones getting 259 touches. Hillis should get 200-250 carries....same for Charles. I love Richardson but to place him in the top 5 without having played a down, however talented or good the situation, is nuts.
I don't completely agree with Fitz. Getting Floyd can help him depending on usage. Fitz with a good receiver to take away some attention could be opened up for better quality looks. And the improved offense would lead to more TDs. Lloyd likely does hurt Welker though given the looks and rz targets that might be taken away since they've never had trouble moving the chains or spreading the field.
Familiarity is huge with TEs so Tamme and Fleener are great, safe choices to me, though Peyton will have other interest TE options with Dreessen and even Thomas if he can mold him. I do NOT like that second grouping of TEs. I love me some Gates but I worry about his durability these days. The niners getting Moss and Manningham will certainly take looks away from Davis (who was also left in to block a lot for Gore last year). GB spreads it around too much for any bit of consistency with Finley though (but I love his upside). I do like Hernandez though and have him markedly above those others. Celek isn't about the rapport with Vick, it's about whether they keep him in to help block. That's the reason for the drop in production. And with PHI losing their star LT, watch for Celek to remain a big component of chipping before release...affecting his production again.
I love that you've done your fantasy homework FantasyTom. But Trent Richardson could easily be a top 5 fantasy player and will most assuredly be a top 5 running back despite where others are projecting him. It's easy for other fantasy pundits not to project him above other running backs. Why? Because it's safe. Well, here at sons of roto, we don't go with what's safe. We go with what's sexy. And Trent Richardson is just that. The Alabame product is the fantasy equivalent of Kate Upton doing the Cat Daddy.
@Luke Ryan It's not about safety from the unknown in the sense of him being a rookie, it's about him being in an inept offense where we aren't fully sure about the off season surgery (that as i write this now...he ended up having continued issues with it...so it would confirm the hesitation), the unknown of the work he'll get as a receiver, etc.
It's not that I don't like him, I do, but for him to walk onto the scene and put up top 5 RB numbers is highly improbable without even considering the knee, the team, the other unknowns, and dismissing the other guys who should be above him anyway. You could put him just over 100 total yards a game, 3 catches a game, and a td in every other...which would be monstrous for a rookie back....and for me that flirts with top 10....not close to top 5 though.
@Luke Ryan What i've been seeing lately is just a black hole at running back. Sure, you've got the top 3 but after that....wow. It's either coming off a major injury, still dealing with injury, holdout, major letdown hoping for a bounce back, or aging vet who is likely to yield touches. I think it almost depends on your league settings what you do there. I am not even opposed to drafting the top 4 QBs by the end of the first before grabbing your RB gamble. Nor am I opposed to grabing a TE late 1st early 2nd. It will depend on settings.
I'm not opposed to taking massive amounts of risk at RB and following them up with interesting depth picks at value. I'm talking about a DMC/Mathews pair or AP/Richardson; something like that. And then later grabbing D Brown, Hillis types.....hopefully rounding them out with upside picks in K Smith, R Jennings, J Rodgers, Gerhart. It let's you take the sliding RBs in 2/3...to grab either Megatron, the top 3 RB (which would let u gamble on TE or top 3 WR in rd 2), or top 3-4 QB depending where your slot is.
@FantasyTom With his knee issues now, it seems Richardson is a bit of a gamble. My reco is to stay away and wait on him for next season.
@FantasyTom @Luke Ryan Too many factors going against Richardson. I don't see how he can even be a top 10 back, let alone top 5!
I'm in a "fun" league with pretty normal rules except you get 6 points for a passing TD. And it's not PPR. How should my board look? Rodgers, Brees, or Brady first round? Bree's has the easiest pass defense schedule this year and plays in a some. I believe Brady plays the toughest pass defenses and can have bad weather. Any tidbits for this draft? And it's snake.
CollegeWolf. I feel like you just have to go with Rodgers if he's on the board. Guy had 45 tds last year and he didn't play in the last game. As far as Brees and Brady are concerned you're safe with either. Brees is probably a better play at home while Brady is more consistent on the road.
@Luke Ryan That's a good point. I think Rodgers is probably the right pick as well, the more I think about it. I like Brees and Brady both if Rodgers is gone... so hard to say. Probably can't go wrong with either I suppose.