Before we get stuck into the “2012 Draft Plan,” I’d be remiss if I didn’t quickly touch on what a marvelous sporting event the Olympics in London were. Great Britain put on a show and the athletes did, too. If you missed the purity of competition and the nobility of the endeavor, then you missed the point. It’s not about the medals - the medal count leans more politics than the entertainment of sport. It’s about athletes coming together for their country, to prove they are the best in the world. If you think guys like LeBron James or Kobe Bryant go just for the gold, you’d be wrong. Yes, there is a certain amount of “building to their legacy” for sure - it’s what drove Michael Phelps to get back into the pool, but each one felt the tug of United States and what representing for their country meant. It meant pride, it meant dignity, and, for some, it meant closure. Many of the great athletes we’ve watched over the last 12 or more years won’t be back. Phelps says he won’t be back, Kobe won’t be back. For many the window has closed, and I just wanted to take the time to say, “thank you.” It doesn’t even matter what country you represent, again, that’s not the point. It’s about marveling at all Olympians for prioritizing being the best in the world at something great. If the rest of us dreamed like them, had the dedication they do and pushed ourselves each day to be the best, just imagine what we all could accomplish.
Now where were we? That’s right, our 2012 battle plan! Let’s jump in shall we? Time to knock some heads.
The Big Three
We all know by now who we are talking about at the start of every draft. The big three. Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy and Ray Rice. Pick your favorite. Mine happens to be Ray Rice, but know that you really can’t go wrong with any of them. I have seen arguments that put Aaron Rodgers at No. 1 overall, but those are the same folks that took Michael Vick No. 1 overall last season. You can indeed twist the value numbers in such a way (in six points per touchdowns leagues in particular) that say Rodgers should be the No. 1 overall pick, but then you’d be the guy that drafted Michael Vick No. 1 overall last year. Do you really want to be that guy? Stick with one of the big three to open your draft. If you really want my opinion, I have it Rice, McCoy then Foster. I just do.
The next few selections aren’t too difficult, but we do need to discuss and understand a very strange effect in 2012 drafts this year that influences our approach early on.
The QB Halo Effect
We have seen fantasy drafts skew wide receivers more and more over the past handful of years. Years ago it was simply a race to the end of the running backs. Whomever drafted the most seemed to win as the NFL was all about running the ball and limiting turnovers. Defensively, an NFL team would build a defense to try and stop the run, sprinkle in a pass rusher and would call it a team.
Today’s NFL is firmly a passing league. It is no coincidence that the teams with the best quarterbacks with the best receiving units are today’s playoff teams. The New England Patriots pushed the concept further with Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez at tight end, and you’ll notice now that many teams around the NFL mimic the Patriots to try and get more firepower out of their passing game.
Sidebar: How scary would the Saints be if they added a stud tight end complement to Jimmy Graham?
If you miss every other point in this article do not miss this - Since fantasy mimics the real world, and the real world today is hook, line and sinker about the quarterback and his receivers, to win your league in 2012 your fantasy team needs to match the real world for you to reap the rewards.
Quarterback is deep this year, but there are a handful of quarterbacks with halos to target that will make the difference in you winning a championship or not. The two teams playing for your fantasy championship in 2012 will both have one of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Cam Newton or Matthew Stafford, but you are going to have to use a second-round selection to get one. In a six-point-per-touchdown league, these quarterbacks are all first rounders, but, for the rest of us, I encourage you to spend a second-round selection on one of these five. Let me point out that this is a pronounced departure from what has been my draft strategy for many, many years now. For eons I’ve preached the value in letting quarterback go and loading up at the position late. This is not one of those years, unless you miss out on the Top 5, which we will address later.
As mentioned there are five “alive” quarterbacks in fantasy this year and we all want one of them. Though it is important to keep in mind that we never want to pay for something in a fantasy draft, we are a value machine. According to ADP (average draft position) from myfantasyleague.com, you can expect Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady and Drew Brees to be gone in the first 10 picks. If you have Pick 1-10, my advice is to pick elsewhere and hold out for one of those quarterbacks to fall to you in the second round or, if not, for Cam Newton or Matthew Stafford to make it back to you in the second round. If they are all gone by the time you pick, then c’est la vie, but do not pay for a quarterback in the first 10 picks because we want just one of the Top 5. We want to be smart about where we acquire him. Our initial goal is to get a first-round running back or wide receiver and still get one of the five alive.
Discount Double Check
So where exactly does Aaron Rodgers go? Probably somewhere in the first six picks. Should he be on your team? The answer is surprisingly no. Taking a standard 12-team draft, many value calculators and mock drafts have a first round filled with quarterbacks and tight ends, and while yes, pure value calculations do have these players appropriately slotted, unless you have the 11th or 12th pick in the first round, cross quarterbacks and tight ends off your list for the first 10 picks of the draft because we will get solid value at both positions either in the 2nd round or later in the draft. To answer the Aaron Rodgers question, he shouldn’t be on your team, unless he falls to the 11th pick, which he won’t, so Rodgers shouldn’t be on your team this year. Just live with it.
So let’s lay out who these first 10 picks should be. We’ve already gone over the big three, at four it’s Calvin Johnson or Chris Johnson depending on your starting lineup requirements. In a start three wide receiver league, it’s Calvin Johnson. In a start two wide receiver league Chris Johnson goes up in value. I recently paired Matthew Stafford in the second round with Calvin Johnson drafted as my fifth selection overall (Aaron Rodgers went fourth) following exactly this plan. For all that is holy, Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson with a real shot at the rest of the Detroit Lions offense still in this draft has the potential to be a high-scoring fantasy team. In fact, if you can get Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford, I bet you can draft every other Lion in the draft, including their defense. It would be one heck of a bad bye week but it would be an interesting experiment.
The Moose Caboose
If you have the 11th or 12th pick, there’s an interesting play you can try that seems to make sense. I tried it a couple of times and ultimately wasn’t satisfied with the results, but mention it because conceptually it should have legs. In many drafts you can pair Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski or Drew Brees and Jimmy Graham when you’re drafting out of the 11th or 12th hole. I say conceptually it should work because I like pairing the top quarterbacks with their top receivers this year, not something I have paid a lot of attention to in the past. I have usually always wanted to add some injury resistance to my team, but this year is different. There will be a handful of dominant teams in each league across fantasy land, and the teams that nabbed one of the Top 5 quarterbacks that also have a stud receiver on their roster, will compete all season. To push yourself past these other teams and be the top dog in your league will require a gamble and a lot of fantasy points. Bet on the offenses of the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions and load up from those offenses, which means an early pick on the signal callers that make those offenses go, and then start picking at the other stars in these offenses. If you collect more of them than the next guy, the tables turn in your favor.