With mock drafts in full swing, patterns are beginning to emerge. It’s important to remember that whatever site or publication you use to prepare, they come up with their rankings in their own way. It’s important to review that list ahead of time and either note players that you would adjust up or down or use those tools to create your own list entirely, but you should still use common sense.
Drafters are always looking for that next big thing, reaching for the new, shiny toy rather than the more consistent, safer choice. Each season, fantasy owners reach for players they like. I’m not talking about taking a guy a few picks early because you like him, or because you have a feeling he’ll break out. I’m talking about taking a guy a few rounds early because you’ve bought into the hype. Picking your spots to take a calculated risk is fantastic, and if you think someone’s value actually projects him a round earlier than that list you’re using, move him up. But, gambling throughout the draft will inevitably leave you with one or two guys who came through for you, but ultimately a team that flops. It’s all about getting proper value.
It’s important to treat each pick as an asset. Would I trade my first overall pick in the draft for Adrian Peterson? Yes. Would I trade my first overall pick in the draft for Ray Rice? No. Both are first-rounders, but you can probably get Rice between picks six and 10, whereas I’m betting no one gets Peterson after pick two or three. For those of you saying Peterson should go first overall, I’ve already participated in four mock drafts, either with representatives from other sites or with the Fantasy Sharks staff, and in two of those drafts, Peterson went second. Arian Foster was selected first in one and Calvin Johnson took top honors in the other.
Each year, there are a few different strategies that fantasy drafters should employ. Traditionally, the idea was to load up on running backs at all costs. Then there was a point where the top quarterbacks were so much better than everyone else that they began to move up draft boards. More recently, there have been a season or two where tight ends started to make waves. As is often the case, these things are cyclical, and we’ve come back to the beginning.
In looking at early drafts and the talent pool available, we have returned to the “load up at running back early” school of thought. You could argue we never left that, but with improved depth at both quarterback and wide receiver, you can afford to wait on those positions. Three down backs are now few and far between, and if you can get two of them early, that’s the best possible scenario. Mock drafts are an excellent way to test out various scenarios.
We all know who the top guys are, but let’s take a look at some value picks that can be had in the middle rounds, where savvy drafters can steal some talent.
Matt Ryan (Atlanta) has been a productive quarterback since entering the league. This year, because of the younger quarterbacks that people have fallen in love with, Ryan can be had between the sixth and eighth rounds. His production will be incredible, especially when considering the weapons he has at his disposal.
Robert Griffin III (Washington) was the top quarterback in fantasy leagues prior to his injury last season. The Redskins will need to be a little smarter with their playcalling this season, but Griffin should once again be a top quarterback. His injury is the only reason he’s slipping in drafts. If you take him, I’d grab another quarterback soon after, just for insurance.
Ahmad Bradshaw (Indianapolis) landed in Indianapolis, where a pass-heavy offense surprised folks last season. However, with former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians now coaching in Arizona, the offense will change to a more balanced attack. Bradshaw is still talented, although fragile. But the risk of drafting him is mitigated by the fact that he can be had in the seventh or eighth round. Bradshaw will help move the chains, catch check downs from Andrew Luck, and should get goal line carries.
Mark Ingram (New Orleans) is healthier than he’s ever been going into the season. With head coach Sean Payton back on the sidelines in New Orleans, there will be more emphasis on running the ball effectively. Keep in mind, past success in New Orleans always depended on balance and a strong running game to go with Drew Brees’ arm. Recent indications from Saints camp indicate that Ingram will get the bulk of the carries and goal line work.
Andre Brown (New York Giants) is the 1B to David Wilson’s 1A. Wilson is clearly the back that the Giants would prefer to take over, but he’s still not good enough as a pass blocker. Brown has a more traditional build for an early down role, with Wilson coming on to complement him. I like Brown as a middle-round value, and I think he’ll be a bargain, assuming he can stay healthy.
Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh) is now going to be “the guy” in the Pittsburgh passing game. Mike Wallace took his talents to South Beach, and Heath Miller is still on the mend from knee surgery. The Steelers have a rookie running back and an unproven No. 2 receiver in Emmanuel Sanders, so I just don’t know who else would get the ball. Brown has been a solid receiver for a few seasons now, and I think he takes the next step this season.
DeSean Jackson (Philadelphia) will once again be the big play threat for the Eagles. The change this season is that coach Andy Reid is gone, and Chip Kelly has taken over. With Jeremy Maclin out for the season, there aren’t many other pass catching options for Philadelphia, and I think Jackson is in for a really nice year.
Anquan Boldin (San Franciscco) will be the possession receiver for San Francisco this season, much as he was for Baltimore last season. He, along with Vernon Davis, has already become a favorite target of Colin Kaepernick, and he’ll end up having another productive year.
Jared Cook (St. Louis) has all the physical traits of a stud tight end in today’s NFL. What he lacked previously was an opportunity. In Tennessee, he was not used as he should have been. But now, reunited with coach Jeff Fisher, Sam Bradford is looking for him constantly. I expect Cook to become a household name this year in St. Louis.
Jermichael Finley (Green Bay) is still immensely talented, but he’s just so inconsistent. However, with Greg Jennings now in Minnesota and Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb dinged up to start the season, the healthy pass catchers appear to be James Jones and Finley. Aaron Rodgers is going to throw it to someone, so I like Finley’s chances, especially early on.
Drew Magyar is a FantasySharks.com staff writer and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. “What Did We Learn” will be posted each Tuesday morning during the season, and “Rock and a Hard Place” will be posted each Friday morning.