My Guys - Ultimate Drafter Series
About a month ago, I participated in the Ultimate Drafter Series, a series of fantasy drafts developed by Steve Gallo of TheHuddle.com. The idea behind the series is to test the drafters’ ability to draft a successful fantasy team independent of draft position in a snake draft, and so twelve analysts had twelve different fantasy drafts together, each from a different draft slot. The overall winner will be the drafter whose twelve combined teams score the most points this season.
Because of the unusual nature of the series, there a couple of format requirements that you may not have seen. First, each drafter was anonymous until all twelve drafts had finished, which prevented us from using the results of the earlier drafts to reveal tendencies in the subsequent drafts. As an aside, the curtain has since revealed Alex Miglio, Jim Day, Eric Yeomans, and Brian Bulmer to be among my competitors, so you can be sure that the pride of the Pro Football Focus Fantasy staff is on the line.
Second, because this is meant to test our abilities as drafters, these are all draft-and-forget-it leagues. That means that we cannot make roster moves in the season. Our weekly lineups will be determined after the fact by our highest-scoring players for each starting position. Lineups are fairly flexible in terms of which positions can be starters, but our benches were not so deep that they erased the chance of some zeroes because of injuries and byes.
We did these drafts early in the offseason. Most of the major players in free agency had already signed, but some—Danny Amendola, for example—did not sign before we started. More importantly, we finished these drafts before the NFL draft happened, and rookies were not eligible. That made it a challenge to fill out a roster with players I was confident would be starters, and because rosters were smaller than I would have liked in this format, I built all of my teams in the same way.
Early in drafts, I tried to secure two elite running backs, two elite tight ends, and an elite quarterback. Then, I filled out the rest of my roster with a volume of wide receivers—and a quarterback or two—with week-to-week upside, handcuffs to my elite backs, and players at every position I believed were value-picks.
I do not want to get too deep into my draft preparation strategy. I have actually written a feature article about it that will run in our Pro Football Focus Draft Guide, which you can look for later in the summer.
I think it is important to clarify that I made a conscious effort to target and avoid specific position-tiers because of the format. Those choices may not inform your own drafts in traditional formats. However, because this was a series of drafts from different draft positions versus the same collection of analysts, I believe this format is perfect to illustrate the players I believe are values relative to their average draft positions.
What follows is a list of every player I drafted in three or more of the twelve leagues:
Emmanuel Sanders (9) – Sanders is clearly my biggest value play of the season. Since 2006, when Roethlisberger jumped from fewer than 300 attempts per season to more than 400 per season, the worst a second receiver has done on the Steelers is 755 yards and five touchdowns. That span covers Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Mike Wallace, and Antonio Brown. Last season, Sanders had 44-626-1 as the third receiver, and he should see a bunch of the 116 targets that Wallace will leave behind. I am not scared by the subsequence addition of Markus Wheaton, who I expect to see a 40-catch rookie season similar to that of Wallace in 2009. I believe Sanders has real top-25 receiver potential.
Tony Gonzalez (6), Jason Witten (4), and Aaron Hernandez (3) – Perhaps in a traditional format, you can afford to let the top-five tight ends pass you by. There are enough talented TE2s and TE3s that a handful of them will do what Kyle Rudolph did in 2012. In this format, I was willing to start grabbing these guys as soon as the second round hit and the last of the elite backs left the board. I ended up with Gonzalez a disproportionate number times because I was able to snag him in the first few drafts before he had officially decided to return for the 2013 season.
Frank Gore (6), Matt Forte (5) and Michael Bush (4), Ray Rice (4) and Bernard Pierce (3), and LeSean McCoy (3) and Bryce Brown (3) – These late-first and early-second round ADP backs are the ones that I found on my teams the most. I’ve noticed that I especially like Rice more than other analysts. I think the fear with him is that Pierce is going to steal touches. I’m not concerned. In fact, I think Pierce helps Rice stay healthy. He may not have the No. 1 back upside, but he is the safest bet to not fall out of the top-10. I also like Rice, Forte, and McCoy because their teams have clear, talented handcuffs. That allowed me to secure the rushing production for those teams with reduced fear of injuries. Meanwhile, I simply think Gore is underrated. I was unwilling to try to handcuff him because I didn’t think the situation was clear with Hunter and James behind him. Since they added Marcus Lattimore, I’m glad I didn’t.
Jake Locker (6) and Michael Vick (3) – Since I drafted a top-five quarterback in almost every draft, I had the flexibility to draft backup quarterbacks based entirely on week-to-week upside with little fear of injuries or inconsistency affecting my baseline of QB points. With those intentions, it’s hard to beat Locker and Vick. Vick is one of six quarterbacks to average 20 points per game over the last three seasons in standard scoring; he simply misses time every year. Locker does not have much of a track record, period, but I like the combination of his skills and the players around him. The weeks he rushes for long gains or a score could be near the top of the position in fantasy.
Steve Smith (5) and Greg Jennings (3) – There are about 15-18 receivers that I think are worthy of WR2-consideration this season. For whatever reason, Jennings and Smith are the two on the bottom of everyone’s list except mine. Jennings was overshadowed and then hurt in his final two seasons in Green Bay, but his lack of help in Minnesota should add to his fantasy production more than the loss of Aaron Rodgers takes away. Carolina runs more often than any other team near the goal line, but Smith has reached 980 yards receiving in seven straight seasons that didn’t feature Jimmy Clausen at quarterback, and he reached six touchdowns in all of them but last season.
Denarius Moore (5), Chris Givens (5), Stephen Hill (5), and Danario Alexander (4) – I favored these guys because of their physical talent and opportunity to be the No. 1 receiver on their respective teams. Hill is a step down from the other three, at least in terms of ADP, but he seemed to be available for me in the last few rounds in every draft. Someone will catch the ball on the Jets, and Hill is a freak athlete. His touchdown upside is reason enough to draft him late in this format. Of the four, Givens is the one I like the most relative to ADP. His lesser draft status compared to Brian Quick will not prevent him from being the better outside receiver. Tavon Austin eliminates the chance that he becomes a top-20 receiver, but I think the top-30 is plausible.
Golden Tate (3), Mike Williams (3), and Brandon LaFell (3) – These three receivers are not upside plays like the previous four. Instead, they are solid secondary or tertiary options on teams that should still be able to sustain them as WR4s or WR5s. Really, their best games will be as good as the best games of the WR2s, they will just come less frequently. In this format, that works.
Mike Goodson (4) – Goodson was one of the only late-round backs I was willing to draft and sacrifice a roster spot I could have spent on a receiver. When I drafted, Goodson was the best back on the Jets. I did not envision him as a 250-touch back, but he has a complete game. Since, their addition of Chris Ivory makes me buy into both players even more. Ivory is a talented two-down back, but he cannot catch passes and he cannot hold up to 20 touches per game. Goodson should be the primary third-down and pass-catching back on a team without much help from the other skill-position players. Goodson may sneak in a few double-digit touch games, especially if Ivory misses time, plus a few long touchdowns.
Aaron Rodgers (3) and Cam Newton (3) – I didn’t make any special effort to draft either Rodgers or Newton more often than Brees, Brady, or Manning. I did, however, tend to start drafting quarterbacks before the other analysts, and Rodgers is first on my board. Newton, meanwhile, is a better quarterback in this format because of his high-point games with rushing touchdowns, and I have him as my fourth quarterback, in any case.
Scott Spratt was named Newcomer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012. He also writes for The Hardball Times and contributes to ESPN Insider as a research associate for Baseball Info Solutions. Feel free to ask him questions on Twitter – @PFF_ScottSpratt
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