Winning Your ESPN Fantasy Football League: Rounds 4-7
We got you off to a good start with the first three picks of your fantasy draft, but championships are often earned in the middle rounds. Here’s how I’d approach rounds 4-7 after going RB-WR-WR to start.
44th overall pick: C.J. Spiller (RB, BUF)
My rank: 22nd overall player, 14th best running back
ESPN rank: 40th overall player, 18th best running back
This is where I believe you have a decision to make, as I feel good about the core we’ve built up to this point. Would you rather gamble a bit on a running back or a tight end? There is the very real possibility that either Spiller or Rob Gronkowski are not on the board, which would make your decision for you. Ultimately, I decided that the same reason I like Gronk this season is the reason I had better select Spiller: tight end depth. There are at least 10 tight ends that I am more than comfortable starting, and while that fuels my “draft Gronkowski and handcuff him later with a capable pass-catcher” draft strategy, there simply aren’t many running backs left at this point that I would feel comfortable slotting into my weekly lineup as an RB2.
All reports out of Buffalo indicate to me that the Bills know how special of a talent Spiller can be (remember last year when they wanted to “feed him the ball until he throws up?”) and have painted an optimistic picture regarding his health after a 2013 that was plagued with constant nagging injuries. Spiller’s ceiling is impossible to ignore, and even though he has been banged up in years past, the fact remains that he is an elite fantasy producer when given the keys to the car. In fact, when touching the ball more than 15 times in a game over his career, he has averaged 6.01 yards per touch and a 16-game pace of 1,967 yards and 10 touchdowns. Those numbers would have ranked him third in standard scoring leagues last season and should give you confidence in selecting him in the middle of the fourth round.
53rd overall pick: Michael Crabtree (WR, SF)
My rank: 46th best player, 19th best receiver
ESPN rank: 53rd best player, 21st best receiver
It is very possible that fantasy nation sleeps a bit on the Niners’ top target coming into this season. I understand that they added Stevie Johnson to a pass-catching crew that already included Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis, but don’t lose track of the fact that Colin Kaepernick is comfortable with Crabtree and seems to trust his talent above all the other weapons. Crabtree’s size and athleticism make him a strong option down the field (something Johnson and Boldin have lost a bit over the years), but my fantasy love for him is based on San Francisco’s willingness to get him the ball early and allow him to make plays with his God-given ability. This type of game plan (81% of his catches in 2012 came 10 yards or less down field) allowed Demaryius Thomas to excel, and Crabtree has that sort of skill. The 49ers don’t pass the ball a ton, but with 59 percent of career receptions in red zone resulting in six points, Crabtree has the capability to produce strong fantasy numbers even if his targets are a bit low.
68th overall pick: Pierre Thomas (RB, NO)
My rank: 40th best player, 18th best running back
ESPN rank: 72nd best player, 30th best running back
I’ve detailed my love for Thomas this season a number of times, so I’ll simply give you the spark-notes as to why he is a fantasy difference maker this year (especially if you can get him at this point in your draft). He had 69 more carries than any other Saints back last season while managing to lead all running backs with 77 receptions … and he should be more involved this season with the departure of Darren Sproles. He has proven more than capable of providing the Saints with a reliable pass-catcher (84.9 percent career catch rate), making him the rare three-down back in an explosive offense.
The only other complete backs that play for elite scoring teams are going in the first two rounds this year (LeSean McCoy, Matt Forte, Jamaal Charles, DeMarco Murray, and Montee Ball), and while I am by no means putting Thomas in that class, his potential role is as enticing as it gets from a fantasy perspective. At 29 years of age, Thomas will start this season at the same age in which Sproles recorded career-highs in rush yards (603), targets (111), receptions (86), receiving yards (710), and total touchdowns (nine) in this wide-open New Orleans attack. If value is the name of the game, there isn’t a pick I like more than Thomas in the 60s, as he should give me a significant edge at the FLEX position on a weekly basis.
77th overall pick: Fred Jackson (RB, BUF)
My rank: 90th best player, 32nd best running back
ESPN rank: 86th best player, 35th best running back
With the majority of my starting lineup accounted for, I elected to protect my investment with a player who has seemingly never disappointed his fantasy owners. I rarely will do this, as I am of the train of thought that I am not drafting players that I plan on getting injured, but with Spiller’s history and the safety of Jackson, this felt like a no-brainer. Did you know that Jackson touched the ball 23 fewer times than the “explosive” Reggie Bush last season, yet he recorded more fantasy points in standard ESPN leagues? Or that Jackson has averaged 171.2 fantasy points (standard scoring) since 2009 if you exclude Spiller’s breakout 2012? In other words, there is a real chance that Spiller and Jackson provide good value based on their draft position, and even better odds that one of them ranks among the Top 15-20 running backs in the league.
Come back in the coming days to see how I’d finish off the first 10 rounds of this draft in an effort to make you a winner from the five spot at ESPN.