As I’ve written here once before, I don’t play in a traditional fantasy football league with the traditional fantasy football structure. I see those abbreviations and have no idea what they mean.
I play real fantasy football. My team has 72 players. My offensive linemen contribute to my point total. As does my punter, my free safety, my defensive tackle and everyone else on my starting 26 (the traditional 22 plus a kicker, punter, punt returner and kick returner).
My league has 14 owners, our rosters are keepers without a cap, and we are now in our 27th season.
Andrew Luck went No. 1 in our draft on Sept. 1. Chandler Harnish was No. 196 at the end of the 14th round. In between is where it got interesting and where there are lessons for all of us.
But first, here is a look at the the 27th NLRF Draft First Round results
- Shoe Laces: Andrew Luck, QB
- Sledge Halwigs: Robert Griffin III, QB
- Late Parrots: Trent Richardson, RB
- Ocelots: Doug Martin, RB
- Roos: Justin Blackmon, WR
- Chippewas: Matt Kalil, OT
- Rumblin’ Rubes (from Shortcuts): David Wilson, RB
- Pterodactyls: Russell Wilson, QB
- Derons: Mark Barron, SS
- U.C. Twits: Melvin Ingram, OLB
- Zygotes: Geno Atkins, DT
- Bomags: Colin McCarthy, ILB
- Shortcuts (from Rubes): Ryan Tannehill, QB
- Derons (from Bugeaters): Morris Claiborne, CB
DRAFT FOR NEED
As the owner of the Zygotes, I feel compelled to explain the Atkins pick. Rules require teams to play at least one defensive tackle and one inside linebacker. Most teams play a 3-4 defense to maximize sack and tackle totals. Finding a defensive tackle that can provide those type of stats is rare. I had a chance to draft Ndamukong Suh a couple of years ago. I passed on Suh, instead going with the big-play potential of C.J. Spiller. I have regretted it to this day.
Atkins, coming off a 7.5-sack season, was the diamond of the veteran free agents available. He was a proven player on an established defense. He was the best choice to fill an extreme need for me. Drawing from my Suh fail, I couldn’t pass him up. Barring injury, Atkins is a lock to start every week.
Lesson: Draft for need first. Suh fills a position unto himself. Spiller isn’t even a starter on his team and it took last year’s injury to Fred Jackson for him to earn a start on my team. Had I not desperately needed to fill the DT spot, I would have gone after Chandler Jones or Quinton Coples, two DEs to fill another need. Once you miss on one, it can become a constant game of catch-up.
As I was so painfully reminded from my Spiller fail, running backs are always a risk. While our second round was parade of linemen and linebackers, our third & fourth rounds became WR/RB free-for-alls that included R Kendall Wright, RB Ronnie Hillman, RB Isaiah Pead and WR Stephen Hill in the third, and RB LaMichael James, WR Alshon Jeffery, TE Dwayne Allen, WR Michael Floyd and RB Lamar Miller in the fourth.
Running backs get hurt. Guys third on the depth chart today could be the starter and star after Week 2. Stockpiling RBs is the smartest lesson to learn in keeper leagues.
Lesson: Running backs are a dime-a-dozen with few exceptions where invariably the guys taken in the first round aren’t as productive as undrafted players found during the season in free agency. Isn’t that the case seemingly every year (read: Arian Foster)?
STARTERS TRUMP BACKUPS EVERY TIME
A couple of oddities: Rookie starting quarterback Brandon Weeden (Cleveland) went in the same round as rookie backups Brock Osweiler (Denver) and Nick Foles (Philadelphia) — the fifth round. Arizona starter John Skelton slipped to the bottom of the seventh round, one pick after two kickers — Matt Prater and Greg Zuerlein — and right before rookie guard Josh Leribeus. Full discloser, we are limited to four quarterbacks per roster, so Weeden and Skelton weren’t has highly coveted as Luck and Griffith and Wilson.
Lesson: Our league clearly doesn’t believe Weeden in Cleveland or Skelton in Arizona will be productive enough to warrant a high draft pick. That’s a fail, in my book. Weeden and Skelton on the field will put up better numbers than will Foles or Osweiler on the bench 100 percent of the time. We had a couple teams at the end of last year who had run out of starting quarterbacks and were forced to submit lineups with NFL backups. There is more value to having starting quarterbacks on your roster than having backups and waiting for an injury or demotion.
VALUE OF NO. 2 WIDEOUTS
Brian Quick, because of his potential to be a frequent target of quarterback Sam Bradford from Week 1, was the second receiver selected. For those same reasons, Kendall Wright was the third receiver taken. Wideouts playing second-or-third options on a team with an established No. 1 like Alshon Jeffery opposite Brandon Marshall in Chicago and Michael Floyd opposite Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona slipped into the fourth round. I, for one, believe these were steal picks this late in our draft.
Lesson: Julio Jones, drafted last year to play opposite of Roddy White in Atlanta, caught 54 passes for 959 yards and 8 TDs last season. While his reception numbers were half of White’s, his YPC average was much higher at 17.8 and he had the same number of TDs. Guys earmarked to play opposite established No. 1s can put up big numbers. They won’t face their opponents lockdown corner and safety help will more often than not shade toward the No. 1. Don’t be surprise if the likes of Jeffery and Floyd have huge seasons.
In a curious switch, Dwayne Allen went 48th and Coby Fleener went 67th among Colts rookie tight ends in our draft. Wideout T.Y. Hilton went 105th. Whom among this group will emerge as Luck’s favorite target if it’s not veteran Reggie Wayne? Both Allen and Fleener are pass-catching tight ends. Fleener is taller and faster. Hilton is a 5-9 speedster who I expect to almost exclusively play on the outer thirds of the field.
Lesson: My takeaway here is the Stanford connection with Luck will help Fleener’s production over Allen. College teammates and roommates tend to stick together for a lifetime. I may not start Fleener this week but I will definitely monitor his targets.
No one was quite sure what to expect out of Washington’s running backs. Tim Hightower was on a NLRF roster but no longer with the Redskins. Evan Royster was available and went No. 70 while Alfred Morris wasn’t selected until the 9th round, No. 118 overall. Only time will tell who emerges in Mike Shanahan’s backfield. Kyle Shanahan, the coach’s son and the team’s offensive coordinator, said he would go with whoever was playing the best at the time.
Lesson: With Roy Halu already on a roster, this is a crapshoot. Royster showed flashes in limited opportunities as a rookie and the more compact Morris showed flashes this summer. In our league, where cuts to 72 aren’t until after Week 2, stockpiling all of these backs and using the first two weeks to get a read is the general philosophy. That doesn’t always play itself out so quickly. If you can afford to sit on a guy, do it. If not, watch carefully how this sorts itself out and try to grab the winner out of the free agent pool.
Young receivers, not necessarily those drafted in April or the April before, are starting to emerge, as is the trend among wideouts. Only a few guys have been able to come out of college and jump right in and produce in the NFL game. The rest need a year or two or three of seasoning. Lestar Jean, undrafted in 2010 and injured in Texans camp last summer, all of a sudden looks like the heir apparent to Andre Johnson, physical resemblance included. Jean went in the 10th round of our draft and, with Johnson’s health history at age 31, Jean could become a major player in the Houston offense very soon.
Two of his teammates, both drafted rookies, were also selected. But oddly, DeVier Posey, who did nothing during the summer until the final game, went picks ahead of Keshawn Martin, who showed a lot more promise. But Posey is taller by three inches and, when he finally did make a play in the summer, it was bigtime. Jean, Martin and Posey are the Texans receivers of the future. For Jean, that future appears to be now. For the other two, especially Posey, I’m not convinced either is ready.
More often than not it’s a crapshoot with receivers until there is a clear gauge on how they will be used.
- Damaris Johnson in Philadelphia went 119 in our draft but looks like someone who can be a playmaker when DeSean Jackson needs a break.
- Rod Streater, Carson Palmer’s go-to guy during the summer, went 10 selections after Juron Criner primarily because Criner, at 6-foot-4, has the potential to be a more dangerous red zone target than Streater. We’ll see.
- Someone like Jarrett Boykin in Green Bay, who showed enough flashes over the summer to beat out two others and make the final cut, wasn’t selected in our draft. I’m kicking myself over that one. Donald Driver is 37 years old. James Jones has a big contract. If Driver breaks down and/or Jones is traded, Boykin suddenly is in the rotation with Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. At 6-2, 215, Boykin is the same size as Nelson and has shown the ability to make plays in traffic.
Lesson: Victor Cruz. The NY Giants star flashed twice during the summer before he was given the opportunity to do it in the fall. Summer totals don’t always tell the story but if you watch them and they can play beyond compiling numbers against guys no longer employed, the risk will be rewarded.
NEXT MAN UP
The draft is also about calculated risks. If San Diego center Nick Hardwick gets another concussion and decides to hang it up, rookie David Molk is a good player to have on your roster. If/when Colts RB Donald Brown goes down, rookie Vick Ballard is a nice player to have. If RGIII gets knocked out, fellow rookie Kirk Cousins is next in line. If Darren Sproles breaks down, it appears summer standout Travaris Cadet in next up in New Orleans.
Lesson: Know the backups who can step in and be productive and those who cannot.
TAKE A SHOT
Unless fullbacks are scoring touchdowns, getting a dozen carries or catching passes, they have no value. Blocking numbers do count in our league but not enough to burn a a starting lineup spot without additional category production. Jorvorskie is Lane, the former Texas A&M supersized bulldozer, has lost some weight and is on the roster of the Miami Dolphins. He was out of football for three years but has dropped a reported 50 pounds to earn the starting fullback spot in Miami.
Lesson: If Lane is the same goal line beast he was in college, he could lead the Dolphins in scoring. That is well worth the 193rd pick in our draft. If not, it wouldn’t be the first time I cut my 14th round pick.
Of course, fantasy, regardless of the size of your roster, is all about who you start on Sundays. I have two words for that this week: Kevin Ogletree.
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