by Andrew Fossett (@HeyFossett)
“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”
Fact: an elite strategist in his day, Sun Tzu was never beaten in fantasy football.
Maybe that’s why his words ring true today, as I study mock draft results before the start of NFL training camp like a psychopath. It’s true that proper preparation prevents poor performance. You can’t expect to be properly prepared to dominate your friends, family, and coworkers in fantasy football without going through a mock draft or two.
At this point, mock drafts are basically OTA’s or “mini-camp” for the fantasy football player. They’re good mental preparation for the season to come. You can start to formulate your draft strategy, observe draft trends, and get to work on that sleeper list. Those were some of my motivations as I participated in five of these offseason workouts and I think I’ve got the beginnings of a good scouting report. But before I discuss my findings, I want to suggest something that occurred to me while writing this article.
Do at least one mock draft where you act like a complete idiot.
Get a defense in the first round. Draft multiple kickers. Look for players who are unknown to you or possibly retired and put them on your team. As you know, it’s a team you’ll never use. And in this way you could get a clear view of what a draft looks like unobstructed by your own actions. Of course, you should still give a sincere effort in another mock draft and get a feel for how you’d like to construct a team. Still, my bizarre technique could be useful for putting emphasis on how other players think. That being said, allow me to share my observations and ideas from my experiences so far.
Fantasy players are getting more savvy. I think most of us know by now that we’re not supposed to draft quarterbacks in the first round. Do that in any semi-serious league and you’ll get laughed at by everyone. Even so, every league has that one guy, and I ran into him a few times so let me say this: do not, my friends, become addicted to Newton. He will take hold of your team, and you will resent his absence.
Yes, Cam Newton will sometimes make his way into the first round. I also saw someone draft a guy named Robert Gronkowski with the first overall pick. Besides these anomalies, there is a heavy concentration of running backs and wide receivers in the opening three rounds. But of those two positions, one pool is significantly deeper than the other, so I’ll tell you what you must do.
You must draft Le’Veon Bell.
Or at least prioritize an elite running back. Bell currently seems to be the consensus top player at his position. He did not fall outside the first five picks of any mock draft in which I participated. When he is healthy, it’s next to impossible to find a running back who can match his contributions in the running game and the passing game.
In fact, do your best to draft two strong running backs in your first three picks, because the dreaded “committee” is still widely used. You can build a solid receiving core even if you don’t take a wideout until the third round. As for QB's, you can put those guys off until much later. Think about your league last year and try to remember when Carson Palmer got drafted.
The running back position is changing. It holds a group of the once-elite players who are appear to be less popular than in the past due to either age or injury problems. You know the ones; Peterson, Charles, and Forte. Each one of these rushers is certainly capable of having an explosive season, but they’re not the sure-fire first-rounders that they used to be. Still, these marquee names will go in the first two rounds, so don’t count on them being forgotten just yet.
By the way, remember last year when Demarco Murray, Jeremy Hill, and CJ Anderson were all borderline first-rounders? They’ve fallen far. We all learned a hard lesson about running backs last year. But each year brings fresh disappointment. For now, it suffices to say that you should grab the known quantities as early in your draft as you can. Here are three RB’s that fall into that category and should be prioritized over any other player at any other position:
Hey, want a sleeper? Okay, but don’t tell anybody. Keep them secret, keep them safe.
I'll pick a wide receiver; Marvin Jones. By now you know about him thanks to CCSN's Stephen Logsdon. As a Cincinnati Bengal, Jones supplanted Mohamed Sanu as the #2 WR in the Bengals offense, setting career bests in receptions and yards last season. Now he’s in Detroit, looking to inherit the targets left behind by Calvin Johnson. Speaking of Sanu, he’s in Atlanta, likely to be the receiver catching the most passes from Matt Ryan outside of Julio Jones. Both Jones and Sanu are going to be worth watching as we get closer to the season. So far, they're going unnoticed, but that may change. That's two sleepers, and you’re very welcome.
Wide receiver is a position where it truly pays to have a player-rankings list. People will fight each other for Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr, and other top flight receivers for the opening three rounds. When the dust settles, you’ll still see names like Keenan Allen, TY Hilton, and Brandin Cooks available, as I did while mock drafting. So don’t panic when the big guns go flying off the board early.
Tight end is a weird position. It doesn’t have a substantial amount of depth, but drafters seem to forget about it as soon as soon as Gronk gets taken. Because of this, you might be able to get Delanie Walker, Jordan Reed, or Greg Olsen as late as the fifth round. So don’t let Gronkowski occupy your thoughts too much, as he will probably go in the first two rounds. Keep cool and keep an eye on the other three TE's that I’ve mentioned along with Ladarius Green in Pittsburgh, who should last even longer.
In all honesty, quarterback is becoming almost as much of an afterthought as defense and kicker. I didn’t draft a QB before the tenth round in any mock draft and still wound up finding players who will have productive seasons. The difference between Cam Newton and Kirk Cousins is not substantial considering that the position will only occupy a single slot in your gameday lineup. Unless you’re in one of those leagues where you can start more than one QB. Those leagues shouldn’t be legal.
That’s just a preliminary report. I look forward to discussing things in more detail in the future. There’s a lot of ground to cover on the fantasy football landscape.
We’re less than a month away from the Hall of Fame Game.