Drafting football players has always been an inexact science, whether we're talking about collegiate players joining billion dollar NFL franchises or established pros being selected for your $25 fantasy league. The principle remains the same and really the only thing about the process that changes is the stakes.
Well, that and I doubt most NFL general managers are trying to distract one another with trash talking and pornography.
Still, just about every fantasy player worth his salt goes into the draft having done some rudimentary research and having some kind of game plan. They know the guys they like, they know the guys they dislike, and they all have their personal theories on strategy, sleepers, and sucker picks.
Of course once the draft starts for real and the picks are whizzing off your draft board left and right, keeping your head and sticking to your guns is easier said than done.
I had my draft recently, and while there were some definite high and low points, it felt like I was blowing it pick after pick at the time and panic was gripping me big time. Yet when the dust settled and I got the chance to look at my final roster, as well as those of my competitors, I feel that I've done pretty well for myself, and it's mainly because I stuck to my pre-draft goals.
1) Our league is very quarterback-friendly in our points system, so I wanted to make sure to grab a stud early.
2) I'm a huge Eagles fan, but I wanted to be wary of making homer picks. I told myself I wouldn't grab gimpy RB Brian Westbrook unless he fell to Round 2, or mentally-shaky QB Donovan McNabb unless he was there in Round 3.
3) I wanted to make sure I wouldn't do anything stupid with the bye weeks, meaning not to have too many front line guys sitting out the same week. I want to be as competitive as possible in my head-to-head matchups every week.
4) Get a top-5 defense. Our league also awards a lot of points to team defenses, so I didn't want to be caught with my pants down having to settle for somebody like the Chargers defense.
5) No reaches. I'm a big believer in dealing with the devil you know versus the devil you don't. Some people like taking chances on rookies or guys who've been disappointments the past few years, but I like taking guys who either have proven track records or were at least trending upward during the second half of last season and in the playoffs.
I found out I was picking 10th in our 12-team league a half hour before the draft started, and obviously that's not the ideal position. Ideally I'd have preferred to be picking sixth or seventh, so my next pick would always be 12 slots away instead of having two picks close to one another in our snake draft and then waiting an eternity for the next pick.
Still, I'm looking forward to the challenge of winning the league picking this low. Any schmo can win if they pick RB Adrian Peterson first, but it takes some brains to do it from this slot. Let's see how I did...
Our first round was filled with surprises. My best friend, also clued in to our league's scoring system, took Patriots QB Tom Brady second overall. Obviously he doesn't think that "Goldenboy" will have any setbacks in his comeback year from missing almost all of 2008 with a torn ACL. Also off the board at six and seven were receivers Larry Fitzgerald of the Cardinals and Andre Johnson of the Texans, which I thought was a bit insane, frankly. Even stranger were the backs taken at eight and nine, 49er Frank Gore and my beloved Westbrook. Both are multi-dimensional weapons who might lead their teams in receptions, but they're injury risks as well.
I was overjoyed, naturally, to have QB Drew Brees of the Saints, who finished first overall in points in our league last season, fall to me at ten. RB DeAngelo Williams of the Panthers and RB Steve Slaton of the Texans were one second temptations, but really Brees was a no-brainer. If you have him on your team, you're already in great shape going into the season.
In round two I was dead set on getting myself a back, regardless of which receivers were out there. Fortunately having Fitzgerald and Johnson off the board, as well as the Patriots' Randy Moss, made this decision really easy. By the time my slot came up with the 15th pick, my choices were RB Chris Johnson of the Titans, RB Clinton Portis of the Redskins and RB Steven Jackson of the Rams.
I went with Portis. He's in less of a time-share situation than Johnson, who will lose all the goalline opportunities to teammate RB LenDale White, while Jackson has a dodgy injury history and figures to be on a bad team that will be throwing too much in the second half for my taste.
Most of the top-tier receivers were gone by the time I was up in the third round at pick #34, and there were precious few starting running backs left. My choices were to gamble on headcases like Bills WR Terrell Owens (absolutely unthinkable, as an Eagles fan), Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco, or Broncos WR Brandon Marshall, or to have the strongest QB-RB1-RB2 trio of my league.
Again, a no-brainer. I took Packers RB Ryan Grant, who's the unchallenged starter in Green Bay, playing in an explosive offense that's going to score oodles of points. I couldn't be happier that he was still on the board for me.
With my fourth round pick staring me in the face just five slots later, almost all of the same guys available in round three were still there for me to ignore. I thought long and hard about taking WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh here, but in the end, I asked myself would I rather have the top guy at one position or the 13th best guy at another position, playing on a new team, with a new offense and an injury-prone QB in Matt Hasselbeck.
Because of my reservations there, and because I didn't want to deal with the aforementioned divas at receiver, I chose Dallas TE Jason Witten. Maybe #39 is a bit too early for him, but with an unimpressive receiving corps at Dallas, I have a feeling that QB Tony Romo will look Witten's way more than ever.
With the 58th overall pick in the fifth round, I simply couldn't ignore the wide receivers any longer. I had to get some guys. There were still a few number ones left and I went with the one who plays on last year's best offense, WR Vincent Jackson of the Chargers. WR Braylon Edwards of the Browns and WR Antonio Bryant of the Bucs were both still available, but I shied away from both because of the shaky quarterback situations on those teams. At 27, Jackson is just entering his prime and with RB LaDainian Tomlinson slowing down, San Diego should be throwing more than ever. I'm looking for 1,200 yards easy from Jackson, and hopefully nine or ten touchdowns.
In round six I think I out-thought myself a bit. I'm really, really high on WR DeSean Jackson of the Eagles and think he's going to be a monster in his sophomore campaign as the unquestioned #1 guy on Philly's deep receiving corps. However, I didn't want to reach for a homer pick and thought that maybe Jackson wasn't on anyone's radar and I could sneak him in one round later. Instead I took WR Eddie Royal of the Broncos. Denver is going to be horrible on defense and always behind in games. They brought in a coach in Josh McDaniels who brings with him New England's shotgun spread offense and will be throwing a ton. The notorious Brandon Marshall is an absolute psychopath and can't be trusted. All the stars are aligned for Royal to have a huge year, right?
Mike Sholty had an excellent write-up on this very conundrum and he advised going with Royal, especially if you're in a league that gives points per reception, which is the case in my league. On one hand I'm comforted by his post, because it meant I did the right thing. So how come I feel like I screwed up?
By now, you've surely figured out that DeSean Jackson was taken before I could nab him in round seven. Again, that bastard best friend of my as the culprit. After much grousing, I settled for WR Santana Moss of the Redskins as my third wideout. He's still a number one guy with a supporting cast of young unproven misfits behind him and a quarterback looking to prove a lot of critics wrong. I don't like having two 'Skins in my lineup in Moss and Portis, especially as an "Iggles" fan, but I had to take the best guy here.
So after seven rounds I had my quarterback, two running backs, three receivers, and tight end. All things considered, things were going pretty smoothly.
Tune in tomorrow to see how the latter two-thirds unfolded, but here's a quick teaser: I briefly lost my mind in Round 8 and it's highly debatable if I ever recovered.