Yesterday, I went through the first seven rounds of my 12-team Yahoo! draft. At that point, everything had been going swimmingly. I'd managed to avoid the pitfalls of my Eagles homerism and deftly avoided both RB Brian Westbrook and QB Donovan McNabb.
Sure, with me picking tenth, Westbrook was never available to me in the first place, but I'm going to chalk one up to my willpower nonetheless.
Through seven rounds I managed to nab QB Drew Brees - only the high scorer of our QB-biased league last year - RBs Clinton Portis and Ryan Grant, TE Jason Witten of the hated Cowboys, and WRs Vincent Jackson, Eddie Royal and Santana Moss.
There was some regret and hand wringing over being outmaneuvered for my boy WR DeSean Jackson, but surely I wasn't going to let one little pick that didn't go my way mentally fry me for the rest of the draft was I?
Well yes and no.
The bad news is that I turned into a blubbering idiot for one pick and completely botched it. The good news is I managed to recover - I think - with some unorthodox sleeper picks in the latter rounds.
So without further ado, let's get on with the gory details.
In Round 8 my intention was to grab a solid third running back, the kind of guy that not only could I go to for a spot start in place of Portis or Grant during their bye weeks or if they had a rough match-up, but also someone that I could go to at my "Flex" position instead of having to rely on Moss.
The guy I was looking at, and whom I was positive wasn't on anyone else's radar this early, was RB Felix Jones of the Cowboys. The guy is fragile but he's a triple threat who gets yards by the bushel, whether it's on runs, receptions or returns, and I'm positive he'll be featured on this receiver-challenged Cowboys team.
When Jones got taken two spots ahead of me, something in my brain just snapped and like my fictional hero, Aaron Stampler, I just sort of "lost time" for a few moments.
When I came to, and I swear I don't know how it happened, but RB Derrick Ward of the Bucs was on my roster. Not RB Willie Parker of the Steelers or RB Jamal Lewis of the Browns, but Ward, who's recently lost the competition to be Tampa's starter to a guy who absentmindedly forgets where he left his kneecap the way you and I do with our car keys.
I'm not sure if I've ever had a draft blackout before, but as the saying goes, there's a first time for everything. I suppose it could've been worse and I could've drafted Mike Vick or Brett Favre, right? Mike Sholty made me feel a little bit better, writing that Ward was still worth an eighth or ninth round pick even after his demotion, Still, it would be an understatement to say I'm actively shopping Ward. Sadly, the rest of the owners are pretty clued in that I'm not too high on him and the offers have been, shall we say, underwhelming.
I finally took a defense in Round 9, and while some might scoff and say that's a bit early, our league values defenses very highly and after Brees, the Eagles D had the second highest point total in our league last season, with other quarterbacks and defenses making up virtually the entire top ten.
With Pittsburgh, the New York Giants, Baltimore, and Tennessee already taken, the time was now for me to take one of the few stud defenses left. I'm a bit higher on the Vikings' crew these days than an Eagles outfit that has lost coordinator Jim Johnson, safety Brian Dawkins, and middle linebacker Stewart Bradley, so I took Minnesota.
From there it was hit-and-miss, with each pick having some logic and rationalization behind it, but also guys I left on the board that were arguably better.
Getting WR Derrick Mason in Round 10 to be my fourth receiver when he's unquestionably the only main target for QB Joe Flacco sounds like a steal, but I could've had WR Donald Driver or RB Leon Washington, who's a return yardage beast, so I'm vexed.
In Round 11 I took Favre. Of course I did. When a guy is 40 years old, he has chronic ankle and shoulder injuries, he creates a divisive locker room, he doesn't know or care to know his teammates, and he sees nothing wrong with being the regular season starter after reporting to work like four days ago, well then you just have to snatch him up to be your backup fantasy QB.
On one hand I know I'll be able to count on Favre to start every game. On the other hand, I can't think of a single other positive thing to say about him. This pick is completely indefensible.
Believe it or not, but most of the good kickers were gone by Round 12, so I considered myself fortunate to be able to land K Nate Kaeding of the Chargers. San Diego finished second in the league in scoring last season and with Norv Turner in charge and RB LaDainian Tomlinson slowing down, I see plenty of red zone flameouts in their future.
Lucky Round 13 sounded like just the right time for my first homer pick of the draft, so I finally took an Eagle, TE Brent Celek to be my backup tight end. Sure, I'll probably play Witten just about every week, but Celek is a player on the come and he did have ten catches and two touchdowns in the NFC Championship Game last season, even if it was against Arizona. I defy anyone to have a better tight end situation in any league.
Because our league is so wacky, we even draft defensive players. There are various schools of thought on which kind of players to draft. Some experts like taking guys who are really kick returners and just defenders in name only, like the 49ers Allen Rossum. Others prefer high sack guys like the Cowboys DeMarcus Ware. Finally some people just prefer to take tackle machines like Patrick Willis, guys who you know will get you 11, 12 points every week plus maybe chip in with the occasional forced fumble or sack.
I belong in the latter category and I did indeed take "P-Willie," as he's known in the 49ers locker room, in Round 14. With an awful pass rush, a shaky secondary, and a popgun offense, the San Francisco defense will be on the field forever, giving Willis ample opportunity to notch 150+ tackles this year.
By the 15th round we were all getting a bit loopy. Time for another homer sleeper pick here, so I took WR Jason Avant of the Eagles. He's been steadily improving every year, he has the full confidence of McNabb now, especially on third downs, and with WR Kevin Curtis and Westbrook both gimpy, look for Avant to finish second on the team in receptions, behind Jackson. I'm expecting his reception and yardage numbers to skyrocket, but the only question with him is if he'll be able to score with any regularity. Avant's gonna finish with 50+ catches for 700+ yards this year, book it.
The late pick I'm most proud of though is snatching RB Jerious Norwood of the Falcons in Round 16. Starter Michael Turner toted the rock for 376 carries last year, and as the fellas from Footballoutsiders.com will tell you, 370 seems to be the magic number. Any back who gets it that many times one year always falls off dramatically the next year, usually due to injury.
I'm not saying I'm cheering for Turner to get injured... but yes, I'm cheering for Turner to get injured.
I rounded out my draft with three backups in the specialty positions, as I've always been a "match-up" guy and don't like having to scour the waiver wire during bye weeks and having to sift through trash.
The Packers figure to be leading lots of games big with their talented offense, so I gambled on their D in Round 17, with the thought that their pass rushers will be able to pin their ears back and rack up the sacks. With Bradley on IR for the Eagles I think safety Quintin Mikell will lead the team in tackles, plus he's a good blitzer and can cover as well. The multidimensional Mikell was a 2nd team All-Pro last year and should fill the box score once again in '09, so I got him in the penultimate round. Finally, K Neil Rackers of the Cardinals, another kicker on a high scoring team, was still there for me in the last round, so I finished my draft with him.
Was it a perfect draft? No. Guys were missed and mistakes were made. But this is a versatile roster you can go to war with and the more fantasy evolves, the more players will have to pay attention to different facets of the game and the different scoring systems that commissioners throw at you.
That old time, eight player, QB-RB-RB-WR-WR-TE-K-D draft is slowly becoming a dinosaur, and with virtually every team splitting carries with their backs now and the league going to more of a multi-receiver, spread offense, the old fantasy formulas no longer apply. You can't just win your league with two stud backs and a pile of crap anymore and these days you have to be strong and deep at every position, like real life championship contenders.
The day will probably come - and sooner than you think - where some wackjob will figure out a way to incorporate offensive linemen into fantasy too.
God help us.