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It's never too early for a mock draft! To be honest, I'm not really sure what a "mock" draft is. Whenever I pick a team I do so thinking there's nothing mock about it, but we'll be playing the thing out. Unless I'm nudged in the direction of trying out different strategies, my goal in a mock draft is basically the same as a late-August get-together with my buddies with everything on the line: I want to build a winning team.
On July 22, there were 10 of us from the ESPN Fantasy staff mocking things up in the new and improved draft room. While it was clear a few of us were trying out strategy -- and there's nothing wrong with that at all -- it seemed like a pretty good representation of a July mock draft that we'd be cool playing out. Now we present it to you.
Before we begin breaking down each round for trends, both good and not so good, let me say trying out our mock draft lobby is a really good way to get ready for the upcoming season. You don't have to play those leagues out, but you can get a good idea who generally gets picked where, how soon the position runs begin and which sleepers you really can't wait as long for as you think. Then again, even in a mock draft, I still want to build the best team I can.
Since I was among those drafting, I should divulge what I was thinking as well as analyzing what others did. And remember, we have a large, opinionated staff at ESPN Fantasy, so what I think might not match our rankings or the consensus of others. Another writer will pick apart the next mock draft, and offer their opinions as well, and they might be 180 degrees opposite.
The drafters, in first-round order: Keith Lipscomb, Eric Karabell, Ken Daube, AJ Mass, Tristan Cockcroft, Matthew Berry, Pierre Becquey, Brendan Roberts, James Quintong, Christopher Harris.
Round-by-round draft results are below, followed by my comments. You can also see the team-by-team draft results here.What I did: Blessed with the second pick in a year in which I believe there are two obvious options for the top pick, I went with Michael Turner after Adrian Peterson went to Lipscomb. No, I am apparently not concerned that Turner will succumb to the 370-carry rule like others before him. I do see some drop-off, but I also see flaws in the other top-5 running backs.
What I liked: Good for Daube for taking LaDainian Tomlinson third. I don't have the old man -- Tomlinson, that is -- ranked quite that high, but he did make my overall top 10, which might make me the second-most crazy member of the fantasy staff. Daube isn't nuts. LT will get his yards and enough touchdowns, and hey, we weren't allowed to trade picks to move down in the round. Even though I wouldn't take LT over Matt Forte or Steven Jackson, I can't quibble. Nine of the 10 picks were running backs, but nobody made fun of Becquey when he took Larry Fitzgerald seventh. We make fun of him for other reasons, but the pick was more than reasonable.
What I didn't like: It's tough to make a bad first-round pick, really. I mean, nobody took Devin Hester in the top 10. I suppose taking Tomlinson this high might shock some, but if you think a player is better than another, don't worry about anyone's rankings or how the league views the pick.
What was noted, mocked, written: Roberts clearly wanted Fitzgerald eighth, but didn't get the chance. I think as the summer goes on and each top running back gets picked apart more and his flaws becoming more obvious to all, we'll see the Arizona wide receiver go in the top five in many drafts. Also, one drafter, whose innocent name will be protected to avoid worldwide mocking, asked if this was a PPR league ... while he was on the clock in the middle of the round. Always know the league rules prior to your draft.What I did: Picking second to last in the round, I had queued up Clinton Portis right after the first round ended. I understand why Portis isn't in as much demand as in past years, but ... well, actually why isn't he in demand? I would have considered Portis five picks earlier than when I chose him, at least.
What I liked: Daube isn't building a team of kids, that's for sure, but what great value to secure Brian Westbrook at pick 18. I always preach balance in drafts, be it with healthy and risky players, young and old, etc. Daube obviously could care less about balance, but on the other hand, Tomlinson and Westbrook could be awesome. (Or they could be retired at midseason.) I also liked the wide receiver run early in the round, with three of the first four picks. Only four picks in this round were running backs.
What I didn't like: I know Tom Brady threw 50 touchdown passes in his last full season, but I'm taking the under on him duplicating the feat. I'm taking the way-under, like he barely throws 30. I rank Brady third at quarterback, so the fact he was the first signal caller off the board at pick 17 was something I wouldn't have done. It doesn't make it wrong, though. Then again, I think round two is so loaded with wide receivers and semi-forgotten running backs like Portis I wouldn't take my top QB, Drew Brees, in that round.
What was noted, mocked, written: Becquey ignores a running back yet again, pairing Randy Moss with Fitzgerald, then noting this is the patented Daube two-WR strategy, as seen in our draft kit. We'll check on Becquey's running back situation soon, but you have to love his receivers. "I'll either be a genius or Ken will be an idiot," Becquey notes with glee. "I can't lose!"
What I did: In many leagues, you can use only two active running backs at a time, while starting three wide receivers. I prefer the two-and-two theory with a flex, like in this standard league. Look, I know I need a wide receiver and I've already spoken on TV that I have amended one of my normal strategies of going heavy on running backs early, but like Portis, Marion Barber seems like a top-15 talent to me. I get him at 22. I then watch every first-rate wide receiver come off the board, making me scared I'll have to settle for Kevin Curtis as my top wideout. I start to sweat. But I love this trio of running backs.
What I liked: My pick of Barber was the only one of the first six in the round who wasn't a wide receiver. I'm generally not a fan of joining in position runs, but this one seemed wise, with nary a questionable pick. I liked Daube taking Terrell Owens over Reggie Wayne and Greg Jennings, among others. Gotta keep that team average age over 30! Says Daube, "my team kicks 2006 ass!"
What I didn't like: On the surface, Ronnie Brown didn't have a bad 2008 season, but nearly half his touchdowns came in one glorious game against the Patriots. There were a few running backs who went in round four that I would have chosen over the final pick of round three. Also, isn't Thomas Jones like 63 years old, whining about his contract and playing with a rookie quarterback?
What was noted, mocked, written: Becquey can't stop posting, which in this case is a good thing because I can use the fodder. At the end of the round, he notes, "Who knew T.O. would be the safest pick?" You know, everyone assumes Owens is some nutcase, but even if that's so, he's definitely a productive one.
What I did: Can't say I'm a big fan of Wes Welker at pick 39, but I thought he was the best wide receiver left, and I noted a gaping hole on my team at the position. Welker should get his receptions and yards, but I don't know about the touchdowns. I had queued up Dallas' Roy E. Williams when Round 3 ended, but again Daube killed the vibe. I'm going to pretend Welker is my No. 2 wide receiver. It makes me feel better.
What I liked: I really liked a few picks in this round, probably better than how round three ended. Ryan Grant didn't score much in 2008, but he got the yards, and should get them again. I think he bounces back with more scores. Becquey is so predictable with his Packers. I also like Berry's Pierre Thomas selection. Plus, even though Marshawn Lynch might miss a few games with suspension, he deserves better than being the 40th-best player taken overall. A year ago he was nearly top 10.
What I didn't like: You mean other than my Welker pick, which was necessitated because I took Barber in Round 3 over so many good wide receivers? Well, Darren McFadden could become a star in his sophomore year, but he's still not the official starter for his own team. Cockcroft needs him to be since he has only one other running back. Also, I don't think T.J. Houshmandzadeh is toast, but I would have taken Welker over him.
What was noted, mocked, written: Harris didn't like Becquey's Grant pick, noting "you took the wrong half of the NFC North running game." We'll see. And after my Welker pick I realize my big, not-so-secret sleeper of the year is still on the board, though I already have three running backs. Darn that Barber pick! Maybe Derrick Ward will slip two more picks so I can be first to select a bench player!
What I did: Ward didn't slip any more picks. Nice one, Lipscomb. Would I have really taken running backs with four of my first five picks, when I can only play three of them at once? Probably. You never feel like you need depth at the draft, but in Week 6 you always do. I didn't like the wide receiver choices, so even though I never take a tight end this early, I took a tight end. And according to our rankings, I took the wrong tight end. I don't care that we rank Antonio Gates third at the position. I think he's still first.
What I liked: In a round with quite a bit of risk-taking, Becquey's Jonathan Stewart pick has terrific potential. The Panthers run like crazy. Three running backs went in this round prior to Stewart. I love the Ward pick, and the fact Lipscomb stole Lynch and Ward so late, but what can we really expect from Larry Johnson and Willie Parker? Stewart possesses more upside. Maybe he has the year DeAngelo Williams did?
What I didn't like: I might like Braylon Edwards better if Brian Sipe was his quarterback, even though Sipe is turning 60 years old soon. As it is, there's no telling how motivated Edwards will be. Antonio Bryant went two picks later, which shows the lack of depth at wide receiver. Or maybe these drafters just took the receivers too early, creating this supply-and-demand issue.
What was noted, mocked, written: After Daube takes Larry Johnson, Harris notes he can't find Barry Sanders on the available list. Wait a second, Sanders wasn't playing in 2006! Also, Johnson isn't that old. He only ran like he was in 2008. And after the Joseph Addai pick, we finally get our first "how the mighty have fallen" post. Hard to believe Addai was a top-5 pick ... last year.
What I did: Filled my other starting wide receiver slot with Hines Ward. I only need one more big year, Hines. This is also my way of saying Santonio Holmes is overrated when it's not the Super Bowl.
What I liked: I found the order of the quarterbacks in this round to be very interesting. I realize Tony Romo has lost something very vital to his well-being -- I'm talking about T.O., not Jessica Simpson -- but he seems a bargain to me at pick 55, a slot after sophomore Matt Ryan. Is Ryan's best better than what Romo normally does? Five of the first six picks this round were quarterbacks, and I've seen this trend in other drafts this summer. Round 5 or 6 is when the second tier of quarterbacks go.
What I didn't like: Chad Ochocinco made it into my top 86, but not by much. Berry agrees, noting after Mass took the Bengals' star wideout how thin the wide receiver position is, then tries to talk himself into the Vincent Jackson pick he made a round earlier. "Not thrilled with VJax as my No. 2, but he was best available." That's how I feel about Hines Ward, I suppose.
What was noted, mocked, written: The Daube-Becquey trash talking session continues, with Daube making the mistake of ripping the Aaron Rodgers pick in the presence of the Packers fan. "I hate Rodgers," Daube says. He doesn't fit into Daube's AARP team, but still. Becquey fights back: "Too likely to play 16 games? Or is it because he's worthless in a 2006 league?"
What I did: Yes, I am an Eagles fan, but no, that's not at all why I chose Donovan McNabb. Ninth quarterback off the board seems about right, especially since I'm not a Matt Schaub fan and don't want the quarterbacks traded for each other (Jay Cutler, Kyle Orton) as my starter.
What I liked: No, I am not a fan of drafting rookies, but Knowshon Moreno went about four rounds later than I've seen at times. He's actually a bargain at pick 63. So is Jamal Lewis at pick 64 to Mass. Both these guys should be starters and top 1,000 yards.
What I didn't like: Santonio Holmes didn't go too early, but it should be noted his Super Bowl performance wasn't indicative of his regular season. Also, Berry becomes the first to handcuff a running back, getting LenDale White as Chris Johnson insurance. I think handcuffing is overrated, but if someone else had taken White would it have looked awful? Probably not. Didn't stop Berry from noting White was "first round pick insurance ... I still hate him." That begins a league debate about us being in the "hate round," as some noted underperformers from the past come off the board (Lee Evans, Reggie Bush).
What I did: There are no wide receivers left! Note to myself, don't make this mistake in the next mock draft. I don't think Donnie Avery will be great, but I took him over Jerricho Cotchery for the upside factor. Cotchery goes next. I should note at the time of my pick, eight wide receivers ranked above Avery by ESPN are still available. It's your team, do what you want, not what the rankings say!
What I liked: The first two wide receivers to go in this round were Kevin Walter and Eddie Royal. Both continue to be overlooked, but check out Walter's numbers. They were legit. Royal's were more than legit, but everyone assumes Kyle Orton can't find him. He can.
What I didn't like: I get the Beanie Wells pick, since he's generally regarded as the second best rookie running back, but Ray Rice was the next pick. I don't see Rice making a big impact in a crowded Baltimore backfield.
What I did: I hated the Laveranues Coles pick the second I made it. I should've gone with Donald Driver, though neither is likely to produce enough to make me regret it.
What I liked: Lipscomb handcuffs Chester Taylor to his Peterson pick. Seems reasonable enough. I also like the Darren Sproles pick to Quintong; did Daube blow a chance to handcuff him to Tomlinson?
What I didn't like: I don't think I've ever taken a defense in the top 100, which again doesn't mean it's wrong, but there are too many individual players with upside out there. The Steelers have a great defense, but is it that much different for fantasy than the one I took 56 picks later? OK, maybe that's a bad example. It's just too early, I believe.
What I did: Felix Jones was actually the No. 2 running back left on the board when I chose him, according to our rankings, so I don't consider it as a handcuff to Barber. He's just potentially good. The No. 1 running back left was Willis McGahee, who went next to Lipscomb. I'd rather take the upside. I have a feeling Lipscomb wasn't enamored with his McGahee pick when he made it. How could he be?
What I liked: Two Bears went in this round, and I like them both. Devin Hester was certainly not overrated in this draft, and Berry's fourth wide receiver doesn't have to be a star for him. Greg Olsen goes to Mass, far later than the top tight ends, but could Cutler make Olsen a star this season? Also, Daube finally picks a quarterback, choosing Carson Palmer, who ESPN ranks 86th overall. Schaub, ranked 59, remains available! I would go Schaub over Palmer, but it's not like Schaub beats him by much on the injury factors.
What I didn't like: The Giants' defense should be good, but a few potential starting running backs -- albeit not attractive options -- would go later in the round in Fred Taylor and Julius Jones. On second thought ...
What I did: Finally, a wide receiver selection I like a lot! It's Steve Breaston! Woo-hoo! And my backup quarterback becomes Matt Cassel. The week McNabb is on bye, Mr. Cassel takes on the Giants. I like the pick, but not at all for the one week I know I will need him. Then again, McNabb has never been known as an ironman.
What I liked: Daube pairs up the Eagles' rookie running back LeSean McCoy with Westbrook. Kellen Winslow to Cockcroft looks like a nice gamble, and Schaub mercifully goes to Becquey. In Week 4, Schaub faces Oakland. Becquey will potentially need Schaub only that week, as well. Harris scoops up Rashard Mendenhall to end Round 11, which is a pick I would have liked to have made a round or two earlier. Lipscomb takes a chance on "feel-good" story Chris Henry. Hey, the receiver does have talent, and it's been what, more than a year since he's been in trouble? It's progress.
What I didn't like: Can you really dislike anything this late? How about the Jets' defense coming third off the board, before the Titans and Ravens? Also, Berry posts after the Domenik Hixon pick that he really wanted the Giants wide receiver. Hey, Matthew, it is Round 12 after all! You had plenty of chances to get him!
What I did: I'm hardly a fan of Tim Hightower, but he needs to go at some point. He could be the goal-line back, after all. And I take the Patriots' defense in Round 14, trusting it can be a lot more viable than it was in 2008.
What I liked: Kevin Curtis isn't a No. 1 wide receiver, but at this point he's great value. So is Patrick Crayton, who, like Curtis, is a likely starter for his team. Shonn Greene of the Jets needs opportunity, but consider that he went five rounds after Beanie Wells. Brett Favre was still retired, unemployed, annoying -- you choose the right word -- at the time of this mock, but Becquey, who is none of those things, figured he was worth a look. I can't disagree.
What I did: Jeremy Maclin of Philly might be on the waiver wire by Week 2 ... or he might start and be better than DeSean Jackson was last year. Who knows? And my last-round kicker -- there shouldn't be any other round for them -- was David Akers.
What I liked: Every pick but one in the final round was a kicker. Daube messed up the world order by going with Stephen Gostkowski in Round 15, but everyone else got the memo.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. Check out his daily Baseball Today podcast at ESPN Podcenter. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.