The fantasy football season could finally be upon us. Of course, at ESPN.com, many of you have already been mock drafting 'til the cows come home, in advance of what will undoubtedly be a wild-and-wooly (and belated) free agent season. Without question, our rankings and preferences will be undergoing massive sea changes over the next couple weeks, rendering moot many of the mocks that we've all participated in.
But that doesn't mean our collective player evaluation to this point is meaningless. Although a few key fantasy entities will change teams and affect the fantasy football landscape, most situations will stay just as they are. So it behooves us to take current trends seriously, even if a few of them will be defunct before September. In that spirit, I want to examine the live draft results in ESPN.com mock drafts to date. Specifically, I'm going to locate players who I think do and don't currently represent good draft value.
Now, to be up front about this, I have a bit of a conflict of interest here. You see, my own personal ranks are the starting point for debate among ESPN.com's panel of experts, who interactively tweak my ranks at a rankings summit (which was held in May). For sure, ESPN's group ranks are not a line-by-line transcription of my own ranks. But in many cases they're not tremendously far off since, as I said, the starting point for thinking about our group ranks are my individual ranks. (For sure, there are some places where the group and I vary wildly -- hello, Michael Vick! -- but these tend to be the exception more than the rule.) And since our group ranks are reflected in the default list of ESPN.com's mock drafts, it's fair to say that taken in total, ESPN's agglomerated draft results reflect nobody else's personal rankings more than they do my own. So to some extent, I'm arguing with myself in this column.
In addition, you might recall that back in February, I wrote a piece listing 10 key players for 2011 where my perception of said players' values might differ dramatically with the herd's. For the most part, that analysis still stands. So I'm not going to repeat any of those players (including Vick) here. Let's look at 10 other interesting cases.
Five Problematic Draftees
Knowshon Moreno, RB, Denver Broncos. (Current Average Draft Position: 36) Where there's smoke, there's often fire. Many Denver beat reporters and columnists have written about the Broncos not viewing Moreno as an every-down back, so there probably is some merit to the story. Certainly, there's no viable alternative to Moreno currently on the Denver roster. But everyone and their dog expects new Denver head coach John Fox to go after DeAngelo Williams, and soon. Even if D-Willy doesn't land at Mile High, it seems a near certainty that some other rusher will. I don't think Moreno can be considered a top-20 fantasy back right now.
Brandon Lloyd, WR, Denver Broncos. (Current ADP: 48) I might just as easily have placed Tim Tebow on this list. Fox is a conservative football thinker, and his offensive staff will be under orders not to go wild with the passing game. Lloyd finished fourth in the NFL in targets last year and first in yards-at-the-catch (among all WRs with at least 40 grabs), so it's fair to say his incredible breakout season was a result of high-volume targets and downfield looks. With Fox at the helm instead of Josh McDaniels, and Tebow probably under center instead of Kyle Orton, neither of those factors is likely to repeat. Plus I also kind of like Eric Decker as a deep sleeper in Denver.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB, New England Patriots. (Current ADP: 49) BJGE was literally the inspiration for this column. I won't be touching him this year, and certainly not in the fifth round of a 10-team draft. With Bill Belichick's track history of jerking around fantasy owners with regards to running backs, we're suddenly trusting him to ride one guy? After drafting two rookie rushers (Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley) this spring? The Patriots featured the NFL's seventh-rush-heaviest offensive attack last year, which sounds great. But it also sounds like a huge anomaly. In that stat in '07 and '09 (Tom Brady's two most recent seasons before '10), New England was 19th and 21st in rush-heaviness. It's rare that a team is in clock-killing mode as often as the Pats were last year, and I expect them to be much pass-heavier overall in '11.
Cedric Benson, RB, Cincinnati Bengals. (Current ADP: 54) My worries about Benson don't involve yet another arrest (he allegedly beat up a former roommate a few days ago), but rather his freefall from '09 to '10. Frankly, two seasons ago is starting to look like a fluke. Benson had the lowest per-carry average (3.5) of any of the NFL's top 36 rushers last year, and exactly two of his 321 carries went for 20 yards or more. Yes, Cincy's O-line disappointed last season. But they weren't that bad. I have every expectation Benson will eventually re-sign with the Bengals, and he'll get a lot of work to begin the year in a new West Coast attack. But this guy's career YPC average is 3.7. That 4.2 from '09 doesn't look repeatable to me.
Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints. (Current ADP: 62) This is mostly surprise that Ingram is so favored over Pierre Thomas, whom I might actually pick over Ingram straight up knowing what I know right now. (Thomas' current ADP is 82.) Could taking Ingram early in the seventh round work out fine this year? Absolutely. He's a bruiser, and with Chris Ivory's health still a question and Reggie Bush potentially moving to another team, Ingram looks like the early leader for short TDs. But I have real questions about Ingram's knees staying healthy for a full year, and I think Sean Payton is going to balance work with Frenchy more than our mock drafters do. No, Thomas hasn't proven himself capable of staying healthy as a full-time player either. But as a part-time guy in '08 and '09, he averaged more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage and seven TDs.
Five Values I Like
Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, New York Giants. (Current ADP: 35) I expect Bradshaw to sign a new deal with the Giants and lead the team in rushing yards once more. His fumbling issues are a bummer, but he's such a dynamic all-around player. And yes, Brandon Jacobs will probably still be in Gotham, too, and it was tough to see him siphon off nine TDs last season. But Bradshaw scored eight himself, five of which came from inside an opponent's 5. So this isn't purely a Jamaal Charles/Thomas Jones, circa 2010, frustration situation. Put it this way: On average, Bradshaw and Moreno are currently getting drafted side-by-side in your typical ESPN mock draft. I would take Bradshaw every single time.
Shonn Greene, RB, New York Jets. (Current ADP: 56) I rang the "Shonn-Greene-is-overrated" bell over and over before the '10 season. Some people were trying to convince me he was a borderline first-round pick. Now, after a year that saw LaDainian Tomlinson steal much of Greene's thunder, the value is there. I watched tape of several of the Jets' December games and January playoff tilts over the past month, and there was just no question who the better back was. LT will still stick around, and he's going to get a lot of third-down and goal-line work, no question. But whereas many of my ESPN colleagues are skeptical, I believe Greene is easily going to lead the Jets in carries in '11. He's not a breakaway guy, but I'd definitely take him well before Benson.
Austin Collie, WR, Indianapolis Colts. (Current ADP: 69) I'm not saying you're under orders to select Collie before the late stages of the seventh round. But I am saying I think it's really good value to take him there. By this point in your draft, you've presumably at least already selected your first two wideouts, so taking a chance on Collie's concussion-riddled career is a smart move. The upside is massive. Collie caught by far the highest percentage of passes thrown his way for any WR with at least 40 targets last season, and Peyton Manning particularly looks for him in TD-rich environments. Put it this way: Without his concussion concerns, Collie borders on top-10 WR value.
Jordy Nelson, WR, Green Bay Packers. (Current ADP: 85) There are moving pieces here, because James Jones could still re-sign with the Packers and muddy the waters. But right now my most likely scenario is Jones going elsewhere as a free agent, and Nelson taking over for Donald Driver as Aaron Rodgers' No. 2 guy. He's a big man (6-foot-3) who can run and has terrific hands, and I full-throatedly endorse him as a fantasy flex for '11. Greg Jennings will get fed first and rookie Randall Cobb will make a few plays. However, I won't be surprised if Nelson busts out and flirts with high-single-digit TDs.
Steve Smith, WR, Carolina Panthers. (Current ADP: 93) I think I've taken Smith in every mock draft I've done so far this year. Quick, how old do you think he is? Wrong. He's 32. This is not a guy who's past his prime. He's simply been held hostage by a terrible passing offense. If Smith stays in Carolina (he's reportedly asked for a trade to a contender), yes, the Cam Newton Experience could make a complete resurgence difficult. But at the very least, I have to believe the guy goes back to being a threat for 70 catches and 1,000 yards receiving, with six or seven TDs mixed in. I mean, we're giving Larry Fitzgerald a QB-based mulligan for last year. To some extent, shouldn't we be doing the same for Smitty?
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy.