With less than a week to the NFL season kickoff, the final big weekend of drafts is upon us. We rounded up 12 ESPN fantasy football experts and analysts to hold the last mock draft of the preseason. And just to keep everyone honest, we're going to play this one out among ourselves, for mock glory, mock bragging rights and the opportunity to mock Matthew Berry when he finds himself forced to start Cedric Benson against the Ravens in Week 5.
Joining your humble scribe in this endeavor were fantasy analysts Berry, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Eric Karabell and AJ Mass, fantasy editors Pierre Becquey, Keith Lipscomb, James Quintong, Nate Ravitz and Brendan Roberts, and from Answer Guys, Shawn Cwalinski and Dave Hunter.
Me: I seem to consistently get late draft spots this year. I also seem to consistently land Slaton. There's something to this. Picking from 10 to 12, I'm finding you often can net a feature back first and grab one of Fitzgerald, Randy Moss or the Johnson boys on the way back. In our recent PPR mock draft, this wasn't the case, but in a standard league, this often bears out.
Them: Order is restored in some sense with Turner going eight spots higher than in our PPR draft. There are few early surprises other than Cockcroft's confidence in Jackson, which really isn't that bullish in the end. It has become common to see at least two of the top wideouts taken in the first round, regardless of the scoring system.
Chatter: Cockcroft expects "bushels of yards, more than we project" from Jackson and thinks "he's one of the better points-per-game backs; I'm only concerned about the touchdowns." This is the first mock draft of the series that saw Becquey not draft an elite wide receiver with his first pick, although he has consistently coveted Williams, saying, "I'm squarely aboard the DeAngelo train. It was between him and Tomlinson for me." Who knew Williams has a train?
Me: Moss finishes out the run on the "super" receivers (can we get an agreed-upon name for this grouping?). I'm content with Slaton and Moss, as both have reasonable bottom-line expectations as well as considerable upside if all goes well in their respective high-powered offenses.
Them: The second round is always more compelling than the first, given the parity that emerges among the available options. Lipscomb, Roberts and Cockcroft are the only teams to have gone with two tailbacks as their foundations, further evidence of the demise of the lone feature back (or the rise of the receiver?).
Chatter: Quintong wasn't "sure how Jacobs fell that far, although I guess I liked Gore and Andre enough to pass. I was sort of afraid what would be there in terms of running backs if I went WR/WR in this draft." Jacobs' eventual suitor, Cockcroft, agreed: "I just loved the value on Jacobs."
Me: I felt the need to roster my second running back but wasn't solid on my options here, and despite having Moss, felt Welker's production isn't mutually exclusive to or dependent on Moss'. Had Houshmandzadeh been there, I might have gone with him so as to avoid netting the New England duo. This is a prime example of taking who I felt was the best player available, regardless of the context of my team.
Them: Berry has put together an imposing young receiving tandem to complement Forte. A top-three selection spot this season seems ideal (even in a 12-team league) for netting two solid backs and an elite receiver, or vice versa, as Roberts, Berry and Hunter prove. Becquey is somewhat brazen in waiting for his first wideout, while Lipscomb seems equally daring with his faith in Owens.
Chatter: On the turn from the second to the third, Berry "wanted Jennings or Boldin" to go with White, thanking Roberts and Hunter with an appropriate "Damn you." Hunter replied, seemingly unapologetically: "After Jennings and White, things drop off for me at bit at receiver." Cwalinski meant Ronnie, not the Providence-based Ivy institution, when he explained that he's "not a Brown fan, at all. I just keep ending up with him for some reason. I took him over Pierre Thomas because of Thomas' recent injury."
Me: We all develop tendencies as we do more and more mock and real drafts while the summer winds down. Drafting Rodgers in the late third or early fourth round is one of mine. I don't see a difference between him and Peyton Manning in terms of their final stat clips, and even believe that we will see him move up a full round in drafts this time next year.
Them: Ravitz invested in Gates early in the round and must have liked the balance he already had built with his earlier picks. Taking Gates or Jason Witten in this range makes sense if you're not sold on the other options, as they afford you somewhat of a weekly margin over opposing fantasy tight ends. In what could be a season-defining series of picks, Mass grabbed two upside sophomore backs in McFadden and Rice, leaving veteran tailbacks Lynch and Jones on the table.
Chatter: Obliged to explain his aversion to receivers to this point, Becquey said, "I just keep liking the rushers over them. I don't think I've ever gone RB/QB/RB/RB in a draft before." Cwalinski has drafted Edwards in consecutive mock drafts, but much like his take on Ronnie Brown, believes "he's just been the best on the board at the time." When asked about his enduring trust in his fellow Michigan man, Ravitz affirmed that he likes Edwards' upside, "but I don't think I've said he's going too late in drafts. Unless he goes after crappy Roy Williams." Which compelled me to ask for naming clarification: "So no more E. needed, just crappy?" To which Ravitz quipped, "Let's just start calling him Roy C. Williams."
Me: You know how you look at the menu for the local takeout spot knowing that you are going to order the same thing as always? That's how I've felt about Parker in Round 5 this year. In many drafts, just as with Slaton, I seem to roster the somewhat-fragile Steelers back. When Ravitz spoiled my order, I mean my pick, I turned to the draft's first rookie, Moreno. I knew from this point on that I'd be looking for backfield depth.
Them: DeSean Jackson seems to have entrenched himself as a mid-round selection, as his investors are hoping he takes that next step toward fantasy stardom. Karabell has published his trust in Brett Favre as a solid fantasy backup and corroborated his take by selecting Berrian as his second receiver (and later, Favre himself).
Chatter: Berry "was looking at Marshall, but felt Jackson was safer, with less potential to burn me." Becquey knowingly took a risk with the mercurial Denver talent as his first receiver, but Hunter believes "the masses are overreacting to Marshall. Dude is going to play and be fine." We certainly will find out soon.
Me: I knew Donald Brown would be a nice complement to my backfield, given that his role seems a little more defined than Moreno's, but Royal's upside as a potential top receiver outweighed my interest in Brown. I somewhat regretted this move in the end, as I went on to regularly miss out on backs I targeted in the later rounds.
Them: Second receivers and complementary/committee backs defined the round. In Mock 3.0, Jonathan Stewart lasted until the 90th pick, and while little has changed surrounding his injury status, Berry invested in him at 70th overall here. Stewart is somewhat the Brandon Marshall of backs in that his status is shrouded in mystery but he oozes amazing upside.
Chatter: Becquey's commentary on his receivers continued as he affirmed that he'd "rather have Lee Evans in this format than in PPR." Cockcroft found it "sad when Gonzalez and Holmes is a difficult pick this early."
Me: While "Shady" McCoy has indisputably positive potential, I think I might have reached here to point that my shoulder hurts. Leon Washington and Felix Jones seem to have similar upside to McCoy if their respective starters go down and both have what purport to be larger and more defined roles in their offenses. Amazingly, Washington went 115th overall in our 10-team standard mock draft just two weeks ago.
Them: Donovan McNabb and the Matts seem to be staples of the seventh round, while Jay Cutler seems to have worked his way up the board after an average draft position of 105 in our first three mock drafts, going no higher than 98th.
Chatter: Self-disgust ruled the chat window. Hunter called himself out: "Uhoh ... somebody reached on Moore." The hosts of Fantasy Focus Football seem to have some sort of fantasy reflux condition. Moments after selecting Cedric Benson, Berry told the league, "I just threw up in a my mouth a little bit." In our last mock, Chris Chambers inspired a similarly unpleasant reaction in Ravitz, who added that, "Benson is the new Jamal Lewis ... slightly less decomposed. Is that a double negative? Slightly more composed?"
Me: Once again, I let Felix Jones slide, when I should have known he wouldn't make his way back to me. I had no need for a fourth receiver here, especially not one with somewhat limited potential. It's not just your first four or five picks that define your team. My bypassing a solid depth back or an upside tight end like Winslow at this spot could be costly down the line. I like Holt this season enough to be my third and certainly fourth receiver on the right roster; I just don't like that I added him to this team.
Them: Much like the sixth round and what we could expect in the next three rounds, we saw a mix of progressively cheaper wideouts and complementary backs get rostered. Berry had some technical difficulties drafting but wanted to clarify that he indeed had "clicked on Julius Jones. That's who I want. Sadly." Two running backs named Fred got drafted.
Me: I was hoping Tim Hightower would fall to me. Is it a bad sign that I was clamoring for Hightower in the ninth round? Norwood has potential to be somewhat of a weak flex play for me but doesn't have a significant enough share for me not to continue my search for backs.
Them: Hunter made a somewhat bullish, albeit potentially rewarding, investment in taking two guys who are their teams' third receivers, Steve Breaston and Chris Henry, over potential top targets Josh Morgan, Derrick Mason and Ted Ginn Jr. Hunter backed his gumption, saying, "We have Chris Henry ranked too low in my opinion." Mass jumped into play-by-play of the Twins' matinee as the round concluded.
Me: Even though I like Davis here, it usually is not a good sign when your 10th pick doesn't have a picture on his ESPN.com player card. With the additions of Davis and Norwood, it was clear I was beginning to build this collection of "need something" backs, as in, for these types of investments to pay off, you need something to happen, generally involving something nefarious befalling one or several back ahead of them on the depth chart.
Them: Trendy backup tailbacks Davis, Glenn Coffee and Shonn Greene were the cool kids in this draft. Asked whether Greene would factor in as an immediate touchdown vulture, Ravitz said, "Of course he won't." Cwalinski got nice value on Garrard in a move that speaks to the fact that McNabb owners are apt to back him up with a trusted arm. As defenses enter the fray, it's of note that we haven't seen much deviation in where defenses are going in these mocks. The injury/upside duo of Carson Palmer and Matt Hasselbeck seems appropriate here.
Me: Speaking of decomposing veteran backs, Willis McGahee somehow broke into my roster. Like, I think he cut the alarm and phone lines, and just snuck in here. Regularly regretting not taking the players who go directly after your pick in a draft is not a great pattern to establish. I really liked the Jets defense there, but my running back insecurity got the best of me.
Them: Cockcroft made a nice run on receivers with New York's potential top guy in Domenic Hixon and Chicago's relatively unknown Earl Bennett, who seems to have an enduring rapport with Jay Cutler that goes back to their Vandy days. Ben Roethlisberger has not been a favorite in these staff mocks, as he's gone some 40 picks later than his current ESPN average draft position. The faint noise of Ravitz retching could be heard through the monitors as he selected one Chris Chambers, yet again.
Me: Having had my fill of depth running backs, it seemed time to look at tight end and one last receiver. Neglecting a starting position other than defense and kicker this long usually isn't advisable, but I just don't have much respect for the tight end position this season. Justin Gage is on a team that doesn't ask its passing game to play a demanding role, but I like that if there is a deep ball to be caught, it's going to him. Or Nate Washington, or Kenny Britt wait a minute.
Them: Miller, Shockey and Shiancoe being available this late spoke to why I'm not an early investor in tight ends this season. Defenses started to fly off the shelf in this round, with the Vikings looking like a solid value, given their bevy of playmakers. Hunter might have mined a gem in Bernard Scott if Cedric Benson plays like Cedric Benson. Mass offered some insight into backing up a stud quarterback, saying, "I took Flacco because he plays Cincinnati Week 5, which is Brees' bye week."
Me: Seeing San Diego, Green Bay and Carolina available in these twilight rounds made me wonder whether I'll ever be a Round 10 defense kind of guy. I don't think so. Pennington is a safe backup but doesn't have nearly the upside of a Shaun Hill. In other news, the kickers getting drafted have legs.
Them: These rounds essentially represent the difference in the talent pools in 10- and 12-team leagues. The 32 additional selections see fliers like Michael Vick and Darrius Heyward-Bey rostered. In these final rounds, shrewd upside flier picks like Mike Goodson, Robert Meachem and Joey Galloway could bear some impact for your team down the line. But mostly, it's kickers, the rare gem and a bunch of guys we'll be cutting at some point to make room for the first waiver-wire wonders of the season. They'll be here before you know it.
Jim McCormick is an IDP and fantasy football analyst for ESPN.com, as well as the editor and publisher of BLITZ Magazine, a print and online publication covering football from prep to pro.