As August days dwindle down to precious few, the fantasy football season draws nearer. Training camps have, so far, yielded more answers than injuries, quarterbacks have been brought out of "retirement" and reality TV stars are getting into game shape. Meanwhile, your trusty ESPN fantasy staff has also been hard at work running through not one, but two mock drafts this week. Still recovering from the experience of our first mock auction of the season -- held Monday and to be recapped by Tristan H. Cockcroft on Friday -- the ESPN.com fantasy staff held a good old-fashioned snake draft on Tuesday using ESPN standard rules. Ten teams were selected the old-fashioned way, with owners taking turns rather than engaging in a feeding frenzy free-for-all.
While the same field did not make up both drafts, for those who did, the consensus seemed to be that there was a definite advantage to getting a sense of the value of certain players in an auction format in terms of knowing which players were (or weren't) more likely to last an extra round or two. James Quintong put it best: "Doing the auction gave me a pretty decent sense of where we, as a group, valued players. Thus, I think I had a decent idea where I could get some 'sleepers' or take a chance on a lower-ranked player I like a lot."
Perhaps having that prior drafting experience under our collective belts was a huge reason this draft seemed to breeze by, with the entire endeavor taking only 53 minutes from start to finish. The drafters, in first-round order, determined at random were: me, Quintong, Cockcroft, Brendan Roberts, Dave Hunter, Jim McCormick, Christopher Harris, Matthew Berry, Eric Karabell and Shawn (C-Dub) Cwalinski.
You can see team-by-team results of the draft by clicking here, and read on for a complete round-by-round breakdown of our selections. I've outlined what my thought process was each time my turn came around, and also pointed out where I thought some of the better values and biggest reaches by my colleagues were made.
AJ's decision: Entering the draft room and seeing the No. 1 pick was mine, there was no doubt I was taking Chris Johnson. I generally don't like the top pick in snakes, because I am not a fan of waiting so long between selections. In fact, for the rest of the draft, my picks end up essentially being made for me as I often simply grabbed the last two remaining players in my next "tier" each time my turn came along.
Best of the rest -- Berry, Frank Gore: There are five running backs I consider to be in the top tier, and after the top four picks, Gore was the only one still on the board. To be able to get him after two other backs were grabbed -- Steven Jackson and Michael Turner -- was a huge break for Berry, drafting eighth.
Biggest stretch -- Karabell, DeAngelo Williams: With the presence of Jonathan Stewart in Carolina, I'm not sure I would make Williams a first-round pick. I'd much rather take Randy Moss or one of the top two quarterbacks here; however, when Moss was still there at Pick 12 -- which surprised Karabell -- it all ended up working out for him.
AJ's decision: Fearing a run of wide receivers, I didn't want to wait close to 20 picks to see what was left for my No. 1 at the position. I went with DeSean Jackson, hoping that he continues his ascension to the top of the fantasy leaderboard even with the departure of Donovan McNabb from Philadelphia.
Best of the rest -- McCormick, Aaron Rodgers: In a year in which there are fewer "solo" running backs than ever before, I'd expect to see both Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers off the board in the first round of many leagues, so to be able to get a potential 4,500-yard passer in the mid-second round is pretty sweet.
Biggest stretch -- C-Dub, Ryan Grant: Having the bookend picks is a position that C-Dub usually enjoys, though he did opine that he "does not like being unable to get an elite running back." I understand the urge to go RB-RB from the tail of the snake, especially when the eight running backs have already gone off the board, but doing so will force him to reach too much on wide receivers later on.
AJ's decision: I knew I was taking a quarterback here, and with Brees and Rodgers off the board, Peyton Manning was the obvious choice. I think there is a definite drop off after the top seven QBs and with the huge wait until Round 4/5, I didn't want to risk them all going off the board. Better to be safe than sorry in a 10-team league.
Best of the rest -- Harris, Ryan Mathews: Mathews has a ton of upside, and little in the way of competition for carries in San Diego. I was surprised to see him still on the board this late in the third round, assuming he'd be snatched up immediately once Tristan took Jamaal Charles. Which leads me to ...
Biggest stretch -- Hunter, LeSean McCoy: It still remains to be seen exactly how much Mike Bell will impact Shady's fantasy numbers, but the biggest concern here is McCoy's seeming inability to pass protect. If that goes by the wayside, so does McCoy's value. Personally, I would have gone elsewhere.
AJ's decision: Sure C.J. Spiller plays in Buffalo, but with Fred Jackson out with a broken hand and Marshawn Lynch banged up as well, at least I'm sure he'll start the season as the undisputed lead back. Hopefully, he can be the lone back to avoid getting hurt before Week 1.
Best of the rest -- Harris, Beanie Wells: I was hoping either Matt Forte or Wells would fall to me at No. 40, but Harris again makes out like a bandit here. Wells is a borderline second-rounder and with Matt Leinart under center in Arizona, the run is definitely going to take center stage.
Biggest stretch -- Karabell, Steve Smith: To be honest, this round was pretty solid, but Smith is certainly the pick with the most question marks. Maybe you can blame some of his decline on Jake Delhomme, but if the real culprit is Smith himself, neither Matt Moore nor Jimmy Clausen will be able to save him.
AJ's decision: If Felix Jones continues to get close to 6.0 yards per carry, I'm not going to worry too much about how many touchdowns Marion Barber steals from him. I knew I was going RB-RB here, and after seeing how much Jones fetched late in the auction, I knew waiting on him was not an option.
Best of the rest -- Berry, Philip Rivers: Berry grabs the last of the top tier of signal-callers here. It's pretty obvious when the next quarterback doesn't go off the board until Round 9 that we all agree this to be the case. Certainly, James (Tony Romo) and Tristan (Matt Schaub) also sensed this was the round to decide to either pounce or else wait for quite a while to grab that No. 1 QB.
Biggest stretch -- C-Dub, Jerome Harrison: With the tandem of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams both still there for the taking, it seemed odd to me to see Harrison taken here. Sure he closed the 2009 season with three sensational games, but the Browns don't trade up to draft Montario Hardesty -- aka SVU -- if they're sold on Harrison.
AJ's decision: Based on my "Man2Man" debate, you know I was hoping for Donald Driver here, but Brendan scooped him up three picks prior. Enter Mike Wallace, who holds the key to Hines Ward's success in his hands. Hey, just because I like Driver more than Ward doesn't mean I think the Steelers won't throw the ball at all.
Best of the rest -- Hunter, Dallas Clark: In general, I think this is a year to wait on tight ends. However, not every league is going to collectively come to the same conclusion. From a pure value standpoint, Clark in Round 6 is a pretty good buy. There certainly are fewer question marks with his expected output than any other pick this round.
Biggest stretch -- Cockcroft, Justin Forsett: The whole Seahawks backfield is a roll of the dice, with a young offensive line and the uncertainty of Leon Washington's return from injury. I'm pretty certain Tristan could have passed on Forsett here and had him still right there waiting for him five picks later, and in the interim, he (unnecessarily) risked losing out on both of his next choices for wide receiver, Mike Wallace and Hakeem Nicks.
AJ's decision: Oh, Reggie Bush, I don't know how to quit you. Obviously, he's never going to be a 1,000-yard rusher, but in the Saints' offense, he doesn't have to be. He simply has to catch a bunch of passes, and run the occasional goal-line sweep to paydirt and he'll be worth this selection.
Best of the rest -- McCormick, Michael Bush: Tom Cable may start the season with Bush and Darren McFadden in a platoon-type scenario, but it's clear to everyone outside of the Raiders organization that Bush is the one who better "looks" the part. Add to the mix McFadden's recent hamstring woes, and this pick has even more payoff potential.
Biggest stretch -- Berry, Clinton Portis: Multitasking while drafting is not usually recommended, but sometimes it is unavoidable as Berry was busy doing an ESPN Radio interview for a few rounds in the middle of our proceedings. That's probably why he went for one of his beloved Redskins here, about two to three rounds earlier than he probably had to in order to claim Portis.
AJ's decisions: Knowing from what went down during the auction that I could probably get the wide receivers I wanted in later rounds, I grabbed LaDainian Tomlinson early here, since I doubted he would be around the next time those magical bells rang for me in our ESPN Draft Room. I think he'll provide plenty of offense for the New York Jets this season. As for taking the Jets' defense, I understand the risk of taking a highly touted defense so soon in the draft, as recent history has certainly shown that this is one of the most volatile positions in fantasy from season to season. However, when James selected T.J. Houshmandzadeh just before I was on the clock, he took the last player left on my tier for this round. So, I took the chance that Rex Ryan's charges will buck tradition and get the job done.
Best of the rest: Harris' selection of Percy Harvin could end up to be a headache for him all season long if he never knows for sure if and when he'll be able to play, but with Sidney Rice out, Brett Favre is going to be throwing to Harvin a lot more when he is in the lineup. Speaking of Favre, Dave Hunter's landing the veteran in Round 9 was quite the coup, and it may not have happened without the news of the Rice surgery being so fresh in everyone's mind.
Biggest stretches: The handcuff is going the way of the dinosaur as there are so many teams using a running back by committee approach to their offenses in 2010, but Brendan couldn't help himself from selecting Donald Brown as Joseph Addai insurance, much to his own immediate chagrin: "I took him early. Too early. I knew then it was my only chance to get him … so I jumped, and immediately regretted it." James' selection of Braylon Edwards also raised more than a few eyebrows. Perhaps my back-to-back Jets picks lulled him into thinking there was only one team in the NFL to choose from?
I took Tim Hightower and Devin Aromashodu, both players I've previously raved about in the ESPN Draft Kit. Then I finally grabbed my tight end with Zach Miller in Round 12, proving you can indeed sit on that lineup spot for a very long time and still come out just fine. Eric Karabell proves that waiting on your quarterback isn't going to hurt you in a 10-team league either, as he pulls off the double dip of Jay Cutler and Ben Roethlisberger. Are six games of Sidney Rice worth a 12th-round pick? Why not, especially if your league has a liberal injured reserve policy in which you can stash him until then?
Laurent Robinson may be forgotten by many owners, especially those who simply look at the prior season's statistics, but if the Rams' receiver doesn't break his leg again, he may be quite the fantasy revelation. Vince Young was my 14th-round selection. A quick look at the Titans' late-season schedule should fill you in on why I want him on my team in case Peyton Manning and the Colts take their annual vacation come the fantasy playoffs. These rounds are dominated by "what do I have to lose?" selections like Toby Gerhardt, Dexter McCluster and Keiland Williams. A healthy Owen Daniels could provide Mr. McCormick with the biggest value of the entire draft.
Because I had already selected my defense, I was able to select Josh Cribbs in Round 15. If individuals get credit for return touchdowns as part of your league's scoring system, I suggest you do the same. McNabb and Matt Ryan are also incredible bargains at this late stage of the game. Other than that, though, it's the usual filling in of the defenses and the dart-throwing at place-kickers that you've grown to know and love from the end of these ESPN Mock Drafts. Nothing else to see here … move it along!
A quick straw poll of owners after the draft places Christopher Harris as the team to beat. Do you agree, or perhaps do you think you could have done a better job? Don't just talk about it -- do it! Remember that you can take part in your own mock drafts right here on ESPN.com, and if I've learned anything from this latest pair of mocks, it's that practice does indeed get you closer to perfect than walking into your draft room cold ever could.