There's an old story about a bunch of blind men being left in a room with an elephant. Each one, after reaching out and touching a part of the animal, is asked to describe what he thinks the beast looks like. Not one of the stories matches up, because all of them had incomplete information. The man who felt the animal's tusk had a different impression than the one who grabbed the tail, for example.
When it comes to a fantasy football mock draft that takes place in early June, there's a sense among the ESPN.com fantasy staff that we're reaching out blindly in the dark a bit as well. There are still free agents out there who may end up signing with new teams and, in the process, alter the depth chart. (Note: Tim Tebow, who signed with the New England Patriots on June 11, the day after this exercise, is not one of those people. However, Ahmad Bradshaw, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts, also the day after our mock, is.)
In some cases, we're not entirely sure how positional battles will shake out. Heck, many coaching staffs are new and probably unsure of things themselves at this early stage. Still, while this initial mock draft certainly is not to be taken as a final word on how we think the 2013 season will ultimately shake out, it can be used as a jumping-off point to identify some of those questions that are going to need answering as veterans start gathering together with rookies for training camps across the NFL in a little more than a month.
The participants for 2013's first mock draft, which used the rules for ESPN standard leagues, in a randomly determined first-round order were Keith Lipscomb, Matthew Berry, Jim McCormick, James Quintong, KC Joyner, me, Field Yates, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Eric Karabell and Christopher Harris.
What follows is a round-by-round breakdown of our selections, along with a sampling of the banter that went on in the draft room as we tackled this task for the first, but most certainly not the last, time this preseason:
Analysis: The start of any draft is going to have a lot of familiar names. Good fantasy owners don't reach too far at the start of proceedings. However, while there were few surprises at the outset of the draft, it was nevertheless stunning that every owner decided to go with a running back to kick things off.
C.J. Spiller is certainly getting a lot of love at the moment, as Doug Marrone has said he plans to use the back a lot more than his predecessors in Buffalo. That allowed Ray Rice to slip to me at the No. 6 spot. Harris, picking at the back end of the snake, said it was far more fun picking in his spot when someone took Calvin Johnson in the first round. While not a guarantee, it certainly might have allowed LeSean McCoy to slip into Round 2, though Philadelphia's favorite son Karabell may still have selected Shady at No. 9, regardless.
Analysis: Megatron finally comes off the board with the No. 12 pick, and A.J. Green and Dez Bryant join him as the first trio of wide receivers selected. You can practically see all the cobwebs on the running backs that get picked in this round. Steven Jackson, Frank Gore and Maurice Jones-Drew all might be considered "senior citizens" by NFL standards, and the wear and tear on this tier of talent is a huge reason why there seemed to be a lot more urgency to draft running backs in Round 1.
As for me, I decided to grab Aaron Rodgers, as reliable a performer at quarterback as there is in the game, and return to the running back position in Round 3, after some of the damaged goods, like Chris "Any K? Please?" Johnson, became headaches on somebody else's roster.
Analysis: Lipscomb selected Montee Ball at No. 21, passing on Drew Brees, much to his own chagrin. He said it was a really tough call, but he didn't feel like he could wait 20 more picks to select his No. 2 running back and decided on Ball over the talented but frustrating-to-own Darren McFadden. As he put it, sometimes it's better to go with "the devil you don't know" and hope for the best. Jimmy Graham breaks the tight end seal at No. 22 to Berry, which was not a surprise, seeing as how he ranked Graham at No. 20 in his Top 200.
My plan to take David Wilson, who I believe will end up becoming the every-down back in New York over Andre Brown, was scuttled when Joyner snatched him from my clutches at No. 25. He, too, has faith that Wilson will be worth no worse than a flex play in fantasy this season. With my running back tier now as vacant as the look on the face of most of the paparazzi shots on TMZ, I opted to grab Brandon Marshall, who by all accounts seems to be thrilled with Marc Trestman's offense.
Analysis: Yates decides to "roll the Gronk dice" in Round 4. Clearly, if he were a lock to play in Week 1, this would be far too low a spot for him. And if he ends up needing more than the surgeries we already know about, then the odds are he doesn't play at all. Few actual drafts will end up with Rob Gronkowski getting selected here, but which way the pendulum swings we will not know for some time.
Similarly, Aaron Hernandez's value hinges somewhat on Gronkowski's situation, but McCormick taking him here seems about right. Lipscomb's gamble of passing on Brees certainly doesn't end up hurting him, as he takes quarterback Tom Brady with the No. 40 pick.
Just like we have confidence in the New England offense regardless of the ultimate cast of characters that suits up for the team, the general assumption is that Denver will also continue to put points on the board. It's a huge reason why Peyton Manning and Wes Welker both were picks in this round.
Analysis: Last year, at this time, this was the point in the draft when a quarterback run took flight. Not so in 2013, although the two quarterbacks selected -- Cam Newton and Colin Kaepernick -- certainly both know how to run with the ball. In truth, in a 10-team league where you start only one quarterback, you can afford to wait before jumping into the fray, but it can be hard.
As Berry put it, "I wanted to wait at quarterback. I did. But you can't pass on Cam in the fifth." Joyner echoed the sentiment: "There are a lot of quality QBs this year, but some names you just can't pass on at this stage of the draft. I suspect that will be the case in many draft rooms, not just this one."
McCormick didn't love selecting Chris Ivory here, but with the position thinning out greatly -- and quickly -- he felt this might be his last shot to get a quality second starter at the position.
Analysis: Some interesting rookie backs went off the board, including Eddie Lacy to Karabell and Le'Veon Bell to me. I think Lacy might turn out to have the better debut campaign, but I'm glad, nevertheless, that Bell fell to me, as I already had Rodgers and didn't want to rely upon a QB/RB combination from the same team.
After McCormick took Dwayne Bowe with the No. 58 pick, he wondered aloud if Alex Smith, assuming he's close to his 2012 efficiency, wasn't the best quarterback that Bowe had ever played with. Not that it's a difficult list for Smith to compete with, but with all apologies to Tyler Palko, the consensus seems to be that, sadly, he might well be.
Harris put a button on the conversation by stating, "We're losing sight of the fact that Alex Smith, while maybe being the best Chiefs QB in a while, is actually quite terrible." Perhaps that's why, with his Round 7 selection, McCormick did not grab Smith but instead swiped Robert Griffin III, causing Joyner to sing the pick's praises.
After Quintong selected Hakeem Nicks, Berry admitted the primary reason he didn't pull the trigger on the Giants receiver (selecting Antonio Brown instead) was simply that he owned him "on too many teams" last season. That sound you hear is the squeaking of the bitter Berry.
Analysis: At this point of the draft, while owners who are seeking some help at running back are forced to take fliers on the likes of Giovani Bernard, Johnathan Franklin and the perpetually stuck-in-limbo Jonathan Stewart, wide receiver bargains are still leaping onto rosters. Steve Johnson, DeSean Jackson, Miles Austin and Lance Moore can certainly add quality depth to any fantasy team's lineup, even if they do end up falling short of 1,000 receiving yards. The upside alone is worth the risk at this stage of the proceedings.
The player whose selection drew the most attention in the room was Josh Gordon, member of Lipscomb's beloved Cleveland Browns. He defended his homerism by pointing out that even if Gordon misses two games with a suspension, the fact is, as the No. 4 WR on Lipscomb's team, he won't technically be missing any time in fantasy, as you can start at most only three wideouts in ESPN standard play. As long as he stays out of trouble, Gordon should be good to go when he's actually needed come the bye weeks.
While there's no rule that says you have to select a backup quarterback, it's probably a good idea to look ahead at the schedule for when your No. 1 QB has his bye week to see what kind of matchups are out there for potential selections at the position. Matthew Stafford is perfectly fine for Harris to select at this stage of the draft from a pure value standpoint.
However, because Detroit has the same bye week as San Francisco, he would probably have to pull off a deal to swap signal-callers at some point before Week 9. If you're in a league where people enjoy trading, that's not a big deal. But if you're in a league where nobody makes deals or vetoes fly fast and furious, you're definitely going to want to avoid situations like this.
Analysis: It's time to take some chances, as fantasy owners are using these rounds to stock their benches with sleepers and other "ace in the hole" players. Isaiah Pead (selected at No. 89 by Karabell) might end up being the St. Louis Rams' No. 1 running back, but he's also going to miss Week 1 due to a suspension. That's why I selected Daryl Richardson in Round 11 and Harris went with Zac Stacy in Round 12 -- on the off chance that one of them steals the spotlight, and the starting gig, with a strong opener.
In many leagues, perhaps, the top-ranked D/ST units will not last this long, but in our mock drafts, we typically wait until this point of the proceedings to fill the spot in our starting lineup. It's hard enough to predict the final ranking of individual players, let alone units made up of multiple moving parts like a team defense. Additionally, the difference last season between the No. 6 D/ST and the No. 15 D/ST was barely two fantasy points per game. Even though we're all pretty confident that teams like the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers will have strong defensive showings in 2013, the reward for being right is likely to be far less than similar leaps of faith at other positions.
You'll also notice the tight end run at the end of Round 13. After the first four or five names are off the board, there's really no discernible tier that has developed at the position just yet, making it foolish to bother selecting one and hoping for lightning in a bottle before you start running out of rounds and your hand gets forced. Last season, 15 tight ends ended up with between 500 and 700 receiving yards, making it nearly impossible to separate one résumé from the other. Until someone jumps out at you during the preseason, after Round 6 or so has passed, if you haven't yet jumped into the tight end fray, you might as well wait.
Analysis: As usual, the majority of the final rounds consisted of the remaining defenses and the mandatory selection of kickers, who made up the entirety of Round 16. There's really no reason to take one any sooner, as not only are kickers unpredictable from season to season, but also the gap between the top five and the subsequent 10 at this position is pretty much negligible.
Backup quarterbacks are also in high demand for those who had yet to choose an alternative signal-caller, and the fact you could still get Ben Roethlisberger or Joe Flacco this late in the game speaks to the overall depth of the position in a 10-team league where you start only one QB. There's no need to panic if there ends up being a quarterback run at any point of an ESPN standard league draft. You won't end up with Blaine Gabbert. We promise
So there you have it! Our first mock draft of the year is in the books. Once camps open and we find out which players decide not to show and the preseason games give us a better look into how certain close calls in terms of playing time appear to be shaking out, this draft order may well change drastically.
Our information might be incomplete at the moment, but the answers are getting clearer every day. Be sure to follow the news as it develops, lest you enter your draft as blind as the proverbial elephant enthusiasts from our cautionary tale.