Scott Warren had just moved to Atlanta and, wanting to socialize with leaguemates in person, found one with an opening on Craigslist.
"It was an eight-team keeper league that had been running for about 10 years. Fifty bucks to get in. Yeah, kind of small, but I just wanted to play. So I started looking over strategies for eight-team leagues and doing my homework to crush the competition."
Scott did more than that. Custom, in-depth spreadsheets, rankings, projections, depth charts . . . all loaded on his computer. As Scott says, "I love being the most prepared person at the table."
But when Scott gets there, there are only six other guys who will draft. Now it's a seven-man league apparently. Great, he thinks. What a waste of my time. Scott continues. "The commissioner then says $150 would be going to the website they host the league on. Ouch! That left just $200 to win on a $50 investment. My hopes of enjoying this league at all were dwindling."
But then Scott learned that of the remaining $200, $100 would be taken out and put into a girl's fund for college. He's just about to leave when he learns why.
"The league name was the George Braitsch Memorial League. This league first started with some work buddies, and Mr. Braitsch had dominated this league for years. Tragically, some years ago Mr. Braitsch unexpectedly passed away midseason, leaving behind a wife and young daughter. The members of the league decided to name the league in honor of their friend."
In fact, Scott learned, George was the eighth owner. "His team is filled with benchwarmers, but he will always be a part of this league. The members decided that they would take $100 from the pool every year and put it in a trust for his daughter to have after she graduates high school to help buy books for college or whatever she needs. And before we drafted, the commissioner gave everyone an update on the young girl, how she was doing, and what extracurricular activities she was involved in."
"I was amazed at how truly touching the whole story was. It reminded me that playing fantasy wasn't about winning money or proving who was the best, it was just about having a good time with good people. I could tell the rest of the guys were here for that reason. No one had a laptop, only a couple had a magazine, and most just had a few handwritten notes. So for the first time ever in a draft, I packed up my laptop, yanked a cheat sheet out of a magazine, and just started to scratch off names as they were called.
"It wasn't about proving anything. It was just about having a good time."
That's one of my favorite draft stories of all time. It's from my upcoming book, "Fantasy Life," which comes out July 16, and if you'd like more info, you can go to fantasylifethebook.com, or just click the link in the box to the right. I hit the road next week to promote the book, and I hope I get to meet a ton of you this summer. We'll talk book stories, sleepers, busts and whatever else you want, including what to do in a 12-team PPR league.
Yes, before I left for book-selling, I took part in a 12-team mock draft with my ESPN cohorts. While it would have been impossible for Scott Warren to mock-draft for the George Braitsch league, most of us will be in leagues where doing mock drafts absolutely will help us prepare for draft day.
So with that in mind, here's our latest mock, which featured starting lineups consisting of one QB, two RBs, two WRs, a TE, a flex, a K and D/ST, along with a seven-man bench. Outside of one point per reception, we stuck with ESPN standard scoring settings.
Your humble participants, in draft order were: Christopher Harris, Brian Gramling, Eric Karabell, your friendly neighborhood TMR, KC Joyner, Jim McCormick, AJ Mass, James Quintong, Dave Hunter, Keith Lipscomb, Field Yates and Tristan H. Cockcroft.
In PPR leagues, my draft strategy is slightly different from what I discussed in this year's Draft Day Manifesto, as pass-catchers have more value, obviously, but the same general principles apply here: Quarterback is deep, there are four elite guys and then a bunch of the same at wide receiver, I want to be the first guy to draft a tight end (Jimmy Graham) or the last, and there's a scarcity of usable running backs, though PPR helps the pool a little. So I was just gonna go best player available, following those principles. Let's see how I and everyone else did.
What I was thinking: Ooh, Pick 4. OK, I can live with that. I assume Peterson, Foster and Martin are going in the top three, so I'm probably deciding between Ray Rice and Jamaal Charles. I believe the Bernard Pierce concerns are overblown. Yes, Pierce will be involved, but Rice is still going to be heavily involved. Charles, meanwhile, in an Andy Reid offense with Alex Smith as his QB, is gonna have a monster PPR year. Reid is no dummy and he's got two playmakers on this team. He's gonna get Charles in space as much as possible.
What I actually did: How did Martin fall to four? Awesome. I'm thrilled with this, as Martin was the second-highest scoring running back last year in ESPN standard PPR formats. Skewed by the big game, of course, but still. The biggest improvement a player makes is from Year 1 to Year 2, and Martin was not only a stud last season, he did much of it without his two best offensive linemen. His 472 yards receiving were fifth-most among running backs and his 49 receptions were tied for eighth. Last year, I was screaming in the preseason that we were too low on him in the overall ranks, and in this mock, at least, I feel the same way.
Things that make you go hmmmm: You're damn right I'm quoting C+C Music Factory. Freedom! Anyway, interesting to see Hunter go Calvin and Cockcroft go Green. Can't argue with it in a PPR, obviously, but I wonder if not getting a running back in the first will hurt at all later. Here's a hint: Yes.
Tristan offered this after the draft: "Yeah, I'll say it. People constantly complain about being 'stuck' with the final pick in any draft format, and while I've argued for years that draft slot is largely irrelevant -- years in which it did tend to be outliers -- I can say this in 2013: It sucks to be in the 12 spot in a PPR league. Hey, if others can complain, I say I get the opportunity for once! I'm restricting it to merely that -- 12-team PPR, because of how much it skews RB replacement levels -- so if you're in that format, I say push your league's commish to go the auction route before you run the risk of being stuck at 12. And here's why: It's actually rounds 3 and 4, not 1 and 2, in which you're in a rough spot. When those picks came up, 21 running backs and 11 wide receivers were already off the board. But granted, this group drafts well, and maybe in other leagues a good player drops. It led to a lot of defensive drafting, not a strategy I endorse, but one that was necessary."
I'll add that I like the pick of Forte at the end. In Marc Trestman's offense, Forte should excel even more in PPR than he already has.
What I was thinking: I was trying to decide between going wideout here or a second running back. I was also thinking about Jimmy Graham here. If I was going for running back No. 2, it was between Maurice-Jones Drew, Reggie Bush (gonna have a big PPR year in Detroit -- did you know Joique Bell and Mikel Leshoure caught a combined 86 passes last season?) or maybe Stevan Ridley, as I love Ridley this year. He's not going to catch a lot of balls, but New England is going to run, and run very effectively.
What I actually did: Once the big four WRs were gone, I was waiting and went with MJD. If he's healthy and back to 2011 form, I just won the league. If not, well, I'll have some work to do.
Things that make you go hmmmm: I was surprised Alfred Morris slipped to the middle of the round. Hey, I get it, he doesn't catch passes. He was still the seventh-best fantasy running back last year in PPR, and they're gonna lean on him more this season, not less, as they try to protect Robert Griffin III. Given the scarcity at RB, I'm surprised he lasted until Pick No. 19.
What I was thinking: Hey, Jimmy Graham is still there!
What I actually did: I took the No. 1 tight end, and with Rob Gronkowski's injury concerns, there is no close second. A lot of the wide receivers who went in this round are appealing, of course, and I knew I would be chasing wideouts the rest of the way by making this pick, but the advantage at tight end every week was just too great to ignore. I felt I had a better chance every week picking a wideout who will go off than a tight end. More to pick from.
Things that make you go hmmmm: For the teams that didn't go RB/RB, you start to see some reaches. I understand why Harris and Gramling went McFadden and Murray; certainly there's lot of upside there if they stay healthy. I just don't believe either guy does. I feel better about MJD's health chances than that of either of those guys. Karabell gets nice value with Gore in Round 3, even though he's no longer catching balls like he used to. Gramling says, "My toughest decision was Round 3, where I was definitely taking a RB, choosing Murray ahead of Gore, Ridley, Wilson and Ball. Although injury-prone, I think Murray will thrive in Bill Callahan's offense that promises to run the football more."
What I was thinking: OK, I gotta get a wide receiver now. Hoping Welker, Amendola, Jackson, Cruz, Colston or Bowe fell.
What I actually did: It came down to Bowe or Jordy Nelson for me. I have them right next to each other, but in PPR I just felt Bowe was safer and more consistent. Reid's teams, in his 14 seasons as a head coach, have ranked in the top 10 in passing yards eight times and in the top 10 in passing TDs seven times. They are going to throw in Kansas City, and when they throw, it's going to go to Bowe. It may not always be pretty, but volume-wise, Bowe is going to have a nice fantasy year.
Things that make you go hmmmm: Wow, that's early on Brady. I have him fifth at QB, behind Peyton Manning and Cam Newton, and one thing we've learned with this group doing mock drafts is you can wait on quarterbacks. And I'm on the Shane Vereen hype train, too ... but in Round 4, Keith?
"Clearly, my pick of Vereen at 39 was a surprise. It was a surprise to me, even! But as the 23rd RB selected, and knowing I'd have to wait 19 more picks before taking my No. 2 back if I didn't grab one there, I decided to put my money where my mouth has been this offseason. I think Vereen will be a key part of the Patriots' offense and in a PPR format, I see him as a top-20 RB, whether he starts or not. I could be wrong, of course, but I felt I needed to take the best back on my board. I felt I could get quality WRs later on, and thought I'd get one of my top-12 QBs as well."
Hmm. We'll see. I like Gramling's pick of Gronk here. He's already playing the hope-he-stays-healthy card with Murray, so why not shoot for the moon with Gronk, especially with another pick soon?
What I was thinking: After my pick of Bowe, I started looking at other WRs -- I like Antonio Brown a lot in PPR this year -- and thinking about whether I wanted to risk the health of a guy like Nicks or someone like Steve Smith, whom I don't love in PPR. Maybe Jordy will fall. I really like Lamar Miller this year, so if he were there, I'd think about grabbing a third running back and figure out WR later.
What I ended up doing: With Jordy, Miller and Brown off the table, I didn't feel there were any difference-makers out there. If Nicks stays healthy, I may regret that. I just don't trust that he will. But I just kept thinking: It's the sixth round. He's Peyton Manning. Come on. I couldn't resist any longer. Yes, QB is deep, but after Peyton and Cam (I have Manning one spot higher), there is a drop-off, and again, I wanted an advantage at a position where there was a lot of sameness to it.
Things that make you go hmmmm: I was surprised Ivory and Lacy went where they did, I don't see either guy involved in the passing game; both might be in time-shares and Ivory has an injury history as well. Bell is a nice RB3 for Lipscomb here; I prefer him over either Lacy or Ivory in PPR formats. I'm fairly high on Austin, but apparently not as much as Field, as he grabs the rookie for his flex spot. Amendola, Wilson, Tavon ... Yates is building the all-upside team.
What I was thinking: Clearly, I need another WR badly after going Peyton in Round 5. Pickings are starting to get slim. I was looking at Pierre Garcon, Torrey Smith, James Jones, Cecil Shorts and was also considering getting a third running back. You can never have too many RBs, even in a PPR. Because there's such a dearth of them, you can always trade one for a WR if you can't find suitable guys later in the draft or on the waiver wire. I also thought about Giovani Bernard as an interesting PPR guy with Bengals running backs coach Hue Jackson telling Bengals.com that they might line him up outside in some sets.
What I ended up doing: Taking Ahmad Bradshaw, who was the last good RB left. Bradshaw is a great blocking back, he'll be in all of Andrew Luck's passing plays and is a better pass-catcher than you think. Health is always a concern, but in Indy's new West Coast offense, he could easily catch 40 to 45 balls if he plays in all 16 games. I loved getting him here. In Round 7, Miles Austin was the best of the "He could be good, so I'm crossing my fingers and hoping" category. I'm gonna need a lot of those going forward, but with QB, TE and RB set for me (I'm banking on MJD being healthy), I can fill in the rest of the way with WRs and hope to mix and match throughout the season.
Things that make you go hmmmm: Anquan Boldin ahead of Torrey Smith? I thought Boldin was a nice move by San Francisco, but I can't see him having huge fantasy value, even without Michael Crabtree. I like him better in PPR than I do in normal scoring, but that struck me as a bit of a reach. Hunter makes a nice grab with Rashard Mendenhall, who early reports have as the starter in Arizona. In Round 7 of a 12-teamer, that's a solid pick.
What I was thinking: I need WRs. Looking at the T.Y. Hiltons of the world, the Philadelphia duo, Lance Moore is there. Oddly, at this point there's actually more high-upside RBs I like than WRs, but whatever. I gotta get some WRs and because I waited so long, I need depth here so I can play matchups during the season.
What I ended up doing: I went Maclin over Jackson, as I felt he's less hit-or-miss than Jackson and in a contract year, I'm hoping that Maclin steps up the way he did at the end of last season (three scores in his final four games, including two 100-yard games). With Mike Wallace gone, Emmanuel Sanders should be a really nice PPR play this year as the No. 2 wideout in an offense that was 12th in pass attempts last season. Finally, with some health concerns among my running backs, I grabbed Bryce Brown, who should get 10 to 12 touches a game with some upside for more in what I expect to be a heavy-run, high-tempo Chip Kelly offense.
Things that make you go hmmmm: After being the third guy to take a QB in Tom Brady, Hunter goes back to the QB well, grabbing Robert Griffin III. This put a crimp in Lipscomb's plans, forcing him to take an Eli Manning he didn't really want. Hunter certainly has nice trade depth at QB, or maybe he's just hedging his bets in case Brady can't find anyone healthy to pass to. We also saw defenses start to fly off the board. In general, I am OK with taking a defense before the second-to-last round in a league deeper than 10 teams, though Round 8 seems a tad early. Most others seem to agree, as the next defense didn't go until Gramling took the Niners in Round 10. Stafford and Romo were nice value picks this late. As Joyner notes, "QB depth is incredibly high. Getting Ryan in Round 6 initially looked like something of a bargain, but Tony Romo, who isn't much of a step down from Ryan, lasted until Round 9." This year, wait on QBs, kids. I won't draft one until after Round 3 in a 10- or 12-team league. Shoutout to Yates for a really nice, sneaky PPR pick in Danny Woodhead. We also saw some of the bigger "handcuff" types go here, with Pierce and Ben Tate joining my Bryce Brown. All could be top-10 backs if something happens to the guy in front of them.
What I was thinking: Just more filling in my depth. With Peyton and Graham, I wasn't going to draft a backup. I'll grab a waiver-wire guy during a bye week; I'd rather fill my roster with upside plays at RB and WR than a backup to either guy, which at this point would be the same as replacement level. I planned on getting more WRs than RBs, though, because that's where I felt the weakest. Among the guys I was eying as high-upside potential receivers were Santonio Holmes, Aaron Dobson, Michael Floyd, Cordarrelle Patterson and Justin Blackmon. I also thought about grabbing Justin Forsett to handcuff my MJD.
What I actually did: I got two of my WRs in Floyd, who should benefit from Bruce Arians' offense and the random occasions that Carson Palmer decides not to throw into triple coverage, and Blackmon, whose suspension devalued him enough to where he's a worthy flier in Round 12. Once Chad Henne took over as the starter in Week 12 last year, Blackmon averaged more than 14 fantasy points a game. I'm not really liking anything I saw in Round 13. I said a more adult version of "what the hell" to myself and grabbed the Ravens defense, which should be even better than last season with more health, and additions such as Elvis Dumervil and Chris Canty.
Things that make you go hmmmm: Not sure there's such a thing as a bad pick once you get here. I will say I liked the upside picks of Randle and Reece (backups to Murray and McFadden, never a bad bet to count on them being out) and I already mentioned Patterson. Seeing guys like Olsen and Cook here reaffirms my belief that you go high on tight end or you wait, wait, wait. A lot of backup quarterbacks were here as well, which makes sense for owners of lower-tier QBs or injury-prone ones, I guess, but with Cam Newton in the fold, Cockcroft doesn't need Flacco.
What I was thinking: When's lunch? This is getting long. More of the same. I want one more wideout, one more RB and a kicker.
What I actually did: One more wideout, as Aaron Dobson was still there. Hey, if you're gonna roll the dice on a rookie, why not make it one who has Tom Brady throwing to him, is fast on a team with no other deep threats and is surrounded by injury-prone pass-catchers? Willis McGahee is the best available free-agent running back out there, and he either gets signed by a team and has a nice role between now and the start of the season, or he's my first cut. And that's not just rampant homerism with my Kai Forbath pick. Starting in Week 6, he averaged 8.7 fantasy points per game, a rate that would put him in the top eight of kickers last season.
Overall, I like my team a lot. A lot rides on MJD's health and I wish my WRs were a little stronger, but if there's one position where I'm OK having a deficiency this year, it's WR, especially in a 10- or 12-team league. I have clear-cut advantages almost every week at QB, TE and RB1, and if MJD is back, at RB2. I'll take that.
Things that make you go hmmmm: Three quarterbacks, KC? Really? Ryan, Dalton and Vick? KC responds: "Getting Michael Vick in Round 15 could have been my team's best value pick of the draft. It meant carrying 3 QBs but Vick offers enough trade value and spot-start upside that he was more than worth it."
There you have it, another mock in the books. The important thing is not necessarily what we did or didn't do in any one round, but rather that the mock was a learning exercise. And like any learning exercise, you learn more by doing than by reading about it. So why not jump into a mock draft lobby right now and see what you learn about your draft strategies this year?
Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto – really should not be criticizing anyone, ever, for drafting Michael Vick. Sorry, KC. He is the creator of RotoPass.com, a website that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. You also may have heard: He's written a book.