Mock Draft 3 was conducted on Thursday with the following 10 ESPN analysts, in order of draft pick: AJ Mass, Eric Karabell, Keith Lipscomb, myself, Jim McCormick, Christopher Harris, Field Yates, KC Joyner, James Quintong and Scott Clark. The format adhered to ESPN standard scoring (no PPR), but added the wrinkle of two starting quarterbacks per team. The draft lasted 62 minutes, which equates to slightly more than 21 seconds per pick.
In a 10-team league with two quarterbacks, the majority of owners are forced the start the likes of Joe Flacco, Michael Vick, Matt Schaub, Andy Dalton, Jay Cutler and Josh Freeman. That actually doesn't sound so bad, especially for someone like Fantasy Football Now coordinator producer Scott Clark, who has played in a 12-team, two-QB format for 14 years. "Our draft goes much different than this one because of QB scarcity," Clark said. "Usually 18-20 quarterbacks are taken in the first 25 picks." While that may seem a little extreme, tell that to the owners in 14-team leagues forced to start Carson Palmer, Ryan Tannehill, Alex Smith, Geno Smith or Christian Ponder every week.
In most mock drafts I have evaluated, I look for the reaches and steals based on the average draft position (ADP) from the ESPN live draft results page. However, it's more than just a straight numbers comparison, because with the more typical single-QB leagues, the position is rather deep with quality pigskin slingers still available well after the fifth round. Of the eight biggest "reaches" of the first five rounds -- defined by ADP minus actual pick -- only one of those was not a quarterback (RB Lamar Miller). Here's how it all played out:
Despite being a two-QB league, the first eight picks off the board were all running backs, with the biggest surprise being Lynch (third in ADP) dropping to sixth overall. Also, Joyner opted for Alfred Morris (11th in ADP) over Trent Richardson (10th), partly because of Morris' 8.3 yards per carry with good blocking last season (11th in NFL), well above Richardson's 6.4 GBYPC (32nd in NFL). Blocking metrics are one of the many numbers ESPN Insiders can get from possibly everyone's favorite scientist since Gary and Wyatt of "Weird Science" fame. Because this is not a PPR league, the reasoning was sound for Morris.
Quintong and Clark took the two elite quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, to close out the round. Quintong said, "In the back end of the first round, especially in a 10-team league, I'm fine taking a stud QB early then see what's left of the RBs." I concur.
My pick: RB1 Jamaal Charles. At No. 4, I prefer the massive upside of Charles in Andy Reid's offense rather than the safer production from veterans Marshawn Lynch or Ray Rice. However, I don't see a whole lot of difference between ball carriers three and 10 this season.
Round 2 began with four more running backs, running our total to 12 of the draft's first 14 picks. While I can't fault Clark or Quintong for choosing their first running backs after taking Round 1 QBs, I had to question Joyner and Yates for selecting Steven Jackson and Stevan Ridley over Calvin Johnson (seventh in ADP), who fell in Harris' lap at No. 15. Yates explained, "I was right at the mesh point of taking Johnson. I opted for Ridley only because of WR depth across the league." Joyner's reasoning was that "Megatron won the WR title by only four points last year. He's my No. 1 overall WR, but I just don't think he's so far ahead of other WRs that it justifies taking him instead of a RB." Harris wasn't buying it. "Megatron won the WR total despite getting tackled on the 1-yard line four times," said Harris. "To claim he wasn't leaps and bounds better than any other WR last year is nuts." I have to side with Harris on the Johnson debate.
My pick: WR1 Dez Bryant. He's the last of the three-headed top tier of receivers and will produce much more than any RB left on the board. With no second-round QBs chosen before me, I decided to wait until the third round to get my first signal-caller.
Round 3 was a medley of 3 QBs, 3 RBs, 3 WRs and a TE. Karabell selected Gore at No. 22, the same ADP spot he currently occupies. But this was Karabell's third RB in three picks. His explanation for his RB love: "Even in a 2-QB league, running back still stinks. I've got three of my top 12 and will still get QBs." We'll see about that last claim in a little while.
McCormick had RB/WR, but decided against a quarterback, opting for the best tight end with Jimmy Graham (25th in ADP) at No. 26. "I know that I wanted one top-10 or 11 QB, and I could afford one last position player before I invested at QB. Of the group left, I figured that Graham can produce at the same pace of the remaining elite wideouts on the board." Agreed.
Joyner's pick again furrowed my eyebrows with Robert Griffin III (54th in ADP) at No. 28. "My No. 4 overall QB is too much to pass up at this point," Joyner said. "Even if it means having the same bye week as my team's No. 1 RB (teammate Alfred Morris)." While I agree with Joyner's reasoning, I personally have RG III as the No. 7 QB, while the ESPN.com drafters are picking Griffin as the ninth-best signal-caller at this point.
My pick: QB1 Matt Ryan. He's the last of my Tier 2 fantasy quarterbacks, along with Peyton Manning, Brady, Cam Newton and Ryan. I put young studs Griffin III, Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson a notch below this foursome.
Round 4 was pretty pedestrian with the biggest question for me being Darren Sproles (ADP 44) going to Lipscomb at No. 38. The six-slot "reach" didn't bother me that much, but remember that this is a not a PPR league. Joyner liked the selection though. "I have Sproles No. 16 on the RB non-PPR board. Good pick for Round 4." Lipscomb explained the pick by saying he felt "it was about where he should've been taken. I expect Sean Payton to use him a little bit more in the run game, like he did in 2011. He's averaged 1,112 yards from scrimmage and scored 18 total TDs in two years in New Orleans, even missing three games. There was no one on the board better as a No. 2 RB at the end of Round 4." Fair point.
Harris and McCormick took the last two of my "tier two" quarterbacks: Colin Kaepernick and Russell Wilson. With running backs running very thin, Karabell and Mass were each still able to get a strong top receiver to end the round, Larry Fitzgerald and Wes Welker.
My pick: RB2 DeMarco Murray. As I stated in Mock Draft 2, although injury-prone, I think Murray will thrive in Bill Callahan's offense that promises to run the football more. And with so few good RBs left, I knew I had to take a running back this round. Period.
After a ho-hum fourth round, Mass got the chat fingers walking with his third quarterback in five selections, Matthew Stafford. Please explain.
"At the No. 1 spot, with so many picks in between, I felt the best strategy for me was to hoard as many top QBs as possible. Then I can use them as trade chips to upgrade at RB and/or WR later on during the season," Mass explained. "I think WR is deep enough where I won't get too hurt by the move. But clearly, this is not intended to be my 'final' roster by any means. Plus, the tactic may force others to 'panic' -- not in this experts group, of course -- but maybe in others? Chaos, when you initiate it, can be very lucrative."
A poignant discussion ensued:
Harris: "My opinion, per AJ's strategy, is that it always sounds good to hoard QBs in a league that values them more than standard leagues do, but it seldom works out. People don't want to pay anything of value for Ryan Tannehill. Stafford might be a different story, but what are you going to get for him that will be a no-doubt starter on your team? In a 10-team league? I don't advise that strategy, but different strokes …"
Karabell: "Agreed, that no matter how bad my No. 2 QB will be, I wouldn't trade a top RB/WR for QB help unless it's a top-five guy."
Mass: "Assuming your choice in a bye week is a zero or Blaine Gabbert, and nothing else is available, I think I can get value. And I may well choose to trade Brady or Newton to do it, filling in my No. 2 with Stafford. It's all about options."
Harris: "AJ, you make a good point, if you wind up being willing to trade Brady or Newton. But will your team wind up being better than if you'd just eschewed Brady or Newton where you picked them, and gotten better RBs/WRs? I'm not saying I definitely know the answer. Interesting question, though."
While I personally disagree with position hoarding, I can now see how the strategy could work, with more certainty of RB/WR value in the middle of the season than in July.
Great WR value was still to be had this round, with five wideouts going significantly later than they are in ESPN drafts. Randall Cobb (35th in ADP) went 42nd, Andre Johnson (30th in ADP) was picked 43rd, Percy Harvin (29th in ADP) went 45th -- note that this was before any mention of his hip injury – while Vincent Jackson (32nd in ADP) was chosen 46th and Victor Cruz (38th in ADP) 49th. I think Johnson was the biggest steal of this lot coming off a ridiculous 1,036 receiving yards in the second half of 2012.
My pick: TE1 Rob Gronkowski. I was very pleased to get Gronk at No. 44. Even if he misses two or three games, Gronk will still be the No. 2 fantasy TE this year. All three of Gronk's 100-yard games last year came when Aaron Hernandez did not play, and not having Hernandez, Wes Welker or Brandon Lloyd will force Tom Brady to load Gronk up with targets.
Rounds 6 and 7 were about filling out starting skill positions, as both Yates and Karabell selected their No. 1 quarterbacks, AFC North rivals Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco, in the sixth. Karabell also grabbed Sam Bradford as his QB2 in the seventh round. I asked Yates if his QB1 was whom he expected at this point in the draft. "Roethlisberger was the cutoff point for me," Yates said. "I feel like I got the last gasp of legitimate starters, though I could've lived with Flacco, too. My strategy was to wait it out and hope for the value play. If Roethlisberger had played a full 16-game season last year, he would've been a fringe top-10 QB. It's always tough to count on him for 16 games, but he's a gamble worth taking today."
Round 7 was also when McCormick finally chose his second running back, Reggie Bush. "I waited on my second RB only because I saw that the market for RB was a little easier to navigate with all the QBs rising." I don't think Bush is too far away from the average RB2 picks in this league.
One other interesting pick was Lipscomb taking Patriots RB Shane Vereen (84th in ADP) at No. 63 overall. Lipscomb has been touting Vereen all preseason, and in his mind, he stole Vereen, after taking him at No. 39 in Mock Draft 2. "I think Vereen will be a factor back this season, and to get him as a potential flex play is ideal. I'm very comfortable with him as a seventh-rounder," Lipscomb explained. "I have Bush ranked ahead of him because he's safer, but I decided to go with the player I felt had more upside this season." Vereen is surely intriguing in a fast-paced offense that has lost its top targets, but I think Lipscomb took him at least two rounds too early.
My picks: RB3 Ryan Mathews and QB2 Andy Dalton. I stayed aboard the injury-prone train (Murray, Gronkowski) for one more stop with Mathews for my flex position. I did so because Mathews is one year removed from being a preseason first-rounder, is 10 pounds lighter and his new head coach Mike McCoy just loves him. I had to get off the injury express and pass on Michael Vick, settling for the next-best QB on the board, Andy Dalton, a solid, but unexciting second quarterback.
Following 10 straight non-quarterback picks, Harris took Michael Vick as his QB2 at the No. 75 spot. "I do think Vick is going to win that starting job," said Harris. "Of course, he'll then get hurt. I felt the need to hold my nose and take Philip Rivers, too, because I can't rely on having Vick in the lineup all year. It seems clear, though, that the Philadelphia media's apparent obsession with Nick Foles is having an effect on the Vick perception out there (121st in ADP, 16th among QBs)." I agree wholeheartedly with that assessment.
After Mass capped his four-quarterback maximum with Ryan Tannehill in the eighth round, the final two QB2s were taken in Round 9, Jay Cutler to Lipscomb and Josh Freeman to Yates. Two other ninth-round signal-callers were selected in the QB3 spot, Carson Palmer to Karabell and Alex Smith to Joyner. I asked Karabell to assess his strategy of waiting on quarterbacks in a 2-QB mock. "I'm not too worried about what I ended up with, since I feel good about the RBs/WRs. But is it ideal? Nope. I would have taken Kaepernick or Wilson a few picks after they went. I have 3 QBs I feel should be better than they were in 2012, and I can mix and match QBs from week to week." Replied Mass: "I've got a guy named Stafford to trade you. Wink, wink."
Lipscomb opened the D/ST bank with the Seattle Seahawks in Round 10, which is exactly where I think the D/ST selecting should begin.
My picks: WR2 Antonio Brown, WR3 Tavon Austin and RB4 Jonathan Stewart. I was pretty pleased with these three picks. Brown may be the weakest starting wideout in our 10-team format, but as the No. 1 target for Pittsburgh with 7 TDs on just nine red-zone catches last season, I think he could approach 10 scores with well over 1,000 yards this year. The rookie Austin is already his team's best skill player, and will get plenty of targets from improving Sam Bradford. Stewart, who I'm still shocked is just 26 years old, is a solid fill-in during bye weeks.
The pickings were slim at this point, and there certainly was some reaching going on, such as Jake Locker to Yates at No. 107. Team Yates "I actually used a draft pick on Jake Locker. It was … weird." Yes, strange days indeed.
There were still plenty of quality wideouts available, including Sidney Rice, whom Joyner picked in part because of his very favorable schedule. This selection was made one day before the news about Percy Harvin's hip injury, making this pick now look like the work of not just a football scientist, but a rocket scientist. Also note that this draft occurred before the bad news that both Maclin (No. 122 to Karabell) and Pitta (No. 120 to Mass) will miss the entire 2013 season.
My picks: San Francisco 49ers D/ST, QB3 Matt Flynn, TE2 Owen Daniels. I personally think the 49ers will have the best defense in the NFL, with the additions of rookie S Eric Reid, CB Nnamdi Asomugha and DT Glenn Dorsey. This was an easy pick to make. However, I obviously waited too long to choose my QB3 with the questionable Flynn, but I was high on him going into last year before Russell Wilson took his job. I think he's still got 3,500-yard potential with all the garbage-time throws he'll make with the dreadful Oakland Raiders. I picked Daniels two rounds earlier than I should have, but I felt he was the best remaining tight end, and three other owners still hadn't selected a TE, so I figured I needed more production with my starting tight end being Gronkowski and his painfully slow recovery from multiple surgeries. At this point in the draft, I don't think I missed out on any player in a different position.
The draft wrapped up with little fanfare. Lipscomb finally chose a tight end and said, "I'm happy to have waited until the end of Round 14 to take a TE, and end up with Greg Olsen." I agree that the durable Olsen has a chance to be a top-seven tight end this season and remains the No. 2 passing option in Carolina behind Steve Smith.
Harris, who is vital to the "group-think" fantasy player rankings on ESPN.com, felt compelled to take RB Michael Turner at No. 155, as he still expects Turner to sign on with some team. "Being the guy who has to defend Turner after two years of bashing him really stinks." I feel for you, man.
I found it interesting how just three of the 10 owners drafted the maximum four quarterbacks allowed. In addition to my Nick Foles pick, Mass has Tannehill as his QB4 and Joyner took Kirk Cousins in the penultimate round as his QB4, describing it as, "The rare QB handcuff pick. I figured he was a very good insurance policy to have in case RG III gets hurt."
My picks: RB5 Michael Bush, WR4 Michael Floyd, K1 Stephen Gostkowski, QB4 Foles. Matt Forte has become injury-prone, and Bush is an ample fill-in when he goes down. I'm also buying into Floyd's potential opposite Larry Fitzgerald with a serviceable quarterback throwing him the rock. And I'm of the mindset to take a kicker in the second-to-last round, since I knew my final pick of Foles (for not if, but when, Vick gets injured) would not be taken by anybody else. So instead of waiting to get the fourth-best kicker out there, I took the booter I thought was No. 1, as the Patriots are still going to put up crazy points as long as Brady is healthy and running the hurry-up offense. This kicker strategy makes a lot more sense for the back-end draft slots to get a No. 1 kicker instead of the ninth- or 10th-best leg.