- AJ Mass, Fantasy
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Practice makes perfect. Rome wasn't built in a day. Pick whatever cliché you'd like, but the truth remains. If you jump into your fantasy draft without taking advantage of ESPN's Mock Draft Lobby, you may end up looking a lot like Ryan Tannehill and Lamar Miller did on Miami's first handoff of this past Sunday's Hall of Fame Game. It won't look pretty.
With the preseason officially underway, the ESPN.com fantasy staff once again dove into the process of sorting out the NFL into our own personal fantasy rosters. This time, it comes in the form of a 10-team PPR league. The participants for 2013's Mock Draft 4, in a randomly determined first-round order, were: Keith Lipscomb, Shawn Cwalinski, Christopher Harris, Pierre Becquey, James Quintong, Jim McCormick, KC Joyner, Eric Karabell, Tristan H. Cockcroft and yours truly.
Were mistakes made? Probably so. Do some of the participants already regret some of their selections, even with only a minor amount of hindsight? Isn't that always the case? The truth is there's still a lot of change ahead of us before the games start to count for real. In fact, since this draft was completed on Aug. 2, the San Francisco 49ers signed Austin Collie to a contract and news came out that Buffalo Bills wide receiver Steve Johnson (hamstring) will miss most of the preseason, and Green Bay Packers receiver Jordy Nelson (knee surgery) will miss all of the preseason.
Editor's note: Another injury that occurred since this draft took place was Danario Alexander's torn ACL, which will cause him to miss the entire 2013 season.
However, the more mocks you do, the better prepared you will be to adjust your plans on the fly. Expect the unexpected as we go through a round-by-round overview of Mock Draft 4.
Things start off in typical fashion at No. 1 with Adrian Peterson going to Lipscomb. After all, Peterson has been the top dog in terms of ADP in ESPN live drafts so far in 2013. But it took only one more pick for Cwalinski to flip the script. He took Doug Martin, which certainly raised a few eyebrows in the room, but defended the move in one word: safety.
"Arian Foster has been dealing with injuries and his YPC (yards per carry) has declined for a couple of years. Ray Rice is going to lose some touches to Bernard Pierce. C.J. Spiller has durability issues. Marshawn Lynch had the back problems last season, and does not catch many passes," Cwalinski explains.
While the decision on which running back to select was an interesting one, the decision to take a running back was certainly one shared by most first-round participants. Calvin Johnson, at No. 9, was the only first-round selection to play any other position.
Personally, I was really hoping Megatron would have lasted one more pick so I could select him at the bookend spot. However, knowing I was going to have to wait for 18 more players to get taken off the board before I made my next two picks, there was no way to avoid my following the crowd and taking a running back of my own. We know Trent Richardson will get the ball as long as he can stay healthy, but we also know that was a bit of an issue last season. I am not thrilled with the No. 10 spot.
After I kicked the round off with A.J. Green and his 100-reception potential, we had a veritable mixed bag of positions being covered by the panel. Our first quarterback went to Becquey at No. 17. Given his allegiance to the Green Bay Packers, we weren't all that stunned by the selection, yet it was far from Becquey's plan: "I went in with a clear RB/RB mindset, and did not expect Rodgers to be available with this pick, though with this gang, that's not all that surprising. I grabbed Rodgers over Reggie Bush and Frank Gore thinking I'd start the QB run and have either a premier WR or one of Bush/Gore fall to me at No. 24." We'll see how that plan worked out in a moment.
Darren Sproles, a PPR darling, went to Quintong one pick prior to Rodgers. If it were just yardage, there's no way you could justify taking him before Round 4 or 5, but with an extra 80 points or so thanks to his pass-catching expertise? There's no way he should still be on the board following Round 2. His New Orleans Saints teammate Jimmy Graham gets taken three picks later, breaking the seal on tight ends. With the season-ending hip injury to Dennis Pitta, the number of "elite" tight end options continues to dwindle, and Graham's relative value to the "rest of what's left" rises with every name we cross off the draft board.
Harris, who had coveted Sproles, opted for former Saints running back Bush, now in Detroit: "I took him as the No. 13 RB, which obviously in a standard format would be a crazy-reach, but I'm biting on Bush in a PPR. I think 90 catches is in play."
Back to Becquey, who did indeed end up with Gore at No. 24. Not only does that rhyme, but it also validates his reasons for grabbing Rodgers in Round 2. The gamble paid off. Maurice Jones-Drew's health is something that Joyner finally gambled on at No. 27. If MJD returns to form, this is the kind of pick that can win a fantasy league. Cwalinski had thought seriously about grabbing Jones-Drew at No. 22, but eventually went with Chris Johnson, citing 2012 as the receiving anomaly: "Last year was the first time Johnson had fewer than 40 receptions in a season. He's averaged 46 per year for his career. He's just a little bit safer than MJD."
McCormick didn't love what was left at running back in this round, so he went with Demaryius Thomas and the upside of a wide receiver working with Peyton Manning as his quarterback, and one who finished as the No. 5 player at his position last season.
Cockcroft played some "draft defense" here, as he feared Darren McFadden and Stevan Ridley would both be gone after I made my next two picks, and he didn't want to get stuck drafting a back with far lesser value. I probably would have grabbed Ridley in Round 3, but with Drew Brees still on the board and uncertainty as to whether any of the "top tier of five" quarterbacks would be there for me at No. 50, I passed. As it turns out, Cockcroft could have ended up with Brees and McFadden, but the alternative had he taken Brees and I did grab his two RBs would have likely been far worse a final result for him.
Call it the round of the Denver Broncos, as I took Wes Welker at No. 31, Quintong took Peyton Manning at No. 36, and Montee Ball went at No. 40 to Lipscomb. Although Ronnie Hillman currently sits atop the Broncos depth chart, Lipscomb sees the tea leaves going his way: "I expect Ball to be the most productive back in Denver, as I feel he'll be able to pass-protect and benefit from getting plenty of touches in an offense led by Peyton Manning."
Becquey completes his Green Bay double-dip with Randall Cobb at No. 37 and expresses no concern about loading up his basket with so many eggs. "It was too much value to pass up in the fourth round. I'd have done the same with Megatron and Matthew Stafford or Peyton Manning and either Welker or Thomas. I love Cobb in a PPR this season; he earned Rodgers' trust last season and became more and more of a weapon as the season wore on (almost 20 percent more receptions per game after the bye). Rodgers has a lot of mouths to feed, but Cobb's versatility will keep him near the top of the pecking order." Of course, had Becquey known about the Bryan Bulaga injury at the time, he might have felt differently about this particular case (though he just as easily may not have), but this draft took place before the lineman tore his ACL and was declared out for the season.
The Carolina Panthers also get more love at this stage of the draft than do the New England Patriots. McCormick takes Cam Newton at No. 46, elevating him over Tom Brady, not because of any doubts with Brady's receiving corps but because "Newton just stood out at this point given the awesome potential his legs provide. I just love how often Newton cashes in on the ground."
Karabell took Steve Smith at No. 49, just ahead of Danny Amendola. "I thought Smith was the best wide receiver available at the time, PPR or not. I certainly considered Amendola, but only one of those two guys is likely to play a full season. After taking running backs with my first three picks, I certainly wasn't looking at any other position except wide receiver here."
As for me, it's the reverse, having to worry almost exclusively about building up my running back corps. Ryan Mathews is certainly not going to see a lot of third downs on a team that has Ronnie Brown and Danny Woodhead, but if he can get 7-9 yards on each set of downs before he gets the hook, he'll still have value. Le'Veon Bell, assuming he wins the job in Pittsburgh, certainly is a big enough back that he might well get those lucrative goal-line carries and the touchdowns that go along with them.
By this point in the draft, Harris was already loading up his bench spots, prepared to wait on other open spots in his starting lineup as long as possible, this being a 10-team league. "Eddie Lacy and Eric Decker were my sixth- and seventh-round picks … and meh, they're bench players and I took the best available. If you're asking why I didn't go QB and TE, it's because they're deep, and I figured I'd just wind up getting Colin Kaepernick and Martellus Bennett, since I always seem to get Colin Kaepernick and Martellus Bennett."
(Spoiler alert: Harris eventually gets Colin Kaepernick and Martellus Bennett.)
Tom Brady falls out of the top 50, though not by much, to Cockcroft at No. 52. It might be the lowest Brady has fallen in a mock draft since he was backing up Drew Bledsoe. Fellow Patriot Rob Gronkowski goes at No. 56, and even though the presumption is that he'll miss a few games, once he does return to action, he still could outscore all other tight ends from that point forward, if not pass a few who got a few games' head-start on him.
Joyner actually passed on Gronkowski and selected Tony Gonzalez at No. 54, but in his case, the timing was not right to go with a player who was going to miss some time. "Gonzalez is actually ranked one notch below Gronkowski on my TE board, but by the time this pick rolled around, my team included Dez Bryant and Maurice Jones-Drew. Those two have some built-in risk, so it seemed like a safer choice to pass up the player who could start the season on the PUP list." Tight ends certainly ruled this portion of the draft, as Jason Witten and Vernon Davis also went off the board in these two rounds.
Quintong's pick of Giovani Bernard drew a few moans of disappointment. "I think Bernard is going to be the pass-catching part of the Bengals backfield, so even if he doesn't get the big numbers on the ground, he'll be valuable enough in PPR leagues through the air," explains Quintong. So even though BenJarvus Green-Ellis may get the bulk of the carries, in a PPR league, he gets selected nine spots after his young new teammate.
I'm not immune to the double-dip myself, and I wanted to make sure I grabbed a decent enough backup quarterback who did not share a bye week with Drew Brees. With a lot of question marks hanging over some of the wide receivers still on the board (Josh Gordon, Sidney Rice), I decided to just go all-in on the Indianapolis Colts and the Andrew Luck/T.Y. Hilton combo. And if the new offense in Indianapolis "lacks Pep," well, these are backups anyway.
A bevy of St. Louis Rams went off the board in this part of the proceedings. Daryl Richardson (No. 82) and Isaiah Pead (No. 86) could be in a time-share once Pead comes back from his one-game suspension. And if Sam Bradford is going to throw for upwards of 3,700 yards, somebody is going to catch those passes. Hence, Tavon Austin (No. 84) and Chris Givens (No. 92) also get snatched up, even if Bradford himself remains unlikely to get a sniff from most fantasy football owners in a one-QB league.
Now that most teams have stocked their benches with running back and wide receiver options, the first few of the more reliable defenses finally start to get selected, spearheaded my Seattle pick at No. 110 and Cockcroft's grab of San Francisco at No. 112.
Becquey got caught in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse, stealing Harris' handcuff with his selection of Mikel Leshoure at No. 104, only to find his own cuff snatched up by McCormick two picks later, much to his chagrin: "That's the risk you take with cuff-blocking; stealing the Bush handcuff cost me my own. I took Leshoure because I thought I could wait another round on Bernard Pierce to handcuff to Rice. I don't think Leshoure can be started if he's not getting carries between the 20s, so I'm counting on a Bush injury to give him value, which is preferable but riskier than hoping Rice stays fully healthy and that I don't need Pierce."
Perhaps surprisingly, there are still some value picks remaining at running back, even at this late stage of the draft. After all, Ronnie Hillman (No. 118) is technically the starter for Denver at the present time and Fred Jackson (No. 119) could well establish himself as the short-yardage back for Buffalo, a role that could lead to a glut of touchdowns. Karabell's déjà vu continues, as he selects Dallas running back Joseph Randle at pick No. 128. He explains, "I feel like I'm always getting Randle after Round 12 or so, because I have no confidence in DeMarco Murray's health. Randle doesn't figure to catch many passes even if the job is his, but it was worth the risk late."
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.
Michael Vick and Ben Roethlisberger were both taken here, as backup quarterbacks. The truth is that in 10-team, one-QB leagues such as this one, you simply do not need to panic if there ends up being a quarterback run at any point of an ESPN standard league draft. You can wait a long, long time and still avoid ending up with Blaine Gabbert as your No. 1 signal-caller.
Tight ends and lottery tickets are also par for the course in the final few rounds of the draft. McCormick waited all the way to No. 146 to grab Jermichael Finley. With few owners liable to select more than just one tight end, why not wait? "I feel like after the top say five or six tight ends that there is little reason to invest in the position until the very end of drafts. Finley has a nice enough role in a potent passing offense and doesn't come with any real draft risk," McCormick posits.
Heck, even Quintong, who will likely, at the very least, need a Gronkowski fill-in for Week 1, didn't draft a second TE. He'd much rather work the waiver wire when the time comes and use his final bench spot on a "lottery ticket" that goes by the name of Robert Woods. "Woods is in a prime situation to produce as the Bills' potential No. 2 wideout -- and maybe even No. 1, given Steve Johnson's injury. He's worth at least a speculative pick very late in the draft, and if he doesn't pan out, he could get dropped for the next big thing off the waiver wire."
AJ Mass breaks down the latest ESPN mock draft, featuring 10 teams and point-per-reception (PPR) scoring.