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MOCK STARS

8/8/2008

Inside information: In the world of fantasy football, it's what separates the men from the boys. Come training camp, you hole yourself up in a bathroom armed with nothing more than a stack of magazines (not that kind) and a highlighter. You review mock draft after mock draft until your legs go numb. Suddenly it hits you: Everybody has access to the same intel. "If only I had a buddy who played in the NFL," you say to yourself. Besides the obvious perks (sweet seats, authentic game-worn gear, cheerleaders' digits), he'd no doubt drop some little-known nuggets to help you prep for your very own D-day. Sadly, you have no NFL friends. But we do, which is why we invited a handful of them to take on our own ESPN fantasy experts in Mag Mock 2008.

IN DRAFT ORDER, HERE'S OUR DEPTH CHART:
1. Stephania Bell, ESPN.com injury analyst
2. Christopher Harris, ESPN.com fantasy analyst
3. Roy Williams, Lions wide receiver
4. Eric Karabell, ESPN.com senior writer
5. Keary Colbert, Broncos wide receiver
6. Clint Ingram, Jaguars linebacker
7. Eddie Matz, ESPN The Mag fantasy hack
8. Tristan Cockcroft, ESPN.com fantasy analyst
9. Drew Bennett, Rams wide receiver
10. Laurent Robinson, Falcons wide receiver

Let's head straight to the game tape …

HIGHLIGHT Great year to pick No. 2. Let someone else sort out the LT/AP debate, then scoop up the sloppy seconds and sleep well, knowing that you had no choice in the matter.

LOWLIGHT Hey, I'm all for taking care of your own, but MJD in the first round? Maybe Ingram knows something we don't. Then again, maybe he's suffering from the affects of all those two-a-day's.

SPOTLIGHT Think receivers don't know the value of a good QB? Of the four wideouts in our draft, all but one of them snagged a QB in the first. Apparently, nobody told them that RB rule the roto roost.


HIGHLIGHT Leaving Denver then missing half of 2006 put a major dent in Clinton Portis' fantasy cred, but the bottom line is that the guy produces: For his career, he's posted 16-game averages of 1,470 yards and 12 rushing TDs, along with 39 receptions.

LOWLIGHT If 2008 is anything like 2006, Cockcroft struck gold with Steven Jackson and Frank Gore . If 2008 is anything 2007, then he struck molybdenum (atomic number 42, in case you're wondering).

SPOTLIGHT 1,540 yards and 16 TDs. That's what you get if you project Ryan Grant's second-half rushing stats from 2007 over a full season of starting. Those sound like second-round numbers to you?


HIGHLIGHT Pop quiz: Of the two receivers who drafted themselves too early in the third frame, which one pulled the trigger way, way, way too early? (HINT: His name rhymes with Schmew Schmennett.)

LOWLIGHT Hard not to call Andre Johnson a reach here. Even if his knee's good to go—a big if—he's never posted double-digit TDs and averages just 12.9 YPC for his career.

SPOTLIGHT Back in the B.C. era (before committee), you had to go RB, RB and maybe even RB in the first three rounds. Now, not so much. Of the first 30 picks, only half are running backs. The market is a-changin'.


HIGHLIGHT Every fantasy GM loves a guy with a high ceiling. But there's also something to be said for a guy with a high floor. With 80-plus catches every season since he was a rook, Torry Holt's got the highest floor in the biz.

LOWLIGHT Fact No. 1: Fred Taylor has played at least 14 games in five of the past six seasons. Fact No. 2: Fred Taylor has averaged 1,200-plus yards rushing over those same six seasons. Fact No. 3: Fragile Fred still scares fantasy GMs, which is why
he would've been available a round or two later.

SPOTLIGHT Five tight ends in the fourth signifies that it's no longer the Gates-Gonzo show. Last season, four TEs tallied 984 yards receiving or better, and a fifth topped 10 TDs. After suffering through an entire season of L.J. Smith and his one TD, trust me—you don't want to be one of the have-nots.


HIGHLIGHT Not to be outdone by the four receivers who drafted themselves, our resident defender effectively drafts himself by selecting the Jags D. So what if it was 10 rounds too early? We're entertained.

LOWLIGHT I like Santonio Holmes. I like that he wears No.10. I like that his name is one indefinite article away from a city. I like what he did for my fantasy team last season. I don't like picking him ahead of guys like Burress, Boldin and Marshall.

SPOTLIGHT If you're a young receiver in the NFL, I suppose you could do worse than to emulate Roy Williams. But drafting a defense in the fifth—as Williams then Robinson did here—doesn't make them entertaining. It makes them silly. (Yes, we're being arbitrary. Sue us.) To Williams' credit, at least he drafted the right one.


HIGHLIGHT Darren McFadden may or may not be this year's AP. Either way, getting him in the sixth (as opposed to, say, the third) is too good a value to pass up, even if Karabell already has three backs.

LOWLIGHT My crush on Derek Anderson is so big that it transcends man-crush parameters and is simply a crush. In fact, I'm crushin' so hard that I inadvertently violated golden rule No. 6 of fantasy football: Never draft a QB and RB from the same team. D'oh.

SPOTLIGHT Of last year's top 10 fantasy backs, eight were selected in our first two rounds. The ninth was taken in the third. The 10th? That'd be sixth-rounder Edgerrin James. Four cheers (why stop at three?) for bargain shopper Roy Williams.


HIGHLIGHT True, Rudi Johnson is coming off an injury and has more challengers (TK Perry, Watson, Irons) than the WBC, but he's still only 28 and just one year removed from three consecutive seasons of 12 TDs and 1,300-plus yards. No way he should last this long.

LOWLIGHT Some picks are harder to justify than others—like taking a kicker before the halfway mark. But when you consider that Robinson's alma mater (Illinois State) is just a couple hours south of Robbie Gould's stomping grounds, it makes sense. Kind of.

SPOTLIGHT Earnest Graham and Thomas Jones aren't sexy names. In fact, don't be surprised if you experience mild nausea after uttering one of their names at your draft. Remembering that these guys are starting running backs in the (cue: Ron Jaworski) National Football League and that this is the seventh round should act as a fine Pepto alternative.


HIGHLIGHT Aptronym. It's the word for a name that's aptly suited to its owner (Thanks, Wikipedia!). An example? Matt Forte, whose last name means "strength" and who stands 6'2", 216, runs a 4.4 40 and sits atop the Bears RB depth chart.

LOWLIGHT Even when he was in his prime, it was hard to get excited about drafting Hines Ward. Now that he's coming off three straight sub-1,000-yard seasons and one knee surgery, hard has become impossible.

SPOTLIGHT All things being equal (and by all things, I mean Julius Jones and Jonathan Stewart), wouldn't you rather have the intriguing/unknown/upsidish rookie than the boring/ho-hum/retreadish vet? I would.


HIGHLIGHT Super-duper sleeper alert: Detroit rookie Kevin Smith. Here's what Williams had to say about his team's probable Week 1 starter at RB: "Haven't really seen him just go, but he has excellent vision. We're gonna run more this year, too."

LOWLIGHT If I've said it once I've said it seven gugillion times: Never ever any under circumstances should you draft a Denver running back. Then I go and draft Selvin Young. Do as I say, not as I do.

SPOTLIGHT When two teammates at the same position go in the same round, it typically suggests that their values are roughly equivalent. Of course, when one of those players is drafted by himself (i.e., Laurent Robinson), all bets are off. Trust me, Roddy White is still the guy in ATL.


HIGHLIGHT How does a receiver who's topped 80 catches and 1,000 yards in each of the past four years slip to the 10th round? By catching 2 TDs last year. Says here that Donald Driver scores more this season—Favre or no Favre.

LOWLIGHT When the players jumped the gun on kickers, I let it slide. But when a seasoned dot.com vet like Bell goes early on a bootsman—and I don't care if it's Jan Freaking Stenerud—it's my civic duty to remind you: The surgeon general has determined that drafting kickers prior to the final round can be hazardous to your squad.

SPOTLIGHT If pricey tight ends aren't your thing, try the 2008 vintage Vernon Davis. In the league's worst offense last year, he still managed 509 yards and 4 TDs. This year, with Mike Martz as his coordinator? Let's just say that immediately after tabbing Davis, former Martz charge Williams sent the following message: "Martz is gonna love that dude."


HIGHLIGHT After drafting receiver Roy Williams in the third, Roy Williams takes safety Roy Williams and the rest of the Cowboys D/ST, effectively cornering the market on NFL players named Roy Williams.

LOWLIGHT McAllister's missed 25 games the last three seasons and shares the backfield with some guy named Bush. Then again, for his career he's averaging 1,173 yards and 11 rushing TDs in even-numbered years. (FYI, 2008 is an even number.)

SPOTLIGHT The Martz conversation from last round continues. Colbert: "Be where you are supposed to be, when you are supposed to be there ... and never (blank) the quarterback ... I've never played for him, but I heard that's what he says." Williams: "Every day." Has nothing to with fantasy, but I thought you'd enjoy nonetheless.


HIGHLIGHT Call me crazy, but I'm not feeling the whole Michael Turner-as-starter business. Which means I am feeling the whole Jerious Norwood-as-sleeper business. Hey, third time's a charm.

LOWLIGHT Which of the following has Jeff Garcia not done in the past five years: A) topped 3,000 yards, B) thrown for 20 TDs, C) played all 16 games, or D) all of the above. (Answers can be found in my self-help best-seller Drafting a Useless Backup QB.)

SPOTLIGHT In case you're wondering, Ryan Torain is a fifth-round running back out of Arizona State who's currently employed by the Broncos and is therefore a candidate to rush for 1,000 yards (along with Selvin Young, Andre Hall, Michael Pittman, Champ Bailey, Thunder the horse and Mike Shanahan's granddaughter Stella).


HIGHLIGHT If you project Ahmad Bradshaw's numbers from Week 16 (the only time he had double-digit carries) over a full season, you get 2,416 yards and 16 TDs. And if you rearrange the letters in his name, you get Ahmad Rashad bw. Neat-o, huh?

LOWLIGHT Golden rule No. 3 of fantasy drafting: Know who's healthy and who's not. Deion Branch? Not healthy.

SPOTLIGHT Tony Dungy coaches Indy. Former Dungy staffer Mike Tomlin coaches Pittsburgh. Before that, he coached Minnesota. The Indy, Pittsburgh and Minny defenses all go in this frame. Coincidence? I think not.


HIGHLIGHT Raise your hand if you knew that Donald Lee was fantasy's eighth-best tight end last year. Or that his 575 yards were the most by a Packers TE since Mark Chmura way back in 1995. Or that Bubba Franks is now a Jet.

LOWLIGHT If you were assembling a Receivers That Fantasy Owners Inexplicably Take Fliers On Every Year Even Though They Continue To Not Produce All-Star Team, then Burleson, Muhammad, Porter, and Stallworth (who in 31 combined seasons have broken 1,000 yards just four times and 10 TDs only once) would be shoe-ins.

SPOTLIGHT Say what you want about Ahman Green (he's old, he's injury-prone, he rocks a chinstrap beard like nobody's business), but any time you can get a starting RB in the 14th frame you've done well.


HIGHLIGHT Tell me that the name Jacob Hester doesn't conjure up images of an 87-year old Amish man. In reality, he's a 23-year rookie who happens to be the finest product available in the ever-evolving LaDainian Tomlinson insurance market.

LOWLIGHT Greg Olsen, and here's why: I'm not a big fan of wasting a pick on backup tight ends (that's why God created the waiver wire). Especially when said backup is a backup in real life.

SPOTLIGHT Strange but true: Last year, Adam Vinatieri was the only full-time kicker who had zero field goals of 40 yards or longer.


HIGHLIGHT Call me crazy (again), but given that Rudi Johnson, Kenny Irons, and Chris Perry all have injury issues, Mr. Irrelevant Kenny Watson—who, by the way, had 1,137 yards from scrimmage and 7 TDs last year—seems kind of relevant, no?

LOWLIGHT Ingram ends it like he started it, by taking one of his own (Reggie Williams). In all, he netted himself five Jacksonville commodities (QB, RB, 2 WRs, D/ST), which has to be some kind of fantasy record. Congrats Clint!

SPOTLIGHT After trying to trade down to the very last pick in an effort to make himself Mr. Irrelevant, Colbert has to settle for being Mr. Fifth-Most Irrelevant. Congrats Keary!