Anything going on with the NFL these days?
I mean, besides the looming end to the collective bargaining agreement, the prospect of a work stoppage or lockout, questions about the validity of franchise and transition tags, the prospect of limited or no free agency, a crippled trade market, and the possibility of an expanded regular season?
Yeah, I'm tired of all that noise, too. It's gonna be a long, cold summer. And unfortunately, player movement is likely to be limited for a while, so we'll have a hard time knowing who'll be playing where. But that's OK. That's why you don't draft in February.
But I do.
Hey, we do the best with what we've got, right? So until they tell us that players are allowed to sign with new teams, we'll just have to read the tea leaves. After all, it shouldn't stop us from speculating, for example, about what the Panthers are going to do with their backfield, or how the Cowboys might juggle their young weapons, right? And then there are the rookies. Until April, we won't know where they'll play (and we won't know which veterans will feel heat as a result), but we sure should start learning their names.
So here's my 2011 One-Man Mock 1.0, where I start to make sense of all these variables. I've provided some commentary where a selection might conflict with the ranks I released six weeks ago; forty-odd days of news has already made those early-January thoughts seem a little stale. I've also indicated players who are technically free agents as of today, while not including those who've been franchise or transition tagged on that list. Let's go!
I had Maurice Jones-Drew No. 3 among running backs five weeks ago, and regular readers know I love the guy. But news about his knee is sketchy at best; he at least had meniscus surgery, and it's possible the procedure was more serious than that. We've got six months of hand-wringing to do about MJD, so he's either a great bargain at No. 5 or a time bomb. … Where is the Aaron Rodgers tipping point? I guess for me right now it's at No. 7. I think Ray Rice will be undervalued after his "disappointing" '10 season. (Can a very patriotic 1,776 total yards qualify as disappointing?) After him? I know the principles of VBD tell us even the top quarterbacks don't distance themselves enough from their positional cohorts to dominate fantasy. But there's something to be said for safety, and the Super Bowl MVP has been almost perfectly safe the past two seasons. Of course, take him this early, and the "almost" will haunt you: those concussions from '10 were more than just a mere speed bump.
It's often quite fashionable for Team 10 to go WR-WR with its first two picks, and certainly there's no shortage of great receivers available. Of course, in '10, that might've netted you Randy Moss and Larry Fitzgerald. Ga. In this draft, Team 10 is quite pleased with Frank Gore and Rashard Mendenhall. … If there's one guy I've reassessed most since my first pass, it's Michael Turner. Quick: who's older, Turner or Gore? Granted, Gore has 1,641 career NFL touches to Turner's 1,150, but Turner is 15 months older. This week, I went back and watched every carry Turner had from the Falcons' five final regular-season games, and the difference in his legs was remarkable. He still got in the end zone a bunch, but there was rarely a threat of him breaking anything big; after notching seven carries of 20-plus yards in his first 11 games, he had one in those final five. Maybe he was hurt. But I'm beginning to think it's going to be a mistake to take him in the first round next year. … In my January ranks, I kept the Panthers backs in the same neighborhood, but the more I think about it, the more I think Carolina has to move on from DeAngelo Williams, and hand their starting gig to Jonathan Stewart. He looked like a top-five rusher last December. … Matt Forte doesn't thrill me, but late in the second is probably about right for him. Despite what the talking heads say, he's not a game-breaking threat. But he's also not a plodder; he'll make a big play when the defense plays dumb. The Bears have to figure out their O-line, but using Chester Taylor in short yardage didn't work.
Not that it's a huge distinction, but I flip-flopped Tom Brady and Peyton Manning at my No. 3 and 4 spots among quarterbacks, so Teams 1 and 2 followed suit. (Not bad for the owners of Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson to boast Brady and Manning, respectively.) Brady won't be perfect again and Manning won't go through a career-worst stretch of 11 picks in three games again, but Indy has major questions to address on its offensive line. By the way, in many drafts, obviously, the top quarterbacks will go much earlier than this, but I don't think they should. Round 3 is the best place to grab one of the top-five signal callers; if you don't get one there, you wait. … Team 4 gets Michael Vick in my third round; in many drafts, Vick might be the No. 1 player taken. Unfortunately, I think he gets hurt again. … Yes, I'm making a stand on Jahvid Best. His talent is huge, and all indications are the Lions have no plans for a committee. I know his health is scary, but fortune favors the bold. … I like the John Fox hiring for Knowshon Moreno. Fox won't call the plays in Denver, but as a defensive head coach in Carolina, he led a run-first attack. No question Tim Tebow could be a big-time annoyance if he wins the starting job under center, but Moreno's value gets an uptick, and Team 6 likes pairing him with Ray Rice very much. … Team 9 is glad to take a chance on Vincent Jackson as its No. 1 receiver; things have cleared up with the Chargers deciding to use their franchise tag on V-Jax Jackson, clearing the way for what should be a full season of sweet music with Philip Rivers.
It feels like I've fallen a little out of love with Reggie Wayne, one of my perennial favorites and someone of whom I've always been a staunch defender. Ho hum, he just posted yet another top-10 fantasy season in '10, but his deep speed is (pardon the pun) waning. Team 10 is thrilled to have him here, but for the first time in memory Wayne feels like a third- or fourth-round draftee. … Team 9 probably needs another receiver here, but can't stay away from Steven Jackson, who has fall-off-a-cliff potential, but who did just post the second-most carries in the NFL. If the Rams start scoring more with Josh McDaniels as coordinator, Jackson could have one last happy go-round. … Meanwhile, look at the next two picks. LeGarrette Blount couldn't have ended '10 any hotter, and Peyton Hillis finished fourth for the entire season among fantasy rushers. Of course, each guy has warts: Blount weighs 250 pounds (on a light day) and eventually seems like a committee natural, while Hillis wore down something fierce in December and has Montario Hardesty around. Each guy will probably go higher than this, and maybe that'll be a good thing. Maybe. … Team 2 looks like a juggernaut; unfortunately, that juggernaut may be from '08. DeAngelo Williams might need a new team, and hasn't been healthy much in two seasons. … I watched Week 17's tape on Ryan Mathews and bumped him up a few spots, because once his ankle got right he looked like a new man. He'd be very risky as your No. 2 fantasy rusher; then again, Team 1 has a pretty good No. 1.
Personally, I tend not to take a tight end as early as the fifth round, and last year's bloodbath at the position showed you why. But Teams 1 and 2 are sitting there knowing there's pretty good receiver depth and they don't pick again for 20-odd slots. So they stake a claim on the two elites, and let everyone else fight for scraps. … I feel strongly tempted to drop Kenny Britt out of my wideout top 15 because of his quarterback uncertainty, but I'm resisting the urge for now. His talent is so great, and just a minor upgrade over Kerry Collins would renew my faith in him. … Santonio Holmes is a terrific get for Team 7, who can pair him with the man who replaced him in Pittsburgh, Mike Wallace. Holmes was the straw that stirred the drink for the Jets last year and I have to believe if New York chooses between him and Braylon Edwards, Edwards is gone. … Team 8 felt insecure about the relatively speculative backfield duo of Jonathan Stewart and LeGarrette Blount, but may have compounded the problem with BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Drafting a Patriots running back to be anywhere near my starting lineup puts a lump in my stomach. … With expectations now thoroughly in check, Marques Colston can go back to being a valued fantasy commodity. If we don't view him as a No. 1 receiver, he won't tick us off so much.
After Teams 9 and 8 take quarterbacks, only Team 6 is left without one, and this after only 53 total selections. This is, I must say, absolutely not the way I tend to draft; I rarely feel compelled to take the seventh-, eighth- or ninth-best signal caller on my list, because they're just not appreciably better than the 10th or 11th. Maybe this year's an exception. Maybe there are "nine guys" at quarterback, with the risk/reward ratio growing unfavorable after Big Ben. Maybe. But for the rest of this draft, you can just call me "Team 6." … I'd say Shonn Greene and Ryan Mathews will make interesting test cases again this year. They were my poster children for too much hype last summer, and I didn't own either on a single team. But now they've got post-hype possibilities, in potential platoon situations they can win. (No way I'd put 15 overall ranks between them outside a mock draft.) The way LaDainian Tomlinson ran out of gas late in '10 made me give Greene a nice little boost, despite his two meager touchdowns. … How do you solve a problem like Brandon Lloyd? Fantasy's No. 1 receiver in '10 has the whiff of a fluke about him, and absolutely can't come close to repeating if Tim Tebow starts the season under center. But even with Kyle Orton throwing it to him, Lloyd figures to regress. Maybe Team 3 will have a steal of steals here, but I'm glad to let someone else bet that Denver will stay pass-happy under Fox.
I dropped Ryan Grant a bit after all the James Starks hype this postseason. Starks really only played well against the Eagles, of course, and in 110 career carries has a 3.8 yards-per-carry average, including the playoffs. Feh. I still think Grant is the starter, unless the Packers go into cost-cutting mode. But yeah, I have to admit, Grant looks less attractive to me now than he did at the beginning of January. … Were I the Bengals, I'd be in no hurry to sign Cedric Benson. He's not bad. But he's 28 and last year proved he's not effective unless you run a straight-at-'em, power attack, and even then, he's no game breaker. We were all way too high on him last year. But if he's there at pick No. 65, I mean, sure, I'll bite. … A.J. Green is the first rookie off my board before we know where any of the first-year players will land. He could be a top-five pick in April, which would put him on a team in dire need of a No. 1 receiver. He's good. Remember: the best rookie receivers (Mike Williams, Dez Bryant, Jacoby Ford) were at least as valuable as the best rookie rushers (LeGarrette Blount, Ryan Mathews, Chris Ivory) in '10. … Of course, not to be outdone by much, Mark Ingram comes off the board just three spots later. Especially for a rusher, it all depends where he gets drafted. … Certainly there's not 22 picks' worth of value between Josh Freeman and Ben Roethlisberger, but that's what happens when you're the No. 10 quarterback, unless teams get jumpy and start drafting backups. … When he was healthy, Ryan Torain sure was better than an eighth-round pick. But you can't count on him being healthy, now can you, Team 3?
The first defense off the board in the ninth round? Seems OK to me, though I'm rarely that owner. You know in most non-pro drafts, of course, someone's grabbing one in the fifth. What I like most about the Packers D/ST this year is that we thought they'd be elite in '10, and they were. … Clearly, if Mike Tolbert's neck is healthy (it's supposed to be) and if he stays at the top of a committee with Mathews (that's less clear), he's severely under-priced here. … Santana Moss takes a tumble from my January ranks because the Redskins surprisingly (to me) voided his contract. We don't know where he'll play; it's not hard to imagine he'll land with a worse quarterback than Donovan McNabb. … Mikel Leshoure could be a late-first-round pick in the April draft. I'd like to see him paired with a vulnerable veteran like Cedric Benson or Joseph Addai. I like him a lot. … Maybe Lynch builds on his miraculous playoff scamper against the Saints and reminds us why he was a first-round pick for the Bills a few years back. I mean, the guy turns 25 in April. … Hard not to admire Team 6's young quarterback duo of Sam Bradford and Josh Freeman, considering where they were drafted. … Ivory had a shockingly good rookie year, but his Lisfranc injury and the screw inserted in his ankle don't bode well for a full-time gig. Don't expect the Saints to suddenly get religion when it comes to committing to one rusher. … Jordy Nelson enters the ranks of obvious sleepers after he seemed to bypass butterfingered James Jones during Green Bay's title run.
Team 3 reaches for Ben Tate in the 11th for obvious reasons: if Arian Foster winds up being a trick of the eye, the Texans will likely hand it to Tate a lot. This would clearly be too early for Tate otherwise. … Mike Goodson could be in line for a decent role in a run-heavy Panthers attack if DeAngelo Williams goes elsewhere; Team 8 (who selected Jonathan Stewart) is ticked not to have Goodson last one more spot. … Imagine seeing Steve Smith and Randy Moss as the wraparound picks of the 11th and 12th rounds? The first and second rounds would've seemed more likely as recently as last year. Moss's fate as a late-round gambit is probably sealed. But Smith turns only 32 in May, and a trade from Carolina would shoot him up the draft board. … Ronnie Brown's problems weren't just related to a committee last season. His September was strong, but he lost something after that. It's very unlikely he'll be back with the Dolphins, and it's even unlikelier he'll ever emerge again as a fantasy savior. … Team 5 waited to take Rashad Jennings right about where I think he should go. But for an MJD owner, that was a bold risk. A round earlier might be safer if you take the Jones-Drew plunge. … Team 2's handcuff of Javon Ringer was done more safely.
Watch out for Jerome Simpson's name as a hot sleeper this summer. The former second-rounder ended '10 with two big games, and maybe that sound you heard was the light clicking on. … The man Simpson replaced, Terrell Owens, had much more left in the tank last year than I believed possible, and shouldn't be downgraded because of the knee injury that ruined his fantasy playoffs. That said, he won't be back with the Bengals, and until we know where he lands, I'm back to worrying he'll be a fringe player. … So many questions surrounding Chad Ochocinco. Will we all have to start calling him "Johnson" again? Will he be laboring for a different team? Will Carson Palmer mutiny if he's not? Regardless, The Ocho has lost a deep step. … Is Tebow the Week 1 starter in Denver? There's no way of knowing for now, but there's also no reason to avoid him late in a 10-team draft. There are always other backup options available. … Yeah, I know: Tony Gonzalez in the 15th? That's heresy! He'll be someone's fantasy starter in your league this year, I'm sure. But the end is nigh. … Golden Tate did next to nothing in his disappointing rookie season, but six months out, I'm ready to gamble on his talent in the late rounds. That may change.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner. You can ask him questions at www.facebook.com/writerboy and follow him at www.twitter.com/writerboyESPN.