- AJ Mass, Rumor Central
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Every league is different. Some people play in casual eight-teamers where every owner leaves the draft with a Pro Bowl-caliber lineup and an equally talented bench. Others choose to partake in unfathomably deep 16-team affairs, where the final rounds are used to stock up on backup tight ends and fourth-string running backs. And that's before we get into the millions of different scoring systems you can adopt to decide who beats who.
There's no way for us here at ESPN.com to provide a mock draft for each and every possible variation on the fantasy football theme, but that doesn't mean that every mock has to be exactly the same, either. For this latest free-for-all, we definitely threw a few extra wrinkles into the mix from the usual ESPN standard rules.
This 10-team draft, held on Aug. 22, was a PPR (point-per-reception) league that required each team to start two quarterbacks in each week's lineup. Additionally, for the flex spot, we allowed for a tight end to be included in the mix (instead of just a running back or wide receiver). How did those changes affect the draft results? Read on, and you shall see!
The participants for this exercise, in first-round order, determined at random were: Dave Hunter, Christopher Harris, James Quintong, Matthew Berry, Brendan Roberts, myself, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Shawn Cwalinski, Jim McCormick and Keith Lipscomb. You can see each participant's final roster by clicking here.
According to overall ADP, you should typically expect to see seven running backs and two QBs taken in the first round. Clearly, in this format, the impact of needing to select two quarterbacks over 18 rounds increased the velocity at which they started flying off the board.
Four signal-callers went in the first 10 picks, including Michael Vick at No. 1, taken by Hunter. He explains: "Some already argue Vick as the No. 1 player in fantasy in standard leagues, but in a two-QB league? It's a no-brainer for me."
Cockcroft has a lot of experience in this format, having played in a nine-team, two-QB league for over a decade. He says this type of drafting is to be expected. "I can't recall a single season in which fewer than eight quarterbacks went off the board in the first two rounds. I outright refuse to get out of the second round without a quarterback; the guy who does is usually the one who regrets it."
Tristan couldn't believe that Aaron Rodgers didn't go sooner than No. 7, and I was considering him hard at No. 6. There were four owners selecting over the eight picks in between my first- and second-round selections, and six "top-tier" quarterbacks remaining. One of them was surely going to survive until my next pick. Meanwhile, the drop-off after Ray Rice and Chris Johnson was a lot steeper in my opinion. Given that it is a PPR, and combined with Chris Johnson's holdout, I went with Rice.
Andre Johnson is the first wide receiver taken off the board, with the No. 12 pick. This is a huge difference from our last PPR mock, when Johnson was taken at No. 7, along with three other receivers in the first 12 picks.
Quintong, who went with Adrian Peterson in Round 1 and Hakeem Nicks here in Round 2, was happy with his team's foundation. "I think some of the QBs might have been over-drafted a bit because of the league setup. I feel fine trying to load up on RBs and WRs instead."
Whatever your strategy coming into a draft may be, whether you find success with it depends on how many others are planning to use the same tactics. My initial plans almost backfired, as Cwalinski went QB-QB at the top of the draft, following up Drew Brees with Tony Romo in Round 2. "My goal was to get my quarterbacks with my first two picks. I expected them to fly off the board and the elite guys were indeed all gone by the Round 2."
Thankfully, Cwalinski was the only owner picking behind me to adopt this strategy, and I was still able to claim Peyton Manning here. Given his injury woes, I was hoping for Tom Brady to fall to me here. Still, to take Tony Dungy's comments one step further, even a Zombie Peyton Manning is going to give me 250 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1.
After only eight running backs were selected in the first two rounds, it was not surprising that six of them went over the course of the ten third-round picks. Quintong wasn't thrilled with his pick: "I probably regret the Michael Turner pick as my second RB, given his lack of pass-catching ability, especially with guys like Matt Forte still on the board." Still, at least he had a pair of solid starters at the position.
I still hadn't grabbed a wide receiver, and this was the point where I had a big decision to make. I could grab one here and catch up with all the other teams that had already taken their first WR, or I could be ahead of the curve, grabbing a second RB here (Peyton Hillis) and then following up in Round 4 with Antonio Gates and then my second QB in Round 5.
I initially considered Schaub or Roethlisberger here, but both have the same bye week (Week 11) as Peyton Manning, and didn't want a nightmare "both QBs off" week to deal with. With a pool of only 32 starters to choose from, you absolutely don't want to be stuck needing to scramble for two replacements in the same week.
When Cwalinski opted for Mike Wallace, it set off a chain reaction of re-thinking on the fly. Cockcroft was all set to grab Wallace, but once he was gone, he debated between Dallas Clark and Antonio Gates before ultimately grabbing Gates.
I, of course, had Gates all queued up -- but quickly had to hide the customized jersey with his name on it. Because this league was allowing for the flex player to be a tight end, I feared once the seal had been broken at the position, there would be a run on the top guys. I would have taken Clark myself, but I don't like double-dipping if there are players of comparable value still out there, which is why I grabbed Jason Witten here instead.
Strangely enough, the tight end feeding frenzy didn't happen, with only Clark and Jermichael Finley taken off the board in the next few picks, and only two more gone by the end of Round 8. As Lipscomb put it, flexibility in the flex spot didn't change things for him. "It wasn't a factor for me, because I was still trying to fill out my starting lineup by the time the top TEs came off the board. I like the overall depth at the position, so if my starter were to go down, I still think I'd be able to find a worthwhile replacement on the wire."
In some ways, I agree with him. In a PPR league, you shouldn't worry about comparing apples to oranges. While tight ends are certainly worth more relative to running backs in this scoring format, in terms of their relative rank with each other, the tiers remain essentially unchanged.
Hunter says he had difficulty deciding between Jermichael Finley and Dez Bryant with this pick: "I have slight regret for not snagging Bryant considering I needed a second WR at the time, but Finley is a top-three TE for me this season and someone who will get plenty of looks from Rodgers."
Here's where the two-QB format started to factor in again. Whereas in standard leagues, most teams wouldn't dream of grabbing a second QB this early, trumping a team that has not yet pulled the trigger on even its first one can immediately put your squad into a much stronger position. Berry, Cockcroft and I all filled our "extra" lineup need here, perhaps catching some other owners off guard.
Roberts was ready to wait, but even he had to adjust a bit after this round and the next. "Obviously, you want to get your quarterbacks earlier, but I find if you take the extreme counterapproach, it sometimes can work very well. While others were focusing on quarterbacks in the early rounds, I figured I'd take the best RBs and WRs money can buy, but when there was the run of quarterbacks, it pushed me to grab what was left."
I finally grabbed my first wide receiver, settling for Percy Harvin when Lipscomb grabbed the coveted Wes Welker. Had I to do it over again, I'd have taken Welker in Round 5 and tried to see if Eli Manning was still there in Round 6.
As you can see, waiting on wide receiver to draft other needs isn't necessarily going to hurt you, as Brandon Lloyd, Marques Colston, Jeremy Maclin and Santonio Holmes all went off the board within about 10 spots of their overall ADP in ESPN leagues.
Several owners who had passed on the elite QBs in the first few rounds opted to fill both spots with this tier of arms. Quintong went with Josh Freeman and Sam Bradford. Harris chose Joe Flacco and Matthew Stafford.
It's always interesting when back-to-back slots in a draft are seemingly using the same strategy, and when you find that happening, it's hard to avoid the temptation to reach for a player just so the other guy won't steal him. However, both experts stuck to their guns here and went for need.
I then went with Beanie Wells in Round 8. Since Ryan Williams suffered a season-ending injury, Wells' value has skyrocketed past the yet-to-be-taken Ryan Mathews and Fred Jackson, making him too good a value to pass on here. The next two players on my personal draft board at the time were Austin Collie and Mario Manningham. Both would have been "double-dips" for me, so I'm not too sorry to miss out, but had Wells not been available, I would have overlooked that factor and pulled the trigger anyway.
Lipscomb was happy to get Owen Daniels here, especially since he thought the inclusion of tight end in the flex spot might have caused more TEs to go off the board by now. As Cockcroft points out, "This position is deep enough that you can reasonably consider using two TEs in weeks where the byes hit you hardest." So rest assured, Daniels was not likely making it out of this round, regardless.
The top pair of rookie runners went back-to-back in Round 8, which speaks to the lack of running backs who are expected to get 15-20 touches per game as well as the relative depth of the position. Meanwhile, their neophyte WR counterparts Julio Jones and A.J. Green wouldn't get picked until Round 12.
In my opinion, wide receiver is deep enough to wait on in a PPR league. As such, I went for Matt Cassel to fill my third QB spot. I'd rather have a guy who is locked in as a starter here than wait until one of the Manning brothers has a bye week to compete for the best available waiver-wire choice. There's always a chance there might not be one. Why risk it, especially if Zombie Peyton truly ends up being one of the Walking Dead?
Jonathan Stewart has clearly fallen out of favor with our group, dropping all the way to pick No. 79, which seems like a steep decline off his ADP of 51.3, even given the two-QB factor. He goes just ahead of a Round 9 running back run, with lots of other "time shares" like Mike Tolbert, C.J. Spiller and the enigmatic Tim Hightower, who could be a steal for Cwalinski if he ends up carrying the load in Washington.
For me, I went with Sidney Rice, the likeliest candidate for fantasy points in Seattle, for what that's worth. My plan is to try to load up on a lot of veteran WRs over the next few rounds, in the hopes that at least one pans out.
In Round 10, Lipscomb says he was going to take Plaxico Burress, but felt he needed depth at RB more. Hence, the Reggie Bush pick, which certainly makes sense in a PPR. Cockcroft nabs Lance Moore from me, which I believe makes this the first mock in which I didn't grab him. I counter with Davone Bess, who may disappear for weeks at a time, but could get you a 10-catch game on any given Sunday, even with Chad Henne under center. I'll buy that lottery ticket.
Round 11 sees Quintong grabbing Burress, and a lot more of those secondary RBs. My pick of Braylon Edwards shows you can still get a potential top-40 wide receiver this deep in a draft of this nature. Again, there's no need to go nuts early and go WR-WR-WR.
I was going to go with Darren Sproles in Round 12, but McCormick beat me to him. As Cwalinski so astutely points out, "We have all done multiple drafts together so we have a very good sense of when you have to take a player to get him." That's why I knew that although Jacquizz Rodgers was a bit of a reach here, it was probably now or never, and I think he'll end up being more of a part of the Atlanta offense, at least in the passing game, than Jason Snelling will by the end of the season.
At this point, I was all set to continue my strategy of "leading the way" and was about to break the seal on D/ST selections when Roberts beat me to the punch, ending the dangerous game of cat and mouse many owners were likely playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers. "I nearly took them TWO rounds earlier," Roberts explains, "With two quarterbacks and the adding of a point per reception for everyone else, D/STs are devalued."
The floodgates didn't exactly open up after that, but I continued a mini-run of three D/STs with my second choice, the New York Jets, which was followed by Cockcroft's selection of the Green Bay Packers. Another three D/ST would go in Round 13, covering that lineup spot for over half the league in a 15-pick span.
The remaining quarterbacks started to go off the board as this draft started to head steadily towards its conclusion: Ryan Fitzpatrick, Chad Henne and Matt Hasselbeck might not be drafted at all in other formats, but here in a two-QB, even these guys get a chance to go to the metaphorical podium.
Running backs at this point of the draft are down to the handcuff neck of the woods, names like Stevan Ridley and Javon Ringer. Generally speaking, handcuffs are guys who won't do much unless injuries strike. But in, say, a Bill Belichick multi-headed RB offense, or in Tennessee, with a protracted holdout already in progress, you never know.
Rounding out this mock draft, I took Hines Ward and Nate Burleson, once again showing how deep the position can be. Mike Sims-Walker and Michael Crabtree, for example, were both top-50 scorers in ESPN standard league last season, and the Seattle Seahawks' Mike Williams also finished in the top 50 in PPR leagues.
Kickers were an afterthought, as usual, and the last round was where nine of ten teams grabbed theirs, save for Cwalinski, who "reached" for the guy he wanted (Nate Kaeding) one round early.
In the end, with Brent Celek and Jared Cook going in the end game, only five teams chose to take a second tight end on the roster, while nine of 10 owners made sure to grab a third QB. So I'll leave you with these words of wisdom: If the prospect of Andy Dalton, Tarvaris Jackson or John Beck subbing in for your bye-week passing game doesn't appeal to you, then you know what you need to do when the number of QBs you start is two.
Many quarterbacks were drafted early in a 10-team, 2-quarterback, point-per-reception mock draft.