Commentary

Four drafts, one afternoon

TMR spent Thursday afternoon the best way possible: drafting fantasy football teams

Updated: September 4, 2009, 4:24 PM ET
By Matthew Berry | ESPN.com

The Talented Mr. Roto

There is theory, and there is reality.

In theory, I could play college football. I still have my eligibility, and at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, I can take a hit. In reality, I breathe heavily when I have to walk up four flights of stairs.

In theory, I'm recognized as a TV personality. In reality, I never get recognized by women. In theory, I'm losing my hair, so I don't have to worry about being prematurely gray. In reality, I still have to dye what's left of my hair because, realistically speaking, I'm a total narcissist.

Theory is great, but it's reality that matters.

When it comes to fantasy football, the theory is you should take a running back in the first round. Or a quarterback. Or a wide receiver. There are actually a bunch of strategies in use out there, many of them having charts and statistics and, if I ran the world, all with a picture of a blindfolded monkey with a bottle of Jack. Listen, if I've said it once, I've said it a million times: The only thing funnier than a drunk monkey is two drunk monkeys.

So instead of waxing on about theory, I decided to put it into practice. Out of the textbook and into the lab, so to speak. Get my hands dirty. Really dig deep into research and practical applications. Or at worst kill an afternoon.

The premise was simple. Thanks to our super-cool, 100-percent-free Mock Draft (and Mock Auction!) Lobby, you can practice drafting, and with a first-round pick from anywhere you want.

I wanted pick No. 6, since popular opinion these days suggests the top five, in no particular order, are Adrian Peterson, Michael Turner, Matt Forte, Maurice Jones-Drew and -- thanks to the continued injured status of Jonathan Stewart -- DeAngelo Williams.

Pick No. 6 is where the questions begin. Does LaDainian Tomlinson have another great year left in his tank? Can Steven Jackson stay healthy? Should I go quarterback and grab one of the two clear-cut elite guys, Drew Brees or Tom Brady? Everyone keeps talking about the year of the wide receiver. But is the sixth pick too early for Larry Fitzgerald?

To answer this question, it was clear I was going to have to spend an afternoon mock-drafting, listening to my iPod and sending e-mails to all my buddies. "Guess what I'm doing at work? And it's my job. Hahahahahaha!"

Yeah, I'm losing friends quickly.

My premise was simple: Do four mock drafts, all at the same time. In each one, have pick No. 6. Pick a quarterback in the first round in one of them, a running back first in another, a wide receiver first in the third and then let the computer do the work and go auto-draft for the fourth. What do the teams end up looking like in each scenario?

Note that all these leagues are 10-team leagues with standard ESPN scoring. That means no PPR, four points per touchdown pass, two RBs, two WRs and a flex (RB/WR) spot. I used my own top-200 rankings to grab the best available player, including the best QB, RB or WR in Round 1.

Because I used my rankings, and I'm higher (and lower) on specific players than our default rankings, I ended up with a lot of the same players: Marshawn Lynch, Tony Romo, Julius Jones, Leon Washington, Roddy White, Zach Miller, Glen Coffee and a handcuff to whatever elite running back I ended up with. That has happened a lot in both mock and real drafts these past few weeks.

My draft strategy in 10-team leagues is basically this: I will get an elite quarterback no lower than, say, Tony Romo. As a result, other than injury or bye weeks, I'm starting Romo, Brees, Brady, Aaron Rodgers, etc. every single week. I'm just not gonna bench them, OK? There will never be a week in which it would be a good idea to bench a stud quarterback. There just won't be. And if they suffer a bad injury, I'm toast anyway. But for a minor injury or bye week, there are always guys on the waiver wire who can be solid. That means I draft just one quarterback.

Anyone who has read my Draft Day Manifesto knows I believe kickers and defenses to be interchangeable, so I draft them in the final two rounds and just replace them on bye weeks. As for the tight end position, I feel it is super-deep this year. As a result, I tend to wait on tight end, get a top-10 guy with upside somewhere in the Round 8-12 area and be done with it. There's no reason to carry multiple tight ends this year since tons of good tight ends are not even being drafted.

Fred Jackson
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesAs long as you get Fred Jackson to go along with your Marshawn Lynch pick, you're golden.

That means I basically load up on running backs and wide receivers on my bench. The guys that will break through and be big producers the way DeAngelo Williams, Matt Forte and Eddie Royal were last year are going to come from either a running back or a wide receiver slot. I don't know who those guys will be, and neither do you. But I do know it'll be a running back or wide receiver, so I want as many of those lottery tickets as possible.

One thing I did do, however, was reach for handcuffs, especially Fred Jackson in leagues in which I wound up with Lynch. Because I am going so deep on running backs and wide receivers on my bench, I can afford to draft a player such as Jackson a bit early, just to make sure I lock him up.

So on Thursday at around 2 p.m. ET, I entered two different mock rooms. I then entered two more around 3:30 p.m. ET. And here's how the drafts went, with the round in which I took the player in parentheses. Also, I've set them in what I think will be the ideal starting lineup. (Obviously, Lynch is suspended the first three games … but assuming everyone else is healthy and active, this is what it would look like.)

Philadelphia Mock Draft 750547: The "QB-in-the-first-round" draft

QB: Drew Brees, Saints (First round)
RB: Steven Jackson, Rams (2)
RB: Marshawn Lynch, Bills (5)
WR: Roddy White, Falcons (3)
WR: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks (4)
RB/WR: Ray Rice, Ravens (6)
TE: Zach Miller, Raiders (11)
D/ST: Bears (15)
K: Mason Crosby, Packers (16)

Bench: Bernard Berrian, Vikings (7)
Bench: Fred Jackson, Bills (8)
Bench: Felix Jones, Cowboys (9)
Bench: Donald Driver, Packers (10)
Bench: Josh Morgan, 49ers (12)
Bench: Leon Washington, Jets (13)
Bench: Samkon Gado, Rams (14)

Notes: "Are you really Matthew Berry?" asks Team Elsa. "Yes," I respond. They don't believe it. So I promised to give them a shout-out in today's column to prove it. Team Fox notes that "The first round didn't go like I expect," and that's a good lesson. No matter how many mock drafts you take part in, your draft never goes like you expect. The point is, though, that if you do enough of them, you get experienced enough that no scenario will throw you off.

I finally convince them that it is, in fact, me. Team Mowery remarks, "Cool. I like you, but you are no Bill Simmons."

Tom Brady was taken with the fourth pick in this draft. I had Brees as my No. 1 QB, so it didn't matter, but this was the only draft of the four that had both quarterbacks go in the top six. I love this team, and was shocked that Jackson fell to me in the second round. Health is a concern for Jackson, of course, but grabbing his handcuff, Samkon Gado, in Round 14 helps.

Because I went WR/WR in Rounds 3 and 4, I grabbed Lynch because he was the last guy left that is guaranteed the majority of the carries for a team. Then I made sure to grab Jackson, even if I reached a little bit. The Lynch suspension hurts, but seriously, if you grab the Jackson/Lynch combo, you're getting a tandem that would have been 14th among running backs last season in fantasy scoring with 173 points. Same as Frank Gore, by comparison. Remember, in Jackson's one start last year, he had 136 yards against the Patriots. One last note: There was one auto-drafter for this league.

Tennessee Mock Draft 740633: The "RB-first" draft

QB: Tony Romo, Cowboys (4)
RB: LaDainian Tomlinson, Chargers (1)
RB: Pierre Thomas, Saints (3)
WR: Greg Jennings, Packers (2)
WR: Vincent Jackson, Chargers (5)
RB/WR: Ahmad Bradshaw (6)
TE: Greg Olsen, Bears (8)
D/ST: Tampa Bay (15)
K: Kris Brown, Texans (16)

Bench: Darren Sproles, Chargers (7)
Bench: Torry Holt, Jaguars (9)
Bench: Julius Jones, Seahawks (10)
Bench: Willis McGahee, Ravens (11)
Bench: Glen Coffee, 49ers (12)
Bench: Earl Bennett, Bears (13)
Bench: Mike Bell, Saints (14)

Notes: The first five picks were all the running backs you'd expect to be taken (the ones mentioned above), so it ended up playing out perfectly. As I made my way through this draft, Team Sircan notes, "Wow, you don't care about bye weeks, do you?"

And he's right. Obviously, Tomlinson and Vincent Jackson have the same bye weeks, but Pierre Thomas, Greg Jennings, Greg Olsen, Mike Bell and Earl Bennett also have Week 5 off. I respond confirming this: I don't care. I'm taking the best player available and not worrying about it. This is a point Nate Ravitz and I have discussed on our Fantasy Focus podcast. Statistically, you are better off having every player have the same bye week. Yes, you take it on the chin in one week, but then you are at full strength the rest of the way playing against teams that are always down a player or two.

Finally, while I got some "sexy" sleepers in Coffee and Bennett, I also felt I got nice values with my Holt, Julius Jones and Willis McGahee picks. The fantasy deaths of these guys are greatly exaggerated. Will they be great? No. But they will be productive and, in the case of Holt and Jones, touch the ball a lot more than you think. With Thomas' MCL sprain, I think Mike Bell is a must-own handcuff for any Pierre Thomas owner. And Ahmad Bradshaw will have over 1,200 total yards this year with the chance for even more if Jacobs goes down. Bradshaw is another non-sexy but very undervalued name this year.

Oakland Mock Draft 745744: The "WR-first" draft

QB: Tony Romo, Cowboys (5)
RB: Steve Slaton, Texans (2)
RB: Clinton Portis, Redskins (3)
WR: Calvin Johnson, Lions (1)
WR: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Seahawks (4)
RB/WR: Marshawn Lynch, Bills (6)
TE: Visanthe Shiancoe, Vikings (14)
D/ST: Bears (15)
K: Mason Crosby, Packers (16)

Bench: Larry Johnson, Chiefs (7, autodrafted)
Bench: Fred Jackson, Bills (8)
Bench: Derrick Mason, Titans (9)
Bench: Devin Hester, Bears (10)
Bench: Julius Jones, Seahawks (11)
Bench: Glen Coffee, 49ers (12)
Bench: Leon Washington, Jets (13)

Notes: All wide receivers were available when I picked in the first round, but I have Calvin as my No. 1. (The reason for that, by the way, is in my 100 Facts column.) And this was another draft in which Lynch fell too far, and I was shocked I got Slaton with the 14th pick. This is me not being too worried about Chris Brown vulturing scores.

Nothing really remarkable to note about this draft, except that, as I mentioned, I was doing two at the same time and flipping between rooms. I got to chatting in one and missed my seventh-round pick in this one, which is how I wound up with Larry Johnson. I don't hate him in the seventh, but I would have rather had Jonathan Stewart, Cedric Benson or Chris "Beanie" Wells, all of whom were available at that pick.

I also decided that for this draft, my third of the day, I'd wait as long as possible to grab a tight end and see who I wound up with. Shiancoe had seven scores last year, and Favre threw nine scores to his tight end two years ago (the last time he was in a similar offense). Shiancoe will be just fine.

When presented with my name and asked if I am the "real Matthew Berry," Team McDonough says "I don't buy it" before trying to set me up with his sister, a swimsuit model who plays fantasy football. Now it's my turn to say I don't buy it. Team J Harris is not the "SportsCenter" anchor, he assures me (thanks for the heads-up), then wonders if I will put him in my column.

Minnesota Mock Draft 751531: The "Auto-Draft"

QB: Philip Rivers, Chargers (5)
RB: Michael Turner, Falcons (1)
RB: Steven Jackson, Rams (2)
WR: Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs (4)
WR: Roy E. Williams, Cowboys (6)
RB/WR: Marion Barber, Cowboys (3)
TE: Greg Olsen, Bears (10)
D/ST: Jets (13)
K: Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots (15)

Bench: Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (7)
Bench: Donovan McNabb, Eagles (8)
Bench: Chris Wells, Cardinals (9)
Bench: Eli Manning, Giants (11)
Bench: Ted Ginn Jr., Dolphins (12)
Bench: Kevin Curtis, Eagles (14)
Bench: Jason Campbell, Redskins (16)

Notes: Only note about this one, since it was auto-drafted, is that it's a better team than I would have thought. I obviously wouldn't have drafted three quarterbacks (and definitely not Eli), but overall, it's not a terrible team. I can't believe Turner fell to six, and for those of you who have friends that are doing fantasy for the first time and don't have time to prepare for the draft, just tell them to just use the default rankings whenever it's their turn. They will wind up with a decent squad.

What's your favorite team? Personally, my favorite is the "WR-first" team, but they all are pretty close. Cast your vote in the conversation page for which team you would like to own.

I encourage you to try out the mock draft lobby. Practice makes perfect, reality is better than theory and, as Team Yoo in the Philadelphia league noted, "Nothing goes with an early-afternoon mock like a cold brewski."

Matthew Berry -- The Talented Mr. Roto -- is the creator of RotoPass.com, a Web site that combines a bunch of well-known fantasy sites, including ESPN Insider, for one low price. Use promo code ESPN for 10 percent off. Cyberstalk the TMR | Be his Cyberfriend

• Senior Fantasy analyst for ESPN
• Member, FSWA and FSTA Halls of Fame
• Best-selling author of "Fantasy Life"

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