- Shawn Peters
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You're running out of time.
I know, the season hasn't even started yet, so you might think you have all the time in the world. If time were thyme, you'd have more of the spice than you'd know what to do with, right? Sorry, but that's not true.
You see, the Giants and the Redskins play Thursday, kicking off the 2008 NFL season, at which point, all your preseason projections, cheat sheets and rankings go out the window. Suddenly, pesky little details like in-game injuries, red-zone touches and actual yardage accumulated will get in the way of all that theoretical stuff.
In short, you'll have to start making trade offers based at least partly on what a player actually has done this year, and that's a whole different ball of statistical wax.
But right now, you still have a shot at pulling off deals and steals using all the preseason noise and speculation that have been raging all summer. Most importantly, where a player was drafted still has meaning, and that's where you can make some of your best preseason deals.
Casing the joint
Unless this is your first Roto rodeo, you've heard the term ADP, which is short for Average Draft Position. It's a statistic that averages the results of multiple fantasy football drafts and shows where each player is being taken. In fact, ESPN.com has a free, updated live draft results (ADP) page that you probably haven't looked at since you drafted your team.
But ADP still has use for the trade-addicted footballer between the draft and the start of the season. The key is to compare ADP with your own personal cheat sheets and find places where they differ.
For example, I believe Andre Johnson once again will be a strong fantasy receiver this season, and I have Anquan Boldin not all that far behind him. I'm a big fan of players who have something to prove, and Boldin wants to get paid. However, a quick glance at ESPN.com's ADP rankings reveals that Johnson, with an ADP of 25.1, is going in the middle of the third round in the average league, while Boldin (50.7) is being selected at the end of the fifth or early in the sixth round. That's a huge gap, indicating that there is a massive difference in the two receivers' perceived value. Thus, I'd be looking to deal Johnson and my third running back for Boldin and the other guy's second-best runner, which, according to my rankings, would be an overall upgrade for my squad.
The other way to use draft results to get preseason steals: See how far down a player you liked fell. Let's say it was your pick, and you had a tough time deciding between two players. You picked one, but the one you did not pick fell another round or two before being selected. For example, I like both Donovan McNabb and Jay Cutler, and I had trouble deciding between them in drafts. But according to recent ADP reports, McNabb (56.8) is going at least a round earlier than Cutler (67.6) in the average draft, and that gap could be even wider in 10-team leagues in which Cutler could be the last starting quarterback taken. Still, if those two players were close enough in your mind to be a near toss-up, why not turn around and offer McNabb for Cutler and an upgrade elsewhere?
Paying attention to where players went in average drafts and your own draft will suggest ways to find preseason upgrades right away, but as soon as the games start, draft position won't matter. Like I said, time is running out.
Three I'm stealing
David Garrard, QB, Jaguars: I'm not even that high on Garrard, and yet, I can see people are sleeping on him like he's a memory-foam mattress. I'm not saying I'd want Garrard as my every-week starter in a 10-team league, but give the guy some respect. He returned from injury in 2007 and averaged just shy of 17 fantasy points per game in his final six weeks of the regular season before sitting out Week 17, as many playoff-bound quarterbacks do. During that stretch, Garrard was a model of consistency, posting multiple touchdowns in all but one game while never throwing more than one interception. One might expect him to be a little better this year because he begins the season as the starter, but even if does what he did last year, he deserves to be coveted.
Edgerrin James, RB, Cardinals: Apparently, people think the number 30 is bigger than the number 1,232. The first number is James' age, while the second is the number of yards James rushed for during his "mediocre" 2007 season. Are you kidding? James is being drafted as a third running back with an ADP of 45.6, making him the 23rd back off the board in the average ESPN.com league. However, he's exactly the kind of rock-solid second option I'd want, since he's the unquestioned starter in a good offense, no matter how much heat rookie Tim Hightower is generating. See what it'll take to get him from an owner who pictures him as a flex option.
Jerricho Cotchery, WR, Jets: When Brett Favre shows up in your locker room and you're a receiver, you become friends with him. It's not strategy; it's logic. Well, Cotchery and Favre already have a vibe working, and while I don't expect Favre to repeat his 2007 success, he's still good for 340 completions and 20 touchdown passes. There's no reason Cotchery won't see close to half of those scores if he tops the 80-reception mark again in 2008. That makes him a strong second receiver, rather than the shaky third option he's being drafted as. As long as his owner isn't a Jets fan, Cotchery should be obtainable without breaking the bank.
Three I'm dealing
Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders: The next Adrian Peterson? I guess it's possible, but Peterson went to a team with a stout offensive line that already had proved it could make a star out of a journeyman when Chester Taylor rushed for 1,216 yards in 2006. Also, the Vikings had a top-tier defense, all but guaranteeing them the opportunity to run the ball for four quarters in every game. McFadden is competing with Justin Fargas and Michael Bush, two other young runners who have real upside, and he's playing on a team that figures to be trailing early and often. I do believe he'll be the primary ball carrier by the end of the year, but I think you need more immediate results from a guy who is being drafted as a No. 2 back.
Andre Johnson, WR, Texans: In case you didn't get the hint earlier, I think Johnson is going too early as people do the old "imagine what he'll do over 16 games" speculation. That's fine, but he has averaged fewer than 13 games per year over the past three seasons and never has finished in the top 15 receivers in terms of fantasy points. You probably used a third-round pick to get him and left proven guys like T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Marques Colston on the board. I'd see if either is available in a deal, because Johnson's groin already was acting up early in camp, and while I see him as a solid top-12 receiver, the perception of him as a top-six route-runner means there is value to be had.
Tony Scheffler, TE, Broncos: I'm not saying my Talented Mr. Bossman is wrong about Scheffler being a great sleeper this year; I'm just saying that enough of you have listened that he is no longer a sleeper. Instead, he's being drafted like he's a sure thing. Scheffler has been the eighth tight end off the board in ESPN leagues, right at the beginning of the 10th round. Of course, Scheffler must contend with Daniel Graham, who never leaves the field because he's a good receiver and a brilliant blocker. Yes, Scheffler likely will be Cutler's second-favorite target behind Brandon Marshall, but I'll still take my chances with Jeremy Shockey or the very Berry-maligned Vernon Davis, both of whom have no real competition for their quarterback's love on the tight end front.
Pulling the job
Haven't pulled any deals yet. I'm still in the process of assembling my plethora of public teams so I can be trading all season long.
But that doesn't mean you should wait. It's never too early to steal your league.
Shawn Peters is a fantasy baseball, football and golf analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him your own grand theft rotos by clicking here.
As Shawn Peters notes, there are trades to be schemed even in Week 1. He tells owners how to use the Average Draft Picks page to their advantage.