- Brian Gramling, Fantasy
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Although the 10-team Mock Draft 1 was recently conducted in early May, we decided to mock again on June 14, adding two more analysts to the fold for a fresher look as summer nears. Nine of the participants remained the same: Eric Karabell, Matthew Berry, Christopher Harris, Tristan H. Cockcroft, KC Joyner, AJ Mass, Jim McCormick, Shawn Cwalinski and Dave Hunter. The three newbies to round out the dozen teams were myself, Keith Lipscomb and James Quintong. With 75 percent of the same minds participating, I was worried that the results would be too similar to the first mock and I would be lacking in material to write this column. Luckily, my worries subsided quickly.
When comparing just the first 10 rounds of Mocks 1 and 2 (both 16 rounds based on ESPN.com standard fantasy leagues), there were huge differences in where players were being taken. Steelers WR Antonio Brown was drafted 131st in Mock No. 1 by Mass, but was taken by Mass with his 65th pick in this mock. He explains why below. Thirteen other players also had significant rising stocks, as they were drafted at least 15 spots higher than they were in Mock 1: TE Brandon Pettigrew (54), RB Taiwan Jones (32), WR Michael Floyd (31), RB C.J. Spiller (25), RB Peyton Hillis (23), Chicago Bears D/ST (23), WR Michael Crabtree (21), RB Doug Martin (20), RB Reggie Bush (18), RB James Starks (16), WR Santonio Holmes (16), WR Titus Young (16) and QB Ben Roethlisberger (15).
On the flip side, eight players' draft positions dropped by at least 15 spots from the first mock to the second, with the biggest difference being RB Beanie Wells, who was picked 61st in May and fell to 87th in mid-June. The other seven players on this list were WR Robert Meachem (24), TE Jacob Tamme (23), WR Torrey Smith (22), WR Malcom Floyd (21), WR Vincent Jackson (21), QB Peyton Manning (19) and TE Tony Gonzalez (16).
Below is how the rest of the draft shook down. (You can click here for rosters by team.)
The top five picks did not change at all from Mock 1, and the top eight players taken were the same as last mock, just in a slightly different order from Maurice Jones-Drew No. 6, Tom Brady No. 7 and Chris Johnson No. 8 last month. But the next two picks were RBs Ryan Mathews and Marshawn Lynch, players who jumped up four and seven spots, respectively, from the May mock, moving ahead of Drew Brees and Andre Johnson.
As for why Cwalinski took Lynch instead of other RBs still available: "I took Lynch over Matt Forte because Lynch has a better offensive line and does not have Michael Bush around, not to mention he also has no contract issues. I was going to take Mathews but McCormick took him at No. 9. I am worried about my RBs staying healthy, but I think I mitigated that risk by taking four guys who should be starters for their teams."
Although 11 running backs were selected among the first 17 picks, Quintong chose two receivers with his swing pick. "I wasn't terribly enthralled with the running backs available at that spot in the draft, so why not go for the Nos. 2 and 3 wideouts on the board and worry about the running backs later?" However, the RB talent continued to thin out quickly with four consecutive ball carriers taken, including Jamaal Charles jumping up six spots from Mock 1 and DeMarco Murray moving up eight spots.
Berry, who took Rob Gronkowski (my 16th-round pick in the 2011 Mock Draft 6, toot, toot) 14th overall in Mock 1, stuck to his guns and took Gronk at 21 here. As he said in his Draft Day Manifesto, "Many people question whether Gronkowski's touchdowns are repeatable, and the answer is probably not. But here's the thing: Take away every single touchdown Gronk had last year. Every single one. And he's still the second-highest-scoring fantasy tight end (behind Jimmy Graham)." The one big steal here seemed to be Lipscomb getting Greg Jennings 22nd overall, 11 spots later than he went in Mock 1.
The first admitted monkey wrench was thrown into the draft as Lipscomb, sandwiched between a pair of fantasy hall of famers, had to scramble after Karabell grabbed Jimmy Graham, the guy Lipscomb had pegged for his No. 27 spot. But this isn't Lipscomb's first rodeo, having been playing fantasy football since Earnest Byner's rookie season in 1984 (although he was not able to beat his sixth-grade classmate who drafted Dan Marino). So why did Lipscomb take our draft's first rookie, another Browns running back, Trent Richardson? Again, the lack of RB depth reared its ugly head. "I felt like I had to take a sure starter at RB in Round 3, because it's a long wait (at the No. 3 draft position) and the sure starters would've been gone by the time I picked again."
Three other RBs were picked in Round 3, which allowed a pair of wideouts to slip. Hakeem Nicks (23rd in Mock 1) went 31st and A.J. Green dipped to 33rd (from 20th in Mock 1) to the delight of McCormick, who has Green ahead of both Mike Wallace and Greg Jennings in his personal rankings.
Quintong -- who as you recall, took WRs as his first two picks, then chose Darren Sproles to end the third round -- certainly didn't want to wait two more rounds for his second starting RB. But although Adrian Peterson was still on the board, he opted for Reggie Bush at No. 37 (18 spots before he was taken in Mock 1). Quintong explains: "I will say that I wasn't happy with what was left in the RB pool coming back, but I still got OK value with Sproles and Bush -- at least there's also extra value from their receiving skills. Maybe I should've taken Peterson at that point as a lottery ticket. Although I got a bunch of flex-ish RBs, I also have two stud WRs. I think I can live with that."
Eight WRs went in Round 4, with Peterson the only other RB to be picked in the round. Peterson owner Joyner, who two rounds later took his backup Toby Gerhart, isn't banking on AP to get him 1,500 yards. "Peterson is making great progress in his comeback, but unless he is at 100 percent by the beginning of the season, my gut instinct is that the Vikings will put him on the PUP list. The main reason for that thought is that Gerhart was quite productive in Peterson's place last year and that will give Minnesota the confidence to go with him early in the season and make sure they don't rush their franchise player back. If Peterson can't go, Gerhart will serve as the Purple and Gold bell cow in his absence." Harris, who had just taken "unsexy" back-to-back Jacksons (Steven and Fred) in Rounds 2 and 3, grabbed Michael Vick as his QB. More on Vick later.
I began this round with Philip Rivers because seven QBs were off the board, and although I don't think he's that much better than Tony Romo or Peyton Manning, I felt like I had to get one of these top-10 QBs. Romo, Manning and Matt Ryan were all taken before my next pick, so I feel good about getting Rivers, who hopefully has a healthy Antonio Gates and Ryan Mathews to turn short passes into long gains all year. Seven of the next nine picks were wide receivers, including Harris' third Jackson (Vincent) at No. 53, which provided pretty strong value 21 picks after his No. 32 overall selection in the first mock.
The two running backs taken during the WR run were Willis McGahee (a starter for Cockcroft) and Doug Martin, who Mass took 20 picks earlier than he had done just a month ago. Is he worried that LeGarrette Blount will outperform the rookie in Tampa? "Blount may well have a better season in 2012 than he did in 2011, and if he does, it will be because Martin gets the majority of the carries, keeping Blount fresher far longer. I think this tandem can easily be one analogous to what Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs were in New York, which might mean 1,000-1,200 yards and 8-10 TDs for both."
The owners were quite RB-happy in Round 6, taking nine ball carriers overall. Hunter took C.J. Spiller 25 spots sooner than Berry did in Mock Draft 1 (87th). But that was nothing compared to Mass taking Antonio Brown 66 picks earlier than he had in the first mock. What's the deal, AJ? "I think we all simply missed Brown in Mock 1, but his current ranking is now more accurate of where he'll be picked. I don't think any of my picks were really 'reaches.'"
Karabell finally took his second running back in this round, grabbing Jonathan Stewart. But he wasn't worried. "Running back stinks, and fantasy owners shouldn't make the mistake of reaching too early for an average choice if top wide receivers are available, especially if you can use one at flex," he said. "I view Percy Harvin (flex pick in the fifth round) as a top-20 wide receiver, and didn't like the running back options at that point in the draft." Personally, I admittedly made a reach for Peyton Hillis 23 spots sooner than he went in Mock No. 1 (95th), but only because I didn't see a flex-worthy WR to choose in his stead.
Most teams finished up their most important seven lineup slots here (QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, TE, FLEX), but Hunter broke the D/ST seal with the 49ers at No. 83. He took San Francisco even earlier in Mock 1 (77th), so it wasn't a huge shock. Hunter explains his D/ST love: "The Niners' defense has the ability to win matchups alone for fantasy owners considering all the playmakers they have, led by ILBs NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. They had no real major personnel changes from last season. With the way the draft was going and the risk I had tied up into certain players, I liked the idea of taking the best D off the board much earlier than I normally would."
Karabell was pumped that he got Kenny Britt this late: "I thought Britt slipped really far to me in the seventh round. There's nice upside with him if healthy. If we were playing this out, I'd have wide receiver depth to move." With Tito and Jermaine off the board, Harris took Jackson No. 4, DeSean Jackson, 77th overall. Again, pretty strong value for a guy with insane talent.
Mass took Robert Griffin III in the ninth round ("I wasn't selecting just any backup, I was selecting RG3"), a pick that could have been Harris' second QB. But Harris was very pleased with his selection in Round 9. "I thought about RG3, and if David Wilson hadn't been there in the ninth I'd probably have taken him," he said. "But Ahmad Bradshaw's feet and ankle aren't trustworthy, and I fully expect there to be weeks where the explosive Wilson is carrying the mail in New York, and given my relative dearth of explosiveness in the backfield, Wilson was the pick I needed to make."
Another pick Berry felt he needed to make was grabbing a backup tight end before Lipscomb had his first TE. Berry grabbed one of his favorite sleepers this season, Jared Cook. Lipscomb was surprised with the pick, but he adjusted. "Once Fred Davis went in Round 8, I decided I'd wait longer to take my tight end," he said. "But when I went to make sure I got one of the final three of my top 12 in Round 10, Matthew pulled a surprise on me when he took Cook, since Tamme and Gonzalez went just before him. At that point, I decided I'd just wait until the very end, since the rest of the crew from 13-20 or so are hard to differentiate right now."
Cwalinski went back-to-back M. Floyd WR picks in Rounds 9 & 10: "I have always liked Malcom Floyd and am hoping that this is the year he stays healthy all season. I like Michael too, but he is a clear No. 2 in Arizona and the Cardinals' QB situation is not all that good."
These reserve rounds were uneventful, with owners pretty much filling in RB and WR depth. Eight D/STs came off the boards in these three rounds, as I took the Texans D/ST to start the 11th so I wasn't stuck with a second-tier unit like the Jets, Seahawks or Lions when my next pick came up. Houston did just fine without now-departed Mario Williams last season, and playing in the worst offensive division in football (yes, the NFC West is also poor) will only make the Texans that much more potent for six games this season. I also felt the need to take Kendall Hunter as a handcuff for Frank Gore, who I do not expect to stay injury-free.
Speaking of guys named Hunter, analyst Dave Hunter grabbed free agent Cedric Benson in the 12th, two rounds after drafting Randy Moss and three rounds before he chose Chad Ochocinco. With holdouts Drew Brees and Matt Forte also to be concerned about, is this made-for-"Hard Knocks" fantasy roster worth the off-field headache? "I have confidence Brees and Forte will be ready for the start of the season and my club is extremely risky even before the Justin Blackmon pick (ninth round)," Hunter said. "So I took chances that Benson will latch on somewhere and that the aging duo of Moss and Ochocinco will have something left in the tank."
The biggest notables in the final three rounds were Harris and Cockcroft not taking No. 2 quarterbacks until these waning moments. Harris, who has oft-injured Michael Vick as his starter, chose Tim Tebow as Vick's backup. Does Harris really expect Vick to log 16 games this season? "Make no mistake: I expect Vick will get hurt," he said. "But I didn't draft Tebow necessarily thinking about him as Vick's backup. I simply think Tebow must be taken in any-sized draft. He's my pick to lead the Jets in rushing TDs this season, and he doesn't necessarily need to start many games at QB to do it. They're going to Wildcat it up. If/when Vick gets hurt, I'll deal with it then. I prefer not to carry the No. 14 QB on my roster all year and not use him. I'll have to pick up someone -- Andy Dalton is available now -- or make a trade to replace Vick if I need to."
Cockcroft actually considered not even taking a backup, but eventually settled for Alex Smith in the 14th. "I waited so long on a backup because I don't need a backup: I have a top-five QB in Eli Manning. He hasn't missed a game since 2004, and his stats show a remarkably consistent, every-week starter: he had a point total in 2011 that justified your start 10 times, and only once all year did he have a game that'd have truly sunk you," Cockcroft said.
But what if Eli gets hurt? "Isn't there a chance, really, that any football player gets hurt?" he countered. "Did Tom Brady's owners in 2008 insist upon a backup, in fear he might be lost for the year in Week 1? I didn't and I owned him that year. And I survived by scouring the waiver wire."
When asked to assess their overall thoughts on the draft, most owners predictably were pleased with their results. Most agreed that RBs thinned out quicker than in past years, and all were able to adjust. I also asked each of them to compare 10-team and 12-team drafts, and here were the informative responses:
• Karabell: "I can't say I change my drafting habits at all from mock to mock, whether it's 10- or 12-team. In Mock 1, I was lucky enough to pick first overall and while my first pick was different, it turns out I got Steve Smith later as well. The only difference I see in 10- versus 12-teamers is more of us have running back troubles."
• Lipscomb: "As far as differences between 10- and 12-team leagues, for me it was a big deal at QB, since I like only 11 of them as No. 1s and with so few RBs with the gig to themselves, I feel it's even more important to make sure you get at least one that you like. Drafting early helped a lot. Who knows what I'd have done if I picked at the back end of the round. I might be singing a different tune."
• Berry: "The trends we notice in a 10-teamer are more pronounced in a 12-team league. The lack of sure things or even guys with solid locks on the job at running back thin out even more. The depth at wide receiver becomes more apparent, though, and you'll want to get a stud QB and TE on the earlier side. A 12-team league allows for fewer mistakes. With 10 teams, you can recover more easily from a bad pick because of the depth. Of course, that's true for all your opponents, as well."
• Harris: "The difference between a 10- and 12-teamer is huge, and how you pick in any draft is so dependent on where you're selecting. The worry when a league gets bigger is naturally how thin positions start looking after the first few rounds, especially RBs. But the truth of the matter is that RBs are thin from the middle of the first round on. I know there's lots of excitement about Ryan Mathews and Marshawn Lynch right now, but would anyone be surprised to see them bust? And they went in the first round of this draft!"
• Cockcroft: "The primary differences in 10-team and 12-team leagues are the values of QBs and the approach to drafting defense. Matt Ryan isn't even a starter in a 10-team league -- though I'd argue he perhaps has a place -- but in a 12-team league he's an unquestioned starter, and the No. 12 guy is quite a bit riskier. It makes you realize it's not so bad to reach on a QB in the fourth or fifth -- that's exactly why I took Eli Manning, for whom I'm making a case in the top 40. As for defense, I think the extra two teams justify thinking about the position four to five rounds before draft's end, whereas in 10-team leagues, there's less need to rush."
• Joyner: "The big difference between the mocks is that in the earlier 10-team mock, there were elite running backs available in Rounds 1 and 2, and that's where my picks went. In the second mock, there were 12 teams, and that meant there was not an elite running back available in Round 2. The combination of that and Matthew Stafford being on the board (he was the last of the truly elite QB prospects) made him the most sensible second-round selection for me."
• Mass: "I think in 12-team leagues, you absolutely need to go after RBs before WRs. If I had to do it over again, I might have gone with Ryan Mathews instead of Tom Brady in Round 1. I think I'd rather be drafting at spot No. 6 or 7 than at 8, though if Maurice Jones-Drew had fallen to me, I'd probably feel fine with it. Looking back at the 10-team mock, I see I ended up with six repeat selections, and probably would have had a few more if not for the extra two owners throwing a monkey wrench into the equation."
• McCormick: "If anything, the bigger league demands that you can't wait on the guys you truly want to invest in, especially at tailback where things get thin quickly. I was fine going RB/RB to start given that I knew by my third pick that the options would be thinned out."
• Cwalinski: "Drafting at the 10 slot was tougher than the No. 2 slot, and in the deeper league I wanted to make sure I loaded up on RBs. McCormick and I seem to like a lot of the same players, as he ended up taking the player I wanted one pick before me at least three times during the draft."
• Hunter: "I felt like I was drafting from a defensive standpoint in this 12-team draft, worrying that I was going to get shut out of a position -- and that's exactly what happened at WR with Justin Blackmon as my second wideout."
• Quintong: "Having that turnaround spot in the 12-team draft is both good and bad because you can get two for the price of one, so to speak. Of course, that sometimes means reaching a bit for some players when you know he won't come back and that also means you could have a bunch of players queued up and seeing them all dry up quickly. What was interesting was that toward the middle of the draft, the pool of available RBs and WRs seemed more attractive than slightly earlier in the draft. I suppose having different expectations for a No. 3/4 RB/WR helps."
As for my thoughts, I have never liked having the No. 1 pick, especially in a 12-team analysts' draft, because there is nobody to steal. I had to reach for a bunch of players based on position scarcity.
To sum it up, this draft showed us that RBs will go quickly and are certainly not abundant. Quarterbacks fall off the cliff after the top 11. There is plenty of WR depth out there, so don't reach for them. Gronkowski and Graham will be taken in the first three rounds, so plan accordingly. No kicker is worth picking before the final round. Defenses will go quicker in 12-team leagues with very few elite fantasy D/STs in the pass-happy league. And finally, you just can't have too many Jacksons!
Brian Gramling details the ESPN fantasy football analysts' second mock draft, which features 12 teams and standard scoring.