- Brian Gramling, Fantasy
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Sammy Hagar once sang, "There's only one way to rock," and it's tough to disagree with that statement. However, there are plenty of ways to mock, which was on full display Tuesday, when ESPN.com fantasy experts conducted the second 10-team standard draft, forever referred to as Mock 4.
The speed of the draft -- 160 picks in 55 minutes, roughly 20 seconds per pick -- also made it feel like Mach 4 at times. This latest mock draft took place exactly three months after Mock Draft 1 (May 7), also a 10-team standard league. Mock 2 (June 14) and Mock 3 (July 17) were 12-team drafts.
The cast of characters was mostly the same from May, with Eric Karabell, Stephania Bell, KC Joyner, Shawn Cwalinski, Jim McCormick, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Dave Hunter and Christopher Harris returning and just two replacements -- Keith Lipscomb and me. Although there hasn't been an explosion of major football news to shake up the rankings this summer, there were still plenty of changes to note.
When comparing picks from Mock Draft 1 to Mock Draft 4, nine rising players were chosen at least 20 places higher in the most recent mock: WR Antonio Brown (63 places, 131 to 68), WR Vincent Brown (36 spots), WR Nate Washington (34 spots), RB Stevan Ridley (32 spots), RB Peyton Hillis (29 spots), RB Kevin Smith (29 spots), TE Brandon Pettigrew (25 spots), WR Randy Moss (23 spots) and QB Josh Freeman (20 spots).
On the flip side, four players, plus two defenses, fell at least 25 spots, mostly due to experts waiting to fill positions that were taken by nearly all other drafters. TE Jacob Tamme, Cockcroft's only tight end, fell 37 spots from 90 to 127 in Mock 4, while Peyton Manning (35 spots) and Philip Rivers (26 spots) were the final starting quarterbacks to be drafted. If this were a 12-team draft, there's no way any of these players would have lasted nearly this long. WR Vincent Jackson also fell 20 spots. There were also 22 different picks made in Mock 4 compared to Mock 1.
Below is a breakdown of the draft, which involved a slew of different strategies. You can click here for rosters by team to see which analyst compiled the most potent roster.
Round 1 analysis: No big surprises, other than maybe Joyner taking QB Aaron Rodgers third overall. "I've got Rodgers ranked as the No. 1 overall player in any format," said Joyner. "He's the only truly elite player with zero question marks."
Tom Brady clocked in at No. 6 to McCormick. "I have a similar take on Brady," he said. "The only question marks are how the points are divided up between the receiving targets. While QBs can be found at a value in these staff mocks, Brady presents such certainty."
Round 2 analysis: Just two running backs were picked in Round 2, as most teams nailed down their first pass-catcher. Hunter chose Roddy White 13th overall despite both Andre Johnson and Greg Jennings being on the board. Why? "White is the safest and most consistent WR in the game, plus he gets targeted a ton and doesn't miss games due to injury," Hunter said. "I know some are concerned with Julio Jones cutting into White's production, but I'm not. There will be plenty of offense to go around for both Falcons receivers."
Both monster tight ends went in Round 2, as Jimmy Graham went 17th overall, ahead of his Mock 1 position (24th) and live draft results (20th). The round closed out with Hakeem Nicks at No. 19 and Jennings, who went 11th overall in Mock 1, slipping to Karabell at No. 20. Was Bell's choice of Nicks a reach? "I think Nicks will be overlooked in leagues that are drafting earlier because some will still be spooked by the foot injury, but I am not," said Bell, who explains more in her Nicks injury column. "I expect him to be a top performing receiver and no more of a risk than anyone else who suits up on Sunday [as opposed to a higher-risk player, such as Darren McFadden]."
Round 3 analysis: Seven running backs were taken in this round, and most of these backs carry injury risks. This is especially true for Adrian Peterson, who went to Cockcroft at No. 27. Cockcroft, who dissected all the angles of ACL rehab in his Jamaal Charles Decisions 2012 column, explains: "This might seem like particularly awkward timing. Having just analyzed ACL surgery recoveries in the Charles piece, I'd know as much as anyone about the risks involved with someone like Adrian Peterson. That said, he's 27 years old, was easily one of the top running backs in the game at the time he got hurt and, based upon the construction of my roster, I wanted a higher-upside RB2 and RB3, and I think I accomplished that with Peterson and DeAngelo Williams. I mean, he was the No. 27 player overall, and No. 14 running back, going after question-mark picks in their own rights in Charles, Darren McFadden and Marshawn Lynch. Isn't the chance I got a second-half-of-the-season RB1 worth a third-round pick?" This Ken Daube Decisions column on when to draft Peterson would agree with Cockcroft's logic.
The other hotly debated name in this round was Cam Newton, who went to Hunter on the next pick, seven spots sooner than in Mock 1. "Newton was too good of a value there for me to pass on him. I've been avoiding him in other drafts," said Hunter. He admitted that with Peyton Manning lasting until the final pick of the eighth round, it "makes my Newton pick look like a big mistake."
Round 4 analysis: After Lipscomb drafted his first running back in Fred Jackson, Harris responded with holdout WR Mike Wallace. Harris was not the least bit concerned about Wallace's readiness for the season opener. "In the second week of August, both Wallace and Maurice Jones-Drew [ninth overall pick] are steals where I got them. Holdouts like this rarely end in a player missing time, and these guys are among the most talented players at their positions in the NFL. This is one area where fantasy drafters can take the long view and let their league mates do the panicking."
Wallace wasn't the only receiver who fell 14 spots (from No. 18) from Mock 1 to Mock 4, as A.J. Green, a second-round pick in Mock 1, was chosen 34th by Cockcroft. Bell valued Eli Manning well above the remaining quarterbacks and figured she should pick him here instead of trying to sneak him in later. "I wanted him partly because I already had Hakeem Nicks," she said. "If Manning had gone, I would then have waited much later for my QB."
Round 5 analysis: As owners continued filling out starting positions, there weren't any big surprises. Three players moved up more than 10 spots from Mock 1 -- RB Willis McGahee (15), RB Reggie Bush (12) and WR Marques Colston (11). I took McGahee as my flex because his role appears to be much more defined as Denver's true workhorse. Considering he is 49th in live draft results, taking him at 45 wasn't a stretch, especially with running backs thinning out. Joyner also saw the need to grab his second running back when he took Bush. "I thought about going for a WR/flex at that point, but Bush offered too much value to pass up," he said.
McCormick took Dez Bryant at No. 46, exactly where he was picked in Mock 1. "I didn't envision taking the Dez Dispenser," he said. "Even with the potential suspension, I'll take the potential. He can be maddening, but the upside and draft price seemed appropriate. Also, have you heard he looks great in camp?"
Round 6 analysis: Lipscomb started off this round with a curious pick of Stevan Ridley, 32 picks earlier than Ridley went in Mock 1. Lipscomb had just one running back at the time, but Roy Helu, Ben Tate and Doug Martin were still on the board. Lipscomb didn't see this pick as a big gamble. "With the 18-pick wait following my swing picks, I didn't expect Ridley to be there at 70," he said. "BenJarvus Green-Ellis scored 24 rushing TDs the past two seasons in this powerful offense, so why can't Ridley do the same this season? I think Ridley's a more talented player, so I'm hoping he takes advantage of the opportunity."
Three picks later, Ridley's new teammate, WR Brandon Lloyd, was picked to rave reviews by Cockcroft. "I was surprised Lloyd fell that far [from 42nd in Mock 1], though I admit I'm probably the most pro-Lloyd of this group," Cockcroft said. Maybe not. "I think Lloyd has potential to post numbers close to what Randy Moss posted in 2007," said Joyner. Considering Moss caught 98 passes for 1,493 yards and 23 touchdowns that season, that is certainly high praise.
Cwalinski was the first expert to draft a reserve, taking Doug Martin as his fourth running back. "I rarely take a backup before getting my starters, but Martin was the best player available on the board at the time by a big margin," Cwalinski said. "He is going to be the main back for the Buccaneers and has looked very good in camp. In a normal league, my plan would be to trade a RB for a WR."
Round 7 analysis: The seventh round is usually when owners finish filling out skill position starting roles (1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 Flex, 1 TE), and that's precisely what the majority of the experts did. Four players were chosen at least 15 picks earlier than they were in May: Antonio Brown (63 spots), Peyton Hillis (29 spots), Michael Bush (16 spots) and Jason Witten (15 spots). While Brown was simply a group oversight in May, he is certainly worthy of a seventh-round pick in August, especially with Wallace holding out. As for the others:
McCormick on Hillis: "I thought about other backs, but I just believe Hillis is a better talent and should see a really healthy share of the work in Kansas City. Getting back with his former OC [Brian Daboll] should also help."
Lipscomb on Bush: "I'm clearly hoping that Bush gets his share of touches, including the close-in ones. It was between Shonn Greene and Bush for me, so I went with the guy more likely to score TDs. I just hope Bush gets a greater workload at some point."
Joyner on Witten: "I thought about skipping over a tight end in the seventh, but Witten offers too much value to do that. Three Dallas players [DeMarco Murray, Miles Austin] means a big lineup hole in Week 5, though."
Rounds 8-10 analysis: The start of the reserve rounds included two starting quarterbacks in Round 8, as I chose Philip Rivers 76th overall and Karabell got Peyton Manning at 80. The wait paid off, as we knew the other owners already had their quarterbacks. Karabell and I were perfectly fine with "settling" for either signal-caller. Considering I passed over Tom Brady in Round 1 and had no chance to get Drew Brees or Matthew Stafford in Round 2, I was in no hurry to take another quarterback. When I asked Karabell if he had planned on employing this strategy all along picking from the No. 1 spot, he replied, "I wouldn't say I planned to be the last team to get a quarterback, and it has nothing to do with draft position, but it's a mindset to fill running back and wide receiver early and get depth there then worry about who's throwing the football. And I like the quarterbacks that can be had from Round 7 on."
The ninth round was where the first defense/special teams went, as Joyner grabbed the San Francisco 49ers, three rounds before any other D/ST was drafted. Did he regret his decision? "The 49ers pick was driven by the idea that this D/ST was a starter and therefore worth more than any of the backup players who were on the board at the time," said Joyner. "They are my No. 1-ranked D/ST, and going out on a limb a round early to get that quality of starter seemed a sensible move."
Rounds 11-13 analysis: Cockcroft was steadfast in waiting as long as possible before taking a tight end. With just two owners selecting a backup tight end [Jared Cook to Joyner, Brandon Pettigrew to me], he still ended up with Jacob Tamme in the 13th round, which is not such a bad consolation prize.
Only two D/STs were deemed worthy of a pick in these rounds, as I grabbed the Houston Texans in the 12th when I felt I had sufficient depth at every other position. Hunter took the Baltimore Ravens in the 13th, three rounds and 35 picks later than they were picked in Mock 1. Mike Goodson (No. 110) was the first Mock 4 player that was not picked three months ago. Lipscomb later picked RB Rashad Jennings and WR Randall Cobb at No. 130 and No. 131, respectively. Like Goodson -- who suffered a neck injury a few hours after Lipscomb took him -- neither Jennings nor Cobb was selected in Mock 1. "Admittedly, there is a lot of unknown on this roster, but you're not drafting last year's stats," Lipscomb said. "Doing your best to grab this year's breakouts can go a long way. If things fall the right way, I feel my final two [skill] picks also have the talent to take advantage of opportunities if presented to them. In a 10-team league, where the waiver wire is more plentiful than in deeper formats, I like to pick guys with potential to bust out."
Rounds 14-16 analysis: As the draft wound down with the typical slew of D/STs and final-round kickers, the interesting choices were whom, if any, the backup quarterbacks would be. The biggest name among the experts' No. 2 quarterbacks was Tim Tebow going to Harris in the 14th round. "I simply think Tebow must be taken in any sized draft," Harris said. "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."
McCormick was the lone expert to intentionally avoid drafting a second quarterback behind Brady, remaining consistent from Mock 1 when Peyton Manning was his lone signal-caller. "Given the shallow nature of a 10-team league, I believe suitable backups for a bye week can be found, as guys like Joe Flacco and Alex Smith went undrafted in the May draft," McCormick said. "Given another shot, I'd likely invest in a backup for Peyton, but with Brady, I'd likely just roll the dice and make a wire addition or minor trade for a backup at some point during the season."
Cockcroft chose a TE2 (Brent Celek) in the May mock, leaving Eli Manning as his only quarterback, but he changed his tune in Mock 4, backing up Tony Romo with Carson Palmer. "First mock, the quarterbacks out there stunk," Cockcroft said, "and let's face it, Eli has played every single game for years, while Tony Romo has missed time in the past. No doubt in my mind that Romo's need for an actual backup exceeds Manning's, and I just happened to like Palmer in that final 'real' round (non-K or D/ST rounds) comparative to what else was out there at other positions. In the Eli case, I'd just grab whatever I could find off waivers in-season for his bye week. Frankly, worrying about quarterback bye-week subs is absurd. It's like trying to pick playoff-week matchups or which defenses will rank where in a given year. So much changes, isn't it smarter to draft value to the bench and worry about backups later?"
When asked to compare their Mock 1 teams to their Mock 4 squads, with seven starting skill positions listed, I figured most of the experts would think they had better drafts this time around. But four of the eight chose Mock 1.
Mock 1 (1st pick) -- Vick, Foster, McGahee, A.J. Green, R. White, Gonzalez, S. Smith
Mock 4 (1st pick) -- P. Manning, Foster, Charles, Jennings, Colston, Gonzalez, Sproles
"I definitely like my team from Mock 4 better. Nothing against Vick, but the RB/WR depth on the second team is superior, and it wouldn't shock me if Peyton Manning outscores Vick anyway. When you pick first overall, and it is a joyous thing, you still need a second running back in the Round 2/3 turn."
Mock 1 (9th pick) -- Brees, Forte, F. Jackson, V. Jackson, Colston, V. Davis, Sproles
Mock 4 (2nd pick) -- E. Manning, Rice, S. Jackson, Nicks, S. Smith, V. Davis, De. Thomas
"I like the potential of my Mock 4 team more, but my first team I like for PPR, especially given where my draft position was. In the end, I'd rather field the second team because I think they give me a better chance to win each week. I also like my receivers better on the Mock 4 team."
Mock 1 (8th pick) -- Romo, Chr. Johnson, Mathews, J. Jones, Bowe, A. Hernandez, Richardson
Mock 4 (3rd pick) -- Rodgers, Murray, R. Bush, Welker, J. Nelson, Witten, Austin
"I definitely prefer the team from Mock 1 due to its RB depth. It also reflects one of the oddities of drafting this year -- getting a later pick in the first round is actually preferable to getting an earlier pick. The main reason for that is there are, by my count, 13 QBs/RBs/WRs who are true difference-makers in this year's draft. If a team has an early first-round pick, they will get only one of those players, but a late first-round pick can allow a team to get two of those players."
Mock 1 (2nd pick) -- Stafford, R. Rice, Charles, J. Nelson, Lloyd, F. Davis, Decker
Mock 4 (4th pick) -- Vick, McCoy, McFadden, De. Jackson, T. Smith, Graham, Bradshaw
"I like my Mock 1 team more than Mock 4. The earlier team is more balanced, as I have good RBs and WRs along with a top-five QB. I like my Flex and TE more on the newer team, but I am a little worried about my wide receivers. They should be decent, and could be very good, but could also end up being well below average -- if DeSean Jackson has another season like he did last year."
Mock 1 (5th pick) -- P. Manning, McFadden, Murray, Cal. Johnson, Marshall, Gates, De. Jackson
Mock 4 (6th pick) -- Brady, Richardson, Hillis, Marshall, D. Bryant, Gronkowski, Decker
"It's close, but I'd have to say I like the Mock 1 team more, given that there is more balance on the roster. The Mock 4 team is better at QB and TE, but the Mock 1 team is better in every other regard and had better overall depth. The team from May doesn't have a stat giant at QB like the recent draft with Brady, but there's reasonable expectation for Manning to be a top-10 option. There is more upside at running back in the first team and wide receiver is also better. One common player is Brandon Marshall, who I really like this year in both standard and PPR formats."
Mock 1 (3rd pick) -- E. Manning, McCoy, Helu, M. Wallace, Nicks, Witten, De. Williams
Mock 4 (7th pick) -- Romo, Chr. Johnson, Peterson, A. Johnson, A.J. Green, Tamme, Lloyd
"Mock 4 easily, but I have the advantage of time. Roy Helu, Mike Wallace, Hakeem Nicks -- they all have more questions today than they did then. I also regard this Mock 4 team as more balanced. I'm not terribly worried that I have a weak spot anywhere but potentially TE. In the first mock, I knew my running back depth wasn't great."
Mock 1 (4th pick) -- Rodgers, Lynch, Peterson, Cruz, Maclin, Graham, J. Stewart
Mock 4 (8th pick) -- Newton, Mathews, M. Turner, R. White, A. Brown, Gates, Helu
"Give me Mock 4. Although there is a drop-off at QB with Newton and at TE with Gates [from Graham], the overall balance of the Mock 4 club is key to me. There may not be any superstars here, but it's a solid club that will compete each and every week. There are no real holes with this team."
Mock 1 (6th pick) -- Newton, Jones-Drew, S. Jackson, Fitzgerald, D. Bryant, Finley, R. Bush
Mock 4 (9th pick) -- Stafford, Jones-Drew, Gore, M. Wallace, Harvin, F. Davis, V. Jackson
"They're really close. I guess I'll say I prefer Mock 1 by a whisker, because of advantages at RB2, WR1 and WR2 and TE. It would be very difficult to replicate Mock 1 today, where I got Newton at No. 35 overall. People are coming around to the idea that he's not overvalued in the top 20 overall.
Just like anything in life, the more you practice mocking, the better you get. Not only do you learn from past mistakes, you also figure out where value can be saved. In 10-team leagues, there is enough depth at quarterback and tight end to stockpile running backs and wide receivers. However, with four quarterbacks (Rodgers, Brady, Brees and Stafford) and two stud tight ends (Gronkowski and Graham) worthy of top-20 picks, you could certainly draft one of these monsters and stockpile lesser running backs and wide receivers later. Whatever strategy you decide to go with, always be prepared to adapt. But most importantly, just remember to keep on mocking!
1dMarc Stein and Ramona Shelburne