- Eric Karabell, ESPN.com Senior Writer
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One mock draft wasn't enough. With preseason games under way, it was time for the ESPN Fantasy staff to go mocking again and see what had changed since July 22, when we first officially mocked. Back then our draft seemed mostly devoid of big surprises, but with nearly a month of news, research and adjusted opinions, the thinking was this new mock draft on Aug. 17 would be different and indicate trends to watch in your leagues.
First, let's go over some basics: We again featured 10 drafting teams using standard ESPN scoring, which is four points per touchdown pass, six points for rushing and receiving touchdowns, zero points for receptions, roster size of 16 and two active running backs and wide receivers, with one RB/WR flex. As always, we offer the mock drafts as insight to what we were thinking in building a team we intend to play out, but our strategies are hardly the only ones we use.
It's interesting to note the changes that occurred from one mock draft to the next, so they will be pointed out after each round, as well as thoughts on whom I drafted and why, what others did that was noteworthy and some of the chatter that went on. If you didn't like some of the picks, so be it. Hey, I saw players drafted in spots with which I didn't agree. Try a few mock drafts for yourself and see how your own opinions adjust.
The drafters, in first-round order: me (total coincidence, I assure you), Tristan H. Cockcroft, AJ Mass, Nate Ravitz, Keith Lipscomb, Christopher Harris, Brendan Roberts, Pierre Becquey, Matthew Berry, James Quintong.
Me: First pick or last pick is fine with me. Even in a season in which Adrian Peterson isn't everyone's choice for first pick, I still think he's the best one to have and I love the fact I get back-to-back picks the rest of the draft. The second pick, which I had in the first mock, is one I don't think I'd like to have, thanks to the fact that more and more people hammer the points home on why they're scared to draft Michael Turner.
Them: Cockcroft went with Maurice Jones-Drew in the second spot, which makes sense. I've seen MJD go as high as second, as low as seventh. Such are the facts of this season's first round. Cockcroft chose the same player fifth in July. If Peterson is the safe first pick, and the wide receivers go in the mid-to-late part of that opening round, everything else is up for grabs. Again we see LaDainian Tomlinson go earlier than where we have him ranked. Maybe my preseason ranking of sixth for him isn't good enough? The round ends with three wide receivers, the only surprise being Berry going with Calvin Johnson over Andre Johnson. Hey, rookie Matthew Stafford did play well in his first preseason game, and he was on Berry's podcast. Coincidence, I think not!
Chatter: You'll be hearing quite a bit from Berry, as he was very animated during this draft, and he showed up on time. Only one of those things was expected. After taking a Lion in Round 1, he raised eyebrows: "With only four points for a quarterback touchdown pass, and no running back I loved left, I went Megatron in Round 1." Not sure I would do the same. OK, I wouldn't, but that doesn't make it wrong. I see three or four running backs I'd take there. Then again, he got a running back in Round 2 I would have taken, so it all worked out and it might be time for me to try something different if I get a late first-rounder.
Me: Just like the first mock, I appear to like Clinton Portis more than others. I was happy when he slipped to me, even though it seems like every time I hear someone complain about the inherent risk of Turner's 370 touches last season, someone points out the 2,000-plus carries Portis has accrued. After my Portis pick, the next six selections were wide receivers, confirming my thought the second tier of runners ends with the Redskin.
Them: I liked the running backs who went early in the round, and if I ever get the last pick of Round 1, I'll probably end up with some combination of Steve Slaton, DeAngelo Williams and Frank Gore, if they're available. Or one of them and Megatron. Williams and Gore were first-rounders in July. Tom Brady was the first quarterback taken in July, and first here. He looked good in the preseason opener. I have a feeling Brady's going to go top-10 in many leagues and we'll see his supporters grow. Drew Brees was a second-rounder in each league. The strangest pick to me in this round was Mass taking Kevin Smith. I know Portis isn't young, but I don't think I can justify Smith over him yet. He went 19 here, 27 in July. There's Lions love in the room!
Chatter: Becquey went Larry Fitzgerald in July, and did it again here. The fact Williams slipped to his second-round pick dawned on me as obvious confirmation he had done well. "See, if I had gone DeAngelo in the first, I would have had a worse wide receiver than Fitzgerald!" he posted with glee. Can't argue with that. He probably wouldn't have gone wide receiver in Round 2 at all in that scenario.
Me: Had to be a wide receiver here, and I narrowed the choices to Steve Smith and Greg Jennings. Smith's shoulder injury appears to be a nonissue, so I stuck with my gut, and my rankings and took him. Anquan Boldin went next, then Jennings. I don't see much difference in the three, or the receivers who followed in the round.
Them: The three running backs chosen to end the round were all of interest to me. I chose Marion Barber 22nd back in July, which I think was a bit early. Here he went 28th to Becquey. Pierre Thomas and Ryan Grant seem to be picking up steam in drafts; they each went half a round later in July. I think people are starting to realize Reggie Bush is not a major threat to Thomas, and Grant could easily score more touchdowns than he did in 2008.
Chatter: Harris finished the wide receiver run by going the Terrell Owens route, which I thought was a smart pick. Becquey, who took Barber later, would have liked to pair Owens with Fitzgerald. "I thought you'd let T.O. get by you," he said. Roberts chimed in that Owens wouldn't have made it past him, though. Then wise guy Mass made his opinion known: "Won't make it past most safeties this year, either." I find most people assume Owens will be just fine in Buffalo, which is odd. Doesn't Owens normally have many detractors?
Me: For the second consecutive mock I had my big sleeper Derrick Ward queued up, and again he went the pick before me. This time it was the annoying Cockcroft, who probably doesn't like the new Buccaneer, but knew I did. I didn't like any of the wide receivers on the board at those spots, so it was time to go Aaron Rodgers. I don't think his 2008 was a fluke. Rodgers went 11 picks later in July, but knowing I wouldn't pick again for a while, I didn't mind the minor reach. I can't be relying on Donovan McNabb in every league, after all.
Them: Including Cockcroft's dastardly Ward deed, I really liked the picks in this round. Berry chose another Saint, which he noted didn't thrill him, but it's tough to argue with Thomas and Marques Colston. Five wide receivers go consecutively for the second straight round. Another name I see flying up the draft board is Darren McFadden, whom Mass wisely snapped up before Cockcroft and I could pounce. The Raider went two picks earlier in July, but it's clear he's fourth-round material, at worst. Watch him get into Round 3 soon.
Chatter: Quintong began the round needing a running back, after taking wide receivers with his first two picks and ending Round 3 with Grant. He chose Thomas Jones, whom many are wary of repeating his 2008 success. "Great, I had my pick of a bunch of running backs I had touted as potential busts." He got one. Hey, at some point we all have to take someone we didn't really want. Like Cedric Benson. He's going to go eventually.
Me: A few days earlier I would have chosen Roy E. Williams here, but the Dallas wide receiver has a sprained wrist and I took it as a harbinger of doom. I'm not a big fan in the first place. I thought about Antonio Gates, too. Then I went with Marshawn Lynch, who I know will miss three games, but still seems like a bargain in this round. Obviously since he's my third running back, I'll need someone else I can rely on in September. Lynch went one spot earlier in July.
Them: Not only was Gates not the first tight end, he didn't go in the round. Tony Gonzalez and Jason Witten did. Cockcroft snapped up Williams the pick after me. Berry seemed awfully pleased to land Kurt Warner this late. He should be happy; Warner is going 30th in average live drafts, but slipped to 49 here. I think this group of fantasy editors and writers generally lets the quarterbacks slip, though. Quintong finished the round with another running back on many bust lists, Joseph Addai.
Chatter: Berry clearly would not have taken Chad Ochocinco where Ravitz did. Berry wrote: "chad ochocinco just tweeted this: @chad_ochocinco Nate just reached for me Hahahahaha!" I'm not an ocho fan either, but the drop-off at wide receiver after Round 4 seems so steep, owners don't have much choice.
Me: I'll let Becquey's posting speak for the pick, as I took nearly all my allotted time for a wide receiver on my own bust list: "We waited all that time for Antonio Bryant?" Yeah, I wasn't too pleased, either. Should have gone with Santonio Holmes or Lee Evans.
Them: A pair of tight ends started the round, which meant that top tier was done. Interesting that the Knowshon Moreno knee injury, which will likely cost him his preseason, didn't scare Becquey; Moreno went 53rd, 10 picks earlier than in July. Larry Johnson's best days are likely behind him, but he slipped quite a bit from last draft, and for no particular reason. Maybe Ravitz had read my glowing 32 Questions report on Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel throwing for 6,000 yards this season. Or not.
Me: I like the Anthony Gonzalez pick, but I seem to be getting the Indy wide receiver in a lot of leagues, which is dangerous.
Them: Ray Rice is one of the big risers this summer, but there's still no confirmation the Ravens will stray from a proposed committee and let him run wild. Rice went to Cockcroft 15 picks earlier than in July. Berry selected Donald Brown last month at pick 86, but believed he had to act earlier this time, taking him at 69. Young running backs are climbing.
Me: Berry had noted earlier in the round that he would have selected Reggie Bush if not for the fact he already owned Pierre Thomas and a Saints wide receiver. Those are a lot of eggs in one basket, and it's not like Bush is the Thomas handcuff. I'm not a big fan of running backs who don't accrue rushing yards, but Bush is nice value at pick 80. He went at 67 in July. Hopefully he's healthy for a few games and catches lots of passes when I need him active.
Them: There were other nice value picks in this round, including Lipscomb's selection of Cedric Benson with pick 76. Look, Benson is a starter. I even defended him in a recent 32 Questions article. If you get him this late, expectations are low, so he can't hurt you. Ahmad Bradshaw was the pick before him. I also like the Willie Parker pick. Why is he slipping so low? Everyone is so confident in Rashard Mendenhall? Parker was pick 44 in July, but nothing really changed with him to push him down 29 picks. What a great value pick. We also see team defenses start to come off the board, as the Steelers and Giants are drafted first. I think it's way too early for defenses, especially with starting running backs on the board, but at least these are the two I rank best. We won't see another defense taken after the Giants for an amazing 41 picks, which probably proves most in the league thought the defenses went too early as well.
Me: The picks on the board didn't inspire me, so I decided to fill the tight end slot with Chris Cooley. In retrospect I know I could have waited a few more rounds for similar production, but at least Cooley is safe. Certainly he's safer than the pick after me, Bears tight end Greg Olsen. There's upside there, but isn't it just for numbers Cooley already produces?
Them: Ravitz selects Darren Sproles, and a flashback to Round 1 tells us he's also the Tomlinson owner. Ravitz generally argues against handcuffing, and I agree with that take, but just because someone selects two running backs on the same team, don't assume that was the intention. Sproles happened to be the best available RB at the time of the pick. Fellow backups Felix Jones and LeSean McCoy went a few picks later, and unproductive "starter" Julius Jones also went to Berry, who no doubt is purchasing the Seattle running back's jersey right now, along with some matches.
Me: Still unimpressed with my wide receiver corps after Steve Smith, I decide the proper thing to do is get as much depth as possible and play the matchups. This is not the season to rely on this, though. In future drafts, I have to get two strong wide receivers. Anyway, I chose Derrick Mason of the Ravens. Last time we mocked he was retired, and Ken Daube spent a speculative last-round pick on him. Smart. I had to take him six rounds earlier. Mason won't score much, but at least he's reliable.
Them: I would have rather had any of the other wide receivers who went earlier in the round, notably Steve Breaston, whom Cockcroft swiped the pick before me. Nobody likes Cockcroft; now you can see why. Santana Moss, Donald Driver and Torry Holt used to go a lot earlier than Round 10, no? Berry grabs Donovan McNabb, prefacing the pick on the message board by noting, "Kurt [Warner] is a bit injury prone." First thing I notice is that these quarterbacks, neither the most durable fellow by the way, share the same bye week. Berry knows this as well and shares the info, but points out the value. It is terrific value this late. Berry just has to plan on adding another quarterback by Week 4, when Warner and McNabb will be playing golf. Harris gets a potential starting running back in Earnest Graham, but most people expect Derrick Ward to win the job. What if he doesn't?
Me: No, I don't think Laveranues Coles will catch 1,000 yards' worth of passes or score more than five times, but at least I trust he'll be out there getting close. The other wide receivers to go in the round certainly have more upside, though. I would have gone with Donnie Avery had he not broken his foot, or maybe Domenik Hixon if I thought he'd make a difference.
Them: As Mass typed on the board, "Wow, Round 11 was just full of sad." I don't know about that. I like the Jay Cutler pick for Cockcroft, though he needs him for only one week because he has Drew Brees. Rashard Mendenhall could be the Pittsburgh goal-line back, at the least, as well as Tim Hightower in Arizona, and Le'Ron McClain seems to be slipping a whole lot further in each draft I do. McClain went 20 picks earlier a month ago. We feel that confident in Ray Rice? Also, Cockcroft seemed jealous of Harris' Josh Morgan pick. As I wrote in the first mock draft recap, by the time you get to the double-digit rounds, we've all had multiple chances to procure a sleeper or two. Can't complain this late. As for Mass' comment, I think Round 12 is more sad, with wide receiver Chris Henry, T.J. Duckett and me taking a wide receiver few have heard of.
Me: I went Earl Bennett and Correll Buckhalter back to back, then decided I no longer wanted to play the league out. OK, that's not true. Bennett enters his second year with an important note on his résumé: He played at Vanderbilt with Jay Cutler, his new quarterback. Oh yeah, the Bears also have very little stability in their receiving corps, unless you think Devin Hester will all of a sudden become a star. In Round 12, it's tough to make a bad pick. As for Buckhalter, of course I think Knowshon Moreno will be the guy. What did you want me to do, take Willis McGahee?
Them: Berry apparently liked my Buckhalter pick, as later in the round he clicked with glee on the name Peyton Hillis. Honestly, who knows what Denver will do? Becquey seemed awfully excited when he plucked Chester Taylor in Round 12, typing "I've got EK's handcuff, I've got EK's handcuff!" which I noticed 10 minutes later. My response was to enjoy the 75 carries. I liked Becquey's Kyle Orton pick better. It dawns on me I have one bench spot left to fill, and no backup quarterback. It's not critical I take a backup for Rodgers, but do I want to deal with this after Week 4, especially knowing Berry needs a third signal-caller before then?
Me: I needed a backup quarterback, queued up the incredibly dropping Ben Roethlisberger and watched him go a few picks before me. Eli Manning plays Oakland the week I need to sit Rodgers, so why not? What was I going to do, take Brett Favre? That old guy promised us, multiple times in fact, that he was retired for good only two weeks earlier. He wouldn't lie ... With my final picks, I took the Eagles' defense, which I think will be a top-10 unit, and with the last pick in the draft I clicked on Robbie Gould's name. Because I need a kicker.
Them: Would I have chosen Favre had we done this mock 24 hours later? I don't think so. Becquey made Favre his 15th-round pick and nobody mocked him. The next day, Favre was back, signing a deal with the Minnesota Vikings. Stunning. Guess Mass' 14th-round selection of Sage Rosenfels won't work out. Among the other interesting late-round moves, Cockcroft took the chance on Michael Crabtree, Berry thought Chris Brown will cut into Steve Slaton's goal-line attention and Quintong thought the Panthers' Steve Smith was still on the board at pick 150. OK, that's not really true, but there has to be a draft going on this week in which someone mistakenly selects the Giants' Steve Smith in Round 3, right?
All in all I think this mock draft showed us some interesting risers and fallers, and gave some insight to what some members of the ESPN Fantasy staff are thinking. Agree or disagree, but try out our mock draft lobby and see for yourself whom you'd select in Round 6.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy baseball, football and basketball. Check out his daily Baseball Today podcast at ESPN Podcenter. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.
6mEthan Sherwood Strauss