Value: the worth of something in terms of the amount of other things for which it can be exchanged or in terms of some medium of exchange (courtesy of dictionary.reference.com).
It’s a term that sees a monumental increase in usage during Fantasy Football draft season, much like words like “pitch”, “clever”, and “flop” did during the recent World Cup. There are plenty of good players in the NFL, but your Fantasy fate is more often than not decided by the talent you acquire in the middle to late rounds. So why not capitalize on your ability to identify buried Fantasy treasure and spend the early rounds chasing a different Fantasy?
I recently participated in my annual draft with my high school friends, a re-draft 12-team standard league that includes all walks of life: doctors, chefs, salesmen, you name it. I’ve won the league a handful of times, but for some reason, winning Fantasy championships has yet to put me on the radar of the leagues most sought after owner: Marisa. You see, Marisa was always stunning, but her passion for Fantasy sports makes her absolutely irresistible. The combination of take-your-breath-away beauty and take-your-running-back-away intelligence is a combination that is rare, but for some reason, Marisa has yet to date a single member of our league.
That’ll change this year. After adding the 2013 Championship ring to my collection, I was riding a confidence-high and approached Marisa about a potentially raising the stakes in 2014. After much discussion, we agreed on a deal in principal: I would send my second round pick (it should be noted that my 2013 second-rounder was Dez Bryant, a player who dropped 32 points on Marisa in the semi-finals) to the Fantasy heartthrob for her 10th round selection … and the opportunity to spend one entire Sunday together. All is fair in Fantasy Football and love, right?
Now, keep in mind that I am a waiter and a sports writer, not exactly jobs that put me in a favorable position to impress the girl of my dreams. So it occurred to me that in order to make this day special, I was going to need a little help. I wouldn’t be able to pay for much, but I knew every owner in our league would want: draft picks. All the money in the world can’t buy the pride that comes with winning your Fantasy Football league, a card that I shamelessly played as I made a series of under-the-table trades that allowed me to enhance the date experience while fielding a starting lineup full of value plays that I’m confident can make the playoffs and thus give me a chance to repeat as champion of Soppe’s Slaughterhouse (another perk of winning the league is renaming it).
Draft Recap (player selections based on recent ADP trends)
15th Round: Brian Hartline (MIA) – I’ve made this stat known, but it can’t be overstated: Larry Fitzgerald, DeSean Jackson, and Marques Colston (whose cumulative ADP is less than Hartline’s as of right now) all have less receiving yards since the beginning of 2012 than this possession oriented Dolphin. He’s produced near mirror image seasons with Tannehill under center (averaging 75 catches for 1,050 yards) and it stands to reason to believe that both players’, Tannehill is 26 years old and Hartline is 27, stock is only on the rise. He’s not going to blow you away with a huge week or many highlight plays, but all he does is produce and that should be all you’re concerned about.
14th Round: Charles Clay (MIA) – The best way to produce is to be targeted heavily and make the most of those targets, no? It sounds simple, but it’s true. Opportunity breeds success in the Fantasy world, so why is there so little love being shown for a versatile 25-year-old tight end? Only two tight ends had more targets, touchdowns, and a higher catch-percentage (Jordan Cameron and Tony Gonzalez) than Clay last season, yet there are 14 tight ends going ahead of him. Clay should benefit from developing alongside the ever improving Ryan Tannehill, a tandem that showed immense promise last season (12 games with at least four connections last season and 13 games with at least six targets). His ability to block, advanced metrics identified him as the fourth best blocking tight end in all of football last season, and come out of the backfield make him a good bet to constantly be on the field, but don’t pigeon hole a pass-catcher that ranked behind only Jimmy Graham and Greg Olsen (minimum 90 targets) in yards per pass route run.
13th Round (packaged with my 4th Round selection): Roses always put a smile on a lady’s face, so getting 12 smiles (or maybe just one big one that lasts 12x as long) is a steal for what will likely be a WR3 and a roster filling reserve running back. The doctor who acquired these two picks fell victim to both Julio Jones and Randall Cobb injuries last season said that a dozen roses was a small price to pay for safety in the draft and the opportunity to have me make a fool of myself. In reality, and by reality I naturally mean Fantasy, he may look the part of fool, as he stuck his neck out for two players that I believe are being over-drafted this season in Bishop Sankey and Antonio Gates with his two extra selections.
12th Round: Instead of taking a flier on a guy like Johnny Manziel, I channel my inner Johnny Football (Evil Kyle-nevil?) by taking the 20:1 odds given to me by last year’s runner up in our head-to-head Week 1 matchup and betting on myself. I like my potential $100 reward far more than the returns Manziel will offer this season. In fact, I’ve already penciled in a nice morning boat tour around the Boston Harbor for Marisa and I after watching this owner reach on Calvin Johnson in the first round and overreact to early news about Lamar Miller (I picked right after him in the seventh round and got a player who I have ranked 30 spots ahead of the maligned Dolphins tailback … amateur).
11th Round: DeAndre Hopkins (HOU) – He may not have lit the world on fire during his rookie season, but his numbers were pretty impressive (52-802-2) when you consider that his quarterback went through arguably the worst statistical stretch in recent memory. As a result of the poor quarterback play, Hopkins averaged one catch every other game on the opponents half of the field, an insane trend that has no chance at repeating this year with the gun-slinging Ryan Fitzpatrick under center. A healthy Arian Foster should make this a well-balanced offense and a still-productive Andre Johnson is going to keep the defense occupied while the physically impressive Hopkins (he is the same height and 18 pounds heavier, yet more athletic, than a receiver in James Jones who has averaged nearly seven touchdowns over the last five seasons) should see plenty of single coverage. Larry Fitzgerald was the only receiver in all of football last season with a higher catch-rate, and it stands to reason that a year of professional experience can only help Hopkins. He’s a bargain at his current ADP and I’ve got him as the clear cut top young receiver out of Clemson this season, yet he is being drafted some 31 spots behind Sammy Watkins.
10th Round: DeAngelo Williams (CAR) – He is suffering from Chris Johnson-itus in the early drafts this season and I’ll take advantage of that in every draft this season. For those unaware, Johnson-itus is the setting of lofty standards that will never be reached again and prevent Fantasy owners from accepting a solid, not spectacular, campaign. In 2008, Williams logged 295 touches for 1,636 yards and 20 touchdowns, leading every one of his owners to Fantasy glory. He obviously hasn’t lived up to those insanely high standards, but has he been bad enough to justify falling this far? Yes, I realize that he is now on the wrong side of 30, but he has missed just one game in the last three seasons and has averaged 1,045 yards per 16 games over that stretch. Last season marked the third consecutive campaign in which his touch count increased, despite missing a game, and he averaged a very respectable 5.2 yards per touch. With Jonathan Stewart playing just 15 games in the last two seasons combined and Cam Newton undergoing offseason ankle surgery, it is very possible that Williams gets 250 touches, something only 17 backs did last season, yet there are 42 backs going ahead of Williams. He won’t produce the numbers he did six seasons ago, but as long as you don’t use that as a guideline, those numbers are tremendously valuable for at my Flex spot.
10th Round (acquired via trade of my 2nd Round pick): Jay Cutler (CHI) – There is no point in beating around the bush on this one … much of my confidence in being able to trade away my early picks to fulfill a different Fantasy stems from my belief in Cutler this season (for the record, if I were to miss on Cutler here, I’d be targeting Josh McCown in the 13th round). His constant accent up the PFF QB Rating scale tells me that the talent is in place, and I think this is the season that the talent level around him allows us to finally see just how good he can be. In his best statistical season, Cutler produced over 4,700 yards and 27 touchdowns (good for the third most Fantasy points at his position) with far less talent at his disposal. He had Eddie Royal as his number two, Peyton Hillis as his starting running back, and Tony Scheffler at tight end in 2008. I’m happy to gamble on Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte, and Martellus Bennett being significantly better at the sport of football than that trio, thus allowing Cutler to challenge the Top 5 Fantasy quarterbacks this season.
9th Round: Riley Cooper (PHI) – First, let’s start by dispelling stereotypes. The tendency is to classify all white receivers as “chain-movers” or “gritty undersized pass-catchers that work across the middle”, and while players in the past (Wayne Chrebet) and present (Wes Welker, Danny Amendola/Julian Edelman, etc.) fit that skill-set, Cooper simply does not. He is an inch taller and the same weight as “The Natural” Andre Johnson, impressive dimensions in an offense that now lacks a proven play-maker down the field. His numbers weren’t overwhelming last season (47-835-8), but his 16 game averages after Nick Foles took over the starting gig (62-1,187-13) tell a bit of a different story as far as Fantasy upside is concerned. If you must compare him to a white receiver, he is Jordy Nelson-lite (currently going 71 picks earlier). A little too optimistic? You would have said the same thing if you read a pro-Nelson article in the season that he started at 26 years of age with a promising quarterback in an explosive offense … and all he did was catch 68 passes for 1,263 yards and 15 scores. He managed those numbers in an offense that featured talented receivers in James Jones and Randall Cobb alongside proven veterans Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and Jermichael Finley in an offense that ran 61 fewer plays than the Eagles ran in 2013.
8th Round: With Marisa going Jimmy Graham too early and following up with non-running back picks in the third and fourth round, she was in panic mode and came crawling back to me after what appeared to be the final run on starting running backs was taking place. She wanted to select Darren McFadden to go along with her Maurice Jones-Drew, theoretically ensuring that she would get one productive back each week (not a strategy I’d employ with those two this season). My offer was simple: a kiss if I beat you when we oppose one another. She begrudging accepted and I’ve never been happier with the 91st overall pick in my life. Are you kidding me? This deal has low downside and immense upside, more than I can say about any of the players that were staring at me with this selection. Sure, I still have to beat her in our Week 2 matchup, but maybe I can work the pity angle if I lose.
7th Round: Pierre Thomas (NO) – It is no coincidence that Drew Brees’ streak of 5,000-plus yard seasons began once the Saints acquired pass-catching extraordinaire Darren Sproles, and while his favorite target is now in Philadelphia, the offensive scheme in New Orleans is not going to skip a beat. Most people are surprised to learn that it was actually Thomas, not Sproles, that lead all running backs in receptions last season. In fact, you could argue that Thomas had as much to do with Brees’ video game numbers over the last three seasons as Sproles (166 catches on 196 targets in addition to providing some balance with 537 more rushing yards than Sproles). The 29-year-old is a rare blend of experience and fresh legs (1,260 fewer carries than Adrian Peterson, a player who also entered the league in 2007), a combination that I’m willing to bet on. Much like Bell, Thomas is not going to ever see a stacked box and could easily set a career-high for workload.
6th Round: Joique Bell (DET) – So you’re telling me that I can get the younger, more versatile back in a system some 30 picks after the aging starter who is more likely to see a dramatic decrease involvement than an increase? There is not a running back with a similar skill set; something that I believe gives Bell tremendous value in a creative offense. His ability to help owners both between the tackles and in space should help raise his floor, safety that is nearly impossible to find at this point in the draft. His lack of downside is complimented nicely by his RB1 upside should the aging Bush miss time, making him a consistent target of mine.
5th Round: The cook, after catching wind of the fire sale that was occurring with my early picks, approached me with an interesting offer: he’d loan me his top-notch cooking supplies for the date in return for my fifth pick. I tried to counter with his cooking services, but he wouldn’t budge. I accepted and he picked Vernon Davis, no doubt in an effort to pair him with his man-crush of Colin Kaepernick later in the draft. Personally, I’ve got my eye on the value of only one tight end in the first 10 rounds, but I don’t hate the idea of pairing Davis with Kaepernick. Acquiring high-level cooking equipment could prove to be a poor use of my fifth overall selection if I don’t learn how to use it in the coming weeks. But it’s the thought/effort that counts … right?
4th Round (packaged with my 13th Round selection)
3rd Round: While I pinch my pennies, some owners in this league are more of the frivolous type. The owner interested in this selection opened with two running backs and was looking to reach a bit for a player who carried him last season with his week-to-week consistency. As often as I preach that consistency wins titles, I’m also a realist that believes in regression to the mean, which is why I can’t condone his selection of Pierre Garcon this early. The Redskins added DeSean Jackson this offseason and Jordan Reed should only improve, making it awfully difficult for Garcon to once again lead the league in targets (184 last season) Luckily enough for me, he didn’t share this feeling and offered up his car, the one thing Marisa has taken notice of in past drafts, for my date. Chauffeur for my day of glory? Well worth my third selection, as I become less of an embarrassment out in public.
2nd Round: In the steal of the draft, this pick was moved in the offseason to my lovely lady for a date with her AND her 10th round pick. I’ve never been happier with my draft through two selections.
1st Round: The all valuable first round pick was going to be dealt, if for no other reason that I knew it would net serious value. The proud owner of two first round picks committed to helping me set up a Fantasy wedding at half time of the Monday night game on date night. While Marisa and I watch the game that will likely decide the fate of our matchup (and if I can get that good night kiss), as my Riley Cooper squares off against her T.Y. Hilton (did you know his birth name is Eugene Marquis? Yea, I did some research, knowing that this game could well be my last chance to impress her), he will be setting up a makeshift wedding in his garage, the place we draft annually. Candles, flowers, subtle jazz music … the whole deal. With the ambiance set, I would get down on one knee and ask for her hand in football marriage for the remainder of the Fantasy season. This would ensure we spend every Sunday together, watching the game we love. I would seal the deal by opening the ring box and offering her my 2013 Championship Ring. Hopeless romantic? Quirky way to weasel my way into a relationship? Call it what you will, but I’m happy with the position I’ve put myself in when it comes to landing the girl of my dreams.
Ooo, and my Fantasy roster. I love the team I was able to put together when you consider the selections I was left with after chasing this other Fantasy. Based on my most recent set of projections, five of my eight starters will record more points than the average Fantasy starter did last season (QB6, RB6, RB18, WR6, WR18, WR30, RB30, and TE6).That “average” lineup (Phillip Rivers, Eddie Lacy, Gio Bernard, Antonio Brown, Julian Edelman, Golden Tate, Ray Rice, and Jason Witten), based purely on Fantasy points scored, would have surly made the playoffs and, with a timely move or two, could have easily won the league.
Moral of the story? Do your research and win your draft in the later rounds. I’m not saying you should pursue other things with your first five picks, but targeting high upside players and/or dating adventures isn’t a bad idea in the early rounds if you feel you can get strong value to protect yourself later on. The NFL has become a wide open league that puts less of an importance on raw skill and more on opportunity, in the Fantasy world at least.
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