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Fantasy football focus: Five things we learned this week

Photo: John Biever/SI

Elite quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers are being drafted unexpectedly late in early fantasy mock drafts.

Fantasy football champions aren't always made during the season. Look at the teams that have won your league most consistently -- those owners likely stay atop the news the entire year, never letting information about offseason movement, the NFL draft and even organized training activities slip by them.

With that in mind, we outline the top five things we learned this week:

1. Elite quarterbacks are tumbling in mock drafts

A number of annual fantasy football magazines are being assembled right now and several see a significant trend -- top quarterbacks are falling in the mock drafts. There are a number of reasons for this, none of which are the players' fault. It is more of a function of the collective strength of the position, especially in that top tier.

I was the first to select a quarterback in both the Rotowire magazine mock draft and the still on-going Athlon Sports magazine mock. After picking Aaron Rodgers 13th overall in the 14-team Rotowire draft and lamenting the lack of elite running backs, not one quarterback had been taken in the Athlon Sports when I was up for the 24th overall pick. Rodgers was too valuable to pass up there.

Then, Michael Fabiano of NFL.com tweeted Tuesday that Rodgers was the first quarterback selected in his on-going 12-team PPR analysts draft ... as the first pick of Round 5! Seriously.

Analysts tend to be less excited about quarterbacks than the average fantasy player, because they know they can pick up a good one late in a draft. After all, Robert Griffin III went in Round 9 of that NFL.com mock. But the fall of the elite quarterbacks was surprising until it became common.

There is far less to choose between the top quarterbacks this year than years past. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Matt Ryan are all right around the same in terms of projections: 4,500 yards and 35 touchdowns. These five pocket passers that will make up almost half of the starting fantasy quarterbacks in standard leagues. If you don't take one of those in the first two rounds, you can always get one of the others with one of your next couple of picks.

Many fantasy owners are in love with the mobile quarterbacks right now, such as Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. Many are -- against their better judgment -- resigned to buying into the hype by drafting them in lieu of the pocket guys. That gives us nine potentially stout fantasy starters at the keystone position.

Somehow, Matthew Stafford, Tony Romo and Andrew Luck are left out of that conversation, but they are each capable of 4,500 yards and 35 touchdowns as well in pass-happy offenses.

Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Joe Flacco are Super Bowl champions and not even considered suitable fantasy starters. Solid quarterbacks Andy Dalton, Josh Freeman, Philip Rivers, Jay Cutler and Michael Vick are merely low-end backup options.

Early analyst drafts put emphasis on running backs and receivers even more now than ever before. The quarterback position is as strong as ever, but its collective depth is making it a draft day afterthought. Keep this in mind when you are picking in drafts that actually count come late August.

2. Eagles' Chip Kelly is a hip dude

We already knew that Chip Kelly and his up-tempo style were going to bring a new energy to the Philadelphia Eagles, and possibly to the NFL as a whole. He's showing some style in his frantic practices, playing music so loud the coaches cannot even talk over it. But this doesn't mean much for fantasy owners, outside of the fact the Eagles sound like they are taking to their new coach and his unique approaches.

We already said above that Vick isn't a quality fantasy quarterback, so he stands to crush the mostly modest expectations, especially with talk of an open competition at quarterback between Vick, second-year man Nick Foles and rookie Matt Barkley. By similar reasoning, Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson will be drafted as third receivers in fantasy but with the potential to perform like No. 2s, if not No. 1s. Tight ends Brent Celek and well-regarded second-round pick Zach Ertz will be mere fantasy backup options, but they can emerge as much more.

The lone sure-fire fantasy starter among the Eagles, LeSean McCoy, was drafted second overall this week in that aforementioned Athlon Sports magazine mock draft. It will be difficult for McCoy to perform up to that level, especially with the pace of the Eagles offense necessitating the use backup running back Bryce Brown and even recently signed Felix Jones in a rotation. There is a lot of running in and out of the huddle involved.

You need some serious lungs to play for Chip Kelly's teams, and we are not talking about singing along with the practice music.

3. Gronk isn't real news ... yet

While you can make a case to pick Jimmy Graham (wrist surgery) ahead of Rob Gronkowski (arm) at the tight end position, Gronk isn't falling much in drafts amid reports that he could miss the start of the season. Gronk, who should be no better than a middle third-rounder, went in Round 2 in multiple mock drafts.

Many think that Gronk will be healthy early in the season, even if he might not be ready to play Week 1. Gronk shouldn't be considered a 16-game player anyway. Owners have to assume that he'll miss some games, as long as he is healthy for fantasy crunch time. With many of Tom Brady's targets suffering from injuries, owners should assume the Pats are going to do everything they can to make sure Gronk will be healthy late in the season.

The next couple of weeks are important for Gronk, who is awaiting a fourth surgery on his broken arm. Doctors want to give his antibiotic treatment on an infection around the metal plate in his arm plenty of time. If not, he could require a fifth surgery, which would wipe out his preseason.

4. The rookie hype is not stopping

If you pay attention to rookie mini-camp reports, you might be inclined to draft a fantasy lineup of all rookies. (I'm only half joking when saying this.)

Every team's beat writers have taken to twitter and their respective sites to gush over how great the rookies have looked. Very few have been critical in their reports early on. This is just not possible. Some rookies have to disappoint their teams, and most of them will disappoint fantasy owners.

Geno Smith was one of the few gutsy enough to be critical, grading himself an "F" in his first Jets practice. That was short-lived, though, as Jets reports now have him projected to win the starting job by Week 1 of the season with Mark Sanchez getting cut by the end of camp.

Clearly, we have to take these early words of praise with a grain of salt (or Advil).

5. Youth is wasted on the Young

Whose stock took a bigger hit in the past week: Amy's Bakery Company or Titus Young? It is a tough call, as both suffered monumental career implosions. At least we didn't have to deal with Young's interactions on social media. Like Wild Thing Ricky Vaughn from the baseball movie Major League, the only league Young might be playing in next year is the "California Penal." He is officially undraftable in fantasy leagues.

Young was an immensely talented receiver who is clearly troubled, getting arrested three times in a 10-day span. He currently faces eight charges, including three felonies. Young's father has said his son has not been taking his medication for a mental disorder. It has cost the younger Young more than just a 2013 contract; it might have cost him an NFL career.

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