Fantasy football draft season is fast approaching. Prep to win your league with SI.com's ongoing preview, including team-by-team breakdowns that examine each club's key fantasy storyline and much more.
Key fantasy storyline
We've entered the Golden Age of the Tight End in the NFL in the last few seasons. Typified by guys like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski, the tight end for the new NFL is a huge freak of an athlete, often coming in around 6'6", 260 pounds, with the speed of a slower wide receiver and strength of a linebacker. Once Graham and Gronkowski took the league by storm, they vaulted tight ends to heights they'd never before reached in fantasy leagues. All of a sudden, it became acceptable to use a top-15 pick on a tight end, and somewhere Shannon Sharpe shed a tear.
However, this has been a tumultuous offseason for tight ends, particularly those in New England. Gronkowski has had multiple surgeries to repair a broken forearm, and underwent surprise back surgery in June. Everyone is well aware of Aaron Hernandez's situation. With Gronkowski's status unknown and Hernandez out, we once again have a tier of one at the top of the position. The question now is how high should Graham go in standard 12-team leagues?
The allure of taking Graham early is that he's so far above the rest of his position counterparts that you should make huge gains on the rest of your league at tight end. The opportunity cost is that you forego the opportunity to get a receiver along the lines of Roddy White and Demaryius Thomas, or backs such as Maurice Jones-Drew, Chris Johnson and Stevan Ridley. Can you make up for that later in the draft after taking Graham? The answer is an unequivocal "yes."
We're still a bit early to look at average draft position numbers, but Graham is likely to go somewhere between picks 25 and 35, which means that owners will have to be ready to take him in the second or third round. The reason you can afford to go after Graham that early is because as the NFL has evolved into a passing league, so there are more and more quality receivers available in the middle and late rounds of a draft.
According to Mock Draft Central, Torrey Smith, Steve Smith, Cecil Shorts, Michael Floyd, Sidney Rice, Jeremy Maclin, Kenny Britt, Miles Austin, Steve Johnson, Tavon Austin and DeSean Jackson are all coming off the board between picks 75 and 103 right now. That's a huge crop of legitimate fantasy starters going in the sixth, seventh and eighth rounds of 12-team league drafts. Picking Graham early means you'll also have to grab a few backs early since that position gets thin in a hurry. But if you can stomach the idea of missing out on the second tier of receivers, Graham can act as a top receiver while setting you apart at the tight end position.
|New Orleans Saints 2013 schedule|
|Including a look at how the Saints' upcoming foes fared defensively in fantasy last season|
Stats via FFToday.com
This is the Saints -- one of the most high-powered offenses in the league. If you're going to let schedule prevent you from taking Drew Brees or Marques Colston or Graham, you should probably find a different hobby. However, there is one interesting nugget to point out here. They have a favorably fantasy playoff schedule, with a game against the Rams sandwiched by two against the Panthers. The first two games will be indoors, and the second will be in Charlotte, just about the best outdoor venue in the NFL in December. The bet here is that Brees ends up on a ton of fantasy playoff MVP lists in six months.
QB: Drew Brees, Luke McCown, Seneca Wallace
RB: Pierre Thomas, Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram
WR: Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Chris Givens, Courtney Roby, Kenny Stills, Joseph Morgan
TE: Jimmy Graham, Ben Watson, Mike Higgins
|New Orleans Saints' 2012 defensive rankings|
The Saints offense was only part of the reason they were involved in some of the most exciting games last year. Their defense was probably the worst in the league, surrendering 440 yards and nearly 30 points per game.
While there are only a few new players on this side of the ball, they brought in Rob Ryan to replace Gregg Williams as defensive coordinator. Ryan was known for showing complex fronts during his time in Dallas, and he promises to bring that with him to New Orleans. The defense is centered around defensive end Cameron Jordan and linebackers Will Smith, Curtis Lofton and Jonathan Vilma. Smith and Jordan especially warrant consideration in IDP leagues.
The secondary was a mess all season, and they attempted to address that by selecting Texas safety Kenny Vaccaro with the 15th overall pick in the draft. He joins a cast of holdovers, including Jabari Greer, Malcom Jenkins, Keenan Lewis and Roman Harper.
Despite the changes made to the defense, you'll want to stay as far away from possible from them in your fantasy league. In fact, you'll want to take advantage of this defense as the year progresses. When your regulars are out on bye, targeting the Saints defense can be a very profitable strategy.