David Sabino
Thursday November 18th, 2010

Gridiron 11: The Perfect Draft

This week's edition of Gridiron 11 comes to you from inside the crystal ball, peering back from the future to revisit the thinking you could've employed on draft day to come away with the perfect fantasy football squad. As you'll see, the means don't always justify the ends, and the standard strategies of gobbling up running backs in the first few rounds or taking one of the first five quarterbacks isn't always necessary to amass a killer roster. We assumed the fifth pick in the draft, so players like Chris Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Ray Rice were already off the board when it came time to select. So here are the first 11 (of 16) picks of what would've been the draft of a lifetime in any size league.

For more insights, follow SI's fantasy expert David Sabino on Twitter at SI_DavidSabino.

1<a href=Frank Gore, RB, 49ers">49ers" title="Frank Gore, RB, 49ers"/>
Thought at draft time: The Niners are favored to win the West, and with the improved Alex Smith throwing to Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis all season, Gore will have plenty of room to roam.
Reality check: Smith was a bust, Crabtree a disappointment and Davis much less effective than last season, but the steady Gore has remained an elite fantasy back.
2<a href=Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions" title="Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions"/>
Thought at draft time: The likes of Andre Johnson, Randy Moss and Miles Austin are flying off the board, and I like the combo of Megatron and Stafford to have a big year.
Reality check: Stafford has been hurt but Johnson hasn't been hindered, as he's tied for the league lead in receiving touchdowns, not including the famous one in Chicago that got away.
3<a href=Roddy White, WR, Falcons" title="Roddy White, WR, Falcons"/>
Thought at draft time: All of the sure-thing running backs are gone so it's time for another wideout. White's value should be enhanced by the return of a healthy Michael Turner, easing the pressure on young Matt Ryan.
Reality check: White has been a monster this season and is the top-rated fantasy wideout. He's gone for more than 100 yards five times and over 10 catches in three games> He's one of the top three wideouts for next year.
4<a href=Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers" title="Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers"/>
Thought at draft time: I missed out on Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Matt Schaub, so I'd better pick up a quarterback. I hope that Rivers' numbers don't fall due to the presence of stud rookie running back Ryan Mathews. Also, Vincent Jackson please sign soon.
Reality check: Rivers has been a magician in the pocket and is on pace to shatter many NFL passing records despite throwing to a makeshift wide receiving corps and Antonio Gates. Mathews has been hurt often and is a non-factor and Jackson has yet to touch the field.
5<a href=Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys" title="Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys"/>
Thought at draft time: There are a lot of hotter tight ends available, such as Jermichael Finley and Visanthe Shiancoe, but I like the fact that Witten has been consistent all of these years. Tony Romo is sure to look to him more in the red zone than last season.
Reality check: The leader among tight ends in receptions has risen through the ranks by attrition as Dallas Clark and Finley ended up on I.R., Gates has been hobbled by bad feet and ankles, and others like Shiancoe, Brent Celek and Vernon Davis have produced less than expected results.
6<a href=Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs" title="Dwayne Bowe, WR, Chiefs"/>
Thought at draft time: He was a major disappointment last season, but I still like Bowe's athleticism and he's been running with the first team all camp. He'll be a lot better with Charlie Weis running the offense. Also I'm now all in with the strategy of loading up on wideouts and waiting for running backs who slip through the crease.
Reality check: Bowe and Matt Cassel have become one of the league's most dangerous duos, connecting for touchdowns in five straight games, three of which were multi-score contests. There's no better starter currently in fantasy football.
7<a href=Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants" title="Hakeem Nicks, WR, Giants"/>
Thought at draft time: Now I'm just being stubborn about not taking running backs, but Nicks is the highest-rated player still on my draft sheet, so I'm taking him. The Giants have become a pass-first team with the decline of Brandon Jacobs.
Reality check: Nicks is tied for first in touchdowns, fifth in yards and fourth in catches among wide receivers. With Steve Smith now sidelined for a few weeks, he's more valuable than ever as Eli Manning's receiver of choice.
8<a href=Arian Foster, RB, Texans" title="Arian Foster, RB, Texans"/>
Thought at draft time: Most of the starting running backs are off the board, so I'll take a chance with Foster, who looked pretty good at the end of last season after coming off the practice squad. With rookie Ben Tate out for the year, the recovering Steve Slaton is his only competition. I just hope Houston runs enough to make him a fantasy starter.
Reality check: The breakout player of the year and the steal of every draft, he's the league rushing leader, having reached the end zone 11 times already and is fifth in receiving yards out of the backfield.
9<a href=LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles" title="LeSean McCoy, RB, Eagles"/>
Thought at draft time: Brian Westbrook is no longer an Eagle and perhaps McCoy, off an injury-plagued rookie year, will fill his role as a solid runner out of the backfield. And the only reason he's slipped this far is because Philly looks loaded as a passing team with Kevin Kolb at the controls.
Reality check: Shady is a flat out fantasy stud, especially in PPR leagues. His 46 receptions are the most for any back and he's just 33 yards shy of 1,000 from scrimmage this year. Throw in six touchdowns and you end up with four games of at least 20 fantasy points.
10<a href=Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants" title="Ahmad Bradshaw, RB, Giants"/>
Thought at draft time: Is Tom Coughlin really going to hand the starting job to Bradshaw even with Jacobs still around? And will the fourth-year man be able to handle the load? I hope so, as the potential lead running backs are all but gone.
Reality check: Bradshaw has scored more fantasy points than universal first-rounders Jones-Drew, Mendenhall, Ray Rice and Michael Turner. He's currently tied in rushing yards with '09 leader Chris Johnson.
11<a href=Peyton Hillis, RB, Browns" title="Peyton Hillis, RB, Browns"/>
Thought at draft time: The Browns' offensive line was superb at the end of last season but Jerome Harrison went many rounds ago. Since there are few running backs left on the board I'll take a chance that the former Bronco, who's been getting good feedback from Eric Mangini, can chisel out a spot as a fantasy reserve, at least as a third-down back.
Reality check: Wow! Undrafted in most leagues, Hillis has been another of the major surprises, seizing full control of the Browns' starting running back job and rambling his way through the league's toughest run defenses. He's scored double-digits every week, a claim only Gore and Adrian Peterson can make. He is an iron-clad starter in every lineup.
To round out the perfect draft we could easily have taken the following at these spots:
12. Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders; 13. Green Bay Packers D; 14. Dustin Keller, TE, Jets; 15. Matt Cassel, QB, Chiefs; 16. Sebastian Janikowski, K, Raiders

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