August 22, 2011

I'm sure a lot of you are interested in how an expert drafts. Well, I can't help you there but I can show you how I drafted in the annual Fire Sale PPR Fantasy League draft.

I originally had the top overall pick. I then traded down to the three hole and then down again to 12. So when it was all said and done, I picked 12 and 13. I had two second-round picks, two seventh-round picks and no selections in Rounds 8 or 16. So basically I'm the Patriots of fantasy football.

Also, just so you know there was a huge run on receivers in the first two rounds and I would rather die than draft a kicker. Here's how my draft played out:

Round 1 (12): Hakeem Nicks -- Picking at the turn I wanted to get one stud receiver. Nicks is emerging as one of the NFL's elite pass catchers and should be a Top 5 fantasy wideout once again.

Round 2A (13): Darren McFadden -- When I traded down, McFadden was my target all along. Al Saunders is now the OC in Oakland. He coached teams that had Marshall Faulk and Priest Holmes. Ever heard of them?

Round 2B (22): Tom Brady -- I normally don't draft a QB this high, but receivers like Vincent Jackson, Reggie Wayne and Mike Wallace were already off the board. With a lot of receivers gone and running backs slipping, I thought I could take the No. 1 overall player on my board and come back with a quality runner.

Round 3 (36): Jahvid Best -- I was right. I had Best rated really high and almost selected him over Brady the pick before. I think he blows up big-time in that Lions offense. I couldn't be happier with this pick. Now I just need Best to stay healthy.

Round 4 (46): Santonio Holmes -- Holmes was a guy I really wanted in a PPR format and this is right where I had him projected to go. I'm expecting huge things out of him.

Round 5 (51): Marques Colston -- It was between Colston and Austin Collie here. Tough choice. I should have gone with Collie. Oh well, I guess having a Saints receiver isn't the end of the world.

Round 6 (70): Santana Moss -- I almost always play a WR in the flex spot so I like to have quality depth. Moss should give me that if any of the Redskins quarterbacks can be close to average.

Round 7A (73): Owen Daniels -- I had no intentions of taking a tight end here but I always say you have to adapt to the draft. With the other options on the board at this point, I thought this was the best pick to make. At least until he gets hurt.

Round 7B (75): Reggie Bush -- This was my toughest call of the draft. I was going to take Tim Hightower here but I think people are undervaluing Bush in Miami. He could catch 70 3-yard passes in that offense.

Round 9 (99): Pierre Thomas -- This will be an absolute steal (read more below). I was really pleased with getting Thomas here to be a running back coming off my bench.

Round 10 (118): Jay Cutler -- I felt like I had to make this pick. Cutler kept dropping so I grabbed him to back up Brady or for trade bait later on. Plus, we both have diabetes so it's time Cutler was on my fantasy team.

Round 11 (123): Deion Branch -- Maybe pound-for-pound my best pick in the draft. Sure, the Pats have a lot of offensive options, but to get one of Brady's favorite receivers this late was larceny.

Round 12 (142): Mike Williams (Sea) -- I don't love Williams but in a PPR league he's a guy who can come off the bench and catch five balls for 65 yards. That's all I'm looking for here.

Round 13 (147): Donald Brown -- I had to take a shower after this pick. I guess old habits are hard to break. I dropped Brown minutes after the draft ended in favor of Arrelious Benn.

Round 14 (166): Lance Kendricks -- With all Fire Sale readers in my league, it's hard for me to get my sleepers, but luckily Kendricks was still there late. I love the guy. Kendricks could be my starting TE before long.

Round 15 (171): Patriots Defense -- I will start 12 different defenses this year. It just so happens that the Pats open with Miami in Week 1, so they were my choice.

Well, there it is. I think I have a pretty diverse squad to start the season, although it may be the least durable roster ever assembled. Remember, I make a ton of trades and roster moves so this team will look completely different in a month.

Pierre Thomas, RB Saints -- A couple of weeks ago I talked about a situation in San Diego where the high hopes over one back (Ryan Mathews) was causing another solid fantasy back (Mike Tolbert) to slip in drafts. I think we have the same thing going on in New Orleans.

I love Mark Ingram. I think Ingram should be the first Saints running back taken off the board but that doesn't mean Thomas still doesn't have a lot of value, especially in PPR leagues.

As I stated above, I grabbed Thomas in Round 9, right around where he's being drafted on average. Thomas has looked great so far in the preseason, running with power and quickness. Remember what happened last year when people just wanted to hand the starting job over to rookie running backs? How did that work out?

Fantasy teams constantly change. I make moves based on if it's early in the year, later in the year, injuries, etc. Thomas has much more value now then he'll have in December. As the year goes on, Ingram will probably start to get more carries but why would Sean Payton rush things and wear him down early when he has quality veterans like Thomas and Darren Sproles on the roster?

I think Thomas is a great guy to have on your bench and even start early in the year at the flex position. Hey, the Saints play the Packers in Week 1. Do you think there will be any points scored in that game? I might start Thomas and I'm expecting a solid effort out of him if I do.

Remember, it's all about value. Thomas is still a big part of the Saints offense and to get a guy like that in Round 9 is the way you help build a deep fantasy team.

Dezmon Briscoe, WR Buccaneers -- With Arrelious Benn recovering from ACL surgery, Dezmon Briscoe has been starting opposite Mike Williams. Let me repeat that: Dezmon Briscoe is the starting receiver in Tampa Bay right now. Much like in his real life career, Briscoe is being ignored on draft day.

The knock on Briscoe has always been he doesn't possess top end speed and that's why he slipped to the sixth round of the draft two years ago. While Briscoe may not be blazing fast, he has good quickness for a receiver who's 6-2 and 210 pounds. Briscoe showed some signs of life late last year and he's having a good training camp and preseason. He could end up being a real find for the Bucs.

I really like Briscoe as a late-round flier or future waiver wire pickup. Benn is expected to play in his first preseason game this week and he still has value as well. However, early on in the season Briscoe should get a lot of opportunities to show what he can do while Benn gets back into the swing of things.

If you're looking for a receiver to grab late that could come out of nowhere and be a fantasy contributor, take a gander at Briscoe.

Antonio Brown, WR Steelers -- Brown came on in the playoffs and had huge catches late in Pittsburgh's playoff wins over the Ravens and Jets. Brown has ridden that momentum into this season. He's been the talk of Steelers training camp and has played well in the preseason.

The thing that intrigues me about Brown is the fact that Hines Ward is starting to decline. The way Ward plays receiver we almost have to think of him as a running back given all the violent collisions he's had over the years. Ward has a huge heart but his body is starting to wear down.

Most people figured Emmanuel Sanders would be next in line, but while Sanders has been recovering from a foot injury, Brown has used the opportunity to shine.

Brown has probably made the biggest jump in my rankings of any player since the lockout ended. I know he has the ability to be a productive NFL receiver and now it looks like Brown has the confidence to go along with his physical skills. He's certainly a guy to watch.

Harry Douglas, WR Falcons -- Douglas is a pure slot receiver. It was evident on film when he was at Louisville that he was going to be a slot receiver, but it was his quickness and playmaking ability that prompted me to make Douglas one of my draft sleepers when he was a rookie.

Douglas has played two seasons in the NFL and he's only recorded 45 receptions. So why him? Why now?

I believe the Falcons offense is now designed for Douglas to be much more dangerous out of the slot. With Roddy White and Julio Jones striking fear on the outside, that's going to leave a lot of room for Douglas to do damage in the middle of the field.

Remember Douglas missed all of the 2009 season with a knee injury. Now that he's two years removed from that injury and the Falcons have more weapons in the passing game, I think we see Douglas turn into one of the better slot receivers in the NFL and have by far the best season of his career.

Douglas is not going to be an every-week fantasy starter, but he could end up being a nice waiver wire pickup at some point this season.

Brent Celek, TE Eagles -- I picked up Celek about midseason last year thinking he may step it up. He did catch 19 balls in the last four games but 2010 just wasn't Celek's year.

That's going to change this season. Mike Vick says Celek will be more involved in the offense and there's a good chance of that happening. There's so much firepower on this Eagles offense, I look at it and think, who will benefit? Celek and Jason Avant.

Avant could be a nice sleeper in PPR leagues, but I really like Celek regaining his 2009 form and doing damage over the middle of the field. There were times last year where Celek was open but Vick decided to check down to LeSean McCoy instead. That's why this year I think we see an increase in receptions for Celek and a bit of a decrease for McCoy.

Celek only caught 42 balls last year. I don't know if he'll get to the 76 receptions he had in 2009, but I think catching 60 passes and scoring eight times is a realistic goal for Celek this season.

Mike Vick, QB Eagles -- OK, stick with me here.

I'm not saying Vick isn't going to have a great fantasy season or shouldn't be a top-rated quarterback. I'm saying drafting Vick in the Top 5 is too high.

A well-respected fantasy analyst believes Vick should be the top pick in fantasy drafts regardless of the scoring system. I really respect this guy's opinion but I'm going to tell you why he's wrong this time.

First of all, there's no way Vick is going to put up the same eye-popping numbers he did the first two months of last season. Vick was good all year but in his first seven games he threw zero interceptions, compared to six picks in his final five games.

If it weren't for Tom Coughlin going to the prevent defense in the third quarter in Week 15, Vick's final three games would have been good, not great. Again, I'm not questioning that he'll put up strong fantasy numbers. I'm simply making the argument that you shouldn't draft Vick in the first round.

Second, I hear that you can't downgrade Vick as an injury risk because any player could get injured. That's a bunch of malarkey. Sure, any quarterback can get injured but only one plays the position like Vick. If Brady or Aaron Rodgers gets seriously hurt, it will probably be on a fluke hit like we saw with Brady a couple of years ago. Vick is half running back. It's a completely different scenario.

Also, Vick is tiny. His body isn't designed to take a ton of punishment. To be fair, Vick hasn't missed a lot of games because of injuries in the past but his style of play is much more frenetic than any other quarterback in the NFL by far.

So, when you factor in a slight decrease in production and the higher injury risk, I view Vick as a solid second-round draft pick and very productive fantasy quarterback. But first overall? I'm not seeing it. That's way too high for Vick, especially considering I would rather have Brady or Philip Rivers as my fantasy quarterback anyway.

Knowshon Moreno, RB Broncos -- It was all going so well. Things were really falling into place for Moreno and then the Broncos signed the human fantasy headache: Willis McGahee.

It was only last month that I was very high on Moreno, but McGahee's presence really halts my initial enthusiasm. You know why McGahee is a killer? He doesn't have the juice to be an every-down back, yet McGahee still has enough left in the tank to take a bite out of Moreno's touches.

Moreno's value drops some because we know at the very least he'll lose goal line carries. Now toss in the fact that John Fox is the head coach in Denver and this is a hot mess waiting to happen. Remember, this is the same coach who juggled DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart so much that he made it almost impossible to start either back.

Moreno is still a decent second running back in PPR leagues because he should catch his share of passes. However, don't just shrug off the McGahee signing. Fox loves getting productive veterans on the field and McGahee still brings a lot to the table. My guess is McGahee will gain in the neighborhood of 500 yards and score seven times.

The Broncos will definitely run the football more this season under Fox and Moreno is reportedly in great shape. No matter how you slice it though, Moreno's fantasy value took a hit the second McGahee signed on to be a Bronco.

Colts Running Backs -- While a lot of the focus about running back committees has centered on places like Carolina, Washington, New Orleans, Green Bay and New England, there's a fantasy headache waiting in Indianapolis.

I've been trying to bury Joseph Addai since the day he was drafted, but the guy has been a much better pro than I predicted. The problem with getting Addai off the field falls on one man and one man alone: Peyton Manning. You see, Addai is such an excellent pass protector and understands the Colts offense so well it's hard to replace him. The Colts want Addai out there if nothing else, to protect their most valuable commodity.

However, it sounds like from the rumblings coming out of Indianapolis that Addai's role may, at the very least, start to diminish some this year. If that does indeed happen, there are a couple of options waiting in the wings.

The hot name is Delone Carter. He's everything the rest of the Colts runners are not. He's a hammer between the tackles and Carter also possesses the speed to get to the edge. In my opinion, Carter's running style is very similar to that of Rashard Mendenhall.

Then there's Donald Brown. Brown has shown flashes every now and then but the former UConn star just can't seem to put it all together. Still, he's been in the offense for three years now and that means he's way ahead of someone like Carter, especially considering we're in a lockout year. Don't forget, this is a very complicated offense and running backs are expected to do a lot.

The dark horse is undrafted free agent Darren Evans. Ryan Williams took over as Virginia Tech's main ballcarrier once Evans got injured two years ago. Still, Evans came on and played pretty well last season and he has an NFL friendly running style, meaning he runs downhill and is very effective between the tackles. Carter and Evans have very similar styles but Carter has the inside track between the two.

So how will this all shake out? Here's how I see it: Addai will start and play more than people are anticipating. Brown is on thin ice but will likely earn a roster spot simply because he knows the offense. Carter will be the short yardage back and vulture touchdowns early on and clearly has the most upside out of the group. Evans will probably be the odd man out but could start the season on the practice squad.

Tread very lightly because there may not be a more unsettled backfield in the NFL than the one in Indianapolis. I try to limit headaches during the fantasy season and this has headache written all over it. Besides, if Manning is out for any period of time this team won't win a game. That's a guarantee.

Michael Crabtree, WR 49ers -- The problem for Crabtree owners is it looks like another year of revolving quarterbacks in San Fran. Smith will start the year as the starter and most likely get benched a month into the season, giving way to rookie Colin Kaepernick. While a tremendous runner, Kaepernick hasn't played in a pro-style offense and at this point he still has a long way to go as a passer.

Also, don't forget Braylon Edwards is in San Francisco as well. When you consider the number of passes that will actually get completed by 49er quarterbacks this year and factor in Crabtree, Edwards, Vernon Davis and Frank Gore are all in the mix to catch those passes, the math just doesn't add up for Crabtree to have a big season.

Some people have labeled Crabtree as a disappointment. I suppose that's technically fair given where he was drafted, but it's hard for a receiver to produce consistently without an NFL-caliber quarterback throwing him the ball.

Chris Cooley, TE Redskins -- Cooley is injured and the presence of Fred Davis has Cooley sliding down the tight end rankings.

For those of you longtime Fire Sale Twitter followers, you know I've been pro-Davis since his USC days. Davis came into camp in excellent shape and I think this could be his breakout season.

Similar to Aaron Hernandez and Lance Kendricks, Davis is one of those H-back types that can line up at different positions and create mismatches.

So with Cooley being out for about a month, it gives Davis a chance to shine and that should lead to more playing time even when Cooley returns. I'm not saying Cooley has no fantasy value, but it is likely Washington will use more two-tight end sets and that will allow Davis to eat into Cooley's production.

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