Monday, July 29 saw ESPN fantasy embark on a bold mission: a day filled with fantasy football mock drafts. Eighteen ESPN experts held 54 mocks, and the resultant social-media buzz led the phrase #MockDraftMonday to trend on Twitter.
I partook in eight drafts and had a blast. All my drafts were of the 12-team variety; one of the eight was a two-QB league, and they all featured standard scoring. As such, I made 129 draft picks. However, I selected only 76 different players (including kickers and defenses). As I did draft after draft, I found several players popping up on my radar multiple times. And that's why I'm writing today: to give perspective at the end of July on where I think some value rests in fantasy drafts.
Now, this methodology isn't perfect. In three drafts, I had the No. 1 overall pick, and each time I took Adrian Peterson. That means I like Adrian Peterson. Duh. If I could have taken him eight times, I would have. But I picked second once, fourth once, seventh once, 10th once and 12th once. So especially in the first round my hands were often tied, thus analyzing the early-round picks I made isn't going to tell us that much. But later? That exercise will reveal some places where I think value can be found, a month before the season.
Players I selected four times
Colin Kaepernick, QB, SF (average position I drafted him: 57th overall)
Ronnie Hillman, RB, DEN (114th)
Martellus Bennett, TE, CHI (130th)
Jonathan Stewart, RB, CAR (134th)
Rueben Randle, WR, NYG (134th)
Vincent Brown, WR, SD (138th)
Most Interesting: In our ESPN group rankings, Kaepernick comes in as the No. 7 QB and No. 46 overall, and in my ranks, he's the No. 6 QB and No. 37 overall. My usual strategy on a QB is to wait, wait and then wait more, but by lasting on average until the 57th pick in drafts where I selected him, Kaepernick presented value too good to pass up. I got him late in the fifth round of several drafts, and at that price, I was biting.
Others: This must mean I believe Hillman will win the starting Denver Broncos RB gig, right? Wrong. As you'll see in a moment, I like Montee Ball more than Hillman. But just in case I'm wrong, I drafted Hillman too. … I certainly have no love for Stewart and his bad ankle, but as a 12th-round pick, I'll grab a guy who started his career with two 10-TD seasons and is 26 years old. I can always drop him. … I think Bennett is underrated as the group-ranked No. 12 TE; he's No. 7 on my list. Whenever I waited for a tight end, he was my guy. … I like late-round lottery-ticket WRs like Randle (second year) and Brown (third year) more than I do rookies.
Players I selected three times
Most Interesting: Time and again as the RBs dwindled, I eyed Ball. A couple of times he went right before my pick. Three times I got him, on average early in the third round. Ball is No. 16 on my RB list and No. 30 overall, compared to No. 19 on the group RB list and No. 37 overall. That slight difference -- and the fact that I could tell many of the mock drafters I was competing against are mighty skeptical of Ball -- led me to draft him regularly. I'm on record: When push comes to shove, I believe Ball wins most of the early-down work and almost all the short-yardage work for a very good Broncos offense.
Others: I also apparently like Gore more than many drafters. My picking him was questioned at least a few times. What can I say? The guy finished 10th among fantasy RBs last year and has played 16 games in back-to-back seasons. It might be more the O-line than the player, but I'll take it. … I'm unconvinced that Randle is DeMarco Murray's handcuff. Lance Dunbar has gotten good pub in camp, but I didn't draft Murray at all. Taking Randle was simply a bet that Murray gets hurt and Randle gets part of the job. … I don't know anything you don't know about Stacy. He's a squat, powerful guy without great speed, but he's a tough, balanced runner. I'll take a chance he earns part of a committee with my 13th-rounder. … Tom Brady has famously never made a rookie into a good fantasy WR, but with such a late-round pick, I'm willing to take a shot with Dobson.
Players I selected twice
LeSean McCoy, RB, PHI (9th)
Vincent Jackson, WR, TB (29th)
Andre Johnson, WR, HOU (39th)
Jordy Nelson, WR, GB (48th)
Reggie Wayne, WR, IND (50th)
Eddie Lacy, RB, GB (65th)
Giovani Bernard, RB, CIN (75th)
Cecil Shorts, WR, JAC (76th)
Shane Vereen, RB, NE (77th)
Johnathan Franklin, RB, GB (90th)
Ryan Williams, RB, ARI (96th)
Bryce Brown, RB, PHI (98th)
Michael Floyd, WR, ARI (120th)
Most Interesting: I'm not sure we can draw a ton of conclusions about picking a guy twice in eight drafts, other than I don't hate that guy's value. But McCoy is the player with whom I wound up both times I picked toward the back part of the top 10. I believe he's a clear first-round pick, even in 10-team drafts; he's my No. 8 RB and No. 8 player overall, compared to the group ranks that have him No. 10 among RBs and No. 11 overall. It's a small distinction, but enough to make me target Shady if I'm near the back end. If someone picks Trent Richardson, Alfred Morris or Calvin Johnson, I'm ready to take McCoy. I think his workload this year is going to be massive.
Others: At this point, I'm really just establishing a few guys I like as lottery-ticket RBs and WRs. I can't promise you any of these players will blow up in 2013, but they have a chance. As you can see, I'm emphasizing young players here, often choosing talent over situation.