You asked us to go deeper, and so we did. We recently rounded up the extended fantasy family to conduct a 14-team PPR mock draft on Aug. 16. The result was 224 players selected, significantly extending the market for talent beyond the 160 picks we find in an ESPN standard 10-team league.
Variation is all the rage these days in fantasy, and having as many as 14 teams in a league is particularly fun given how significantly and inescapably it challenges roster depth. Even the renowned depth at quarterback is tested, as it's no longer a formality to get a legitimate starting fantasy arm. As always, these mocks are here to serve as updates on the evolving marketplace and to offer some examples of how different strategies and roster identities develop in a given draft.
The participants joining me for this mock draft, in a randomly determined first-round order, were: Keith Lipscomb, Matthew Berry, Shawn Cwalinski, KC Joyner, Stephania Bell, Dave Hunter, Pierre Becquey, AJ Mass, Brian Gramling, Field Yates, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Eric Karabell and Christopher Harris.
If you'd like to see each team's full roster, click here.
I wanted to be adventurous, so I went with Adrian Peterson first. I'm hoping I didn't reach. Honestly, though, the No. 1 spot is sweeter than ever this season. Drafts seem to really start with the second pick this year, as lingering concern over Arian Foster has essentially vacated the on-deck circle in many leagues for a number of other elite tailbacks. In this case, Doug Martin was the first human being selected, and there's a strong argument for him in a PPR format given that he had the most receiving targets (65) of the 10 backs who saw at least 276 carries last season. It doesn't hurt that Martin was also fourth among all backs in yards per catch (YPC), either. With this most recent injury scare seemingly behind him, an argument for Jamaal Charles at No. 2 could rest on the reasoning that the Chiefs were already second in the league in targets to running backs last season, and this was before the short-pass-happy Alex Smith and Andy Reid offense came to town. Similarly, C.J. Spiller merits consideration thanks to his elite 10.7 YPC.
I asked Karabell whether the selection of Ray Rice over Foster was due more to injury concerns or the scoring format: "The case can easily be made for Rice over Foster in a PPR. I believe reports of Rice losing many touches to Bernard Pierce are premature. Rice should be good for at least 65 receptions this season, and Foster has become less of a receiving threat each season. So yeah, it's not really about Foster's injury, but PPR value."
Darren Sproles might stand out to you this early, but when you consider that he was the 11th back in this PPR scoring format in 2012 while dealing with injuries and the loss of coaching continuity, it's actually somewhat of a safe pick given the production floor his receptions provide.
It was somewhat interesting to see Alfred Morris and Ridley both gone by the 15th pick in a full PPR format like this, but in an era of uncertainty with so many inscrutable depth charts around the league, a 300-touch, two-down thumper remains a rarity. Reggie Bush could challenge Sproles in the receiving department now that he's on an historically pass-heavy offense that ranked sixth in 2012 in targets to the position. Harris shared his take on investing in one of the classic risk/reward commodities of the day: "I took McFadden in the second round, at pick 23. Sounds like a reach, until you realize that he was the 19th RB taken!"
A healthy debate over the appropriate value for Jimmy Graham emerged after Cockcroft mentioned that the Saints star had slid a bit too far by the time Hunter netted him at 24. "I think he might have slipped as many as six spots too far in this format," Cockcroft wrote during the draft. Harris saw it the other way: "No matter the format, a tight end needs an utterly historic season to justify a second-rounder even in a PPR, and even in a league this big." Joyner chimed in with his support of Graham's PPR merits: "I've got Graham rated No. 26 overall in PPR."
Cockcroft expounded on his position after the draft: "PPR is the only way I'm picking Graham in Round 2, and it also has a lot to do with the 14-team format. Replacement value drops enough to justify it only in that kind of format. Maybe also 12-team, but he's like pick 24 in that for me; he's maybe 22nd for me in this format."
Harris also added to his stance afterward, saying, "My resistance to any tight end as a second-round pick is well known, but I'll restate it here: The principles of value-based drafting (which allow us to compare players at different positions) say that unless they post absolutely historic seasons, tight ends are never worth taking that early. Jimmy Graham has to essentially produce Rob Gronkowski's 2011 season to be justified at 24th overall; even if Graham duplicates his own great '11, he won't quite have been worth it."
Even though patience is often a rewarded virtue at quarterback, I figured that with Peterson in tow I could afford to allocate resources outside of my backfield to go after some real stars at their respective positions. When picking on either end of a larger draft like this, it often compels me to be a bit more aggressive in pursuing the best available talent, knowing that the board will look quite different when it comes back my way. Given the scoring format and the volume of targets bound to go Danny Amendola's way, Karabell thought Yates' investment represented strong value: "I thought Amendola would go earlier, Darren Sproles and Reggie Bush certainly did."
Joyner explained why he drafted Ball: "The biggest plus for Ball is actually Denver's run blocking. The Broncos had a 48.9 percent good blocking rate (GBR) last year, which ranked fifth in the league. GBR measures how often a blocking wall gives its rushers good blocking, which is very roughly defined as when the offense doesn't allow the defense to disrupt a rush attempt. Ball may end up being only a two-down/goal-line back, but with this type of blocking and with Peyton Manning being just as apt to audible into a rushing play as he is a passing play, Ball should have one of the highest ratios of quality rushing opportunities of any back in the league."
When you see Tom Brady go at 50, after paying the price I did for Brees earlier, it can inspire some doubt. That said, landing Vereen, a player I highly value in a PPR format, helped bolster my concerns over the costs associated with paying a premium at QB.
Yates likes what he has seen from Ivory on the field, at least when he's been healthy enough to suit up. "The talent has always been evident; he's an explosive, powerful, violent runner who can make defenders miss in the hole and run through arm tackles," Yates said. "The two biggest drawbacks to his game have been his role (buried in a deep New Orleans backfield) and his durability (he's had a variety of dings during his career). While I feel comfortable that the role question is irrelevant in New York (he's slated to be the starter), there's some risk involved given his injury history. That being said, there's injury risk for any running back in the NFL, so it's a bet I'm willing to hedge."
Lipscomb feels like he learned a valuable lesson after deploying a different draft strategy this time. "The turning point -- or maybe more aptly put, the point of no return -- for my draft came in Round 4 when I decided to try something I've yet to try in a mock this year: Take the plunge on Gronk," Lipscomb explained. "I knew this meant forfeiting any possibility of fielding a backfield I would have confidence in to enter the season, but it went from snowball to avalanche rather quickly, when you consider the backs I could've/would've taken in subsequent rounds … It's not something I would try again in a 14-team league, but I'm really glad I gave it a try just to be reminded how quickly the top 30 backs get scarfed up. If Gronk winds up playing 13-14 games this season, my roster will still be solid and put up a bunch of points, but I'm going to be scrambling at the RB position all season long, and that's not fun."
No it's not, Keith. But it seems that in a 14-team league, it's inevitable that several teams will be scrambling for competent running back contributions.
I recently argued for Vernon Davis to be a prime bounce-back candidate this season after having been the No. 2 fantasy tight end from 2009-11. The idea being that the San Francisco passing offense takes more vertical shots of at least 20 yards to their tight ends than any other team in football, with Davis positioned to break 1,000 yards for the first time in his career. When I asked the participants to highlight the greatest value picks from the entire draft, Cam Newton's name was by far the most common response. Sometimes in these staff drafts where we nearly all tend to wait on the position, the values at quarterback can be a bit dramatic.
Harris loves him some Giovani Bernard, one of his 10 "Flag Players" heading into the campaign. "I currently have Bernard projected for 40 catches even in a straight platoon with BenJarvus Green-Ellis (whom I also drafted, in case I'm wrong about Gio's involvement)," Harris said. "But I'm really drafting the skills as much as the position. In a dynasty league, Gio is my No. 1 draftee; I'm a believer in his insane quicks and change of direction, plus he's a fantastic pass-catcher. He's never shown himself to be a physical runner, but neither has C.J. Spiller."
This was the true quarterback run of the draft, with six signal-callers going off the board. Joyner explained why he has regularly landed Robert Griffin III in our staff mocks this summer: "Griffin is one of four QBs to garner a blue rating (designated for elite players), so getting him in the fifth round (where his current 48.0 ADP has him being taken) or sixth round (as he went in this draft) is an absolute steal. His downfield passing numbers last year were off the charts -- he led the league in vertical YPA and was second in stretch vertical YPA -- so the idea that he could be held back by not running as much doesn't look to be true. Big plus is since QB depth is off the charts; it should be easy to get a low-cost insurance policy backup for him."
The question mark backs continue to litter the draft board, as this format is apt to incite risk-taking and a lottery ticket mentality when it comes to building backfield depth. "In a deeper league like this," Karabell said after the draft, "pretty much every team is relying on unreliable or unproven players." For my roster, this is when the 14-team effect was really taking hold, as I invested in Johnathan Franklin nearly entirely based on position scarcity. For example, just a few picks later Chris Givens, a player I find far more intriguing for both his statistical floor and big-play, breakout potential, was taken.
Mass shared his take on drafting on one end of the snake and how that position, combined with the scale of the league, might have influenced his buying strategy: "It does change my strategy, because I have to look close to 25 picks ahead in order to gauge what positions might be so weak when I pick again that I have to reach a bit earlier than I'd like. Which is why I went with Danny Woodhead and Marcel Reece when I did, thinking that RB might not have anything left when it got back to me -- and with 12 of the next 16 picks being RB, I was right."
Some nice upside wideouts, especially for this PPR format, went off the board with Becquey acquiring one of Harris' flag players in Rueben Randle, while Harris himself netted a potential PPR maven in Ryan Broyles. Joyner believes he might have landed an ideal PPR discount himself in Robert Woods: "He could get over 100 targets in that offense and do well with them." Berry could reap a potential profit from Vincent Brown, as literally the lone man able to stand among San Diego wideouts.
I eschewed the New England rookie duo and instead went for Edelman in a PPR format, the thinking being that I wouldn't be surprised to see him pick up some of the target slack left from the offseason carnage that hit the team's receiving and tight end corps. Either way, investing late in the Patriots receiving corps could be rewarding. As the preseason progressed, it was starting to feel like Lance Dunbar would be the backup of choice in Dallas (his foot injury, which occurred after this mock draft took place, may put a short-term crimp in those plans, though). With the ability to flex tight ends in this league, the 12th round became a hotspot for fliers at the position. Jordan Cameron, in particular, incited some positive chatter in the draft room.
As a testament to the depths this sort of league goes to, Becquey noted, "Brandon Weeden just went off the board and it's entirely reasonable." Yates is famously high on Reggie Bush's prospects to thrive in Detroit this fall, but he's also wise enough to net a nice flier on Joique Bell, who quietly hauled in 52 catches last season. As far as defenses go, I think the dismissal of the Ravens as a viable starting fantasy unit is a bit rash considering how capable they've been in replenishing that side of the roster in the past and the quality of talent they brought in this offseason and get back from injury.
For whatever reason, a serious kicker run started in the 16th. But before that, the 15th round featured some interesting names, namely Zach Sudfeld in New England with the team's penchant for grooming the position so well, and the fact that Josh Freeman went after guys like Weeden.