The purpose of a mock draft is to try stuff out. You aren't necessarily assembling the team you plan to assemble when it counts. You aren't necessarily committing long-term belief to the players you select. I know that won't stop some people in the comments section from the scorching burn that goes: "Why can't I get these idiots in my league?" But for the rest of us, I think it's important to keep in mind.
I was given the No. 7 overall pick in this particular mock. Whether this was done randomly or was engineered by the Illuminati is at this point unknown. (Side note: I participate in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and my little bro, Isaiah -- I've been with him since he was 6 -- is now 14. Because of YouTube, Isaiah is utterly persuaded that LeBron James is part of the Illuminati. It turns out it's very difficult to carry on a non-head-clutching conversation with a 14-year-old.) Anyway, No. 7 is where I sat, hoping that one of the six wise-guy pickers in front of me would select a non-running back, so I wouldn't have to see my finger clicking on Doug Martin's name.
No such luck.
I stuck to my guns. I took Martin. Did I feel great about it? I did not. But I still think it was the right move, although my resulting queasiness may have influenced some later selections, as well as some overcompensating draft-room trash talk. Anyway, the point is: Picking seventh and taking one of the uncertain RBs was a worthwhile mock exercise, to get a feel for one of this year's true swivel points.
Here's how ESPN Fantasy's first official mock draft, conducted on June 19, played out:
Musings: It's thoroughly unshocking that nine RBs went in the top 10, because when you do these mocks with our ESPN Fantasy team, your thought process is: "Hey, I'm drafting with wise guys." That means if you wait on RBs you wind up with Frank Gore and Trent Richardson as your starting backfield, as James Quintong did in this mock. In a draft with fewer people overtly or subconsciously in thrall to the principles of Value-Based Drafting, you'd certainly see more first-round picks spent on other positions. ... That said, Quintong's coupling of Peyton Manning and Jimmy Graham would've been mighty sweet in '13. ... Field Yates, my Fantasy Underground podcast compadre, reported that he dropped and cracked his iPhone right before this draft, which would've been more believable had he accidentally drafted the other Adrian Peterson No. 1 overall.
My pick -- Doug Martin: A couple of weeks ago, new Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford told reporters that when it comes to RBs, "I think you need to alternate." That sent the fantasy world into a tizzy, because now everyone envisions Bobby Rainey, Mike James and Charles Sims ruining the Muscle Hamster's season. My point here is threefold:
1. What incentive does Tedford have to be truthful with the media? Why would he accurately explain his plans to his NFC South foes?
2. If Tedford had said "keep fresh" instead of "alternate," would this have gained traction? Are we really all losing our minds over verb choice?
3. Things that coaches have said:
"I think (LaDainian Tomlinson)'s got a hell of a chance to win the rushing title."
-Norv Turner, 2009
"(Shonn Greene) is ready to be that bell cow."
-Rex Ryan, 2011
"It's real simple: We're going to give it to (C.J. Spiller) until he throws up."
-Nathaniel Hackett, 2013
Do I love the fact that Martin averaged 3.6 yards per carry in '13? Nope. Do I expect a stream of criticism for building my team around Martin when Manning and Calvin Johnson were on the board? Yup. Then again, I recall writing this piece last summer, and getting hate-tweets telling me how stupid I was for not putting Martin No. 2 overall. I think he's a more talented runner than anyone left on the board, save perhaps Arian Foster (and Foster is 813 touches further into his career, coming off back surgery). And, uh, did I mention this is a mock draft?
Musings: Several wise guys touted the virtues of DeMarco Murray at May's rankings summit, which is how he wound up No. 10 on our consensus RB list. Apparently none of those specific WGs were in this draft, because 13 RBs went without Murray hearing his name called. ... Put yourself in the shoes of Tim Kavanagh and Jim McCormick: mid-round pickers who rightly went RB in Round 1, and who obviously don't love the RB2 options in this round. They go elite WR, thinking a quasi-decent RB will be there on the wraparound. As it turns out, Kavanagh doesn't get his second RB until Round 4 (Ryan Mathews) and McCormick doesn't get his until Round 6 (Toby Gerhart). That's not a criticism. But even in drafts among non-wise guy "normals," the lesson is, as always, if you pass on RBs early, you'll chase them later.
My pick -- Zac Stacy: I've now selected the Underground's two top darlings from its first two years. That's some Hawk Harrelson-level homerism there. Stacy averaged 3.9 ypc last season and isn't fast, but his power/agility combo puts me in the mind of the young Frank Gore. I'm not buying that Tre Mason is a major player this year. It's beyond awesome that Mason's dad is DJ Maseo of De La Soul, but Tre hasn't pass-protected much and fumbled eight times in his final two college seasons. For cooler parties? Definitely take Mason. For studly '14 stats? Stacy.
Musings: Marshall and Jeffery finished fifth and ninth in WR fantasy points in '13. Is having teammates pull off top-10 seasons in the same year a historical rarity? I mean, kind of? Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin did it in '08, and then nobody did it for three straight years until two tandems did it in '12: Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and Julio Jones and Roddy White. So either three tandems have done it in the past two seasons (which is amazing!) or three tandems have done it in the past five seasons (which is discouraging!). Aren't stats great? ... There are so many WRs. Seriously, let's count how many WRs we wouldn't be shocked to see finish in the fantasy top 10 this year. On my list of wideouts, I think I count 27. Julian Edelman -- whom I like, and will select later in this draft! -- is the first guy where if he finished in the top 10, I go, "All right, cats and dogs are probably sleeping together, too." I mean, I can make a case for a one-legged Reggie Wayne as a top-10 fantasy wideout. Crazy.
My pick -- Antonio Brown: OK, so my ESPN boss literally called me right as I was making this pick. No joke. I didn't have "pause" privileges, and nobody likes being that person, the one who needs to roll back because they just accidentally drafted Patrick Jeffers, so I decided to multitask. I can schedule stuff and draft at the same time! Sure I can! I like Brown a lot, and I think I probably would've taken him here even with my entire brain (such as it is) committed. He caught 110 passes for 1,499 yards last season. The Pittsburgh Steelers have no other proven WR commodities. However, like you, I look at Brown (generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 186 pounds) and do not immediately think "WR1." Giant humans Vincent Jackson and Andre Johnson were just sitting there. Brown could be a one-year wonder. The sun was in my eyes. Sigh.
Musings: Spiller goes 31st overall. He's like the continued existence of Facebook: I can't argue against it, I just don't want any part of it. We've all seen Spiller's skills. We all know what he can be. But after four years -- Spiller was already in the NFL when "The Social Network" came out and proved that Jesse Eisenberg always plays Jesse Eisenberg -- I'm no longer convinced he'll ever be that RB. This is his age-27 season. He's always nicked up. I'm done. ... KC Joyner just went back-to-back on workload-challenged RBs: Reggie Bush and Andre Ellington. There's no doubting the raw quickness there, but will they exceed 400 combined carries? ... As injury-prone as he is, Mathews has to go higher than RB19. He finished tied for 10th in '13. Kavanagh gets a steal here, but doesn't bother handcuffing Donald Brown because bad things never happen.
My pick -- DeSean Jackson: This is a rankings summit debate come to life. I took D-Jax, and Matthew Berry took Garcon with the very next pick. We argued those sides at the summit and I lost. Berry's take was that Garcon just led the NFL in catches and was second in targets, and the presence of Jackson -- who has never finished higher than 22nd in targets and has regularly posted low-single-digit TDs in his up-and-down career -- won't change that. My response was to say Jay Gruden loves deep speed, and then hold my breath until I turned blue. (Actually, in this case I felt pairing the weekly boom-or-bust Jackson with the steady Antonio Brown made for the stronger starting tandem.)
Musings: I think this is at least a round too early for Patterson, but sometimes you love a player and don't want to risk losing him. That said, something pretty substantial would have to change from last year. As a rookie, Patterson averaged 4.0 yards at the catch. That was 83rd among 84 qualified wideouts. (The league leader was Kenny Stills with 13.9.) In other words, all Patterson knew how to do was take three steps and turn around. ... Stafford is the fourth QB off the board? Hmm. He's my No. 6, and even that feels squirrelly. (He finished seventh in '13.) Is it because we're all super-excited that the Detroit Lions hired Jim Bob Cooter -- his actual name -- to be their QB coach? "Sure, Stafford used to tell his old coaches to forget it when they begged him not to throw it underhanded, but Jim Bob Cooter has got this." ... Look at the WRs in this round! Cobb, Harvin, Allen, Cruz! And the remaining RBs are all dreadful. In a non-WG draft, these WRs go earlier.
My pick -- Vernon Davis: How can you tell I was having a weird day? I took a tight end. I mean, I am the guy who never takes an elite TE. One of the others in this mock must've had a voodoo doll of me (a pale, pale voodoo doll). I'd love to proclaim that this was another case of me "testing things out" in a mock draft, except what the heck does taking the bait and reaching for a non-scarce position "test"? Davis is a terrific player, and if he scores 13 TDs again, this looks great. But c'mon, he won't. The San Francisco 49ers have a kabillion receiving weapons now, and Davis' three previous TD totals were five, six and seven. I could've had Jordan Cameron, whom I value almost the same as Davis, with any of my next four picks. You know what? I blame the World Cup. I look at "Cameron" and I see "Cameroon," and they stink.
Musings: Just a few years ago, Bill Belichick and Mike Shanahan shared well-earned reputations for being napalm to fantasy backfields. Then Shanny got late-career religion in the form of Alfred Morris, and now the spymaster stands alone. Ridley is a natural as an early-down plow horse, but one more fumble and Belichick pours honey on him and ties him to an anthill. Even in standard-scoring leagues, I, like Gramling, would take Vereen before Ridley. ... Best comment on Rice last year came from a reporter: "He looked like a little kid in a snowsuit running in the open field." And now, at age 27, this dude drops from No. 3 overall in '13 to No. 55 overall in '14? Certainly, his looming suspension has something to do with this, but is he really cooked? Taking a chance on him here, where he doesn't even have to start for Berry's team, makes a lot of sense. ... How can you tell Golden Tate will disappoint in '14? Because he's one of my favorite breakout candidates, and I have (Titus Young) such a tremendous record (Ryan Broyles) of predicting star seasons (Jahvid Best) for ancillary Lions weapons (Kevin Smith).
My pick -- Cam Newton: On its face, this looks like another one where I outfoxed myself; QB is once again deep, and Andrew Luck went 23 picks later. But you know what? No regrets here. In three pro seasons, Newton has finished fourth, fourth and third in fantasy points at his position. It doesn't matter if you don't love him as a thrower, or don't respect his paper-thin receiving corps. He's giving you 600 rushing yards and eight rushing TDs. The ankle will be fine. (I think.)
Musings: Uh, Field, you know you just drafted both Indianapolis Colts receivers back-to-back, right? Must be a shattered iPhone thing. ... By getting Joique Bell 34 picks after Reggie Bush, Matt Williamson pulled a heist as big as Pittsburgh. I legitimately believe Bell is a better ball carrier than Bush. He doesn't have the home run ability or lateral quickness, but he's tougher and more consistent between the tackles, and Bush gets hurt. Did you know Bell got $4.3 million this winter, and Bush got $4 million guaranteed last year? ... Who'll be surprised when Moreno misses eight games with a knee injury and totals 400 yards from scrimmage? Aliens invaded his body in '13, and gave him one year of glory before leaving his rotted husk behind. Now they're in Iggy Azalea. ... I know the Tennessee Titans like Sankey's short-area measurables and his 40 time, but you watch him in college against better opponents and you're underwhelmed. He was an east-west guy who didn't show all of this supposed explosiveness in which the Titans believe. If McCormick is taking him this high (and I know other WGs who'd have done the same), he's counting on workload above all else.
My pick -- Chris Johnson: I wanted Khiry Robinson, who, it turns out, I'm already hyping so much across so many platforms this summer that by the time I'm done with him, he won't be a sleeper at all. That's one bummer about doing this for a living: You get in your home leagues and all the guys you're drafting against are like, "Oh, I bet you sure wish you could have Titus Young, don't you ginger-boy? Too bad I'm gonna take him five rounds early to thwart your ambitions!" And like a schmuck, I do a dynasty league podcast literally days before a rookie draft and everyone's like, "Ooh, let's see if he's really taking Jordan Matthews, that fraud!"
But anyway, back to Johnson. He's my 25th RB and he goes No. 31 here. It's fashionable to say his speed is gone, but it's really not. It just hibernates for long stretches. In fact, no RB in the league reminds me more of a World Cup soccer player. He's still got his top-end gear, but only shows it when the field is wide open, plus he flops to the turf at the first sign of contact. Zing!
Musings: The first defense goes off the board with the 71st pick, because highly touted defenses never disappoint. ... In a salary-cap world, Decker going to the New York Jets isn't anyone's fault, but it kind of does represent the worst thing about the NFL. Decker goes from Peyton Manning to Geno Smith for a few extra shekels, and his narrative is already etched on stone tablets: Now he's a plucky guy who'll drop nice stats every few weeks and earn too much hype because he's in Gotham, and just when you start to count on him he'll catch 3 for 34 ... Tristan Cockcroft got a steal, getting Sanders six picks after Decker (and 22 after Wes Welker). Take Decker's average line with Peyton: 86 grabs, 1,176 yards and 12 TDs. Maybe because Sanders is four inches shorter and 34 pounds lighter than Decker, it's fair to cut those TDs in half. (Maybe.) You know what you're left with? A top-15 fantasy WR. I can't get worried yet about rookie Cody Latimer. ... I think Boston-born Yates took Miller here because he likes saying "La-Mah."
My pick -- Julian Edelman: Speaking of World Cup, you know, I can deal with the flopping and the Bieber-esque hairstyles; heck, with all the goals, it's been a pretty fabulous tournament. You know the one thing that just wigs me out, though? The face touching! They tackle each other, they get up, one guy wants to apologize to another, and he just grabs the dude's face. Maybe my personal-space bubble is just bigger than most folks', because I would not react well if someone in my beer softball league touched my face. OK, anyway: Edelman. (Kind of looks like a soccer player, no?) The elite TD numbers probably won't be there, but if he stays healthy again, 100 catches is in play. I thought about Sanders, but in the end I stuck with Tom Brady's No. 1.
Musings: How sad is it to see MJD fall this far, all the way to 84th overall? And look at the carnage among our former fantasy hero RBs! Ray Rice. Steven Jackson. Chris Johnson. Darren McFadden. DeAngelo Williams. It's like going to work with your dad and realizing he's not the boss of everybody. I don't mind taking the chance on Jones-Drew here, but I'd be mighty surprised if we discover his legs have much left. ... Just because I think Khiry Robinson has the most upside of any New Orleans Saints RB doesn't mean getting Pierre Thomas here isn't a smooth move. Even with Darren Sproles around in '13, Frenchy led all NFL RBs in catches and set a career-high in touches from scrimmage. (That said, Brandin Cooks could eat into those totals in '14.) ... Evans is the first rookie receiver off the board, but I actually gave Joyner a hard time here, because he took Pitta (probably the TE I'm going to wind up with most this year, by the way) and Watkins went one pick later. At May's summit, KC was the biggest believer in Watkins, and while I'm skeptical of any rookie receiver -- especially one catching passes from EJ Manuel -- KC watches more college film than anyone, and his opinion matters. He admitted he was planning on grabbing Sammy in the 10th. ... Cameroon just got drafted! Les Lions Indomptables!
My pick -- Chris Ivory: This isn't a handcuff for CJ2K as much as it is an endorsement of Ivory himself. I still believe. Ivory has rare acceleration for his size, and in particular has good instincts for when to kick a run outside and when to plow into a defender. Unfortunately, his body keeps breaking. In the Jets' ideal world, Johnson and Ivory go 60-40 on the workload and each stays healthy. In my mock team's ideal world, one of them crumbles and the other goes bananas.
Musings: Hey, it's the round of Philadelphia Eagles I don't like! In '13, Foles-to-Cooper was one of the least-expected successful pairings since the Cronut, and I'm on record with my skepticism moving forward. Foles isn't awful, but he's not a 27-to-2 TD-INT guy (nobody is); he makes plenty of bad decisions, but lucked his way out of most of them last season. Cooper is a solid red-zone threat and could hit high single-digit TDs again, but he doesn't separate and will see more defensive attention in '14. I'll own neither. ... Nuk Hopkins will be a fantasy stud someday. In fact, I give him equal footing with his former Clemson teammate Sammy Watkins, and I think Hopkins is a better long-term bet if Bill O'Brien stays his coach. And imagine if Andre Johnson really does force a trade to a better team; Hopkins would be an immediate candidate for 1,200-plus yards. ... During his heart-palpitating zero-TD season last season, Nicks reportedly wanted to stay healthy so he could cash in on a big contract. Nice thinking, 'Keem. Instead of getting paid, he's on another one-year deal with the Colts. The upside? Nicks can keep playing at half-speed every year to preserve his health, and keep getting one-year contracts. He'll play 'til he's 80!
My pick -- Christine Michael: Time for the lottery tickets. There's still no guarantee Michael beats out Robert Turbin to understudy Marshawn Lynch, and I don't put any stake in Lynch's supposed retirement threats. But based on Michael's '13 preseason, I can envision a scenario in which he takes on a meaningful role this year. Watching defenders take hellaciously bad angles because they misjudged his speed was one thing. Watching him plow over linebackers was another. His superfreakiness will make him a star. It's just a matter of when.
Multiround musings: Williamson's continued faith in Greg Jennings is touching. Mine is gone. Once a feared deep threat running out of the slot, Jennings might now be the platonic ideal of an "average" wideout. Not big and no longer fast, with nice routes and hands but nothing that makes you forget Jerry Rice, this $17.8 million man represents a personnel blunder by a Minnesota Vikings organization becoming known for them. ... There goes Josh Gordon! None of us expect him to play this year, but until we know he's suspended for sure, someone will keep taking him late in mocks. ... Speaking of the Cleveland Browns, I love how we're all (myself included!) totally on board with Terrance West, despite most of his college footage at Towson only being available Zapruder-film style. Obviously, it's all about not trusting Ben Tate. The Browns could probably sign a garden rake in shoulder pads to be their No. 2 back, and I'd draft it in the 12th. ... Yates is the last one to take his starting QB. Interestingly, he passes on free-faller Russell Wilson (whom I rate eighth at the position), as well as Matt Ryan, Philip Rivers and Jay Cutler, in favor of Romo. This means Field believes Scott Linehan-related volume will overcome Romo's inherent Romo-ness, which without fail has caused him to submit two or three single-digit stinkers every season. ... And here's poor DMC, at 130th overall. He's only 27. He still has all-around skills. But I admit I kind of expect the Oakland Raiders to cut him this summer. Can't blame the WGs for not taking the bait for a millionth consecutive year.
My picks: Rueben Randle, Jeremy Hill, Andrew Hawkins: I'm trying so hard not to be swayed by all the puff pieces about Randle coming out of New York. All I know is when the New York Giants needed him while Hakeem Nicks was running half-speed, Randle had more than three catches in a game three times all year. Like Nicks, he was a drop machine, and he also illustrated no chemistry with Eli Manning on option routes. But I'd be dumb if I didn't acknowledge he's got all kinds of upside if the light goes on in his third year. As for Hawkins? He almost certainly looks like the Browns' No. 1 receiver. I'd like him more in a PPR, but he needs to be taken in all leagues.
Multiround musings: There are no wrong picks this late, only choices to make about potential sleepers. Especially in a 10-team draft, every single one of these players could easily be released by Week 4 in favor of the flavor of the month. So what patterns do we see here? The wise guys mostly go super-young or creaky-old, looking for situations that might bear sleeper fruit. In my opinion, Green, Matthews, Murray and Benjamin should go in all leagues. The Britt pick is harmless just in case a reunion with Jeff Fisher is what the mercurial WR needs. Personally I see no need to draft a backup QB in a 10-teamer, but Cockcroft stealing Wilson this late is pretty hilarious, though he did it at the expense of handcuffing Knile Davis to Jamaal Charles. And Phil Dawson with the 160th pick? Pure value.
My picks: DeAngelo Williams, Cardinals D/ST, Justin Tucker: I kept seeing D-Willy on the board round after round, and I was like, "Uh, did DeAngelo retire when I wasn't looking?" Yes, he's 31. Yes, the Carolina Panthers have myriad offensive questions, including a shaky-looking line. Yes, Cam Newton and Mike Tolbert will probably steal the TDs. But Jonathan Stewart -- who has 141 carries the past two seasons combined -- went 13 picks earlier? Surely Williams is my top candidate for a preseason release when I decide I'm BFFs with Atlanta Falcons fourth-string QB Jeff Matthews (Let's Go Red!), but just as surely he should be taken in all drafts, shouldn't he? Shouldn't he?