Some will tell you that you NEED to grab a RB 1st this year, or at least get 1 within the 1st 2 rounds. That's never true.
I've never bought into the idea that any single strategy will win or lose your fantasy league. Chasing any specific position at any certain time can often lead you to reach and/or get caught up in runs, which will only drag your roster down.
Drafting a winning team is all about following the value and coming out with the best total group of players, regardless of which positions prove strongest or weakest on your team.
To that end, mock-draft season is the perfect time to test out different approaches to find out what works best before things get real. I'd gone RB in the 1st round just about every time this year, so I used 2 recent drafts to see what happened if I started with a pair of pass-catchers.
Both the FF Toolbox mock and The Fake Football mock use PPR scoring and start 1 QB, 2 RBs, 3 WRs, 1 TE, 1 K and 1 D/ST. The Fake Football format added 1 flex player, while the FF Toolbox setup included 2. (The latter pushed QBs inordinately far down the board -- yeah, even for a DS "wait on a QB" mindset.)
I think it's interesting to note the similarities between these drafts. Despite differences in draft and lineup sizes, I addressed the same position in 7 of the 1st 11 rounds. I didn't love either team right away but like each more now as I look back on them. The RBs look a bit tenuous but in each case join a strong corps of players at the other positions.
Rather than waste any more words, though, let's get to the picks ...
The Fake Football -- 1.08 Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions
FF Toolbox -- 1.08 Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions
Duh. Of course this approach started with him. If you've set up an MVP Board with PPR scoring, you might've seen Johnson come up 1st or 2nd overall. Honestly, that surprised us a bit around the office, but it only speaks to his dominance. I don't think any of us is taking him #1 overall in any common redraft setup, but he becomes a strong option by the middle of Round 1.
Johnson slotted 2nd on my MVP Board for the 1st draft here. Then the teams ahead of me picked Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Doug Martin, Ray Rice, Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy and Trent Richardson. I took Johnson over C.J. Spiller. And I'd do so again.
The 2nd time around, I decided to take Johnson with Ray Rice still on the board. In retrospect, I'd rather have Rice. That kind of sure thing at a position with so few sure things just establishes comfort on a fantasy team.
Let's see how things went from there ...
Fake -- 2.05 A.J. Green, WR, Bengals
Toolbox -- 2.05 Jimmy Graham, TE, Saints
Had Jimmy Graham remained on the board in the 1st draft, I'd have taken him over Green. But he went the pick before. I don't love Chris Johnson, who left the board next among RBs in The Fake Football draft. I'd rather have Darren McFadden and thought I could wait for him. I took Green 3rd among WRs -- Dez Bryant went 2.02 -- because I think he's safer than Julio Jones. I think you can argue any order for at least WRs 2-7 in our projections for PPR formats.
Graham is a no-brainer at 2.05. The guy belongs in the 2nd half of Round 1. Unless Rob Gronkowski's back proves completely ready by the start of the season, Graham will dominate his position like no other offensive player.
Fake -- 3.08 Darren McFadden, RB, Raiders
Toolbox -- 3.08 Lamar Miller, RB, Dolphins
McFadden was the next RB on my board in the 1st draft at 2.05. Waiting on him paid off the 1st time around.
Not so in the FF Toolbox draft. Thus, I reached a bit for Miller. I like the upside, and the opportunity is tremendous. Miami is basically counting on him proving ready. But his offensive line needs to significantly improve. Plying him as your #1 fantasy RB increases the pressure to add depth.
Fake -- 4.05 Aaron Rodgers, QB, Packers
Toolbox -- 4.05 Danny Amendola, WR, Patriots
Next 3 RBs off the board after Rodgers: Ryan Mathews, Montee Ball and Le'Veon Bell. I'd punch myself in the face for taking any of those guys over Rodgers.
Similarly, Rashard Mendenhall, Ahmad Bradshaw, Gio Bernard and Shane Vereen went next among RBs after Amendola in the other draft. I wouldn't take any of them over Amendola even if I had no RBs on the roster yet.
No regret over either of these picks.
Fake -- 5.08 Jason Witten, TE, Cowboys
Toolbox -- 5.08 Chris Ivory, RB, Jets
TE has gone from 1 of the deepest fantasy positions to Graham, Witten and a bunch of "maybes" and "I hope sos." Chris Ivory left the board 5 picks before I took Witten. Then Shane Vereen and Isaiah Pead were the only RB picks before my next turn. I love the PPR certainty of Witten a round and a half after Gronk left the board.
I like Ivory as a starter on a "wait for your RB" team. All he needs is health to excel this year. He fits the "runs angry" mold and will start behind one of the league's best O-lines in an offense that desperately needs to rely on its running game. His ceiling could approach Stevan Ridley's 2012.
Fake -- 6.05 Rashard Mendenhall, RB, Cardinals
Toolbox -- 6.05 Cam Newton, QB, Panthers
If I don't take an RB2 until Round 6, then I certainly like Mendenhall in that role. He reached 1,100 yards twice under then-OC Bruce Arians behind shaky Steelers' lines and clearly projects as Arizona's feature back. An intriguing pass offense there could offer a fair number of scoring chances. Of course, he'll need last season's league-worst run-blocking line to get better. But you're not going to get a total-package RB starter in Round 6.
I mentioned QBs sliding in the FF Toolbox draft, and Newton served as a great example. I actually drafted Ivory ahead of Aaron Rodgers in Round 5, simply because I couldn't get over the drop-off at RB after him. Eddie Lacy, Jonathan Stewart and Andre Brown were the next 3 available RBs on my board. Lacy and Stewart didn't make it to my 6th-round slot. Brown lingered until my Round 7 pick.
In typical drafts, I'd strongly recommend grabbing Newton should he slide to Round 6. Even in retrospect, I wouldn't take anyone else -- despite Tony Romo, for example, sticking around until Round 11.
Fake -- 7.08 Eddie Lacy, RB, Packers
Toolbox -- 7.08 Andre Brown, RB, Giants
Lacy's upside is undeniable, but so are his questions. We'll see. But he makes sense as an RB3.
I like Brown quite a bit as a 3rd RB. David Wilson brings plenty of talent, but he spent most of 2012 disappointing his coaches. He could certainly still break out in 2013, but he's no sure thing. Brown will at least serve as a TD vulture and valuable complement for a coach who has long favored a 2-RB approach.
Fake -- 8.05 Miles Austin, WR, Cowboys
Toolbox -- 8.05 Michael Floyd, WR, Cardinals
In each case, I took 2 WRs within the 1st 4 rounds but didn't take a 3rd until Round 8. I like Austin a lot more than Floyd. The QB slide in the 2nd draft dried up the RB and WR options a bit in this area, but Floyd looks like a strong upside play as a 3rd WR in 2013. In each case, grabbing 2 top-shelf WRs early made it easy to wait on a 3rd.
Fake -- 9.08 Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints
Toolbox -- 9.08 Pierre Thomas, RB, Saints
Don't be surprised if you see this guy on every one of my draft-recap teams. From a sheer talent standpoint, I think Thomas is excellent -- certainly the best back in New Orleans. Despite reports of better health for Mark Ingram, I remain hopeful that Saints coaches will somehow realize they're underutilizing this guy -- especially after seeing him run with the starters this spring.
Even in his same old too-small role, though, Thomas has proved he can reach the RB2 fringes in PPR. Chris Ivory's departure certainly doesn't hurt. If he can reach 200 carries this year, you might be looking at one of fantasy football's biggest draft values.
Fake -- 10.05 Alshon Jeffery, WR, Bears
Toolbox -- 10.05 Vincent Brown, WR, Chargers
Both Jeffery and Brown look like upside plays for this season, each capable of reaching or exceeding 100 targets. Brown's coming off the board 2 rounds earlier in PPR drafts at FF Calculator, sporting an 11.01 ADP vs. Jeffery's 13.02. Jeffery could easily climb, though, if he plays well in training camp.
Fake -- 11.08 Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers
Toolbox -- 11.08 Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions
This was the "eh, I'll take another TE" round. At this point, Gates is like a cicada-shell version of his former self. But he still scored 7 TDs last year. TE upside makes him worth a TE2 slot, especially in a Draft Masters setup (as the 1st draft was). Pettigrew you simply have to draft at some point in PPR because he's a lock to surpass 60 catches if healthy. The 2 flex spots in the Toolbox league would likely make him a starter at least several times throughout the season.
Fake -- 12.05 Mike Goodson, RB, Jets
Toolbox -- 12.05 Jay Cutler, QB, Bears
It doesn't look like Goodson's court case will get resolved before the season, which means any discipline probably wouldn't come until at least next year. With that out of the way, we can refocus on his upside. He caught 40 balls for the Panthers in 2010 and outperformed Darren McFadden when each was healthy in Oakland last year. The Jets desperately need offensive playmakers, and Goodson's speed certainly makes him that. Chris Ivory's injury history and the strong O-line only increase his value.
I felt no pressure to chase a backup to Cam Newton in the Toolbox league. But Cutler simply made for better value than the available backs and wideouts in Round 12. Besides, Newton's running adds durability risk. We see Cutler as a fringe starter around here with top 10 fantasy scoring potential under new HC Marc Trestman.
Fake -- 13.08 Golden Tate, WR, Seahawks
Toolbox -- 13.08 Mike Goodson, RB, Jets
Tate is a sneaky Draft Masters play this year. Pete Carroll has said that no wideout will dominate targets, and Tate has proved he's an outside guy, as opposed to Percy Harvin's terrific fit for the slot. Tate won't deliver weekly starter value, but he'll see some big games. Russell Wilson quietly worked the deep ball well as a rookie and is reportedly doing so even better this year.
The bonus with drafting Goodson for the 2nd time: I handcuffed him to Ivory.
Fake -- 14.05 Houston D/ST
Toolbox -- 14.05 Brandon LaFell, WR, Panthers
The Fake Football draft only went 16 rounds. Thus, it was about time to get a defense. We like Houston's just ahead of everyone else this year.
I have to admit something: I tend to skip over LaFell for at least a round or 2 (or 3?) when he comes up on my MVP Board. I just don't trust him to deliver any consistency. But how many WRs in the double-digit rounds do? At some point you just have to take the value that's sitting there, and his situation certainly stands as a positive. He should continue to start. Steve Smith is 34. Newton and the team appear focused on making the passing game more efficient under OC Mike Shula, who ascended from QBs coach when Rob Chudzinski left for Cleveland.
Fake -- 15.08 Joe Flacco, QB, Ravens
Toolbox -- 15.08 Rob Housler, TE, Cardinals
Hidden benefit of drafting Aaron Rodgers (or really any of the top 5 QBs): You can wait a long time to pick your backup. Flacco's nothing special, but I don't need him to be. Housler, on the other hand, could prove one of the more intriguing late-round guys in fantasy this season. It's tough to know what his ceiling is, but I'm more than willing to spend a pick in the teens to chase it.
Fake -- 16.05 [Kicker]
Toolbox -- 16.05 Jeremy Kerley, WR, Jets
Kerley's 56 catches last year beat every other Jet by at least 27. He's a solid late PPR value this year who will go undrafted in a lot of leagues.
Toolbox -- 17.08 Justin Forsett, RB, Jaguars
A surprising number of people seem to believe that former Michigan QB Denard Robinson will step in right away as Jacksonville's #2 RB. I'm not ready to anoint him. I am ready to spend one of my last 4 picks on a guy who stood out in Seattle for half a season and ran well in limited use behind Houston's zone blocking last year. The Jags are going zone under new OC Jedd Fisch. Oh yeah, and you might have heard that Maurice Jones-Drew has been hurt a bit.
Toolbox -- 18.05 Bears D/ST
The Bears will obviously regress from last year's ridiculous fantasy season, which included 9 defensive TDs. But they've always focused on turnovers, and new DC Mel Tucker has sought to keep the same basic system in place. Losing MLB Brian Urlacher shouldn't hurt much.
Toolbox -- 19.08 Leonard Hankerson, WR, Washington
Like with LaFell, I'm not a Hankerson believer. But he's tall and fast, and RG3 made everyone in Washington better last year. That's enough to push him ahead of the other flotsam floating around this pick.
Toolbox -- 20.05 Phil Dawson, K, 49ers
David Akers led the league in FG attempts each of the past 2 years in San Fran. Dawson went 14 of 15 from 50+ for Cleveland over the past 2 years. I don't need to know anything else.
So just to recap quickly, here are the 2 offensive starting lineups:
The Fake Football
QB -- Aaron Rodgers
RB -- Darren McFadden
RB -- Rashard Mendenhall
WR -- Calvin Johnson
WR -- A.J. Green
WR -- Miles Austin
TE -- Jason Witten
Flex -- Eddie Lacy/Pierre Thomas/Alshon Jeffery/Antonio Gates
QB -- Cam Newton
RB -- Lamar Miller
RB -- Chris Ivory
WR -- Calvin Johnson
WR -- Danny Amendola
WR -- Michael Floyd/Vincent Brown
TE -- Jimmy Graham
Flex -- Andre Brown/Vincent Brown/Pierre Thomas
Flex -- Brandon Pettigrew/Rob Housler
Lineups capable of contending, as long as you can stomach the RB uneasiness.