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Friends and Family Matters: Dissecting an experts' draft

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Can Demaryius Thomas justify the No. 2 overall pick?  (USAT)

Can Demaryius Thomas justify the No. 2 overall pick? (USAT)

For the 11th time, the Yahoo fantasy football experts, along with some of our closest friends in the industry, came together for a draft, which took place Aug. 19. This year, the league consisted of 14 members, drafting in the traditional snake-style fashion for a modified PPR league (.75 points per reception). 

For those who care to scour the entire draft results, you can click here.

For those looking for a more in-depth look at how things played out, you can peruse my comments on each pick of the first three rounds below, as well as some commentary about picks from the subsequent rounds. As you'll soon learn, this draft didn't take a conventional route to the finish line:

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ROUND 1

1. LeSean McCoy, Phi, RB – Jeff Erickson

Shady, along with Jamaal Charles, is one of the easiest arguments to make as the top choice. He touched the ball more than any other non-QB in the league last season in a Chip Kelly-directed offense that finished fourth in scoring offense (27.6). 

2. Demaryius Thomas, Den, WR – Michael Salfino

With McCoy off the board, Jamaal Charles becomes the obvious No. 2 choice. But Salfino eschewed the obvious in an attempt to prove his no-RB-in-the-early-rounds strategy could be successful. The against-the-grain approach netted him RBs Ben Tate, Bernard Pierce, Knile Davis, Ahmad Bradshaw and Darren McFadden in later rounds, and it's a matter of opinion as to whether that'll be enough backfield juice to make a fantasy playoff push - it isn't in my book. But, that said, I do love Thomas (more than Megatron, in fact), who should especially excel in this league's .75 points per reception format. 

3. Jamaal Charles, KC, RB – John Hansen

Hansen gets a surprise gift with the No. 3 pick as Charles, who led all running backs in this league's scoring format last season, falls into his lap. 

4. Jimmy Graham, NO, TE – Jeff Ratcliffe

Another unconventional pick this high in Round 1, but an argument can certainly be made for the value of a 90-catch tight end that finished second to only Charles in touchdowns last season. Given the uncertainty of Gronk's health, Top Jimmy really is in a class by himself among tight ends.

5. Matt Forte, Chi, RB – Scott Pianowski

Forte enjoyed his best fantasy season of his career in '13, the first year under pass-oriented head coach Marc Trestman. And his 75 receptions play especially well in this modified PPR format.

6. Eddie Lacy, GB, RB – Michael Gehlken

Once Lacy took the lead role in Green Bay's backfield last season in Week 5, only three other running backs (Charles, McCoy and Forte) scored more fantasy points the rest of the way. He did this as a rookie, so with a year of seasoning under his belt, not to mention the return to health of QB Aaron Rodgers, Lacy's situation is ripe for even more fruitful returns.

7. Adrian Peterson, Min, RB – Mike Clay

Knowing Mike Clay, he's happy to take AP all-day, every-day with the No. 7 spot in the draft. Peterson is about as close to value certainty as you are going to get at the RB spot, as he's posted at least 10 touchdowns and 1,100-plus total yards (often much more than that) in each and every one of his seven seasons in the league.

8. Calvin Johnson, Det, WR – Patrick Daugherty

It's rare that you'll encounter a draft where Megatron falls six picks behind another receiver. Of course, every draft is different, and you might actually find more drafts where the Lions receiver lands at the No. 2 overall pick rather than the No. 8 spot. The only concern is the balky knee that cost him a couple games last season, but if he plays a full schedule, the reasonable expectations are 100 catches, 1,500 yards and a at least a dozen touchdowns.

9. Dez Bryant, Dal, WR – Andy Behrens

On talent alone, Dez justifies this draft slot, but with the likelihood that Dallas' defense will once again be a train wreck, it's easy to imagine the Cowboys being forced to the air early and often.

10. Montee Ball, Den, RB – Dalton Del Don

Knowshon Moreno was a surprise breakout fantasy star last season after he emerged as the lead Broncos back – thanks to the aerial threat of Peyton Manning and company, Moreno saw an abundance of nickel and dime defensive looks, affording him all kinds of open space to work with. It's the same story, different name in the backfield for Denver this season. Montee Ball, it's your turn in the catbird seat.

11. Giovani Bernard, Cin, RBBrad Evans

Evoking fond memories of Barry Sanders, Bernard sliced and diced his way to a top 20 fantasy RB finish in his rookie campaign, but he ranked inside the top 10 in terms of fantasy points per touch as a platoon with BenJarvus Green-Ellis limited his workload. His burden is expected to increase significantly this season, as he assumes a more featured role, and that has pundits justifiably considering him as a late-first/early-second round fantasy commodity.

12. A.J. Green, Cin, WR – Chris Liss

Green is only a small step down from Megatron territory, with 100 catches, 1,400 yards and 11 TDs his established norm. 

13. Marshawn Lynch, Sea, RB – Brandon Funston

If not for mileage concerns and the fact that Beast-Mode was in the headlines for all the wrong reasons this summer (holdout, an assault allegation), he probably wouldn't have fallen out of the top 10. But fantasy owners should take the discount if they can get it as the off-the-field stuff turned out to be much ado about nothing, while electrifying backup RB Christine Michael can't seem to hang onto the pigskin this preseason, which may end up pumping the brakes on expectations that he'll infringe on Lynch's workload - in fact, Robert Turbin was selected in this draft but Michael wasn't. Long story short, expect another year of vintage Beast-Mode. 

14. DeMarco Murray, Dal, RB – Adam Levitan

Murray has been an RB1 level fantasy producer on a per game basis the past couple years, but he's also building a reputation as the next Darren McFadden, given that he's missed 11 games in his three seasons because of injury. If you catch a break and he's plays 16 games this season, he's likely to justify this top 15 overall pick. But the odds of that are definitely longer than most.

 

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The experts looked to catch some Bears in Round 2. (USAT)

The experts looked to catch some Bears in Round 2. (USAT)

ROUND 2

1. Julio Jones, Atl, WR – Levitan

In fantasy circles, "My Right Foot" is the story of an elite receiving talent that suffered a broken appendage twice (in the same spot) within the first three years of his NFL career. At the time he broke his foot (for the second time) in Week 5 last season, Jones was on pace for an epic season, averaging eight catches and 116 yards per game. He's looked like his explosive self in camp, and has a specially designed shoe to help prevent another foot injury. If everything goes well, Jones is a talent on the level with A.J. Green. As I had him queued up with the next pick, you can consider me a buyer in the Jones market.

2. Andre Ellington, Ari, RB – Funston

If the rhetoric emanating from Cardinals camp is to be believed, "Andre the Tiny" is in line for a giant increase in his workload this season. It's an exciting fantasy prospect as, Dalton Del Don points out in his Mostly NFL Notes column, he led all running backs last season with an average of 3.2 yards after contact. He also ranked third among RBs in fantasy points per touch. The hope here is for a middle-class version of Jamaal Charles.

3. Brandon Marshall, Chi, WR – Liss

Jay Cutler loves Marshall, so Cutler's return to health should bode well for B-Marsh's fantasy stock. And, really, how can you go wrong in the second round of a .75 PPR league with a wideout that has nabbed 100-plus catches in five of his past seven seasons, including a 100/1,295/12 line in '13.

4. Antonio Brown, Pit, WR – Evans

Like Marshall (the previous pick), Brown offers 100-catch upside, finishing second in the league with 110 receptions last season. With the departures of Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery, who combined for 113 catches in Pittsburgh a year ago, Brown has a smoothly paved path to the century mark in receptions once again.

5. Jordy Nelson, GB, WR – Del Don

Del Don explained his reasoning for picking Nelson in his NFL Notes column, which I'll share here: "During the nine games in which Aaron Rodgers started (and finished) last season, Nelson totaled 56 catches for 872 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s two seasons removed from scoring 15 TDs and has seen 100 targets just once during his career. With a healthy Rodgers and James Jones and Jermichael Finley gone, Nelson is primed to get the most looks of his career in 2014. Over his last 40 games with Rodgers at the helm, Nelson has scored 32 touchdowns. "

6. Alshon Jeffery, Chi, WR – Behrens

Jeffery's 1,421 receiving yards in a breakout '13 campaign was sixth best in the NFL. In Chicago's pass-happy offense, there's definitely room for two WR1s. In fact, it's already been proven.

7. Doug Martin, TB, RB – Daugherty

Martin's value is a tricky. He was the No. 2 fantasy RB in his rookie season, but his production declined precipitously in '13 even before he was lost for the season in Week 7 with a shoulder injury. And while his health is back in order, there's concern that his workload will be scaled back a bit under new head coach Lovie Smith. Also worth noting is that Martin has produced 27 percent of his career fantasy points (that's 22 games), in Weeks 8-9 of his rookie season. Personally, I'm not planning to own any shares of Martin this season, at least not at this price (No. 21 overall).

8. Randall Cobb, GB, WR – Clay

It's easy to get excited about Cobb's potential in a Green Bay offense looking to play faster than ever before. Cobb has the Percy Harvin-like ability to move all around the offense as the Packers try to find ways to exploit his insane quicks. In his past 16 regular-season games, Cobb has tallied 89 catches, more than 1,300 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns. A broken leg cost him 10 contests last season, but if he can put a full season together this time around, the returns will justify this draft slot.

9. Vincent Jackson, TB, WR – Gehlken

V-Jax can almost be considered a boring pick in that he's finished between 1,098-1,384 receiving yards and 7-9 touchdowns in each of his past five full seasons. You pretty much know what you are going to get here, and that's okay because it's pretty darn good. The only ding here is that Jackson has never benefitted from a PPR format, as his 78 catches last season was a career high. And it seems like a total that is unlikely to rise with similarly towering rookie targets Mike Evans and Austin Sefarian-Jenkins added to the Bucs' arsenal.

10. Keenan Allen, SD, WR - Pianowski

I don't see sky's-the-limit upside with Allen, but he's certainly very talented - easily the most talented among the Chargers receiving contingent. And, although San Diego is going to strive for a conservative, ball-control approach, Allen is in a position as the clear go-to guy in the passing game to  post something in the neighborhood of 80 catches, 1,100 yards and 8 TDs. I think he's a top 10-15 receiver. But top 24 overall? That's a little higher than I'd be willing to go.

11. Rob Gronkowski, NE, TE – Ratcliffe

Taking Gronk as the No. 25 overall pick takes some cajones, for sure. He's played just 18 games combined the past two seasons because of his well-publicized injuries. But he's a TD machine when healthy (39 in his past 42 regular-season games played), and he'd rival Jimmy Graham for top TE fantasy billing if a 16-game season was guaranteed. I wouldn't count on a full season of health from Gronk, but if he only misses two or three contests, he might still earn his keep at this pick. The price is a little too rich for my liking, but I certainly understand the gamble Ratcliffe is taking here. 

12. Julius Thomas, DEN, TE – Hansen

Orange Julius, not Gronk, is the TE I'd be looking at after Jimmy Graham. He's tied to the best offense in the league. He scored 12 touchdowns in 14 regular-season games. And he's a good bet to net another dozen scores with red zone standout Eric Decker (11 TDs in '13) now a member of the Jets. 

13. Michael Floyd, Ari, WR – Salfino

Floyd has been whipping up plenty of buzz with a strong training camp, and many are convinced (including Salfino) that he'll surpass teammate Larry Fitzgerald in fantasy value this season. It certainly could happen, though Carson Palmer isn't the best quarterback to take advantage of Floyd's downfield talents. Regardless, there's still a good chance Floyd can reach 1,200 yards and 7-8 scores. 

14. Pierre Garcon, Was, WR – Erickson

Garcon caught a league-high 113 passes last season, so his PPR talents are obvious. And his rapport with RGIII should help keep him busy even as the Redskins have added DeSean Jackson to the receiving corps and hope to utilize the talents of tight end Jordan Reed more often. I find no fault with making Garcon the No. 13 WR off the board, as he is here.

 

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The top quarterbacks arrived late to the F&F draft party. (Getty)

The top quarterbacks arrived late to the F&F draft party. (Getty)

ROUND 3

1. Victor Cruz, NYG, WR – Erickson

I'm a fan of the salsa man, but the Giants passing game looks as stuck in the mud this preseason as it was last season. It's hard to conjure a ton of optimism without seeing some signs of progress. But Cruz claims that the Giants are keeping their new Ben McAdoo guided offense mostly under wraps until the regular season begins. So maybe there's something to that. In theory, McAdoo's history working with the Green Bay offense is supposed to benefit Cruz specifically, as the more up-tempo, quick-hitting approach would lend itself to Cruz's over-the-middle skills. We'll see if that comes to fruition, but I probably would have taken the next two receivers taken (Patterson and White, below) before I went Cruz-ing.

2. Cordarrelle Patterson, Min, WR – Salfino

Unfortunately, I wasn't in the right draft spot to consider Patterson. I sure wish I was. Patterson is a freakish athletic talent that finished his rookie season with a bang – top five fantasy receiver over the final month of the season. And he's fortunate to have offensive coordinator Norv Turner calling his plays this season. For those that are unaware, Norv called the most pass plays in the league last season as the offensive coordinator for Cleveland. And Turner made it one of his first priorities to add a large handful of Patterson-featured plays to his playbook upon his arrival in Minnesota.

3. Roddy White, Atl, WR – Hansen

I was a fan of this pick, and in fact I was hoping Hot Roddy somehow managed to make his way to the end of this round so I could nab him. Alas, it wasn't to be. It's safe to assume that Hansen also realizes that not only did White shake off the injuries that plagued him most of last season in time to finish as the No. 8 fantasy wideout over the final five weeks of '13. But he is also likely to absorb a major chunk of the 120 targets (along with Julio Jones) that future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez vacated when he retired after the '13 season. I have White down as the No. 10 WR on my board.

4. Arian Foster, Hou, RB – Ratcliffe

It's go big or go home for Ratcliffe. After taking Gronk in Round 2, he followed that pick up with the selection of Foster, another name brand player with serious injury history. Not only did Foster miss eight games last season, but he also managed just one touchdown as Houston's offense struggled mightily. It's hard to imagine the team improving dramatically on offense with Ryan Fitzpatrick taking over behind center, so the goal line may remain elusive territory for Foster, who averaged almost 16 scores in the three seasons prior to last.

5. Alfred Morris, WAS, RB – Pianowski

Pianowski has a (successful) habit of taking that safe, boring guy that gets the job done despite little fanfare. Morris certainly fits that description, though some are a bit concerned about new head coach Jay Gruden coming in and employing a more pass-heavy approach, as Morris is a complete non-factor in that aspect of the game. And this being a PPR league, certainly Morris gets dinged for that. But if Morris gets his usual 1,300-plus rushing yards and 10 touchdowns, who cares how many catches he gets?

6. Peyton Manning, DEN, QB – Gehlken

This is a case of league settings bringing down the value of the QB position. The league accommodates just four bench spots; so few teams can justify a backup QB. Which means most teams are content to wait on the position and pluck one of the top 14 signal callers that remain on the board later in the draft – for the record, Russell Wilson was the 14th QB off the board in this draft, and he didn't get selected until Round 12. But despite the downgrade of the QB position, this is an undeniable deal for Gehlken if Peyton comes anywhere close to the record-breaking numbers he posted last season.

7. Zac Stacy, StL, RB – Clay

There was concern that Stacy may lose some carries when the Rams selected Auburn running back Tre Mason in the NFL Draft. But watching Mason whiff repeatedly on pass protection in the preseason should alleviate any of those concerns. Stacy has a good chance to match the rushing totals of Alfred Morris, with a little more to offer in the passing game, which is why I like this pick a little more than the Morris selection a couple spots earlier.

8. Toby Gerhart, Jac, RB – Daugherty

This is the hard-hat running back section of the draft with Morris, Stacy and now Gerhart all landing over the past four spots. Gerhart comes out from behind Adrian Peterson's shadow in Minnesota to carry an expected featured role for Jacksonville. And he's similar to Stacy in that he's a straight-line grinder in the running game with some upside as a receiver, as well. The only problem is that the Jaguars offense as a whole probably won't be as lucrative as St. Louis', which explains why Gerhart comes off the board after Stacy.

9. Drew Brees, NO, QB – Behrens

Even in a league with a setup that devalues quarterbacks, there's no chance Behrens gets hurt by taking a QB that has averaged 5,272 passing yards and 44.3 combined pass/rush TDs over the past three years at this point in the draft. 

10. Michael Crabtree, SF, WR – Del Don

Del Don and I are on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to Crabtree. He has him ranked as his No. 12 receiver overall, so to land him as the No. 18 WR in this draft likely made Del Don very happy. But I have him at No. 31 among receivers because the 49ers have plenty of mouths to feed in the passing game (Vernon Davis, Anquan Boldin, Stevie Johnson, et al), and as a team that threw fewer passes than any other NFL team last season, that's not a whole lot of pie to share. And, for what it's worth, Crabtree averaged just 61 yards per game and scored just one touchdown in the eight games he played in (counting postseason) upon his return from an Achilles injury last season.

11. Aaron Rodgers, GB, QB – Evans

You won't find too many rankings that don't have Peyton, Brees and Rodgers, in some order, as the top 3 QBs. Evans officially clears out the top shelf of signal callers with this pick. 

12. Le'Veon Bell, Pit, RB – Liss

It speaks volumes about Bell's stock that even Brad Evans (notorious in '13 for his Bell man-crush) passed him up in Round 3. Bell's lowly 3.5 YPC average from his rookie season has some fearing he's the next Trent Richardson. And the addition of LeGarrette Blount has spawned worries that Bell could lose a sizable chunk of the backfield workload this season, including goal line carries. One worrisome stat from last year is that Bell averaged just 3.0 YPC when defenses lined up in a base format, whereas Blount put up 5.4 YPC when facing the same standard defensive formations.

13. Percy Harvin, Sea, WR – Funston

Seattle is making big plans for Harvin this season, and the need for him to stay healthy is especially great after losing Golden Tate to Detroit in the offseason. He finished as a top 10 receiver in terms of fantasy points per game in his final two seasons in Minnesota, and there's no sign that he's lost any of the explosiveness that propelled him to those lofty heights. Like the Gronk and Foster picks earlier, this is a health risk gamble, except I'm the one with the neck on the line this time. 

14. Andre Johnson, Hou, WR – Levitan

Johnson was my other receiver consideration with the previous pick, but I'm a still leery of an offense that scored the second-fewest points per game a season ago. Sure, it should be a bit better with Ryan Fitzpatrick behind center, but how much of a turnaround can realistically be expected from a journeyman QB with a career 77.5 passer rating and 106:93 TD-to-INT ratio? I see 90 catches, 1,200 yards and 8 TDs as a best-case scenario for Johnson. But, then again, I'm expecting something less than a best-case scenario.

And here's a few notable developments from Round 4 and beyond:

• RB Bishop Sankey was the first rookie selected, going with the last pick of Round 4 (No. 56 overall). He was the 23rd RB selected.

• With the results of his appeal still unknown, Josh Gordon went in Round 7, the 41st WR off the board. I let out an audible groan when he was selected as I had him queued up for my next pick, which was four spots later. I think there's a better than 50 percent shot that Gordon plays all, or at least the majority, of the season. And while I was bummed to not land Gordon, I did wind up with Markus Wheaton, one of my favorite WR sleepers, and an acceptable consolation for the No. 97 pick overall.

• KC tight end Travis Kelce has seen his stock soar this preseason, and the F&F draft was further proof of that. He landed in Round 8 as the No. 13 TE off the board.

• What about that muddy backfield in Baltimore? Bernard Pierce beat Ray Rice off the board, but not by much. Pierce went in Round 7 at pick No. 86 overall. Rice went five picks later (No. 91). For fantasy purposes, I'm backing Rice all the way on this one.

• Of the 14 teams, only four of them took at least two running backs in the first three rounds.I was one of them. Old habits die hard.

• I scooped up QB Cam Newton in Round 10. Again, in this league, it's not about when the QBs are drafted, because the league format favors waiting on the position. But it's interesting to note that Newton, who has never finished below No. 4 at the QB position in fantasy scoring, was the 10th QB selected. I think all the worry about his ankle and his lack of receiving weapons is way overblown.

• There were 16 quarterbacks drafted in total. Here's the order in which they were selected: 1. Peyton; 2. Brees; 3. Rodgers; 4. Luck; 5. Stafford; 6. Cutler; 7. Romo; 8. Brady; 9. Kaepernick; 10. Newton; 11. Foles; 12 Ryan; 13. RGIII; 14. Wilson; 15. Rivers; 16. Manziel - yes, that's right, Ben Roethlisberger is swimming in our waiver pool at the moment, though I suggest that Chris Liss, who drafted Manziel, should think about throwing Big Ben a line.

• Looking at the most added players list on the Yahoo Transaction Trends page, here is where some of the most popular additions (that I have yet to mention) landed: Jordan Matthews (No. 100); Fred Jackson (62); Jonathan Stewart (149); Justin Hunter (75); Kelvin Benjamin (92); Marqise Lee (131)

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