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Roto Arcade

For those about to mock: Nine observations from a crazy early football draft

Brad Evans
Roto Arcade

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Arian Foster is one suave dude, and likely the first sticker placed on draft boards this year. (US Presswire)

When Mr. Irrelevant, Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish, had his name called in front of a smattering of inebriated stragglers at last week's NFL Draft, owners in Fantasyland were already debating the merits of another passer, Aaron Rodgers, as a top-five overall pick.

Mock season officially kicked off.

Over the next several weeks fantasy signal callers of various backgrounds will hone their draft skills in preparation for main events come August. During these intense drills, participants will experiment with new strategies/tactics, overwork braincells to ensure proper selections are made, blurt out expletives when desired players are poached just before their pick, self-proclaim complete domination post-draft then repeat to stay abreast of growing trends. After all, practice makes perfect. Allen Iversons devoted mocksters are not.

No different from the common folk, "experts" within the fantasy community, too, are partaking in the annual ritual. To the purveyors of print, May marks magazine season, a time when editors and writers work frantically to crank out volumes of then timely content that will inevitably be obsolete once it hits store shelves two months later.

Last week the Noise, cordially invited by the Rotowire crew to participate in a pair of 14-team snake drafts (Standard and PPR), lost his 2012 football draft virginity. Here are nine takeaways from the standard exercise:

Beasts of burden are expected to earn their hay

Running back is a position under attack. Many owners, burned repeatedly by injury and ineptitude, are turning a blind eye to conventional RB-first wisdom, the backbone of draft strategy only mavericks didn't adhere to just a few short years ago.

Yes, going A-Rod, Cam Newton, Drew Brees or Tom Brady with your top overall pick might be safe, but saddling up a workhorse early isn't moronic. In a split-carry era, indisputable three-down backs are worth every penny simply because they are so few in number. Chew on this, 10 years ago 15 backs logged 300-plus touches. Five years back that number dipped to 11. Last year, it dwindled to eight, an all-time low in the digital age. This is why those who shockingly get paid to eat, breathe and sleep fantasy continue to stick to alleged dated methods.

In the Rotowire mock the first five picks were plowshares — Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice, Maurice Jones-Drew and, suspect only to nonbelievers, Ryan Mathews. Additionally, question marks Chris Johnson (Pick No. 11) and Adrian Peterson (No. 13) were selected in Round 1. Because each is in position to shoulder a rigorous workload the payoff potential outweighs the risks, the exact reason why they were so highly valued in last week's exercise.

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Be prepared to jump early on Gronk (US Presswire)

Tight Ends are an endless abyss of talent

The increased use of two tight-end sets throughout the league and rich population of multi-dimensional, sure-handed, super-athletic targets has revolutionized the position over the past couple seasons. For many teams, keeping TEs tied to the line is an archaic tactic. During this pass-first time, versatile hybrids, like New England's Aaron Hernandez, are all the rage.

Due to the wealth of tight end talent and onslaught of pass attempts, it's no surprise the position has become a fantasy goldmine in recent years. Once only dominated by the likes of Tony Gonzalez and Antonio Gates, it now boasts several reliable producers. Ten years ago Gonzo and Todd Heap set the pace averaging a pedestrian 7.5 points per game in standard formats. Last year, an astounding eight players topped that number, including Rob Gronkowski who nearly doubled it netting 14.7 points per game.

Subsequently, TEs were sought after earlier than ever before. Gronk (Round 2, Pick No. 17) and Jimmy Graham (22) were both top-25 selections. Though the pair were clearly in a class of their own, several other monoliths were taken before Round 7. Vernon Davis (59), Antonio Gates (60), Hernandez (66), Jason Witten (70), JerMichael Finley (76), Fred Davis (80) and Brandon Pettigrew (83) signed the dotted line in Rounds 5 and 6.

Bottom line: Because of the position's remarkable depth, bypassing elites for middle rounders might be the brainy way to go.

First Round QBs are no passing fad

Just a few short years ago in a fantasy galaxy now far, far away, reaching for a QB in Round 1 attracted chuckles from the gallery. Purchasers of Peyton, though deemed brainless novices by leaguemates, argued the passer's dependability and consistency trumped the risks associated with drafting a running back, no matter who it was. Little did naysayers know, those supposed "idiots" were real rocket scientists, trendsetters clueless they were ahead of the curve. Coaches' insistance on timeshares and reliance on the pass have completely altered owner game-planning. QBs, more so than ever before, are deserving of a No. 1. Those who disagree are knuckle-draggers.

True the participants in this draft still bought into the running theory in the top-five, but in the back half of Round 1 a whopping four gunslingers were selected — Rodgers (7), Brees (8), Brady (9) and Newton (12). In this same draft last season, only A-Rod had his number called in the opening round.

The times, they are a changin'.

Rookie RBs Trent Richardson and Doug Martin will be coveted

As discussed at length in last week's "Dynamite Dozen" rundown, freshman running backs have experienced hard knocks in recent years. No rookie runner has finished inside the top-10 at the position since Matt Forte in 2008. Once driven off the lot, many new cars instantly depreciated. Roy Helu and DeMarco Murray were effective when thrust into bigger roles last year, but no first-year rusher landed inside the top-25 in points per game, the first time that's happened in the broadband era (since 2000). Undoubtedly, carousel backfields and pass-heavy tactics have redefined how RBs are used, which has caused many rookies to stumble out of the gate.

However, expect Richardson and Martin to buck the trend.

The former is in a superb situation where the carries volume will be massive. It's fathomable Richardson finishes north of 325 total touches. With Brandon Weeden on board and the offensive line completely restructured, the Tide should roll along Lake Erie. T-Rich's interior brawn, versatility and durability should vault him inside the RB top-10 right away. Yes, the division may be tough, but Pittsburgh's defense is aging and Terrell Suggs' likely absence for a significant portion of the season definitely hurts Baltimore. Put it all together, and it's no stretch why he went No. 18 overall.

Meanwhile, the former Boise St. standout is expected to boot LeGarette Blount to the backseat. Greg Schiano envisions Martin as a three-down back. Though not extraordinary in any single category, his across-the-board polish, open-field wiggle and tacky hands should thrive on a Bucs team built to run. Tampa's offensive line is one of the NFC's best and the addition of home run hitter Vincent Jackson will assist in creating wide running lanes. He could turn a lucrative profit at his Round 4 (No. 52 overall) price point.

No one trusts the dastardly deeds of Lucifer Shanahan

Fantasy's demon of deception has caused nothing but heartache over the past few seasons. His RB revolving door and general treachery has duped many. Four rushers were tabbed "starters" by Shany last year, though injuries played a major part in that (Helu, Tim Hightower, Ryan Torain and Evan Royster).

Rumors have floated around Royster may force a timeshare, but Helu, who Kyle Shanahan hinted post-'11 will be the club's first option in '12, should tote the heavy side of the workload. His power, elusiveness and versatility are unmatched. Recall in five starts a season ago he averaged a hefty 15.1 points per game (130.2 total ypg, 2 TDs), nearly identical to what Adrian Peterson tallied in 12 games. And, as his ridiculous 14 receptions Week 9 against San Fran proves, he was even better in PPR formats.

Concerns over Robert Griffin III pilfering TDs are legitimate, but Helu is arguably the most underrated rusher in early fantasy drafts. Picked at No. 51 overall in the mock, he has strong odds of generating a strong return on investment. The Skins' well-oiled zone-blocking scheme and now formidable passing attack should help him achieve measurable success. A 1,600 total yard, 7-9 TD campaign isn't out of the question.

The majority of owners would rather have Albert Haynesworth belly-flop on them than sink a dime in a Lucifer-coached RB, but Helu's medium-risk/high-reward potential could cash.

The RGIII shopping spree begins in the middle rounds

Just a couple seasons ago counting on an unproven, inexperienced passer to carry you to the fantasy playoffs was laughable. Tim Tebow's odds of hitting the Jolly Green Giant square in the leafy toga from 20 yards out were better. But Cam Newton's record-shattering 2011 completely swayed public opinion. Though it's highly doubtful Griffin will replicate Cam's success on the ground, his scoring duality and ripe environment makes him highly desirable in any league, any format. Santana Moss, Pierre Garcon, Josh Morgan, Roy Helu and terribly underrated TE Fred Davis comprise a rather formidable arsenal. Given Griffin's intelligence, composure, accuracy and ability to run, he could easily finish in range of 3,600 passing yards and 600 rushing yards with 27-31 total touchdowns (23-25 PTD, 4-6 RTD).

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Steal RGIII in the middle rounds (US Presswire)

With that mouthwatering potential in mind, Scott Pianowski wisely drafted Griffin with the third pick of Round 9 (No. 101 overall), a fantastic value (88.1 ADP). RGIII, paired with Matt Schaub, who Scott grabbed in the previous round, provides the Piano Man with a solid two-QB rotation that he can deploy based on matchup.

Every year it seems, a signal caller picked in the middle rounds delivers standout numbers. Matthew Stafford (2011), Ben Roethlisberger (2010) and Brett Favre (2009) are just a few who recently raked giant profits. This season, if you decide to exercise patience at QB on draft day, RGIII could be your sweet reward.

You can wait on wideouts

The Grand Canyon, works by Carl Sagan, Scrooge McDuck's pockets and wide receivers in 2012. What do they have in common? All are incredibly deep.

It would seem in a pass-first age, owners would load up on WRs early, particularly in leagues that require three starters. But the position is one enormous bargin bin.

For those who choose to circumvent the top tier (Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Johnson) or even the step below (Roddy White, Greg Jennings, Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Wes Welker), several appealing options will likely be there in Round 3, even in PPR formats. Dez Bryant (No. 32 overall), Brandon Marshall (33), A.J. Green (34), Jordy Nelson (35), Vincent Jackson (37), Julio Jones (39) and Steve Smith (41) vanished from queues in that round. Other products with considerable upside, Demariyus Thomas (46), Percy Harvin (56), Kenny Britt (61) and Brandon Lloyd (63) went about 1-2 rounds after. Other quality producers were available later on. Darius Heyward-Bey, Tampa's Mike Williams and Justin Blackmon all went after pick No. 85.

Lesson: Owners who diversify the portfolio early can still build a scary good pass-catching battery.

Back the smack, 'cuff 'em early

If you want to corner the market on any specific backfield, be prepared to shackle your top RB, particularly one involved in some sore of timeshare, fairly early. The success many backups had in expanded roles last year have inflated their values in '12. That combined with the high number of split-backfields in general have the middle rounds littered with secondary rushers. As a result, owners desperate to acquire RB depth or gain leverage for a future trade are reaching for mediocre backs, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth's of those holding the RB1.

The Rotowire mock was no different. C.J. Spiller (No. 62 overall), David Wilson (86), Peyton Hillis (89), Michael Bush (90), Ben Tate (102) and LeGarette Blount (112) found homes during or well-before Round 8.

Investors of backfields like Buffalo, Chicago, Kansas City and New York need to be aware it will take a pair of fairly high picks to sew up those backfields.

Expect post-op discounts galore, unless you're a sure-fire first-ballot HOFer

For those anticipating Peyton Manning falling into their laps in the fourth or fifth round better think again. Though the multi-time MVP could be one karate chop to the neck away from a permanent ending, many are ignoring the risks and taking him much earlier than expected. Shockingly, Rotowire's Luke Hoover snapped tendons for the former Colt with the last pick of Round 2 (No. 28 overall).

The push for Peyton, however, isn't emblematic of other players coming off major injuries.

Adrian Peterson (13), Matt Forte (17), DeMarco Murray (27), Jamaal Charles (29), Fred Jackson (39), Kenny Britt (61), Sidney Rice (77) and Jahvid Best (111), to name a few, sported slashed price tags. If you're willing to take on the added risk, each discounted stock has reasonable odds of leaving you in the black.

Finally, for your scrutiny, here is the Noise's complete team. Be gentle. No chainsaws.

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