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For those about to MOCK: Notable trends seen in early fantasy football drafts

Brad Evans
Roto Arcade

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In reality, Rodgers is worth every bit of $110 million, but this year in fantasy, his value is far less (USAT)

When Mr. Irrelevant, South Carolina tight end Justice Cunningham, had his name called in front of a small group of reasonably sauced lingerers at last month’s NFL Draft, Fantasyland’s finest quickly began formulating thoughts and assembling cheat sheets for this year’s fake football drafts.

Mock season officially kicked off …

Over the next several weeks, armchair quarterbacks of various backgrounds will hone their draft skills in preparation for main events come August. During these exercises, participants will tinker with new strategies, rack their brains over complicated backfields and shout out expletives when desired players are pilfered just before their pick, all the while proclaiming victory in the draft room chat window. Practice, after all, does make perfect. Right, Allen Iverson?

No different from common folk, "experts" within the fantasy community are also partaking in the annual ritual. To the pushers of print, May marks magazine season, a time when editors and writers work frantically to crank out volumes of resourceful, yet soon-to-be-obsolete, material.

Last week the Noise, in addition to our eight-round PPR extravaganza, participated in a pair of standard snake drafts (Rotoworld 12-team, Rotowire 14-team), priming the pump on the draft season. Now that I’m properly deflowered, here are my top-five takeaways from the mag mock rush:

Adrian Peterson would agree, the running theory is alive and well

At this time last year, pundits were penning obituaries about the running back position. Due to the influx of shared backfields and offensive coordinators' emphasis on the pass, RBs were in free-fall. To seasoned fantasy vets, the once adhered to RB-RB method was antiquated, an outdated strategy that, if applied, would inevitably lead to heartache. Statistical trends supported the view. A decade ago, 15 rushers logged 300-plus touches. Five years back that number dipped to 11. In 2011, it hit rock bottom at eight, an all-time low in the broadband age.

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Thanks to guys like 'The Butler' RB is making a comeback. (USAT)

Though the virtual masses saw a modest increase in workloads last fall – nine RBs crossed the 300-touch threshold – the position, thanks to Peterson's incredible resilience and rookie saviors Alfred Morris, Doug Martin and Trent Richardson, underwent a renaissance of sorts. The prevalence of two-back systems kept RB top-heavy, but 21 rushers in total averaged at least 11 fantasy points per game, an output better than run-happier years in 2001, 2003, 2007 and 2008.

In light of the upward tick, true workhorse scarcity and abundance of reliable passers available in the middle rounds, drafters are hopping into DeLoreans and flashing back to the future. In the Rotowire mock, 11 of the first 12 picks were plowshares. The Rotoworld exercise also followed suit as RBs were selected 12 times in the first 15. Unless you're in a league that scores six points for all touchdowns, it's imperative to hammer the position early and often. Don't and you could be staring at a Darren McFadden/DeMarco Murray tandem in your backfield, a proposition only owners with HUEVOS GIGANTES would consider.

Cue Axl Rose, “Patience” is the name of the game at quarterback

Quarterbacks in 2013 are akin to Stephen Hawking's theories on the universe – crazy deep. Last season marked the most prolific throwing year in NFL history. On a per-team, per-game basis pro franchises averaged an otherworldly 231.3 passing yards, nearly 10 yards more than 2010, a year that ranks third on the most-airborne list. Suffice it to say, pitch counts were extraordinarily high.

Unsurprisingly in this Golden Age of quarterbacking, fantasy scoring among signal callers has experienced boom times. A season ago, Andy Dalton, the No. 12 QB in Fantasyland, averaged 20.5 points per game. Astonishingly, that tally would've ranked No. 1 among passers in 2005. Overall, 13 gunslingers netted at least 20 points per game, the highest yield ever.

The position's swift evolution has caused a simple supply/demand phenomenon in drafts. Unless you're investing in safety, why overpay for the likes of Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Mannning when Colin Kaepernick (25.6 fppg as a starter including playoffs), Russell Wilson (26.1 fppg over his final 11 games, playoffs included) and Matthew Stafford (Set NFL record for attempts in '12), can be acquired some 2-5 rounds later? In single-QB, standard-scoring (4-points/pass TD) formats, focusing on thinner positions (e.g. RB and WR) in Rounds 1-3 is the savvy move.

‘O ye, of little faith’ applies to most rookies

Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck, Martin, Wilson, Richardson, Morris, Josh Gordon – 2012's rookie class was a monkey-riding-a-dog awesome. RGIII, Luck and Wilson all finished inside the top-12 among passers in per game average. Despite rib discomfort, T-Pain crossed the chalk 12 times and racked 1,317 total yards. Meanwhile, the 'Muscle Hamster' and Morris each logged two of the greatest rushing seasons by a first-year RB in NFL history. Only Eric Dickerson and George Rogers accumulated more yards on the ground than 'The Butler.' As for Martin, his 1,926 yards from scrimmage was third all-time behind Dickerson and Edgerrin James.

After such a marvelous campaign for rookies, some would suspect drafters would be willing to take more chances on unproven products. However, that's hardly the case. The prove-it-to-me mentality still reigns supreme, a mindset that will definitely pay dividends for risk-takers. This year's youngster crop pales in comparison to last year's, but it's not completely devoid of instant impact players.

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Drafting a rookie RB in crowded backfield at No. 13? Ballsy. (USAT)

Montee Ball, who could deliver meaningful numbers in Denver if he can pass protect, has gone absurdly early in some mocks, but, for the most part, first-year players aren't overpriced. Le'Veon Bell, the Noise's pick for Offensive Rookie of the Year, has fallen off draft boards consistently in Rounds 4-6 in 12-teamers. Eddie Lacy, who should make a noteworthy impact in Green Bay, is landing in roughly the same territory. His tag-team partner, Jonathan Franklin, meanwhile, is getting crossed off cheat sheets roughly 2-4 rounds later.

Other freshmen are slipping well into the middle rounds, including St. Louis microwave Tavon Austin. Taken in the first-round of April's NFL draft, the former Mountaineer has dropped as far as No. 91 overall. Additional youngsters Zac Stacy, Giovanni Bernard, DeAndre Hopkins and deep sleeper Aaron Dobson are also going somewhere between Rounds 8-12. No shock, outside E.J. Manuel, no quarterbacks are drawing much interest, if any, from gamers.

After Jimmy Graham, tight end is a bottomless pit of uncertainty, values

Graham is the filet mignon of tight ends, a cut above the rest. Rob Gronkowski's upcoming fourth, and possibly fifth, procedure on his slow-healing forearm and various blemishes on the remaining class, places the Saint in a tier all to himself. This doesn't mean the position is suffering. Because of the popularity of two-tight end sets and unprecedented stockpile of athletic, polished targets, tight end, similar to last year, is loaded with productive options. Long gone are the days of Antonio Gates' sole domination. For example, Bills monolith Scott Chandler, who averaged a very respectable 6.2 fantasy points per game in standard formats, the 14th-best total among TEs, would have finished top-five 10 years ago.

Even in leagues that require multiple TE starters, stiff-arming the position early is the best approach. Perusing initial ADP data, dependable alternatives Dennis Pitta, Kyle Rudolph and Owen Daniels are going well after pick No. 80 in 12-team drafts. Tony Gonzalez, entering his swan song season, is also strangely discounted, selected on average at pick 64.8 according to Fantasy Football Calculator. In the Rotoworld and Rotowire brushups he went No. 49 and No. 68, respectively, overall. V-A-L-U-E!

Due to the bottomless talent pool, streaming the position could become a common tactic this fall. Potential breakouts Jordan Cameron, Rob Housler and Tony Moeaki, alongside proven, though occasionally erratic, commodities such as Dustin Keller, Brandon Pettigrew and Fred Davis, are typically going undrafted. Until defensive trends take shape, employing a plug 'n play strategy would be difficult at the onset, but if followed mid-season, it could cash handsomely.

Once the first 18-20 wide receivers come off the board, the position is ruled by mediocrity

Fantasy aficionados of all shapes and backgrounds typically talk in tiers. Grouping players with similarly skilled commodities is a fantastic way to denote when it's an appropriate time to jump aboard or abstain from a position 'run.' In this day and age of skyward thinking one would assume reliable wide receivers are plentiful. However, that's not entirely the case.

After the Vincent Jackson-Dwayne Bowe-Jordy Nelson class is selected, question marks about those remaining are palpable. Danny Amendola, though in a very ripe situation, would shatter a shoulder blade attempting to run over a Weeble Wobble . Wes Welker and Eric Decker could experience a decrease in production because of Denver's high-competition for targets. And Pierre Garcon, terrific when on the field last year, is expected to again fight through foot pain.

As always, there are plenty of diamonds in the rough at WR, but all have warts. Whatever format you play, it's critical to grab at least one receiver from the upper tiers.

Six players Mocksters are snapping tendons for …

Note: The numbers in parentheses denote where the player was drafted overall in the Rotoworld, Rotowire and Roto Arcade PPR mocks)

David Wilson, NYG, RB (Drafted at No. 28, 15, 14) – Bandwagoners are convinced Wilson is destined for greatness this fall. Though he's slated for an increased load, he will be involved in an undetermined timeshare with Andre Brown. Wilson is highly explosive in the open-field and around the edge and useful in the pass game, but concerns over his ability to pick-up the blitz combined with his marginal skills between-the-tackles may curtail his workload. Frankly, Brown, who should net at least 10-12 touches/game including all goal-line carries, might be the better all-around back and fantasy value. If Wilson finishes as a RB1, Miley Cyrus is indeed the hottest woman on the planet.

Montee Ball, Den, RB (68, 38, 13) – Don't you dare pronounce it 'Mon-tee.' Denver's 'Mon-tay' is hoping to make a name for himself. Because of the landing spot, most pundits are convinced he will. The Johns, Elway and Fox, are feeding the hype machine (The "next Terrell Davis," really Elway?), but the head coach's history of distrusting rookies is hard to overlook. Ball is a fluid, versatile rusher who fits well into the Broncos' ground scheme. However, if his pass protection skills aren't up to snuff, he'll fall out of favor quickly. Remember, though he's coming off his second knee surgery, Knowshon Moreno (110.5 total yards per game in six 2012 starts) and second-year sprinter Ronnie Hillman are still in the picture. The rookie should make an impact, but there are more trustworthy RBs available inside the top-50.

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Pead a RB2? Right, and Titus Young is a model citizen. (USAT)

Isaiah Pead, StL, RB (44, 100, ND) – There are certain fascinations in society that are difficult to grasp – the tight jeans revival, Bitcoin, this criminally deceptive invention, whatever the heck Titus Young is thinking and 'expert' infatuations with Pead. The Cincinnati product recently admitted his inaugural season was "miserable," so awful it made him "tired of football." Encouraging. In total he saw just 42 snaps, carried the rock 10 times and accumulated 54 yards. Pead is again itching to play and with an available path to touches has some fanalysts jumping to absurd conclusions. Essentially, he's a speed complement in platoon backfield, nothing more. Daryl Richardson, who boasts more versatility, and rookie Zac Stacy, who possesses considerable interior brawn, will greatly hinder the second-year back's rep count and overall worth. Pead emerging as a viable RB2 in 12-teamers would be apocalyptic.

Rob Gronkowski, NE, TE (11, 31, 60) – Chew on this for a minute: Gronk is slated to undergo a fourth operation on his broken forearm, a procedure that may not completely correct the problem. As of mid-May, the odds of the ex-Pro Bowler suiting up in time for the regular season are akin to Tim Tebow hitting a preschooler on a 10-yard crossing route. When healthy, he's an elite contributor, evidenced by his stellar 2012, but when weighing the enormous risks, the tight end isn't deserving of a top-30 or even a top-60 pick. Let someone else panic over the partier.

Wes Welker, Den, WR (73, 45, 44) – For the tacky-handed wideout a change of scenery isn't a good thing. Yes, he's tied to another future Hall of Famer in an equally dynamic offense, but there are far more mouths to feed in Denver. Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, who combined for 263 targets last year, likely won't see a dramatic reduction in looks, especially inside the red-zone. Plus, Fox won't abandon the run. Add it up and it's probable Peyton Manning tallies roughly the same number of pass attempts as last year (583), meaning another 175 targets for Welker is highly unlikely. He'll still pack a punch in PPR settings, but because end-zone dances will be scarce, he's more WR3 than WR2 material in default leagues. Think 80-875-5.

Aaron Rodgers, GB, QB (37, 13, 12) – Inevitably, zealots in six-point per passing TD leagues will throw rotten cabbage at yours truly for merely mentioning Rodgers, a quarterback with a very high floor, here, but it's not necessarily a statement about the player, rather it's the position (See above). When push comes to shove, the difference between Kapernick and Rodgers will likely be negligible, which makes selecting the former Super Bowl MVP in the back-half of Round 1 or early-part of Round 2 senseless in traditional settings.

Six players Mocksters are missing the memo on …

Matthew Stafford, Det, QB (81, 91, 56) – Only a handful of months ago the Detroit rifleman wrapped up arguably the most inexplicable campaigns by a quarterback in NFL history. Despite smashing Drew Bledsoe's single season pass attempts record by 36 chucks and throwing for the seventh-most yards in a year ever (4,967), Stafford found the end-zone a mere 20 times – fluky. Unless an invisible wall is again erected inside the five – Calvin Johnson was tackled just shy of the goal-line an extraordinary number of times last year – the beleaguered passer is a prime bounce-back candidate. Detroit's secondary, though improved on paper, remains below average, which means shootouts will occur regularly. Couple that with the addition of Reggie Bush, and it's entirely possible Stafford compiles at least 4,500 yards and 35-40 TDs. He's the reason why you can wait on QB.

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Don't discount DX too heavily. (USAT)

Danario Alexander, SD, WR (87, 71, 65) – Apparently, amnesia has afflicted many within the 'expert' community. Do people not remember what Alexander accomplished in half a season with San Diego? Here's a refresher: DX's 37-658-7 line and subsequent 10.8 points per game average (Non-PPR) checked in at No. 16 among wideouts, ahead of name-brands Victor Cruz, Randall Cobb and Reggie Wayne. Yes, his jelly knees and Philip Rivers' proclivity for boneheaded plays are downsides, but he's the Chargers No. 1 target in what should be a healthier offense under Mike McCoy. It would be no stretch if Alexander finished inside the WR top-20 once again.

Ryan Mathews, SD, RB (57, 59, 53) – Yes, fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me; fool me three times, and I'm a (expletive) idiot. Mathews is crystal meth in human form. Get a taste of his potential, and you're instantly hooked. Because of drafters' "never again" perception toward the Bolt, he's actually a fantastic value at his common Round 5 price point. With a new regime in place, full support from San Diego's GM Tom Telesco and little competition for early down reps (Danny Woodhead and Revolutionary War vet Ronnie Brown are his backups), he's in good position to finally deliver on his RB1 promise, provided he doesn't puncture a Fallopian tube.

Mike Williams, TB, WR (103, 89, ND) – Overshadowed by Vincent Jackson and the Muscle Hamster, Williams also moved the meter offensively in Tampa last year. Bouncing back from a horrid sophomore slump, his 63-996-9 line tabbed him a back-end WR2 in standard formats. Greg Schiano has reservations about Josh Freeman and the Bucs likely won't be forced to play catch-up nearly as often with Darrelle Revis draping the opposition, but Williams, arguably the team's premier red-zone weapon, enters the regular season in a contract year. Count on him cashing in. It would be no stretch if he at least matched his numbers from 2012. Poach him in the late-middle rounds.

Maurice Jones-Drew, Jax, RB (21, 24, 17) – Four months from now owners will be kicking themselves for not trusting the Oompah Loompah. Recovering from a Lisfranc sprain, he recently expressed he'll be full speed by June. In a contract year, playing for a ball control-minded head coach and with Denard Robinson expected to help ease the burden roughly 5-10 times per game, MJD should storm back with a vengeance. A return to 2011 isn't out of the question. You're robbing leaguemates blind in Round 2 or possibly later.

Jordan Cameron, Cle, TE (121, ND, ND) – Hiding in the TE shadows is a Brown with bite. Cleveland head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner have a storied history featuring the tight end. Antonio Gates, Jay Novacek, Kellen Winslow Jr., Vernon Davis and Greg Olsen are noteworthy names associated with the sideline duo. The ex-Trojan contributed little in his first two years in the league (26 receptions, 259 yards, 1 TD), but he fits seamlessly into Turner's scheme and is firmly entrenched atop Cleveland's TE depth-chart. The potential certainly exists for him to become this year's Dennis Pitta. Once training camp opens, he's one to keep a close eye on.

For your derision, here are the teams I drafted. Please point out my gross incompetence in the comments section below.

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