I know I'm probably not the biggest fantasy geek in the world, but I did fly to Austin last weekend to draft Jerome Harrison.
My primary keeper fantasy league, the 16-team League of American Recreational Gridiron Enthusiasts (or L.A.R.G.E.) held its ninth-annual draft last Saturday amid excitement over Reggie Bush (he went in the first round), trepidation over Deuce McAllister (he went in the fourth round, 43 picks after his young area-code-in-the-eye-black backfield mate), and whimpering over hot weather (mostly me), hangovers (me again) and Frisbee-golf blisters (I hit the trifecta).
With a bottle of Tylenol in my hand and Tom Brady in my pocket, I now sit before you wearing my "L.A.R.G.E. 2006 Draft: Austin, TX" t-shirt (designed by aesthetic master Mike Cohen, it trumpets the locations of our other drafts, which have included Las Vegas, Chicago, New York, New Orleans and Boston), wondering both how I did and whether any of "my new guys" will wind up breaking anything between now and Week 1. I assume you know the feeling.
With apologies to South Floridians bracing for Ernesto, now is the lull before the fantasy storm. Most leagues have drafted. Most marriages have hopefully survived. You decided which RB to take first overall, which to take fourth, how early to take a WR and/or QB, and whether you should punch the person who took Chad Johnson exactly one pick before you were going to draft him. You ate breakfast burritos, bean dip, short ribs and Alka-Seltzer. You waited patiently to take a defense and now have a perverse fascination with the reserve safeties for the Arizona Cardinals. Where before your fantasy team was barren helmets and empty jerseys, now you have players. Let's just hope one of them isn't Greg Jones. In honor of that favorite of all nonsectarian national holidays, Draft Day, let's take a loving look back.
- Let's all sing together: Dominique-a-nique-a-nique, over the land he plods. (Okay, probably you were unable to sing along; my parents had a recording of "The Singing Nun" when I was a kid.) I'm referring, of course, to poor Domanick Davis, whose fantasy owners now have to persevere amid rumors that the Texans RB may miss the entire year as his surgically-repaired knee continues to trouble him. In the L.A.R.G.E. draft, Davis was the 29th running back selected (including keepers), and Doug, the poor guy who took him, also drafted Greg Jones. Doug is also the fellow who took Peyton Manning with the sixth-overall pick, so his backfield pretty much consists of Frank Gore standing by his lonesome, and he's no iron man himself. L.A.R.G.E.'s investigative wing has launched an inquiry into allegations that Doug took Manning specifically because he named his youngest son "Peyton."
- There were chuckles in our draft room when the Alamo Sol selected Travis Henry in the ninth round, with guys like Derrick Blaylock, Vernand Morency and Harrison still on the board. Who's laughing now? CBS Sportsline is quoting a source inside the Titans as saying Henry will be the team's starter in Week 1 against the Jets. Wow. If this is true, and if Henry can stay clear of the puff of marijuana smoke that's allegedly been trailing him around the league like that cloud of dirt that follows Pigpen, Henry could very well be the first undrafted RB starter in your league. Pick him up.
- There's no other way to say it: Clinton Portis is plummeting. A month ago, I was taking flak via dozens of reader emails, telling me how stupid I was for suggesting I'd draft Tiki Barber before Portis. Since then, Portis separated his shoulder and the Redskins freaked out and traded for T.J. Duckett. Even if Dr. I-Don't-Know is completely healthy (which he isn't), it seems unlikely he's in line for 350 carries anymore, and those 20 TDs you Portis-backers were insisting on a month ago are long gone. At the L.A.R.G.E. draft, Portis was the story of the first round (if you listened closely, you could hear Chris Berman muttering): he fell below Steven Jackson, then Rudi Johnson, then LaMont Jordan, then Manning and then Brian Westbrook (Barber, Edgerrin James, Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown were all kept). When my first-round pick came (eighth overall), I was sorely tempted but stayed the course: I kept Willis McGahee and Willie Parker, and couldn't justify taking the huge risk on Portis. The team right after me (the Round Rock 'Roid Rage) could. Good luck, dude.
- Is there anything worse than sitting in your draft room, fixating on a name, seeing the letters all sparkly above the corner locker in your fictitious locker room (please tell me I'm not the only one), only to hear his name called in the slot just before you? I wanted Rod Smith. I wanted Rod Smith, bad. I know Javon Walker looked great against Houston on Sunday night (I caught the entire game sitting in the thunderstorm-shaken Dallas airport for six hours), but something tells me Walker's going to be hobbled, and Reliable Rod is going to step back up and post another very good fantasy year. I wanted him as my third wideout. The draft snaked back around in my direction in Round 5, and I was trying my best to act nonchalant. I put on my best I'm-not-drafting-Rod-Smith expression. I drank a full beer with a single swig. Picking right in front of me were the Astrological Love Thermometers, my L.A.R.G.E. archenemy. He needed a receiver. I knew it. He knew it. Somewhere 2,000 miles away, Plaxico Burress (the other Thermometer WR) knew it. What a completely nauseating feeling. Moments like this, with which most fantasy folk can identify, are the times I most question my obsession, and wonder what it's like to be normal. But the adrenaline rush is something else, isn't it? Anyway, the Thermometers took Joey Galloway and I nearly wet myself. Then the guy behind me said, "Dammit! I was going to take Rod Smith!"
- I drafted Donte' Stallworth 16 hours before he became a Philadelphia Eagle. Liked him as a Saint. Love him as an Eagle. He's signed for '07, but wants very much to ink a contract extension, so he has to perform.
- A fantasy draft wouldn't be a fantasy draft if people didn't try to take players who've already been taken. This year in L.A.R.G.E., it happened on the third-overall pick, a record for us. Eddie thought he was oh-so-clever picking Tiki Barber. Unfortunately, as I believe I mentioned, Barber was kept. Therefore every single time his team's pick came around, everyone around the table was contractually obligated to say, "Tiki Barber." Actually, I wonder if there's some kind of logic or reason to the double-nominating of fantasy players at a draft. Like, are already-taken players who get their name called again more or less likely to have great seasons? I think there's a Ph.D. dissertation waiting to be written here, people.
- Am I still the only person on Earth who believes Tatum Bell should have been drafted before Mike Bell? Everywhere I look, mock drafts (and real drafts) have Bell-the-younger picked at least a round ahead of Bell-the-older, and L.A.R.G.E. was no exception. The team that took Mike Bell in our league spent the 34th-overall pick on him, while Tatum didn't go until the 52nd. Yup, I saw Denver's game on Sunday (stranded in the airport, remember?), and I saw Mike get the start. But I also saw Tatum rotate in on a regular basis, and look quite a bit better than the rookie. I also saw him get two goal-line carries, the second of which he punched in. With Ron Dayne missing just about all of camp (I still have a feeling his roster spot could be in jeopardy), the Bell who toils in the red zone wins this contest. I still like Tatum.
- I've been doing this for longer than I care to admit, and I can't remember a year when there were more "high-upside" RBs on whom to speculate. By my count, there are 18 NFL teams whose running-back situations are fairly settled, and 14 where a platoon is either in place or looming. In my opinion, fantasy champions are going to come from teams who guess right on one or more of the 14 dicey situations. DeAngelo Williams, Marion Barber, Laurence Maroney, LenDale White, Thomas Jones, Joseph Addai, McAllister, the Bells … these are just a few of the guys who could rise up and shock the fantasy world. I drafted Williams and Barber (which explains why I listed them first). I don't trust DeShaun Foster, and my sneaking suspicion is that Bill Parcells will look for ways to get Barber in games. I also really do like Jerome Harrison.
- Loyal Yahoo! readers, I betrayed you. Since I had my two starting RBs kept and since all the star RBs were long-gone, when my first pick came around, I'd resigned myself to taking the draft's first wideout. All summer I've told you it's Steve Smith. But when the rubber met the road, I couldn't do it. I regret it a little now. But as of Saturday, Smith still hadn't practiced in weeks, and I had visions of "first-round bust" tattooed across my forehead. L.A.R.G.E. is a pretty savvy league. It stinks to stink, but it's worse to choke. Maybe it was peer pressure, maybe it was over-thinking. But I took Torry Holt. I do think Holt is going to have a great year, but if I had the chance to do it over, I might take Smith (especially considering he's reportedly back to work). Holt is just so consistent, though. He seems far less likely to punk me. Argh. I'm an idiot.
- There's an art to the late rounds. Hour Five rolls around. Attention is flagging. Everyone's half in the bag. People are leaving the room to pee, eat and/or phone their significant others to beg for just a little more time. In L.A.R.G.E., the later rounds are even more important, because we use a salary cap, and assign a dollar value to each player depending on which round they're taken in. Later round means lower dollars, and we can only keep a set amount of salary from year-to-year. I picked McGahee in the Round 12 four years ago (his rookie campaign in which he played not a single snap), and have owned him since. You see a lot of interesting fliers at the end of our drafts, and I resolve to never take a kicker or defense dead last, because $1 keepers are like gold. This year, I tried my late luck on Harrison, Greg Jennings and Chad Jackson. None of these guys are likely to make any kind of impact on this year's team, but if they show flashes, I'll keep them for 2007. Email me if you've got a better $1 flier I should've taken.
- Tiki Barber