Always listen to experts. They'll tell you what can't be done and why. Then do it. --Robert Heinlein
In many ways, industry drafts mimic the psychology of any local or virtual league. Some experts are the confident quite assassins, letting their picks do the talking. Others are Chad Johnson extroverts that drop numerous expletives as a means of disguising their suspect drafting skills. While the most dangerous of the experts, the zingers, use a sinister twist of humor and self-deprecation to try and throw off the competition. Regardless of the approach, every expert will proclaim the same thing at the end of a draft: They love their teams. Hey, don't we all this time of year?
On Tuesday, June 27th, twelve fantasy pundits came together to participate in the 3rd annual Yahoo! Friends and Family draft. Last year, Rotowire's Chris Liss took home the coveted trophy, riding the coattails of – go figure – Larry Johnson. This year's participants are:
Friends Division: Chris Liss-Rotowire.com; Peter Schoenke-Rotowire.com; John Hansen-FantasyGuru.com; Bill LeConey-FantasyGuru.com; William Del Pillar-KFFL; Matthew Berry-TalentedMrRoto.com
Family Division: Yahoo! Sports fantasy writers Brandon Funston, Christopher Harris, Brad Evans, Matt Buser, Matt Romig, and Yahoo! Sports' Joe Lago
Starting lineup requirements: QB, RB, RB, WR, WR, WR, TE, K, DEF
Scoring system: Standard performance
For round-by-round draft results for each team click here.
Where did some of the more intriguing players get drafted? What expert did the unthinkable and took a kicker before Round 15? Who fared the best? Here are my flames, lames and draft grades for each team in order of draft position 1-12:
Owner: Christopher Harris
Draft Grade: B
Flame Pick: Marvin Harrison, Ind, Round 3, Pick 25
In a league that requires three starting wide receivers, acquiring one of the NFL's elite pass-catchers in Round 3 is highway robbery. Since 2003, Harrison has benefited greatly from a soaring Colts passing attack that has averaged a stout 33.6 pass attempts/year. Averaging 87 receptions, 1,117 yards and 12 TDs over the past three seasons, Harrison ranks third behind Torry Holt and Chad Johnson in receiver total fantasy points. Last year, he racked at least 60 yards receiving in nine games and will easily tally his eighth straight season of over 1,000 yards and 10 or more TDs.
Lame Pick: Priest Holmes, KC, Round 9, Pick 97
Kneeling at the alter of the football gods, Harris is praying Holmes is the backup in K.C.. Although not yet medically cleared to participate in football activities, Herman Edwards is confident the former fantasy marvel will be back. With rumors swirling in K.C. that Dee Brown or a potential trade acquisition could supplant Holmes as the backup, it remains uncertain what fate has in store. Although not a terrible pick with Larry Johnson on his roster, Harris could have used some restraint and handcuffed a couple of rounds later.
Outlook: Larry Johnson fosters inappropriate physical desires for any owner. Utilizing the RB-RB strategy, Harris complemented LJ well by getting steamin' Willie Parker at pick 24. The biggest potential mid-round surprise could be wrecking ball T.J. Duckett. If the Falcons send him packing, he could finally be more than just a goal-line bulldozer in the right situation. With no backup quarterback for Donovan McNabb, Harris could have some additional trade bait.
Owner: Brad Evans
Draft Grade: A-
Flame Pick: Chris Brown, Ten, Round 6, Pick 71
In the last edition of the Noise, I said Brown was about as trustworthy of a second back as Chris Henry is in a liquor store with a group of high school girls. But after Titans running backs coach Sherman Smith commented on June 22nd that Brown was "the best man for the starting job" – implying his pass-blocking and receiving skills were far superior to the forgotten Travis Henry and LenDale White – my feelings were swayed. With RBs averaging a 9.4 percent increase in numbers in contract years over the past three seasons, it made sense for me to take the risk in Round 6. Averaging an injury-riddled 12 games per season since 2003, he still possess a game capable of double-digit touchdowns if he can avoid adversity. Incredibly, 32 other backs were taken in front of him, including dog-housed Thomas Jones and beefcake Ron Dayne. This pick reeks of profit.
Lame Pick: Marc Bulger, StL, Round 7, Pick 74
This was my heaven and hell conundrum of the draft. On my left shoulder the Devil told me, "Take a quarterback, there are plenty of marginal receivers available." Meanwhile, to my right an angel retorted, "The values at quarterback are endless, go wide receiver." Born a sinner, the decision was easy. The clincher: Bulger has averaged an eye-popping 6.7 multi-TD efforts and four 300-yard games since '03 – including those from his injury-shortened 2005 campaign. Bulger's 59.8 Y! ADP (average draft position) suggests he was a blue-light special in Round 7, but with several serviceable quarterbacks left – Daunte Culpepper, Kurt Warner, Eli Manning, Drew Bledsoe and Jake Delhomme – restraint should have been enforced. Inevitably, selecting him forced me to confide in the fragile Terry Glenn as a No. 3 receiver. Playing in a system that attempted a massive 37.4 passes/game last season, he is well-worth the risky Glenn.
Outlook: With running back depth, a solid one-two punch of Anquan Boldin and Plaxico Burress and fantasy Hercules Shaun Alexander on roster, this will be a contending team. Although straying away from my typical RB-RB motif, the dynamics of a three wide receiver league alters the landscape of a draft. If Deuce McAllister can be the goal-line plowshare and an improved Cleveland Browns offensive line can help elevate Reuben Droughns to a solid No. 2, the "Big Noise" will be the braggart come Christmas.
Owner: Matt Buser
Draft Grade: C
Flame Pick: Ron Dayne, Den, Round 6, Pick 60
Meet the player Tatum Bell owners will loathe this year. The thunder in the Bronco backfield, Dayne showed improved aggressiveness over the final seven weeks of '05 averaging 5.4 YPC. Showcasing a similar running style as Mike Anderson last year, Dayne is an ideal fit for Mike Shanahan's zone-blocking scheme. Bell will be the 1,000-yard rusher, but Dayne will be the pay-dirt priority. As Buser's third back, he is great insurance if Chester Taylor disappoints.
Lame Pick: Tom Brady, NE, Round 5, Pick 51
Brady has vaulted up fantasy depth charts in many experts drafts thus far. A consensus Round 7 selection last year, his 14 TDs over the final seven weeks and 256.9 YPG average – along with his annoying, overplayed commercials – persuaded industry names that he is a dependable No. 1 quarterback. Although not a bad selection in Round 5, Buser should have waited on a quarterback, possibly adding depth at running back with Cedric Benson, Chris Brown and DeAngelo Williams still available.
Outlook: Buser's success rides on the back of two roster spots, his second running back and his third wide receiver. By selecting Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss in Rounds 2 and 3, he puts an enormous amount of trust in glorified third-down back Chester Taylor. Unfortunately, the intense running back drop-off from tier-to-tier makes selecting wide receivers with consecutive picks a dangerous proposition. At receiver, the once prominent tandem of Drew Bennett and Michael Clayton will have to shake the injury demons of '05 and return to respectable numbers for Buser to vie for a high seed come November.
Owner: John Hansen
Draft Grade: C+
Flame Pick: Thomas Jones, Chi, Round 6, Pick 69
Jones is one disgruntled Bear that would make Stephen Colbert scream for mama. In 2005, Jones cracked the running back top 10, averaging 89 rushing YPG and totaling a career-high nine touchdowns. Obviously, Lovie Smith's recent comments on Jones' absence have soured his value in many early drafts. On June 22nd, Smith had glowing remarks about Cedric Benson stating, "Benson is another player I talk about who has been here throughout the entire offseason and has gotten better and better. We're really excited about what he may be able to do for us this year." Smith did add that no player had been formerly demoted. Jones may lose 8-10 carries/game, but a strong training camp will certainly deem him the top sausage in Chicago coming off a career year. He is the type of mid-round selection that can win fantasy championships.
Lame Pick: Deion Branch, NE, Round 4, Pick 45
A salary seeker whose numbers have climbed in three consecutive seasons, Branch has been a trendy sleeper pick in early drafts. However, with a Y! ADP of 64.8, Hansen snapped a few tendons stretching for his services in Round 4. The departure of David Givens to Tennessee clearly makes Branch Tom Brady's favorite target, but rookie Chad Jackson will have to quickly develop into a viable second option in order to eliminate any added pressure. The fourth-year vet should take another step forward this year, but Donald Driver or Plaxico Burress would have been a wiser choice at this position.
Outlook: Hansen has a number of pending question marks. Domanick Davis at pick 21 was a terrific bargain, but knee swelling in June mini-camps suggests this could be a reoccurring issue. To compound things further, the Guru rolled the dice with Michael Vick and Aaron Brooks in Rounds 11 and 12. Vick could be an enormous profit given his ability to run, but he had six games of 15 fantasy points or less last year. Inconsistency can be costly.
Owner: Brandon Funston
Draft Grade: B
Flame Pick: Mark Clayton, Bal, Round 10 Pick 116
Quietly, Clayton put together one of the best five-game stretches of any young AFC wide receiver at the end of 2005, catching 24 passes for 316 yards and three scores. An accurate route runner with elusive moves, Clayton has the play-making abilities to develop into an upper-tiered No. 3 wide receiver this season. The acquisition of Steve McNair will take his game to a whole new level. Funston was concerned with his third receiver after the draft, but he has little to worry about. Clayton is a player capable of 70 receptions, 850 yards and six touchdowns.
Lame Pick: Tatum Bell, Den, Round 4, Pick 44
In two seasons, Bell has always been an untamable Bronco. Possessing electrifying speed that can turn corners with pinpoint precision, the third-year back has the dynamite skills to be a productivity poster-child. Last year, he averaged a whopping 5.3 YPC and totaled eight touchdowns on just 173 carries. The home run threat of the Broncos' two-headed monster, durability and work ethic concerns have plagued Bell's full potential, and will do so again this year. With only the ancient Curtis Martin to support Funston's starting duo of Clinton Portis and Julius Jones, this Bell will have to toll loudly over the Mile High City.
Outlook: Outside of some minor depth concerns, Funston has a team suitable for a strong playoff run. The biggest key is Julius Jones. Drafted in Round 2 with the 20th overall pick, the Dallas Cowboy starter only had one 100-yard game last year and played second fiddle to Marion Barber at times. For Funston's sake, he better be the 194-yard, two-TD back that skinned the Panthers in Week 16, or it could be beer-consoling time come November.
Owner: Matthew Berry/Shawn Cwalinski
Flame Pick: Jason Witten, Dal, Round 10, Pick 102
Shawn showed everyone why you can sleep on a tight end once Antonio Gates comes off the board. Playing in a contract year, with cuckoo T.O. on the roster and in a friendlier pass-catching role, Witten is in store for career totals. The fifth tight end selected, Witten was drafted some five rounds after Todd Heap. Look for his targets to eclipse the century mark – he had 122 in 2004 – with Terrell Owens stretching the field. Cowboys announcers will get winded this season calling "Witten over-the-middle," time and time again.
Lame Pick: Laveranues Coles, NYJ, Round 8, Pick 91
Coles is a reasonable value pick in Round 8, but he will be a migraine headache to own. Returning to the Jets last season, the chances of Chad Pennington's arm falling off are about as good as the New York media lambasting him in ink this fall. Reports about Pennington's progress in mini-camp were vague, but he did connect on a 35-yard strike to Coles. If Pennington can return to form, Coles could post numbers similar to 2003's 1,264-yards and 5 TDs, but expect a much more disheartening effort. At best, he will notch 70 receptions, 860 yards, and four TDs. Not what a fantasy owner wants as a starter.
Outlook: Ignoring Coles, there is a great deal to like about this team. The TMR brain trust did a fantastic job of drafting high-reward running backs with Warrick Dunn, DeShaun Foster and Ahman Green in Rounds 3, 4, and 7. If glass vases Foster and Green can avoid ferocious turf monsters, this will be a team that has the chess pieces to move for upgrades elsewhere. As Shawn's draft proved, this season will likely boast a bumper crop of admirable mid-round runners that will exceed expectation.
Owner: Chris Liss
Draft Grade: C+
Flame Pick: Kurt Warner, Round 8, Pick 90
Landing a top-6 fantasy quarterback with the 90th pick is a real coup. The 10th gunner drafted, the 35-year-old Warner returns to the helm of an Arizona offense that threw 44 more attempts than second-place finisher Green Bay last year. Sacked 2.3 times/game, Warner still managed to accumulate five 300-yard games and an accurate 64.5 completion percentage. With Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and sticky-fingered Edgerrin James in the desert, Warner will be an oasis of production when healthy.
Lame Pick: Reggie Bush, Round 3, Pick 31
If Bush finishes in the top-40 in fantasy scoring this season, Snakes on a Plane will take home an Oscar. It's amazing how the media hype machine can skyrocket a player's perceived value. Blessed with unimaginable athletic ability that has drawn comparisons to Chicago Bears great Gale Sayers, Bush has drag-racer speed capable of taking it to the house from anywhere. However, the Saints Swiss cheese offensive line and the presence of Deuce McAllister – especially in goal-line sets – means Bush is nothing more than a tier-three back dripping with upside. Mark my words: He will not be the NFL's best offensive rookie this year. To quote hip-hop poet laureate Flava Flav, "Don't believe the hype!"
Outlook: Defending champ Liss evidently has an affinity for men in diapers, drafting four rookies – Bush, Joseph Addai, Vernon Davis and Chad Jackson – and four second-year players – Ronnie Brown, Cedric Benson, Matt Jones and Roddy White. Selecting running backs with five of his first six picks, Liss teaches us that going overboard on a specific position is not necessarily a good thing, especially in a receiver-heavy league. Playing the running back card early and often, Liss was forced to take chances on unproven receivers. One of those underdogs, Matt Jones could breakout as the Jags main option, but he is not a reliable No. 2. Given the incredible amount of depth in his backfield, a trade will have to be pulled for a premier wideout if he has any hopes of repeating.
Owner: Matt Romig
Draft Grade: B
Flame Pick: Antonio Gates, Round 3, Pick 3
Drafted much later than his Y! ADP of 17.6, Gates was a brilliant selection in Round 3. After taking Steven Jackson and Willis McGahee with his first two picks, Romig snared a player in Gates that dominated his position in '05, totaling 59 more fantasy points than second-place finisher Todd Heap. Not only does Romig have a distinct advantage over his opponent every week at this position, he was still able to land notable wide receivers Roy Williams, Andre Johnson and Jerry Porter in Rounds 4, 5, and 8. If you're in the same predicament in your draft, unlock Gates at this spot.
Lame Pick: Santonio Holmes, Round 9, Pick 104
Graduate of the Maurice Clarett school of hard-knocks, Santonio Holmes has been arrested twice since drafted as the 25th overall pick by the Pittsburgh Steelers back in April. Yet to sign on the dotted line, his off-the-field disputes will likely cost him dollars and playing time. Only two first-year receivers in the last five seasons have totaled 1,000-yards or more, and Holmes will be lucky to achieve a third of that. This is a definite eyesore for a fantasy team with quality potential.
Outlook: In an amazing twist of irony, Romig had the Crap O' the Draft (Holmes) and Steal O' the Draft (Gates). With Willis McGahee, Daunte Culpepper, Andre Johnson and Fred Taylor on the roster, just call Y!-Romig a team in desperate need of a bounce-back. If Nigerian Nightmare Samkon Gado regains the starting role in Green Bay and Braylon Edwards can return to full strength after a devastating ACL injury, this could be a team that vies for Family supremacy.
Owner: Joe Lago
Draft Grade: D
Flame Pick: Zach Hilton, NO, Round 13, Pick 153
At 6-foot-8, Hilton is a Sasquatch. Shining late last year, he amassed 24 receptions for 288 yards and a TD over the final six weeks – eighth-best among tight ends. The presence of tight end targeters Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton in the Big Easy will take Hilton's game one step further. As the 15th tight end selected, people will be kicking themselves when he finishes with 60 receptions, 700 yards and six scores.
Lame Pick: Terrell Owens, Dal, Round 2, Pick 15
Passing on sound complementary No. 2 running backs such as Willis McGahee, Julius Jones, Domanick Davis and Willie Parker, Lago fumbled the pigskin at the goal-line. By drafting Owens in Round 2, he set the precedent for the next three rounds, selecting Darrell Jackson, Javon Walker and Joe Horn consecutively. Ignoring running backs early can and will be very costly for any owner. Owens is one of only five receivers that has averaged 10 or more touchdowns over the past three seasons, but he can't consistently carry a fantasy team in a non-PPR (points per reception) format.
Outlook: Drafting in the always-difficult eight spot, this team would have a tough time passing the Wonderlic Test. After Rudi Johnson, Lago's second back will be a deplorable rotation of Mike Anderson, Duce Staley and Cedric Houston. Loaded with four sensational wide receivers, he will need to pawn one off to have any shot of making the playoffs. To drive the knife deeper, he was the first to commit fantasy football suicide, taking kicker Adam Vinatieri in Round 12. The vultures are already circling.
Owner: Bill LeConey
Draft Grade: C-
Flame Pick: Jamal Lewis, Round 4, Pick 39
How the mighty have fallen. A 2,000-yard rusher just three seasons ago, Lewis has gone from the fantasy penthouse to the outhouse. Still only 26, a return to prominence is possible with McNair behind center, but he needs to regain the bruising, aggressive running style he once exhibited. If Lewis can rediscover his game and Jonathan Ogden and company can improve – they allowed 42 sacks last season, sixth worst in the AFC – this will look like grand larceny.
Lame Pick: Peyton Manning, Round 2, Pick 15
Slipping nearly 10 spots from his 2005 ADP, Manning is the top dog of fantasy quarterbacks. This year will likely yield his highest number of attempts yet with questions surrounding the ground game. However, with Bill going QB in Round 2, it negatively altered his draft outcome. With top-flight receivers dwindling, Bill felt pushed to acquire Santana Moss at pick 34, avoiding a second back. By the time his next selection rolled around, the questionable Jamal Lewis was the best back available. Manning will be the best at his position, but is not worth the risk of losing substantial value in other areas. Pass on him in your draft.
Outlook: This is a team that needs a third running back more than Adam Morrison needs a barber. The only other ball-handlers Bill drafted after Lewis were Chris Perry in Round 9 and rookie Maurice Drew in Round 11. Yikes! Outside of Santana Moss, the remaining receiving corps – Nate Burleson, Keenan McCardell, Koren Robinson and Ernest Wilford – are very suspect. Point accumulators Edgerrin James and Peyton Manning can be lethal at times, but the fate of this team resides in its peripheries. See what can happen when you bite on Manning?
Owner: Peter Schoenke
Draft Grade: A-
Flame Pick: Corey Dillon, Round 4, Pick 38
The chip has returned. Quoted recently that he feels "real disrespected," Dillon is on a mission to prove he doesn't have one foot in the grave. The last time the fire burned brightly inside Dillon he finished third in the NFL in rushing in 2004. At 31, it is improbable he returns to such loftiness, but 1,100 yards and 10-12 touchdowns are certainly within reach. Add the presence of rookie Laurence Maroney and Dillon has all the fuel he needs to stoke his internal fire. Despite the injury risk, this is a fantastic deal in Round 4.
Lame Pick: Lee Evans, Round 6, Pick 62
The triple-trouble mix of J.P. Losman, Kelly Holcomb and Craig Nall, doesn't bode well for Evans. After a sensational rookie year, the second-year standout saw a slight dip in numbers, dropping 100 yards and two touchdowns from 2004. This year he inherits the go-to role with Eric Moulds hoofing it in Houston, but that could be detrimental if Peerless Price or Roscoe Parrish can't alleviate some pressure. If you gamble on Evans, pull for Losman this summer. Evans averaged 54.9 YPG and scored five of his seven touchdowns with the former Tulane quarterback in the huddle.
Outlook: Despite taking only one running back in the first three rounds, Schoenke did a fine job of making quality selections in the quick-hitting 11th position. Snagging future superstar DeAngelo Williams in Round 5, LenDale White in Round 7 and Marion Barber in Round 8, this is a team that complemented a tremendous receiving corps with low-cost, high-reward runners. It's the middle rounds where you win your league, and this squad certainly found a few diamonds in the rough.
Owner: William Del Pillar
Draft Grade: C-
Flame Pick: T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Round 6, Pick 61
Disrespected in many early drafts, Housh was a king of consistency last season, catching at least five passes for 50 or more yards in 11 of 15 games. Targeted an average of 112 times per season since 2004, the man with the most misspelled name in professional football finished 16th among receivers in total points. Carson Palmer is on track to start the regular season, making this Bengal an outstanding No. 2 fantasy receiver you can grab at a discount in the middle rounds.
Lame Pick: Jeremy Shockey, Round 4, Pick 37
Leading all tight ends with 13.7 yards per catch in 2005, Shockey's numbers have trended upward in two consecutive seasons. Remarkably, he was a long-distance machine last year, snagging a 20-plus yard reception in 9 of 15 games. The development of Eli Manning should continue to push his numbers skyward, but with promising points producers like Corey Dillon, Jamal Lewis, Deuce McAllister, Roy Williams and Javon Walker still remaining, jumping on the gritty tight end's bandwagon was a bit premature. Heck, Redskins tight end Chris Cooley tallied only 15 total points less than Shockey last year and went six rounds later. Again, you can wait on tight ends.
Outlook: Team KFFL has some serviceable weapons, but nothing nuclear. Brian Westbrook is a superb No. 2 running back but his low TD totals make it difficult to believe he is in the Cadillac class. Kevin Jones – a high-valued pick a year ago – must make the most of his 15-20 carries/game in Mike Martz' air-weighted offense to be stud worthy. Another year of 10 games of 75 or less rushing yards from Jones would sink the KFFL boat right to the bottom of the Friends division. With bankrupt Kevan Barlow as the only life raft, the hull might already be cracked. The steeper than normal drop-off of running backs makes pick 12 a slippery spot to draft this season.
Unleash the Beast
Upset you don't have a forum to express your disdain for drafting Willis McGahee? Do you question why on earth you're not a fantasy expert? This is the place for you to vent your thoughts, tirades and frustrations. Can you bring the noise?
"Every fantasy football expert will tell you that building a championship team begins and ends on draft day" is a bad way to start off an article. I haven't even finished the article yet nor haven't gotten to number one, because this statement is so utterly stupid I feel like my I.Q. has dropped just by reading it. If that were true, Peyton Manning would have gotten me through the fantasy playoffs last year. You know who won games for me though? Kyle Boller, a free agent pickup. Tell everyone who picked up Samkon Gado midseason last year, or Reuben Droughns the year before, how a championship team begins and ends on draft day. With injuries, suspensions, bad play, and late season resurgences, your beautiful draft can be pepped up by those all important free agent acquisitions. And building a team doesn't begin with the draft either, it begins at the end of the previous season. It's called RESEARCH. So if you would like to join my fantasy league this year you are more than welcome. We could use some "expert" fodder to pad our scores.
"Always draft two solid RBs in the first two rounds, period." Wow, and I thought all year that taking Torry Holt in Round 2 last year, and then picking up Thomas Jones in the 3rd was a great move on my part. I guess estimation of talent level and grabbing undervalued players later than they should go isn't a good strategy. Glad I'm taking notes.
At least tips 2 – 10 weren't garbage like No. 1 and your prologue. Props for that, but I would still wager that you would be fodder in my league.
– Reverend Sam J. Carollo
Noise: Rev, thanks for your email. I love it when a man of the cloth talks trash when it comes to fantasy football. If you build a church devoted to the gods of fantasy, I'll be the first member of your congregation.
Your comments are well received. My credo: "Building a champion begins and ends on draft day," obviously has its flaws. That I will not disregard. However, it can and does ring true every year. Just ask the owners that drafted Jamal Lewis, Peyton Manning and Kevin Jones last season in Round 1. You can lose your draft with the first two picks and win it in the middle rounds. Those that fail to net a tier-one player out of the gate will flounder, unless they can hawk the waiver wire or spend enough FAAB cash to acquire the Samkon Gados of the fantasy sports world. Generally speaking, players that draft for depth will be successful, but a little lady luck never hurts along the way. Fantasy football is not nearly as skillful as the baseball game.
As for your running back rant, in a non-PPR performance-scoring league, RBs are a fantasy owner's best friend. Last year, six of the top 10 total point scorers were backfield bruisers. The rest were quarterbacks. Meanwhile, top receiver Steve Smith finished 15th. It's not at all that unlikely you could win your league using a Round 2 choice on a wide receiver, but your chances of landing a top-flight running back in Round 3 of a 12-team draft are razor blade thin. Of the backs taken outside of pick 30, only Carnell Williams, Mike Anderson and Thomas Jones finished in the Top 30 overall in 2005.
Keep reading and you might regain some of those lost IQ points. Good luck and happy drafting.