In real life, having a split personality is a sure ticket to the nut house. But in fantasy football, it only helps you prepare for Draft Day. Let me explain. One of the key elements of my preparation for the fantasy football season is a mock draft made up entirely of myself. Think Michael Keaton in Multiplicity, if you haven't already erased that stinker from memory.
The idea is to conduct your own mock draft using all of your league parameters. So, if you have a 12-team league, open up your Excel spreadsheet, label Team 1 through Team 12 across the top and start drafting. The key is to take on the mindset of each team, attempting to make the team you are choosing for as good as it can possibly be with each pick.
The difference between what you'll derive from your own mock draft and a standard cheatsheet is the ability to detect position runs and mark the obvious gaps where talent levels drop at each position.
I've already conducted my first mock of the season, and I'm happy to share my thoughts. First, let me explain that I went with an 11-team mock so as to split the difference between a 10- and a 12-team league, the most common sizes of Yahoo! Sports Fantasy Football leagues.
Round 1: All running backs, all the time
It's no secret to veteran fantasyphiles that running backs fly fast and furious in the early rounds, and my mock was no exception. My entire first round consisted of running backs, starting with the obvious in Priest Holmes and ending with perhaps a slight surprise in Fred Taylor.
Most preseason rankings I've seen have allowed receivers Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison to break up the run on RBs prior to Taylor coming off the board. I actually believe that Taylor belongs in that group preceding Moss and Harrison. It's time to drop the "Fragile Fred" moniker and give Taylor his due. He now has rolled for 32 consecutive games without an injury. And by roll I mean a 4.6 yards-per-carry average for the past two years. And Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio has astutely noticed that the Jags went 4-1 last season when Taylor carried at least 25 times. So guess what the plan calls for in '04? That's right, a steady diet of 25-plus carries for Taylor.
My biggest first-round worry is St. Louis' Marshall Faulk. You simply can't ignore the fact that the diminutive Rams running back is 31 years old and has missed 11 starts in the past two seasons because of injury. Yes, his upside is huge, but if there is one thing you don't want on your hands in the first round, it's a question mark. I drafted Faulk ahead of Taylor in my mock, but if I had to make that call in an actual draft, I'd be flipping a coin.
The good news in the first round is that even if you don't land one of the top two picks – where Holmes and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson seem the logical choices – there is a very even spread of talent from pick No. 3 through No. 9. I have Washington's Clinton Portis in the No. 3 spot, but a case easily could be made that Baltimore's Jamal Lewis at No. 9 will be every bit as valuable as Portis. Same goes for the five backs sandwiched between those two. This is one year that I wouldn't recommend trading draft picks to move up (if your league allows it) as long as you have one of the top nine picks. Moving on ...
Round 2: Stephen Davis and Travis Henry under friendly fire
Receivers come into play in the second round. I had Moss, Harrison and St. Louis' Torry Holt going among the first five picks of Round 2. Wedged between Moss and the back-to-back picks of Harrison and Holt were running backs Kevan Barlow and Domanick Davis.
Barlow put up monster numbers in his feature-role audition for San Francisco during the final month of '03, when he was a top-five back in most fantasy leagues.
Davis topped 1,000 yards as a rookie for the fledgling Houston Texans, an impressive feat in itself. But the fact that he was a top-10 back for the final 10 weeks of the season when the Texans really started making a commitment to him is even more intriguing.
The real dilemma of the second round, though, is the plight of running backs Stephen Davis and Travis Henry. Both backs would be in the first-round mix if not for their pesky understudies.
In Carolina, backup DeShaun Foster stole 76 carries from Davis during the regular season. But when Davis struggled with his health during the postseason, Foster handled 42 carries to Davis' 64. The fact that the partnership worked well enough to land the Panthers in the Super Bowl likely is not lost on the team's coaching staff. Make no mistake, Davis clearly is the featured back, but in an effort to keep Davis fresh all season, expect Foster's role to increase even more. And if that's the case, Davis is relegated to the ranks of a No. 2 fantasy back.
It's a similar story for Buffalo's Henry. His fantasy nemesis is backup Willis McGahee, who is finally recovered from a torn ACL suffered in his final game at the University of Miami. The Bills plan to be a run-heavy offense, and Henry will see a respectable number of carries. But McGahee will be given a look, and that means Henry belongs in the second round.
The upper-tier quarterbacks sneak into the end of the second round of my mock. Minnesota's Daunte Culpepper gets a slight edge on Indy's Peyton Manning for the reason that he offers the best passing/rushing combination in the game. He's averaged 479 rushing yards and more than six rushing touchdowns in four seasons as a starter. And so long as Mr. Moss is split out wide, Culpepper is going to continue to deliver respectable passing numbers.
Manning cracks my second round for the first time in his career. Call it a reward for consistency, something a fantasy owner always craves. Manning has done no worse than 4,000 passing yards and 26 TD tosses in each of the past five seasons. And he's started all 96 regular season games in his career.
Round 3: Where the top shelf goes to die
My third round kicks off with two receivers – Pittsburgh's Hines Ward and Philly's Terrell Owens. In terms of physical ability, consistency, history, opportunity and the other traits that go into determining what makes a good fantasy player, Ward and Owens represent the end of the line for receivers offering a guarantee of top-level production. Of course, as Chris Farley said in Tommy Boy, "how do you know the Guarantee Fairy isn't a crazy glue sniffer?" Surprises happen during the season, but you have to limit those surprises by playing the odds. That's why landing bigger question marks like Cincinnati's Chad Johnson (will there be growing pains with sophomore QB Carson Palmer?), Arizona's Anquan Boldin (will there be an adjustment period moving from flanker to split end in Dennis Green's system?) or New Orleans' Joe Horn (what do we make of him after an injury-hampered '03 season in which he didn't reach 1,000 yards and scored nearly half his touchdowns in one game?) later in Round 3 or even Round 4 shouldn't make you feel nearly as good as if you were able to get your hands on Owens or Ward.
The third round also empties the top shelf of quarterbacks, where I have Philly's Donovan McNabb, Atlanta's Michael Vick and Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck coming off the board. If any of these arms don't land on your roster, you might as well dismiss the rest of the QB group for a couple of rounds.
I need to mention that Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez landed in the middle of the third round of my mock. He is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the tight-end class and he merits top-30 consideration. There is a relatively solid middle class of tight ends this year, so if you don't land Gonzo early or, perhaps, Baltimore's Todd Heap a couple rounds later, you'll want to sit tight until the double-digit rounds and look for a Boo Williams, Alge Crumpler or, my personal favorite, Antonio Gates to fall into your lap.
Running backs, with the exception of Tiki Barber, were non-existent in my third round. Prior to the Barber selection, 17 backs were off the board. A lucky fantasy owner lands two of them. In general, all the difference makers are gone. Heading into the fourth round, need becomes more of a focus.
Round 4: Scrambling for warm-bodied running backs
The fourth round denotes the beginning of the bigger reaches at running back, meaning the presence of rookies and those threatened by a committee approach. Dallas freshman Julius Jones, the odds-on favorite for the Cowboys' featured back role, started off the round. Committee gambles Michael Bennett and Denver rookie Tatum Bell followed shortly thereafter. In the case of these players, landing their backups is essential. And in the case of Bell, you'll have to secure two Broncos backs if you plan to get any sleep at night.
Denver has been a fertile rushing ground during the Mike Shanahan era. Its system promotes big numbers. So landing the starter is a major coup. Problem is, that's not so easy to determine at this point.
In drafting Bell you are agreeing to navigate a fantasy minefield. Somehow, you have to subsequently secure backups Garrison Hearst and Quentin Griffin. Odds are, Hearst or Griffin opens the season as the starter, but the more talented Bell easily can follow the Clinton Portis path, taking over a month into the season and not looking back. If you do land all three backs, you'll know that you could possibly be getting the value of a No. 1 back to insert into your active roster each week, no matter who it is.
Bennett is a little less problematic. You need only focus on landing backup Onterrio Smith. Yes, Moe Williams has had his moments of glory the past couple seasons, but we saw with a healthy Bennett and Smith in tow down the stretch of '03 that Williams reverted back to a third-down role, averaging less than six carries in the final six weeks.
As those teams that didn't land two running backs in the first three rounds scrambled to secure a viable No. 2 (Curtis Martin and Thomas Jones also entered the picture at the end of the round), the rest of my mock league focused solely on the second tier of receivers.
Buffalo's Eric Moulds and Tennessee's Derrick Mason are plucked quickly. If you've followed Moulds' career, you know he lays an egg the year following a 1,000-yard season. The good news is that '03 was the year of the egg. Moulds reportedly is in great health once again and primed for that big comeback 1,300-yard performance.
Landing Mason in the fourth round should be cause for dancing a jig in the middle of your fantasy draft. After all, you get a player who was one of only five receivers to haul in 95 catches or more. His bond with QB Steve McNair gets stronger and stronger with each season.
Mason is the steal of the round, but Steve Smith, Darrell Jackson, Santana Moss and Andre Johnson aren't bad consolation prizes a few picks further down the line.
Round 5: Anything goes
By the fifth round, five of my mock teams consisted of two running backs, a receiver and a quarterback; three teams were made up of two running backs and two receivers; two teams opted for three running backs and one receiver; and one team went the route of two running backs, a receiver and a tight end.
The teams that went the route of three running backs pretty much have forced their hand for Round 5, having to go in the direction of another receiver or a quarterback (but it still is a little early to dip into the next talent pool of arms).
The rest of the league has at least two starting roles filled besides the running back position, which means they have the luxury of being able to go after the "best available" on the draft board.
Many of my mock teams go after the remaining running backs with featured roles. Tennessee's Eddie George is gambled on at the top of the fifth round (he will have to take a pay cut if the Titans are going to bring him back). Rookie Kevin Jones, the favorite to be Detroit's starter, is taken a couple of picks later. It should be noted that for 12 consecutive seasons, a rookie has rushed for 1,000 yards. Odds are that at least one of the three rookie backs selected to this point will pay dividends.
Atlanta RB T.J. Duckett lands in the middle of the round and, from my vantage point, that's a heck of a value. Of course, his stock takes a hit because he's forced to share time with Warrick Dunn. But it needs to be emphasized that Duckett had 11 rushing TDs last season, good for seventh in the league. And the key is that more than half of those scores (6) came in games in which he carried seven times or less. Think of him as a rich man's Zack Crockett.
The team that drafted Tatum Bell follows with Garrison Hearst. He's basically going to waste three picks from Round 3 through Round 5 to acquire one running back, that being Denver's starter. And, I have to say that it's probably worth it, assuming all three backs are corralled.
Round 6: QBs back in fashion
All right, if you sat out the first run on quarterbacks (Culpepper, Manning, Vick, McNabb, Hasselbeck), it's a good time to get in on the second tier of arms. New Orleans' Aaron Brooks was my mock's final selection of Round 5, and Chad Pennington, Brett Favre and Steve McNair are gobbled up among the first five picks of Round 6.
I awarded Denver RB Quentin Griffin to my mock team that already grabbed Bell and Hearst in the previous two rounds. It was a big price to pay, but the reward should prove to be worth the effort.
Oakland RB Tyrone Wheatley goes in the middle of the round. Mark him down as the sleeper that nobody takes seriously. After all, he's 32 and he's in a convoluted running back situation with Justin Fargas, Amos Zereoue, Troy Hambrick and Wheatley all vying for time.
If you look at the history of Oakland head coach Norv Turner, he usually picks a back and then leans on him heavily. You need only look to his past backs to understand: Emmitt Smith, Stephen Davis, Terry Allen, LaDainian Tomlinson, Ricky Williams.
Wheatley has good size and durability and is able to run inside. Those traits should land him the starting role. And from the praise Turner has given Wheatley this summer, one gets the feeling that it is Wheatley's job to lose.
Cleveland running back Lee Suggs falls to the second-to-last pick of Round 6. You may remember that Suggs was the one who romped for 182 rushing yards and two touchdowns in Week 17 while William Green was serving a suspension for hitting for the substance abuse cycle.
Green is looking like the second coming of former baseball pitcher Steve Howe the way he refuses to go away. Many fantasy owners assume that Suggs is Cleveland's man given the way the '03 season ended. But reports are that Green will be given a chance to compete for the starting gig.
Needless to say, drafting Suggs means you'll want to nab Green at some point in the next few rounds.
Round 7: It's best to receive
At this point in the draft, you are likely to notice an untapped pool of quality receivers sitting on your draft board. Those who recognize this and act on it can land a No. 2-quality receiver for a No. 3 price.
One of my favorite sleepers, Jets WR Justin McCareins, is taken to lead off Round 7. At 6-foot 2, 215 pounds, McCareins is a red-zone dream. He had seven touchdowns in Tennessee last season despite being McNair's second/third option at receiver. He can be classified as one of those rare receiving goal-line specialists.
Among those with at least 25 catches in '03, McCareins tied for sixth in the league in TD catches-to-receptions ratio. For the interested, Washington's Darnerian McCants lead the league with a TD catch every 4.5 receptions. Green Bay's Javon Walker followed at a TD catch every 4.55 receptions. New England's David Givens (5.67), Miami's Chris Chambers (5.8) and Minnesota's Randy Moss (6.53) rounded out the top five, followed by McCareins.
McCareins will fill a larger role for the Jets, where he'll line up opposite Santana Moss, giving Chad Pennington a big possesion receiver to go with the downfield speed of Moss. I gush when it comes to the skills of Pennington, and if you give him a weapon like McCareins, you can bet he'll use him.
St. Louis rookie RB Steven Jackson goes earlier than many might expect, following right behind McCareins. But this is another peace-of-mind pick. The team that took on the injury-risk of Marshall Faulk had to make this move to ensure he'll get the ample value of the Rams' running back position.
Seven of the next nine picks are receivers, with another running back insurance pick sandwiched among them. Buffalo's Willis McGahee is taken by the team that earlier had selected Travis Henry. Purely a contingency move here, albeit necessary.
Round 8: A backup plan
Insurance has become a common theme of my mock draft. Up to this point, I've preached the importance of backups. If you have a quality starting running back for one of the league's better rushing systems, make sure you own that property.
Round 8 of my mock saw four teams heed that advice. Tennessee's Chris Brown is taken to insure that team's earlier pick of Eddie George. For similar reasons, second fiddles like DeShaun Foster, William Green and Onterrio Smith are snatched up.
The Rip Van Winkle pick of the round is Tennessee receiver Drew Bennett. With McCareins now in New York, the 6-foot-5 Bennett will be a beacon for QB Steve McNair in the red zone.
Round 9 and beyond: The finishing touches
By Round 9 of my mock draft, every team had at least two running backs, two receivers and a quarterback. With a nucleus of skill-position starters in place, the teams can turn their attention to a tight end, a backup quarterback, additional support at running back and receiver, a defense and a kicker.
A tight end run never really emerged in this draft. Four did go between Round 9 and Round 10. The New York Giants' Jeremy Shockey was among them. Why did he fall so low this season? Well, there are serious long-term worries about the foot he recently had surgery on. Then again, for all of Shockey's talent, he has scored only four touchdowns in his two seasons and now has to deal with a new quarterback, be that Kurt Warner or rookie Eli Manning. Do yourself a favor and don't bite on the hype. Shockey landed in Round 9 of my mock. But even if we eliminated his current question marks, he's still not worth more than a seventh-round pick.
Baltimore and New England seem to be the two obvious early-reach defenses. They landed in Round 9 of my mock. Tampa Bay and Miami followed in Round 10. After that, defenses are a crapshoot. Your attention is better served shoring up other weaknesses before filling the defense spot.
Here's a look at the rest of my mock draft:
To summarize, when it comes to preparing for a fantasy football draft, schizophrenia is good. It's what helps to morph you from a follower into a leader. So get in your head, and get busy drafting.