King's Classic 2019 recap: Notes from a pair of fantasy drafts

If you're a fan of the NFL and you've never made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, go. Seriously, if you have the means and time, you gotta get there. I promise the Hall isn’t simply a vast space packed with disembodied bronze heads. It is, in fact, a well-curated collection of football ephemera, equipment, uniforms, and stories. It never disappoints.

Again: If you can swing it, go.

Our expert believes he's drafted rosters worthy of enshrinement. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
Our expert believes he's drafted rosters worthy of enshrinement. (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)
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On Saturday, a herd of fantasy analysts — representing nearly all major game platforms and news sites — gathered at the Hall for the second annual King's Classic. The event is a sort of fantasy carnival, organized by the great Bob Lung of BGFS and broadcast live on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio. Each participant assembled one roster via auction and another via traditional snake draft. As generally happens when ten or more dudes get together for any purpose, t-shirts were made.

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I’m pleased to report that I returned from Canton with a stunning Earl Campbell shirsey, purchased at the Hall’s apparel shop, and a pair of wickedly dangerous fantasy lineups. This auction roster probably deserves immediate enshrinement:

QB - Drew Brees, $2

RB - Alvin Kamara, $63

RB - Phillip Lindsay, $15

WR - Julio Jones, $53

WR - Mike Evans, $36

TE - Eric Ebron, $6

K - Mason Crosby, $1

D - Los Angeles Chargers, $1

FL - Duke Johnson, $7

FL - Michael Gallup, $7

BN - Kirk Cousins, $2

BN - Benny Snell Jr., $1

BN - DaeSean Hamilton, $2

BN - Jalen Hurd, $2

BN - Deebo Samuel, $1

BN - Chris Herndon, $1

And here’s this triumph of a draft, round by round:

R1 - Saquon Barkley, RB1

R2 - Zach Ertz, TE3

R3 - Aaron Jones, RB16

R4 - Calvin Ridley, WR26

R5 - Miles Sanders, RB27

R6 - Larry Fitzgerald, WR36

R7 - Marvin Jones, WR37

R8 - Keke Coutee, WR48

R9 - Anthony Miller, WR49

R10 - Adrian Peterson, RB55

R11 - Tony Pollard, RB56

R12 - Jalen Hurd, WR67

R13 - Drew Brees, QB15

R14 - Los Angeles Chargers, D3

R15 - Harrison Butker, K4

R16 - Jimmy Garoppolo, QB23

We use PPR scoring for these 14-team leagues; full draft and auction results can be found right here. Several of us lobbied hard to make the switch to super-FLEX in the King's Classic this year, but we were outvoted by the competition's many cowards. Thus, quarterbacks were ludicrously cheap. Which brings me to the first of a few post-draft observations ...

Drew Brees, still good at football. (Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
Drew Brees, still good at football. (Photo by Jordon Kelly/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Everyone is wrong about Drew Brees

I've heard all the industry talking points about the forthcoming fantasy decline of Drew Brees, and I remain unconvinced. At 40, he's allegedly a caretaker for the Saints offense, no longer the centerpiece. He's a low-volume passer in his dotage. His deep-ball ability has been questioned — right here around the 1:27 mark — and, as you might have heard, his production dipped in the second half of 2018. And of course, we have worries about Taysom Hill gimmickry near the goal-line. And then there's the home/road split discussion, which dogs both Brees and Big Ben. Toss it all together in a fantasy content salad and you have to wonder why we bother to include Brees in the player pool at all. He's washed, right?

Before you dismiss Brees from your fantasy life, I'd like to point out a few key facts:

  • He's coming off one of the greatest seasons of his career. This seems notable. He set the single-season record for completion percentage (74.4), he averaged 8.2 yards per attempt, he led the NFL in passer rating (115.7) and accounted for 36 combined touchdowns (32 passing, 4 rushing).

  • Brees actually averaged more completions per game (24.3) last year than Mahomes, Rodgers, Brady, Goff, Watson and ... well, almost everyone. His fantasy reputation may have taken a hit because he was too efficient.

  • He rested in Week 17 because he'd already led his team to a 13-2 record. Had Brees played that final game, he would have finished his year with something like 4250 passing yards (instead of 3992) and 520 attempts (vs. 489). At those totals, we're far less concerned about volume.

  • Last year, no quarterback was better than Brees on deep attempts — literally no one according to PFF. His 128.6 rating on passes of 20-plus yards led the world. He completed 50.9 percent of such throws, with nine TDs and just one pick.

  • It's accurate to say his fantasy output dipped in December, but we can't simply ignore his bounce-back in January. Brees passed for 550 yards and four touchdowns over two postseason games, including a 301-yard performance against the Eagles.

It's tough for me to get worked up about Brees' home/road splits for fantasy purposes because, throughout his long career, he's been great everywhere. There was nothing troubling in his road numbers in either 2016 or 2017, plus he delivered a pair of 3-TD games away from home last season. His team also went 7-1 on the road in 2018. It was widely speculated that Brees suffered an undisclosed injury in the Thanksgiving win over Atlanta last season, most likely on the tackle attempt at the end of this play (which was horribly officiated. Pretty clear PI). He threw four touchdown passes that day, but only two over his next three games, all of which were on the road. And then he passed for 326 yards against Pittsburgh, rested for two weeks, then beat Philly.

Fantasy Football Draft Kit
Fantasy Football Draft Kit

Let's not forget that Brees has finished as a top-10 fantasy quarterback in 15 straight seasons. FIFTEEN, people. That's just stupid. He's perhaps the most bankable player of the fantasy era. Write him off at your own peril. If the Yahoo fantasy crew is right about our ranks on Kamara (RB2), Michael Thomas (WR5) and Jared Cook (TE7), then Brees is a near-lock for yet another top-10 positional finish. It felt like stealing to land him in Round 13 in the King's Classic draft and for just $2 in the auction. Whenever you can land a luxury starter at a no-doubt profit, it allows aggressive auction spending elsewhere. And that leads us smoothly to our next subhead ...

Auctions allow us to build teams we couldn't possibly draft

For a moment, let's not focus on whether you love or hate the pairing of Kamara and Julio Jones in my King's Classic league. (You'd be wrong not to love it, but whatever.) It's simply not possible to roster both of those players on the same team in a competitive draft. It never happens. Kamara's ADP is 2.7 and Julio's is 12.0. With those two plus Mike Evans on the squad, I locked down three of the top-16 overall players on my board.

If you don't take advantage of this sort of stars-and-scrubs flexibility in your auctions, then you aren't maximizing the benefits of the format. Unless a league is monstrously deep — think 16 or more teams, super-FLEX and/or two TEs — then I'm gonna go hard after multiple names from the very top of the ranks. In a 14-team format like the King's Classic, the pool of $1 and $2 players will be full of high-upside options.

It's possible that you don't love the names I happened to select from the dollar bin, but I'm fairly confident I found a viable starter or two. Like maybe this guy ...

Jalen Hurd is a flier worth taking

You can safely assume that I’m bullish, at least to some extent, on every player I landed in either of these leagues. When I doubled-down on a player — as with Brees and Hurd — then you know I’m fully committed. Just in case you’ve missed Hurd’s work in the preseason, here you go:

At the collegiate level, Hurd produced a 1285-yard rushing season at Tennessee (2015) and a 946-yard receiving season as a wideout after transferring to Baylor (2018). So he’s fairly versatile. Hurd actually ran ahead of Kamara with the Vols, which should tell you something about his do-it-all talent and his standing as a recruit. At 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, he’s gonna be a problem for most defensive backs.

I’ll make no guarantees regarding Hurd (or Deebo Samuel, who I’ve also rostered), but we know the hierarchy of the Niners’ receiving corps seems unsettled beyond George Kittle. Dante Pettis and Marquise Goodwin are the presumptive starters, but no one should be surprised if Hurd quickly emerges as a useful red-zone receiver. Trent Taylor’s foot injury (Jones fracture) creates a clear opportunity for targets. I can guarantee that I’ll land Hurd a few more times before draft season is behind us.

If you can choose your draft slot, aim high

One of the fun quirks about the King’s Classic draft is that we have the opportunity to choose our draft position, following a lottery to determine selection order. I had the second choice in the, um … draft-slot draft. Without hesitation, I went for the top of the board, a spot from which I landed Saquon Barkley. Obviously, you don’t need an expert to tell you that Barkley can play a little; he just led the NFL in scrimmage yards (2028), scored 15 touchdowns, averaged 5.0 YPC and was named the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Did you realize he also saw only three fewer targets than Christian McCaffrey? Well, he did.

Anyway, the reason I chose the draft’s top spot was only partially about Barkley. Here at Yahoo, we have something like two decades of fantasy league data, and, from what I’ve seen (which I’m probably not supposed to share in any great detail), I can tell you that a top-four pick gives you the best chance of a podium finish in football. If you’re in the top half of a draft, you’re doing fine. Drafting at the turn? Never ideal. If a fantasy analyst ever tells you they prefer the twelfth pick, ask to see their credentials.

You can definitely win a league from any draft spot, of course. But over time, you’ll win a few more from pick No. 1 than from No. 12. We go over this stuff each year during those pep-talk videos that pop up in your draft rooms. (The first-pick advantage is more dramatic in baseball, by the way. Consider it the Mike Trout effect.) Last season, the top overall pick in Yahoo drafts produced the highest overall winning percentage (.546) and best end-of-year average rank (4.8). And yes, that had a great deal to do with the dominant season delivered by Todd Gurley, the 2018 consensus No. 1 pick. Barkley has a clear shot at making that sort of impact in 2019.

Before we conclude this meandering recap, let’s hit on one last thing…

Josh Gordon, following reinstatement, isn't yet priced like a WR2. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)
Josh Gordon, following reinstatement, isn't yet priced like a WR2. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images)

Josh Gordon is available at a weirdly reasonable cost

We held the King’s Classic drafts the day after Gordon was reinstated to the NFL and the day before the Patriots placed him on the active/NFI list. Gordon was my first auction nomination (as promised) and, naturally, he went to the one guy in the room who loves him like his own child.

The price, surprisingly enough, was a totally acceptable $13 from a budget of $200. He was a bit less expensive than guys like Robby Anderson and Christian Kirk (both $15), yet pricier than Will Fuller ($11) and Larry Fitzgerald ($10). Later, in our draft, Gordon was selected in Round 5 by PFF’s Jeff Ratcliffe as the No. 28 receiver off the board.

Again, a reasonable range. Annoyingly reasonable, to be honest. There’s a level of risk attached to Gordon that simply isn’t present with other receivers, but it’s tough to argue with his team context. Also, his best-case-scenario season is pretty fantastic — it’s perhaps not a repeat of his legendary 2013, but it’s damn good. In his three games for New England last season with Rob Gronkowski absent, he caught 13 passes for 311 yards on 28 targets. A promising sample, sure, but also too small to be relied upon.

Still, if you can snag one of Tom Brady’s primary targets at a modest cost as your WR3, I’m not gonna argue against it. Gordon is also one of the great trade sweeteners in fantasy history, a player you can attach to offers that might otherwise seem ridiculous. Or maybe I’m just saying that because Brad Evans is involved in half my leagues.

OK, here’s where I take the victory lap

So, yeah, I’m feeling pretty good about these rosters, given the format. I mean, there’s no way I’d publish a hellishly long recap if I didn’t like ‘em. A tasteful parade is being planned. Championship hats have been ordered in bulk. I probably should have already donated my cheat sheet to the Hall.

As always, your unrestrained praise can be filed in comments ...

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