I’m on my second straight week losing sleep doing mock drafts. But to prove I’m still in possession of my faculties, I had a recent mock critiqued by Jonathan Bales, author of “Fantasy Football for Smart People.”
The book is an analytical breakdown of basic draft strategy. It’s a gold mine for “stat geeks,” but the ideas are explained in a way that make it a helpful guide for anyone who wants to win a fantasy championship.
The critique covers the first seven rounds, which allowed me to fill the traditional skill-position starting spots — 1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE, 1 Flex. I had the sixth pick in a 10-team, snake-style draft.
Round 1: Tom Brady, Patriots QB
Once Calvin Johnson was taken with the fifth pick, this selection was a no-brainer. I couldn’t pass up one of the Big Three. Drew Brees was available, too, but there’s uncertainty surrounding how Sean Payton’s absence will affect him.
Jonathan’s take: With the elite running backs and Aaron Rodgers off the board, Brady was the correct call. Statistically, around 60 percent of a quarterback’s fantasy points carry over from year to year, with the rest regressing toward a league mean. That’s the second-highest consistency in fantasy football, behind tight ends. With the ceiling of first-round picks naturally limited in relation to their draft slots, Matt was right to maximize the floor by taking the safest available player.
Round 2: Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals WR
I was targeting Matt Forte because I knew Ryan Mathews would be gone. But Forte went three picks before me. While WR is the deepest position in the draft and I really didn’t want to take one here, Fitzgerald was the most dependable player at this spot. The next four RBs to go were Darren McFadden, Trent Richardson, Adrian Peterson and Marshawn Lynch. All have significant question marks.
Jonathan’s take: Like Matt, I’m generally not one to draft wide receivers in the first couple of rounds. They are the least consistent of the skill positions. Having said that, there’s never a good time to bypass optimal value, and Fitzgerald is a great value in the second round. In fact, I just purchased him as the second-most expensive receiver in my Pro Football Focus expert auction.
Round 3: Fred Jackson, Bills RB
I could not go another round without a RB, and I chose Fred Jackson over Steven Jackson and DeMarco Murray, who went with the next two picks. Fred Jackson was the lowest rated of the three, but Buffalo has a better offense than St. Louis, and Murray can’t stay healthy.
Jonathan’s take: Your typical “buy low” candidate. In my study on running back efficiency, he was second among NFL running backs in 2011.
Round 4: Brandon Marshall, Bears WR
Despite the run on RBs, Michael Turner and Frank Gore were available. But both are trending downward, and Marshall has been reunited with Jay Cutler, with whom he had two 100-plus-catch, 1,200-plus-yard seasons in Denver. I bypassed the higher-rated Mike Wallace, too, because it’s not clear where, or if, he’ll play this year.
Jonathan’s take: Once you hit the middle and late rounds of your draft, your goal as an owner should shift from risk minimization to acquiring upside. Marshall is a great choice here because, with Cutler throwing to him, his potential is monumental this year. He should be on the receiving end of plenty of big plays in 2012. He caught 47.1 percent of passes of 20-plus yards last year — good for fourth in the NFL — and Cutler’s strong arm could improve those numbers.