- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 2, 2012

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.

Round 5: BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bengals RB

The player I wanted, Ahmad Bradshaw, went with the pick before me, but I was fine selecting BG-E. His career best is only 1,008 yards (in 2010), but he managed to score 24 TDs in New England the past two seasons for a team that doesn’t like to run. Cincinnati likes to run.

Jonathan’s take: I think Green-Ellis is actually the superior pick over Bradshaw, who is the more talented runner.

Don’t be scared by The Lawfirm’s 3.7 yards-per-carry from 2011. A huge portion of his touches in New England were in short-yardage situations. He’s likely to be closer to 4.3 or 4.4 YPC this year, and he’ll still get plenty of goal line carries

Round 6: Shonn Greene, Jets RB

The Jets learned their lesson last year in trying to rely on the passing game. And if you think Tim Tebow’s presence hurts a RB, ask Willis McGahee, whom I bypassed to select Greene. With QB and WR covered, RB depth was of utmost importance at this point, and not many primary ball carriers were left.

Jonathan’s take: In rounds five and six, Matt did an awesome job of acquiring high-volume running backs. Unlike wide receivers, the vast majority of running backs’ fantasy points are the result of workload over efficiency, so it’s‘ wise to target running backs who figure to be their team’s workhorse. With little competition in New York, Greene is one of those guys.

Round 7: Jermichael Finley, Packers TE

I was hoping Vernon Davis would fall to me, but he went two picks previous. So I reached a bit (based on rankings) to select Finley. He has yet to live up to his potential, but when all else fails, draft a player that catches passes (when he’s not dropping them) from the top fantasy quarterback.

Jonathan’s take: Finley garnered 91 targets in 2011. With Donald Driver being phased out of the offense, that number should hit triple digits. Also, Finley will never approach the same 17.9 percent drop rate he posted last year. For stat geeks like me, that means he is likely to regress toward the mean — a good thing for his fantasy outlook.