It’s Saturday, August 21st 2004… I’m at my local fantasy draft. Me and my 11 best buddies are sprawled across the living room at Dan’s house. At this point in time our league was entering its 14th season (no joke, we’re old-school). Even though I’m the only fantasy “expert” in the room, make no mistake, these guys know what they’re doing. A few of us are (ahem) inebriated, sure… but everyone is focused and prepared.
Sixth round, third pick. “Miller, you know you’re up, right?” someone growls. I don’t even know who said it because my face is pointed straight down at my cheat sheet. In fact no one is looking up, so to me it was like a ventriloquist barked at me from the kitchen.
I’ve always enjoyed the early-to-mid rounds – say, five through eight. To me that’s where you make your money. We’ve all landed a few studs (so we think) in rounds one-four. And after round eight you’re drafting reserves and defenses. There’s really no “reaching” anymore at that point, unless you’re taking a kicker early – but we all know not to do that. Five through eight. It’s time to get your bat on the ball.
Pick 6.03, tick-tock tick-tock. Two minutes go by and I’m still stumped. Guys are mumbling not-so-nice things about me. Roster rundown so far: 1.10 WR Randy Moss, 2.03 RB Domanick Davis, 3.10 WR Chad Johnson, 4.03 RB Thomas Jones, 5.10 Marc Bulger. Should I start a tight end run? The only TE taken so far is Tony Gonzalez (back then he was the only TE going early) and I do like the young Jeremy Shockey. Nope, our league is WR-driven. I want a dependable #3 to go with Moss and Chad. Maybe Plaxico Burress? Keenan McCardell? Burress has a couple 1,000-yard seasons under his belt but has been erratic so far. Great talent, though. McCardell is old but he was a top-10 fantasy WR last year.
Decisions, decisions. “Today, please!” snaps the ventriloquist. “Kelley Washington!” someone else barks sarcastically. Wait, I have a hunch. I’ve been thinking about this player a lot lately… it’s a reach… but a gut feeling… I squint my eyes even tighter and call out a name: “The Enforcers take wide receiver Ashley Lelie, Denver Broncos.” Chuckling ensues. Jerks.
I reached for a young, unproven guy. Lelie, the former 19th overall pick of 2002, had been mostly unproductive in two seasons. He had that wiry-legged hamstring problem that track-speed RBs & WRs get. Plus he was stuck behind Rod Smith and Ed McCaffrey. But he did post 628 receiving yards in 2003, including a big 5-115-0 effort vs. Indy in week 15. And McCaffrey retired. Hmmm… There was some mini-sleeper buzz on Lelie, but the eighth round was a more logical place for him, not the sixth.
I stuck Lelie in my lineup for week 1 and he caught four passes for 88 yards. So I left him in my lineup from then on. 54 catches, 1,084 yards, 7 TDs. A terrific WR3 through and through. In fact, Lelie caught 80+ yards and/or a touchdown in 12 of 16 games! Sure, 54 catches is a bit low, but c’mon – he was my WR3 and besides we didn’t play point-per-reception back then. In 2004 many people thought PPR stood for Preferred Premium Rate. Anyway, what about Burress and McCardell, the “safer” guys I passed on? They had a *combined* 66 catches for 1,091 yards and 6 TDs. Ever since 2004 I’ve made it a point to swing at a hunch in the early-to-mid rounds and try to smack a triple down the left-field line. I call it the Ashley Lelie Effect… or an ALE pick.
You’re simply reaching on a personal hunch – for a young, sort of unproven player in rounds five through eight – jumping at least a full round earlier than standard ADP suggests. I’ve got three possible ALE picks for 2010. You may or may not have considered them. I’m betting two of these three will be huge difference-makers this season.
RB Justin Forsett, Seahawks / 7th-8th round ADP / 5th round ALE pick
Forsett’s ADP varies. The Huddle’s ADP report has Forsett down around the late eighth round. I’ve scouted a few experts drafts and saw Forsett going in the early seventh. Though trust me, the second Forsett breaks a long run in a preseason game he’ll become a consistent sixth-rounder.
I’ve got a decent inside connection on Forsett. Bear with me, it’s a little corny but I think it’s worth mentioning. Forsett’s uncle, Dwayne, is a friend of mine and we have discussed the kid on several occasions. Before the draft, Dwayne told me Pete Carroll met with Forsett right after he was hired and told him, “Bulk up, pack on more body armor… We’re gonna send you out to battle.” I won’t bore you with more he-said/she-said but just know that further conversations indicate to me that Forsett will touch the ball a lot.
What about Julius Jones, you ask? He’s a bridesmaid, not a bride. He’s just a more durable version of Justin Fargas. He’ll get touches in some sort of platoon but won’t be the lead dog. Leon Washington? It’s not like the Seahawks gave up anything for him – they traded a fifth-rounder for Leon & a seventh rounder. He’s a utility back, a 3rd down guy who also returns kicks. Besides, he has a metal rod holding his tibia and fibula together.
Many of you are aware of Forsett’s little fantasy spurt last season – including 279 total yards & 3 TDs vs. Arizona and St. Louis – but most people forget he was a star at Cal. Mostly overshadowed by J.J. Arrington and Marshawn Lynch in his first three years, Forsett took over as a senior and rushed for 1,546 yards and 15 TDs.
Yeah, he’s only 5’8 and 195 lbs. I don’t care. Forsett has the goods (plus my ol’ pal Dwayne says Forsett is up to 200 lbs, hee-hee!) and I think he’s an ALE pick in the fifth round. If he’s there for you in the seventh that’s even better!
WR Jeremy Maclin, Eagles / 7th round ADP / 6th round ALE pick
Did you know Maclin’s 762 receiving yards ranks fourth all-time in NFL history for a player 21 years or younger? Only Randy Moss (1,313), Hakeem Nicks (790), and Larry Fitzgerald (780) are ahead of him. That’s a testament to hard work and mental acuity as much as physical ability. And don’t forget Maclin’s 76-yard TD catch from Michael Vick in the playoffs. Great rookie season.
As much as I adore DeSean Jackson, especially since I had him last year, I have to remain objective and clear-headed. He’s as explosive as any wide receiver in the modern era, but Jackson weighs maybe 175 wearing a wet wool coat – and defenses will be ready for him in 2010. Meanwhile, Maclin is 6’0/200 and has proven he can go over the middle.
Look, it’s not rocket science here. You want your fantasy WRs to get as many opportunities as possible. Andy Reid creates opportunities. In the last three years the Eagles have called the third most pass plays in the league. A whopping 1,736 pass attempts + 110 sacks = 1,846 pass plays in three years. That’s 38.5 per game. Arizona is #1 (39.4) and New Orleans is #2 (39.2).
Everyone talks about the “3rd year WR breakout theory” but Maclin’s breakout might be quicker. When you master Reid’s offense as a rookie and actually start, you’re on an accelerated curve. And Kevin Kolb? Donovan McNabb was a six-time fantasy top-10 passer in this offense and he only completed 59% of his passes. Opportunities can mask a little inefficiency. Kolb is a touch passer. He’ll be fine.
If I draw the 11th or 12th pick in my league, that means I’m on the turn later at 5.11-5.12/6.01-6.02. Will Maclin make it all the way back around? I’m prepared to make him an ALE pick right there.
RB Ben Tate, Texans / ADP (varies wildly) / 8th round ALE pick
Here’s where it gets fun. This could be the true definition of the Ashley Lelie Effect. Envision this scenario: You drew the eighth pick. Your first selection was say, WR Andre Johnson at 1.08, and off you go. Later on you’ve stockpiled two RBs, four WRs, one QB, and now it’s your pick in the eighth round. 8.05. Time for a tight end? Well, I guess so. By now you’re the only one without a starting TE, right?
But why grab one now, just to fill the empty TE line on your roster sheet? This isn’t musical chairs, folks… Keep on moving. Taking Chris Cooley or Heath Miller now isn’t going to win you a fantasy title. Swing for the fences and take your third RB, Ben Tate. Visanthe Shiancoe or John Carlson will be waiting for you later.
Here’s my take on the Texans RB situation. It’s Arian Foster, Steve Slaton, and Tate right? Okay, Foster is just another Nick Goings. He stepped in late last year when the first two guys (Slaton and Chris Brown) were hurt. He had fresh legs and most of the defenders he met didn’t. There are reasons why the 6’1/222-lb Foster went completely undrafted in 2009. And running a 4.69 at his Pro Day was one of them. Next is Steve Slaton. After a terrific rookie season in 2008 he regressed in every way last year. Then a serious neck injury landed him on IR. It turns out Slaton needed neck surgery -- “cervical fusion at C4-C5.” I’m no doctor but I know that sucks for a professional football player.
Then there’s Tate. 5’11/218. He wowed ‘em at the Combine with 26 bench press reps, #1 among RBs. Then he ran a nifty 4.43, behind only Jahvid Best and C.J. Spiller. However, many scouts use a “speed score” which adjusts a player’s 40-yard dash to his weight. Tate’s speed score was #1. Note: Last year the Texans wanted Shonn Greene or Glen Coffee but got cute and waited too long – missing out on both. This year they almost blew it again, trading down out of the 51st spot, but then trading back up to the 58th spot to get Tate. He carried 263 times for 1,362 yards and 10 TDs as a senior at Auburn. Not eye-popping numbers but certainly more than admirable in the tough SEC West. He can get the job done.
Arian Foster was just named the lead running back going into training camp. Of course he was, what did you expect? Slaton’s in a red non-contact jersey and Tate’s just a rookie. You make rookies earn it. I think Tate will.
I hope you find a way to incorporate the Ashley Lelie Effect into your draft plans. Sometimes going off the ranch is a good thing. Trust your gut and construct a fantasy team that you love!