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Drafting from the Basement
Kevin Ratterree
August 15, 2007

So you drew one of the last picks in your fantasy draft.  Welcome to my world.  I'm a terminal case for drafting in the lower third of the draft so I thought I would give you my thoughts about picking from the low rent district in 2007.  The opinions in this article are based on PPR scoring, and leaning more toward 12 team 3WR flex type leagues, since that is just about all I play.

I did get lucky enough to draft from the #1 hole early this draft season, so I know a little bit about the possibilities when drafting at the top.  It is definitely the good life.  There are enormous potential lineups that can be drafted from the #1-4 hole his season.  When you draft LT, it gives you a whole lot of freedom.  Freedom to cruise through the rest of the draft playing it safe.  Freedom to take lots of risks if you wish.  Freedom to go into the draft without much of a plan whatsoever, and just take the value that falls to you.
Drafting first is easy this season.  All you have to do is avoid having a computer crash, or a car crash on the way to the draft, and catastrophic injuries during the season, and you are probably going to the playoffs with a high seed.

Imagine this scenario, which will play out in thousands of PPR drafts this season.  Team #1 takes Tomlinson.  Then with his #2 and #3 picks he grabs whichever of the stud receivers fall to him.  Could be Harrison and Fitz.  Holt and Wayne.  I've seen this play out numerous times in mock and real drafts.  To me it is the absolute best strategy from #1, and while potentially effective from any draft slot, it is deadly from #1.  Simply because the talent level available at the 2nd turn is nearly equal to the top WR's taken earlier in the 2nd round, but seemingly significantly better that what is left at the end of the 3rd.

While the LT owner is well on his way to a juggernaut, with Tomlinson, Wayne and Fitzgerald , your team isn't looking quite as impressive. At the end of the first round RB feeding frenzy, you ended up with the solid, but not spectacular Rudi Johnson.  Then you play the good soldier and grab that 2nd running back with your next pick.  McGahee and Johnson.  Then in the 3rd round, the guy right in front of you drafts Housh, and you are left with reaching for Colston as your WR1.  You are already hopelessly behind.

Lets say that LT has a "down" year and only scores 400 points.  And his stud WR's do about what we expect them to do, and no better,  and put up about 550 points between them.  950 points in the first 3 rounds.  How about your guys?
Lets say every guy you draft in the first 3 rounds overachieves.  Rudi and McGahee go nuts and put up 550 between them.  And Colston goes absolutely nuts and puts up 300 points.  He is the best receiver in the league this season.

In that unlikely scenario, and likely the best case scenario, your team is still behind the Tomlinson team by 100 points.  Grim.

More likely you are down a couple of bills right out of the gate.

Now maybe that guy drafting first will screw up and make some bad choices after the 3rd round.  Maybe he will give you a stay of execution.  He had his first 3 picks mapped out, but then goes brain-dead and drafts Fred Taylor in the 4th round.  Yeah, that could happen.  But probably won't.  At least, you can't count on the stupidity of others to bail you out.  You are going to have to get an edge somewhere along the way.  And my first advice to getting that edge would be to avoid going RB/RB, unless you are damn sure about the guys you are taking.
Everybody needs a running back to anchor their team.  But when you get down to the end of the first round and beyond, the options at RB just aren't that exciting, or a "sure thing" by any means.  For the most part, the stud WR's are.

Leagues that want to cut the legs out from under the top 4 drafters would do well to drain the stud WR pool throughout the second round.  You can't let that #1 guy get top level stud WR's, as did the league I drafted against earlier this year.  The best  tactic for tripping up the guys drafting at the top is to leave them reaching into the 3rd tier for their #1 WR's.  But that isn't likely to happen.  Though maybe it should.

I don't have to tell you PPR guys that in leagues where 3 WR’s start, it is imperative to address the position early.  In PPR leagues, you need an anchor at WR just like you need an anchor at RB.  My advice is to grab one of each with picks #1 and #2.
So, the first thing I would do to fix your draft so far, is to replace your 2nd round pick of McGahee with Steve Smith, or Chad Johnson, or Torry Holt.  Or even the long in the tooth Harrison should squeeze out another great season.  Whichever stud WR you like will do. These guys have been consistently solid over the last few seasons, so I mention them expressly.  I expect these guys to be just about as solid and consistent as any RB available here, and in PPR leagues, they are likely to put up a whole lot more points than the McGahee's and Ronnie Browns of the world.  These guys win fantasy games.

Part of the reasoning behind this is the fact that in my opinion, you have just as good a chance pulling out a serviceable or sleeper running back in the 3rd or 4th round as you do the 2nd.  But you aren't likely to pull Steve Smith type numbers with your late 3rd or early 4th round pick.  But it is entirely possible to get similar production to McGahee with a late 3rd or early 4th round RB.

And that is where the draft gets interesting.  And obviously you need to be right about the players you take in the middle rounds, and hope that the guys drafting at the top aren't.  You need to gain an edge in the middle of the draft, and there are several ways to try and get that edge.
Most of the time someone in the low rent district takes the Peyton Manning leap.  What I like to call, "The Manning Defense".  The reasoning is that Peyton should outscore the majority of quarterbacks by 75-100 fantasy points.  You can't get L.T. or S.Jax, so your difference maker is at quarterback.  You'll dominate that position.  But will you dominate your draft?  In your office league, where you cajoled a secretary into taking the 12th team to fill the league, go with my blessings.  In a serious league with good competition?  Probably not.

Serious leagues aren't won with Manning. (Okay, outside of a 49TD record breaking performance) They are usually won with solid starters, quality depth, and sleepers.  And you will have precious little time to gather up sleepers if you spend the whole draft playing catch-up, which is usually what happens when you draft Manning.
Trust me, I have tried to create a scenario where it makes sense to take Manning with even an early 2nd round pick.  There is only one.  You must have a perfect draft.  It is that easy.  You have no margin for error once you have drafted Manning.  If your league-mates cooperate, and you have pegged this year's Frank Gore, and this years Marques Colston,  and nobody drafts them out from under you, you can win with Manning.  But most of the time, you just mortgage your team's depth, and broadcast your picks for the rest of the early part of the draft to those drafting around you.  I love drafting close to the guy that takes Manning.

The Gates defense, I am a little more open to.  And the main reason for that is that I think there is not only a lot of quality, but also depth at the WR position, and lots of value available later in the draft.  You can make up for not taking a WR late 3rd or early 4th a lot easier than you make up for that RB2 or WR1 you give up to draft Manning.  A lot of people are down on Gates after his numbers were off a bit last season, and the TE field is pretty deep.  But if you are looking for an edge, and you are good at picking out WR sleepers and free agents, I still think Gates is a viable alternative.  But once again, the rest of your draft needs to be sharp.  Gates has been dropping into the early 4th round in some drafts, and he is next to impossible to pass up at that point.  In a head to head matchup for the championship, who wouldn't want Gates on their side?

My strategy though, for the most part is to stock up on as many quality and high upside RB's and WR's I can get through the first 5 rounds at least.  If you pass on Gates, and you pass on the 2nd tier QB's, there is little need to be worried about filling those positions until at least the 6th round or later, where in my opinion you can still get quality starters.  If I need to start 6 WR's and RB’s, barring any unique opportunities otherwise, I am probably drafting at least 5 of those in the first 6 rounds this year.

While the running back pool is not chock full of premium quality, there is enough quantity at the position to go around.  If you pass on your 2nd running back until the 4th round, you can still get a guy like Deuce McAllister, Cadillac Williams, Jerious Norwood or Brandon Jacobs sometimes.  And to me those guys are just as good a gamble as a lot of the RB's taken in the 2nd and 3rd round.
Lots of potentially decent backs are available in the 4th round and beyond, and several have tons of upside.  If you can pick the right player from that group, now you are on your way to closing the gap with the LT and S.Jax teams.

I will go into this years draft assuming that one or more of the teams at the top of the order will be going RB/WR/WR.  With that in mind, I am inclined to go the same way, if the draft breaks right for me, and hope my WR's turn out better than theirs.  My plan is to hold serve for the first 3 rounds, and try to close the "Tomlinson gap" in rounds 4-9.  In the 4th round, I get to pick before the top teams.  This would be a great spot to pull the rabbit out of my hat.  A critical pick in the draft I would say.

In general, I see lots of great opportunities in this years drafts, no matter where you draft from.  I kind of view the middle picks as tougher than the ends, if only because after the first 4 big backs are of the board, the water is a whole lot murkier.  Tougher decisions in the first, and therefore in the second round as well.  And I think there are particular opportunities at both ends of the draft order, and plenty of players that I think are undervalued that seem to end up available at both ends.
There are definitely opportunities for some real creative drafting strategies this year.  You can beat the Tomlinson team, and the S.Jax team, and the Gore team.  You just have to be a little better than them at evaluating talent and knowing when to draft it beyond the first round.  The first round is theirs.  You need to win the rest.  Needless to say, you can't afford any "throwaway" picks.
One more thing about this years drafts.  Things are set up for some possible serious "runs" and you need to be aware when they are likely coming, and know what your plan will be in advance.  The best place to be during a run is first.  Lots of people are waiting it out for QB's and TE's, leading to runs on the position when the salvo is fired.  I suspect these mini-runs and broken runs will become more pronounced when the actual drafts take place.  Be ready for that.
I'm not sure I have all the right answers, this is just my view of the current situation.  I see a lot more intrigue in this years drafts than in years past, and I am pumped about the possibilities.  It looks to be a wild ride in fantasy football this year.  Now, stop sticking pins in your little Tomlinson doll's leg and go find those sleepers!

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