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The Only Thing We Have To Fear...
Kevin Ratterree
July 9, 2008
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If you look at the successful people in most any field, you will find many of them are risk takers. Hell, that is what our country was founded on. Can you imagine the guts it took those early settlers to get on a ship, cross the ocean, and start a new life in a strange new land they had only heard of?

I find that pioneering spirit sorely missing from a lot of fantasy players, myself included.

And we aren’t talking about losing your life or everything you own. How much is your league entry fee? $50? $100?

This whole thing we do is a crapshoot when you get right down to it. There are risks and downsides everywhere you look. Just take a look at the top 10 or so overall in this year’s drafts.

Tomlinson: Yes, he has been solid gold. But the injury in the playoffs last year was a sobering reminder. This guy is 29 years old with lots of miles on him. Eventually he will fade or succumb to injury. I wouldn’t bet on it being this year, but you just never know.

Peterson: Yes he is a stud, but his team has a marginal quarterback. Will he be able to withstand the constant 8 man fronts with his upright running style? If last year was any indication the answer is yes - most of the time. Peterson is undeniably the “new stud on the block” right now, but it is unnerving to spend a number 2 pick on a player whose team is so one dimensional and that has been injured two seasons in a row. And let’s not forget, for all the hype there were 20 players that had more fantasy points than Peterson last year.

Westbrook: He is a PPR stud. He will carry your team if healthy. But as a Westbrook owner those bone on bone knees are always in the back of your mind. The question is just when with Westy.

Jackson: Last season will serve as a confidence builder for some. He had a horrible offensive line and injuries but still put up respectable numbers. How much worse could it get? I mean, it couldn’t happen again could it? It sure could. I think the Rams failed to address their offensive line situation aggressively enough, apparently hoping Orlando Pace will miraculously stay on the football field this season. I don’t see it. Yeah, the new offensive coordinator has a habit of giving a ton of carries to the running back, but with Jackson’s physical running style and a shaky O-line you have to wonder how that will work out. It could be ugly again.

Addai: Just doesn’t have the “pop” of the guys listed above him, but I am having a hard time figuring out some reason not to draft him. He is the running back for the Colts. You just pencil him in. He isn’t a great player. Virtually no chance of being the best RB in the league, but a seemingly safe pick considering the offense that surrounds him. And he is one of the few first round picks that did not bust last year. Let me take note of that.

Brady: Brady has surpassed Manning as the QB de’ jour that some owners take in the first round. Are we THAT sure that Brady to Moss will tear up the league again? God (who apparently loves the Patriots) has blessed them with the projected easiest schedule in league history, it is easy to see why people are betting on Brady to Moss part 2. But Brady was drafted two rounds after Manning last year. Is it not possible that Manning could have just as good a season as Brady? At a cheaper price? Entirely possible I would say.

Portis: Held up fine physically last year, but lots of mileage on this guy. And how will his team respond to the coaching changes?

Gore: Disappointed last year. Working on “borrowed time” knees. New offensive system. Quarterback sucks. Team sucks. Head coach hanging by a thread. Yet I still want him on my team. Am I out of my mind?

Moss: Yeah, he will probably tear up the league again. But could I live with myself if I went out of my way to avoid Moss the year he lit it up and then draft him the next only to see a week one season ending injury? Or has a relapse back to “Raider Randy”. No. I couldn’t live with myself. Can you?

Barber: I really like Barber. It is hard not to like him. And the Cowboys like him so much they seem intent on keeping him healthy by limiting his touches. Is that going to change just because they jettisoned Jones? They let one Jones go, but they were jonesing so they went out and got another Jones. To everything, turn turn turn…

L. Johnson: After last year, the risk here is self evident. The Chiefs offensive line (and the team as a whole) has regressed to one of the worst in the league and that is a tough mountain to climb.

There, I just shot down almost the entire first round. And the sad part is about half or more of those guys probably won’t live up to their lofty draft status. That is a harsh reality.

Here is the draft order from last year’s Top Gun Huddle Writers league draft:

1 Tomlinson
2 S. Jackson
3 Gore
4 Addai
5 L. Johnson
6 Alexander
7 Bush
8 Parker
9 Westbrook
10 Maroney
11 Rudi Johnson

How quickly we forget. That is a murderers row of disappointment. Followed up by Ronnie Brown Steve Smith and Marvin Harrison shortly after. And we writers are supposed to know what we are talking about.

Here are the top 10 running backs in points at season’s end from that league, and where they were drafted:

Westbrook - 1:9
Tomlinson - 1:1
Addai - 1:4
Peterson - 3.11
Portis - 3:6
Barber - 6:5
Lewis - 8:6
McGahee - 2:5
Graham - Free Agent Pickup
Gore - 1:3

The first 12 picks in that league were all running backs, yet only 4 of those picks panned out as or better than expected.

The breakdown of players in the top 10 overall in scoring at years end was 4 QBs, 4 WRs, and 2 RBs.

This is a clear shift from 2005 when the top 10 consisted of 6 RBs, 1 QB, and 3 WRs. It seems having one of the top quarterbacks is a little more important than it was just a few years ago, while the running back has declined.

Truth be told, outside of Westbrook and Tomlinson, you probably would have been better off with a stud receiver in the first round. There was a big point drop-off after those two players. Moss, Wayne, Owens, Edwards, Fitz, Housh, Ocho, and Colston all outperformed the next ranked running back.

You have less than a 50/50 chance of getting value drafting the consensus picks in the first round regardless of position. And if last year was any indication you have about an 70% chance of disappointment with that first round running back. Ouch.

It all comes back to risk.

Most of us follow a developed path on draft day. And league-mates that deviate from that path give us FF veterans all a good laugh. For instance, can you imagine last year if you drafted with some whack-job that took Tom Brady in the first round and Randy Moss in the second. Come on now, admit it. You probably would have been at the very least smugly chuckling under your breath. “What a loser.”

In the Huddle writers league Brady and Moss were drafted 4:01 and 4:02 as Mr. Dorey barely missed the exacta from the 12 hole. Missed a championship with one pick. It was right there for him. It was right there for all of us.

One of the best prognosticators I know was close enough to smell it, but probably felt safer taking that 2nd running back. Who wouldn’t have? That is what we have been trained. That is how we have trained ourselves. You would have to be a damn fool to wait until the 5th round to take a second running back.

But with Brady and Moss, how good would your 2nd running back needed to have been last year? Marion Barber good?

If one of your league mates had drafted Brady/Moss in the 1st and 2nd round you would have probably laughed him out of the room. But the freak of nature that did the unthinkable, and waited until the 3rd round to draft a running back would have more than likely rolled the league.

Take a look at the leaders in PPR scoring for 2007. The top 30 WRs scored 7051 points. The top 30 RBs scored 6099.

There were 6 running backs in the top 30 overall in PPR scoring last season. Yet 19 of the first 30 picks in the draft were running backs. Only 3 of the top 6 running backs at season’s end were taken in the first round.

So much for the stud running back theory.

The guy that won the Writers League drafted Reggie Bush in the first round. Bush disappointed, but Mike Courter never needed him to contribute to win anyway. He won with receivers and a stud TE. B. Edwards, Owens, Welker and Gonzo carried his team. The fact that he picked up Jamal Lewis off the scrap pile in the 8th round just sealed the deal. That league champion drafted running backs in the 1st, 4th, and 8th round. That is not conventional.

And that is the point I am getting to. The same point I have been sniffing around for a couple of years now. The cold hard reality is that there are only a handful of running backs that will give you steady production for 16 weeks and produce monster points. And even those guys are getting harder to pick out. Where was Adrian Peterson drafted in re-drafts last season? Late 3rd, early 4th. Marion Barber? 5th-6th round.

What you see in pre-season prognostications is not reality. Last season you could have built one hell of a team with Peterson and Barber as your starting running backs. The opportunities are there every single year. And it all comes down to picking players that are good, and avoid injury.

It really doesn’t matter if you take a running back in the first round, or even the second. If you have the next Marion Barber or the next Adrian Peterson pegged you can afford to grab Owens and Moss with your first two picks. Or whatever pair of players you really think are ready to explode.

The game is changing. The pass rules the NFL right now. And fantasy football has largely turned to PPR scoring. I am paying less and less attention to what position to draft, and more attention to how many points will a player will get me compared to others in that draft position.

Last year as every year, the keys to winning a fantasy league were right there for the taking. This year is no different. There will be players drafted in the middle rounds that will win championships, and first round running backs that will doom those who select them.

And there will be rewards for those who dare think outside the box, and draft the team they really want to draft. Sometimes good ideas get steamrolled by conventional wisdom. But conventional wisdom is a constantly evolving thing. That crazy idea you have this season might just turn out to be conventional wisdom by this time next year.

It is just as easy to crash and burn following the crowd as it is leading them.

The question is, are you ready to get on a ship, cross the ocean, and start a new life in a strange new land you have only heard of?

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