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The Puzzle
Kevin Ratterree
July 30, 2009
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Yes sports fans, it’s that time again. Time to try to put together that puzzle.

The pieces are all out there. All we have to do is pick up the right ones at the right times and good fortune will kiss us right where it counts. In the wallet. But I digress.

This is not about money. This is about the competition.  Always the competition.  A yearly bonding of gentleman-ish couch potatoes seeking to crush each other into a fine dust.

We kiss our wives goodbye and it’s off to the draft. See you in December. Football is.

My drafting style has evolved over the years as I'm sure yours has. I’ll never forget that first live draft where I picked a quarterback in the first round. Even against the locals I couldn’t pull off a championship after that move. Maybe that is why the thought still repels me today.

These days I play in a keeper league and a dynasty league.  And every season I play in a few re-draft leagues. Always PPR.  Always 12 teamers.  It is what I know. It is what I do.  Last year I did it very well in a national contest consisting of 144 teams placing first in total points.  It was a simple execution.  A perfect draft plan.  A perfect draft position. (I drafted 12th - right in my wheelhouse) A perfectly cooperating group of drafters that let me pull off my scheme with nary a hitch.   
  
There are key players in every fantasy draft that will determine the winners of most leagues. You can see them sprinkled on the winning teams. They are the guys nobody expected last year.

Last season it was the 4th round or later DeAngelo Williams pick. It was the 6th round Chris Johnson pick. It was the Michael Turner pick. The Matt Forte pick. The Pierre Thomas and the Steve Slaton pick. 

Do you notice the trend? The same one I have been talking about every year. The game has changed my friends.  If you are still running the stud running back gamut in a PPR league, you are swimming upstream.  You should call your team the Trouts. 

All of those guys I mentioned in the above paragraph were drafted in lower rounds, yet the resided near the top of the running back rankings by season’s end, and their owners sat atop fantasy leagues. Meanwhile the Steven Jackson’s and the Brian Westbrooks of the first round world were busy disappointing their owners with more injuries and more declining stats.

I think the stud receiver theory is even more applicable now than it was last season.  Drafting stud receivers in rounds one and two seems a lot safer than it used to.  As long as you get the right ones. 

I will likely start collecting running backs from the third round on.  

I see the sleeper running back pool to be a veritable feeding frenzy.  We have a unique situation this season.  Even the top running backs this season are likely to pale in comparison to our fantasy studs of the past.  The Larry Johnson of '06.  The Priest Holmes before him.  The pre-30 year old Tomlinson.  I just don't think we will see those monster numbers (though if we do I suspect it won't be Peterson that does it) from the top backs this year.  Possibly never again. 

And that creates a unique opportunity in my opinion.  The running back pool is deeper than ever with all the time sharing.  The stud receiver pool is now the deeper and more dependable one, however there is a chasm between most WRs drafted in the first 2 rounds and those drafted later.  To me if you are sitting in the bottom half of your draft, is absolutely imperative to come out of those first two rounds with WRs. 

That is basically the strategy that I used last season, and I think it is even more applicable this season.  Yes friends, the stud receiver theory that I and a handful of theirs have been pimping for the last few years is in vogue now.    

I have to tell you, unless I could get AP, Forte, MJD, or maybe CJ in the first round, my next picks will be receivers, and I will go Calvin Johnson deep if I have to. And I may have to.

For it seems the fantasy community has finally come sniffing around what I have been cooking. We are seeing Fitz going 6-7, and AJ going basically 6-10. Sometimes Moss and Calvin Johnson don’t make it out of the first round either. QUICK, GRAB THE STUD RECEIVERS!! 

Don't go into your PPR draft thinking there will only be one or two receivers drafted in the first round.  Our little secret is out. 

And it is easy to see why the fantasy community is finally creeping in the right direction.  I don't know about you, but I trust Larry Fitzgerald one hell of a lot more than I trust DeAngelo Williams to repeat or Portis' body to hold together for another year.

And yes, I know Fitzgerald's QB, Kurt Warner is 108 years old and held together with duct tape. And I know that Calvin Johnson's immediate quarterback situation is not exactly one you are in love with, but you just can’t hold down great receivers in their prime, not in the age of the forward pass.

Hell, Fitz could catch 75 passes with you lined up behind center. That’s scary.

And that is exactly what I am talking about at the core of this. I want players I know I can depend on in the first rounds of a draft. Lots of us are pretty good at picking out sleepers, but you need those in addition to great rock solid first round players if you want to really beat up the competition.

That points leading team I drafted last year was Fitz, AJ, Chris Johnson, Roddy White, and Jason Witten, and Eddie Royal among others.

Three of the guys from that team will be first rounders in that format this year. THAT should be your goal while you are drafting this year. Fill your team with the guys that will be first rounders next season. It is that easy. It sounds so easy.  And sometimes it is. 

I almost always draft a stud tight end. Though this particular strategy is becoming less and less important it would appear.  There are really almost enough good tight ends to go around most leagues, and it is hard to figure out which one of the studs is going to lead the pack in a particular year to give you the edge on your competition. In any case though, I rarely throw away the tight end position in a draft.  Jeremy Shockey will not end up on one of my teams.

The quarterback however is another issue. I am constantly fighting the urge to not draft a quarterback. I am among the last to take a QB in virtually all of my drafts. The only exception to this is when I see particular value has fallen in my lap and I have no other highly targeted position players in that vicinity.   

Hey, I plucked Kurt Warner off the waiver wire in my dynasty league a couple of years ago. I rarely sweat not having a top flight QB if that is the price I have to pay for hitting some kick-ass RB and WR sleepers.  I blew my league away with Matt Schaub and some kid named Matt Ryan I picked up in free agency. 

I have never won a championship drafting a quarterback early.  Not to my recollection.   And you only have to beat a dog a few times before it stops humping on the wrong leg.  Just ask Michael Vick.     

An example of how the early quarterback strategy can lead to disaster comes in the form of one of my less stunning teams from last year. I drafted 6th (unfamiliar territory) but I still experimented with the stud WR theory. I took Randy Moss in the first round. Not a horrible pick, but not a great one considering Brady’s injury. Colston was my next pick and his early season injury combined with Moss’ losing Brady really put this team on ice.

But the real tragedy occurred in the critical 3rd and 4th rounds.  Feeling frisky with my big pile of sleepers I was waiting to pluck in the later rounds I afforded myself the rare luxury of drafting a "stud" QB in the 3rd round. Tony freaking Romo.

Add that to a panic “chaser” pick on Kellen Winslow in the 4th round and I had the makings of a total disaster on my hands.  It is amazing how fast a draft can go right in the crapper sometimes.

But I rebounded with some of my sleepers. J. Stewart in the 5th and Chris Johnson in the 6th. Then Berrian in the 8th and Pierre Thomas in the 10th.

The interesting thing about the Pierre Thomas pick was the fact that I drafted him between guys taking the Steelers and Cowboys defense. I ended up taking the Eagles defense in the 16th round, and was all too happy with that extra running back in the 10th round instead of a team D.

So, I almost had enough ammo to pull this team out of the fire with a late season run, but fell short of qualifying for the 4 team playoff with a heartbreaking final regular season loss.  A little sharper drafting in those critical 3rd and 4th rounds would have made all the difference in the world.  I was THAT close to dominating that league as well. 

Bottom line.  You can't screw up in your draft.  Especially in "no trade" leagues.  Every pick is critical.  Even those 10th round picks we tend to spend on backup quarterbacks, defenses, and god help you poor bastards, kickers. 

There is a Pierre Thomas or and Eddie Royal lurking around that territory every season.  You go ahead and have your Gostkowski and your Giants Defense my friend.  Those pieces won't fit right in my puzzle.  

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