There’s an old saying that goes “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” and in the Breaking Football Fantasy Football draft, I found out just how true that saying really is. When you’ve been playing fantasy football as long as I have — since the late 90s — you become pretty set in your ways with regards to your draft strategy. You’ve read all the articles that tell you to take running backs early. That quality running backs, or a lack thereof, can make or break your fantasy team.
You’ve also read all the pieces that warn you to stay away from rookie wide receivers like the plague. To not be seduced by the latest prospect you think is going to be the next Randy Moss. We all know these ‘time-tested’ methods. They’ve survived because they’ve worked. But fantasy football, just like the NFL, is changing. Evolving. And eventually your draft strategy has to change with it.
Or at least that was my thinking heading into the draft. I was pumped to be in a league with a group of guys as passionate about football as me. The idea of a 16-team league was intimidating, but I was intrigued having never been in a league of that size before. I came into the draft room thinking I was going to try something new. I was going to see what type of team I could build following a “zero RB” method of drafting.
Then the time came for the draft to start. I saw what position I had, 13th, and promptly panicked. Everything I went into the draft thinking about flew out the window almost immediately, and I reverted back to old habits. Still, I was able to navigate the draft pretty well and ended up with a fairly solid team. I could have done better, but I like my chances.
Round 1 – Jordan Howard (RB, Chicago Bears)
While Zeke Elliott grabbed the lion’s share of the national headlines last season, and deservedly so, Chicago Bears running back Jordan Howard had arguably just as good a year. The Bears weren’t anywhere near the team the Cowboys were, but performance-wise, the two running backs were closer than one might think. With Alshon Jeffery out of the picture and a rookie coming in at quarterback, I expect Howard to be the focal point of the Bears offense in 2017.
While I came into the draft wanting to follow a ‘zero RB’ method of drafting, I’m not upset that I panicked and grabbed running backs early. I think that Howard has the potential to be a star in this league for many years to come. As Howard’s workload increases relative to last year, Howard could find himself among the top fantasy producers in 2017.
Round 2 – Lamar Miller (RB, Houston Texans)
After failing in my initial attempt to test out a new draft strategy, I decided to go back to the tried-and-true methods I’ve been using for over a decade. Which meant doubling-down on the running back position in the second round. With 16 teams in the league, quality running backs were going to fly off the board. I had to get my second one quick, before the opportunity passed me by. Or at least that’s what I told myself as I went to make my second pick.
That second pick was Lamar Miller, running back for the Houston Texans. With D’Onta Foreman arriving in Houston this season, conventional wisdom might say that Miller is in for a down year. I don’t know how much I buy into that, though. Miller will still be the clear #1 back to start the season, and with a rookie quarterback taking the reins, they’re going to need a solid running game they can rely on. More than that, though, Miller will provide a nice safety valve for a rookie learning the ropes in the league. I like Miller’s value in the second round.
Round 3 – Drew Brees (QB, New Orleans Saints)
After grabbing my two starting running backs, I would have liked to be able to snatch up one more for the FLEX position. However, the value at the position just wasn’t there when I came back around in the third round. My first thought as a back-up plan was to stockpile pass catchers and potentially use some as trade-bait after the draft. Cooler heads prevailed, however, and I came to my senses.
In fantasy football, serviceable wide receivers are a dime a dozen. In any given year, you can get away with any of about 40 different guys and be fine if you have a solid team around them. Quarterbacks, however, is another story. There’s far fewer of them. In a 16-team league, it was going to be really easy to be left without a good option. That’s why my third pick was Drew Brees.
Brees has been the most prolific, and arguably one of the best, quarterbacks of our time. What he’s been able to do at the position without great receivers around him has been phenomenal. However, Brees time on Team Demons would be short-lived, as he was ultimately packaged with Johnathan Williams in a trade for Davante Adams and Jonathan Stewart to bolster a weak bench.
Rounds 4 & 5 – Julian Edelman (WR, New England Patriots) & DeSean Jackson (WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers)
At this point in the draft, I had ignored wide receivers for about as long as I could. The top guys were long gone, and it wasn’t going to be long before I was left without any decent options for my first and second spots. With that in mind, and keeping in mind that this is a PPR league, my next two selections were back-to-back receivers who I think will give me consistent production throughout the season. They may not be the best receivers in the league, but I’m confident in their situations.
First came Julian Edelman from the New England Patriots. Tom Brady just doesn’t seem to age. He played at an amazing pace last season, driving the Patriots to yet another Super Bowl victory. One that would not have been possible were it not for some stellar play from Edelman. Edelman has become Brady’s favorite target in New England, and is all but a lock for around 90 receptions and 1,000 yards.
To start alongside Edelman I went with the ‘boom or bust’ wide receiver DeSean Jackson. Jackson’s career has been up-and-down, plagued partially by injury and partially by poor quarterback play as of late. Now that he’s found a home in Tampa, the latter shouldn’t be an issue. Jackson should come into that offense and provide an instant shot in the arm. Jackson’s skillset is a perfect complement to standout receiver Mike Evans. Jackson could be the missing piece that Jameis Winston needs to take the next step in his development. An all-around solid duo.
Round 6 – Dak Prescott (QB, Dallas Cowboys)
Depending on who you ask, drafting a back-up quarterback in your fantasy football draft is either a brilliant move, or a wasted pick. I believe the former, and took an up-and-coming quarterback in the sixth round to play second fiddle to Drew Brees. Little did I know at the time that Dak Prescott would become my starting quarterback.
Had I known then what I know now, my draft strategy may have been a bit different. However, had draft strategy been different, I probably wouldn’t have ended up in this situation to begin with. Hindsight is always 20/20, as they say. While he may not be my first, or even second or third choice, I’m not stressing too much. Prescott had himself an incredible rookie season that almost no one saw coming. He’s only going to get better in his second season. He’s still playing behind the league’s best offensive line. He still has an incredible running back in Zeke Elliott. He’s still got Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley. Prescott is going to do just fine.
Or at least this is what I’m telling myself to be okay with my predicament.
Rounds 7, 8, and 9 – Loading Up on Pass Catchers
With the core of my team pretty much set at this point, rounds 7, 8, and 9 saw me finish out the skill positions and start working on the bench. With my pick in the seventh, I took Bengals wide receiver Marvin Jones. After three years of playing second fiddle to A.J. Green in Cincinnati, Jones left the Bengals to share the spotlight in Detroit with former Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate. Jones’ first year in Detroit was on par with his production in Cincy, and indicative of what to expect in the future. He’s a solid option to haul in around 60 receptions for between 800-900 yards and a few touchdowns.
Round 8 I added some youth to my lineup with the addition of the Los Angeles Chargers tight end Hunter Henry. Antonio Gates has been the primary safety valve for the Chargers for what seems like forever. Eventually Gates is going to reach the end of his rope, and the next man up in that spot is Henry. Henry only had 36 receptions last season for less than 500 yards. However, he hauled in 8 touchdowns. He’s a great redzone target, and I would expect his production to see an increase in his second season. Henry could be my steal of the draft.
Speaking of the Cincinnati Bengals, round 9 sees yet another pass catcher come off the board with my drafting of John Ross. The speedster from the University of Washington should provide a consistent deep threat for the Bengals who can both provide the homerun hitting option they desperately need, and open things up in the short and mid-ranges for A.J. Green and their other options. Fantasy football can be rough for rookie wide receivers, but if the Bengals use Ross the way he should be used, I could have some great weeks with him. He’s not an every week starter, but should be able to fill in nicely when called upon.
Round 10 – Panthers Defense
Finishing my starting lineup (save for the kicker, which should always wait until the last round or two) is the Carolina Panthers defense. Carolina is always going to have a soft spot in my heart when it comes to fantasy football, as they’ve helped my stay in, and even win, a league or two in my time. However, this Panthers defense is far from the juggernaut they’ve been in year’s past.
The secondary in particular struggled mightily last season following the departure of star cornerback Josh Norman. They still have All-Pro caliber linebacker Luke Kuechly manning things in the middle, but he doesn’t have the help around him that he did in previous seasons. That, along with a regression from quarterback Cam Newton, led to a disastrous season by all accounts in 2016.
I look for the defense to get back on track in 2017. They likely won’t be as potent as they’ve been in the past, but a top-10 finish isn’t out of the question. Adding two electric playmakers — Curtis Samuel and Christian McCaffrey — on offense should not only help take some of the burden off Newton, but should take some of the onus off the defense as well.
To round out the team, I selected another tight end in Dallas’ Jason Witten. Witten should provide me with some flexibility if Hunter Henry doesn’t produce early in the season, and may also provide me with some trade bait should someone from another team go down with an injury.
After Witten, I took two running backs and two wide receivers to fill out the bench. Kenyan Drake and Johnathan Williams (who was later traded along with Drew Brees) aren’t the best bench running backs, but in a 16-team league running backs flew off the board quickly. In retrospect, I probably should not have waited as long as I did to find my back-up running backs.
Two more rookies come onto the bench at wide receiver with Kenny Golladay and Curtis Samuel. Samuel has the potential to come in and earn significant playing time right away in Carolina. He should provide a nice complement to Kelvin Benjamin, and is on a team starved for good wide receiver play. Kenny Golladay. Golladay was a stand-out receiver for the Northern Illinois Huskies and a third-round selection by the Lions. By all accounts in this young NFL season, Golladay is making the transition to the pro game very well. He’s been talked about as a standout in OTA’s. Then again, who isn’t at this stage of the year?
Finishing up the draft, and roster, is kicker Blair Walsh. Walsh hit a rough patch with the Vikings and was booted out. He’s landed with the Seattle Seahawks and should be their kicker come opening day, barring unforeseen circumstances. He may be inaccurate at times, but Walsh has a cannon of a leg on him and can provide value if he can hit from long range.
The takeaway that I’ll get from this draft is that, even when you come into the draft with a strategy, things can fall apart rather quickly. But when they do, it’s possible to salvage the draft and still come away with a solid team. I may not have had the best draft in the league, but I pieced together a solid team and my work is far from done.