Early Draftmaster Strategy & Observations from MFL10s
About a month ago I saw a Tweet from My Fantasy League advertising their Draftmaster leagues, draft-only leagues with $10 (MFL10), $25 (MFL25) or $50 (MFL50) entry fees. These are best-ball format, meaning you get points based on your optimal lineup each week. The drafts are slow, conducted over a week or two via email.
More importantly, this is a great chance to shake off the rust and do some mock drafts to get a read on how August will take shape when we all go live.
Last year’s fantasy season for me was bitter-sweet, but the bitter part still hurts. (Editor's Note: Bad beat alert) I was in five money leagues, made the playoffs in all five, made the finals in four of the five and won none – yup, none. Some losses weren’t even close, others were heartbreaking, including one where I lost on San Francisco’s defensive touchdown late in the game against the Falcons on Monday night in Week 16. Vernon Davis also put up a 0-0-0 line, which didn’t help.
So after some time away, therapy, heavy medication and alcohol, I’m ready to take on another year of fantasy football. As you probably know, over the last few years we do two draftmaster-style mock drafts with the experts here at 4for4.com, and these MFL10s were pretty similar in setup. We don’t make any changes or pickups during the season. The team you pick is it, so the strategy is a little different than leagues with trades and free agency. It’s a PPR format with 12 teams, but the MFL10 drafts were 22 rounds deep. A weekly lineup will consist of 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 flex (TE, RB, WR), 1 K and 1 defense.
For comparisons sake, I’m going to put it against our 4for4 staff mocks from a year ago - at least in some aspects. Keep in mind, I was with 11 strangers for the MFL10 drafts, some who allowed their time to run out frequently and probably stopped following at some point. I was also without my draft crutch, PC Drafter – free with a 4for4 subscription, so I was going in a bit blind, other than some early rankings here at the site and my own gut feelings. I have my strategies regardless of the rules or time of year, but a lot was learned that I thought would make a great, early-season article to inform our subscribers about what to expect later this summer. Let’s dig in!
RB VALUE, OR LACK THEREOF
I can’t remember a draft where running backs didn’t fly off the board in the first round, but this looks like the year. I’ve always been someone who targets RBs early and often. With the recent depth at WR and QB, there wasn’t even a question in my mind stocking up at the RB position early, knowing there’s value at WR and QB later in the draft, was the best move.
Last year’s draft strategy focused around just that, if you remember. Some very good QBs were making it to the seventh round, perhaps even longer, and quality WRs were available throughout the middle rounds. So taking a QB other than Peyton Manning, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers before the seventh didn’t seem like a good value.
Looking back at last year’s PPR 4for4 mock draft, 10 RBs were taken with the first 12 picks. Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall were the only non-RBs to be selected. This has been pretty typical over the years in fantasy football.
In one of my MFL10 drafts, just five running backs were taken in the first 12 picks, which presents a huge drop from last season. Four of the five RBs taken were also first rounders last year: LeSean McCoy went at 1.1, compared to 1.7 last year; Jamaal Charles went 1.2 and was also 1.2 last year; Adrian Peterson went 1.4 and was 1.1 last year; and Matt Forte went at 1.6 and was 1.8 last year.
The newcomer to the list is Eddie Lacy of the Packers, who went at 1.5 after going at 5.3 a year ago. Lacy will probably be the next running back to go in your draft after the top-three of McCoy, Charles, and Peterson are off the board, in any format. And those top-three backs will likely be gone by pick 1.5. So, where you will get Lacy could be one of the key questions of the first round this year. In a second MFL10 draft I did, I ended up getting Lacy at 1.9, so anywhere from the mid-to-late first is probably what to expect. And I like his value there as the Packers show indications they may depend on the run a little more to keep Rodgers healthy.
Those RBs who no longer seem to be first-round value were: Doug Martin, Arian Foster, C.J. Spiller, Trent Richardson, Ray Rice and Marshawn Lynch. Now, Lynch is still a pretty good, late-first-round option if you feel the need to take a RB with your first pick, even in a PPR league. But based on early mocks, it seems owners are going to value WRs ahead of this second tier of RB1s in the first round. Martin ended up falling to 2.2, Spiller to 3.1, Richardson to 4.2, Rice to 5.10 and Lynch went at 2.1.
So with RBs seemingly not going early, the real value looks like it will fall in rounds 2-5 and even later. Aside from the names above, others picked in that timeframe were: Giovani Bernard at 2.4, DeMarco Murray at 2.9, Montee Ball at 2.10, Zac Stacy at 2.11, Shane Vereen 3.9, Andre Ellington at 4.1, Alfred Morris at 4.6, Reggie Bush at 4.9, Ryan Mathews at 5.3, Ben Tate at 5.5, Frank Gore at 5.11 and Joique Bell at 5.12.
I liked Bernard a lot last year, even though it took a bit for him to be a decent play outside of a flex. But he’s shaping up to get a lot more touches in 2014. Ball could end up being a huge value if he goes in the late second. It looks like he’s going to be given every chance to be Knowshon Moreno 2.0 this season, but is he one mistake away from losing his job? Last year’s Stevan Ridley owners know something about that… I love Vereen, and he was a guy I targeted - and then stayed with - last season in drafts, and he’s shaping up to be another PPR stud. Ellington’s stock is shooting up and I doubt he makes it to 4.1 come August. Mathews is coming off his best season, but the team brought in Donald Brown to make sure Mathews stays healthy. Mathews was a stud when he got 20-plus carries in 2013, but he may not get that again with the Bolts RB depth.
SO, WHO’S GOING IN THE FIRST?
If running backs aren’t going in the first round, who is? The simple answer is wide receivers, with Jimmy Graham mixed in…
In this particular draft, six WRs and Graham went in the first 12 picks: Calvin Johnson at 1.3, A.J. Green at 1.7, Demaryius Thomas at 1.8, Graham at 1.9, Julio Jones at 1.10, Dez Bryant at 1.11 and Alshon Jeffery at 1.12.
I picked at 1.9 and was the one who selected Graham. By the time it got to my pick at 1.9, McCoy, Charles, Peterson, Lacy and Forte were off the board. I have to be honest, I was a bit taken back on who to pick and it was only my first selection. That’s because I really wanted a running back, however, I didn’t view guys like Bernard, Murray or Ball as first rounders. I thought a lot about Stacy, but couldn’t do it. It reminded me of my days in college playing Earl Weaver Baseball simulation, and a friend of mine picked third in our draft. Only problem was he had two guys he wanted and was sure one would be there. He still doesn’t live it down to this day, but I kind of know how he felt now, because needless to say both of his guys were gone when it got to his pick.
I really thought about a WR, but ended up taking Graham. I’m not sure I would have the guts do this in a money league and I may have ended up going with Lynch to get my RB fix (old habits are hard to break). But the point of this exercise is at the end of the first round, you have to make sure you get value you’re comfortable with. And with Graham putting up WR1 numbers at tight end, I gave him the edge.
Last year, the early-to-mid second round was a place to get some of these stud WRs, but don’t expect that this season. Still, there are some nice names in that area you can expect to be there: Keenan Allen 2.5, Antonio Brown 2.7, Randall Cobb 2.8, Jordy Nelson 2.12, Larry Fitzgerald 3.8, Andre Johnson 3.11, Victor Cruz 4.4, Vincent Jackson 4.8, and Wes Welker 4.10 - to name a few. If you’re lucky enough to get a RB or two with your first two picks, these are certainly guys who are shaping up to be WR1a’s for your team.
After Graham, there’s a bit of a drop at the position. Rob Gronkowski is, of course, dealing with another injury or his value would likely be a lot higher. In this draft, much like last year, the issue of where to take him was another key. This will most likely be an issue in August, too. In this draft he went at 3.2. After that, Julius Thomas went at 3.10. Thomas presents real nice value if you can get him there, especially with Eric Decker gone from Denver. Those are easily the top-three in what is considered to be a top-heavy class for 2014.
Vernon Davis went at 5.6, but after his 0-line last year in Week 16, I’m no longer a fan. I still like Jason Witten a lot in PPR leagues and ended up taking him at 5.9 to pair with Graham, probably a bit too early, but since two TEs could be in the final lineup, I thought it made sense at this point in the draft to have two studs. I had already drafted Graham, Bernard, Vereen and Cruz.
Jordan Cameron went at 6.6, Jordan Reed at 7.7, Kyle Rudolph at 7.12, Zach Ertz at 8.8, Lardarius Green at 8.12, and Greg Olsen could very well be a steal where he went at 9.3. Looking back, perhaps going another direction instead of Witten would have been a better idea. I really like Cameron, Reed and Olsen in that group of TEs, who went much later. Waiting even longer at TE is another option, going with 2-3 TE2 types in the later rounds.
DE JA VU ALL OVER AGAIN
The quarterback situation this year reminds me of last year. There is going to be some great value in the middle rounds if you can keep yourself from picking a QB early.
In my MFL draft, Peyton Manning wasn’t taken until 3.4 and he was the first QB off the board, a solid value there. Aaron Rodgers went at 3.6 and Drew Brees right behind at 3.7. After that, the next QB wasn’t selected until pick 4.12, and that was Andrew Luck.
In our 4for4 mock last year, Rogers went at 3.8, Brees at 3.12, and then Manning at 4.7. After that, Cam Newton went at 4.12, Matt Ryan at 5.7 before another huge gap until 7.2 when Colin Kaepernick went off the board.
Much like last year, the seventh round or later was the place to get your QB. In my MFL10 draft, Nick Foles went at 7.3, Robert Griffin III at 7.5, Tom Brady at 7.9, Tony Romo at 7.10 and then Kaepernick at 8.4. I was the one who took Brady at 7.9 and then followed it right up with Kaepernick with my very next pick, so I took full advantage of waiting. That’s something I wasn’t always able to do last year. Patience…
Manning and Rodgers have ADPs in the second round, which doesn’t surprise me. I think the lack of RB value is going to throw everyone off, and if you’re looking for the best player at that point, the top QBs are going to look a lot better.
But, there was still a lot of QB value on the board very late: Russell Wilson went at 9.1, Philip Rivers at 9.12, Jay Cutler at 10.5, Andy Dalton at 11.2, Ben Roethlisberger at 11.3, Ryan Tannehill at 11.12 and Alex Smith at 12.1. All those guys can, at the very least, be part of a committee for you.
LATE ROUND STEALS
One of the questions I always ask the scouts after our 4for4 drafts is who they considered a potential sleeper or late-round steal. There are a lot of guys I took late in this draft who I think have the potential to out-perform their draft spot. A lot of my players – and keep in mind this was just going off my gut – I picked right around their current ADPs. Kind of scary actually…
Danny Amenolda, although frustrated with him last year as many were, managed to fall two rounds below his ADP in the 10th and may have been my best bargain in terms of ADP value.
Some other WRs that stood out to me were: Anquan Boldin, who has an ADP in the 10th but fell to the 13th; Odell Beckham has an ADP in the 11th and fell to the 13th; James Jones has an ADP in the 10th and also fell to the 13th; Tavon Austin has an ADP in the 8th and fell to the 10th; Sammy Watkins has an ADP inthe 5th and fell to the 7th;
Some value RBs I saw included: LeGarrette Blount who has an ADP in the 13th and fell to the 19th; Andre Brown (a must handcuff to Foster) has an ADP in the 13th and fell to 16th; DeAngelo Williams has an ADP in the 10th and fell to the late 11th; Pierre Thomas has an ADP in the 8th and fell to the 10th; Steven Jackson has an ADP in the 7th and fell to the 9th; Toby Gerhart has an ADP in the 6th and fell to the 8th;
Some value at TE I saw included: Antonio Gates who has an ADP in the 14th and went in the 16th; Greg Olsen with an ADP in the 8th going in the 9th; Jordan Cameron has an ADP in the 5th and went in the 6th;
And, some value at QB I saw included: Andy Dalton who has an ADP in the 10th and went in the 11th; Jay Cutler with an ADP in the 9th going in the 10th; Colin Kaepernick with an ADP in the 7th going in the 8th; Nick Foles with an ADP in the 5th going in the 7th; Matt Stafford with an ADP in the 4th going in the 5th and both Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers who have ADPs in the 2nd, both went in the 3rd.
This certainly wasn’t the end-all of drafts, but hopefully it gave you something to think about as we get closer to training camp and draft season. I think the biggest thing to take from this is the transition of RB value from last year to this year. Don’t force yourself to take a RB in the late first round when the value just doesn’t seem to be there. A lot will change between now and then, and of course we’ll keep you informed about every move here at 4for4 Fantasy Football.