Only 231 Days Until My Draft
by Rick Tittsler
There are some obvious lessons learned from the fantasy season just completed. “Foster, RB, Houston Texans,” will be one of the first names called 8 months from now, and “Nicks, WR, New York Giants,” won’t be far behind.
Many owners walking into their 2011 drafts will be heard muttering to themselves, “handcuff, handcuff, don’t forget to handcuff!” Who would’ve thought last August a 2010 fantasy all-star lineup would include Michael Vick, Peyton Hillis, Darren McFadden, Steve Johnson, Brandon Lloyd, Jacob Tamme, Sebastian Janikowski, and the Arizona Cardinals D/ST? Oh, you need a flex? Just plug-in a “household name” like LeGarrette Blount or the Buc’s Mike Williams. It still seems ludicrous as I re-read this list.
It was a year of oddball stats, season-ending injuries, retreads and no-namers scoring 26 points on any given Sunday. What about Chris Johnson, the consensus #1 last August? Fuhgeddaboudit! Arian Foster scored nearly 100 more fantasy points in standard-scoring leagues. Really!
Another thing we had to deal with is the contagion that used to be known simply as RBBC (Running Back By Committee). There were always some coaches you could count on to screw with your lineup decisions at RB—Shanahan and Belichick come instantly to mind. But now, there are WRBCs and even TEBCs. Stop the fantasy madness! Some of these platoon arrangements result from injuries, but the NFL is a league that imitates success and unfortunately for fantasy owners, committees are not only here to stay, they are expanding--because they work.
Speaking of tight ends, there are 2 that hopefully caught your eye in 2010--Brandon Pettigrew of the Lions and Jimmy Graham of the Saints. Pettigrew (2nd year) is 6’5” and 265 and rookie Graham stands 6’6” and weighs 260. If those numbers sound vaguely familiar, they should. Take a look at some fantasy studs at that position over the last several years: Gates 6’4”/260, Witten 6’5”/263 and Gonzalez 6’5”/243. Another newcomer with the same size is Rob Gronkowski at 6’6”/265—all he did was score 10 TDs in limited time as a rookie in 2010! Gronkowski’s upside is capped, however, because he’s mired in a TEBC with fellow rookie Aaron Hernandez, with a coach that loves to platoon players. I’ll look elsewhere in August, thank you.
There is another common denominator among successful TEs—most have stud QBs capable of getting them the ball, especially in the red zone. Drew Brees took advantage of Gates’ size, speed and strength in San Diego, and I expect he’ll do the same with Jimmy Graham in New Orleans. Graham shows 4.5-speed in the 40, with a 38-1/2” vertical leap. Put that in a 6’6”/260-pound package, and you have my favorite late-round TE going into 2011.
Gonzalez and Gates played a lot of basketball in their day, as did Graham. NFL scouts have been looking for more round-ball players that can bring their game from the court to the field, and the Saints took Graham in the 3rd round of the 2010 NFL draft. Graham played hoops in college, and added one year of football. The pick surprised everyone around the league, and he was immediately labeled as a “project for the future.” That “project” scored 5 TDs in 5 starts as a rookie; against the toughest schedule the NFL could give the Super Bowl Champion Saints. Not too shabby for a basketball player!
Graham’s first career catch didn’t even come until week 6 with a “typical-rookie” stat line of 1 reception for 11 yards. But when Shockey went down in weeks 11 & 12, Graham posted a combined 8 catches for 95 yards. He finished the year with 31 receptions, 356 yards and 5 TDs in very limited playing time. There aren’t too many TEs that can boast of a 52-yard reception either, especially as a rookie.
Bottom line: the New Orleans Saints like Jimmy Graham and so do I. Their scouts, front office and head coach have done an amazing job in the last few years. Remember when Drew Brees was cast aside by the Chargers? Remember when “Aints” fans wore paper bags over their heads a few years ago? Ever hear about a RB named Chris Ivory? He wasn’t even drafted, but was signed by the Saints immediately following the draft. These folks know talent, and they used a 3rd-round pick to snag Graham.
In 2011, I’ll be collecting depth at RB and WR in rounds 3-7 while other fantasy owners are grabbing Gates, Witten, Clark, Lewis and Vernon Davis. I’ll be just fine with a no-name TE who stands 6’6” with a 38-1/2” vertical. There isn’t a LB or safety who can stick with Graham consistently, especially with Drew Brees’ ball placement. If he had 5 TDs in 5 starts as a rookie, how many TDs will he have in 16 starts in 2011? Graham is the type of player that delivers huge value in the later rounds, and fantasy championships a year from now!