The Early Draft: 2014

Fantasy football season is upon us again, even though it seems like it just ended. Doesn’t it? If you won your league last season you’ve been itching to defend your title, and if you didn’t, then you’ve been dying to avenge that final loss. Of course I play in several leagues, but I do have two titles to defend this season. As usual I’ve been doing my standard research before any of my drafts.

And I have had two drafts already, what I call the “early drafts.” That’s because all I had to go on was what happened last year and conjecture about what will go on this year. There had been no pre-season games before those drafts. I like to be in at least one league that has an early draft so I can compare how my teams fare on both sides of the coin. Usually there are one or two players I draft in those early drafts that I end up dropping by the time the later drafts come along.

That’s the nature of the game. So, what do you need to know in order to make an early draft work for you? I will share one of my early drafts from a team I have on cbssports.com and explain with you my motivations for each decision through the 12th round…

First off, I drafted 10th in a 12-team league, so I had to get a bit creative, but I’m used to it.

ROUND 1:

My pick – Montee Ball (DEN)

I knew going in that I would have to get the best for my value in this spot, and I also knew that I would be picking again only five spots later, so I dedicated the first two picks to the running backs who I felt had the best skills in the best offenses to highlight those skills. Of course the top four backs were long gone in McCoy, Charles, Peterson, and Forte, so I went with the back in the most dynamic offense. Advantage: Ball.

ROUND 2:

My pick – Giovani Bernard (CIN)

The offense isn’t quite as dynamic in Cincinnati, but having A.J. Green to spread the field is a bonus, and not playing behind the Law Firm is another. Bernard has shown that he’s explosive, and given the lion’s share of the work on the ground will benefit him, and my fantasy team.

ROUND 3:

My pick – Julius Thomas (DEN)

I don’t usually go for tight ends this early, but the top-tier receivers were already gone within the first 26 picks, and my quarterback could wait. With Eric Decker and his massive size gone from Denver, I think Manning will lean on Thomas even more than he did last year during his breakout season. I wanted to lock down my tight end pick, and after Graham and Gronk, Thomas is the man.

ROUND 4:

My pick – Randall Cobb (GB)

This guy is near the top of the second-tier of wide receivers, and I’m lucky he dropped this low. Perhaps recent injury history was the reasoning. Regardless, I expected him to be gone after the third round so I scooped him right up in this situation. He will be a solid number one receiver for my team.

ROUND 5:

My pick – Wes Welker (DEN)

Yes, he may be slowing down, but I think he has something left in the tank, and he’s looking to show it this year. Besides, with Manning as his quarterback the sky’s the limit, and having Sanders helps Welker in the slot as coverage will be taken away from him to account for Thomas, Thomas, and Sanders.

ROUND 6:

My pick – Emmanuel Sanders (DEN)

If you haven’t guessed by now, my strategy quickly changed knowing I was 10th in the pecking order. If I couldn’t have Manning I would grab most of his weapons. So, in addition to Ball, Thomas, and Welker, I picked up the guy who will be picking up where Decker left off. I have no problem with that.

ROUND 7:

My pick – Eric Decker (NYJ)

Rounding out my group of four receivers in a row is the new number one receiver in New York, the aforementioned Decker. He’s still big, strong, and has solid hands. But he’s getting the ball from Smith or Vick now. I would trust him more getting the ball from Vick, but his numbers will go down since the offense isn’t as versatile as the Denver one. He’s a by-week replacement at best, but I’m betting on his upside with the possibility of Vick under center.

ROUND 8:

My pick – Stevan Ridley (NE)

I plan on using Bernard and Ball week in and week out, but on bye weeks I can certainly see myself utilizing Ridley, who I feel is massively undervalued in fantasy. Sure, he’s been plagued with the drops at inopportune moments, but I think he’s put that behind him. Besides, this pick is low enough that if I need to swap him out for a hot hand off the waiver wire when the time comes I can pull the switch.

ROUND 9:

My pick – Broncos DST (DEN)

You might be surprised but by this time the top three defenses were already off the board, so I felt like I needed to cash in on a defense that helped me out last year and was solid down the stretch. Over the off-season they have worked hard too, and added pieces that will help them be even better.

ROUND 10:

My pick – Christine Michael (SEA)

I’m not necessarily saying that Lynch will be ineffective this year, but he did have that monster workload and the Seahawks might mix in Michael just a little more. Regardless, though, I’m a firm believer in having solid backups just in case the workhorses go down, and Michael is as solid as they come. He will more likely than not ride my bench all season, but just in case Lynch does go down it forces his owner to go elsewhere to find a replacement.

ROUND 11:

My pick – Knile Davis (KC)

See Pick 10.

ROUND 12:

My pick – Michael Vick (NYJ)

I picked up Vick really late in the draft last year and he literally carried my fantasy team through the first three weeks of the season. He has the ability to do that here as well (until he gets hurt again) if he wins the starting job away from Smith, which is a big possibility. Since I decided to go late with my quarterback I also decided to gamble on this particular one. If it doesn’t work out, or if he isn’t starting as I expect, I did pick up another quarterback later in the draft.

My following picks in order were:

Ryan Succop (KC)
Cam Newton (CAR)

Newton may well be starting for my team when the season starts. He was an excellent value in the 14th round, and he’s along the same mold as Vick so his ceiling is just as high, in my opinion. He will definitely be starting for the Panthers, so I have another quarterback on the roster if Vick isn’t starting.

While this wasn’t one of the teams I’m defending championships with, I did have a solid season in this league last year, and I think I have the same possibility with this lineup.

The Fantasy Ace

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