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Ten Beers

"I have the seventh pick. I like that pick because no matter what happens I'll get a shot at one of the top seven RBs. But I'm a little worried about where that will leave me when it comes to receivers because the only ones I feel sure about are Randy Moss, Marvin Harrison, and Torry Holt—and they'll all be gone long before I get to pick in round 2."

"There are plenty of other options. What about Terrell Owens?"

"Well I wonder about how he will do in Philadelphia. For years now people have been saying that the Eagles don't have a solid passing game because McNabb doesn't have any receivers. But since he hasn't had any practice playing with an elite receiver, I'm not 100% convinced that he will make effective use of Owens. I'm pretty sure that whoever gets Owens will end up overpaying for him."

"Okay, but you can't go wrong with Hines Ward."

"I'm afraid to take anyone from Pittsburgh. Maddox was horrible last year, and there's no telling what will happen at the QB position this year. The offense needs an overhaul, and who knows what role Ward will end up playing?"

"Well then go with Chad Johnson. That guy is unstoppable."

"I'm worried about Johnson too. He has been great with Jon Kitna throwing him the ball, but I think the Bengals are going to put Carson Palmer on the field before he is ready, and that could be a disaster for the whole Cincinnati offense."

"Then why not grab Joe Horn?"

"Horn is getting older. He has definitely slowed down, and I think this is the year Donte Stallworth emerges as the go-to receiver in New Orleans."

"Well if that's what you think, grab Stallworth."

"I would be crazy to take Stallworth in the second round. He'll be available much later."

"Well if you don't want Owens, Ward, Johnson, or Horn, then maybe you should wait until the third round for a receiver."

"Yeah, but then I still don't know who to target in the second."

"You never know. Fred Taylor might be available."

"Are you crazy? That guy is an injury waiting to happen."

"I think he has finally beaten the injury rap. He started all 16 games in 2002 and 2003."

"That's all the more reason to expect him to miss significant time this year. You can't keep flipping a coin and expecting it to come up heads every time."

"I'm not sure what you mean by that, but it probably doesn't matter. Taylor won't last long enough into the 2nd for you to have a shot at him anyway. You could definitely go with a Kevan Barlow or a Domanick Davis though."

"I wouldn't touch Barlow with a ten-foot pole. The 49ers aren't just a team in transition; they are a team in transition that has lost both Jeff Garcia and Terrell Owens. I think we're going to see this year that all of their recent success on the ground was a product of opposing defenses trying to prevent Garcia from connecting with Owens. And as for Davis, we still don't know whether last season was a fluke or not. The Texans drafted Tony Hollings two rounds ahead of Davis, and if Hollings can stay healthy, he could take over the starting job before mid-season."

"Well you have to pick someone in the second round. I think both of the Cincy RBs from last year look pretty attractive."

"Are you kidding me? I am going to steer clear of Rudi Johnson. The only reason he had so much success last year was because teams were terrified of the Kitna-Johnson connection. Throw Palmer into the mix and that all goes out the window. And as for Dillon, he is going to be a bust in New England. The Patriots used to be able to run the ball because they could rely on their defense to keep them in the game. But the NFL rules committee is clearly tired of Belichick's antics. With the new rules, the Pats are going to struggle defensively, and that means they'll have to resort more to the passing game to keep up with the offensive production of their opponents."

"Then why not go for Marshall Faulk?"

"Don't be stupid. That guy is done. Finito. Exit stage left."

"How do you know?"

"I read it. Jeesh."

"Well how can I argue with logic as impeccable as that? I guess that leaves Travis Henry."

"I have two words for you: Willis McGahee."

"Well if you don't want any of those RBs and you don't want any of the wide-outs I mentioned, I guess you could consider a QB."

"I never draft a QB earlier than round 5."

"Well I don't know what to tell you then. I could name more running backs, but you would just say that you expect them all to last until the third round, and you would be right."

Anyone can win a fantasy football championship. Fluke victories can and do occur every year. I'm pretty sure that most of the people who started the 2003 season with Anquan Boldin on their fantasy rosters did so not because they expected a stellar performance from the rookie, but because they were trying to pick up a 3rd or 4th or 5th receiver and figured he had a decent shot at starting consistently for a very questionable Arizona team.

"There's a good chance this guy will start more than 10 games," people said to themselves as they drafted Boldin. And boy did he.

I'm not saying that no one expected such a sensational performance from Boldin, but I am saying that unless you are one of his parents, I would be skeptical if you told me now that you fully expected him to perform as he did. Come to think of it, I would be more than skeptical. I would throw my drink at you and call you a liar.

The point is that it would have been possible to win in many leagues last year with a roster such as this:

QB: Matt Hasselbeck/Jake Delhomme
RB: Fred Taylor/Domanick Davis/Rudi Johnson
WR: Santana Moss/Anquan Boldin/Andre Johnson
TE: Todd Heap
D/ST: Dallas
K: Josh Brown

And you could have lost with a roster such as this:

QB: Rich Gannon/Chad Pennington
RB: Marshall Faulk/Corey Dillon/Tiki Barber
WR: Terrell Owens/Plaxico Burress/Peerless Price
TE: Alge Crumpler
Defense: Miami
K: Sebastian Janikowski

Sensible picks can fail, and bold picks can succeed beyond our wildest expectations. We all understand that there are surprises every year in fantasy football. That is part (a very big part) of what keeps us playing. We also know that because the threat of injury hangs like a sword of Damocles over the head of every single NFL player, it is absurd to talk about a "sure thing" in fantasy football.

But it is nevertheless true that when I talk to those with multiple championships to their credit (those whose victories are hardly flukes), they all say the same thing about how they conduct themselves in an actual draft. "I don't take chances in the early rounds. First I set up a stable core of players I can depend on. Then I draft for upside in the middle and late rounds and make the necessary adjustments through free agency."

That's very good advice for everyone except the primary speaker in the dialogue with which this article began. After the first round, that speaker has too many doubts about too many players to feel like he is not "taking a chance" with his second round pick-no matter which player he picks.

This, my friends, is why God invented beer.

The one sure cure for paralysis by analysis is a sufficient quantity of beer. If you find that you can't tell the difference between players you are drafting for stability and players you are drafting for upside, then I have the solution for you.

Drink one beer during each of the first ten rounds of your draft. You'll have to drink the first beer quickly because most of your competitors will know who they can expect to get with their first pick. But after that, things will settle down into a comfortable rhythm so that you will be just tipsy enough to make the bold moves you need to make at the appropriate times.

For instance, I happen to think that Domanick Davis is going to have a better 2004 than Ahman Green. Don't worry about why that is what I think; I probably couldn't persuade you anyway. The important thing is that as I sit here typing this article (stone cold sober, alas!) it is clear to me that if at any point in my draft I have to choose between Davis and Green, I should take Green. Part of the logic for taking Green is that Davis might be available later, whereas Green won't be. But that is only part of the logic. Most of the logic is that I could very well be wrong about Davis.

Now since the only way I am going to acquire Green is to take him in the first round, then it is appropriate for me to drink one beer (and only one beer) before confronting the Green-Davis dilemma. If I were genuinely buzzed and full of myself, I would reason that I have to have faith in my predictive capabilities and that if I believe Davis is in for a better year than Green, I should take him. Now that is exactly the kind of thinking I want after round 5, but it will get me into trouble in round 1.

In the 4th round, let's imagine that I have to choose between Eric Moulds, Steve Smith, Darrell Jackson, Andre Johnson, and Jimmy Smith. Look at those names. According to the Antsports draft tracker, the receivers are pretty consistently going in that order, but it's a close call—far too close to try to make without at least a few beers in my belly. I have to choose between the tested (but slowing) Moulds or Smith and the tantalizing potential of the up-and-comers. At this point in the draft, it's probably a good idea for me to continue playing it safe. Although I expect Johnson to have a better year than Moulds, I know that Moulds has staying power in the league. I suspect that Johnson has staying power, but he may be in for a nasty surprise when defenses key on him in 2004. Moulds at his best possible form in 2004 probably won't be as productive as Johnson at his best possible form in 2004, but then again Moulds at his worst in 2004 is likely to be a whole lot better than Johnson at his worst in 2004. I take Moulds in the name of stability.

I'm finishing off my first six-pack when I face the following choice in the sixth round. I can have Isaac Bruce, Jerry Porter, Donte Stallworth, Rod Smith, Marty Booker, or Justin McCareins. According to Ansports, Bruce is going with the first pick of the sixth round, whereas McCareins is going with the last pick of that round. Now if I were sober, I would go with Bruce. After all, there's no reason he can't re-emerge as the No. 1 wide-out for St. Louis. Holt could have an off year or be injured. And Bruce has been a star in the NFL, something that only Rod Smith (of the others available) can genuinely claim to have been. But Smith has taken too much of a pounding to be a very attractive option at this point in his career. And I find my twinkling, drunken eye alighting on the name of McCareins. Now McCareins usually goes a full 11 picks later than Bruce, but because I am polishing off my sixth beer, that doesn't really matter to me. I can only too easily imagine Santana Moss and McCareins as receivers 1 and 1A on a juggernautical Jets offense. Didn't Curtis Martin recover from his slow start last year? Wasn't Pennington as good after the injury as everyone hoped? Man has my beer made me optimistic. More importantly, it prevents me from thinking about the fact that this is McCareins' first year as a Jet and that he could be a complete bust in his new setting. I pull the trigger on McCareins and reach for another beer.

I have selected these examples to show how this approach can help you mix things up—not because I think it is clear that I would be better off with Moulds and McCareins than with Johnson and Bruce. The point is that if you never make a bold selection, you end up with a roster that looks like the second one above-chock full of players who had great years at some point in the past when what you need are the players who will have great years in 2004. Year after year, we see dramatic turnover in the top ten players at each position. If you make no bold moves, you will end up with players who are still resting on laurels from years ago (Keyshawn Johnson anyone?); but then again, you can't realistically expect every bold move to pay off. Feel free to gamble on Larry Fitzgerald or Roy Williams or Tyrone Calico, but don't gamble on all 3.

The ten-beer approach should allow you to strike an appropriate balance between what you know of the past and what you expect from the future. But I do recommend stopping at 10. A little boldness is a good thing. But once you get to beer number 11, you may end up deciding that the thing to do is to draft Ricky Williams because you are sure that if you can just get everybody at your draft to sign a petition to allow him to smoke marijuana, then he will be back playing for the Dolphins by Week 3.