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The Weekly Gut Check - Vol. 129
Draft Strategy (What I Really Think)

Rookie Scouting Portfolio The “Gut Feeling” is often synonymous with a sense of desperation resulting from a lack of preparation. The Gut Check is a huge proponent of studying the numbers, but there’s a point where one can place too much emphasis on the wrong information. This can result in the undervaluing or overlooking a player’s potential. Therefore, The Weekly Gut Check is devoted to examining the frame of reference behind certain number-driven guidelines that fantasy football owners use to make decisions.

Although The Weekly Gut Check doesn’t claim to be psychic, he does believe that he can dispel certain numbers biases and help you make the best choices for your team. We’ll keep a running tally of The Weekly Gut Check’s insights. This way you can gauge his views as something to seriously consider, or at least seriously consider running the opposite way as fast as you can!

There are more draft strategies than brands of toilet paper (unless you count cheat sheets published in fantasy magazines and that gives the advantage back to the paper products). Doug (some guy I know) projects every player and every game. It works for him (he’s a sports genius). A guy I know by the name of Charles Spellman has this cool idea called V.O.W.W. – Value Over Waiver Wire – and he’s writing an article on the strategy for It’s a stat-based theory that factors injury and waiver wire quality players into the mix. My buddy Bill buys half a dozen magazines and averages the rankings of each player from the prominent writers then tweaks them with news updates and common sense. He has won our local re-draft league as much as anyone, that is, except for our owner who wants everyone to believe he drafts drunk with only a magazine cheat sheet. He actually pulled this off a couple of times in the ‘90s (But now he’s full of Shipp – and I’m not talking about Marcel).

Prep Time

The first thing about executing a good draft strategy is to be honest about the preparation time you want to put into the event. If you’re the junior executive type that’s grown up “delegating” (copying work from another’s paper) and is perfectly fine using another’s cheat sheet, then you only have to think about how to work your draft. If you’re an overworked, underpaid middle manager type lacking in self esteem (me in an earlier incarnation) then you feel absolutely sinful if you aren’t meticulously doing your own projections.

Regardless of which end of the spectrum you fall, your first resource should be Mike MacGregor’s Cheatsheet Compiler and Draft Buddy (Don’t be a chump, buy it! You’ll thank me later…). It’s easy to use and will help you regardless of your level of experience or time commitment. If you’re going to be the bottom-line kind of owner, then with the Compiler you can at least use the updated projections as a timelier magazine and draft day tracker while pimping your laptop. If you like getting lost in the forest of data, then the Compiler will at least help you find you way out and provide a map for future reference. Plus, you’ll get a kick of crunching numbers for any league type with the push of a button, or customize the projections within a great structure that works seamlessly with the draft Buddy (and have a geek factor of 20,235 on a scale of 1-10, but geek is chic in fantasy football).

Watch Some Football

Once you have done the bulk of your prep work, it’s time to watch football! If someone tells you the preseason doesn’t mean anything, just nod your head, smile, and keep walking (then try out your best maniacal laugh). You may not get earth-shattering insights from these contests, but I can tell you without any reservation that the preseason has solidified my views of several players that helped me succeed once the real games began (Edgerrin James, Maurice Jones Drew, Selvin Young, etc.). You don’t have to stay glued to every preseason game, but if you see a player impress there is no need to discount it. You want to look at rookies, unproven free agents, or young players getting a chance to prove themselves. Nothing will tell you more about a player’s prospects than observing them in action and knowing what to look for. You get strong observational skills from watching all the games you can, studying coaching manuals, and paying attention replay analysis by former players working as analysts. I’ve been watching volumes of football games going on four years, but I still have a ton to learn.

Get a Grip on Your Entire Cheat Sheet

Projections are just part of gaining an overall draft strategy. Be careful about viewing another’s projections. Some people don’t tell you that they project player stats according to a “best-case scenario,” while others think “worst-case scenario.” Then there are folks who apply a different scenario for every player (nothing like psychoanalyzing projections). It’s not exactly a science, is it? A great way to gain an overall perspective of your draft – even if you employ a value-based projection method – is to evaluate the overall player pool as you ranked it. I recommend looking at the rankings you plan to use with these questions in mind:

  • How many players in the top 12-24 by position have never attained the totals you are projecting for them?

  • Which players are recuperating from a season-ending injury from last year or a training camp injury this year?

  • How many players in your rankings are in a new offensive system or have a new head coach?

  • Which players have lost teammates from their unit to free agency or retirement?

  • Which players are coming off record-breaking seasons?

  • Are there any players who fit the profile of seeing a decrease in production due to wear and tear?

  • Who is playing for a new team?

  • Who is holding out or dealing with an off-field situation that is a potential distraction?

  • How many running backs in your top 12-24 at the position had fewer than 45% of the carries split amongst their respective depth charts and the situation hasn’t changed?

  • How many runners in your top 12-24 at the position will be competing for carries with a new back in the fold?

  • Which players are significantly above or below average draft position data?

Keep track of how many players fit into the answer for each question. Next, tally the number of questions that apply to each player. Then, find the total number of players at each position that fall under each category. Once you finish this exercise you’ll be able to articulate which positions have greatest or least question marks. This acquired knowledge may impact how much confidence you truly have in your projections or the value of specific players across positions (you could make a sweet little chart and hang it on your refrigerator, much to your wife’s dismay).

You may have 20 receivers with projections where you felt initial comfort, but after running them through this series of questions you discover there are only 10 where you have confidence in their situation. This could change your views about when you normally take a position – for example, taking two receivers in rounds two and three and getting that second runner in round four. You don’t want to get so conservative with this approach that you cross off players from your list because they have even three or four question marks (unless you’re in a league with me, then I encourage you to cross off several good players). Then again, if you find a position is loaded with several question marks per player, you may discover this newly gained sense of perspective will help you take a more effective approach on draft day.

“You’re Up…”

Which pick do you have? It makes a difference. If you’re playing with a group of conservative drafters (those fictitious competitors we fantasy writers like to conveniently use as examples for our generic advice…they’re practically extinct if they ever truly roamed the earth in the first place.) then you can enjoy the idea that having the first pick gives you a slightly bigger advantage. Otherwise, here’s my advice with each draft spot in a 12-team league if you are trying to exploit common drafting tendencies of owners in leagues were the typical stud back route dominates:

1.01 Through 1.03 – Congratulations you get one of the best players in your league (or my condolences you passed up one of best players in the league to pick the FF equivalent of Blair Thomas). You also get the chance to observe the positional runs and make selections that start new trends.

Solid early round draft strategy: This is a great place to adopt the Big Three approach of nabbing an elite RB, and two of the following by round three: an elite WR, an elite QB, and an elite TE. The pitfall is you have fewer runners to choose as your second back in round four. But you just have to be more comfortable with risk when it comes to your runner pool. The top of round four will likely net you a Reggie Bush (I still believe, DVOA be damned), a Thomas Jones, or a prominent rookie back. If I accurately picked one of the top two players at each of those three positions, any of these runners should be more than adequate.

Houston, we have a problem (and it’s not David Carr): If you go RB-RB with your first two picks, you risk selecting an RB that won’t be much better than the guy you could have grabbed in round four, but with a lower tag. Meanwhile you potentially missed nabbing two excellent receivers or studs at two non-RB positions if your competition were going nuts on the stud RB approach. This year it’s unlikely you wind up with a stud QB at the end of round two because Tom Brady will be going (way too high) at the end of round one. At that point you have a shot at Brees or Romo at the 4/5 turnaround, but still unlikely. If you remain patient, you’ll feel okay with a lesser-regarded back as your fourth pick after you’ve scooped up three studs.

Mid-rounds: If you listen to me (Do you always listen to what strangers tell you? Get the Compiler, you’ll thank me later), you’ll have RB-QB-WR heading into rounds 4-8. In most drafts, this range is the middle. You still might get a shot at the top TE (you tell me who that is, because there seem to be 4-5 who could really pull it off this year), but I’d recommend you stockpile RB and WR depth. If you snagged two receivers instead of a quarterback (very smart), then you either pick a signal caller in this area or you keep stocking up on RBs and receivers.

End game: If you’ve waited for your first starting QB until rounds 9-13, you are now ready to play the match up game with two lesser regarded QBs. Might I recommend Vince Young and Marc Bulger as a duo you pick back-to-back? David Garrard and Matt Schaub are potentially another.

1.04 Through 1.06 and 1.07 Through 1.09 – These two groups are often the beginning or end of positional runs. In most leagues a position run lasts between three to four picks. For instance, in the July FFToday Staff Mock, picks 1.07 through 1.09 generally made up a position run on the way up and then picks 1.04 through 1.06 constituted a position run on the way back. Technically, whichever teams had picks 1.07 through 1.09 in a particular round created a position run.

Solid early round draft strategy: A savvy owner will often take advantage of the tendency fantasy owners in these draft spots have. For instance, our writer T.J. Thomas and his team The Prototype exploited this trend by picking players to interrupt the positional runs and created a formidable starting quintet of Carson Palmer, Larry Johnson, Michael Turner, Randy Moss, and Plaxico Burress. On paper all of these players will see a ton of opportunities to score points every week.

Don’t push the panic button: If you decide to steer clear of the herd mentality, don’t succumb to the temptation of picking a position too early because you have seen the top players go off the board in these position runs. In hindsight he could have selected a strong #3 WR or RB and still had a shot at Jeremy Shockey, Todd Heap, or even Cooley at least a round later. At the same time, he did pick up Fred Taylor as a serviceable bye week/injury fill-in. When examining T.J.’s strategy, he probably realized that the sixth-rated TE in a 12-team league often has no more than a 30-40 point gap in total points at the end of the year. The fact he didn’t panic and let Cooley fall to him shows thatyou want to avoid the temptation to pull the trigger too early to compensate for a positional run.

Mid-rounds: As you can see, it’s probable that you can extend this “zig where they zag” approach as deep as round seven or eight. Round eight is often the place were I see an owner select the top defense and this draft spot makes this a place to take that chance.

End Game: In most leagues this draft strategy of breaking the positional run will net you a WR-RB-WR-RB-QB-TE. Although a quarterback of the caliber of Carson Palmer is a nice mid-round pick, taking a back in round five and waiting until round nine for a starting quarterback isn’t a bad risk, either. To get more depth at RB and go for a higher risk reward at QB-TE, a place where a squad with a strong RB/WR corps can get away with it, I would recommend WR-RB-WR-RB-WR-RB/TE-TE/WR-QB-DEF and then alternate with RB and WR picks until you find good value with for your second QB and a kicker. I don’t advise going with a set strategy to pick a particular position by round, but these two position-by-position pick illustrations are examples of what will likely happen if you don’t succumb to being a part of the herd in many leagues.

1.10 Through 1.12 – Obviously if you find yourself in a league where three to four owners went with a QB or WR in round one, then you have the pleasure of picking up two strong backs. But more than likely it is these picks that often have to break the RB trend in rounds one or two in order to obtain early round value. This is probably my favorite area to draft because there is more freedom to operate. I like the 1.01-1.03 turnaround, but you pretty much know that you’re stuck with taking an RB (unless you have titanium cajones). The 1.10-1.12 turnaround provides an owner a greater sense of freedom. You may do equally as well picking a top QB or WR as you would two RBs in a row. I have even seen owners successfully build winners leading off with two WRs at the turnaround (it was rare).

Solid early round draft strategy: If the draft opens with every owner picking strictly RB, I would suggest taking either the top WR or top QB off the board with the first pick and then following up with a back in round two. I have long emphasized caution about selecting a QB in the opening rounds because of the historical gap in points being narrower than the RB or WR positions so I would personally go with a receiver if I veered from a first round RB. But if you’re absolutely convinced Tom Brady is going to do what no quarterback in the 100-plus year history of the league has ever done (twice), then have at it.

Sloppy seconds: At this spot it’s generally a good idea to look at a player’s average draft position and pick him a round earlier, otherwise you will often feel like you are consistently one step behind. Mike Krueger felt this way in our first mock draft when he was picking at the turn and consistently had his targeted players taken just before he could grab them. This is a great spot for an owner who believes strongly in his views on a player and isn’t overly concerned about value.

Mid-rounds: Because picks 1.04-1.08 often comprise the herd mentality, drafting a certain players a round earlier will help you in an unexpected way. You don’t necessarily want to start a positional run at this spot, because these owners with the middle picks will target the players at the positions you’re seeking as the draft comes back to you. If you draft that TE or WR a round or two earlier than many expect, there’s a good chance the run at that position will not begin until the draft is making its way back to you and you’ll have more choices at the position(s) you’re targeting. If you’re not into this idea, I suggest you load up on backs in the mid rounds because like owners with picks 1.01-1.03 in most leagues, the middle herds will have two RBs by round three and are busy loading up on WRs, QBs, and TEs. If you can have four backs by round nine, you should have enough depth to increase your chances of landing a stud rookie, underrated starter (Thomas Jones prior to last year) or an a-1 handcuff (Larry Johnson behind Priest Holmes).

End Game: Once again, I advocate waiting as long as possible to get that starting quarterback. If you have at least four RBs and three receivers by rounds eight to ten, you should be fine with a Marc Bulger, David Garrard, Matt Leinart, Matt Schaub, or Vince Young. Especially when in many leagues you can land Donovan McNabb this late.

General tips for any league: Don’t draft more than one defense and unless you pick the three I mention here, wait until the end of the draft and monitor weekly performance on the waiver wire. Don’t draft more than one TE and I recommend waiting until round eight or later when you can have a shot at rebound-year candidates Todd Heap and Alge Crumpler or breakout candidates Vernon Davis and Dustin Keller. Don’t draft any back up receivers; stockpile back up runners. Here are a few players you can grab after round 10 in a deep league that I think are worth a shot (in no particular order):

  • Chris Perry Ė The Bengals running back is a strong receiver and powerful runner. So far, the dislocated ankle is holding up well and if he stays healthy, Rudi Johnsonís role as the starter in Cincy could be in jeopardy. He is going undrafted in most leagues at this point, but donít waste your time on rookies lacking the same kind of talent (Steve Slaton or Jacob Hester Ė talented, but not Chris Perry talented).

  • Ray Rice Ė Willis McGahee head a good year (for Willis McGahee), but he also had some conditioning issues. He also loses Jonathan Ogden. Rice is quicker and I believe hungrier for an opportunity. He wonít beat out McGahee, but I believe if the Ravens starter gets hurt, Rice could be that kind of player that keeps McGahee on the bench (even when heís ready to take the job back).

  • Ricky Williams Ė His value is rising, but if Ronnie Brown continues to get first team reps, Williamís stock could fall to an advantageous spot to grab him.

  • Chris Brown/Mike Bell Ė Brown is undoubtedly talented, but canít stay healthy. If that holds true to form, Gary Kubiak knows what Bell is capable of doing and the Broncos cast off will get a shot if Ahman Green (another good late round RB if he falls past round seven) canít make it through the year.

  • Jerious Norwood Ė If Michael Turner gets banged up, Norwood will profit a lot. Heís one of the most explosive young backs in the league.

  • Brandon Jackson Ė Iím not the biggest fan of Jackson, but heís playing behind a good line and is capable of filling in well enough for Ryan Grant if the things go south for the former Golden Domer.

  • Jerome Harrison Ė The Browns like Harrison and he reminds me a bit of Priest Holmes: not very big, not very fast, but patient and savvy between the tackles. Heís probably a waiver wire pick, but if he begins receiving a lot of in-camp notoriety, donít wait on him.

  • LaMont Jordan Ė The Pats pick up a talented runner/receiver when healthy. If Maroney goes down, Jordan could be a steal.

With the preseason under way, here are some updates to my rankings. The projections are for a 12-team league and a starting lineup of 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, and 1 TE lineup with FFToday default scoring. In order to remain conscious of space and formatting, I will only list the top 32 QBs, RBs, and TEs and the top 50 WRs. I had a number of e-mail requests for me to provide projections for other scoring systems, but I will not have the time to do more than this type of league. I suggest you register for a MyFFToday account (it’s free), input your league scoring system, and use your scoring system to run the numbers from the Crank Score Calculator to get the raw data. Then use the previous articles as a guide to calculate the simplified new Crank Score.

 Tier Color Codes  
Primary Starters  
Secondary Starters  
Tertiary Starters (WR)  
Primary Back ups  
Secondary Back ups  
Flier/Waiver Wire  

The tier color codes are my way of grouping the players by specific ranges in Crank Score. Once can see the codes have some mathematical logic, but it is still a subjective delineation on my part. One could argue that there are only two elite backs or there is seven to twelve elite receivers depending on how one looks at the impact of the Crank Score attributed to the positions. Again, this is a limited list of players. There are far more flier/waiver wire picks for my personal draft list. The players in bold reflect changes from last week.

 2008 Crank Score Projections
Quarterbacks Bye Crank Running Backs Bye Crank Wide Receivers Bye Crank Tight Ends Bye Crank
Tom Brady 4 15.5 Adrian Peterson 8 32.5 Randy Moss 4 37 Jason Witten 10 12.5
Peyton Manning 4 12 L. Tomlinson 9 27 Terrell Owens 10 30 Kellen Winslow 5 11
Tony Romo 10 9.5 Brian Westbrook 7 23.5 Reggie Wayne 4 29.5 Tony Gonzalez 6 8.5
Drew Brees 9 9 Joseph Addai 4 20.5 Marques Colston 9 28.5 Jeremy Shockey 9 8
B. Roethlisberger 6 8.5 Marion Barber 10 17 Larry Fitzgerald 7 27.5 Antonio Gates 9 6
Carson Palmer 8 6.5 Clinton Portis 10 13.5 Braylon Edwards 5 27.5 Chris Cooley 10 3.5
Matt Hasselbeck 4 6.5 Frank Gore 9 13 T.J. Houshmandzadeh 8 26.5 Dallas Clark 4 2.5
Derek Anderson 5 6.5 Marshawn Lynch 6 12 Andre Johnson 8 23.5 Todd Heap 10 2
Donovan McNabb 7 6 Jamal Lewis 5 11.5 Santonio Holmes 6 23.5 Vernon Davis 9 2
Eli Manning 4 4.5 Earnest Graham 10 10.5 Torry Holt 5 22.5 Owen Daniels 8 1.5
David Garrard 7 4.5 Steven Jackson 5 10 Chad Johnson 8 21.5 Donald Lee 8 1.5
Jake Delhomme 9 3.5 Ryan Grant 8 9 Plaxico Burress 4 20 Heath Miller 6 1.5
Jay Cutler 8 2.5 Larry Johnson 6 9 Steve Smith 9 18.5 Alge Crumpler 6 1
Aaron Rodgers 8 2 Michael Turner 7 8.5 Dwayne Bowe 6 17.5 Dustin Keller 5 1
Jon Kitna 4 1.5 Willis McGahee 10 8.5 Calvin Johnson 4 17 Zach Miller 5 0.5
Vince Young 6 1 Jones-Drew 7 8 Anquan Boldin 7 16.5 Greg Olsen 8 0.5
Marc Bulger 5 0.5 Edgerrin James 7 7.5 Joey Galloway 10 16 Alex Smith 10 0.5
Matt Schaub 8 0.5 Reggie Bush 9 6 Wes Welker 4 15.5 Leonard Pope 7 -0.5
Tarvaris Jackson 8 0 Kevin Smith 4 6 Greg Jennings 8 15 Tony Scheffler 8 -0.5
Philip Rivers 9 0.5 Brandon Jacobs 4 6 Chris Chambers 9 14.5 Kevin Boss 4 -0.5
Matt Leinart 7 0.5 Laurence Maroney 4 5.5 Jerricho Cotchery 5 14.5 L.J. Smith 7 -0.5
Jeff Garcia 10 0 LenDale White 6 5.5 Donald Driver 8 14 Randy McMichael 5 -1
Trent Edwards 6 0 Thomas Jones 5 5.5 Roy Williams 4 13.5 Ben Utecht 8 -1
Jason Campbell 10 0 Selvin Young 8 5 Bernard Berrian 8 13 David Martin 4 -1.5
Brett Favre 8 0 Jonathan Stewart 9 4.5 Brandon Marshall 8 12 Ben Watson 4 -1.5
Brodie Croyle 6 0 Julius Jones 4 4 Reggie Williams 7 12 Marcedes Lewis 7 -1.5
Kellen Clemens 5 -0.5 Justin Fargas 5 3.5 Hines Ward 6 12 Desmond Clark 8 -2
Alex Smith 9 -1 Rudi Johnson 8 3.5 Lee Evans 6 11 Chris Baker 5 -2
JaMarcus Russell 5 -1 Willie Parker 6 3 Santana Moss 10 10.5 John Carlson 4 -2
Troy Smith 10 -1 Ahmad Bradshaw 4 2.5 Marvin Harrison 4 10.5 Bo Scaife 6 -2
Rex Grossman 8 -1.5 DeAngelo Williams 9 1.5 Roddy White 7 9.5 Jeff King 9 -2.5
Matt Ryan 7 -1.5 Fred Taylor 7 1.5 Kevin Curtis 7 9 Martrez Milner 7 -2.5
Matt Forte 8 1.5 Derrick Mason 10 9 Visanthe Shiancoe 8 -3
Rashard Mendenhall 6 1.5 Laveranues Coles 5 8.5 Daniel Graham 8 -4.5
Ricky Williams 4 1 Reggie Brown 7 8 Fred Davis 10 -5
Ronnie Brown 4 0.5 Nate Burleson 4 8 Kris Wilson 7 -5
Chester Taylor 8 0 Justin Gage 6 7.5
Ahman Green 8 0 Anthony Gonzalez 4 6.5
Darren McFadden 5 -0.5 Vincent Jackson 9 6
Ray Rice 10 -0.5 Javon Walker 5 6
Pierre Thomas 9 -0.5 Bryant Johnson 9 5.5
Maurice Morris 4 -1 Ronald Curry 5 5.5
DeShaun Foster 9 -1.5 Patrick Crayton 10 5.5
Jerious Norwood 7 -2.5 Derek Hagan 4 5
Felix Jones 10 -3 Bobby Engram 4 4.5
Chris Perry 8 -3 Sidney Rice 8 4.5
Chris Brown 8 -3.5 Donteí Stallworth 5 4.5
Warrick Dunn 10 -4.5 Muhsin Muhammad 9 4
Ladell Betts 10 -5 David PatteRn 9 4
Deuce McAllister 9 -5.5 Steve Smith 9 3.5

Editors Note: This article was submitted prior to Farvre being traded to the New York Jets.

Ranking Changes

I placed Brett Favre as the last #2 QB I would pick in a re-draft league because his situation is extremely fluid. If he starts in Green Bay, heís a top-five quarterback. If he is traded to Minnesota this week heís a worthwhile #2 QB with great upside Ė remember, he has to learn a new offense in a very short period of time and expectations for Fare-like numbers should be tempered significantly. If the Packers wait until the last week of the preseason, Favre might be relatively worthless as a fantasy starter for three to six games. Favreís placement drops Croyle, Clemens, and Smith down a notch.

Michael Turner edges out Willis McGahee and his banged up knee. Consequently, Ray Riceís (predictably) good showing boosts him up the rankings. With Ahmad Bradshawís release from jail and no subsequent suspension levied by Roger Goddell, Brandon Jacobsí value tumbles in my eyes. Jonathan Stewartís initial showing in training camp has me optimistic that heís showing no ill effects from his toe surgery and heíll make a strong push for DeAngelo Williamsí job. Donít expect him to be the starter on opening day, but heíll have a great chance to out-produce Williams. Chris Brownís aching back and Mike Bellís signing precipitates a change.

Andre Johnson drops a bit due to his muscle pull so I swapped him with Braylon Edwards (I know one person who e-mailed me yesterday that will feel like he wonít have to consider getting his fantasy advice from the Piggly Wiggly checkout girl). Steve Smithís two-game suspension drops him a bit. Brandon Marshall already dropped in my eyes before his certain three-game time out. Vincent Jacksonís continued improvement gives him a bump as does longtime Gut Check fave, Derek Hagan, who is currently getting reps ahead of Ernest Wilford after lighting up camp. Dustin Kellerís impressive scrimmage signals to me that heís going to get first shot at being the receiving tight end in this offense.