Saturday marked my third NFFC event and my final draft for this season, the 3:00 PT PrimeTime League. This was a fairly unique league, as there were five of us in Las Vegas (well, more than five including partners and friends hanging out), five drafting at the Chicago venue, and two other players drafting on the phone. It was also unique because Peyton Manning went with the first overall pick, something I haven’t come close to seeing this year, even with the six-points per passing TD format that we have in the NFFC. While I think this was a mistake (the number of players that you can start at a position generally means more than the scoring system), I can see some of the logic – Manning’s floor is ludicrously high, and clearly he wasn’t going to get Manning on the way back. But even in a 20-round draft there are quarterbacks that don’t get selected, and you have to start a combination seven non-QBs at other skill positions.
The “Zero-RB” strategy has drawn a lot of my attention this draft season, and I’m sold that in the right circumstances it can be a viable plan. I’ve used it in two of my drafts and have been happy with the result, and in one other league – one of the RotoWire Fantasy Football Online Championship leagues that I shared with RotoWire’s Vlad Sedler – we came pretty close to that plan, filling 4 of the top 5 spots on WRs and Julius Thomas. This league presented another opportunity for me to try it, as I drafted 10/12, but I made one critical decision that turned me off that, at least in its purity.
1.10 – Julio Jones – I’ve been big on Julio over the last two weeks, as I’m persuaded that he’s all the way back. Jones was off to an incredible start before his foot injury, and Atlanta’s defense appears to remain awful. We’re going to see Matt Ryan chucking the ball to Jones/Roddy White and Harry Douglas a lot this season. Because Manning went first overall, rather than somewhere in the second round where he usually goes, I had more options than I anticipated. I debated between Jones and Jimmy Graham, who actually went at 1.12 after A.J. Green.
2.3 – Brandon Marshall – Marshall is the last of the first-tier receivers for me – Jordy Nelson and Antonio Brown go down to the next tier, though Brown went at 2.2. So this wasn’t a hard pick – even if you don’t go with an extreme plan like Zero-RB, starting off WR/WR is nearly always a happy result for me. Two weeks ago I might have been able to do this and still get Doug Martin, but that ship has sailed – Martin went at 2.5.
3.3 – Shane Vereen – Here’s your reminder that the NFFC employs a Third Round Reversal rule for their drafts. This is also the critical pick in the draft for me. If I were fully committed to ZRB, I would have taken Keenan Allen in this spot, and in retrospect maybe I should have. Once again, he went two picks after me at 3.5. But I also believe that Vereen is going to be a monster in PPR formats, and it plays well to have at least one strong RB early on. If Vereen gets hurt or flops, this will be a rough pick to digest – I missed out on Allen, Vincent Jackson, Roddy White, Andre Ellington, Julius Thomas among others in reliance on this pick.
4.10 – T.Y. Hilton – We’ve talked extensively on the XM show that mid-to-late fourth round in 12-team leagues is a spot where there appears to be a drop in reliable talent. My fallback in this spot on multiple occasions has been Hilton, and I’m not sure how I feel about that. On one hand, I think that he’ll be Andrew Luck’s top target and that the Colts will likely free Luck to throw more often. On the other hand, Hilton isn’t a huge receiver and won’t necessarily get most of the red zone looks. I missed out on Michael Floyd by one pick, Rashad Jennings by two, and Rob Gronkowski by three.
5.3 – Joique Bell – I might be betting on the come – ok, there’s no “might” about it – but I think Bell is set to have a huge season, and will outperform Reggie Bush (who went later in this round) and a number of other established backs. I also took him over Alfred Morris, who I should have probably given more consideration, but I also discount him heavily in PPR leagues.
6.10 – Ryan Mathews – Because I reached a little on Bell, I decided to take a third RB instead of doubling up on the receivers I still liked in this spot. Mathews was one of two backs that I was interested in – the other, Pierre Thomas, went immediately before my next pick.
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7.3 – Eric Decker – And I still got a wide receiver that I really like and have ended up drafting in a lot of spots. It’s too easy to write off Decker and the Jets, but I expect improvement out of Geno Smith, they have a viable backup in Michael Vick, and Decker is the primary target for that team either way. The market has dropped out too much in reaction to him changing teams.
8.10 – Zach Ertz – Ertz was the ninth TE taken, and one more went before my next selection five picks later. I think Ertz has top-five potential for his position and I wanted to get in and get a piece of that Eagles offense.
9.3 – Mike Evans – I love Evans’ size and set-up, lining up opposite Vincent Jackson. The rookie wideout class appears to be really strong – often I avoid the lot of them, but not this season.
10.10 – Carlos Hyde – I *love* Carlos Hyde this year. The Niners have already in previous years tried to limit Frank Gore’s workload, and they’ve stated that they are going to make a more concerted effort to limit his carries this year. Hyde has the capability of being a three-down back and at the very least can handle goal line carries right away.
11.3 – Aaron Dobson – We were given a 10-minute break after the 10th pick, so it was about at this point where some in the room noticed that I did not own a quarterback, including the NFFC’s head honcho Greg Ambrosius. Team 12, run by actor James Rodriguez, was the second-to-last to cave, and took Cam Newton at the 10/11 turn. But I still liked five or six quarterbacks, and figured that I would get at least one of them later on – why should I cave now? So while I had a small preference for Russell Wilson or Colin Kaepernick, it wasn’t big enough to pass on Dobson. Yes, Dobson is risky – but he played (and played well) in the preseason finale in his first game back from the foot injury. He could easily be the Patriots’ top deep threat and one of their red zone targets. If Gronk has a setback, he could end up being Brady’s primary target. I want that possibility. It cost me my top QB choices (besides Wilson and Kaepernick, RG3 and Philip Rivers also went before my next pick. But I was ok with that still.
12.3 – Ben Roethlisberger – Roethlisberger rarely has a bad year and this year he has more options to throw to. Heath Miller is healthy and Markus Wheaton appears greatly improved.
13.10 – Donald Brown – In case Mathews goes down with an injury, there’s a reasonable chance that Brown becomes the primary running back, with Woodhead remaining in his passing-downs role.
14.3 – Andy Dalton – I think that the Bengals will run more this year, but the cost was right for my second QB.
15.10 – Ronnie Hillman; 16.3 – Malcom Floyd; 17.10 – Robert Turbin – All are late-round lottery tickets. I like Turbin better than Christine Michael.
18.3 – Saints defense; 19.10 – Lions defense – I’m a believer in the Saints pass rush and general improvement, but I don’t want to use them in Week 1 at Atlanta. So the Lions, who have a home game against Eli Manning and the Giants, will be a fine one-week disposable defense. Almost certainly I’ll cut them for my first round of FAAB.
20.3 – Nick Novak – Because I needed one kicker, and Novak survived the preseason kicker bloodletting.