Fantasy football and the NFL draft

When it comes to the NFL draft and fantasy football, timing is everything. There are three sets of player rankings:

1. Pre-draft rankings
2. Draft results
3. The fantasy value

Before the draft everyone has player rankings. Every NFL team has what they call their ‘big board’. It’s just like the cheat sheet that every fantasy footballer puts together before their draft, except that the NFL team’s one looks nicer. They have a slightly bigger budget than you.

Something interesting happens to those rankings on draft day. It’s a lot like a bill that makes its way through Congress. By the time it gets to the President’s desk it’s unrecognizable. That’s how the draft ends up compared to everyone’s bold predictions. Yes, even Mel Kiper, who produces approximately 1,000 different mocks, will be wrong. It’s a function of divergent rankings along with trade movement and teams reaching for players or grabbing players that drop relative to their perceived value.

We can reach back to last year to see an example of the third set of rankings. Before the draft Kevin Jones and Stephen Jackson were considered the top two running backs. When it was draft time, Stephen Jackson was drafted first among the running backs. That made his fantasy value automatically number one among running backs, right?

Not so fast. Marshall Faulk was the entrenched starter in St. Louis. While it was plain to see that Stephen Jackson was the running back of the future, his value in redrafts (and for impatient dynasty owners) wasn’t so high.

The second running back selected was Chris Perry by the Cincinnati Bengals. But didn’t the Bengals already have a starting running back? They obviously have no consideration for fantasy folk. Finally the Lions moved up in the draft to snag Kevin Jones. Owners of the number one rookie pick in dynasty leagues took a deep sigh of relief. Later the Cowboys draft Julius Jones, a mid-level prospect. The Broncos take Tatum Bell to further cloud up their running back situation.

After the NFL draft Kevin Jones was the top guy for fantasy drafts, redrafts or dynasty. Julius Jones only had to beat Eddie George for a starting gig. That’s like having to beat Jessica Simpson for the last piece of pie. Tatum Bell, by virtue of the potential of the Denver running game and the departure of Clinton Portis, slid into the number three slot. Jackson and Perry dropped to later in the draft. It was a lot different than the initial player ranking, and different again from the draft order. No one said that fantasy football was going to be easy.

Last year the third quarterback (mighty Ben Roethlisberger) drafted was many times more valuable than the guys taken first and second. The fifth receiver drafted (Michael Clayton) had the All-Pro year.

What does it mean? If you’re the kind of obsessed fantasy owner who must constantly tweak player rankings, go right ahead because I’m not going to stop you. Make sure to not take stock in those rankings, because they’re going to change after draft weekend.

Let’s look at this year’s draft and compare player projections with their future situation. If the Dolphins take Ronnie Brown as expected (the Patrick Surtain trade this morning pretty much guaranteed this), he’s the early favorite for number one rookie player. Then the Bears take Cedric Benson. With Thomas Jones possibly splitting carries, at minimum playing as the team’s third-down back, Benson’s immediate value isn’t great. The same situation may present itself in Tampa Bay if the Bucs take Cadillac Williams. Jon Gruden loves a RBBC situation, and Michael Pittman is still on the roster.

What if the Cardinals draft Ciatrick Fason in the second round? He could conceivably be the second-rated rookie running back for opportunity alone. If the Seahawks or Colts trade Shaun Alexander or Edgerrin James a starting spot opens up. It’s just too confusing!

In conclusion, don’t let this weekend drive you crazy. Generally in the NFL, talent wins out, but opportunity sometimes trumps talent. It’s kind of like paper beating rock. Don’t try to figure it out, just accept it.

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