There will be bargains

Terrell Owens once famously stated “I love me some me.” While the NFL frowns on this self-celebratory attitude, it only takes a couple of minutes of watching the NFL Network to see that there’s plenty of T.O.-tude. In one pre-draft show there were at least three mentions of the fact that the draft is 50 days away. Wake me when we’re in April. I feel like I can catch up in an hour or two on Tax Day.

Another pursuit as futile as NFL draft projection is fantasy draft projection. Since I’m in a Yahoo league, I thought that I’d complete a mock draft using Yahoo rankings as a guide. Half of the league, at least, will use the Yahoo rankings as gospel. One way to “beat the system” is to figure out which players Yahoo seriously underrates.

The first such discrepancy is Albert Pujols. He’s #11 overall in the ESPN rankings and number four in Yahoo. Early in his career, Pujols was a fantasy rarity as a first-round player who had eligibility at three positions. The Cardinals have wisely glued him to first base. To show how dominant Pujols has been, last year was the first time in his career that he finished lower than fourth in the MVP voting. He finished fourth his rookie year after making the nearly unprecedented jump from low A ball. Drafting this guy in the first round should give you the comfortable feeling you get from selecting Peyton Manning as your fantasy QB. The potential downside is that Pujols has a nagging elbow injury. If I were trying to get one of my fellow draftees to take Pujols, I’d call the injury “nagging.” If I wanted to throw the dice on him and desired to steal Pujols in the second round, I’d call it “catastrophic.” The latter could accurately describe the Cardinals’ chances of contending this year.

Other players Yahoo likes better than ESPN, which means I probably won’t get them: Curtis Granderson (27 vs. 43), Alex Rios (30 vs. 47), Russell Martin (34 vs. 56), Manny Ramirez (36 vs. 53) and Derrek Lee (62 vs. 43). Adam Dunn is rated forty slots higher by Yahoo. His 40-slot differential and 40 overall ranking make karmic sense since he hit 40 homers each of the past three years.

Now that I think about it, I’m using the ESPN rankings from their latest magazine. Those rankings have to be at least a month old. Gosh, I remember the good old days of fantasy drafting, when a magazine was all you needed. Now I feel like I have to spend more time prepping for a redraft like the celebrities who are on Dancing with the Stars.

There aren’t too many individual rankings that are too far off, at least from my limited view. What’s interesting is that the first closer doesn’t go off the board until the fourth round. One guy drafted Joe Nathan in the first round last year. Even he knew that was a reach. The fifth ranked catcher will go in round eight, if then. That’s good, because catchers suck. I previously compared catchers to tight ends in football. While the offensive production from both positions has gone up in the past decade, the relative value is still low.

You can get Jorge Posada around pick 90, or you can take Jason Varitek around 120 spots later. Posada will give you about five more homers, ten additional RBI, and ten points on the batting average. Oh yeah, Posada batted about 50 points more than his previous career high last year.

The draft rules seem to be pretty straightforward:

1. Fill all your positions
2. Be wary of players coming off career years (like Posada)
3. Look closer at players who had an off year
4. Pick guys who due to age or opportunity are prime for a breakout year
5. Don’t go crazy about closers, but do get at least two
6. Starting pitchers are going to drive you bonkers
7. Young guys will be overrated and old guys will be underrated
8. Don’t draft more than one guy who only helps you in one category (hello Juan Pierre)
9. Players coming off injury can be values unless they’re still injured (Pujols) or too close to the injury (B.J. Ryan)
10. Don’t ever name your child with the initials “B.J.”

Knowing your league helps. There are at five Pirates fans in this league. Matt Capps may go in the third round.

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