About an hour ago I completed my biggest draft of the year.  It’s a long-running Yahoo league (2000-present) and it’s also my deepest league.  16 teams, 25 roster spots including 8 IDP spots.  We start 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR 1 TE and 2 Flex (RB/WR and RB/WR/TE).  We also use specialized PPR scoring.  QBs get 6 points per TD, but are also penalized more for sacks (-1) and INTs (-2).  IDPs get more points for sacks (4) and INTs (5) to give them higher value.  All this makes for some pretty crazy rankings and selections, and if a few guys aren’t prepared it results in a lot of laughs.  I had the #3 pick, thanks to finishing in third place last season.  Here’s a breakdown of my draft.

Round 1, Pick 3.  RB LaDainian Tomlinson, San Diego Chargers.

Forte and Fitz went 1-2.  I contemplated Peterson, but with the PPR factor I couldn’t pass up LT.  He hurt me a few times last year (I picked first last season in this same league) but overall was mostly solid.  With a healthier O-line and a better defense the Chargers will run it more.  I am expecting an uptick from him to 60 catches, 1,700 yards and 18 TDs.  AP, Brees, Turner and MJD all went directly after him.

Round 2, Pick 30.  WR Marques Colston, New Orleans Saints.

Yeah, some early rebound risk in the first two picks.  Colston’s young and still growing though.  He looked great coming back last season, and should break 90 catches again.  I was wrestling with Colston vs. Roddy White, who went at pick 29.  Took him over Welker and Bowe.  Also over the Rodgers/Rivers pair which went on the turn coming back to me.  I was also thrilled and surprised to see Addai go at #34 leading to…

Round 3, Pick 35.  WR T.J. Houshmanzedah, Seattle Seahawks.

Housh caught 90 balls last year with a less than healthy Carson Palmer and a less than good Ryan Fitzpatrick delivering the ball.  Considering that Fitzpatrick started most of the season, I would say it’s a good bet for Housh to rebound in an offense with Matt Hasslebeck and a handful of other solid weapons.  He hasn’t had less than 90 catches since 05, so I’m banking on 95-100 balls with 1000 yards and 7-10 TDs.  Took him ahead of Bowe mostly on the strength of his PPR powers.

Round 4, Pick 62.  WR Vincent Jackson, San Diego Chargers.

My first pick that I don’t love.  Not that I don’t love Jackson, I do.  But I felt like I could wait four picks to take Ray Rice.  I was wrong.  He went two picks after this.  Jackson has taken big strides two straight years and is Rivers’ favorite downfield target.  He should be in that 60 catch/1100 yard/7 TD range again this year.   It’s been a while since I’ve had wideouts carry my team.  Looks like that might be the case this year.

Round 5, Pick 67.  WR Braylon Edwards, Cleveland Browns.

Yep.  With Ray Rice off the board I was just not sold on any remaining running back (top remaining guys included Derrick Ward, Willie Parker, Jamal Lewis) so I filled out my second flex spot with another wideout.  Braylon is the wildcard of my group.  Two years ago he was the best fantasy wideout in the game.  Last year he was a drops machine who had only a handful of good weeks all year.  I am betting on him splitting the difference this season.  He’ll catch 65-70 balls for 1000+ yards and at least 6-7 TDs.  If he can regain his old form, who knows.  The Browns have NOBODY else to throw it to, so we’ll have to see how much room he has.

Round 6, Pick 94.  TE Zach Miller, Oakland Raiders.

Some crazy TE selections early in the draft including Dustin Keller going 43rd Overall while Owen Daniels dropped to 80th and Cooley to 66th.  No reason to take Keller there.  Even if he breaks out you waste his production by selecting him two-three rounds early (or more).  Miller and Carlson were the only TE’s left in my top 12.  I hated the RBs left and didn’t think I needed to handcuff Sproles this early.  Miller should be good for 70-80 catches with 800+ yards and 4-6 TDs.  Maybe more if Russell isn’t terrible.

Round 7, Pick 99.  RB Julius Jones, Seattle Seahawks.

Turns out I was wrong about Sproles.  He went with pick 98 and nice value wideouts Driver and Mason went 95 and 96.  Given that I still needed a second back and the pickings were getting very slim, I grabbed Jones and will at least get something out of him when they play the Rams or Cards hopefully.  I felt better about this pick when people started taking IDPs soon after (too early IMO) so I knew I could shore up my RB depth yet.

Round 8, Pick 126.  RB Fred Jackson, Buffalo Bills.

I was happy Jackson made it back to me here.  He looked good in three starts last year and will start the first three games of this season, but he also produced as a reserve.  In 12 games off the bench he ran for almost 400 yards and caught 28 passes for 280 more.  Not bad for your #3 back in a 16-teamer.  I expect him to keep getting 10-15 touches when Lynch is back.  Who knows what he can do for me before then.


Round 9, Pick 131.  WR Chris Henry, Cincinnati Bengals.

I try to avoid the trendy sleepers, but Henry is just too much of a talent to ignore.  If he’s even coming close to fulfilling his potential he could have a monster season as Palmer’s #1 (or #2) target.  The only way he doesn’t finish with 50/800/6 TDs is a suspension.  If it was anyone else, I’d imagine he’d have gone a round earlier.  Picking him means that I may end up trading one of my top four receivers, although I am usually not an avid fantasy trader.  I’m more of a draft em and be patient player, although I do use the waiver wire heavily.

Round 10, Pick 158.  RB Fred Taylor, New England Patriots.

Haven’t heard a lot about the Mayor of Jacksonville, but he’s the kind of #1 back the Patriots like.  He’s a veteran who knows what to do and knows it isn’t about him.  He can run, catch passes and block competently.  Yes he’s old, but he’s two years removed from 1200 rushing yards.  I took him here a good two rounds after Chester Taylor and three rounds after James Davis went.  Even Cadillac Williams (who I like too) went ahead of Taylor.  I’m hoping to see 600 rush yards and 900 total yards from Taylor, but we’ll see.

Round 11, Pick 163.  QB Matt Hasslebeck, Seattle Seahawks.

And here’s where we address the biggest hole in my roster.  I missed out on all the top QBs, as they went in a hurry.  The last QB I really liked was Cutler and he went 85th, well after guys like Matt Ryan and Donovan McNabb.  Normally QB is a position I don’t worry about.  This year I kind of wanted to get a top 6-8 guy, but it wasn’t in the cards.  My second strategy also got blown out of the water when Joe Flacco went at pick 159.  I had been planning to take Flacco and Hasslebeck on the turn here, but Taylor tantalized me and I fell victim to the old “maybe he’ll fall” trick.  Yeah… we all know how that usually goes.  So with Flacco gone I grabbed Hasslebeck and I will now pray he can stay healthy.

I picked only three more offensive position guys the rest of the way.  WR Josh Morgan (Round 12, 190), RB Michael Bush (Round 13, 195) and QB Shaun Hill (Round 17, 259).  They join Fred Jackson, Fred Taylor and Chris Henry to form the majority of my bench.

The rest of my picks were spent on defensive players and of course, that last round kicker.  Given that we start 8 IDPs (2 D, 2 LB, 2 DL, 1 DB, 1 CB) every week and the players were flying off the board as early as Round 5, one might wonder what was left for me.  Here’s what I managed to end up with using picks from round 14 and beyond;  DB Adrian Wilson, DL Shaun Rogers, LB Adalius Thomas, LB Lawrence Timmons, DL Dwight Freeney, DB Kerry Rhodes, DB Carlos Rogers, LB Nick Barnett, DL Aaron Schobel, DB Richard Marshall and of course, K Jeff Reed.  Not a bad haul.  Not elite, but there are plenty of playmakers there.

All in all I’m happy with the way my draft went.  I wanted to be deep at wideout and running back and I am.  The quality of my depth at RB isn’t great, but in a 16-team league where you can play as many as four backs at a time, that will happen.  My wideouts are so good that I’m a bit giddy.  I may end up dealing one for a running back, but we will see how the early season plays out.  I’m usually a guy who likes to sit on my team unless I see a fatal flaw.  On this team the most likely flaw is QB, obviously.  Hopefully a healthy Hasslebeck will team with TJ and put up some old-school Hasslebeck totals this year.

Fantasy football season is upon us.  To be fair, it’s been upon us for a month or two now.  I know that I personally have been doing ESPN and Yahoo mock drafts for six-plus weeks, as well as real drafts in some of my early-drafting leagues.   But the period from the last weekend in August through the first weekend before the start of the NFL season is always a draft crunch for tens of thousands (or more) of us from all over the world.

As I do more and more drafts during a particular year, I find myself gravitating towards and away from certain players.  Sometimes there’s a valid reason (injury, PT concern) and sometimes it’s just your spidey-sense tingling.  Here’s a compilation of some guys I have been targeting and avoiding throughout the summer, heading into three big drafts for me this weekend.

Tort’s Trendy Targets

RB Steve Slaton, Houston Texans –  Slaton came out of nowhere last year to surpass 1600 total yards and finish with 10 TDs.  He doesn’t get a lot of buzz among the top backs because he plays for a team that’s never gone anywhere and he wasn’t a name guy coming out in the draft.  To me anybody who gets him in the second round (anywhere after pick 12) has to be ecstatic.   Last year he ran big against teams like Pittsburgh, Tennessee and Chicago.  He’s also a great value in any PPR leagues (my preferred format) because he catches passes well and gets a decent amount of targets.

QB David Garrard, Jacksonville Jaguars – I don’t love their line, but then I didn’t love it last year either and Garrard had a solid fantasy season.  I think he can be a borderline #1 QB in smaller leagues (10-12 teams) and a solid second-level #1 in bigger leagues (14+ teams).    He’s finally got a veteran wideout like he hasn’t had since Jimmy Smith was there in Torry Holt.   His Yards Per Catch and Yards After Catch remained very similar last season, despite the fact that the Rams lacked weapons (not to mention an offensive line or reliable QB).  While I don’t think Holt will return to his old 1300/8-10 TDs form, I do think he’ll break 1000 yards and be good for 6-7 TDs.  That can only help Garrard, who also has MJD around to carry a big load.

WR Steve Smith, Carolina Panthers – He’s not what you’d call a “sleeper” by any stretch, but Smith does seem to be sliding in drafts despite having his second-best season last year.  Unnoticed thanks to the ridiculous emergence of DeAngelo Williams is the fact that Smith had more than 100 yards in five of the last six games last season, including two games over 150 yards.  He might miss a game or two most seasons, but this guy is unrivaled in my mind when it comes to the ability to win you a week from the wide receiver spot.  Even with Williams and Stewart taking a lot of the TD work, Smith is a good bet for 1400 yards and 6+ TDs again.  How many guys going in the third round can say that?

TE John Carlson, Seattle Seahawks – I understand the ‘Hawks want to run first, but given Walter Jones’ health and the fact that they’ve got Julius Jones and an aging Edge James at RB, I think they’ll figure out they have the personnel to move the ball through the air.  Carlson was a godsend for an offense that couldn’t keep anyone healthy last season and with T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Deion Branch and Nate Burleson all healthy Carlson should have plenty of room to work with.   He won’t match what the big seven can do at TE, but for a guy you can get much later in the draft he’s got the ability to hit 60/650/7  quite easily.

Deep Sleeper Pick:  RB Cadillac Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Maybe I’m crazy, but this guy always looks like the real deal to me and I’m just not convinced that Ward and Graham (who I think are both solid backs) can keep the ball out of his hands.  His health is obviously a huge red flag, but if you can grab him in the last round or two in 12-plus teams leagues I would jump on him frankly.  He’s got blue-chip talent.

Tort’s Anxious Avoids

RB Michael Turner, Atlanta Falcons – I’m not one of those people who believe in “The Curse of 370” or anything like that, but I have big issues with drafting Turner anywhere in my top 5.  His numbers last season were too dependant on a VERY heavy workload (25+ carries 8 times) and weak opponents.  He had 671 rushing yards and 6 TDs  in four games against DET, KC, OAK, STL.  (167.75 YPG).  In six games against his divisional foes (CAR, ATL, NO) he totaled 524 yards, with 6 TDs (four in one game against Carolina).  I don’t see any way he tops 320 carries this year with the improvements of Matt Ryan and coaching concerns about his workload.  He also won’t face creampuffs on the level of Detroit and St. Louis to bookend his season.  And yes those 208 yards against STL helped very few fantasy owners coming in week 17.   I think Turner is a 1200 yard/10 TD back.  He’s a first round pick, but not a top 5 guy by any stretch to me.  His value drops even further in PPR leagues.

QB Matt Schaub, Houston Texans – “They called me Mr. Glass.” I do not necessarily doubt Schaub’s talents.  He seems like a guy who can be a top ten fantasy QB.  My problem with Schaub is two-fold.  First, he’s never actually DONE that.  He’s been a starter for two seasons, playing 22 out of 32 games and managing 24 touchdowns against 19 interceptions.  Here’s what we know about Schaub.  He gets banged up and has had exactly two-thirds of a good fantasy season in his career.  And yet I’m supposed to get excited about a 28 year-old QB who will probably miss a month of the year and draft him over Garrard or Big Ben or Matt Ryan or Jay Cutler?  Heck, I’d be hard-pressed to take him over Cassel or Carson Palmer who have their own health concerns.  I’m just not drinking the Kool-Aid on this guy I guess.

WR Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals – Don’t get me wrong, Fitz is a phenomenal talent and a lock as a top 5 wideout, but I don’t get the universal #1 ranking.  He scored 10 TDs last year and that was with Boldin out for a handful of games and no reliable running game.  Assuming Hightower/Wells is better than James/Hightower (and I think that’ll be the case) and Boldin is back to his usual levels, I would look for Fitz to be closer to 8 TDs than the 12-plus he needs to be fantasy’s #1 wideout.  I can’t justify taking him ahead of Andre Johnson or Calvin “Megatron” Johnson.  I would rank him in a lump with Randy Moss and Steve Smith, which ain’t bad company either.

TE Jeremy Shockey, New Orleans Saints – Okay I admit, it was tough to find a tight end I didn’t like.  I think there are 12-15 very nice tight end options this year.  Shockey isn’t the guy I want.  He has durability issues that are obvious and known.  He has attitude issues that are obvious and known.  But mostly I just don’t think Brees would rather throw the ball his way than to hit Colston, Bush, Moore, Thomas and even Meachem.  Too many other weapons.  Shockey will be around 500 yards with a couple of TDs at most.  He’s getting some sleeper buzz.  I say “zzzzzz” to that buzz.

Crazy Stay-Away Notice:  RB Steven Jackson, St. Louis Rams – This guy is an amazing talent.  He’s the total package as a back, and when he’s healthy there are few to match him.  My problem is that he’s been banged up for two years and the Rams offensive line isn’t going to scare anyone.  Neither is their passing game so Jackson is going to take a pounding.  I predict we’ll get 12-13 games of elite production… but that’s not enough for me to spend a top 8 pick on.  Stay away!