Monday, August 31, 2009

Preseason Column #4: Desperately seeking the Perfect Draft

I’d like to believe I’ll be able to acquire Drew Brees, Adrian Peterson, Matt Forte, Randy Moss, Larry Fitzgerald and Jason Witten in my draft later this week. I’d also like to believe Catherine Zeta-Jones thinks I’m hot.

Alas, both fantasy scenarios seem fairly remote; though I can dream, can’t I?

Since our fellow owners are unlikely to grant us a monopoly on the first round, we’ll have to work a bit smarter to assemble the most dominant team in our league. Our challenge, therefore, is to secure the best value in each round, methodically building a roster that will dominate from Week 1, withstand an injury to one or two key players, and peak during the fantasy playoffs.

With that lofty goal in mind, I’ve analyzed the average draft position (ADP) of each player from several mock draft sites to determine the best pick in each round – resulting in the oft-imitated, always-controversial, yet magically delicious 2009 Perfect Draft.

As always, we start with a few key assumptions. First, we’re in a 10-team non-keeper league using a standard scoring system that starts one quarterback, two running backs, three wide receivers, and one tight end, kicker and team defense. Second, we are drafting from the middle (fifth) position in a zig-zag format, meaning Peterson is long gone by the time we pick. Third, since all drafts play out differently, we’ll need a little luck along the way. And finally, our goal is nothing short of total domination and the abject humiliation of our opponents.

Now, with the fifth pick of the 2009 Fantasy Draft, we select…

Round 1. DeAngelo Williams, RB, Panthers. Once the “big four” are off the board, Williams is the best elite back standing. Sure, he’s in a committee backfield; but Jonathan Stewart has been plagued by a nagging Achilles injury and may not play a big role early on. Williams proved last season that he can be a fantasy beast even when he shares the load.

Round 2. Calvin Johnson, WR, Lions. It is imperative that you acquire one of the top 10 receivers in the first two rounds, and Megatron just could slide far enough. Greg Jennings, Reggie Wayne and Steve Smith are other fine options if Johnson is gone.

Round 3. Anquan Boldin, WR, Cardinals. With a little luck, another elite receiver will still be on the board at this pick. Boldin was on pace to out-perform Fitzgerald last season before injuries cost him four games. If he’s gone, grab Aaron Rodgers.

Round 4. Philip Rivers, QB, Chargers. After a breakout 2008 season in which he tied Brees’ league-best 34 TD tosses, Rivers should pick up where he left off. Only a brutal non-divisional schedule keeps me from ranking him alongside Brady and Brees.

Round 5. Antonio Gates, TE, Chargers. Fully healthy and still Rivers’ top red-zone option, Gates is a steal in the fifth round.

Round 6. Chris “Beanie” Wells, RB, Cardinals. You can probably wait another round, but doing so risks losing this year’s rookie sensation. Wells showed why I’ve ranked him among my top 10 fantasy backs with his outstanding two-touchdown debut in Arizona’s third preseason tilt.

Round 7. Felix Jones, RB, Cowboys. Taking Wells in the sixth round allows us to nab Dallas’ most explosive playmaker here. I fully expect Jones to out-perform backfield mate Marion Barber in an offense that will be more run-centric than in previous years.

Round 8. Matt Schaub, QB, Texans. If he can stay upright for 16 games, Schaub could join the fantasy elite. If he’s already gone, Carson Palmer is the pick.

Round 9. Kevin Walter, WR, Texans. Andre Johnson reeled in a career-high eight scoring strikes in 2008. Guess what? So did Walter, on his way to a top 20 finish. His problem was week-to-week consistency. If Schaub stays healthy, Walter should overcome that deficiency, giving you a decent proxy for Johnson at a fraction of the price.

Round 10. Percy Harvin, WR, Vikings. We’d love getting Ahmad Bradshaw here, but we can’t pass up the most explosive wideout of the Class of ‘09. Harvin will amass fantasy points as a receiver, rusher, wildcat quarterback and possibly as a kick returner. He’ll be an awesome WR3 or flex play by October.

Round 11. Chris Henry, WR, Bengals. He’s not exactly flying under the radar anymore after scoring in three consecutive preseason games. Henry has excellent rapport with Palmer and is arguably the biggest playmaker on the team. I’ll take him over Laveranues Coles any day.

Round 12. Chester Taylor, RB, Vikings. Peterson’s owner is banking on the most essential handcuff in Fantasyland being there at the end of the 12th round. So sorry. Taylor is more than just AP insurance; he’s a solid bye-week play even when the starter is healthy.

Round 13. Bears defense/special teams. Defenses are notoriously difficult to predict, but Chicago ranked among the league’s best in sacks, takeaways and special teams scoring in ‘08. There’s little reason to think they can’t do so again, and their price is right.

Round 14. Cadillac Williams, RB, Buccaneers. One week ago he was going undrafted. But after a surprisingly strong debut against the Dolphins this weekend, Williams is quickly becoming a hot commodity. In this round, the reward far outweighs the risk.

Round 15. James Davis, RB, Browns. The rookie is quietly positioning himself to assume the starting gig when the aging Jamal Lewis inevitably putters out. That transition should take place sooner rather than later.

Round 16. Troy Williamson, WR, Jaguars. A colossal bust for the Vikings, Williamson is trying to resurrect his career in warmer climes. He should win a starting job after a strong preseason in which he has connected frequently with David Garrard. Other late-round fliers to consider: Mike Goodson, Jamaal Charles, Jermichael Finley and Sam Hurd.

Round 17. Kris Brown, K, Texans. Let your competitors pay a premium for Steven Gostkowski or one of the other “name” kickers. You sit tight and take Brown, who will prosper in Houston’s high-scoring offense while sparing you a waiver-wire decision until his Week 10 bye.

There you have it: A team with firepower at every position, supported by bench depth with substantial upside.

Now go forth, grasshopper, and make your own draft perfect.

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