Getting good value in draft can help your team profit

ON FANTASY SPORTS

The Kickoff

September 07, 2006|By CHILDS WALKER

We're in that transitional zone where most fantasy football players have completed their drafts and are looking desperately forward to tonight's NFL regular-season opener between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins.

So I thought I'd look back at my drafts and try to identify which players might be pivotal this season. You know the types. They went either lower or higher than you expected, and if they have big seasons, the owners who drafted them stand a good chance at contending. If not -- hello, mediocrity.

Terrell Owens is the Most Valuable Player of the pivotal player pool. Most of you are probably sick of the "will he or won't he" drama. I know I am. I frankly couldn't care less if he and Bill Parcells are mature enough to co-exist. Except -- and this is always the trick -- I drafted Owens in all three of my leagues. Each pick was met with hoots and hollers. I was probably booing myself on the inside.

But here's the thing: He's great. I like Anquan Boldin, Chris Chambers and Roy Williams as much as the next guy. But have they ever caught 13 touchdown passes in a season? Are they likely to? Owens has done it five times and was on pace to do it again last year. You don't often get the chance to draft a first-round talent in the third round, which is where I snagged him in each of my drafts. Sometimes, you've just got to take the most gifted guy on the board and set everything else aside.

Of course, much of the drama around Owens goes back to his tender hamstring, and injured players are significant swing picks in every draft. Clinton Portis was probably the biggest health question this year, and he received radically different treatment in my leagues. In my first draft last week, he went 13th overall. I thought that was a little high with all of the best receivers and some solid runners such as Willie Parker on the board. In another draft Tuesday night, he went 25th. I liked that pick.

With everything resembling a top runner already off the board, why not take a shot on a guy who would've gone fourth overall if he hadn't banged up his shoulder? It's sort of the same principle I applied to Owens. You can't step past chances to buy elite talent on the cheap.

The runner who struck me as the best value was Frank Gore, who went 42nd in one of my drafts and 50th in the other. I understand the reluctance to pick anyone from the San Francisco 49ers' putrid offense, but I expect Gore to outproduce fading veterans such as Jamal Lewis and Corey Dillon. Because he's unproven as a feature back, he went 20 to 30 picks below those guys. I only wish I'd been the one picking him in either case.

I was a little shocked how high the top defenses went in my leagues. In my Tuesday draft, for example, someone picked the Chicago Bears' defense 69th overall. I picked the Steelers' unit 66 spots lower. Can you tell me with any certainty that the former will outproduce the latter? The Bears went even higher in my local media draft -- 64th overall. History has shown us that it's hard to determine who will have the best defense and that the best isn't so much better than the fifth or sixth-best in fantasy terms. I think the owners who picked defenses that high may wish they had taken a third receiver or a backup runner a few weeks into the season.

The chic strategy this season was the same from league to league: wait to draft quarterbacks. I was on the bandwagon as well. It makes good sense when the talent pool is deep but not widely distributed. But the more I watched players like Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck fall, the more I saw potential value from swimming against the patience doctrine.

One of those guys, I figure, will have a big season and afford a real advantage, just as Carson Palmer did last year. So when you reach the fifth round, and the choice comes down to an elite quarterback or an unappealing third receiver, I see nothing wrong with taking the passer. That's why I ended up with Brady in one league and Hasselbeck in another.

I also love the sleepers who become less and less sleeper-like as draft season rolls on. I wanted Ben Watson to be the tight end on each of my fantasy teams. His performance late last season combined with Brady's need for a chief target added up to an appealing package. And I was pleased to get him 91st overall last week. In my draft Tuesday, he went 76th overall, just behind Tony Gonzalez at the position and ahead of where I planned to take him. Guess he popped up in one too many tout columns.

Other guys I liked as value picks included Donald Driver (Brett Favre's only real target), Mike Bell (a Denver running back in the fourth round?) and Reuben Droughns (1,000-yard back in the third or fourth round). Overdrafts included Heath Miller, Eli Manning and Kevin Jones (wouldn't have taken him ahead of an elite receiver).

With that, I slam the door on draft season. And next week, one way or another, I'm writing about baseball.

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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