Saturday, May 12, 2012

Volume 7, Number 5: The Detroit Vipers 2012 Draft — Behind the Scenes

As you may know, I'm in a highly competitive, 16-team dynasty fantasy football league called TUFF (Todd's Ultimate Fantasy Football).  One thing about being in a dynasty league means that every May since 2001, I and the owners of the other 16 teams take on the challenge of evaluating and drafting offensive players that went in the previous month's NFL Draft.  I already published a wrapup of all 64 picks made in this year's draft, but I thought I'd tell you some things not already in that wrapup about how and why I made the picks I did.

Even though my Detroit Vipers doubled their win total last season, going from 3-11 to 6-8, I actually felt that my team had more holes at the end of the season than it did before.  The main reason was that my wide receivers, as a whole, did not play like I thought they would.
  • I expected Mike "Product 19" Williams and Jacoby Ford to do at least as well as they did in their rookie campaigns.  They did not.
  • A few wideouts that I thought I could count on for backup turned out to be worthless.
  • The most galling part was when Randy Moss, who I thought would enter 2011 with a chip on his shoulder and a slice or two of humble pie in his stomach, decided to retire instead.
These issues meant I really had a third area on my roster that need improving, rather than just the two I usually have (QB depth and RB depth).

There was a bright side to having one more hole to fill: A greater likelihood that I could fill a hole in Round 1 just by taking the best available player, instead of having to reach to fill a need.  The catch is, I had the sixth pick in that round, and there were only four players that I really wanted:
  • QB Andrew Luck.  He was ready to play in the NFL a year ago.  He probably would have been better than Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, Kevin Kolb, Carson Palmer, Curtis Painter, Kerry Collins, Dan Orlovsky, John Beck and Rex Grossman if he had been in the NFL a year ago.
  • QB Robert Griffin III.  The #1 reason Baylor went from "a Conference USA program in Big 12 clothing" to a bowl-eligible team in back-to-back seasons, and last year's Heisman Trophy winner.
  • RB Trent Richardson.  As close as you can get to "the total package" among this year's rookie RBs; however, I already knew that he would be gone at 1.01.
  • WR Justin Blackmon.  Another player who could have gone pro a year ago, he is only the second WR to have two Fred Biletnikoff Awards (given to the nation's best college WR).  In each of the last two years, his receptions, yards and TDs were more than double that of any Oklahoma State receiver, which tells me that even when opposing defenses knew that Blackmon would get the ball a lot, he could still produce.
In order to land Luck, Griffin or Blackmon, I would need Richardson and two other running backs to land in very good job situations.  Running backs are gold in this league (because you have to start two, no matter what), and more often than not, the teams that win the TUFF Bowl are the ones with at least one "bellcow" back.  Bad teams need them just to compete.  Competitive teams that have one are looking for that second back to turn them into TUFF Bowl contenders.  The end result is that running backs go higher in the TUFF Draft than they do in the NFL Draft, pushing potentially better quarterbacks and wide receivers to lower picks.

So I spent the NFL Draft weekend hoping a few backs would end up in great job situations, just as I did in 2010 ("Damn you Vikings for taking Toby Gerhart — you should have let the Patriots take him!" / "What, the Seahawks passed on Jonathan Dwyer again?!?").  Long story short, two did—Doug Martin (Boise State, to the Buccaneers) and David Wilson (Virginia Tech, to the New York Giants), both at the end of Round 1 of the NFL Draft.

Still, I was concerned that I still might not get Luck, Griffin or Blackmon.  The first five picks could have gone something like Richardson-Martin-Blackmon-Griffin-Luck.  But the Carolina Convicts took Martin at #3, instead of Blackmon.  I felt relieved at that point.  But that was nothing like the relief I felt when there was a delay on pick #5, held by the Pittsburgh Big Papas.  Why?  Because the more I waited, the more I realized that Pittsburgh was interested in trading that pick.  And the more I thought it over, the more I realized that Tennessee, with the extra picks they had in Rounds 1 and 2, and their need to improve depth at running back, would be an ideal trade partner for Pitt.

Turns out, that's exactly what happened: Tennessee traded up to get Wilson, and Pittsburgh got the 9th and 16th picks.  More to the point, I got my man at 1.06 in Blackmon—he could go right into my starting lineup.  Everyone was happy.  Upgrade at wide receiver—check.

On to Round 2.  This round was another pins-and-needles affair for me because I didn't think that anyone I targeted with my pick in that round would last that long.  But out of the players I hoped would fall my pick, two did.  One was QB Brandon Weeden and the other was WR A.J. Jenkins.  And frankly, I needed better QB depth in the worst way.  I have Ben Roethlisberger and not much else; I drafted Jimmy Clausen two years ago to replace Chad Pennington, but (long story short) he has not worked out so far.  And I don't think the Browns would have spent the 22nd overall pick on a 28-year-old QB unless they thought he could start for more than just a few years.  Yes, Weeden is almost as old as Roethlisberger.  Yes, the Browns are a bad team.  But when Roethlisberger is out, I'd rather start Weeden than Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch.  Backup quarterback—check.

I thought I might go for another wideout in Round 3.  I liked T.Y. Hilton and Marvin Jones, but other teams nabbed them, and I wasn't crazy about any of the running backs still available.  So I went back to the Excel spreadsheet I keep of all the players I've been tracking (many since last August) and worked on determining who the best available player might be.  And in the end, I went with tight end Dwayne Allen, even though a) I don't need a tight end—I already have Jason Witten and Zach Miller—and b) Allen will have to share receptions and TDs with fellow rookie Coby Fleener on the Colts.  I considered wide receiver Juron Criner to improve my wide receiver depth (for reasons I'll discuss in the next paragraph), but like I said, wideouts are such a crapshoot at this stage of the draft anyway, so I figured I'd take the better talent in Allen, who was the consensus #2 tight end in this year's draft.

As my pick in Round 4 approached, I considered taking a running back (you can never have too many of those in TUFF), and looked at other wide receivers (with the resignation that someone was sure to take Criner later in Round 3 or early in Round 4).  But something I didn't expect happened: Criner fell all the way to my pick in Round 4.  His size and productivity were hard to pass up in Round 3.  I was aware that he fell in the NFL Draft for a reason, and people were saying, oh, his numbers are down from 2010, something's got to be wrong with him.  I looked at his game log, and really, only the first half of the season was a downer.  The second half: 49 receptions, 616 yards, 8 TDs.  Having Jacoby Ford to handcuff him to is a bonus (basically, if Ford gets hurt again, as he did twice last year, Criner would be one of the receivers that could stand to benefit from that).  Extra wide receiver depth—check.

So there you have it.  I give myself a grade of A-.  With each pick, I got a player who could have gone earlier than he did, a player with talent and not just potential.

Once again, I just can't wait for training camp.

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