Pre-draft mocking a must
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - As the 32 NFL teams file into camps for the beginning of practice, so too, must fantasy owners prepare for their upcoming season.

And one of the best ways to do that is through the use of mock drafts. I experienced my first one of the season on Monday and the information gleaned from the first test is likely to be invaluable.

There are many quality sites available to the fantasy owner or you can even get a group of your friends together.

What the test draft does is allow you to evaluate different strategies without having to suffer through a season of failure should the plan you are trying turn out to be a disaster.

In the mock draft I joined on Monday, I selected a middle pick (no. 5) in a 10-team.

My plan was to play the role of "contrarian" - that is I would be picking opposite of the pack.

When all around me was picking running backs through the first two rounds, I would select the top receiver and quarterback. The object of the analysis was to see what kind of value I could still pick up in the backfield while using my top picks elsewhere.

The experiment went as planned as the first four picks were; Adrian Peterson, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch and Jamaal Charles.

As the No. 5 pick, I chose record-breaking receiver Calvin Johnson of Detroit. He is easily the best receiver in the NFL after his record 1,964-yard effort in 2012. And he's obviously not a one-year wonder as he posted 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns the previous season and has averaged more than 1,400-yards a season over the past five years.

The draft continued as you would expect with running backs filling out the remainder of the first round (Doug Martin, Trent Richardson, LeSean McCoy, Ray Rice and C.J. Spiller).

The draining of the running back spot continued through the second round.

Alfred Morris, Matt Forte and Steven Jackson's names were all called out. Then a couple of top-quality receivers came off the board, Dez Bryant and A.J. Green, just in front of my second-round selection.

I stayed with the plan and this time my choices were between the best tight end or the top quarterback, since none had been taken. I chose to go with the man under center and went with the consensus top pick at his position - Aaron Rodgers.

I think it would be hard to argue with the selection off his 4,295-yard, 39 TD season of a year ago. He lost two receivers in Greg Jennings and Donald Driver, but still has plenty of depth at the position in Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb and James Jones.

So I now had what I consider the best players at two positions - quarterback and receiver.

But what about running back? Who could I still get in the third and fourth rounds and later to complete my team?

That was the whole idea of this test strategy.

When the snake draft wound its way back to me for my third pick (No. 25 overall) there was some good talent still remaining, but they were all flawed.

By flawed I mean they were either injury prone (DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, Maurice Jones-Drew) or in a RBBC situation - running-back-by- committee for the fantasy newbie.

RBBC choices like Reggie Bush in Detroit, who will have to deal with Mikel Leshoure stealing red zone touches. Or David Wilson and Andre Brown in New York. Or even the three-headed monster in New Orleans with Darren Sproles, Mark Ingram and Pierre Thomas.

I ended up choosing Murray, the main man in Dallas, with the third round pick. Aside from the injuries over the past two season, he's the only guy in Dallas worth discussing now that Felix Jones is gone.

After the Murray pick, Bush, Sproles, Wilson and Miami's Lamar Miller were snapped up. I was noticing a trend that many fantasy owners were taking three running backs in the first four rounds. That could definitely hurt my strategy.

So here I was in the middle of the fourth round seeking the best available back for a second starter.

The top running back on the board was also the most injury-prone back in the league - McFadden. No fantasy owner in his right mind would choose a backfield of Murray and McFadden as they would need an army of backups to cover all the games for which the duo would be sidelined.

Murray has averaged 11.5 games per season while the uber-talented and frequently sidelined McFadden has started just 8.8 games per season in the first five years of his career. Throw in bye weeks and fantasy owners would need not just one, but two quality backups, and there simply aren't that many out there.

For my second back I decide to go with one of the better shared situations. I chose rookie Le'Veon Bell of Pittsburgh. The Steelers obviously weren't happy with the options of Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman or they wouldn't have selected Michigan State's Bell with the 48th overall selection in this year's draft.

There were two reasons the Steelers, and I, are high on Bell - his size and ability to pass protect and catching the ball out of the backfield. That means even as a rookie he can eventually be a three-down back.

But two backs aren't enough these days and I was determined to get a third back that I would have confidence playing in any week.

In the fifth round I added Ahmad Bradshaw, newly signed with Indianapolis. When healthy, Bradshaw is a solid RB2 and he's also shown that he'll play hurt. Much later in the draft I also selected DeMarco Murray's handcuff - rookie Joseph Randle and took a flier with Zac Stacy of St. Louis, who could eventually beat out Daryl Richardson or Isaiah Pead for the starting role in the Rams backfield.

All this attention to the backfield didn't appear to hurt me with my other starters.

I still picked up Hakeem Nicks as a No.2 receiver added Tavon Austin, Anquan Boldin and Julian Edelman later in the draft.

At tight end I chose a solid, though unspectacular, Greg Olsen of Carolina.

The roster was completed with a very tough Seattle defense and kicker Dan Bailey of Dallas.

All in all a decent roster, though not for the faint of heart. It will require constant monitoring at the running back spot, but this team should certainly contend and could possibly win.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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