Unless you’re the hardest of hardcore and things like injuries and marijuana arrests mean nothing to you, you’re probably in the final days of preparation for your fantasy football draft(s). As always, I have already provided my annual confusing-as-hell ramblings on how to dominate your fantasy leagues, but this year I decided that I wanted to take it a little bit farther and turn this fantasy assistance and analysis up to 11. Not only will I soon be unveiling the 2014 UPROXX Invitational Bloggers and People We Generally Love Fantasy Football League for the sake of my weekly Fantasy Football Support Group, but I actually took the time to pick the brain of Yahoo!’s Brad Evans, one of the few fantasy football experts out there that I trust and endorse. (As if he needed it.)
On Saturday, Yahoo! Sports is hosting Fantasy Football National Draft Day at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, in case you and your league bros need an exciting and ridiculously drunken change of pace from your typical annual routine of sitting in someone’s “Man Cave” or “Fart Palace” while talking about all of the babes that Boner Steve used to bang in college. While Yahoo! is offering vacation packages for the event, you can still log in and enter to win a number of prizes while you and your friends argue over whose team name is the best. Hint: It’s not your friend who keeps naming his team “The Romosexuals.”
So in honor of this grand celebration of all things fantasy football by the fine folks at Yahoo!, Evans was kind enough to offer his insight on everything from who to take with the No. 1 pick this season to which tight ends to look out for once Jimmy Graham goes in the first round and after the inevitable third round run on TEs that allows us geniuses to stock up on RB and WR value while someone else inherits the burden of Vernon Davis.
I have the number one pick. Who am I taking?
It really comes down to what the league settings are. If your league has 6 points per touchdown and is a quarterback league, then you can definitely entertain Peyton Manning. If you’re a in a traditional 4-point touchdown passing league or PPR (with 4-point passing) then I think you definitely go with Jamaal Charles, although you can make a strong argument for LeSean McCoy, and I’ve even seen Matt Forte go at No. 1. If it’s a standard setting then I go Charles first, but there’s definitely an argument to be made for McCoy and Forte. It’s a win-win situation, what I call a “Lucky 7” when you pop a quarter in the slot machine and win no matter what.
Aside from that one, what’s the most common question that people ask you about fantasy football?
Draft strategy questions. I get a lot of questions about particular players, like “Where do I take Brandin Cooks this year?” is one that I’ve gotten a ton on Twitter this year. “What do I do with Cordarelle Patterson, is he worth reaching for in round four or five?” But most of the time it revolves around specific draft strategy questions, like “At what point should I take Peyton Manning?” or “I’m sitting at the seventh spot in my league, should I take Jimmy Graham or Calvin Johnson?” Again, it’s all relative to your league settings and what you should do at that particular point.
It’s all about who to take and where, but it’s usually about round one. It’s not about the other rounds. They just have legitimate concerns that they don’t want to screw up their drafts, basically, with the first pick. Normally, if you’re in the Top 5, you’re going running back, and it’s after that fifth or sixth running back – Eddie Lacy this year – that you can really start to diversify your portfolio and get away from the running back theory, entertaining guys like Calvin Johnson, Jimmy Graham and Peyton Manning, depending on who falls to you. But really, it just depends on what your league settings are.
Do your friends call you for advice when they’re preparing for their drafts or have you had to put your foot down and tell them no more free trips to the well?
I’ve been in situations like that. Prime example – last year, Lamar Miller burned a lot of people. My backside is still raw after drafting Lamar Miller in a couple leagues. I’m in a 14-team auction keeper PPR league with a bunch of my buddies, started this league with my neighbors back in my hometown of Champaign, Illinois, about five or six years ago. We get together every year in person to draft, and Miller was a guy I was very high on. I thought he could pull away from Daniel Thomas and be that bellcow on South Beach in Joe Philbin’s offense and really take a major step forward. Well, it’s a keeper league, so everybody gets to keep two guys, and everybody was reading my material. They knew I was going to be targeting Miller because I had these wild projections for him – he went for $45-friggin-dollars, and of course I’m the guy that bought him, because I just couldn’t stave off the man crush.
That’s a prime example of my hand being shown to everybody, it’s public viewing, and my league-mates just took advantage of it, and of course I bit on it. Most of the time, my buddies are out to kick my ass, so they don’t want to ask many questions because they feel that I’m wrong most of the time. They’d rather be wrong on their own volition than mine.
I feel like fantasy leagues are like poker games, in that everyone has stories about their big wins or bad beats, and they looooooooove talking about them. Do people try to pour their stories on you and does it ever get tiresome hearing people talk about this wonderful game?
No, because like them, I’ve experienced a lot of bad beats in my lifetime. I’m still not over a game – I believe it’s from 2004 – a Monday night game between the Tennessee Titans and Kansas City Chiefs, first round of the fantasy playoffs. I picked up Billy Volek, because he had a killer week before, and I don’t remember who my starting QB was, but he was terrible. I was the 8-seed, the last seed, in our playoffs and was playing the 1-seed, so I figured I’d roll the dice to have a shot. Volek had the mother of all matchups, because he was playing Kansas City, and the Chiefs were dead last against the pass at that point in the season. It was coming down to Billy Volek vs. Drew Bennett, who my opponent had, so in my mind I’m thinking all Volek has to do is go crazy in this game and not throw the ball to Bennett.
Well, the first half of that game, guess who caught three touchdowns… Drew Bennett. Volek ended up having a sick game, but I ended up losing by a handful of points, because he kept throwing the damn ball to Bennett. If he had just completed one of those three touchdown passes to anybody else, I would have won. That is a bad beat story that has stuck with me for years.
It’s funny, I was shooting Fantasy Football Live at NBC and Brian Westbrook was on set with us, and there’s a very memorable fantasy incident with Brian. About six years ago, he took a knee against the Dallas Cowboys at the 1-yard line, so I called up my boss, Brandon Funston at Yahoo!, who lost his playoff game that year by .22 fantasy points, with Brian standing right there. I said, “Hey Brandon, do you want me to bring up the whole .22-point incident and tell him you’re still mad about it?” So I brought it up to Westbrook and he started shaking his head and said, “Man, I get that all the time on Twitter, on the streets – people will just never give that up.”
As for this season, let’s forget the best players. We know that Peyton, Calvin, Jamaal, etc. are the tops at their position. I want to play rapid fire value pick rundown. I’m going to say the position, and you tell me one player in the middle of the pack that you think will be a pleasant surprise: QB?
Tony Romo. Don’t worry about the bad back. Don’t worry about the deep ball, in terms of accuracy. People are making a big deal about nothing in regard to that. Cowboys defense may be the worst in franchise history, it’s pathetic, and he has Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams there, check down to DeMarco Murray and Jason Witten to get it done. Romo’s been Top 10, I think, for seven consecutive years with the exception of the one season that he only played, like, six games. He’s an extraordinary value who is going to be involved in a ton of shootouts. I think it’s going to be a career year for Tony Romo.
One guy who I like in middle rounds who is falling quite a bit and I think is going to exceed expectations is Rashad Jennings in New York. Everyone’s making a big deal about Andre Williams based on the Hall of Fame Game, because it’s the first football that they’ve seen all year. But Rashad Jennings, in the last preseason game, ripped off a 73-yard touchdown run. Granted, the hole was big enough for Jabba the Hutt to fit through, but he got to the second and third level and took off, and they couldn’t catch him. He’s also a guy who can pass protect and block, and he’s an excellent receiver. Andre Williams is the antithesis of a good receiver. I think Jennings is going to be a guy you can get in the 4th or 5th round and give you second round value.
Brandin Cooks is the Mario Batali of fantasy wide receivers and a guy who is going to get the job done in his rookie campaign. No Darren Sproles in New Orleans, no Lance Moore, but he’s more than Sproles. I know he’s 5-foot-nothing, 180-pounds, but he can cut on a dime with 4.33 speed. I realize that Jimmy Graham in the centerpiece of that offense, and Marques Colston, despite being long in the tooth, can still play. Kenny Stills is more of the Devery Henderson type and a deep threat. Cooks will be an 80-catch, 900 yard and probably six to eight TD wideout right from the get-go, and he’s a steal at pick No. 100 in average draft value.
What about sleepers this season? Who are some players that you’re hiding under a piece of paper for the late rounds?
If you want a deep sleeper at quarterback, let’s look at Johnny Manziel (Ed. Note: We spoke before Brian Hoyer was named the starter, but do we really think he’s going to last?). He’s a very polarizing, divisive figure in the world of football and even fantasy football, but Manziel has the ability to run the football. He’s shown some good arm strength and accuracy as well, and made good decisions in the pocket. Terrelle Pryor was a Top 16 QB last year based on his running game alone.
As for RB, another rookie I like is Carlos Hyde, who is a lot like Cooks and seems to be soaring a bit. Frank Gore was born in the Mesozoic Era – he’s old. He has a high reading on his odometer, and I know that we’ve been predicting this for years, but I think that this is the year that we’re going to see a changing of the guard in San Francisco. Hyde was magnificent in his preseason debut against the first-string Ravens defense, and he can do it all.
Wide receiver, I’m going back to Cleveland, especially for PPR, as one guy who I think is severely underrated is Andrew Hawkins. I think there’s 80-85 catch potential in that offense, although touchdowns could be few and far between. Also look out for John Brown of the Arizona Cardinals, the rookie out of Pittsburgh State. He’s been dazzling a lot in training camp and he really reminds me a lot of Mike Wallace. He has explosive speed and he’ll see a lot of single coverage with Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd as the bookends.
Now, tight end is one that always bothers me. I feel like if you’re not getting Jimmy Graham, then just wait. When it comes to Graham, do you believe that it’s okay to take a TE in the first round?
Yeah, as long as it’s not Rob Gronkowski. You’ll have tears in your beers and heartache if you draft him and he misses half of the season. I’m drafting Graham at seven if he’s there. I’m taking him ahead of Megatron and running backs there, because there’s so much value in RB and you know what you’re getting with Graham. It’s all about ceiling versus floor. He caught 16 TDs last season and he could possibly exceed that this season in this Saints offense.
Again, you can get Jennings around Round 4 and Toby Gerhart around there, too. Even Andre Ellington is falling to Round 3, so you can go TE-WR or TE-QB and it makes sense, because when you look at running backs, those that have been taken in the Top 12 of the position for the last five years have busted 43.3% of the time. It’s about safety and reassurance, and Graham gives you that.
If I don’t get Graham, who should I look for, when should I take him?
If you don’t get Graham, just wait on tight end. There’s a number of guys I like – it’s an extraordinarily deep position this year. I’m particularly high on Jordan Reed, because if you take what he did in nine games and extrapolate it, he’s essentially Greg Olsen last year, who was a Top 10 performer. Between Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson, I think Reed can be a red zone buster and help RG3 have a comeback campaign – despite all the hype about Kirk Cousins – in Jay Gruden’s offense this year.
Another guy I really like is Kyle Rudolph. I think Rudolph in a Norv Turner offense will be like Jay Novacek, Antonio Gates and Jordan Cameron as tight end megastars. He caught nine touchdowns a few seasons ago, and I think Teddy Bridgewater will overtake Matt Cassel at some point this season, and it goes back to that safety valve, which is typically the tight end.
Charles Clay is another guy I like who is going around pick 134 in average Yahoo! drafts. He was a Top 12 TE last season, and Bill Lazor’s offense is fashioned after Philly’s offense. I think he’ll be good for 750-800 yards and a handful of touchdowns, and you’re getting him in the late hours of your fantasy drafts.
This is a very serious question, as it affects myself and many fantasy football enthusiasts that I know – where do you stand on couples playing against each other in the same leagues?
I highly recommend it. You hear some of these wild, salacious stories of certain favors and side bets that are involved. As long as everybody puts the rules out there that you can’t collude and you can’t do any shady stuff under the table because you’re married by contract. I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all, but nobody wants to see a divorce happen as the result of a fantasy football outcome.
Any time my friends and I get together for draft, we always end up rehashing previous seasons, talking about our best teams or the best fantasy players and performances. I always bring up my least favorite fantasy player in history – Lee Evans. Who do you think is the all-time biggest fantasy bust?
Lamar Miller would be receiving votes, because I bought him again this year, although at $21 instead of $45. I can’t quit him. Ryan Matthews has to be tops for me. Every year, you see the talent, and he finished strong last year but was miserable for the first half of the season. He fumbles in the end zone, he tries to make plays happen from five yards out instead of just powering the ball in with his legs, and he still has Danny Woodhead and now Donald Brown there. And yet, every year I own him in like 90% of my leagues. Every year, I just feel like I have to draft him or I’m incomplete.