Welcome to this edition of the 2012 Footballguys Roundtable. Feel free to eavesdrop as various staff members share their views on a range of topics in discussion format. This week, they touch on the following:
Kellen Winslow and Dallas Clark Chargers Offense Lions Offense Serpentine Draft vs. Auction
Kellen Winslow and Dallas Clark
They've both been prolific receivers in the past, but Winslow has had six knee surgeries and you have to wonder when he'll break down. Clark has been limited by injuries in each of the past two seasons. Do either of these guys have much left in the tank?
JASON WOOD: No. With the top tier tight ends now putting up 1,000+ yards and 8-10+ touchdowns, there's a lot less value in the guy who grabs 50 receptions and four to five scores. Some fantasy owners are going to look at the Bucs decision to trade Winslow and sign Clark as a reason to get excited about Clark. But you need to remember a few things. One, Clark was never an elite talent — he was a good player in a great situation. It's no coincidence that every tight end in the Manning era was relevant in fantasy. Clark was no different than Marcus Pollard or Jacob Tamme or anyone else to get a start with Manning. Now he's going to a new offense, for a short-term, low risk contract, and on the day he was signed the Buccaneers General Manager referred to him as rotation player who can contribute, and then singled out Luke Stocker as a "young, every-down tight end." Clark is going to play in two-TE sets and shouldn't be anything more than a late round fantasy backup. Winslow has the skill set to be relevant for another few years, but I have to wonder what the Seahawks will do with him. After all, the Seahawks acquired Zach Miller, and then completely ruined his fantasy value. Miller is a better all-around tight end than Winslow, and now they have to split time.
WILL GRANT: Jason hit it on the head. Very few players come to a new team and have the team change the offense to match their skill set. You might see it with a quarterback, but probably not with a running back or wide receiver and certainly not with a tight end. As Jason mentioned, it doesn't make sense that Seattle would go after Winslow since they don't really use that position a lot.
DAVE LARKIN: They don't have much left in the tank, I'm afraid to say. As Jason alluded to, the expectation level for tight end production has soared with this new vanguard of super athletic players like Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski stamping their authority on the league. The sad truth of it is that Kellen Winslow, for all his physical talent, has lost his spark because of the recurrent knee injuries and surgeries he has had to endure. I expect Seattle to use Winslow as a rotational tight end along with Zach Miller. It limits the upside of both players. Dallas Clark, to me, fits into the same category as Winslow: an aging, veteran tight end with very little left in the tank. Clark will split the snaps at the position with Luke Stocker and in a run-heavy offense, I expect very little production.
JEFF PASQUINO: When Winslow gets dealt for a third day draft pick, that tells you pretty much all you need to know of his perceived value in the league. Rumors are that Tampa Bay felt that not only did he lose a step or two but he was also making Josh Freeman look bad and was responsible for more than half of Freeman's interceptions.
MAURILE TREMBLAY: I don't think Winslow has any fantasy value at this point, but Dallas Clark could still be a decent fantasy TE2. He's healthy for the first time in a couple years, and he'll be one of the more talented receivers in the Buccaneers offense.
The Buccaneers did target Winslow 119 times last season. Will the Bucs throw to their tight ends nearly as much this season?
WILL GRANT: If nothing else changed in Tampa, you might think Clark is going to get a ton of targets. But they also added Vincent Jackson and upgraded their running back position with Doug Martin. I don't see Clark taking the receptions one-for-one from where Winslow left off. He may just be a veteran pass-catcher to help mentor the younger guys.
DAVE LARKIN: It seems unlikely if you read the tea leaves and the news snippets that are flying around. Greg Schiano is your classic ground-and-pound coach, and he will stick with his philosophy steadfastly. Dallas Clark will be the primary receiving option at the tight end position, but only as a third or fourth read in a progression. Tampa Bay is introducing a lot more play action into their offense, which will incorporate deep shots. An offense like that is hardly conducive to the aging Clark's skill set. Part of the reason Winslow was targeted 119 times last season was the Buccaneers' lack of offensive consistency and the fact that they often played from behind.
JEFF PASQUINO: If Dallas Clark could still play like he once did, he would be in Denver, not Tampa Bay. Peyton Manning could have told John Elway to get his former tight end — and he did, actually — but his name was Jacob Tamme, not Dallas Clark. Clark will have next to no fantasy value in Greg Schiano's run-heavy offense.
MAURILE TREMBLAY: I think it's tough to gauge right now how many targets the Buccaneers tight ends will get. One the one hand, Kellen Winslow got a lot of targets each of the last three years. On the other hand, the Buccaneers have a new offensive coordinator this season: Mike Sullivan who was formerly the quarterbacks coach for the Giants. The Giants have not made the tight end a big part of their passing offense in recent years, so if Sullivan brings a similar scheme over to Tampa Bay, Clark could see many fewer targets than Winslow did.
In contrast to the Buccaneers, the Seahawks hardly threw to their tight ends. Zach Miller had just 25 receptions on the season. Will Winslow come in and get anywhere near 100 targets?
DAVE LARKIN: Not a chance of 100 targets; a number like 45-50 might be more likely, with a total of around 30 receptions. Simply put, I view Winslow as a rotational player for the Seahawks, who rarely make use of their tight ends as receiving options. Pete Carroll may shift his philosophy slightly with the signing of Matt Flynn at quarterback, but I wouldn't count on it. This is still a run-first offense. The majority of the targets will be distributed between the returning Sidney Rice, the sure-handed Doug Baldwin, and the improving Golden Tate.
JEFF PASQUINO: I do think that Seattle will throw more to the tight end, especially with a former Green Bay Packer in Matt Flynn as the new quarterback, but those targets will mostly go to the better athlete with upside and that's Zach Miller, not Winslow.
MAURILE TREMBLAY: I agree with Dave and Jeff. No way will Winslow get anywhere close to 100 targets.
How will the loss of Vincent Jackson affect the rest of the offense?
JASON WOOD: I'm not sure it will have much impact. My suppositions are that (a) Philip Rivers is accurate and talented enough to get all his players involved that he doesn't need to rely on any one person, and (b) Jackson has missed plenty of snaps over the years and San Diego has been just fine. Robert Meachem may not be the complete package that Jackson was, but he brings a lot of the same tools to the Chargers offense — he's a deep threat, he's strong, and he's difficult to cover on the outside in single coverage. Meachem isn't the kind of player who can catch 100 passes and be used in every route on the route tree, but then again Vincent Jackson was never used that way, either.
WILL GRANT: In 2010 when Jackson sat out most of the season, Rivers still threw for 4,700 yards and 30 touchdowns. I don't think the loss of him specifically causes that trend to drop too much. I do fear that the totality of the losses — Jackson and Mike Tolbert gone, Gates being another year older, the lack of a true standout wide receiver on the team — puts the team at risk to take a step back though. The Chargers have taken a lot of hits on offense over the last two years, and I have a feeling that it may catch up with them this season.
MATT WALDMAN: It will have a significant impact in terms of how it generates big plays. Robert Meachem has downfield skill, but let's get something straight: Meachem had Drew Brees throwing him the football — perhaps the best deep ball thrower in football — and Meachem was never more than a fringe fantasy starter with enticing upside. Do you really think Meachem is going to get it together now if he didn't with one of the best three quarterbacks in the game? I'm sure the Saints would have gladly ditched Devery Henderson over Meachem if the new Charger was really that promising. Some might say that the Saints scheme focuses on its big and little slot receivers (Graham, Colston, and Moore) and its hybrid passing back, Sproles. This is true, but I have a difficult time believing Meachem wouldn't have been a bigger part of the offense if he showed up every week like he was supposed to. While I like Floyd and Brown, neither are as big as Jackson and they won't dominate defensive backs down field the way Jackson did.
JEFF PASQUINO: Everyone is thinking that Robert Meachem is going to be a stud 1,000-yard receiver, but I just don't see it. Between him, Malcom Floyd, Eddie Royal and Vincent Brown I see Phillip Rivers spreading the ball around to all four of them plus tight end Antonio Gates. This will look more like a West Coast offense where Rivers just targets whoever is open.
MAURILE TREMBLAY: Schematically, I don't think it will have a huge effect. I agree with Jason's take that, while Meachem is not as skilled a receiver as Jackson overall, he can do a lot of what the Chargers asked Jackson to do. Maybe not as well, but he can run similar patterns. So I don't think the offense will change much, and Philip Rivers has shown an ability to succeed without star wide receivers in the lineup.
Philip Rivers had a down year last season. What are his prospects for a bounce-back year?
JASON WOOD: Very strong. Rivers has too many years of elite production to worry that last year was a new baseline. I would be shocked if he doesn't have an excellent season.
WILL GRANT: I wouldn't sneeze at 4,600 yards passing and 27 touchdowns. Dropping from QB5 to QB9 from a fantasy perspective is not really that big of a drop in my book. Rivers is one guy that I don't think I'd worry about from the Chargers this season. He's proven he can get it done with a stable of question marks, and I have a feeling he'll find a way to do it again this season. He may still finish around QB9 rather than Top 5, but I'd still use him as the primary quarterback in a QBBC for this season.
MATT WALDMAN: I think he can cut back on the interceptions, but I don't believe he'll amass a ton of yardage if Ryan Mathews plays as well as he did last year. Norv Turner likes to pass off the run and he got Mathews (and got rid of Mike Tolbert) to be the feature back. I don't expect the Chargers to become the Cowboys of the '90s and Rivers to play Troy Aikman. However, I think this team will be more about the run than it was at the end of LaDainian Tomlinson's career in San Diego.
JEFF PASQUINO: I like him to bounce back, but mostly due to him spreading the ball around, getting Gates back healthy and having a strong run game with Ryan Mathews. If Mathews gets hurt then it will all fall on Rivers' shoulders, which will mean more throwing but I also think more bad decisions as he forces throws.
MAURILE TREMBLAY: Although his fantasy stats didn't suffer much, Rivers made uncharacteristically poor decisions last season: it looked like he'd lost his focus at times. It was bad enough that a lot of observers suspected he was hiding an injury, despite Rivers' protests to the contrary. I think he was trying to force things instead of working within the confines of the offense. He was putting the offense on his shoulders and trying to make things happen. Unfortunately, some of the things he made happen were bad. I think he'll learn from his mistakes, though, and will cut down on the turnovers in 2012.
Can Antonio Gates regain his position as an elite fantasy tight end, or have the young up-and-comers like Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, and Aaron Hernandez permanently dislodged him from the top tier?
JASON WOOD: I would argue he's never lost his position as an elite fantasy tight end. Last season Gates was 4th in fantasy points per game among tight ends. If not for his injury, he would've had his eighth consecutive top-five fantasy season. Dr. Jene Bramel believes Gates is a risk to suffer further injury, and so I think you have to ensure you draft a solid backup to him, but he hasn't lost the elite label just yet — when he's on the field. But I do think Graham and Gronkowski should be drafted ahead of Gates in any league format.
WILL GRANT: As Jason points out, you need to back him up just in case he goes down to injury, but overall I think Gates is rock solid as a starting fantasy tight end.
MATT WALDMAN: The Chargers need him more than ever, and I think if he feels as good as he says, he still has at least a year or two of stud production. I think there's room for four in the top tier this year.
JEFF PASQUINO: I think he can get back to 80-90% of the force he used to be, but with as good as Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski are now I don't see him in the top tier any more. I can see him getting 75-900-8 type numbers, but four tight ends had 79+ catches last year, four had 900+ yards and three had eight or more touchdowns. I think the top end for Gates now is TE4 in fantasy.
MAURILE TREMBLAY: Gates is no longer the class of the league as a receiving tight end. Graham, Gronkowski, and Hernandez are all as athletic as Gates was in his prime, and Gates is likely no longer in his prime. And you can add Vernon Davis and Jermichael Finley to the list of terrific athletes at tight end. Gates may still be in their company, but he's not at the head of the class anymore.
Is Ryan Mathews ready to become a fantasy stud?
JASON WOOD: Yet again I'll push back and suggest he's ALREADY a fantasy stud. He finished as RB7 last year in spite of getting off to a slow start, and only starting 13 of 16 games. With Mike Tolbert leaving for the Panthers, Mathews is one of only a half dozen running backs that's going to be given an opportunity to touch the ball 300+ times this year. Given his size and the Chargers typical offensive production, it's easy to project his touchdown total to increase from last year's six, and his yardage should be steady if not improve. I would be shocked if Mathews doesn't finish as a top-five fantasy running back this year.
WILL GRANT: Yes. Your only concern would be whether he can hold up for 16 games as the primary back. In 2010, he had Darren Sproles and Mike Tolbert to share the load. Last year Tolbert had almost 175 touches and nearly 1,000 yards. This year Mathews gets to carry the load himself. His points-per-game should make him one of the elite backs this season. But Just like Gates, you need to be concerned that he can hold up to a 320 + touch season.
MATT WALDMAN: He was pretty close last year. I thought he was the best back in the 2010 draft class and I think he proved that physically and conceptually he has the skills to become a top-tier runner. Maturity is his stumbling block. He came to camp last year completely out of shape although Norv Turner told the media that he was expecting to hand the keys to Mathews. I think he got the message that this is now his job and not just something he's good at and can slide by like he did as a kid. I'd take a shot on him in the mid-first round without reservation.
JEFF PASQUINO: All signs seem to point in that direction. He will be the total package in San Diego and a workhorse, so if he gets his numbers from 2011 and a few of the 10 touchdowns that went to Mike Tolbert last year I could see 1,800+ combined yards and double-digit scores. Mathews was a Top 10 rusher last year in fantasy so if you project 20-30% more fantasy points or more then yes, absolutely — Mathews can be a stud this year.
MAURILE TREMBLAY: I am very bullish on Mathews this season. Fantasy success is the result of talent and opportunity, and Mathews has plenty of both. His inability to stay on the field is my only real concern. But I believe he'll toughen up and play through minor injuries more often now that, with Mike Tolbert gone, the team is counting on him more.
Who will be the team's best fantasy wide receiver this season, Robert Meachem or Malcom Floyd?
JASON WOOD: Meachem and Floyd are both being underdrafted. Meachem is coming off the board WR34 while Floyd is the 40th receiver drafted on average. That's ridiculous. Meachem was a top-40 receiver last year in spite of being a part-time player on a loaded Saints offense. Now he's going to play the majority of snaps. Floyd is riskier because of his injury history, but he's got a proven rapport with Rivers and finished as WR32 last year in only nine starts. As long as their ADPs don't change dramatically, I am willing to bet that at least one of those two will be on every one of my rosters.
WILL GRANT: Floyd had a chance to stand out two years ago during Jackson's holdout. He turned in some big games, but still managed only 37 receptions for the year. I feel like he's a known commodity, and will probably finish somewhere in the WR30 - WR36 area again.
MATT WALDMAN: I've never been a Meachem fan, so I'd target Floyd first. I think he'll be the most reliable option.
JEFF PASQUINO: I don't know if either of them will be true studs. Meachem has good speed, but I have never liked his catching ability. He has never done better than to catch two-thirds of his targets - and remember, his quarterback during that time was Drew Brees, one of the most accurate quarterbacks in NFL history. I think San Diego spreads the ball around to multiple targets including Mathews and Gates and there is no true stud.
MAURILE TREMBLAY: I actually think that Malcom Floyd is the slightly better receiver when he's healthy. Floyd has better hands and is more consistent in coming down with jump balls. Meachem is faster. I've got them ranked pretty close together, but right now I'd give the edge to Floyd. That could change if Meachem separates himself in training camp and the preseason.
Does Vincent Brown have any sleeper value?
WILL GRANT: I have big hopes for Vincent Brown that he can emerge in that 'magical' breakout season that you see some wide receivers go through. I think I'd feel better about him if he had more than just two good games last season. Half of his stats came from Week 9 and Week 10 - nine receptions for 176 yards and a touchdown. I'd have to say that Meachem probably finishes as the WR1 with Brown as the WR2 but neither of them crack the 1,000 yard mark.
MATT WALDMAN: Brown has sleeper value, but so do slot players like Roscoe Parrish and Eddie Royal. Royal has more physical skill, but I think Parrish is a smarter receiver with enough explosiveness to be helpful as a flex-play that you can get at the end of a draft. That said, Brown's hands and route skills are good enough that if he continued to work this offseason, he could force his way onto the field more often.
JEFF PASQUINO: The one sleeper I see is Eddie Royal, who could see a lot of targets in a spread-type passing game from the slot. I would be happy to snag him late in a PPR draft.
MAURILE TREMBLAY: Brown has sleeper value because of Floyd's injury history. In all likelihood, Brown will get a few starts this season. And he has the talent to be productive when given the opportunity in Philip Rivers' offense.
Matt Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards last season, and was the No. 4 fantasy quarterback. Is he a solid top-tier quarterback now, or is there still a big drop-off between the top three (Rodgers/Brady/Brees) and Stafford?
JASON WOOD: I think you have to separate Stafford from those other three quarterbacks because of his relative lack of experience. Rodgers, Brees and Brady have been elite for multiple seasons; there's very little risk of major regression barring injury. Now I'm not going to say Stafford isn't capable of entering that tier, but I won't be drafting him this year if his ADP remains that high. The one thing you have to remember is that Stafford attempted 663 passes last year. Not only did that lead the league, but it was the third most attempts in NFL history. I'm not suggesting Stafford is going to fall back into the 550-attempt range, but you can be sure the Lions coaches would prefer Stafford attempt fewer passes.
WILL GRANT: Jason hit it on the head. Stafford is in elite territory for the first time whereas the other three are here time and again. I think Stafford is definitely set for another 4,000+ yard season, but the potential is still there to fall off the pace. While it's true he threw the ball a ton last season, that was largely due to the question marks and injuries at running back. As we enter June, most of those questions still remain. Will he throw the ball 650 times again this season? I don't think so, but it will be a lot. With the emergence of Titus Young and rookie Ryan Broyle catching the ball, Stafford should still have a top-five fantasy season.
HEATH CUMMINGS: I have Stafford ranked at No. 2 behind only Rodgers. Calvin Johnson at the outside is obviously one of the big reasons why, but Brandon Pettigrew and Jahvid Best play a big role as well. If those three stay healthy is there a more perfect setup for a quarterback with a HUGE arm? I don't think so. By the end of 2011 teams were blatantly focusing all of their efforts on Johnson. That should continue this season and leave openings for Pettigrew across the middle and Best in the flat in single coverage situations. Both players win those situations a majority of the time. There's no telling what is in store for Best, but based on pure potential I have a hard time seeing a lineup with more upside than the Lions. Even as the No. 4 quarterback, I think Stafford is the best value out there.
DAVE LARKIN: If you trust Stafford to remain healthy going forward, there is no reason why he is not the next quarterback in the top tier behind the likes of Rodgers, Brady and Brees. The drop-off is negligible, in my opinion. Stafford's mind-blowing 663 passing attempts from last season should decrease in 2012, but not dramatically. I still expect somewhere in the ballpark of 4,700 yards and 35-40 touchdown passes. If that is not elite, I don't know what is.
JEFF PASQUINO: I tend to agree that it is Rodgers, Brees and Brady and then comes Stafford. Cam Newton rounds out a typical Top 5 but for different reasons (running ability). Stafford made many of us look brilliant last year, but most anyone could have seen that if he could just stay healthy that he would put up huge numbers with Calvin Johnson as his primary target. The other subtle part that pushed Stafford higher than expected was the lack of a reliable ground game. tight end Brandon Pettigrew was an extension of the run attack, racking up five to seven yards on little passes to keep the chains moving. All that adds up. I'd put Stafford firmly in the Top 5, but not with the first three names.
MAURILE TREMBLAY: I think it's appropriate to draft Rodgers, Brady, and Brees ahead of Stafford because of their longer track record, but I don't see much of a drop-off between them and Stafford. I love the situation that Stafford is in. He's in a completely pass-happy offense with a number of very talented weapons to throw to. He has the best wide receiver in the league in Calvin Johnson, decent depth at that position behind Johnson, one of the better tight ends in the league in Brandon Pettigrew, and a very good receiver out of the backfield in Jahvid Best. I think the big drop-off comes just after Stafford rather than just before him.
What's going on at the running back position? Any of Jahvid Best, Mikel Leshoure, or Kevin Smith would be quite attractive if they could lock down the featured role, but will there be any such thing this year in Detroit, or will this be a committee that prevents any of them from having sustained fantasy value this season?
JASON WOOD: Jahvid Best appears to be cleared for takeoff, but we also know he's probably one concussion away from missing an entire season. He's flashed brilliance, and that's going to entice a lot of people to roll the dice. I still think Best could push for 1,800-2,000 total yards from scrimmage if he ever managed a full 16-game season, but on draft day you can't count on him doing that. I'm comfortable projecting Best to be a key contributor, though, and would gladly target him as my RB3 or later. Leshoure is a bit of an enigma. I need to see him practice day-in, day-out before I would ever consider drafting him — but even if he does look good in practice, his offseason missteps give me further pause. Kevin Smith feels like an insurance policy if the two youngsters don't pan out, but there's irony in that considering Smith's own injury history.
WILL GRANT: I just told David Dodds this evening that anyone trying to project in May how the running back numbers will shake out in Detroit this season is going to have a hell of a task. Jahvid Best is clearly the front runner to be the top dog, but I have this strange feeling that he's playing his final days in the NFL this year. I hope I'm wrong, but one more concussion and I feel like he's done. Leshoure has a ton of upside, but hasn't proven anything. His traffic ticket eating habits will have him missing some time and if he can't control it, he could be up for longer suspensions. Kevin Smith recovered nicely from a career near death experience, but how long can he stay healthy. As camps get closer, you will probably see one of them emerge. For now, I'd say that most of them are undervalued.
MATT WALDMAN: All three backs are good candidates as mid-round options. I wouldn't be shocked if Best has Darren Sproles upside if he can stay healthy. If I were the Lions, I'm sure I'd have coaches and scouts watching the Saints offense to see how they used Sproles and incorporate that with Best. I think Leshoure is the player I'd least likely take although he has the most feature back talent as the traditional big back. The problem is the Lions use a spread offense more often in its base personnel, and I don't see them veering away from it enough to find Leshoure as appealing. It's a matter of fit rather than talent. Smith to me has always had top-15 running back talent, but he runs so violently with his cuts (see early-career Cadillac Williams, Ryan Williams, and Ahmad Bradshaw) that injury is a constant concern. However I'd take him in the late rounds where he's available.
HEATH CUMMINGS: I think it's pretty simple: if Best is healthy he wins the job and dominates in the process. If not, the Lions are as deep as any team in the league at this position. The problem with the Lions running backs from a fantasy standpoint is that you really can't trust any of them. Best may be one concussion away from retirement, LeShoure has both character and injury issues, and Kevin Smith is just waiting for another trip to the emergency room. That being said, I'd risk taking Best at his current average draft position because if he plays a full season he has the potential to put together a stud season, especially in PPR leagues.
DAVE LARKIN: Neither Best, Leshoure, nor Smith has shown the ability to hold down a feature back role, so I doubt that will happen at all. What the Lions do have is a nice committee of backs, each with his own unique skill set. I am intrigued to see how Leshoure in particular has recovered from his Achilles injury and what kind of impact he can have in this offense. If any back in Detroit is going to hold more value, it will be him. The one caveat is that he may have to swallow a suspension from the league for the arrests for marijuana possession. Until we know more, the safe play is to watch and wait and see how the Lions deploy their backs in training camp and preseason.
JEFF PASQUINO: It sure seems like it will be Best as the starter but how long will he hold up and stay healthy? Mikel Leshoure has had two issues with drugs this offseason so even if he is healthy he may get suspended. Odds are both will be the keys to a committee backfield, but as we saw last year Detroit is not depending on a heavy ground attack.
In most leagues in most seasons, the first wide receiver off the board goes in the second half of round one. Is Calvin Johnson studly enough to warrant going in the first half of round one?
JASON WOOD: In a league where passing is dominating more than ever, and the number of true workhorse running backs is falling off a cliff, there's absolutely reason to think about drafting a quarterback or wide receiver in the early part of round one. At Footballguys, we've always been huge proponents of the concept of Value Based Drafting, which by design allows drafters to compare players at different positions. From that perspective, Johnson ranked fifth in VBD value last year in 12-team leagues — and trailed only one running back (Ray Rice). Yet we know three or four running backs (if not more) will go before Johnson in most leagues. I would absolutely feel comfortable drafting Johnson in the middle of the first round, particularly if I'm going to take an Upside Down draft approach as popularized by our own Matt Waldman.
WILL GRANT: In PPR leagues, most definitely. In non-PPR leagues, depending on the starting lineup and scoring system, you might see it as well. In 12-team leagues that start three wide receivers with a flex of possibly four, you will have more than 40 wide receivers on the field each week. If quarterback passing touchdowns are three or four points, the delta between WR1 and WR40 is big enough to warrant a high pick.
MATT WALDMAN: Does the NFL stand for National Football League? (Hint: yes.)
DAVE LARKIN: Without knowing the scoring system, the answer is yes. After the top tier of running backs (Foster/Rice/McCoy), Johnson and Aaron Rodgers are more or less neck and neck in my opinion. Johnson is only entering the prime of his career now, as frightening as that may be to opposing defenses. The Lions will continue to rely heavily on the passing offense with Stafford at the helm, leading to more ridiculous circus catches for Megatron. Don't over think this one; take Johnson in the top half of the first round and you will be grinning like a Cheshire cat each and every Sunday.
JEFF PASQUINO: Calvin is clearly the top wide receiver in the NFL and he has put up big numbers with any quarterback that Detroit has thrown out there. Stafford is very good, but Johnson has worked with Shaun Hill, Drew Stanton, Dan Orlovsky, Jon Kitna and Drew Henson among others. Johnson can beat double coverage and put up ridiculous numbers against any coverage and with any quarterback so yes, he certainly warrants that early of a pick in a pass-happy league.
Will Titus Young surpass Nate Burleson as the team's No. 2 receiver this season? Which of those two wide receivers would you prefer to have in a redraft league?
JASON WOOD: As I started doing my first cut of projections, Young was absolutely slated ahead of Burleson this year. Young played exceptionally well in his rookie season, and lined up in multiple positions (not just the slot as some have been suggesting). He runs good routes, is strong in spite of his size, and even a normal level of improvement from Year One to Year Two would make Young a compelling mid-round sleeper, particularly in PPR leagues. All that being said, the recent news that Young was sent home from OTAs and not allowed to attend a team bonding event for undisclosed reasons is disconcerting. Young can't overtake Burleson if he's in the coaches' dog house.
WILL GRANT: In a PPR league, I think I like Burleson better. I think he's that solid three- or four-catch a game wide receiver that provides the nice safety net over the middle. Young could emerge as the big-play alternative to Calvin Johnson, but as Jason points out, the coaching staff sets the lineup and Detroit is very familiar with dealing with young wideouts who underperform.
MATT WALDMAN: I think Young has that talent to beat Burleson, who is the NFL's equivalent of a disappearing act if I've ever seen one. He looks like a solid starter one week, then POOF! Four weeks, later he reappears only for a cloud of smoke to envelope him again. Young has more top-end speed and as much or more skill after the catch. He just needs to mature as a human being, which might be a tall order based on recent reports.
HEATH CUMMINGS: I am not big on Burleson, especially after the Lions took Broyle. I really don't think Broyle has much potential in 2012, unless it's as a late-season waiver-wire acquisition, but I still think his presence along with Young makes it possible that Burleson doesn't even survive camp. I really though Young improved greatly throughout the year, and could excel on underneath routes with Johnson pulling multiple defenders his direction.
DAVE LARKIN: This is a great question and one of the bigger question marks that needs to be addressed this offseason. Burleson will contribute this year and maybe next, but his career is hurtling towards its climax. The Titus Young situation puzzles me. Young had a very solid rookie year (52 receptions, 640 yards, and six touchdowns) but his latest off-field incident (or did the punch occur on the field?) gives me pause. In the end, NFL coaching staffs sometimes make their decisions simple enough: they give the job to the guy they can rely on more. Right now, that would appear to be Nate Burleson over Young. In conclusion, I wouldn't be shocked if Young surpassed Burleson as the Lions de facto number two receiver, but first he needs to earn the trust of the coaching staff off the field. I would draft Young in redraft leagues, purely on upside.
JEFF PASQUINO: The Lions have to learn this year whether Young will be the WR2 for them next year, so expect him to be on the field often. I would rather have Young more than Burleson because if things go as planned, Burleson will be minimized by the second half of the season (and rookie Ryan Broyles could also get on the field too) so give me the upside guy instead of the older veteran who could struggle for playing time after Thanksgiving.
What is Ryan Broyle's potential, both in redraft and in dynasty leagues?
WILL GRANT: Broyle has some upside in a dynasty league, but limited value in a redraft league at this time. Let's see how the season starts shaping out before we anoint him as the No. 3 wide receiver for the Lions. In a dynasty league, Broyle is going in the 12-18 range.
MATT WALDMAN: Broyles has potential to become an 1,100-yard receiver when healthy and a great complement to Calvin Johnson because he's a difficult option to defender vertically, in the open field, and in the red zone. I'd take him as a mid-round pick in dynasty leagues but pass on him in re-drafts unless he looks like he's ready to go in training camp and I'm skeptical.
DAVE LARKIN: I love Broyles' talent. The Lions clearly value Broyles' talent as well judging by their selection of him in the second round. In dynasty leagues, Broyles has become a very valuable player to own and I think he is in the box seat for the slot receiver position in Detroit for the future. As a redraft option, Broyles is only worth late round consideration if the buzz about him in camp is very promising.
Brandon Pettigrew finished as the No. 11 fantasy tight end last season, but perhaps more indicative of his potential is that he was No. 2 in targets behind only Jimmy Graham. Could he outperform his draft position this season the same way that Matt Stafford did last season?
JASON WOOD: As was noted, Pettigrew got an inordinate number of targets last year. I'm fond of saying that fantasy success requires a combination of ability and opportunity, and Pettigrew got his opportunity last year. But did he make the most of it? Finishing as the 11th-ranked tight end in spite of the second-most targets is potentially troubling, particularly if you assume Stafford won't throw as much this year, and Titus Young is going to continue to mature and command more looks. Pettigrew isn't like Jimmy Graham or Antonio Gates. He's not as fluid in and out of his breaks; he's more of a conventional throwback tight end. That doesn't mean he can't catch the ball, but it does mean he's far less likely to break deep downfield or grab a pass in traffic and then churn out the yards after the catch. He's more of a catch and drop kind of option.
WILL GRANT: Pettigrew exploits the middle of the field, and he's starting to find the end zone as well. With the emergence of a solid No. 2 wide receiver, Pettigrew might draw less coverage over the middle, Leaving Pettigrew to run wild. Look for a top-10 finish from him, but he will fall a little short of being the next Jimmy Graham. The other thing to think about is that Pettigrew frequently takes the big hit. He did better at avoiding the big shot last season, but he likes squaring up against smaller defensive backs. Those guys still hit like a truck, and knee injuries can happen all the time.
WILL GRANT: Pettigrew will become a fantasy stud only if the receiving corps loses Calvin Johnson. Pettigrew is a good target and a good fantasy tight end, but I think his ceiling when all weapons are healthy is as a low-end TE1. He's a big tight end with good speed, but he's not a great athlete at the position like Graham, Hernandez, Gronkowski, and Gates.
HEATH CUMMINGS: Obviously, Pettigrew has to pull in a few more of those targets to become a top-10 fantasy tight ends, and I suspect he will in 2012. I think he could also end up as a tight end that really excels in the red zone because after last season it is going to be priority one for all Lions opponents to stop Calvin Johnson inside the 20. Pettigrew's build makes him an excellent red zone target, but his hands must improve if he's going to make the leap. In the end, I think he'll do just that.
DAVE LARKIN: I am erring on the side of caution with Pettigrew, not because I dislike his talent, but because there are too many mouths to feed in Detroit. A short dump-off pass to Pettigrew last season might be a four-yard run between the tackles this season. As long as the Lions have their stable of backs healthy, Pettigrew's numbers are bound to take a small hit. If anything, I expect him to drop to the 12th-15th tight end range this year.
JEFF PASQUINO: Expecting significant improvement from Pettigrew this season is a risky proposition, and as I mentioned earlier Pettigrew was part of the replacement of a lost ground game attack. If LeShoure or Best get back and contribute I expect far less from Pettigrew this season.
MAURILE TREMBLAY: I'm with Heath in that I think Pettigrew will start doing more with the targets he gets this season. I think he's a solid fantasy TE1 this year.
Serpentine Draft vs. Auction
What are the advantages and drawbacks of each?
WILL GRANT: The biggest advantage of an auction is that you have more control over your team. You might have three or four guys that you really want on your roster and in a draft, you might not get a chance to draft them because of what someone else will do in front of you. The biggest advantage of a draft league is that there isn't as much pre-draft prep time that is needed and you can easily recover from a mistake during the draft. Auctions require you to place a value on every player and rank each player against the others at their position. If you make a mistake and overpay for a guy early, you will always fall short the rest of the auction. In a draft, if you make a mistake and draft a bad guy in the second or third round, you have plenty of time to make up the difference.
JASON WOOD: As Will noted, auctions give an owner a lot more options on draft day. There's a lot more psychology and ability to adapt on the fly to what other owners are doing, whereas in a serpentine you have very little choice beyond selecting from whoever is highest rated at that moment on your draft board. I also think from the hardcore fantasy owner's standpoint, auctions are still less understood by the major sites, and so it gives hardcore guys a chance to really dominate their leagues in ways they probably used to dominate conventional snake drafts. There's so much information out there for snake drafts now that even bozos who don't look at an NFL news feed until the day of their draft can field a decent team by printing a cheat sheet. You can't get away with that in auctions.
I would say the biggest downside to auctions is the length of time it takes to draft. That may not be a major negative for some people, but if you're older with family and a job, getting time for a live draft of any kind is never easy, but allocating four or five hours of drafting for an auction? Next to impossible for many of us.
MATT WALDMAN: Serpentine drafts are generally more fun for leagues where the draft is localized to a place and people meet in-person. There's an opportunity to kick back and have some relatively fun chaos at the event. I'm sure there are some people that have a local auction down to the science, but they are probably diehard owners and the likelihood is rare. Auctions are a natural fit for online drafts as long as application of the hosting site is easy for a commissioner to learn. The pace is fast and exciting. Serpentine drafts are better socially. Auctions are better for the intensity.
Wood makes a great point about auctions the type of audience that it appeals to. If you're in a serious league with really knowledgeable fantasy owners then auction leagues are worth a try because they force owners to put their money where their mouth is when it comes to investing in talent. However, there are also different issues with draft management and risk tolerance with each style of league. Will did a good job mentioning that an owner who spends too much early can be shut out from the bargains later. However, I would counter that I won three showcase auction leagues in two years with a strategy where I spent a lot of money on six to eight top players and filled the rest of my roster with dollar plays at the end. It's higher risk, but auction is the perfect format to go big or go home and that's a thrill in itself. The point is that money management and lineup flexibility can create a more interesting variety of approaches.
JEFF PASQUINO: The advantage of a serpentine draft is that everyone knows how it works, and doing them online or even on the phone is not a big deal. The disadvantage is that everyone wants to pick first, showing how much value that spot has, which is inherently unfair to the teams drafting at the back end of the order. Even with getting two Top 15 players, that sometimes is just not enough to compensate for missing out on those first three running backs that go off the board 1-2-3 in most formats.
The advantage of doing an auction is that everyone can get whomever they want, but only if they are willing to pay. The disadvantage is that it's harder for owners to really understand and get used to it, and you really need either good software or an auctioneer or tool to help run the auctions. Also, everyone has to be at the auction all at once — either online or (preferably) in person — and the auction can take longer than a draft.
What are some of the better sites that host auctions?
JASON WOOD: My auction experience has been in local, live drafts, so I haven't done a ton with online software. I do have to say that ESPN has really improved their auction software as of last year; it's probably where I would recommend people try if they're dead set on using an online service instead of a live get together.
MATT WALDMAN: ESPN is good. I thought MyFantasyLeague was good. There just needs to be a strong understanding of how to use the application as the commissioner. If you have a commissioner who does everything last minute and really isn't prepared or experienced handling the app, expect a horrible draft experience. If they are skilled, it's fantastic.
JEFF PASQUINO: ESPN is often near the top of the list, but MyFantasyLeague has some good software coming along. Yahoo! has auction software too but I have not used that in a while.
Is the luck vs. skill component any different?
WILL GRANT: I think so. But not as much as you might think. A serpentine draft has a bit more luck element than the auction. For example, if you have the fourth overall pick and want Maurice Jones-Drew as your lead back, you need a little luck to have him fall to you. In an auction, you can bid on anyone; you just have to outbid the rest. Granted, there is some luck in auction too because you need to hope that guys don't want certain players as much as you do. As I said before though, the prep time is much harder for an auction, and if your valuations are off, your team will suffer. You don't have that concern as much in a draft.
JASON WOOD: Since you have a wider variance of draft day strategies, I would say there's incrementally more skill involved in auction drafting. But the draft is only the first start to a long fantasy season, so I wouldn't overstate the relative difference. Both types of leagues require a lot of skill and plenty of luck.
MATT WALDMAN: I think there's a little more skill involved with auctions due to the money element, but not enough to make a huge deal out of it. Auction and serpentine drafts still have a lot of luck involved due to injury, some lineup decisions, and flex plays. I'm probably one of few fantasy writers that hate flex-plays in lineups because I think it is the equivalent of playing poker with lots of wild cards.
JEFF PASQUINO: I think there is more skill in auctions, which usually comes from experience or knowledge — both of the marketplace and how to adapt. If you know what players should go for, you can adjust quickly and clean up on value at other positions. Plus you can also roll with the league and either go for studs early or wait and gather value — or a mix of both.
MAURILE TREMBLAY: Matt compared flex players to wild cards. I'll go with the poker analogy and say that I think the difference between serpentine drafts and auctions are like the difference between fixed-limit poker and no-limit poker. There's an extra element of decision-making in an auction draft because you don't merely have to make the binary decision of whether a player is worth your fifth-round pick or not; you have to decide precisely what he's worth on an open-ended scale. The training wheels are off. That said, there are also certain complications that exist in serpentine drafts that can be bypassed in auctions. In a serpentine draft, you have to figure out which players will still be available at your next pick, while in an auction, all players will be theoretically available. I think a skilled owner will have a bigger advantage over an unskilled owner in an auction than he does in a serpentine draft, which is another way of saying that skill plays a bigger role than luck in an auction than in a serpentine draft. But that doesn't necessarily means that it takes more skill to be good at actions than it does to be good at serpentine drafts. I'd say it takes a slightly different set of skills. Only slightly, because the most important skill is valuing players correctly, and that's true for both types of leagues.
Are we unanimous that auctions are more fun?
WILL GRANT: I'd say yes. But it's definitely not for everyone. I can see people who would not do well in an auction and hate every minute of it...
JASON WOOD: Not at all. I personally prefer snake drafts.
MATT WALDMAN: I think auctions are more fun online. In person, I've never done one. Still, an in-person draft with a bunch of friends beats the online experience every time.
JEFF PASQUINO: I'd say auctions are more fun. The dynamics are fun to watch, even if you are not in the bidding. Watching two owners fight over the last big quarterback or running back can be very entertaining. Seeing how other teams build their franchises is also a lot of fun. From bids to nominations, it is a good time.
Why, in your view, don't more leagues switch to an auction format?
WILL GRANT: Fear and Prep. Guys who have never done it might be apprehensive to try — especially if you're coming into it for the first time with guys who have done it before. You get this feeling like everyone knows the formula and you are starting from zero. Guys who know redraft know it already don't have to worry about that. The prep time is also a deterrent. We live and breathe football here, but many folks don't. They know the key players and know some basic strategy and between those things, a cheat sheet and a list of average draft positions, you can draft a competitive team. In an auction, without prep, you can very easily draft a team that has no chance to be successful.
JASON WOOD: It's the time element. At Footballguys.com we forget sometimes that this hobby is wildly popular (10+ million Americans and counting), but that the VAST MAJORITY of people are minor hobbyists. For every one of us that does projections in May and scours the news daily and tweaks our rankings and discusses draft strategy, there are 50 guys who simply want to show up and pick players they've heard of with their buddies. From that perspective, there is a perception that auctions are not only more time consuming on draft day, but they require significantly more preparation.
MATT WALDMAN: Ease of use as a commissioner. One bad auction experience can cause first-time auction players to swear off the experience.
JEFF PASQUINO: Familiarity with snake drafts and ease of understanding and running a draft for most owners is why auctions don't take off. Most fantasy players are casual fans, so they will balk at three or four hours for an auction. I've seen many complain at the 90-minute mark for a draft, just wanting to wrap it up. Tell them it will be three hours sometime and watch their heads spin. Another issue is getting everyone all together for the auction, and often needing either a tool or an auctioneer. Both of those can really prevent an auction from happening at all.
Do you have different goals in putting together a roster in these different formats, or are they just different routes to the same intended destination? (I.e., is your roster basically going to look the same if you have what you consider to be a successful draft vs. a successful auction? Or should there be systematic differences?)
WILL GRANT: How you build your roster depends more on the scoring system than the draft method. If you have a PPR league with tight end bonus, you're going to focus on the stud tight ends. In a league with six points for passing touchdowns, the top quarterbacks have much more value. In a basic scoring league, goal line backs are like gold. You either target them earlier in the draft or value them higher in the auction. Either way, you want players that will make you successful.
MATT WALDMAN: There are so many varieties with auction drafts. I like these three approaches:
- Spend high-end dollars on two to three players — generally running backs — and wait until the late stage of the auction where your remaining budget is on as high as those waiting until the mid-to-late rounds and control enough of the late end of the auction to land deals. This strategy generally requires solid league management skills because enough of the players on the roster aren't sure starters early on or the owner has multiple players of similar value and match up play becomes an important skill.
- Spend high-end dollars on 8-10 players in the top 50-60 overall and then fill the rest of the roster with dollar plays. I won a showcase league with Maurice Jones-Drew and Frank Gore as $1 plays about five years ago. This is a go-big or go-home strategy. It takes some guts to do and a willingness to fail big. However, it's so much fun to dominate a league of skilled owners who were so value conscious and thumping their chest about controlling the draft in the summer when I'm controlling the league in the fall.
- Control the auction in the mid-to-late stages: Buy one or two high-end players at below-market prices and then wait until you reap all of the late-round treasures. And there are enough of them to build a strong contender. David Dodds does this all the time. He's also very good at making it appear that he's involved with every player up for bid when he's in fact making sure that he's ensuring winning bids are at or above the projected market value of that player. Every year I used to compete with him in showcase leagues, I would be at my PC laughing as I watched him participate with every pick and never have more than one or two players until half way through the draft.
JEFF PASQUINO: It's an interesting question. I think you can have vastly different outcomes, especially if you go for studs in an auction. Buying three or four first-round picks from a typical snake draft will certainly mean you lack depth, but sometimes that is perfectly fine. One nice way to look at an auction result is to see the ADPs for the players you got and see how many guys you have that are seventh- or eighth-round values or better. If you have 10 of those, I think you did a great job, especially in deeper leagues and bigger lineup formats.
JASON WOOD: In a snake draft, theoretically each team should have largely the same makeup ranging from elite players (picked in the early rounds) to solid contributors who fill out the roster, to deep sleepers that are likely to be the first cut in favor of waivers. Unless someone has markedly better projections and rankings, everyone should come away from a snake draft feeling like they have cornerstone studs, decent depth, and a few question marks. In an auction you can do things much differently. Some may employ a stars-and-scrubs methodology whereby they pay big dollars for a few elite guys (i.e., players who would be first-round picks) and then draft a bunch of low-priced guys (i.e., people who would be taken in the last rounds), with a belief that they are better than their league mates at sniping early-season free agents. Others may employ a low-risk, balanced approach where they spread their money around and avoid high priced stud and the low priced fliers. That would be like having all your picks in a snake draft in Round 5 through Round 10.
MAURILE TREMBLAY: Jason said the same thing I would have. When I have a successful serpentine draft, it's because I think I got a good first-round talent, a good second-round talent, a good third-round talent, and so on all the way through the draft. When I have a successful auction, my roster usually looks completely different. I'll usually have seven or eight players that I'd consider good second- through fourth-round talents. Then I may not have a lot of late-round type sleepers, and not much in between. It's the same concept as working trades during the season, trying to trade excess depth for improvement at the starting spots. I'd be happy to package a weak starter and a strong backup in a trade for a strong starter and a scrub. In an auction, I don't' have to wait until after the draft to make that trade. I can compose my team the way I want from the beginning. I tend to place a higher premium on starters and a lower value on backups, and my auction-league teams reflect that thinking in a way that my serpentine-draft teams cannot.
A number of people have mentioned that auctions generally take longer. How should owners and commissioners deal with that?
WILL GRANT: When they are going on, it feels fast. It takes constant focus, and you need scheduled breaks to catch your breath. In a draft, you can take a break between your picks, come back and be caught up in a few minutes. You also pick up speed on the turns, where two to three owners make back-to-back or close to back-to-back picks very quickly. In an auction, even with a timer, most of the players are contested. It can take a minute or two per player at the start of the draft as people keep upping the bids. A focused group can knock out a 12-team draft in a couple hours. A focused group will contest every player in an auction, and it could take four or five.
That will do it for this fourth of five preseason editions of the 2012 Roundtable. We'll see you back here next week!