The Gut Check No.307: Upside Down Draft Update

Waldman demonstrates some UDD strategies from spots at the top, middle, and end of the draftboard and updates his takes UDD-eligible RBs in the middle rounds. 

Reason No.1001 that my readers are awesome:

In recent months, I'll visit Twitter an there's a reader mentioning me in his timeline because he is telling another fantasy or NFL writer, "if you read Matt Waldman, you would have know a lot earlier than now," or "Shame on you, Matt Waldman has been writing about _______ for years." 

I appreciate the sentiment. "Cool" does not sum up how it feels to know that my readers feel a sense of loyalty to my ideas and/or takes. The fact that they enjoy my work enough to think everyone should be reading my articles is fantastic.

Even so, keep in mind that a lot of football writers generally fit one of the following conditions:

  • They don't know who I am. 
  • They know who I am, but they don't have the time to read me (I know I don't have much time to read others). 
  • They know me well, but their employer dissuades them from mentioning writers from competing sites.  

Don't let my explanation stop you from sharing work of one writer with other writers. I know it feels great to see readers enjoy my work enough to share it. Just keep the reasons I mentioned in your thoughts as you interact with others on Twitter.

One of the topics where I've seen this happen on Twitter is the Upside Down Draft. There are other fantasy writers in the industry beginning to write about the UDD. Of course, they have different names for it. Some of them haven't read my work and like I said, that's ok.

If they have read my work and they're writing about the strategy elsewhere that's ok, too. I never claimed to invent the idea -- I'm just one of the first writers in the industry to be a vocal proponent and educator of this strategy that de-emphasizes the importance of drafting early-round running backs.

So go easy on the young bucks -- even if you read something that sounds like the writer has re-invented the wheel -- it's their job-- and you have the urge to tell them what they're hawking at the medicine show has been around for a minute. They're excited to find something that's executed a little different from many strategies, it scores a lot of points, and they can share it with readers who may not visit Footballguys.

UDD Cliffs Notes

If you aren't familiar with the UDD Strategy here's the basic explanation of the philosophy, the strategy, and its execution:

  • Average Draft Position is largely based on the previous year's stats. 
  • The difference between the RBs with preseason ADPs or RB1-RB2 and their end of season performance is significant. 
  • Although generally lower than RBs, WRs sometimes have a turnover rate this high. However, the decision to draft RBs early is an ingrained process among many fantasy owners and this also matters when formulating strategy.
  • Turnover rates for the top handful of TEs and QBs is also generally lower than RBs and WR, which factors into strategy. 
  • If a fantasy owner in an RB-centric environment opts to take non-RB positions in the opening 4-6 rounds of a draft and then focus heavily on mid-round and late-round RBs, he has a good shot of building a top-scoring team -- even if his RB picks have mediocre outcomes.

There are several reasons why the outcome of the RB picks isn't an integral part of the strategy. The quality of talent and production at the elite tiers of WR, QB, and TE is one. UDD Strategy relies on maximizing the opportunity to have the "pick of the litter" at these positions while most fantasy owners are focused on RB.

Another is the depth of talent a UDD team can generate at these non-RB positions. It gives the fantasy owner the ability to leverage his depth to build a better team during the season. I've found that my depth at WR, QB, and/or TE helps me make trades for at least one quality RB during the season and without losing an advantage at other positions in my starting lineup. 

Developing trade depth should not be regarded as an accident -- or at the very least, your strategy should be sound enough to encourage "happy accidents." Some seasons, I've drafted UDD and acquired enough RB talent to upgrade positions where I was already strong. When this happens, your UDD draft created a significant deficiency of RB talent across your league that there is a gap of production between you and potentially all but 3-4 teams in the league. 

UDD works in PPR, non-PPR, and many flex leagues where fantasy owners can start 3-6 WRs or 1-3 TEs. If the starting lineup rules of a league allow a fantasy owner to field a crew of players where the non-RBs can vastly out-number RBs, then there's a good chance UDD is a viable strategy. 

For an in-depth explanation of the strategy, the number of years I have studied turnover at the positions, and the philosophy behind it, you can read the min-tome

 

UDD In Action: The Bookends

I'm using 12-team leagues. Yes, you can go UDD in leagues of other sizes. I recommend anything from 10-teamers to 16-teamers; the lineup rules are more important as a determing factor (see above). 

The two serpentine mocks I created have 17 rounds of what I would presume is a draft of 18-20 rounds. Since most fantasy owners don't draft kickers until the final two rounds of a draft, I listed 17 picks for each team and left the kicker run to your imagination. 

I based the mocks off ADP for PPR leagues and a somewhat akin to a lineup of 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, and 1 TE. However, you don't need to make many changes to see how it works for a 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE league with a flex option for RB, WR, or TE. 

I used No.1 and No.10 as the UDD draft spots. The players I drafted are personnel I would pick. They aren't definitive, "must-haves according to Matt Waldman," but I hope I have a lot of these players when I opt for UDD in 2014.  

The Top Spot

Spot No.1 -- The Opening Round RB Exception: If you're new to UDD then it might be confusing that I've espoused picking non-RBs in the early rounds and then first mock team I show you has a first-round RB. It's enough to make you wonder if I'm messing with you, but remember, UDD's philosophy is primarily about recognizing where the richest pools of talent are available during your draft. 

If you have one of the first 4-5 picks, you're choosing from the cream of the crop at any position. In this case, it's smart to consider a running back because you'll still have a strong opportunity to select non-RB positions from relatively full talent pools afterwards. Whether Charles, McCoy, Peterson, or Forte is your top back, I'd pick any of these four as an Opening Round RB Exception this year.  

Spot No.1 -- QB/TE Early: While I have an odd fear (hopefully neurosis and not intuition) that the Saints just might run more this year and Brees' totals drop out if the top 3 at this position to the top 5-7, I still see how the combo of Colston, Graham, Stills, and Cooks can keep Brees among elite fantasy producers. If you can get Manning or Brees early, it's worth considering with this approach.

The same goes for the top two tight ends. Sure, Vernon Davis, Julius Thomas, and Jordan Cameron might close the gap, but with the exception of Davis, Thomas and Cameron's skills and athleticism are just a notch below Gronkowski and Graham. If Manning had Davis as his tight end, I'm not sure I'd take Jimmy Graham No.1 at the position.

But that's another argument for another day. Don't let that point get you bent out of shape for too long -- there are more important things to address with an early QB/TE selection strategy: With the Opening Round RB Exception you're sacrificing early-round quality at wide receiver. However, wide receiver is the richest talent pool of the positions -- and the most liquid when it comes to trades and free agency. 

This is why I don't call UDD the "Stud WR Strategy." Although many UDD teams have a Stud WR "look" to its rosters, not all UDD approaches have to be this way. Again, you're exploiting the richest talent pools at the optimal time based on where you're drafting. 

Spot No. 1 -- Upside WR2s: With a deep receiver pool, Michael Floyd and Percy Harvin are shining examples of players capable of WR1 production. Picking from the turn allows an owner to get talent like this back-to-back. Run a mock or two and determine which pair of receivers you're capable of landing if picking from spots 1-4 before you consider using UDD and the Opening Round RB Exception.

Spot No.1 -- Rounds 6-10 "The RB Block": Here's the range where you opt for mid-round backs. I've found that I often land a quality RB2 (if not better) with these picks when using the Opening Round RB Exception. Again, the reason is the proximity of your picks to the turn, which affords you more control over your choices.

My choices for this team -- Gore, Miller, Ridley, Pierce, and Robinson are all projected as heavy contributors early in the year. I can roll with Charles and Pierce as my starters and monitor the other three to determine if I need to address my depth. I'm confident that Gore and Miller will be RB2s or high-end RB3s this year. Robinson has a chance to become a RB2 this year if Mark Ingram II's late-blossoming charge doesn't overtake the second-year back from West Texas A&M.

Spot No.1 -- Rounds 11-17 "Depth With Upside": With a block of five consecutive picks at RB and Jamaal Charles, I can go lighter at this position during the later rounds. If you're worried about finding a quality WR3-WR4 in the late rounds (my advice: don't worry...Paul Richardson Jr after your league mates take all the well-known rookie WRs...you'll thank me later) you can use one of these picks from rounds 8-10 to get one and then resume your plundering of mid-round backs. 

If you have confidence to proceed as planned without a minor hedge, then you can mix and match your roster with a combination of receivers possessing high upside and high floors. I picked two pairs of extreme examples to make my point. If you're picking before the NFL's decision on Josh Gordon's appeal, why not take a shot at having (in my opinion) one of the two most talented receivers in the NFL for eight games at the price of a late-round pick? You can drop him before the season starts for little cost to your roster if he's suspended for the year.  

While I'm not a huge fan of Davante Adams, he's adept at the fade and paired with a great quarterback who loves to throw it. Doug Baldwin is a solid bye-week option capable of more if the Seahawks suffer injuries to its receivers and Jerricho Cotchery is a life raft for Cam Newton this year. Although I didn't list rounds 18-20, Paul Richardson Jr makes a mighty fine 18th-round pick. I think he'll be the opening day starter in Seattle opposite Harvin.

The 10 Spot

Spot No.10 - Bombs Away! This team begins with the classic, "Stud WR" opening: Green, Marshall, Garcon, and Fitzgerald all have the ability to earn top-12 fantasy production this year. I'd bet the first three will be in the top-15 and Fitzgerald will be a top-25 option, at worst. What I love about this opening salvo is the potential to have four WR1s and I can trade one away for a starter at another position if I need to.

Drafting four excellent WR starters in a three-WR league underscores an important point: The design of a draft strategy isn't about picking the perfect team that you can set and forget during the season. Many of us have drafted well enough to field a wire-to-wire winner, but we shouldn't count on it. Some fantasy owners are too concerned about filling every starting lineup hole with the best possible player that they can find during a specific round or they're obsessed that they have bye-week coverage for every spot as well as depth. 

This thinking is the beginner's mentality of team management. It's fundamentally sound, but not necessary if you understand how to work the waiver wire and negotiate with your competition. Sometimes the better path to team building is to look at the field of players and exploit one resource to use as a negotiating tool for another.

Granted, wide receiver has enough depth that you're unlikely to finalize an early-season trade unless you give up your best option. But if you can keep your WR corps intact and you obtain a usable RB from the waiver wire to keep your team competitive, eventually there will be a team in your league that will need a quality starting WR and they won't demand your stud option in return. 

The No.10 Spot -- The 5-8 Block or "The M*A*S*H* Unit" For the Skeptics:  Ray Rice, Ben Tate, Steven Jackson and Maurice Jones-Drew could be the names of patients in a fantasy football triage unit. Three of them are older and all four have dealt with recent injury issues, but obviously I'm feeling fine about picking them.

The reason is that you don't usually need two strong RBs to succeed with UDD. If you need to acquire another back you should have the depth at WR, QB, and/or TE to do so. 

Jackson, Tate, and Jones-Drew should be healthy enough in September to keep your team sound for at least 2-4 weeks. By October, Ray Rice should return to his role as the Ravens' lead back. Rice looks quick, agile, and healthy for an offense that is a great fit for the Ravens' mentality -- run downhill until you can fake the run and throw the ball over the defense with a little misdirection. While I understand the thinking behind the theory that there are only so many carries for running backs, we simply don't know if it's true. 

What I do know is that this theory is applied to college backs all the time. However, Rice, Adrian Peterson, Cedric Benson, Ricky Williams, Matt Forte, and dozens of runners near the top of college football's career carries list indicate that the theory in this application is misguided. 

The No.10 Spot -- Alternating RB Picks with Non-RB Starters: Russell Wilson as my QB, who else? Glad you asked, how about Philip Rivers or Jay Cutler. I might even be happy with Ben Roethlisberger if I can get Rivers or Cutler as my first QB. Generally, I like to take consecutive QBs at this point of 2014 drafts because if I can get two of Wilson, Rivers, or Cutler, I'm set.

For those of you sick of seeing Wilson as a pick I like and don't agree that Wilson and the Seahawks can post QB1 fantasy production (like they have the past two years, only better), allow me to make one more argument: The best fantasy offenses are often the most balanced. I'm not necessarily talking bean-counter tracking of percentage pass to rush, but efficiency/productivity. 

Look at these QB/RB combos from last year:

When 7 of the top 12 fantasy QBs have a top-15 fantasy RB, it's worth thinking twice about the "Seahawks are a run-first team" argument. Go ahead, look up the past 10 years of fantasy QBs in the top 12 and see how many of them have top-15 fantasy RBs -- or even top-10 fantasy RBs.

I'm no one-year wonder with this analysis, brother. 

After Wilson, I would have normally taken Cutler but I opted for Deangelo Williams and followed with Mark Ingram II because it illustrates the earlier point about generating resources to trade during the season. It's likely that Williams and Ingram will provide bye-week value, at worst. If I hit on my RBs in the 5-8 Block and Williams and Ingram play well enough, I have depth to trade for a QB or TE if my choices of at these positions are unsatisfactory. 

The No.10 Spot--Late-Round Upside: Jonathan Stewart epitomizes boom-bust. Roy Helu isn't a great talent, but his offense presents a great opportunity if Alfred Morris misses time. Neither are must-keeps if I find better options in free agency.

Houston's offense is the only reason why Houston's defense isn't rated higher. I think we're sleeping a bit on the offense because of Arian Foster's recent injuries, Andre Johnson's spring spat, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. They won't be a fantasy juggernaut, but they won't be as bad as last year and it will help the defense. 

Teddy Bridgewater has a shot to start. I'm not expecting him to become the next Russell Wilson of rookie surprise-producers at QB. The offense gives him that potential, but I drafted Bridgewater more as an emergency placeholder that I hope I won't need to use before Wilson's bye week. If Bridgewater doesn't show great progress by month's end -- and he's smart enough to do so -- my league mates will have likely dropped a quarterback that's a better backup or I'll find a viable option on the waiver wire.  

Then there's Travis Kelce as my "backup to Antonio Gates." I picked Gates despite the buzz for Ladarius Green because I think San Diego will be one of the more productive two-TE offenses in the NFL this year. Green and Gates are better options than what they have after Keenan Allen and they complement the run game. 

But in case I'm wrong or only "right enough" that Gates is a high-end TE2, Kelce is healthy enough to provide high-end TE2 production and I can use a committee at TE early on and find a better option. I doubt that I'll need to -- Kelce should earn the second-highest reception total among non-RB receivers for the Chiefs. 

And guess which Seahawks rookie I'm telling you to pick in Round 18? 

Drafting At The 5 Spot

This is the area where newbies to UDD have the most reticence to try the approach. C'mon in, the water's warm, and there are lots of options when picking from the middle. The key to picking from the middle is to be proactive and consistently reach slightly ahead of ADP value so you don't feel like you're always a step behind and missing the options you covet.

One bit of advice about ADP and drafts before discussing this team: The first 4-6 rounds of a draft often tightly matched to ADP because opening round strategies have little variation in most leagues and everyone is concerned with getting the best talent -- or in some cases afraid of not looking bad if they veer too far from ADP.

As the draft progresses, the variance of picks matching ADP becomes wider because valuation of talent has a wider range of opinion, and the early rounds have set the makeup of teams to dictate greater variance in how teams choose their next positions. You might find that your small reaches during the first 4-6 rounds vary from ADP by 7-15 picks. As the draft progresses that range could vary as much as 15-25 picks and even 25-40 picks in the latest rounds.  

Bombs Away! Calvin Johnson, Alshon Jeffery, Keenan Allen and Percy Harvin are a quartet of options that I like even more than the Green, Marshall, Garcon, and Fitzgerald combo from the 10-spot. I'm so confident in this group that I didn't draft another receiver until the 11th round and the next one after that would ideally be my 18th-round pick (In unison: 1-2-3...Paul Richardson Jr).

Once again, notice that even in a league with a starting lineup of three receivers, I'm picking four early for depth and trade bait. Wide receivers are easy to trade -- even if the tough part of trading one early is the resistance to accept anything but a stud early on. 

The 5-8 Block: Wait, you thought I hated Bishop Sankey? If saying that I don't think Sankey will have a long career as a starter and he has limited skills as a zone runner that need improvement is "hating" Sankey, then maybe you need to go back to your gated community where they give out participation trophies. Since I can often get the likes of Joique Bell, Frank Gore, and Darren Sproles after Sankey, why not take the projected starter for the Titans? I know Bell or Gore give me a nice opportunity for RB2 production and Sproles should be a decent PPR option for bye weeks, at worst. 

My High-Function QBBC: One of these guys is QB1 this year if they stay healthy. Both have top-7 potential in 2014. 

Late-Round Starters: Marvin Jones Jr, Mark Ingram II, Antonio Gates and Travis Kelce are all starters or co-starters after the 10th round. Helu, Lance Dunbar and Kenbrell Thompkins have enough skill and surrounding talent to produce as No.2 or No.3 starters if called upon. 

18th Round . . . 

Mid-Round RB Update (ADP Rounds 5-10)

(+) Players I covet most. (*) Opportunity trumps talent/surrounding concerns. (-) Talent and team concerns. (#) Boom-Bust

If He Falls . . . Ryan Mathews(+): That goal line fumble from Mathews against the Cowboys might be the best thing that happens to UDD drafters this summer. So many fantasy owners have bought into the narrative that Mathews is inconsistent and flaky that a mistake like this one have them slowly backing away from what they perceive is a fantasy landmine. Mathews is picked No.45 before the fumble. If you can get him with one of he final picks of the fourth round, do it. 

Fantasy owners (and many writers) tend to be a year late (or in the writer's case, latch onto a narrative too long) and a dollar short when it comes to the maturity and evolution of players. Picking backs between rounds 5-10 isn't brain surgery; you're taking them in bulk -- focus on talent and opportunity and don't fret about past shortcomings. Another way to look at it: you're shopping for mid-grade cars, not luxury automobiles -- you just need something that will get you from A to B. 

If He Falls . . . Bishop Sankey(*): In addition to my thoughts on Sankey from the 5 Spot roster, I'm betting Sankey will be paired with Dexter McCluster and Shonn Greene will be a short-yardage option, at best. The Titans have a decent line. The one downside scenario to monitor is if Jake Locker looks bad or gets hurt. Opposing defenses will stack the box to dare the pass if Locker goes down and I don't think Sankey is good enough to thrive under those conditions as rookie.

If He Falls . . . Trent Richardson(#): Listen, Richardson was half the problem with the Colts ground game last year. Even if the Colts' offensive line isn't better, Richardson should be. Part of the disappointment with Richardson is that many of us who studied him at Alabama see the potential for him to be an elite NFL runner.

Lance Zierlein of the Sideline View contends that Richardson would be much better if he lost some weight. Marshawn Lynch was too dependent on the wrong kind of weight room workouts early in his career and he got too big. After losing weight and focusing on other goals in his training the summer after his trade to Seattle, Lynch played more like the quick-agile runner he was at Cal.

I'd still take a chance on Richardson because the talent and the opportunity are good enough for him to provide no worse than strong flex production. Ahmad Bradshaw is a fine back, but his health is an established problem. Other than Bradshaw, no one on this depth chart has the talent to Richardson's job in this offense without an injury to Richardson.  

(-)Talent + Clouded Opportunity = Chris Johnson(-): Rex Ryan isn't above a full-blown committee and none of the RBs behind Johnson on the depth chart have serious injuries. I'll pass because Johnson's talent level is now at a questionable stage of his career and his coaching staff may not afford him 15 touches a game -- or even 12. 

If He Falls . . . Rashad Jennings(+): Andre Williams looked athletic and strong in his debut against the Bills. He also had a large crease inside for his short yardage touchdown and his best runs were far and away perimeter plays. From what I saw of the second preseason game, William's best run was also a perimeter play.

Williams still has to prove that he has sea legs in pass protection. The rookie may limit some of Jennings' opportunities in the red zone, but the former Raider should earn enough carries to give you RB2 production in an offense that will feed him in the passing game. Don't be shocked if Jennings is a top-10 performer at his position when it comes to targets and receptions. 

If He Falls . . . Ray Rice(+): You need to hope that NFL.com and the Ravens beat writers continue to talk up Bernard Pierce. That Pierce "out-playing Rice" article is good stuff for fantasy owners hoping for Rice to slide to the fifth round on a consistent basis. With his ADP at 57, he's often there. As I mentioned on the Audible, the Ravens will be giving Pierce a lot of carries for preseason action so they can get him in midseason form in terms of rhythm with the offensive line and build his confidence for those first two games while Rice is gone. After that, Rice is the man.

The veteran looks good and he's by far the best all-around back on the team. The Ravens wouldn't have added Justin Forsett (a less athletic player of Rice's versatile skill sets) if they were completely confident in Pierce's third down acumen. Yes, Forsett knows the Kubiak offense, but it's not like Pierce is a rookie who needs this kind of guidance on the ins and outs of NFL scheme. We know Rice doesn't. 

If He Falls . . . Joique Bell(+): Theo Riddick might shock everyone but Notre Dame fans, but I'm a Doubting Thomas about Riddick earning fantasy production worth your time this year unless Reggie Bush blows a tire. Look for Bell as a more rugged Pierre Thomas in the Lions' system. 

Ben TateTerrance West needs to learn to pass protect. Isaiah Crowell needs to show consistency and maturity. Both are worth adding to a roster, but I'll be surprised if a healthy Tate loses this job in August. If you take Tate in a mid-round block of backs, make sure you're taking at least two backs in this block that are not in danger of losing their jobs.

Frank Gore(+): Yep, Carlos Hyde looked good. Hyde can catch and block, too. Nope, Carlos Hyde does not have vision as good as Frank Gore. You're good for at least 4-6 weeks with Gore as your 15-18 touches per week option. If you're taking any backs in this block of middle picks that are promising back ups, you'll be smart to at least have a back like Gore to begin your season and let the other guys earn playing time without hurting your roster. 

Feeling Claustrophic -- Pierre ThomasThe Saints veteran has a specialty, but it's in the passing game. Brandin Cooks isn't a running back, but he is taking some of those RB-like targets in New Orelans. Note the 11 ypc in the preseason game -- this will be by design. It could cost some of Thomas' upside. At the same time, Thomas has traditionally seen enough red zone duty as part of a series of play packages that help put defenses in a bind when guarding Jimmy Graham. Thomas will never have a large touchdown total, but his season totals often buoy his value. 

Why not Stevan Ridley(#)? Legarrette Blount is gone, Stephen Houston is talented but young and fumbled in Week 1 of the preseason, Roy Finch and James White more closer to Vereen type of options, and Branden Bolden is waiting to see if those rookies are sharp enough for him to keep his job. It's a contract year for Ridley and he has top-20 talent on a team where he could earn a time share. However, compared to the opportunities available to backs leaving the board after him, he's not one of my favorite options. 

Steven Jackson(+): The hamstring is playing into the "injury prone" narrative set for the Falcons starter, but Jacquizz Rodgers isn't a great option and Devonta Freeman has work to do as a pass protector. Jackson is Atlanta's best bet and the injury appears to be mild enough that he'll be ready Week 1. Jackson is still a top-15 talent for a team that will get in the red zone and use him there. You can't say this about Ridley. 

Lamar Miller(*): I'm selling on Knowshon Moreno to the point that Mike Gillislee or another RB will need to threaten Miller's job for me to pass on the Dolphins' current starter. The surrounding talent may not be great, but high-tempo plus opportunities should equal no worse than solid RB3 production with RB2 weeks. 

Maurice Jones-Drew(+): I think this is the swan song year for player who proves that he still "has it." I'm not counting on low-end RB1 totals that we saw in Jacksonville, but I think he can get closer to the top-15 at his position than some expect. Jones-Drew will be the AFC's fantasy version of Deangelo Williams -- perennially drafted lower than his end of season ranking.

Darren SprolesIf Sproles has a strong season, I believe it could come at the expense of Jordan Matthews and/or Zach Ertz. I also fear if Sporles doesn't have a good season it might have to do with Nick Foles' tendency to force the ball into high-traffic situations down field when get gets rattled. Last weekend's preseason affair was a fine example of what I customarily saw from Foles under pressure at Arizona.

Again, it's preseason and Foles is working the kinks out the same way Ryan Mathews could be. However, Mathews is the starter in San Diego and Sproles is a contributor to the starting lineup and largely dependent on how Foles executes this offense. I'm taking a shot on Sproles a lot this summer. When I am, I'm making sure I have already drafted at least two runners I covet most on this list. 

Danny WoodheadRead again what I said about Sproles and apply it to the San Diego staff's decision to use a power running game down the stretch of 2013. Worth a pick, but make sure you picked a couple of backs listed as feature starters first. 

Terrance West(#): The rookie has the size and quickness to play in the NFL. If he performs well against first or second-tier NFL players He's worth your consideration. "Well" in my lexicon means: A) He finds small creases on interior runs. B) He breaks tackles or pushes for yards after contact in situations where he should have time and ability to use his pads. C) He displays an understanding of whom he's supposed to pass protect and isn't a total waste.

From what I've read thus far, A), B), and C) are all still in question and haven't been proven, but "He sure looks great in camp, thus far!" Be careful. I'll be considering him, but he's not my fave choice, because it won't take much for the Browns to go with Option A (Tate) or C (Crowell), or maybe even D (Dion Lewis) if West falters even a little bit.

Fred JacksonI'll still take him this year, but I'm not counting on Jackson ever being the sole ball carrier in a game if Spiller gets hurt.

Devonta Freeman(#): Pass protection is important. Freeman will see time, but I think he's getting drafted too early this year. If he makes strides late in camp, I'll be more confident in his ADP. 

Bernard PierceI'll take two guaranteed starts from Pierce when he's available at the end of the 8th round and I can pick 2-3 true starters first. As you've seen, I've made strategic decisions in my mock around taking Pierce. You can do the same. Understand that there's a good argument for and against taking a mid-round player that isn't a full-time starter. I look at Pierce as the Ravens' version of Ben Tate in the Texans-turned-Ravens offense. This team will have success on the ground. 

Knowshon Moreno (-): Kno way, Kno how. 

Darren McFadden(#): I won't be picking him, but I see his merits and how he could hit. Still, I'd rather go with Jones-Drew or bust with the Raiders' ground game. 

Christine Michael(+): He's a lottery ticket, but the potential winnings are too high not to play. Understand that Robert Turbin and even Spencer Ware have a chance to see time in this offense if Marshawn Lynch gets hurt and it remove some of the gleam from Michael's perceived value. Michael has inspired the ooh's and aah's, but he hasn't proven he's capable of carrying the load in every facet of running back play just yet. 

Jeremy Hill(#):. I won't be taking him, because I see a slightly better version of Lendale White rather than the heir apparent I see in Carlos Hyde. However, the talk of opportunities to earn 10-15 carries a game is a big statement. I'm giving reporter Paul Dehner of the Cincinnati Enquirer the side eye for this report, but then again he did win "Best Sports Writer" in Albany, Georgia in 2008 and earned the 2006 Sunshine State Award for "third place, best sports page design." It counts, right? Entertaining, yes. Informative? I'm not convinced. 

Deangelo Williams(+): Another fantasy season, another Jonathan Stewart injury watch and wait, another lukewarm (at best) pile of receivers, and another year that Williams should out-perform his value. I beseech you to take him. Even if you don't start him until Week 9, he'll give you something if the rest of your options crap out. 

Carlos Hyde (+): I think he's the safest rookie runner in this class as a talent and where he landed is terrific. I'll take him as a handcuff to Gore this early -- as long as I've landed 2-3 clear starters and/or rotational contributors before I take the rookie. 

Khiry Robinson (+): Robinson is handling all the roles necessary to become a feature runner in the Saints offense. It probably won't happen, but I think he and Mark Ingram II could bump Pierre Thomas to the background in 2014 and I'm willing to spend the picks to do so. Take Robinson now and/or Mark Ingram II later (11th-13th round bargain) and leave Thomas at the curb. I think this team might have seen on the tape what it should have done in the playoffs last year: Continue pounding the ball up the gut of the Eagles and Seahawks. I might not be dropping Drew Brees' season totals just yet, but I am investing in Robinson and Ingram.