At first glance, last pick might be better

The editorial crew at NFL.com held a mock fantasy draft Tuesday afternoon and the one thing I learned from it is that I have something in common with the Detroit Lions. That is, aside from the fact we’re both lovable losers.

Preparing for a fantasy draft in which yours truly had the first overall pick, I understood why the Lions were not enthralled last month with having the first overall pick in the real NFL draft. Unlike Detroit, my issues with the top pick had nothing to do with shelling out a gazillion dollars for unproven talent. But like the Lions, I might have preferred to trade out of the top spot if I could.

Still, I made the best of it. And having the top pick in this 12-team mock draft after having the last pick in a 12-team mock just a couple of weeks ago makes for an interesting case study.

As the defending champion of the NFL.com Fantasy magazine league, I had the last pick in the ’09 magazine’s mock, and I loved my draft. Despite the mantra that you can’t win in fantasy without strong starters at RB, I strongly believe in having one of the top three quarterbacks. If you can give me a guaranteed 4,000 yards and 30 TDs at QB, I’ll build around that. So with Drew Brees as an anchor, I was perfectly happy with the top RBs I could get at the end of the first round and the start of the third. With the last pick in the draft, here’s what my team looks like:

Round Pick
1 RB Steve Slaton
2 QB Drew Brees
3 RB Kevin Smith
4 WR Braylon Edwards
5 WR Anthony Gonzalez
6 RB Leon Washington
7 WR Michael Crabtree
8 TE John Carlson
9 WR Ted Ginn Jr.
10 QB Kyle Orton
11 RB Jerious Norwood
12 DEF Baltimore Ravens
13 WR Mark Clayton
14 RB Jamaal Charles
15 PK Jason Elam
16 TE Marcedes Lewis

With the first pick in the draft, my QB strategy is put to the test, because there’s really little choice but to take Vikings RB Adrian Peterson at No. 1. And in a snaking draft, you make that top pick and then twist in the wind as the next 22 players get taken before you’re back on the clock.

Don’t get me wrong, Peterson is a jaw-dropping talent who can carry your team if he stays healthy. I’m just a little scared about that “if he stays healthy” part. And if you don’t nail those two picks at the end of the second and start of the third (24th and 25th overall picks), there’s a big dropoff before your next picks (48th and 49th).

Since I liked my magazine mock, I figured I would go into the NFL.com mock trying to get some of the same players. Would they still be available when I’m drafting in completely opposite order? And how would I handle the QB plan? Here’s how it went down:

Round Pick
1 RB Adrian Peterson
2 QB Kurt Warner
3 RB Kevin Smith
4 WR Braylon Edwards
5 WR Hines Ward
6 TE Dallas Clark
7 RB Donald Brown
8 QB Kyle Orton
9 WR Ted Ginn Jr.
10 RB Leon Washington
11 WR Chris Chambers
12 DEF Chicago Bears
13 RB Jamaal Charles
14 WR Isaac Bruce
15 WR Darrius Heyward-Bey
16 PK Neil Rackers

Some observations: Of the six players I took in both drafts, three went in the same round — Kevin Smith (third), Braylon Edwards (fourth), Ted Ginn Jr. (ninth). I got Leon Washington four rounds later in this draft because his stock clearly went down after the Jets drafted Iowa RB Shonn Greene. I took RB Jamaal Charles one round earlier in this draft because NFL.com fantasy guru Michael Fabiano, who organized this mock draft, has identified the Chiefs’ second-year RB as an attractive sleeper. I, too, think Charles could have a big year — and if I didn’t take him when I did here, Fabiano had two shots to grab him before my next pick.

I drafted Denver’s Kyle Orton as my backup QB in round 8, two rounds earlier than I took him in the first draft — and that’s a direct result of the first-pick dilemma. I feel pretty good about having Kurt Warner as my fantasy QB, but his age and health probably make it more imperative to have a solid insurance plan. If Brees were my No. 1 QB, I’d feel better waiting a few more rounds for a backup QB, and then my options for that eighth-round pick would have included the likes of Steve Breaston, Torry Holt and the Steelers defense.

Bottom line: Given the choice, I’d take the last pick in a fantasy draft over the top pick. Less risk, more options.

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