20 Jun 2014
by Scott Kacsmar
The arrival of summer means 4.5 months since real football, so news can get pretty thin, and I swear the heat makes fans extra irrational this time of year. In other words, it's a great opportunity to share the results of an 11-round, all-time fantasy football draft I somewhat recently took part in along with 11 other writers. Karl Safchick of Dynasty League Football organized the draft.
Lineups consisted of two quarterbacks, three running backs, four wide receivers and two tight ends. There will not be any follow-up to the draft nor were there any hardline rules to draft by. We just tried to build the best fantasy teams possible with the full pool of NFL talent to choose from. You can see a variety of strategies were used and the players ranged from someone as old school as Jim Thorpe (1920-28) to a young pup like Tyler Eifert. And yes, even Aaron Hernandez was drafted, because maybe in this fantasy world, he didn't live the life of a Snoop Doggy Dogg album.
I found the process to be a good challenge. Several times the player I coveted went just several picks ahead of me, which is usually the sign of a smart draft, or confirmation that we're dumb and think alike. I was more than ready to roll with Bo Jackson as my third running back or Drew Brees as my top quarterback, but just missed out.
The strategy I tried to stick with was to draft players so talented that they would likely succeed in any system or era. I wanted running backs who dominated yards from scrimmage by getting a lot of touches, and I wanted receivers who frequently visited the end zone. For the most part, I was pretty pleased with my team, which picked eighth in this draft.
I'll conclude with thoughts on my own roster.
Have to like a running back that averaged 1,688 yards from scrimmage in his first 11 seasons. His peak in 1998-2001 alone produced 8,992 yards and 69 touchdowns. Faulk actually never rushed for 1,400 yards in his career, but he's arguably the greatest receiving back ever with 767 receptions for 6,875 yards and 36 touchdowns. If he was shut down on the ground, he could still rack up points on receptions.
Try to forget about the goggles and Jheri curl for a minute. Eric Dickerson set the rookie rushing record with 1,808 yards. He set the single-season record the following year with 2,105 yards. That fast start has allowed Dickerson to still hold the records for the most rushing yards through year "x" of a career where x is equal to one through eight. He had 11,903 yards in his first eight seasons. Barry Sanders finally beat him at year nine, but Dickerson's a special talent.
I might have to take out a big insurance policy and warn him not to take part in any extra point attempts, but when healthy, Gronkowski has the ability to go down as the best tight end ever. He's probably less historic if he wasn't in New England, but that huge catch radius would transfer over to any team. He's such a difficult player to defend in the red zone. He has 43 touchdowns in 50 career games. With the tight end position being so thin, I couldn't pass him up.
For reference, I looked at all players in NFL history with at least 40 touchdown catches. Gronkowski turns 18.6 percent of his receptions into touchdowns (ranks 9th). Even better, his 0.84 touchdowns per game ranks second only to Don Hutson (0.85). Randy Moss (0.72) is third.
In retrospect, maybe my worst value pick because he probably would have been there later, but an interesting player to debate with numbers. Averaging 20.1 yards per catch in his career, Warfield turned 19.9 percent of his catches into touchdowns (seventh best). He had 85 touchdown catches in a difficult era to throw and on teams that heavily favored the running game. I like to think on a modern team, he could dominate with more targets his way.
Probably trying to make up for the Warfield pick, I went for one of the young, modern receivers with great potential. While I originally made the touchdown table for Gronkowski, it became valuable when I noticed Bryant ranks sixth in touchdowns per game (0.68). Jonathan Bales has done some great research on red-zone targets that suggests Bryant is the best in the game right now (by a considerable margin too) at turning those plays into scores.
Get one of the three best quarterbacks in NFL history in the sixth round? Fine by me. We always hear about Unitas' 47-game streak with a touchdown pass, so just imagine what he would have been capable of doing in today's game. He never played when illegal contact was a penalty and he still led the league in touchdown passes four years in a row (1957-60). He also led the league in passing yards four times. I can see why some people took today's mobile quarterbacks for fantasy purposes because of their rushing points, but I think Unitas would be right up there with guys like Manning and Brees at throwing for 5,000 yards and 40 touchdowns. He's practically the father of the modern quarterback position.
He wasn't a workhorse back. He never rushed for 650 yards in any season. But if Faulk isn't the best receiving back ever, then Lenny Moore is. He averaged 16.6 yards per reception and had 48 touchdown catches. He played with Unitas and they liked the deep ball back then, but those numbers can't be glossed over. He also averaged 7.0 yards per carry in three different seasons, albeit on 82-92 attempts. Moore and Jim Brown were the first two players in NFL history to have 1,500 yards from scrimmage in a season, doing so in 1958. Moore ranks 126th all-time in touches, but he's 14th in total touchdowns (111). I'd love to see the game film from his prime. Big plays galore.
Speaking of big plays, "Bullet" Bob Hayes was the premier deep threat of his era. Isn't he essentially the reason we have zone defenses today? No one could stay in front of this guy. He fits right between Warfield and Gronkowski at eighth in touchdown percentage (19.1 percent).
Another goggle god who got off to a better start than practically everyone at his position. Now I know it's self-serving to say this, but John Jefferson in the ninth round might have been the steal of the draft. Drafted by San Diego in 1978, he was the first great receiver to take advantage of the "Mel Blount Rule" and he did it immediately as a rookie with 1,001 yards and 13 touchdowns in 14 games. I know James Lofton was drafted eight spots ahead of him (in real life), and Lofton went on to have a better career, but Jefferson was the best in the game in 1978-80. I also know people will point to the Air Coryell system in San Diego, but Charlie Joiner didn't produce these numbers. Kellen Winslow didn't become a force to occupy defenders until 1980. Wes Chandler, who was eventually brought in to replace the loss of Jefferson, rarely played at that level outside of the shortened 1982 strike season.
Playing in that offense with Dan Fouts, Jefferson could have been a Hall of Famer, but he was traded over a contract dispute. He actually ended up in Green Bay with Lofton, but never came close to his first three seasons. His career was over before the age of 30. This type of rare talent that fizzled is the kind you really have to value in a draft like this. Under different circumstances, we could be talking about Jefferson with the likes of Rice, Moss and Hutson.
I figured backup tight end would be a thin position. Jerry Smith was a target of mine, but I decided to go with Jackson, who was another example of a player that immediately had an impact. He was a first-team All-Pro in each of his first three seasons after the Eagles drafted him13th overall in 1988. He caught 49 touchdowns with 41 of them coming from Dan Marino, Randall Cunningham and Brett Favre.
For whatever reason, I was the last person in this draft to take my second quarterback. Jurgensen was my QB2 target from the start, so I was happy to end on a good note. You could argue Matthew Stafford would have been a worthwhile option in this draft just because he averages the most passes per game (40.9) in NFL history. He's a volume passer and can consistently put up fantasy points. Jurgensen was the volume passer of the 1960s, but he was more dominant. He's the first quarterback to lead the league in passing yards five times. He was the second quarterback (first was Y.A. Tittle) to have multiple seasons with 30 touchdown passes. He was a gunslinger and he's losing ground in history because he didn't have any playoff success from playing with a lot of lousy defenses. But prior to the merger, few quarterbacks were as prolific or consistent as Jurgensen, potbelly and all.
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