Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

20 Jun 2014

All-Time NFL Fantasy Draft Results

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.

The draft results can be viewed in a Google Doc, or here in a screen cap. This was a snake 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.

Round 1: RB Marshall Faulk

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.

Round 2: RB Eric Dickerson

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.

Round 3: TE Rob Gronkowski

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.

Round 4: WR Paul Warfield

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.

Round 5: WR Dez Bryant

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.

Round 6: QB Johnny Unitas

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.

Round 7: RB Lenny Moore

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.

Round 8: WR Bob Hayes

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).

Round 9: WR John Jefferson

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.

Round 10: TE Keith Jackson

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.

Round 11: QB Sonny Jurgensen

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.

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 20 Jun 2014

21 comments, Last at 26 Jun 2014, 6:56pm by PaddyPat

Comments

1
by tomdrees :: Fri, 06/20/2014 - 11:55am

But... in the... because the... you know what, good. This is good. Good everything.

2
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 06/20/2014 - 12:46pm

Not sure of when u pi kin these guys. John Jefferson in total career or just 1979 version maybe. ,only skimmed the thing. Will read whole thing later. M if h have missed some bit of info

3
by Travis :: Fri, 06/20/2014 - 1:15pm

Were there any criteria at all? Do you get their best single season, or do you have them their whole career? Are injuries curable? Are they playing in the conditions of their career, 2014 conditions, 1920 conditions, or something in-between?

A best of the rest, somewhat adjusted for era:

QB: George Blanda (early AFL version. Plus you get bonus kicking points.)
QB: Greg Cook (if Bo Jackson is a rational draft choice, why not?)
RB: Steve Van Buren
RB: Red Grange (if knee injuries are curable, and especially if it's the year the Bears played 19 games in 67 days)
RB: Chuck Foreman (1974-76 version)
WR: Charlie Hennigan (early AFL fantasy points)
WR: Mark Clayton
WR: Irving Fryar (sober version with competent QB)
WR: Homer Jones
TE: Marques Colston (rookie year when Yahoo decided he was a TE)
TE: Pete Retzlaff

5
by buzzorhowl :: Fri, 06/20/2014 - 4:08pm

I was thinking the same thing about Red Grange. If you could take the form he was in when he left college and have him play a modern schedule rather than that crazy barnstorming tour that started his Bears career, he'd probably have been lights-out for years.

15
by Aaron Schatz :: Sun, 06/22/2014 - 7:29pm

> TE: Marques Colston (rookie year when Yahoo decided he was a TE)

OMG, this. So this. I won a league that year because of this, early in the days of FO when I was still just playing with friends.

4
by Raiderjoe :: Fri, 06/20/2014 - 2:47pm

Did ont look at picks yet, but think Billy Sims and The King need to be on there.

6
by Theo :: Fri, 06/20/2014 - 9:17pm

So if all players ever lined up, Julio Jones and Roddy White would be picked before Joe Montana?

7
by MC2 :: Sat, 06/21/2014 - 9:01am

I'm assuming people drafted as if it was a normal fantasy scoring system, most of which go out of their way to undervalue QBs (and overvalue RBs) compared to reality.

8
by The Ninjalectual :: Sun, 06/22/2014 - 2:14am

So how does this work? I don't think you mentioned the premise.

9
by tjb :: Sun, 06/22/2014 - 3:28am

Yeah - need some details here. If you're picking pure talent/potential, then Bo Jackson is my first pick and I convince him not to play baseball and employ 2014 medicine mojo on his hip.

If the picks are done on unadjusted career production, then anyone before the 1978 rules (or arguably 2004-ish) in the passing game is at a severe disadvantage.

If we're going to adjust for era, things get really weird...

11
by PaddyPat :: Sun, 06/22/2014 - 11:01am

I'm taking Michael Vick vs. Redskins 2010, and we can just freeze-frame his career right there.

12
by Scott Kacsmar :: Sun, 06/22/2014 - 1:08pm

From the original e-mail:

"1 - The hypothetical world in which we will be drafting, will contain every NFL player from every era. You can draft any athlete who has participated in the NFL, as long as an opponent hasn't already.

2 - You will be drafting players for your "fantasy football" team. In this hypothetical league, you will be drafting players in a dynasty setting without the possibility of trades. These players will be presumed rookies with no team affiliation. Hypothetically, Barry Sanders could have ended up with the 90's Cowboys offensive line. Jerry Rice could have caught passes from multiple "journeyman" quarterbacks over his career. (This part isn't intended on drastically changing picks, only a clarification for strategy)

3 - There are no "real world scheme strategies". Having Wes Welker as your slot receiver will not help you in a scheme sense. The ability to score fantasy points is all that matters."

13
by PaddyPat :: Sun, 06/22/2014 - 3:29pm

That is insanely abstract.

Basically, you are being asked to quantify a person based on genetics and college experience, perhaps with a little reference to injury history. We don't even know what era of player will typify the competition--big, heavy fast, or the lighter, slower players of the 40s or before. We don't know the rules--is head slapping legal as part of pass-rush technique?

I think if we imagine some kind of gestalt of the rules of the game, then a lot of modern-era players become ridiculously irrelevant. For example, let's take Aaron Hernandez. He was a poor to mediocre blocker, a decent open-field runner, and a good pass-catcher as a tight end, but probably not good enough to play wide receiver. I don't see what role he fills on a 1950s or 1970s-style roster. He's certainly not a fullback... perhaps he becomes a weak slot receiver?

I don't think the draft picks you guys made accurately reflect the type of results you would get in this hypothetical universe--I think you guys drafted some very weak teams full of players that would have had no role in the sport or who would have been out of football due to injuries after a few years. If you gave Justin Tuck and Michael Strahan 1950s pass-rushing rules, I think Tom Brady plays for about 3 seasons. Now let Revis and Sherman make full contact on every play... Moreover, watch modern players playing a sport that had no concussion protocol--yeesh! I would be drafting running backs, full backs, maybe a great blocking tight end in the hopes that he would catch some end-zone catches; my receivers would be guys like Hines Ward, because I think he would see the field for his blocking capability, and my quarterback in that hypothetical world would have to be heavy and a good runner. Daunte Culpepper for his feet, maybe Tim Tebow or Brad Smith? Seriously, those guys would have a better shot than Brady or Manning at surviving and making you some fantasy points. What a weird mental exercise!

14
by Scott Kacsmar :: Sun, 06/22/2014 - 6:00pm

When has Brad Smith ever been the prototype of a NFL QB? I think you're over-blowing things a bit here. Eddie LeBaron was a 4x Pro Bowl QB in his era, and that guy's listed at 5'9", 168 pounds. I mean, look at him in the middle here:

http://www.redskinshistorian.com/sites/default/files/styles/large/public...

Both of my QBs are from that time, but I think a Manning or Cam Newton would hold up in any era.

18
by PaddyPat :: Wed, 06/25/2014 - 10:28am

You have to take the imagination exercise another step. Assume that defenders like Ray Lewis and Justin Tuck are playing under 1940s and 1970s rules. Take modern heights and speeds and place them in an amorphous rules format. Eddie LeBaron played in an era when the pass rushing and contact rules were different, true, but not when the guys enjoying those more lenient rules were as big and athletic as modern players. This study details what I'm saying, and is a nice perusal for anyone curious about the actual basic physical changes in players over time: http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Fulltext/2013/02000/Changes_in_Height,...

The point is, I think that if you took away the safety precautions of the modern sport but opened the door to players of any era playing, in fact, imagined leagues that emphasized the "best" players from all eras, you would find a radically different sport, one that focused almost exclusively on running and not passing. Heck, we could play with the rules even farther; there were no restrictions in the write up. What if we're allowed moving formations and the ability to leverage players into the air like in the good old days when casual games of football often resulted in deaths in the midwest (1890s or so)?

I guess your point is that you don't think that size and speed and athleticism have changed enough to make a significant impact on the strategy of the sport irrespective of the rules? I guess we can disagree...

Brad Smith was just a guess, btw. I don't know what a good single-wing option quarterback would look like in a league with 260 pound, lightning fast defenders. I do know that he would have a certain prototype frame and style, or he wouldn't survive.

19
by Raiderjoe :: Wed, 06/25/2014 - 1:30pm

You'd want Clark or Baugh., Clark was Gerat tailback who, for era he played, had decent numbers for passing. Baugh, of course, even greater numbers and passed lot more than clarkh. Baugh physically imposing. Have seen two full Baugh games and guy was monster compared to most opponents. Like even bigger than Roethlisberger if compared to opponents of their times.

20
by MC2 :: Thu, 06/26/2014 - 2:24am

Well, if you were to imagine modern players playing, for example, before the advent of free substitution, I would imagine that big, athletic QBs like Roethlisberger, Newton and Luck would be extremely valuable, while guys like Brees and Brady would have very limited value, as they would likely take a beating on offense and have no natural position on defense.

21
by PaddyPat :: Thu, 06/26/2014 - 6:56pm

Agreed. That's another great spin to imagine. Would we see guys like Troy Brown and Edelman on our top teams then? They have both played defense. Perhaps we would have to project Randy Moss on more than just the hands team... hard to imagine him tackling... Certainly Hines Ward becomes all the more valuable then. Doesn't Larry Fitzgerald have a reputation as a good blocker too?

16
by Jimmy Oz :: Mon, 06/23/2014 - 1:33am

Bo Jackson? Well if we're (somewhat) guaranteeing against injury, then I'm selecting Ki-Jana Carter.

10
by Pen :: Sun, 06/22/2014 - 5:57am

Ahh, Sonny Jurgenson. Part of the great Over The Hill Gang. He was back up for Billy Kilmer and to tell the truth, I was always excited to see him come in to play because it seemed like the team took a boost offensively when he was in there.

17
by Raiderjoe :: Mon, 06/23/2014 - 6:53am

Wow. Sims and McElhenny no t picked.