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On Saturday, August 16, 2014, I participated in the live FLEX (Fantasy Leagues of Experts) fantasy football draft in New York City which was covered by the FNTSY Sports TV Network. It was an incredible event with a great turnout of over 20 of the best and brightest fantasy football minds in the business. I have gotten to know many of these pundits through social media, so it was really nice to finally put faces to Twitter handles. There are so many different elements in play when drafting live as opposed to online, so we all wanted to make sure we brought our A-games so as to avoid any heckling or embarrassment. There were two 12-team drafts at the event - a standard league and a PPR league. I was randomly assigned the 12th pick of the PPR draft meaning I had the wrap-around. I was actually quite pleased about this as it would make many of my decisions fairly easy, at least in terms of which positions I wanted to fill.
Here is the team I drafted by round with some commentary:
1. Brandon Marshall (WR-CHI) Since this is a PPR league, I definitely wanted at least one of my first two picks to be a stud wide receiver. After Calvin Johnson, A.J. Green, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant were taken, I selected the next best wideout in Brandon Marshall. Big things are expected from Jay Cutler this year, and Marshall should be a prime beneficiary of the Bears' aerial attack. I love the fact that Alshon Jeffery has emerged as a solid wide receiver because it means opposing defenses cannot afford to simply put double coverage on Marshall. I expect over 100 receptions with at least 1,300 yards and double digit touchdowns.
2. DeMarco Murray (RB-DAL) Since I did get one of the top four wide receivers, I decided to grab a running back here rather than be left with scraps by my next turn. I have never been the biggest DeMarco Murray fan because of his injury history, but I think he could be in for a big year. He is a big part of Dallas’s passing game which makes him very valuable in PPR leagues. I will regret this pick the first time he limps off the field or misses a few practices. But if he can stay healthy than I should be in good shape with 1,200 rushing yards, 50 receptions, and both rushing and receiving touchdowns.
3. Larry Fitzgerald (WR-ARZ) This turn I knew I wanted to take two wide receivers, so I took a chance on a couple of older wideouts hoping to squeeze at least one more productive year out of them. The first one is Larry Fitzgerald who has been slowed down a bit with injuries the past couple years and has just about been surpassed by Michael Floyd as Arizona’s best receiver. But Fitzgerald is one of the toughest players in the league and has enough left in him to rack up at least 75 receptions and a handful of touchdowns. If Arizona’s running game struggles with Andre Ellington, then Carson Palmer could be throwing 40-45 passes per game which would increase Fitzgerald’s targets.
4. Wes Welker (WR-DEN) The second of my elderly wide receivers in this wrap-around is Wes Welker. He has been a PPR machine over the past several years, so I am banking on him still having enough left in the tank. Denver’s offense will not replicate its historic performance from 2013, but they will still be dynamic. If they cannot generate a consistent running game with Montee Ball, C.J. Anderson and Ronnie Hillman, then Peyton Manning may just throw the ball on every down. I still expect between 80-100 receptions from Welker with close to 10 touchdowns.
5. Frank Gore (RB-SF) Continuing my trend of drafting older players, I selected Frank Gore as my second running back. I chose him over Chris Johnson, Trent Richardson, and Ben Tate because he is more productive and reliable. San Francisco will try and give him enough rest by spreading the workload out, but Gore is still the main guy until someone stays healthy enough to unseat him.
6. Emmanuel Sanders (WR-DEN) It may have been a stretch to take Emmanuel Sanders in the 6th round, but I really like his prospects in Denver. Sanders will be replacing Eric Decker in the Broncos’ explosive offense. While it is unlikely that he will put up numbers close to what Decker had in 2013, he should still be in for a big year lining up opposite to Demaryius Thomas while Welker is drawing coverage in between the numbers.
7. Vernon Davis (TE-SF) I was pleasantly surprised that Vernon Davis was still available for me here after a small run on tight ends took place prior to my pick. Davis’s value is dependent on Colin Kaepernik who has yet to really establish himself as a passer. I think that will change in 2014 as San Francisco opens up its offense. Davis is one of the fastest and most athletic tight ends in the NFL, so he will have a lot of mismatches against smaller and slower linebackers.
8. Maurice Jones-Drew (RB-OAK) This was a difficult pick to make, but now that I have had time to reflect on it I am actually pleased with the selection. Maurice Jones-Drew’s health issues are well-documented, but now he has a fresh start in Oakland which could bode well for him. I don’t expect the version of Jones-Drew who won rushing titles. Rather, I simply hope for the version that stays healthy, possibly approaches 1,000 yards rushing, and picks up a handful of touchdowns.
9. Matt Ryan (QB-ATL) Irrespective of where I was drafting, I convinced myself to be patient with quarterbacks. In some of the previous drafts I have done, I was able to wait until at least after the 7th round to get a solid quarterback. In this draft, Peyton Manning went at the end of the 2nd round, Aaron Rodgers went in the middle of the 4th round, and Drew Brees went at the end of the 5th round. I patiently waited until the 9th round and I was able to land Matt Ryan. This pick excited me, but not because I love Matt Ryan. Rather, Ryan’s production is not so far off most of the other elite quarterbacks who went several rounds earlier. I expect 4,500 passing yards and 30 touchdowns from Ryan who will have a healthy Julio Jones and Roddy White at his disposal. I also hate Atlanta’s running game and defense which means Ryan should be throwing the ball quite a bit.
10. Hakeem Nicks (WR-IND) This could end up being a good value pick as Hakeem Nicks looks to redeem himself in Indianapolis. It was a disastrous 2013 season for Nicks who was once again banged up with injuries and went the entire season without catching a touchdown. Now he fits into a great system with the Colts as their second or third wide receiver for Andrew Luck. If he can stay healthy, there is no reason he can’t catch 75 passes and come close to 1,000 yards.
11. Philip Rivers (QB-SD) After waiting nine rounds to take my first quarterback, I didn’t waste much time taking my backup. I was targeting either Philip Rivers or Tony Romo, so I landed Rivers after Romo was taken right before me. The Chargers will try and run the ball more, so Rivers’ pass attempts may decrease slightly. At the end of the day, Ryan Mathews will find himself banged up and Rivers will have to air things out. Unless there are mismatches on the NFL schedule, I would only been needing Rivers when Atlanta is on its bye week.
12. Donald Brown (RB-SD) Speaking of the aforementioned Ryan Mathews, I selected his handcuff, Donald Brown. Brown came over from Indianapolis where he has also dealt with a fair share of injuries. Knowing San Diego will want to run the ball more, I figured Mathews will need to share the workload either due to injury or necessity. I took him over DeAngelo Williams and Darren McFadden which I don’t necessarily know if I would do again.
13. Jared Cook (TE-STL) I was targeting Travis Kelce as my backup tight end, but he went way before it was my turn. I settled on Jared Cook which isn’t the worst thing in the world. He could play a big factor in St. Louis’s passing game as a reliable option in the middle of the field while speedy wideouts are still learning how to properly run routes on the outside.
14. San Francisco (DST) After the Seattle and Kansas City defenses were already taken, I selected what I thought was the next best defense available. The 49ers have been one of the best defensive teams in the league over the past few years, and I don’t foresee that changing in 2014.
15. Jonathan Stewart (RB-CAR) You don’t have to remind me that preseason games mean nothing, but I will admit I was excited about the way Jonathan Stewart has looked so far. He has been inundated with injuries throughout his career, but he finally appears to be healthy. Unfortunately he has to share carries with DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert, and Cam Newton. But for my second to last pick, he was worth taking a flyer on in the event he simply outplays everyone else and becomes Carolina’s primary running back.
16. James Jones (WR-OAK) With my final pick of the draft, I took James Jones who signed a lucrative contract with Oakland after several very productive years in Green Bay. He was likely the beneficiary of the Packers having so many other good wide receivers, so it will be interesting to see whether he can produce as a primary target with the Raiders. Getting a starting wide receiver in the 16th round of the draft is well worth the risk at this point.
Here is my overall roster laid out by position:
QB Matt Ryan (ATL)
QB Philip Rivers (SD)
RB DeMarco Murray (DAL)
RB Frank Gore (SF)
RB Maurice Jones-Drew (OAK)
RB Donald Brown (SD)
RB Jonathan Stewart (CAR)
WR Brandon Marshall (CHI)
WR Larry Fitzgerald (ARZ)
WR Wes Welker (DEN)
WR Emmanuel Sanders (DEN)
WR Hakeem Nicks (IND)
WR James Jones (OAK)
TE Vernon Davis (SF)
TE Jared Cook (STL)
DST San Francisco
Michael A. Stein, Esq. is the Chief Justice of Fantasy Judgment, the industry's premier dispute resolution service, and is also the co-host of the Fantasy Alarm podcast. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook and Twitter (@FantasyJudgment),