I think most of us would agree in the fantasy football world that championships are often made or lost in the late rounds of a draft. If you took a flier on Michael Vick in your draft last year, you probably won your league. Same thing occurred if you took chanced Kurt Warner in 2008. I think most would also agree that these are the most difficult rounds to gage. Is it time to take that rookie receiver for a chance he'll turn in Randy Moss? Do I handcuff my own running back with his backup or simply take another RB on a poor team. Do I want a second TE, and is it necessary? Where do I take a defense?
These questions run through every drafter's mind as he/she moves into the later rounds, and the right answer generally gets revealed only in hindsight. Last year, the commissioner of one league I was in felt my team was destined for the playoffs right after the draft. We got slaughtered. Another time this same commissioner felt I had set myself up poorly for the post season. I was the highest scoring team in the league. You get my point.
Let's move on to Rounds 9-16. Again, I have capitalized my picks for easy skimming.
Heading into Round 9 I was not disappointed how things had gone. I had hoped Austin Collie might go another round later. He's been completely discounted this year due to his concussion problems last year, but people forget he was the league's leading receiver after seven weeks. He has Manning's trust, and I truly believe if he remains healthy he'll be in the top twenty this year.
Since we get extra points on defense for limiting yards allowed and forcing fumbles, I figured an elite defense might add some help here. So I picked the PITTSBURGH STEELERS defense. While the Steelers secondary is still an issue, most of last season Troy Polomalu was out, and Ryan Clark battled some injuries too. They also get DE Aaron Smith back, who tore a muscle in his arm and was gone for all of last season. Even with those problems they allowed the least rushing yardage of any defense, forced 24 fumbles and posted 48 sacks. I expect the secondary to improve a bit this year. A lot of people like Philadelphia to be dominant this year. I suspect they'll be very good, but I hate that division. It's a passing division, and high scoring one. The AFC North is still mostly played on the ground and pound most finesse teams into the ground. So I stuck to my homer nature and picked my Steelers.
I found my third receiver in MIKE WILLIAMS of Seattle. Yes, I'm scared to death of Tarvaris Jackson throwing the rock. But Williams' size is the difference maker here, and my hope is he didn't lose the edge to prove himself that he had last year. He was definitely the best of what was left of the starting receivers. He's a WR1 for Seattle, but probably will give me WR3 numbers. Still, as a third receiver, I'll take it.
Round 11 I decided it was time for my backup QB. In hindsight, I wish I had chosen him in Round 10. Josh Freeman and Sam Bradford evaporated this round, so I took a flier on KEVIN KOLB. Probably risky considering Stafford's ill health and Kolb's shakiness last year. At least he has Larry Fitzgerald. You could throw the ball into the upper deck of the stands and Fitzgerald would bring it down. And if he turns out to be as good as some thought he was going to be in Philly, perhaps the Cardinal's offense flies this year.
In Round 12, I decided it was time for a little more risk. Since I had a pretty strong receivers group, and I wasn't high on taking perennial disappointment Robert Meachem, or anyone in St. Louis since it's hard to know who Bradford will truly rely on, I went for BRANDON TATE of New England. Look, Welker is solid, we know this. But the recent press on the restructuring of Chad Ochocinco's deal so New England could release him with little penalty didn't seem like a good thing no matter how you slice it. Chad should be huge this year, but it's possible he won't work well in a spread offense, and Brandon Tate (assuming he returns from his mysterious illness) has true down-field speed for the Pats. Add that to the best QB in the game, and this felt like a strong flier to me. I probably could have gotten him in any of the last four rounds, but knowing these guys, there's a chance someone would have beaten me to it. That's the paranoia that gets into your brain knowing you're playing against solid competition.
I was hoping C.J. Spiller would survive the 13th and fall into my lap, but Chris Wessling struck again and took him two picks earlier. I also had considered Jared Cook, who Brandon Funston grabbed here. Even with Dallas Clark's injury being his wrist last year, I felt I should back him up, and took DUSTIN KELLER here. This may possibly be my weakest choice in the draft. Sanchez may use him in the red zone but the Jets have loaded his plate with receiver possibilities, so much so Jerricho Cotchery left for Pittsburgh. Hines Ward would have been better. He went soon after.
A lot of rookie second and third string runners were plucked starting in Round 13. I'm not as high on them as some were. New England doesn't run a lot, so I wasn't really going to take Steven Ridley or Shane Vereen no matter how good they've looked in camp. We're only ten teams deep, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis looked good enough last year, and then add wild card Danny Woodhead to the mix. I hate the Pats, but I love Woodhead. The all-time yardage leader in collegiate football history is totally a Belichick type player: small, underrated, tough, 100% dedicated, heady and surprisingly strong. I would not be surprised if Green-Ellis went down to see Ridley or Vereen get in there, but Woodhead will be just as involved.
However, I did grab BEN TATE in the 14th, hopeful that he'll actually get on the field this year (it's looking more dubious as each week progresses) and that the Texans are still on the hook for their second round investment in him. I have a creeping feeling post draft he's not going to do much, not after this recent hamstring pull. Hamstring injuries are common after surgeries to repair the legs. Again, I was thinking a little gamble for high upside. I look back and think why didn't I grab Burress here? He was another guy I was targeting, figuring two years of non-contact could only help his ankle and foot problems. Of course, a week into camp he sprained his ankle, so I could be wrong.
My handcuffs of James Starks and Brandon Jacobs were gone, so I grabbed someone else's. LADIANIAN TOMLINSON seemed like a safe veteran pick here who still could be a BYE WEEK fill-in and put up some decent numbers. The sting of not taking Burress must have hung-over here, so I went safe with a hope Shonne Greene isn't as good as I think he'll be this year.
A kicker in Round 16 wraps up the draft, and I just figured Dallas scores a lot, but for some reason even with their weapons, they seem to settle for field goals more often then they should. They're also in a division with some pretty good defenses. So why not DAVID BUEHLER.
There's no doubt I'm going to have to find another receiver if Brandon Tate doesn't appear soon. And Ben Tate could also be another pick wasted. Didn't like my Rounds 9-16 as much as 1-8, and if there's a place I could get tagged it could be my sudden lack of depth at receiver and even QB.
So the JUST A BIT OUTSIDE TEAM team after 16 rounds is:
QB Matthew Stafford
RB Ahmad Bradshaw
RB LeGarrette Blount
WR Greg Jennings
WR Roddy White
WR Mike Williams
TE Dallas Clark
FLEX Knowshon Moreno or Ryan Grant
K David Buehler
Ryan Grant or Knowshon