The Ghosts of Wayne Fontes organized a blogger fantasy football draft featuring 14 teams. That’s a lot of teams for a snake draft. In the first round, 13 of the 14 picks were running backs, which makes sense, since you have the option of starting three RBs each week.
I had the 6th pick. Ladainian Tomlinson, Steven Jackson, Larry Johnson, Joseph Addai, and Shaun Alexander were off the board. I selected Peyton Manning.
This may seem like a reach pick: obviously, to win at fantasy football, you need good running backs.
The problem is it is very difficult to predict what RBs will be good from year to year; it is the position with the highest bust potential in fantasy football. To illustrate this, let’s look at the performances of the 11 RBs selected in first two rounds of the 2006 Hazelweird Snake Draft.
2,199 yards, 19 touchdowns
Clearly a very good pick.
2,323 yards, 31 touchdowns
The best RB fantasy season ever; clearly a great pick.
944 yards, 7 touchdowns
Injuries limited him to 10 games; clearly a disappointing pick.
693 yards, 7 touchdowns
Injuries limited him to 8 games; clearly a disappointing pick.
1,433 yards, 12 touchdowns
He did just what was expected of him: a good pick.
2,127 yards, 5 touchdowns
A good season, but 5 TDs was disappointing: a lot of RBs selected later topped that.
1,284 yards, 5 touchdowns
A mildly disappointing pick--probably a major disappointment to those who drafted him.
508 yards, 2 touchdowns
Is "disappointment" a strong enough word?
2,334 yards, 16 touchdowns
A great pick.
994 yards, 1 touchdown
Another massive disappointment.
1,376 yards, 6 touchdowns
Most would consider this a disappointment.
Of the 11 running back selected in the first two rounds of the 2006 draft, at least six must be considered disappointments. Whether these RBs struggled because of injuries, team ineptitude, or their own ineptitude doesn't matter at all: they weren't getting fantasy owners points.
Now look at Peyton Manning. He's never missed a start. In each of his nine seasons, he's thrown at least 26 touchdown passes. In seven of his nine seasons, he's topped 4,100 yards. There is incredibly little risk in drafting Peyton Manning, meaning there is little chance I've wasted my first round pick.
In The Ghosts of Wayne Fontes draft, the first-round RBs selected after Manning were Frank Gore, Reggie Bush, Rudi Johnson, Brian Westbrook, Laurence Maroney, Willie Parker, Maurice Jones-Drew, and Ronnie Brown. It is a virtual guarantee that a few of these RBs will be major fantasy disappointments; it is probably that several of them will be. Which RBs will succeed and which will disappoint? I have no idea--and that's why I didn't take any of them. Some of these draft selections will be considered wasted picks very soon; in 2008, several of these first round selections will be late fantasy picks. But we don't know which ones. It might be because of injuries (it's an injury-prone position). It might be because they play on lousy teams (it's a position dependent on line performance). It might be because the players themselves are currently overrated (several of them are fairly unproven).
It is very unlikely that Peyton Manning will get injured this season. Of course injuries are governed by chance, but he has no injury history. It extremely unlikely that Manning will struggle this season because of his team: he has the best set of skill position players in the league around him, and while losing Tarik Glenn hurts, the line has always done a good job protecting him (and he's smart enough to get the ball away quickly). It is virtually impossible that Manning will struggle this season because of his own ineptitude: he has proven himself to be an elite quarterback (I think he's the best ever, but that's a discussion for another day).
Some of the participants of The Ghosts of Wayne Fontes fantasy draft wasted their first round picks. They didn't waste them out of stupidity (all the picks appear reasonable); we can't know now which ones wasted their picks. But some of those selections will get injured and/or will struggle. We will look back on some of these players as virtual non-factors in fantasy football.
You can't really project which RBs will avoid injuries or struggles; it's a crapshoot. But you can avoid the crapshoot altogether. That's what I did. And while it certainly led me to what looks currently like a weak RB corps, I feel confident I didn't waste my pick, and that Peyton Manning will be a very productive fantasy football player.