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As draft day quickly approaches it's time to get into full preparation mode for the big event. In this age of social media, the NFL Network and literally hundreds of sources of information on the web, there's no excuse to be unprepared or surprised by anything going on in the NFL. However you also have to be aware that 99 percent of reports of dropped passes in practice or a burst through the line for six yards in a scrimmage go right into a pile with the ability to tie a cherry stem with your tongue and knowing the names of every member of the Kardashian/Jenner family: curious, but completely useless.
Knowing that football is as fluid a game as there is when it comes to information, here is a compendium of 25 thoughts as we enter the heart of draft season.
1. Despite what you might read elsewhere, there is no slam-dunk No. 1 pick but there are three who are distinct from the pack. They are Baltimore's Ray Rice, Philly's LeSean McCoy and Houston's Arian Foster. It's difficult to find any real fault with the first two, while Foster, despite a history of hamstring injuries and an overqualified backup in Ben Tate, is far too talented to let go past the first few picks of any draft. And nobody will bat an eye if you decide to take a quarterback because...
2. ... for the first time in fantasy football there are as many first-round-worthy quarterbacks as running backs. Due to the proliferation of passing, there are at least five quarterbacks -- Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford and Cam Newton -- all worthy of the first round. Outside of the aforementioned elite running back trio, there is a group either coming off major injuries (Jamaal Charles, Matt Forte, Adrian Peterson, Darren McFadden, DeMarco Murray, Fred Jackson, Ryan Mathews), getting long in the tooth (Steven Jackson, Michael Turner, Frank Gore, Willis McGahee) or dealing with other extenuating circumstance (Maurice Jones-Drew, Marshawn Lynch) that should make you hesitate before staking your entire season's fortunes on them. If you take a gamble on one of the question-mark backs be sure to load up on those in stable situations.
3. Adjust your running back expectations. In the past owners could expect both starting backs to rush for 1,200 yards and score 12 TDs. The number of those who are even given the opportunity to do so now has diminished to the point that the likelihood of you getting two or three is greatly reduced. Instead of trying to draft a perfect team, you need to find players who produce points, no matter how, to fill out your regular lineup. Get creative. It's OK to have a touchdown vulture (say, Michael Bush) or third-down back (Jacquizz Rodgers) as a weekly starter as long as you have fattened up on the passing game.
4. Having said that, the timeshare I'm buying into is the league's latest thunder (Peyton Hillis) and lightning (Jamaal Charles) backfield in Kansas City. Charles, a top pick last year before tearing his ACL, is a monster in career yards-per-attempt, while in leagues that skew heavier toward touchdowns, the bruising Hillis will rehabilitate his bruised reputation by having significant value.
5. A tip not only for the draft but also for team management during the season: Don't always listen to the word on the street. You're bombarded with information from writers and coaches that after a while becomes soup. Before long the fantasy football players take the resulting noise as fact. Trust your own eyes and mind. If you think someone is being overhyped, then chances are they are. Go with your instincts. The worst feeling is realizing that you should've trusted your gut yet didn't.
6. But also make sure you have the best and most current information. Have a Twitter account? If not, get one now because you're putting yourself at a disadvantage. Nearly every NFL player of note has an account and it's incredible the amount of things they share. In addition to following the players, local beat writers are an incredible source of breaking news both throughout the week and before game time when you're setting your lineups. It's an invaluable resource.
7. Not since the days of Barry Sanders and Herman Moore have the Detroit Lions featured two first-round fantasy talents like they have in Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford. As good as the passing game is with those two, plus Brandon Pettigrew, Titus Young, Tony Scheffler and rookie Ryan Broyles, the running game is the opposite and worthy of the nickname "Moantown." The top two talents, Jahvid Best (precaution following a concussion) and Mikel Leshoure (hamstring, two-game suspension) can't play, leaving Kevin Smith, who was a street free agent at this time last year, or Joique Bell, a Colts, Eagles and Saints refugee, as the team's potential opening day starter.
8. The longer MJD holds out the harder it is for him to be drafted in the first round with a clear conscience. However, if he somehow avoids injury -- and given history, that's a big if -- he'll be worth that first round pick because he'll step right back into his role as Jacksonville's No. 1 (once he signs). I'd temper expectations for the other two draftable Jags, Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson. Don't look for more than WR depth from them while playing with Blaine Gabbert, a vestige of the past administration.
9. The other most prominent holdout, Mike Wallace of the Steelers, may have a little tougher time getting back into the swing of a new offense. With Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery more than ably occupying Mike Tomlin's top three wideout spots, Pittsburgh's front office can afford to play hardball longer with Wallace, who could have trouble picking up the new system brought in by new offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
10. Speaking of Pittsburgh, Isaac Redman should have a solid season. (Assuming, that is, an MRI for a groin injury does not reveal bad news.) I don't think anyone can say for sure when Rashard Mendenhall will be back at full strength (if at all) this season, and Jonathan Dwyer has shown so far that he's better suited as a backup. One player to watch is quicksilver rookie Chris Rainey, who is replacing Mewelde Moore (now a Colt) and could be a PPR monster if Haley and Ben Roethlisberger can get him the ball in space.
11. Having Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham on your team could mean the difference between winning and losing. The yardage and scoring both offer are like adding the production of another RB1 to your squad. If either of them is sitting there in the second round you'd be foolish not to swoop in and grab them. That said, if they're gone by the time you can get your paws on them, don't fret. There's an ample supply of tight ends to go around, even in leagues that allow two TEs. Vernon Davis is the best of the rest but you can't go wrong with rising stars like Fred Davis, Aaron Hernandez and Jermaine Gresham. Or, if you feel really lucky, use a discretionary pick on one of the Colts rookies, Dwyane Allen or Coby Fleener.
12. What keeps fantasy football fresh is that it's difficult to make the jump from good team to great but it's fairly easy -- due to scheduling, the draft and free agency -- to transform an inept squad team into a decent quickly. This is especially true when a coaching change is involved. So don't write off teams that were awful last year such as the Rams, Colts, Bucs, Browns and Dolphins because all have new systems and many new players.
Swim Daily, Elsa Benitez in Montauk
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