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Most decisions we make in fantasy football are based on the historical record. We say we balance the stats we have in hand with the ones we envision for the future, but when it comes time to draft, smart decisions are more like 90% based on fact and 10% based on what we see as the likely future course.
Call yourself a gambler if you like, but when it comes time to draft a running back, are you really going to go with the growing hype around Giovani Bernard over a proven top tier RB? Not likely. The numbers have been established, and they don't lie. The future is fun to talk about, but a scattershot investment.
Still, the ability and the willingness to take chances is part of what makes fantasy sports so much fun. It's why we make predictions, track potential sleepers and, every once in a while, draft Cordarelle Patterson over Victor Cruz.
And if you don't even like taking mid-round or late-round chances, you can still let loose your inner gambler by participating in mock drafts. That's how I stumbled onto the idea for this little exercise: Forget the numbers, and draft a team mostly based on future prospects and hype (though as I found out, you can't entirely forget last year's numbers). Anyway, this is what I ended up with through the first eight rounds in a mock draft when tried to think only about future potential.
Round 1, Pick 2: Matt Forte, RB, CHI.
I wanted to get the first pick in this mock draft, and still would have chosen him first if I did, but someone beat me into the waiting room. Popular No. 1 picks Jamaal Charles and LeSean McCoy are now encumbered by very good backups: Knile Davis in KC and Darren Sproles in PHI. Forte, meanwhile, sees more receiving action than the other possible NO. 1, Adrian Peterson, and probably still has not had his best season. That could come this year.
Notable players I passed on: Charles, McCoy, Peterson.
Round 2, Pick 23: Giovani Bernard, RB, CIN.
The most hyped young RB this season got another boost when the Bengals cut BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Almost every game Bernard plays offers highlight reel material, and a very positive outlook (and not necessarily realistic) for this season would have him finishing with Forte among the leaders at RB in rushing yards, receptions, receiving yards and TDs.
Notable players I passed on: Arian Foster, Brandon Marshall, Julion Jones, Andrew Luck.
Round 3, Pick 26: Cordarelle Patterson, WR, MIN.
This one is hard to explain. A lot of WRs were going early in this mock, and I quickly had to adjust my vision for him - a possible high-ceiling WR-2 - to a definite WR-1. Best case scenario, he develops a rapport with Matt Cassel that turns weak Cassel lobs into double-digit TDs with league-leading yards-after-catch.
Notable players I passed on: Andre Johnson, Victor Cruz, Andre Ellington.
Round 4, Pick 47: Shane Vereen, RB, NE.
Picturing him for the RB/WR slot. He's one of three RBs in the mix in New England, which doesn't sound great, but he should be the one getting the majority of short passes - it's here that I found it hard to ignore his numbers from 2013. However, since the Pats had an off year in 2014, with injuries and inexperience affecting the receiving corps, I may need to lower my high ceiling just a bit.
Notable players I passed on: Cam Newton, Ben Tate, Matt Ryan.
Round 5, Pick 50: Sammy Watkins, WR, BUF.
If Bernard was the most hyped RB this preseason, Watkins was the most hyped WR. Still, this is far earlier than I ever would recommend taking him - in two of my actual leagues, he went right around Pick 100. But I'm buying futures here, and the rookie Watkins is a rare combination of size and breakaway moves.
Notable players I passed on: Russell Wilson, Vernon Davis, Jeremy Maclin.
Round 6, Pick 71: Andy Dalton, QB, CIN.
I was targeting Russell Wilson, but he went before my spot came up. Dalton doesn't entirely fit the profile of someone with potentially giant numbers ahead of him. Nor has he been much hyped for this year, but with top WR A.J. Green, Bernard and others among targets, he could be a very unlikely candidate for 40 TDs if everything goes just right.
Notable players I passed on: Ryan Mathews, Bishop Sankey, Seattle Defense.
Round 7, Pick 74: Michael Crabtree, WR, SF.
After the early run on WRs, he fell farther than I would have expected. In some ways a much safer bet than Patterson or Watkins, Crabtree mostly has been held back by a conservative offense, but could be poised for a breakout year if Colin Kaepernick looks his way a little more often.
Notable players I passed on: San Francisco Defense, Jordan Cameron, Tom Brady.
Round 8, Pick 95: Coby Fleener, TE, SD.
There were a number of young TEs available, and I chose the one I felt had the best QB. Fleener seems like the prototype of a pass-catching TD, and in a robust offense should be able to collect 700 yards and 8 TDs from the table scraps in Indy.
Notable players I passed on: Antonio Gates, Eric Decker, Steven Jackson.
There you have it - a gambler's fantasy draft. It's a little bit exciting, and also a little bit ugly (The kicker I ended up drafting later, Ryan Succop, has since been cut by KC - and signed by Tennessee). It doesn't look much like a first-place fantasy team, but I'll plan on checking back in on these picks as the season progresses, and we'll see how the futures market plays out.
Dan O'Shea is our man in fantasyland. He welcomes your comments.