By Adam Harris-
(CBS) Let me begin this column by saying, I was wrong, but I have now seen the light.
Jimmy Graham (TE-NO) was well worth a first-round pick this year, and is the best fantasy player on the planet right now.
Graham not only leads all non-quarterbacks in fantasy points this year with 95 (.5 PPR), but he is so far ahead of his competition at tight end it’s unreal.
After Graham in the tight end category, it goes Jordan Cameron (TE-CLE) with 81 points, and then Antonio Gates (TE-SD), Julius Thomas (TE-DEN), Tony Gonzalez (TE-ATL) and Martellus Bennett (TE-CHI) in the 50-60 point range.
Let’s focus on the relation Graham has with Antonio Gates who is the third highest scoring fantasy tight end so far this year. Graham has 37 more points and is averaging 23.75 points per week, which is 9.25 points more than Gates.
In a 12-team, half-PPR league, the average fantasy owner without Graham gets 11.4 points per week from their tight end. That means owners with Graham are enjoying a 12.35 points per week advantage over his/her opponent week in and week out. No other player is like that in fantasy football.
DIFFERENT DRAFT STRATEGY
All off season it was a popular belief to grab a prime running back in the first round because there was a big drop off after the top seven backs. I endorsed this strategy, and have been limping by with the likes of Doug Martin (RB-TB), C.J. Spiller (RB-BUF), Alfred Morris (RB-WSH) etc. Even the running backs that have been performing, Adrian Peterson (RB-MIN), LeSean McCoy (RB-PHI), Jamaal Charles (RB-KC) and Marshawn Lynch (RB-SEA), were not worth the risk of a first round pick now that I look back.
Running backs are not producing as much as in previous years. Think about your team, and think about your top running back. When he “goes off” for 120 total yards and a score, getting you 18 points, don’t you feel amazement, combined with jubilation, combined with relief? That strong excitement stems from how rare of an occurrence it is for a RB to score big this season.
Now think about when guys like Dez Bryant (WR-DAL) or even Victor Cruz (WR-NYG) go off like they did this past week for two scores and 90 yards with seven catches (for example). How do you feel then? Is it more of a “ho-hum,” shrug your shoulders type moment?
That different feeling from WR to RB is based on a change in the NFL. It is a common occurrence now for a first- or second-tier wide out to score 20 plus points week in and week out, while a first- or second-tier running back must have a “breakout” week in order to hit the 20 point mark.
Fifteen of the top 20 point, non-QB, fantasy players are wide outs or tight ends. Guessing correctly on RB in the first round was a lot harder than guessing correctly on QB (Brees, Manning, Rodgers) or WR/TE (Dez Bryant, AJ Green, Julio Jones, Brandon Marshall, Jimmy Graham) in the first round.
Remember that decision you had to make? LeSean McCoy or C.J. Spiller with the fifth overall pick. You chose Spiller, and no one could blame you, but now that you look back, wouldn’t it have made sense to have Drew Brees or Jimmy Graham? There’s nothing to decide with those players because they always meet their projected points.
CHANGING TREND, CHANGES FANTASY
The difference so far between a top-tier running back and a second tier running back is about four points per week, while the difference between a top-tier quarterback and second-tier quarterback is about five points per week, and at tight end the difference is astronomical, as stated above.
The fantasy world, including me, should have seen this trend coming. Over the past few years, teams have shied away from running the ball, gearing towards a pass crazy offense. Wide outs have become superior athletes to those who are supposed to guard them, and quarterbacks are way ahead of defenses right now. We saw the trend, but didn’t recognize how much of an impact it would have on the fantasy world until it was too late.
If I were to do it over again, I would have taken a stud quarterback in the first round, followed by a stud wide out or tight end (just Graham) in the second round. In doing this, my running backs would be something like Eddie Lacy (RB-GB) and Lamar Miller (RB-MIA) instead of one “stud” and Stevan Ridley (RB-NE), MJD (RB-JAX), CJ2K (RB-TEN), David Wilson (RB-NYG), etc. Those running backs were projected second round picks that are the same or even worse as running backs taken in two rounds later.
Look at your leagues. In most, the first place team probably has either Jimmy Graham, Peyton Manning (QB-DEN), Drew Brees (QB-NO) or Dez Bryant on them. That is not a coincidence. That is not a fluke. The NFL has changed for the good this season and it has hurt fantasy owners who value running backs as much as I used to. Instead of valuing a position from now on, I am going to value POINTS.
It’s time to cut your losses. Try to trade for a stud QB1 like Brees, Rodgers, Manning, or even Cam Newton (whom I think is going to break out). Give up a second-tier running back and your current quarterback for a stud QB. Do the same for wide receivers. Hopefully someone will think he/she is selling high on their WR1 or QB1 and will be willing to trade a stud for depth.
Follow this trend, because the trend is always our friend. The NFL is different now and it’s time for fantasy owners to change their minds for good.
Instead of taking chances while drafting, leaving your first two picks up to your opinion on what the player will do, go with a sure thing. Stud QB’s like Brees and Manning will not disappoint you, but there is a good chance stud RB’s like C.J. Spiller, Trent Richardson (RB-IND), Ray Rice (RB-BAL), etc., will disappoint you. The sure thing was Graham and Brees/Manning this year and I wish I saw it coming.
Follow Adam Harris on Twitter @AHarris670 and ask him Fantasy Football questions. Also, listen to the Friday Fantasy Nerd Herd Hour on Friday nights/Saturday mornings with Joe Ostrowski.