The consensus opinion after 24 hours is that building a team for the Rookie Scouting Portfolio Football Writers Project is challenging and addictive (download the spreadsheet and instructions at the bottom of this post). By the way, there are more player value updates coming Tuesday afternoon for those asking about guys not listed on the original player spreadsheet.
I agree. I just finished my first complete roster and thought I’d share the starting lineup with commentary. This is an initial draft, so I have a feeling the final roster I share in the next 6-8 weeks will be a lot different. I might even submit two teams just so I can experiment with a system.
Philosophical Thoughts on Building a Team
My natural inclination as a football fan is to build the style of team that I love. The team that serves as a model for that style of play is the Cleveland Browns of the `80s coached by Marty Schottenheimer:
- Bump and run corners like Hanford Dixon and Frank Minnifield
- Hard-hitting linebackers and safeties
- Big, road-grading offensive line
- A versatile duo of backs like Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack
- Crafty wide receivers like Webster Slaughter and Brian Brennan
- A field-stretching tight end like Ozzie Newsome (at least for much of his career)
- A brainy, tough, accurate quarterback like Bernie Kosar
Tough, physical, and ground-oriented also fits the Tennessee Titans of the late `90s and the Baltimore Ravens – two teams I have much football affection. But this style doesn’t appear to be the immediate future of offensive football. Even the ground-and-pound 49ers are acquiring spread system players for the near future.
However, it’s not necessarily the spread that is the future as much as it is Jokers capable of playing multiple positions and allowing a quarterback to use multiple personnel sets with the same 11 players in a no-huddle attack that can dictate the following things to a defense:
- Scheme simplicity
- Personnel mismatches
The Patriots and Panthers used two-tight end sets in its offenses to dictate to defenses and it appears the Colts and Bears are going to try a similar approach in 2012. So my first draft follows along similar lines. I want a team that can run the ball, but also create mismatches outside and vertically stretch the field.
Initial (Failed) Attempts
When ESPN’s Matt Williamson – a former NFL scout – tried to build the actual Patriots and Steelers rosters this weekend as test of our initial salary cap ($120 million), he could only afford 18 players for either team! Even when I increased the cap to $160 million, I couldn’t afford the Patriots or Packers complete rosters when testing the values. This is the kind of challenge we wanted.
My first inclination was to build an offensive juggernaut and pick prospects and depth chart-caliber performers on defense in an attempt to emulate the Patriots as much as possible but with younger, less established talent. I couldn’t afford it. In fact, what I could effort amounted to a strong, young fantasy offense but a defense that had some significant holes and I couldn’t afford the remaining 12 players to complete a roster.
My Rough Draft Roster – Offense
Quarterbacks (Andrew Luck, Josh Johnson, and Greg McElroy): I decided I want to run a lot of two-tight end sets that can establish a power running game, but also succeed in the screen game, play action, and multiple personnel sets that spread the field. I want a quarterback with accuracy, arm strength, and an aggressive big-play mentality. Athleticism is a bonus. I think Luck has the potential to be a more athletic Tom Brady or Peyton Manning if he has the right pieces around him. Josh Johnson has the upside to become a strong backup. I actually considered Bruce Gradkowski because I like his mobility and short and medium range anticipation. I couldn’t afford him. McElroy lacks the arm of the first two, but I like his conceptual skills at Alabama and I think he has the aggressive mentality to develop into a capable backup in my offense that can spread defenses horizontally, if needed. If Nate Davis is added at the value I think he’ll be, I’ll probably give him another shot to get his act together as my QB3. Jake Locker is also tempting me instead of Luck.
Running Backs (Bilal Powell, Cedric Peerman, Chad Spann, and Xavier Omon): This is the perceived weakness of my team by far. I considered Demarco Murray because I love his versatility and ability to be a load-carrier. However, the one thing Mike Shanahan has taught us is that a good offensive line and complementary passing game can help an offense generate a strong ground game with late-round backs. I also have learned through my years watching backs that there is a lot of talent at the position that can perform as productive starters when called upon. I still believe Powell, Peerman, and Spann have the kind of talent to start in the NFL or at least contribute in a good committee situation. I think all three have special teams skill, which at their price means I get what I pay for in special teams if one of them doesn’t pan out as a runner. Xavier Omon is a rugged back with good balance. I’m considering Joique Bell as an alternative to Omon
Wide Receivers (Randall Cobb, Greg Childs, Mohammad Sanu, Travis Benjamin, Danny Coale, and Tori Gurley): Cobb gives me Percy Harvin-Darren Sproles type of scheme flexibility. He can run the football from the backfield, play the slot, or work the perimeter. The same can be said of Sanu, who isn’t nearly as explosive as Cobb, but he is a physical ball carrier with slot skill or flanker potential with red zone-caliber potential. Greg Childs is my shot at greatness as an X receiver. I’m betting he gets all the way back and becomes that primary guy that Andrew Luck will target all over the field. If not, I think Cobb can approximate enough of Greg Jennings, Sanu do some Houshmandzadeh, and Danny Coale or Travis Benjamin man the slot. I also love that both players are explosive enough to stretch the seam from the slot. They Cobb, Benjamin, and Coale offer me options in the return game. Sanu and Childs will develop into capable run blockers. Lots of flexibility here if most of my first four players develop.Gurley is a big guy I could afford and I want to see if he can develop into a potential possession/red zone option.
Fullbacks-Tight Ends (Kellen Davis, James Casey, Taylor Thompson, Bradie Ewing, Charles Clay, and Will Yeatman): For months I thought I’d take either Rob Gronkowski or Aaron Hernandez and pair one of them with either James Casey or Heath Miller. I may still find a way to do it. Considering the fiscal reality of my situation, I’m actually excited about what I have here. James Casey and Kellen Davis just might have the skills to approximate Hernandez and Gronkowski more than many realize. While Titans offensive coordinator Chris Palmer is raving about Taylor Thompson, a former defensive end-turned-tight end, Davis was a similar prospect. The former Michigan State tight end is not quite as explosive, but a good blocker and strong hands. If Davis demonstrates that he can’t cut it as a potential Gronkowski, I’ll still have a shot with Thompson. Bradie Ewing and Charles Clay give me the situational fullback/H-back roles as reserves that I hope to get from Casey as a starter. Yeatman will be on tomorrow’s value list. He’s cheap, he’s a good blocker, with a former All-American lacrosse player’s athleticism. Lots of special teams help here, too.
Tomorrow: My rough draft offensive line.