There's no better way to practice your draft strategies in preparation for a run at a fantasy league championship than participating in mock drafts, and now you can do them right here on NFL.com! If you've never been in a mock draft, it's identical to an actual fantasy draft but you're not bound to the team. You can do as many mocks as you like and also pick your own draft position. New mocks start every five minutes, so there's always one to join.
I've had the chance to participate in a number of mock drafts (though no one in the rooms seemed to believe it was me) throughout the week, and I noticed some trends that are certain to be duplicated when the real fantasy drafts happen. He's a look at 10 of the most important trends and how those trends could impact draft strategies.
1. Running backs will dominate the first and second rounds in most leagues. Unless you're playing in a touchdown-based league, running backs are going to be the dominant position in the first two rounds. In the four mock drafts I was in, no fewer than seven of the first 10 picks were running backs. Two of the mocks saw eight backs come off the board in Round 1. The second round wasn't as one-dimensional from a positional perspective, but running backs were still the prominent option.
2. Quarterbacks are coming off the board much faster than in seasons past. At least two quarterbacks were drafted in the first round of all four drafts. The two that were taken in Round 1 in every mock were Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, which makes a lot of sense. Peyton Manning was also drafted in Round 1 twice, while Tom Brady and Brett Favre were the other first-round quarterbacks. I would guess the owner who took Favre is a Vikings fan -- that's way too soon to select him -- but it shows the importance of the position.
3. Wide receiver will be the prominent skill position taken in Round 3. A run on wideouts will likely begin in Round 2, especially in leagues that reward points for receptions, but the third round will be loaded with pass catchers. Of course, players like Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Randy Moss didn't make it out of the first two rounds -- Calvin Johnson was also a popular second-round pick. But in three of the mock drafts, more than half of the players taken in Round 3 were wide receivers.
4. Starting fantasy tight ends can be found in the middle to late rounds. It is a virtual guarantee that a run on elite tight ends will start in Round 4. But if you don't land Dallas Clark, Antonio Gates or Vernon Davis, you can wait until the middle rounds to grab a solid player. Brent Celek, Jason Witten and Tony Gonzalez were available after Round 5 in all of the mocks, and other viable starters like Kellen Winslow and Visanthe Shiancoe were still there in the low middle rounds.
5. Fantasy owners are still taking defensive units too soon on draft day. No matter how much I preach about waiting to take a defense, there are still those fantasy owners who feel the need to take one way too early. In all four mocks, at least one defense was selected before Round 6. The Ravens were a third-round pick in one mock! Unless you're in a league that rewards monster points to defenses, there is no reason to take one until the last few rounds. Ever. Guess I'll have to continue to preach on this topic!
1. Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson are clearly the consensus top picks. In all four mocks, the top two picks were Peterson (2) or Johnson (2). You can really flip a coin between these two superstar running backs, as both are supremely talented and the centerpiece of their respective offenses. I still see Johnson as the better option, but that could change if he holds out of training camp due to contractual issues. Regardless, you really can't go wrong by making either of these runners the first overall selection.
2. Despite several concerns, Steven Jackson remains a first-round choice. If it weren't for the fact that Jackson has an extremely favorable schedule, he wouldn't even be among my top 10 among running backs. Sure, the Rams did makes some offensive improvements in the offseason, but Sam Bradford isn't going to keep defenses from stacking the line of scrimmage to stop the run in his rookie season. Jackson is also coming off back surgery, which is a concern. Still, he was a first-round pick in all four of the mock drafts.
3. Rodgers has become a first-round pick, and he deserves that high status.I'm a huge fan of Rodgers heading into the 2010 season, so I was pleased to see him come off the board in Round 1 in all four mocks. He went as high as the No. 5 overall pick and was selected no lower than the No. 8 overall pick. Unless I'm stuck with one of the last two or three picks in the first round, the only players I would take in front of Rodgers include Johnson, Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Ray Rice and Frank Gore.
4. The hype around Chargers rookie running back Ryan Mathews is sinking in. I'm drinking the Kool-Aid on Mathews, and a lot of you have joined me in the love-fest. The rookie out of Fresno State was drafted no later than the early second round in all four mocks, and he even went in the first round once (yes, that was me who took him). Based on factors like schedule, coaching and the Chargers offense, I think Mathews is worth a late first-round pick. He's a top-10 fantasy running back.
5. Brady could turn into one of the best draft-day values in fantasy leagues. With all the talk about the value of quarterbacks rising in fantasy football, Brady is still not being seen as a surefire second-round pick. While he was a first-round pick in one of the mocks, the Patriots signal-caller didn't come off the board until the third round in the other three. If you can get a quarterback of Brady's caliber in Round 3, you're doing pretty well. He's a lock for 4,000-plus yards and around 30 touchdowns.