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Reality trumps perception for these undervalued guys

About 10 years ago, before reality shows engulfed vast blocks of primetime network programming, there was a brief trend that nabbed some nice ratings during the summer doldrums -- shows that exposed the secrets of professional magicians.

It was a candle that burned bright and fast, but not so fast that it didn't inspire some knockoffs ... including an NBC special yours truly narrated: "Exposed! Pro Wrestling's Greatest Secrets!"

Kayfabe (wrestling's one word answer to omerta, vis-a-vis anything fake or staged going down in the ring) took it hard that night, right in the tenders.

Beyond my mellifluous vocal stylings, the show was essentially a bunch of bottomed-out pro wrestlers -- journeymen even by that industry's generous standards -- spilling the straight dope on how the con really works. Pre-determined outcomes … rings that gave with every fall … refs who actually choreographed the fights by whispering instructions to the combatants during clinches. It also turns out that all those conveniently placed folding chairs are designed to help break your fall, not your back.

Okay, so the trauma may not devastate you along the lines of "Santa isn't real," but unspoken rules were broken, and disbelief was ever-so-briefly unsuspended.

The write-up on "Exposed!" in Wikipedia sums up the whole dance in the kind of terse summation that often haunts my work: "This program has achieved a certain level of notoriety among professional wrestling fans as an object of ridicule."

That being said, there was one thing that surprised me when I perused my voice-over copy: It turns out one of the few things that is absolutely real in professional wrestling… is the blood.

If you ever meet an old school grappler, you will notice they tend to favor bandanas, bangs, or any haircut that can cover the spider web of minute scar tissue glazing their hair line. As it turns out, nothing bleeds quite like even the smallest little forehead cut. A fact wrestlers exploit continually by hiding small razors in turnbuckles and beneath love handles, no doubt in search of a blood bonus.

If the NFL had similar blood bonuses, Eli Manning would have finally earned enough bread to say no to those uncomfortable Oreo eat-off commercials, because anyone who saw his geysering forehead Monday night probably assumed he was in big trouble. Anyone, that is, who hadn't enjoyed my sordid little wrestling show. Ha ha! After 10 years, my work is relevant! It applies to everything!

In the short run, these "Exposed!" specials probably evoked some rough, heckle-filled nights for wrestlers with names like Bruce "The Anvil" Gotowski, and magicians with names like "The Amazing Brent," but in the long run both industries continue to thrive. Why? Well, there's no easy way to say it… People want to get fooled.

Perception and reality keep an uneasy truce at best, and the same can be said for our training camp projections at a time when hopes are robust, and reality is a tad blurry.

Okay, so that premise took longer to set and release than Tim Tebow uncorking an out-route, but here's the payoff: It's time to take a look at some useful fantasy football intel gathered during the billions of mock and real drafts I have participated in to date.

Specifically? What people believe versus what is real.

Mock your way to the top

I always say the best way to prepare for your upcoming drafts is to go online and do as many mock drafts as you can, ideally in the slot you will occupy in your real drafts.

You can do 10-team mocks right here at NFL.com, you can do 12-team and auction mocks elsewhere. All are highly useful. They tell you what the masses are thinking, thus cutting down on the surprise factor when you are plotting your round-by-round strategy.

A lot depends on the official rankings of the site you're using, because many drafters hug the on-screen list pretty tight. You can tell you're drafting against quality players when you see guys dipping down 10 slots and grabbing a player with big upside, which the rankings have yet to reflect.

Virtual Mocks also may lack the chaos theory of your real draft, when you have 12 owners working with 12 different rankings in 12 different states of inebriation, but there's still chaos a-plenty! The weird picks some guy with a laptop in Micronesia is making in the 9-hole may skew things. I recently saw Chad Ochocinco go third overall… hard not to go autopick after that one. And yes, there will be at least one guy firing provocative all-caps dandies on the message board, but given enough reps, you are going to learn where the value is as you enter the gray zone of the later rounds.

In the meantime, I am here to share some things I have noticed:

My value guys

A lot is going to change between now and kickoff, but the premise is simple: In most of your drafts there is one position you miss the boat on. You look over your roster, and realize you are down to felt at WR, RB depth, or QB, and suddenly the pickings are slim.

That's when you need to have a good grip on the guys who are sliding due to a general lack of appreciation from the general public.

All of this is based on a 12-team draft, which I consider the superior format because it rewards acumen. Ten-team leagues are often decided by flukes -- there, I said it.

Quarterbacks

For starters, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers are going really early. Both are off the shelf by the 14th pick if not sooner. It pisses me off, because for years I was ahead of the crowd in valuing an elite QB over, say, a strong but injury-prone RB in rounds one or two, but that party is decidedly over. The early picks on these two triggers some panic, and you see your QBs start to go in tiers, clustered together.

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady go together, usually in rounds 2-3.

Now that Favre is back, he'll go in the next wave with Matt Schaub, then Philip Rivers and Tony Romo are gone after a beat. If you're looking for a big production QB in round 4, these are your guys.

The next group has some question marks, but represent intriguing value if you are comfortable slow-rolling your signal caller.

Jay Cutler usually goes next, a round or two later. People are banking that last year's brain farts will magically transform into touchdowns thanks to Mike Martz. It's a big gamble, but there is tremendous upside if it works. I am not sold on his WRs as of yet, but I think Matt Forte and/or Chester Taylor will help out of the backfield.

At this point, if you still put off drafting a QB, you could wait a bit, snag two starters back-to-back, and play the old game of starting the one facing the worse pass defense on a given week.

Joe Flacco usually goes next, no doubt thanks to Anquan Boldin's arrival. Then it is generally Eli Manning -- who seems truly underrated this year after a 27 TD campaign and a host of great young receivers. This is a value guy, wrestler-blood or not.

Then the barely tested but tempting Kevin Kolb goes in round 6 or 7. He's got WRs, and you gotta believe Andy Reid knows what he's doing here, having traded Donovan McNabb within the division so Kolb could start. Shades of Bledsoe/Brady. Ouch. The Eagles are always going to throw the ball; he is worth a shot.

Let's say you still haven't picked a QB, preferring to load up at all the other positions and get some authentic RB depth -- no worries. The ultimate value QB right now is still sitting there in round 8, round 9, round 10: Carson Palmer, a guy who I think is dealing with our old friend, Burned Owner Resentment Syndrome. It's the same thing that turned teammate Cedric Benson into a huge value last season after he broke so many hearts in Chicago. Palmer has an arsenal of weapons, and most importantly, after the injuries and lackluster tosses, I watched his first preseason game and the hose looks really good.

Jason Campbell will be there anytime you want him as a backup, and my super sleeper QB isn't even someone you need to draft at this point: Derek Anderson. That's a notion that has earned me my fair share of derision from Browns fans, but you must understand it is the same logic that got me some trophies thanks to Kurt Warner the last couple of years: It's really about how much I doubt Matt Leinart as a Ken Whisenhunt starter. We shall see…

Running backs

This is where the bargains are really hard to find after the halfway point in your drafts, but some interesting values still exist, starting with Ricky Williams often going in the seventh round. Ronnie Brown will share the load, but he is injury prone, and Ricky just keeps finding a way to deliver year after year.

Meanwhile, Clinton Portis is falling like he has cement Nikes on. I get it. He has let you down when you picked him high in recent campaigns, you just can't tell if the wheels are coming off after all those carries, but you have to acknowledge a simple truth: Mike Shanahan knows how to run the ball, and these two made sweet statistical music together in this system. Portis is huge risk/reward value right now because no one seems to want to pick him.

Cadillac Williams: He's the lead back on this team, he had some good games last year, he looked sharp in Tampa's preseason opener, and he's there late, my friends,. Not sexy, but he's a No. 1 that could get you out of a hole.

Ahmad Bradshaw -- some think he becomes the starter for the Giants this year. He produces like hell in this system, and for some reason he is sitting there late in a lot of drafts, passed over for a lot of unproven commodities like Montario Hardesty or C.J. Spiller, both of whom join crowded backfields on dicey offenses.

Laurence Maroney: Again, nothing sexy here, but owners remain immensely queasy, having drafted him high with low results in previous years. Hence his availability so crazy late in your drafts that he starts to look like a bargain. I know Patriot backfields are the worst kind of cryptic committees possible, but he will have some big weeks.

Chester Taylor: If Matt Forte doesn't cook in Mike Martzville, here is a hugely talented, underrated back who could explode running and catching the ball in the Marshall Faulk role. Hmmmm…

Wide receivers

Matt Leinart isn't just hurting himself, he's hurting Larry Fitzgerald, who went 24th in a draft I did Sunday night… but the real receiver values are all over the draft, high and low.

Steve Smith (Carolina): Jake Delhomme was a disaster, the new QB is underrated -- could be a steal, who knows.

Hines Ward: Chronically under-drafted for the past few years, and now the lack of Big Ben for four games has nudged him even farther down the troth, but this guy is a warrior who always gets it done, and he's available in the seventh/eighth round.

Santana Moss: Again, a veteran who is going very late, yet Moss is the only proven No. 1 in Washington, and he just got an upgrade at coach and starting QB.

Johnny Knox: Word is he is clicking in the Martz system, and he's sitting there very late.

One of my favorite values is Derrick Mason. People think Boldin is going to take over here, but I say he only helps Mason, the consummate pro who has the established chemistry with Joe Flacco. This guy gives you consistency, some big, big games, and he's available anywhere from the 10th round through the 12th round!

In the wild-card bin, you can always roll the dice on a couple of guys with big provisos: Vincent Jackson and Santonio Holmes. Often going in the ninth or 10th rounds, they could give your team some rocket fuel in the playoff drive once they clear suspensions, and in Jackson's case, land somewhere. High risk, huge rewards.

Lance Moore: No one, I mean no one is drafting this guy. Meanwhile, he is making his move in camp, and definitely clicks with Brees. Every Saints receiver is another player's injury away from a two-touchdown game.

Mohamed Massaquoi: Should be the No. 1 WR in Cleveland, hopefully Mike Holmgren has some input in revving up the passing attack, and Massaquoi is often available at the end of your draft.

And in the ultimate reversal of fortune, a massive dose of Burned Owner Resentment Syndrome allows me to present you with the unthinkable: You could use your last pick in the draft on a kicker, or … Roy E. Williams. He doesn't even get a sniff, he is finally unable to be complacent thanks to the presence of Dez Bryant, and crazier things have happened.

I know, I know. I just threw up a little in my mouth, too.

For all of those who have requested, I promise my rankings will be up in two weeks, just in time for your drafts.

Until then, keep living the dream…

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Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) rushes during an NFL football game between the between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Chargers, Sunday, Sept. 20, 2020, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Peter Joneleit)

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