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Sarah Bojarski Staff Writer January 31, 2013 7:42PM EDT
This Sunday is for all the real marbles in the NFL. It seems like so long ago when we were in our Fantasy Super Bowls, and now it’s time for the real players to play in the big game. For most Fantasy owners, the 2012 Fantasy season is long since forgotten. Even if you’re playing in a Playoff league, lineups are likely set or locked at this point. There are few options left and most people have filled their rosters without a question now. So what’s next? Most people are looking ahead to Fantasy Baseball. I’m in the midst of writing an article on draft strategy for Fantasy Baseball leagues, and I got to thinking… how did draft strategies play out for football? What did we learn from how we drafted? And how does that affect how we might be drafting next year?

One of the most common draft strategies for 2012 was to go with a quarterback in the first round, then a tight end in the second round. The logic behind that strategy was that quarterback was a shallow position this year and wide receiver was very deep. There was a big three in terms of running back (Arian Foster, LeSean McCoy and Ray Rice) and they typically were the first three to be drafted overall. Once they were off the board, owners looked to grab a quarterback – especially the trio of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees. Also in the first round, Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford were popular draft choices.

In the end Brees, Rodgers and Brady were the Top Three in terms of Fantasy points. However, in leagues where touchdowns were only four points, Matt Ryan and Peyton Manning were both less than 25 points behind Brees. Ryan typically went in the fifth or sixth round and Manning went even later than that in some instances. Both ended up being excellent values for their draft positions.

The tight ends that went in the second round were clearly Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham. Fantasy owners looking back on the season may not be too thrilled with those choices now, but when it came to tight ends, they were still the best options at the time. Who would have thought that an aging Tony Gonzalez would end up as the top TE in non-PPR leagues (Graham was the No. 1 in PPR leagues). Gronkowski’s late-season injury ended up hurting his overall Fantasy value (and left owners scrambling for the Fantasy playoffs). He did end up with the most touchdowns out of all tight ends (11). Graham and hot-and-cold Kyle Rudolph were tied with the second-most TDs with nine. In leagues that rewarded receptions, Jason Witten led the way with 110, followed by Gonzalez (93) and Graham (85). Those three also had the most yards out of the tight end group. In the end, TE wasn’t as deep as originally thought, but there was no need to grab a TE in the early second round.

Now it is certainly possible that the Brady/Graham owner did well in his Fantasy league this past year. However, those that ended up with Stafford/Gronkowski did just as well as the Ryan/Gonzalez owner. Only the Ryan/Gonzalez owner likely had a top running back and/or wide receiver because neither of those two went in the first two rounds.

What does this say about next year’s drafts? It looks like, at a very early glance, that the quarterback position will be much deeper than it was last year. With the likes of Ryan, Manning, Newton, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson joining the top tier, it seems like a decent quarterback will be easy to come by. Granted, there are plenty of question marks in that group, but that doesn’t even include guys like Tony Romo or Andrew Luck. Sure, there will still be the elite three, but if you miss out on them, there are plenty of options that will be around later in the draft.

Perhaps things will go back to how it was in previous years – when we were running back heavy. With the big three still in the mix, owners are also going to go after Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, Marshawn Lynch, C.J. Spiller, Alfred Morris and Trent Richardson. Some of the younger guys might actually be better options than the top guys. I’ll get into that in later weeks, but I do have some concern about Arian Foster and Peterson. The total yards and total rushing attempts were so high in 2012, there has to be a decline in 2013. Foster is going to slowly lose work to Ben Tate, or a similar backup. Peterson needs a passing game in order to continue his success in Minnesota. The point is there are a large number of potentially elite running backs, which is a direct contrast to what everyone was saying heading into the 2012 draft.

Even for wide receivers, there isn’t as much parity among the top guys as originally thought. In a non-PPR league, six WRs had 200 points or more, with the high being 214 points (Calvin Johnson). If you can get Brandon Marshall, Julio Jones, A.J. Green, Dez Bryant or Demaryius Thomas as your WR1, you’re in pretty good shape.

It almost seems like the best strategy, at this point, would be to take the best available at any position. As the offseason continues, we will look more in-depth at each position. We’ll see who changes teams and what comes out of the draft. However, instead of looking at positions and being afraid because they are thin besides a few elite, 2013 looks ripe for the picking. There is much less parity among the top tier of guys and the players below them at the four major positions. It will make for an interesting draft… once the summer rolls around (hey, I can hope for summer in the depths of winter, right?).

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