Everyone’s got rankings. They make for great conversation. But when your name pops up on that clock, the rankings matter not. It’s you and the available player pool. I’m not really a believer in the term “reach” in a fantasy context. It’s sports, anything can happen. That’s what makes the NFL so great and fantasy football the perfect compliment for the most entertaining athletic event on the planet. When comes time to filling out your roster at the draft table, you are faced with critical decision at each turn. For most of us, each selection is not just an investment in a single player, but it is also likely the act of passing over a number of other similar talents who may not be available when your next turn rolls around.
This series of draft day debates is inspired by actual events. The names have not been changed. No one shall be protected.
The first edition of our draft day debate pits Cowboys veteran receiver Miles Autin against hot-shot New England rookie Kenbrell Thompkins. Current ADP is a bit spread on these players, but in one particular draft that both of our debaters where involved in, these players when within four spots of each other, Thompkins with pick 9.9 and Austin with pick 10.2. Our senior staff, Wayne Bretsky and Craig Porges, break down the option.
Tale of the Tape
Kenbrell Thompkins (NE) – ADP: 123.7
Porges: Thompkins is the sleeper du jour right now. Everyone seems to think he is going to be good. In fact, if you were to name the two hottest “sleepers” right now, it would be Thompkins and Eagles quarterback Michael Vick. By a landslide. Considering that, is Thompkins really worth the investment, over a proven talent like Austin? I say yes, and here’s why. Thompkins is sliding into the role that Brandon Llyod played last year. Llyod, who was cut by the Pats in the offseason but had a sneaky productiove role in that offense last season. Llyod, who on a team that still included Welker (traded), Hernandez (murder), and Gronkowski (15 surgeries) managed to amass 74 receptions, 911 yds receiving, and 4 touchdowns.
All those players are gone now. Welker has been replaced by the perpetually injured Danny Amendola, Hernandez is in prison, and honestly, Gronkowski is a stiff wind from being back in the trainer’s room. Thompkins has been lighting it up in the preseason, to the tune of 13 receptions for 142 yards. Does preseason mean much? No, but at least he’s not playing badly. Brady’s gonna have to throw the ball to someone and Thompkins has spent plenty of time with the first-team offense, particularly more that fellow rookie receiver Aaron Dobson who appears to be his primary competition.
Turning to Dallas, Miles Austin put up similar to Llyod last season: 6 receptions, 943 yards, and six touchdowns. Still, it’s hard to trust Austin in his current situation. He’s another year older. And so is Romo. Meanwhile, young superstar Dez Bryant, who lines up across from Austin, has been one of the stories to watch in training camp. Reports are routinely coming out that Bryant is poised for a huge year based on talent and improved footwork. Last year, Bryant had 92 receptions, 1382 yards, and 12 touchdowns. If he improves on those numbers, what is left for Austin? Not much, particularly when considering that a pressured Romo frequently targets tight end Jason Witten. With the current set-up in Dallas, it’s difficult to trust Austin over Thompkins and, personally, I prefer trying to catch lightning in a bottle on draft day. Draft the young Patriot over the ageing Cowboy.
Miles Austin (DAL) – ADP: 89.6
Bretsky: Coming off of a season in which he set career highs in pass attempt, completions and yardage, Tony Romo is set to take control of the Cowboys high-flying offensive attack. Emerging stud Dez Bryant will be their focal point, but a fresh start for hobbled weapons Miles Austin and Demarco Murray should help this Dallas team become an elite scoring offense in 2013. Austin’s current ADP is criminally low for a veteran receiver who has averages 5 receptions and 67 yards (that’s a 16-game pace of 80 receptions for 1,072 yards) with 31 TDs over his past 58 games. Injury issues have been frustrating, but Austin has proven himself capable of elite and consistent numbers at the most volatile position in fantasy. Austin’s run-after-catch skills are topped by few wideouts in the league and with defenses keeping several pair of eyes trained on Dez Bryant each passing down, Austin will see his fair share of soft coverage this season. He’s looked strong in the preseason and has a track record of elite production, making him an excellent value pick int he 9th round of your draft.
Not to say Thompkins is a poor choice, but the cards are not stacked in his favor this year. Rookie receivers typically struggle and while Julio Jones and A.J. Green were able to break trough as top-20 options as rookies just a few short seasons ago, it’s easy to say that those guys posses a bit more talent than the undrafted free agent Thompkins. We’ll also note that to find the last time a wide receiver not named Wes Welker or Randy Moss posted a 1,000 yard season with Tom Brady at the helm you must go back to 2001 when Troy Brown put up a tasty 101-catch 1199-yard season for fantasy owners. Brady likes to spread the ball around and once Rob Gronkowski is healthy, Thompkins figures to be no better than the fifth-best weapon in the offense (Amendola, Gronk, Ridley, Vereen).
Give me the veteran with proven production. Austin has taken steps to protect his vulnerable hamstrings with an increased focus in his offseason workouts and also has taken plenty of practice reps off during training camp to stay fresh. It’s impossible to guarantee health in any NFL player and while Miles may be a slightly risky play, the draft day discount makes him a very worthy selection and one that you should make before looking to an unproven sleeper like Thompkins.