The NFL regular season hasn't yet begun, but the Buccaneers FANtasy Challenge League already has a winner.
The ultimate trophy and its attendant spoils (including a custom Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey and tickets to the season finale) are still up for grabs, of course, but Becky Hartman of Davenport, Florida has already hit the jackpot.
Hartman and eight other contest-winning Buccaneers fans convened at the AdventHealth Training Center on Thursday evening to conduct the FANtasy Challenge draft, which was held in the Buccaneers' actual Draft Room. Those nine fans will try to beat our in-house pros – Casey Phillips, Carmen Vitali and yours truly – for bragging rights and the aforementioned prizes, which will go to the league's winner. Hartman will have her work cut out for her to beat out a league full of fantasy football sharps, but her second pick of the draft has already paid off in a big way.
It was Hartman and her team, Ladies and Edelman, who made the move on Buccaneers favorite Mike Evans, annually one of the top-producing receivers in fantasy football. Hartman nabbed Evans in the second round and, a little later that evening, the star receiver showed up in person to see how the draft was going. Upon learning that he had been snapped up in the second round by one of his biggest fans, Evans gave his new fantasy football manager a big hug.
Evans' appearance was the highlight of the evening but the entire draft – called a "bucket list" experience by one of the team managers – was a one-of-a-kind event for the fans in attendance. It was also deadly serious. These fantasy players didn't just come to Bucs headquarters to drink in the surroundings; they came to win, and take the three of us down in the process.
Which is not to say that the collective Buccaneer fandom didn't rub off on the group just a little bit. Every single one of the Buccaneers drafted was taken higher than his nationwide average draft position (ADP). Here's the spot at which each of those six was drafted, the team manager who took him and his overall ADP:
The Godwin pick, in particular, got the room buzzing because several other managers had the "sleeper" pick in their sights. Justin Morris, in fact, said he was about to take the third-year receiver with the very next pick if Dombrowski hadn't beaten him to it. Several managers complemented Durfey on his pick of Jones, as well; Tampa fans are obviously expecting a breakout.
Tampa Bay's defense was selected, as well, with the "Mr. Irrelevant" pick of 12th in the 16th and final round. The team manager, Campbell Sears, announced the pick and brought the draft to a conclusion by saying it was his "honorable pleasure to select the Buccaneers defense." Tampa Bay fans everywhere are hoping that Mr. Sears is right about that.
Before picking Evans, Hartman also gave the room its first head-scratcher of the evening, interrupting a pretty standard first round with the selection of Miami running back Kenyan Drake fifth overall. Our own Casey Phillips gave us the first example of that live draft staple: Announcing the selection of a player who had already been chosen, in this case wide receiver Tyler Boyd. That little event was to the great joy of everyone else in the room, most of whom were afraid of making the same mistake.
Casey also suggested that she was avoiding all NFC South players so she wouldn't have to root for them…about 30 seconds before drafting Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. Carmen, whose education includes stops at Arizona State and Northwestern, showed off her own bit of homerism by taking a running back from each school – Kalen Ballage and Justin Jackson, respectively. Meanwhile, I showed off my inability to stick to a plan, picking a tight end and a quarterback far earlier than I had sworn I would.
How did everyone do? Well, I will point out that NFL.com's automatically-generated draft recap gave my efforts an A+ and said that "Plunder and Lightning" is headed for the league title. Sounds about right. Here's a closer look at each manager's draft, with my own thoughts on their efforts, which I'm absolutely positive I won't be regretting a couple months from now. What could go wrong?
We conducted a 16-round draft with 12 teams selecting in serpentine order. These are presented in the order that the team's picked in the first round.
1. Campbell Sears, Schiano's Sombrero.
Apparent Strategy: Load up on running backs and wide receivers early, wait on quarterback, take a couple calculated risks. Oh, and get a little help. Campbell had a conflict and sent a surrogate to the draft, and that fill-in used FaceTime to keep Campbell in the middle of the action all night.
What I Liked: Saquon Barkley was the obvious first pick and Sony Michel to start the fifth round was the right spot for him. I like the roll of the dice on Derrius Guice (Carmen, again, Guice rhymes with dice, not juice), and while I think Leonard Fournette at #24 is a bit high, this is a good group of running backs.
What I Didn't Like: I'm not at all on the Calvin Ridley train and his ADP is 78, not 48, where Campbell got him. I would have preferred Tyler Lockett, Jarvis Landry or even the Josh Gordon gamble over Ridley, and all three of those went in the next four picks. Otherwise, not much to complain about here…except maybe that team name.
2. Jason Swinford, The Great Marpet Capers
Apparent Strategy: Nothing but receivers and backs for the first half of the draft, taking advantage of a very deep group of quarterbacks and waiting until the bitter end to take a tight end.
What I Liked: Christian McCaffrey at #2, of course. I think McCaffrey has a chance to be better than Barkley due to his incredibly high usage rate. I'm also a big fan of rookie running backs in the third and fourth round, and that's where Jason got Josh Jacobs and David Montgomery. If the seventh-round gamble on Melvin Gordon pays off, this could be a monstrous backfield. Drew Brees may not exactly be the Drew Brees of old, but he's still a fine get in the 10th round and then Jason somehow landed Ben Roethlisberger, too, with his last pick. One of those will pay off.
What I Didn't Like: Personally, I'm staying away from Antonio Brown, so I'm not thrilled with him at #23 overall. I'd have gone safer with Hilton. I also don't think Rashaad Penny is going to do much in Seattle this year, with Chris Carson getting the lion's share, though Jason probably doesn't need Penny in his backfield. Did he maybe wait too long on tight end? Not in love with Mark Andrews in the 14th round.
3. Brandon Durfey, Matt Gay 4 Trey
Apparent Strategy: Get high-volume backs and receivers (Alvin Kamara, Adam Thielen, Jarvis Landry) early but also be the first to jump on #1 QB Patrick Mahomes. Brandon took Mahomes with the third pick of the third round and no other QBs were taken until the back half of the fourth round. Take a couple calculated risks.
What I Liked: Kamara over Ezekiel Elliott, Thielen in the second round and the sixth-round gamble of A.J. Green, who was blinking red-hot on my own radar at that very moment. I'm fine with the Mahomes pick, even if purists would want you to wait a little longer at that spot.
What I Didn't Like: I'm not high on Ebron repeating his incredible TD rate from last year, and I think he's going to cede a lot of playing time to a healthy Jack Doyle. Brandon went first at defense, too, but the 10th round is a little too rich for my blood.
4. Christopher Hatton, Water Walkers
Apparent Strategy: Well, for one, just be there. It was Christopher who called the night a bucket list event for him, so that's another immediate victory. As for the draft, be the first one to deviate from the running back run and hit all the four major positions in the first round rounds. Build running back depth later.
What I Liked: While Christopher only took one back in the first five rounds, I think Nick Chubb at pick number 21 is excellent value. He also timed the Josh Gordon pick just right in the fifth round because I think a lot of us were just starting to queue Gordon up. Austin Ekeler in the seventh round could pay off really, really big. Grabbing Jared Goff in the 13th round as Deshaun Watson insurance made a lot of sense.
What I Didn't Like: Christopher is going to need Ekeler and probably Tevin Coleman to pay off in order to avoid being short-handed at running back. I like James Washington's potential in Pittsburgh but think he would have been better as a 12th or 13th-round flyer than a ninth-rounder.
5. Becky Hartman, Ladies and Edelman
Apparent Strategy: I'm pretty sure Hartman would have taken Mike Evans in the second round no matter where she was slotted in the draft, provided he was available (we drew the draft order right before picking). I'm convinced that was the plan all along. Otherwise, she beat to her own drum for much of the evening, suggesting she came with a customized set of rankings all her own.
What I Liked: The Evans pick, obviously, and pairing him with Stefon Diggs in the third round gives her a good starting point at receiver. Getting Golden Tate all the way down in the 12th round will also help. Baker Mayfield could challenge for the top QB spot, so the fourth round, while a bit high, isn't really a problem.
What I Didn't Like: The less said about Kenyan Drake the better. Also not a fan of taking two quarterbacks among her first seven picks. The 8th through 12th-round run of backs Kareem Hunt, Nyheim Hines, Adrian Peterson and C.J. Anderson could work, or it could all come up empty.
6. Casey Phillips, Brate Scott
Apparent Strategy: Adhere closely to the list she prepared before the draft, lead the league in tight ends drafted, take all the Cowboys to honor her Dallas heritage. (Just kidding, Casey!)
What I Liked: Ezekiel Elliott at #6. He's a top-four pick without the contract concerns, and I'm pretty confident that will get worked out. I also liked that Casey was able to get another back in Joe Mixon in Round Two and still end up with a pretty decent pair of starting wideouts in Amari Cooper and Brandin Cooks. Matt Ryan in the seventh round is probably better value than my Aaron Rodgers pick in the sixth round. O.J. Howard could be a steal.
What I Didn't Like: The depth after the top two backs could be a concern. James White is a New England running back, so you never know what you'll get after him, and I'm not sure how big Duke Johnson's role will be in Houston. Obviously, three tight ends, which was the result of Casey realizing her first two picked (Howard and David Njoku) had the same bye week. That's a problem you fix as the season goes on.
7. Justin Beetz, The Revolution
Apparent Strategy: Bow to the PPR Gods by going WR with three of his first four picks and then adding potential high-volume guys (with some risk) later on. Wait out the early run on quarterbacks but go a little earlier than the purists.
What I Liked: Davante Adams, Tyreek Hill and Robert Woods (who might end up as the best of the Rams pack of pass-catchers) is a great place to start a receiving corps. After taking Cam Newton in the eighth, Justin also used a 12th on Lamar Jackson, which is a very reasonable gamble on potentially high upside. I think the rest of us slept a bit too long on Marlon Mack, so that's a good get for a second back in the fifth round.
What I Didn't Like: Going so heavy on receivers early can make it tough to build a strong backfield, and I'm not sure Justin succeeded in doing that. I could be wrong if Damien Williams absolutely blows up in Kansas City, but I'm not a Tarik Cohen fan this year.
8. Carmen Vitali, Bowles-room Blitz
Apparent Strategy: Absolutely stick to the purist approach of loading up only on backs and receivers for the first 10 rounds. Three or four managers followed that general strategy but Carmen stuck with it the longest. Target a specific tight end and try to get him at just the right moment in the late round.
What I Liked: I want to beat Carmen in this league, so I groaned inwardly when she took Michael Thomas at #8 overall. I was eye-balling Thomas hard at #10. Dalvin Cook and Chris Carson is a good result after going WR in the first round. Jameis Winston in the 11th round could out-produce several of the quarterbacks drafted rounds earlier.
What I Didn't Like: The strategy is sound but I'm not high on a couple of the mid-round picks, such as Curtis Samuel, Mohamed Sanu and Justin Jackson (I know, I'm being a traitor to Northwestern). I get the strategy, but I think she could have sprinkled in a Vance McDonald or Jared Cook in there.
9. Nick Russin, Kung Suh Panda
Apparent Strategy: Same as Carmen, but with a little flexibility to slip a higher-ranked tight end in there. Outwait almost everybody on quarterbacks.
What I Liked: Starting out with two receivers in Julio Jones and JuJu Smith-Schuster and still getting Devonta Freeman and Kerryon Johnson as a starting backfield is just outstanding, in my book. I could not be higher on Devonta Freeman and would have gladly drafted him in the second round. And, like I said above, it's okay to deviate from the purist approach to get a mid-round tight end with a lot of potential (Vance McDonald).
What I Didn't Like: I'm guessing this was the plan all along and not a product of waiting too long, but I'd be scared to have the second-year duo of Josh Allen and Sam Darnold as my quarterback options. Kyler Murray went three picks after Allen, and I think I would have preferred that. Or perhaps follow up the Allen pick with veteran Ben Roethlisberger, who was still available. Otherwise, I'm a big fan of this entire draft.
10. Scott Smith, Plunder and Lightning
Apparent Strategy: Yes, I should be able to provide the actual strategy here, but I'm still calling this the apparent strategy because I didn't stick to my own plan. I was going to join the group of purists and wait on quarterback and tight end, as a result of what I had seen happen in various mock drafts when I did not. So how did I end up with George Kittle in the fourth round and Aaron Rodgers in the sixth? A weak will, I guess.
What I Liked: While I wanted to get Michael Thomas in the first round and James Conner in the second, after finding out I was picking 10th, I'm not upset about the David Johnson-Conner start instead and I'm fine with my first WR in the third round, Keenan Allen. I also took Frank Gore in the final round because, as I said at the time, I think he's the only NFL player older than me.
What I Didn't Like: I could be in trouble at wide receiver. Kenny Golladay is Detroit's version of Chris Godwin, so I'm hoping for a breakout. Sammy Watkins and Corey Davis could be fine but could also be terrible. I took George Kittle in the fourth round when I was intending to take a receiver because, at the time, I didn't like the receiver options. In retrospect, Mike Williams, Robert Woods or Brandin Cooks would have been fine. Making the Kittle and Rodgers picks also left me a little light at running back.
11. Justin Morris, Deckerhoff the Halls
Apparent Strategy: Get the core starting five (2 RBs, 2 WRs, FLEX) in place, then move a little earlier on QB and TE than some. Follow with a run of hit-or-miss receivers to fill out that position.
What I Liked: Julian Edelman late in the third round after going RB-RB is a good result. I would like this better if he hadn't missed Chris Godwin by one pick on the way back. If he gets the Derrick Henry of the back half of last year, that could be a fifth-round steal. I also like the flyer on Mecole Hardman in the 12th round and the why-not pick of Cam Brate in the final stanza to back up Hunter Henry.
What I Didn't Like: The one-two picks of Todd Gurley and Le'Veon Bell feels a little too risky for my taste, but maybe that's the way Justin plays the game. Tyler Boyd (ADP of 72) in the fourth round feels a bit too high to me, but maybe I'm splitting hairs.
12. Christopher Dombrowski, Risky Biscuits
Apparent Strategy: Go bold with Travis Kelce in Round One and then almost literally do nothing but take receivers and running backs. I mean that – Christopher took Kyler Murray in Round 13 but otherwise selected only backs and pass-catchers. He says he'll find a defense and kicker later.
What I Liked: Almost everything in the first half of the draft. Absolutely love Odell Beckham at #13 but not as much as I like Green Bay back Aaron Jones at 36. Maybe the steal of the draft. I already had two backs but otherwise would've taken him at #34. Latavius Murray might be great in New Orleans, and the seventh round seems like the right spot, and Christopher also got Christian Kirk two picks before I was about to take him.
What I Didn't Like: I don't know, that he kept taking players I wanted? I completely understand the idea of taking possible breakout backs like Justice Hill and Alexander Mattison at the end instead of getting a kicker and defense, but a couple of guys will have to be cut before Week One in order to get that kicker and defense. Will he have enough information by then to choose which ones to keep?
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