This is a new article for me, but one that I think many people should find helpful. Every year there are a few players that appear on almost every team I draft. I call these "core" players. It's players that I feel exceptionally strong about their situations against their perceived value (ADP). By design, my leagues are usually won or lost by these players.
Don't get me wrong. I follow VBD principles. It's possible I might not get any of these players in some league because of exceptional value elsewhere everytime I picked. But in most leagues, I am going to get my share of these guys because of when I am targeting them. In auctions, I am trying to get as many of these guys as I can (as long as their price is realistic).
Before I name the "core" that make up my top ten players to build around, I want to tell you what this article isn't. It isn't an article telling you to get Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson or Aaron Rodgers. For some drafters, they never even get a chance to sniff these names. And although the title of this article is about players to build around, it isn't written for dynasty leagues. This article is a blueprint (much like my Perfect Draft series) that tries to simplify things in the middle to late rounds of redraft league. It's the players that I think offer ridiculous value in any scoring system.
I think all of these players are important so this article will just list them in the order they will likely be drafted. For purposes of this article, I am going to use the Footballguys non-PPR Top 300 and ADP list found here. The league consists of 12 teams, passing TDs are worth 4 points, and normal performance scoring is in effect.
Let's get to the players and why I think these guys are special:
QB Tony Romo, Dallas Cowboys
Value = 32
ADP = 32
Hopeful pick: Early 4th round
What I like: With the addition of rookie Dez Bryant along with the emergence of Miles Austin, this passing offense could easily be the best in the league. Roy Williams might have been an underachiever as WR1, but as WR3 he could flourish (especially in the slot). Jason Witten still has to be covered as does the speedy Felix Jones. I have Tony Romo as the 4th best QB this year, but I can easily picture a scenario where he is the top producer. It's hard to imagine many defenses that can gameplan to stop this attack. In virtually every league though, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Peyton Manning will go before Romo. In some leagues Tom Brady, Matt Schaub and even Philip Rivers could also be selected before Romo.
The Plan: As people have come to expect, I don't like taking a QB with an early selection. And although I rate Romo's value at 32 overall, I would only take him if he slid to me in the 4th round (pick 37 or later in a 12-team league). That will happen in some leagues. If it doesn't happen I prefer to wait a bit at the position as you can usually build around a value pick and work a committee very cheaply. Getting a guy like Jay Cutler or Kevin Kolb and pairing him with a David Garrard, Matthew Stafford or Alex Smith will be adequate in most all leagues (except those that award 6 points for passing TDs).
RB Ahmad Bradshaw, New York Giants
Value = 61
ADP = 84
Hopeful pick: 7th round or later
What I like: Anybody who was capable of wearing a walking boot from Monday to Saturday and then rushing the way Bradshaw did on Sundays has my attention. He was as injured as a player can be (and still be able to go on on most Sundays), but that certainly didn't stop him from outplaying Brandon Jacobs by a wide margin on significantly less carries. I expect an even bigger role for the versatile Bradshaw this season. If Bradshaw can become the lead back by the start of the season like I expect, he should smash through this low ADP like he does opposing defenses.
RB Michael Bush, Oakland Raiders
Value = 65
ADP = 88
Hopeful pick: 7th round or later
What I like: He has been better than Darren McFadden every season so far. I don't expect anything to change going forward either. HC Tom Cable clearly started favoring Bush last season and for once, Al Davis didn't interfere with that decision. Bush averaged a whopping 6.0 yards per carry over the last 8 games while McFadden yielded just 3.7 ypc during the same timeframe. I doubt the Raiders will completely abandon McFadden in 2010, but Bush has earned a bigger role by his play on the field. At this ADP, you are risking next to nothing for a player who could be very good in a soft conference. If McFadden gets hurt like he has every other season, Bush's value could skyrocket.
WR Lee Evans, Buffalo Bills
Value = 62
ADP = 105
Hopeful pick: 8th round or later
What I like: Glancing over the names of the other WRs on this team leads me to just one conclusion: There is Lee Evans and not much else to catch passes. This is a very bad team though which means Evans probably won't be able to get behind the defense much. Both the quarterback and offensive line play look to be way below average. But when you are playing from behind and must throw the ball often, someone has to catch it. Terrell Owens departure will be Lee Evans gain. This late in the draft, you are looking at someone with either talent or opportunity. Evans has both the talent and opportunity if the quarterback can just get the ball close.
WR Devin Hester, Chicago Bears
Value = 60
ADP = 124
Hopeful pick: 9th round or later
What I like: Some wide receiver in the Martz offense is going to have a monster year. It could be Devin Hester or Johnny Knox, but I am leaning more towards Hester. When the team first converted Hester from returner to a wide receiver, he was very raw. He dipped his shoulder on cuts. He didn't run precise patterns, etc. But every year I have been amazed at how much his game has improved. He is no longer raw at all. In fact he very much looks like the WR1 he is on most pass plays. Martz is known for taking full advantage to what a defense gives you. He prefers longer routes and quick slants to get play-makers in space. His offense strategy depends on a lot of timing routes as well. Devin Hester is exactly the kind of player that I see excelling in this offense. He is extremely dangerous in space and I expect the Martz offense will design the playbook around exploiting Hester's run-after-the-catch abilities.
RB Laurence Maroney, New England Patriots
Value = 84
ADP = 113
Hopeful pick: 9th round or later
What I like: When a running back has an ADP of 113, he isn't going to be Adrian Peterson. It's easy to find fault in Maroney's game so I am not going to try and tell you this guy is a lock at a top 15 RB. He has been hurt, outplayed by guys like Kevin Faulk, and has come up small in some of the biggest games of his career. But despite all of that, he has minimal competition to be the starting RB for the New England Patriots. The rest of the crew is inches away from collecting social security checks. Guys like Fred Taylor (34 years old), Sammy Morris (33) and Kevin Faulk (34) are all past their prime. I am actually shocked they were all asked back. Maroney, at age 25, should be in his prime running years. If he can wrestle the starting job away from these veterans and stay healthy, he should produce in this offense. Even with limited carries in 2009, he managed to score 9 rushing TDs. Maroney will also be running for a new contract here (either with New England or elsewhere) and that might be just the motivation he needs to have his best season yet.
WR Malcom Floyd, San Diego Chargers
Value = 50
ADP = 131
Hopeful pick: 10th round or later
What I like: This is the WR1 for the Chargers in 2010. I don't expect Vincent Jackson will be back with the Chargers (or if he is, it will be after week 10). The Chargers are not willing to sign Jackson to a longer contract and they are already playing hardball over his current deal. The smart money says Jackson gets moved before the start of the season. Floyd is not a world-beater and may have trouble getting open against tougher competition, but this pick has more to do with opportunity than talent. Outside of Floyd and TE Antonio Gates, the rest of the pass catchers are below average at best. This ensures Floyd should a lot of action in the redzone to stay relevent all season long.
TE Heath Miller, Pittsburgh Steelers
Value = 85
ADP = 134
Hopeful pick: 10th round or later
What I like: The person who is likely to benefit the most from Santonio Holmes departure should be the reliable Heath Miller. He is not flashy, but is quite good in the redzone. And with Hines Ward getting noticeably slower each year, Miller will likely be counted on a lot to hold things down. Ironically, Miller may also benefit from a non-mobile Byron Leftwich who looks like he will be starting the games while Roethlisberger serves his 4 game suspension. Miller works good in space and is the ultimate dump-off to someone like Leftwich. Miller is way below the radar this year, but shouldn't be. His situation is nearly perfect for a break-through season.
WR Jabar Gaffney, Denver Broncos
Value = 77
ADP = 150
Hopeful pick: 11th round or later
What I like: Not many fantasy players watch week 17 NFL games, but if you saw Denver play last year you know who they will lean on now that Brandon Marshall has left town. Gaffney was targeted 19 times, catching 14 for 213 yards. He, not Eddie Royal, will be the WR1 on this team. Rookie WR Demaryius Thomas was drafted in the first round because outside of these two wide receivers, the team is noticeably thin at the position. Thomas may be the future at the position for the Broncos, but young WRs usually struggle as they learn the complexities of the NFL game (most noticeably the speed of the defensive players). Gaffney does not possess Brandon Marshall's talent, but in a weak conference he will be good enough to get open consistently as the featured receiver on the team.
WR Nate Washington, Tennessee Titans
Value = 103
ADP = 201
Hopeful pick: 13th round or later
What I like: This selection has as much to do with Kenny Britt as it does Nate Washington. Britt has shown up to camp overweight and unmotivated and that's troubling for such a young player. I have a bad vibe about Kenny Britt and that is what this selection is all about. If Nate Washington emerges as the WR1 in this offense (like I suspect he will), this pick could pay substantial dividends at flea market pricing. With defenses zeroing in to stop the dangerous Chris Johnson, Nate Washington should be able to get behind defenses for some huge plays. Vince Young is inconsistent, but he is still among the better scramblers in the game. He will buy extra time and that could get Washington free for some big plays.
Recap: Try and grab as many of these ten "core" players (at the prices I have stated) in this article as you can. Additionally, fill in your roster holes with value picks from our top 300 list.
Here are a couple example drafts on how this might come together (Note: All picks taken at or before their ADP):
From pick 3 (bolded picks represent the ten "core" players identified in the article)1.03 - RB Ray Rice, Bal/8
2.10 - RB Knowshon Moreno, Den/9
3.03 - WR Greg Jennings, GB/10
4.10 - WR Chad Ochocinco, Cin/6
5.03 - RB Felix Jones, Dal/4
6.10 - QB Kevin Kolb, Phi/8
7.03 - RB Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG/8 or RB Michael Bush, Oak/10
8.10 - WR Lee Evans, Buf/6
9.03 - WR Devin Hester, Chi/8
10.10 - TE Heath Miller, Pit/5
11.03 - WR Jabar Gaffney, Den/9
12.10 - QB David Garrard, Jac/9
13.03 - WR Nate Washington, Ten/9
14.10 - 20.10: PK, Def, fliers, handcuffs and depth picks
From pick 11 (and Romo slides to you)1.11 - WR Larry Fitzgerald, Ari/6
2.02 - RB Rashard Mendenhall, Pit/5
3.11 - RB Pierre Thomas, NO/10
4.02 - QB Tony Romo, Dal/4
5.11 - TE Jermichael Finley, GB/10
6.02 - WR Mike Wallace, Pit/5
7.11 - RB Ahmad Bradshaw, NYG/8 or RB Michael Bush, Oak/10
8.02 - WR Lee Evans, Buf/6
9.11 - RB Laurence Maroney, NE/5
10.02 - WR Malcom Floyd, SD/10
11.11 - WR Jabar Gaffney, Den/9
12.02 - QB David Garrard, Jac/9
13.11 - WR Nate Washington, Ten/9
14.02 - 20.11: PK, Def, fliers, handcuffs and depth picks