If the ability to turn common objects into gold is called the Midas touch, perhaps the opposite affect should be known as the Snyder snuggle.
“Hey, Albert Haynesworth just went from unblockable wildebeest to fat, whiny bum in the blink of an eye.”
“Yeah, dude. He got the Snyder snuggle.”
The source of this fearsome power, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, applies the dreaded death snuggle only to employees of his professional football team. The man has obviously done quite well for himself in his other ventures. (My annual earnings wouldn’t cover Mr. Snyder’s lawn-care bills.)
Despite Snyder’s willingness to make big, bold moves to improve his franchise, the Redskins have been treading the waters of the Potomac ever since Snyder bought the team in May of 1999. Washington’s regular-season record over that span: 91-117. The Redskins won the NFC East in Snyder’s first season as owner and have not won another division title in the 12 seasons since.
Which brings us to the Redskins’ latest big move, the blockbuster trade that positioned the team to draft Baylor QB Robert Griffin III with the No. 2 overall pick. The move was widely lauded — Washington traded St. Louis three first-round picks and a second-round pick for the right to move up — and the consensus seems to be that RG3 will hit the ground running in his rookie year. But as a fantasy owner, the thought of drafting RG3 gives me sweaty palms, because I fear that Griffin will feel the icy grasp of the snuggle.
It’s interesting that while Andrew Luck was drafted ahead of Griffin in April, the early average-draft-position data for fantasy leagues shows a clear preference for RG3. Griffin’s current ADP is located somewhere in the greater Ryanopolis area; Luck is slumming it down in Flaccoville.
The rookie success of Cam Newton last year undoubtedly has a great deal to do with that. Like Newton, RG3 is a dual run-pass threat. Concerns that Newton played in a gimmicky college offense at Auburn proved unfounded, so fewer people are concerned with the style of offense RG3 ran at Baylor.
For redraft leagues, I rate RG3 slightly ahead of Luck simply because RG3 has the better chance of making an instant Newtonian impact. He could be a prolific point producer right from the start. Luck, who hews more closely to the traditional dropback-passer archetype, would optimally enjoy the same sort of rookie season produced by his predecessor in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning. As a rookie, Manning threw for 3,739 yards and 26 TDs in 16 starts. He also threw 28 INTs. The more realistic expectation for Luck would be rookie numbers similar to those that Sam Bradford produced: 3,512 yards, 18 TDs, 15 INTs. (Not a huge difference between the rookie seasons of Manning and Bradford, though a difference of 0.5 TDs per game is significant, even if Manning’s edge there came with a much higher INT rate.)
Simply put, Luck isn’t likely to be a fantasy phenom right from the start. Griffin very well could be, depending on what sort of rushing numbers his dazzling wheels produce, and whether he can immediately become at least a decent NFL passer.
But again, there’s the Snyder snuggle to be concerned with.
Some (probably most) fantasy owners will reject the notion that RG3’s indoctrination into Redskins culture is a reason to be fearful of drafting him. People from this camp will label it an irrational fear. But I’m not sure there is such a thing as irrational fear. Fear is the mechanism our brains use to keep us safe from harm. The fear instinct might not always be accurate, but the brain is at least trying to do the right thing. My brain has issues with the Washington Redskins.
I don’t trust head coach Mike Shanahan as the steward of Griffin’s development. I don’t trust Shanahan’s son and offensive coordinator, Kyle Shanahan, to maximize Griffin’s talents. And most of all, I don’t trust that any bold move Snyder’s team makes will turn out swimmingly. Sorry, but I’m just too used to seeing well-intentioned moves blow up on the Redskins, and I worry that RG3 is simply the latest package from the Acme Corp. addressed to Wile E. Coyote.
As I mentioned earlier, I rate RG3 ahead of Luck for redraft leagues. When my first set of rankings is published, Griffin is going to be my QB15, so he wouldn’t rank as a starter in a 12-team league. Having a backup quarterback bust isn’t going to break anyone’s season. The ADP numbers I’ve been seeing have Griffin pegged at QB12, making him a low-end starter. Thing is, the owners who rate Griffin as a QB15 or a QB12 probably aren’t going to be the ones who land him in drafts and auctions. He’ll go to the people with even rosier expectations — to the people who have him rated ahead of Philip Rivers, Tony Romo and/or Ben Roethlisberger. Those are some mighty high expectations, and if RG3 were to bust, it would be hard for an owner who drafted him as a top-10 quarterback to recover.
Just to be clear, I do NOT think RG3 is going to be a bust. But nor do I think he’ll have as good a season as Newton did last year.
For the long term, I think Luck is the safer and better play. If I were holding the No. 1 overall pick in a dynasty-league draft (an ongoing league, not a start-up), I’d take Luck over RG3.
First-round cutoff points
In assessing how the first round of redraft-league drafts might play out this year — and how they should play out — I’ve been looking at positional cutoff points. Let’s start with an important cutoff point at running back:
1. Arian Foster
2. LeSean McCoy
3. Ray Rice
Some will order the top three differently — a lot of people prefer Rice to McCoy, and not everyone has Foster at No. 1 — but there’s a pretty broad consensus that those guys comprise the top three at the position. Maurice Jones-Drew comes with mileage concerns and, as of early July, the issue of a potential holdout. Darren McFadden has a worrisome injury history. Ryan Mathews doesn’t have a substantial track record and might also be an injury risk. Chris Johnson simply didn’t play hard enough last season.
Here’s another noteworthy cutoff point. Actually, depending on how you view it, there may be two cutoff points at the top of the QB list:
1. Aaron Rodgers
2. Tom Brady
3. Drew Brees
Rodgers is widely considered to be No. 1. It’s debatable whether Brady or Brees should be No. 2, but for my money it’s Brady. In fact, I think there’s a case to be made that Brees should be moved to the top of a second tier that also would include Cam Newton and Matthew Stafford. That’s not so much a knock on Brees (though his contract squabble and the bad mojo surrounding the Saints these days are mildly troubling) as it is an endorsement of Brady. He put up jaw-dropping numbers last season, and the Patriots have since added a great receiver (Brandon Lloyd) and a good receiver (Jabar Gaffney).
In any league with a remotely conventional scoring system, Rodgers and Brady are first-round values, and I think Brees is, too, though I’d consider Rodgers and Brady early in the first round but wouldn’t consider Brees until late in the round. Newton and Stafford might even deserve late-round consideration. Both are coming off breakthrough seasons and could conceivably push their statistical ceilings a little bit higher.
Here’s an easier cutoff point, the one at the top of the WR list:
1. Calvin Johnson
Yeah, that’s it: Megatron is so good, he’s a one-man tier. There are a number of candidates for the No. 2 spot, including Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson and Greg Jennings. I think you could make good cases for A.J. Green and Victor Cruz, too. But ultimately it doesn’t matter, because Megatron is the only receiver worth drafting in the first round. There’s remarkable depth at the position this year, and unless you can draft a wideout who’s clearly a cut above the rest, as Johnson is, it’s not worth splurging on one with a first-round selection.
But at tight end, however:
1. Jimmy Graham
2. Rob Gronkowski
Most owners would probably give Gronkowski the edge at the position, but we can probably agree that the two have similar potential for 2012. What’s significant is that two tight ends are worthy of being picked in the first round. And let’s not even hedge with “worthy of first-round consideration.” Graham and Gronk both deserve to be first-rounders, period. Even though there seems to be more than adequate depth at tight end this year — Aaron Hernandez, Vernon Davis, Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and others — Graham and Gronkowski are capable of giving you an enormous competitive edge at the position. They’re also capable of equaling, if not exceeding, the production of some of the premier receivers.
With the abundance of good receivers and the dearth of low-risk running backs, along with a fairly gentle drop-off at quarterback, Foster, McCoy and Rice should be slotted for the first three picks. Even if Rodgers, Brady and perhaps Brees are likely to produce more points than any of the top three running backs, odds are you’ll do better with a combination of a top-three RB and a QB-WR combo in rounds 2-3 than with a top-three QB and a RB-WR combo in rounds 2-3, simply because the dependability at the RB position evaporates after the top three.
Rodgers and Brady come of the board at slots No. 4 and No. 5 — that’s easy. The next four spots are harder. I’m not as high on Brees as some are, so I’m taking him out of the running. It comes down to Megatron and Graham at No. 6, and even though there’s a sound case for Graham, I’m going with Megatron. The two tight ends go at Nos. 7-8, and Brees goes at No. 9, leaving this for a regardless-of-position list:
1. Arian Foster
2. LeSean McCoy
3. Ray Rice
4. Aaron Rodgers
5. Tom Brady
6. Calvin Johnson
7. Jimmy Graham
8. Rob Gronkowski
9. Drew Brees
That still leaves three first-round spots in a 12-team league. As of now, I’d go this way:
10. Cam Newton
11. Matthew Stafford
12. Ryan Mathews
It’s not as if there’s a severe decline at the QB position after Stafford, but at No. 10, I’d hate to address another position and then watch Newton and Stafford go to the two teams drafting below me. At No. 11, I’m stealing Stafford from Team 12. That leaves a dilemma for Team 12, but the best move is probably to grab the best two RBs available — Mathews and MJD — and address the deeper QB and WR positions later on.
We’ll dive much deeper into draft prep with my next column, which will be posted right around the time training camps open.