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Summit observations: Many hot debates

5/8/2012

The ESPN Fantasy editorial team held its annual fantasy football summit on the first day of May, welcoming in a new month and a new season all at once. Perhaps you're wondering what we do in a summit? Well, it's not really scientific. A bunch of us -- Matthew Berry, Christopher Harris, Stephania Bell, me and many others -- sit in a large room looking at preliminary football rankings from a projector, then we argue, debate, cajole and whine to get our respective ways, whether it is for the top running back -- yes, there was gentle persuading even with Arian Foster -- or the No. 15 quarterback or No. 40 wide receiver.

So what did you do that fine Tuesday? Eh, I think we had more fun.

Anyway, we came up with our initial 2012 rankings, which will be part of our ESPN Draft Kit (due out in mid-June). In the meantime, a few of us fantasy writers will chronicle our opinions, either in the kit or otherwise, over the coming months. For now, here are the five questions/issues from the summit -- excluding what to order for lunch! -- that seemed the most interesting from a general sense, whether they were hotly contested or not.

Is the running back position bad, miserably awful or the worst thing we've ever seen? It was easy for us -- by "us," I mean the roughly 12-14 people stating cases and voting for the rankings -- to agree that there are four top running backs (Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy and Maurice Jones-Drew), and then the tier drops so significantly that it nearly brought some of us to tears. I've never seen running back depth challenged to this degree, and certainly not in the first round. One colleague seemed flummoxed we could rank longtime fantasy antagonist Marshawn Lynch among the top 10 at the position, to which five of us replied in unison, "OK, who else?"

I tend to loathe even considering quarterbacks in the overall top 10, but this year I have three of them there, somewhat by default. OK, so what were we debating about when it came to the thin running back position? Well, some of us believed the pitiful scarcity of the position would force notable recuperating question marks such as DeMarco Murray and Jamaal Charles into the second round, thus raising their value, and others seemed resigned to avoid running backs altogether until Round 10. OK, so that's hyperbole, but you get the point. It certainly looks like many flex positions will be filled by wide receivers or tight ends (the latter being something new for ESPN leagues this season), two positions in which there seems to be sufficient depth.

So what about that Adrian Peterson fellow? When Stephania Bell speaks, we all listen, and when it comes to the top Minnesota Vikings running back, also known as our No. 1 fantasy option a season ago but currently coming back from a torn ACL and MCL in his left knee, the bottom line is May is way too early to know for sure when he'll return, and to what level of effectiveness. Still, some of us were willing to include Peterson among the top 10 at running back (not me, personally), while others seemed more interested in where the other Adrian Peterson, formerly a Chicago Bears reserve, was playing. Um, he last carried the football in 2009. The point is the Vikings' Peterson will be a clear hot topic on draft day, and not only in keeper formats, as he aims to make good on his promise to return in far less than a calendar year, or by Week 1 of the season.

Which backup quarterbacks fit best? There was a strong debate about Washington Redskins rookie passer Robert Griffin III. Initially the discussion was about whether he would become the next Cam Newton; when that was quickly refuted, it became more about philosophy. Some argued that if owners secured one of the top fellows, such as Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady or Drew Brees, the need for a backup quarterback either does not exist or should be filled by a pure upside choice, much like Griffin or Matt Flynn. Others wanted proven veterans such as Jay Cutler, Carson Palmer and Ryan Fitzpatrick as backups for their (hopefully) one-week stint as fantasy starters. I'll discuss my feelings on this more over the summer, but let's just say Griffin ended up ranked a ton better than Carolina's Newton was by us prior to last season, even with a few members of our group stating they'd never use a pick on him. Frankly, there was much debate about several running quarterbacks, from the upside of 2011 first-rounder Michael Vick to Griffin and eventually to some left-handed former Heisman winner currently employed as a backup for the New York Jets that I doubt you've heard of.

Who gets the nod among wide receiver teammates? A year ago, New York Giants reserve Victor Cruz wasn't on fantasy radar screens. Today he certainly is after finishing as the No. 3 guy for season scoring, but is he a one-year wonder or is he a superior option to colleague Hakeem Nicks? The Giants, Atlanta Falcons, Dallas Cowboys and, yes, the Denver Broncos, are among the teams with multiple top 30 wide receiver options, and in each case there is reasonable argument for either of the choices. For example, when Peyton Manning returns with a vengeance this season and drops 40 touchdown passes on stunned defenses, will Demaryius Thomas or Eric Decker be his, um, Reggie Wayne? There were excellent debates about Cruz, safe veteran Roddy White and others in potential multi-receiver-relevant offenses.

What would Antonio Gates say? For years, San Diego Chargers tight end Gates was the top choice at his position, but I can't recall him being regarded as more than a third- or fourth-round pick for standard leagues, even as he easily trumped his competition. Well, get ready for 2012! Record-setting Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham flew right past the fourth round, without passing go and didn't collect their $200. In fact, some argued for Gronkowski as a first-rounder! I admit that just because a tight end has never been a consensus second-round pick doesn't mean it can't happen now, but it will take some getting used to. Plus, with tight end depth looking strong enough that fantasy owners can choose backups in 10-team leagues and make the case to use one at flex, it's a bit like the running back argument, but in reverse: How much should position scarcity be a factor, if at all? This is arguably the most interesting season in memory for the oft-overlooked tight end position.