Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The choices are easy on NFL Draft Day if you are lucky enough to get one of the first four picks. It's also fun to be at the end of the round and get two quality picks out of the first dozen or so players off the board. But what if you are stuck in the middle of the round? How do you proceed?
Today's feature will examine what to do with the fifth-overall pick, but the thought process is the same for every selection.
We will assume for our purpose of discussion that the first four selections in your draft will be, in any order, running backs Arian Foster, Ray Rice, LeSean McCoy and quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Sitting with the fifth pick of your draft, what do you do?
The options would seem to be: quarterbacks Tom Brady or Drew Brees, running backs Chris Johnson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Darren McFadden and Ryan Mathews, wide receivers Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Wes Welker and Andre Johnson or record-setting tight ends Rob Gronkowski or Jimmy Graham.
There are too many options to use "Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lizard, Spock," so you are forced to use a more mathematical approach.
You could employ the theory of "greatest differentiation."
Simply stated, you select the player at the position where there is the biggest statistical difference between taking him at No. 5 overall and the best player you can get at the same position in the next round.
Below if the thought process needed to determine your selection -
First select the top player at each position under consideration. For our discussion we have chosen Brees, Chris Johnson, Calvin Johnson and Gronkowski.
If you were thinking of choosing Brees, you would compare him to the quarterback who you could get in the second round. In this case we will say it's Brady. For 2011, Brees scored 410.6 in my fantasy points or 25.6 ppg. Brady scored 370.3 points or 23.1 ppg. The difference was 2.5 ppg. With the off-season problems in New Orleans and the loss of Robert Meachem, Brees may not reach last year's heights so in my mind there will be almost no statistical difference between selecting Brees in the first round or Brady in the second round.
On to running backs where we compare Tennessee star Chris Johnson, who we expect to have a much improved season to the best running back who will be around at the time of our second round pick - Matt Forte. Forte averaged 17.1 fantasy points last season, but the addition of Michael Bush to the Bears backfield figures to rob him of production. We give "CJ" a three-point edge over Forte in 2012.
At receiver, Calvin Johnson stood head and shoulders above the rest averaging 21.5 ppg last year and as long as Matthew Stafford stays healthy there is no reason to expect less. We think you could get Fitzgerald, Welker or Andre Johnson in the second round. The return of health to Johnson and his quarterback (Matt Schaub) should make him the best of the group and they have proven to be a dangerous combo in the past. Give Johnson a 17.1 ppg average for 2012. That's a 4.4 ppg difference.
The tight end position took a dramatic shift in 2012. The position used to be dominated by Antonio Gates, Jason Witten and Vernon Davis, but in 2011 Gronkowski (18.2 ppg) and Graham (15.3 ppg) broke records and are expected to be the top dogs for the upcoming season. In many of the mock fantasy drafts I've been involved with over the last month, once Gronkowski was selected, Graham was invariably taken with the very next pick. Which means if you don't choose "Gronk" the odds are you aren't getting Graham either. The difference between Gronkowski's expected production in 2012 (down to a mere mortal 17 ppg) and the "best-of-the-rest" Gates at 11.4 ppg is 5.6 ppg, the largest margin of any position.
It can therefore be argued that if you believe that Gronkowski and Graham will not be available by the time you pick in the second round, you MUST select a tight end with your top pick.
Say this with me, "with the fifth pick of the draft I choose New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski."