Ask 10 fantasy football owners how they interpret the term "mid-round value" and there might be 10 different answers. Drafts are all about value, after all, but not all picks will fit the term. For example, Houston Texans running back Arian Foster and Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers are hardly value picks. They're at the top of the draft. Similarly, taking the third Washington Redskins running back in the 13th round or any defense doesn't fit the bill. The middle rounds are where the steals come in, and whether your goal is to hit the jackpot with upside or to find a consistent statistical provider, or just to fill a starting spot or seek insurance for someone else, the middle rounds are critical.
So how do we define those rounds? I think the first five rounds need not apply; in general most teams will have filled three or four running back/wide receiver slots by then, perhaps a quarterback or one of the two record-setting tight ends. Round 6 seems like a good starting point for the middle rounds, ending in, say, the 10th round. There are 16 rounds in an ESPN standard draft. Use all picks wisely, but here we're focusing on the mid-round values.
Several names jump right off the page for me, but let's divide by position for further clarity.
Quarterback: There is tremendous value to be had after the 50th pick -- or when the sixth round begins -- because nine quarterbacks are off the board by then, at least according to ESPN's live draft results. In standard leagues there are 10 teams, so the other quarterbacks fall. In pretty much all the mocks I've done and even a few of my "real" drafts, I've been the last one to take a quarterback, and it's been Tony Romo, Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Matt Ryan or Ben Roethlisberger. Frankly, each is a tremendous value in the middle rounds. Over the past four seasons, Rivers has averaged 4,399 passing yards and 30 touchdowns, but because he threw a lot of interceptions last season and people think that's the new norm his value has dropped precipitously. I'll take him in the sixth round every time.
Top QB mid-round value: Rivers, Ryan.
Running back: This position is so maddening this season, with few reliable options after pretty much the first round, that it's considerably tougher to find mid-round value. The first running backs in the sixth round in ADP are Willis McGahee, Reggie Bush and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Yawn. I suppose each could flirt with top-10 status, but behind health and production concerns I don't have any of them in my top 20. It's easy to be down on Roy Helu, who might not play much, or Shonn Greene, who might not score much, but what about Stevan Ridley and Jonathan Stewart? Yes, each could be part of a serious timeshare, but they bring the upside we look for in mid-round choices. Ridley hasn't had an opportunity for big-time touches before. Stewart has, and he was terrific in 2009.
I also like the value for Peyton Hillis, Kevin Smith and Donald Brown a bit later. Again, there is no shortage of questions here, but Hillis was certainly successful two seasons ago, and I like the fact the Chiefs plan to run, run and run some more. Jamaal Charles is the home run hitter but is also coming off an ACL tear, and the difference in value here for the two Chiefs is stark. I rank Hillis considerably better than his average draft position. Smith's issue is durability, because it sure seems like he's the last man standing in Detroit, at least initially. As for the Indianapolis Colts, I think Andrew Luck and Brown are becoming underrated. This team is going to score points. Perhaps they'll lose double-digit games because they allow 35 points per contest, but this is potentially very good for fantasy owners. Brown will see a rise in receptions and his job is secure.
Top RB mid-round value: Ridley, Stewart, Hillis, D. Brown.
Wide receiver: Where do we begin? If ever there was a season in which a fantasy owner could grab a top-flight option at this position and then wait a few rounds to find sleepers, this is it. The talent at wide receiver in the sixth round is palpable, laced with former top-10 options. Miles Austin and Dwayne Bowe have done it before, so have Vincent Jackson and DeSean Jackson. There's value all over the place at wide receiver, but it kind of ends after Antonio Brown, Steve Johnson and others in the seventh round.
Someone other than Antonio Gates will need to catch Rivers' passes in San Diego, so it's possible Robert Meachem and Malcom Floyd provide value. I like Baltimore Ravens speedster Torrey Smith more than most, but where I rank him, it's hard to extract much value. He's a ninth-rounder in ADP, so that's better. Same goes with Titus Young of the Detroit Lions. I guess I'm not so concerned with value if I really like the player. So what if someone gripes on the league message board I took Young three rounds too early? We shall see by December.
Ultimately, whether it really is Jake Locker or Matt Hasselbeck quarterbacking the Tennessee Titans, the best values I see in the middle rounds at wide receiver are Kenny Britt and Nate Washington. Britt has top-5 potential. He can be that good. He also can't stay healthy or out of trouble, but the talent is just ridiculous. His ranking outside of the ADP top 100 makes him a supreme value if he were to play for, say, 14 games. It's a major hedge, though, because Nate Washington topped 1,000 yards last season and if Britt weren't available, he could do it again. I rank Britt and Washington two rounds better than their ADP; there's upside with each player.
Top WR mid-round value: Bowe, V. Jackson, D. Jackson, A. Brown, S. Johnson, T. Smith, Britt, N. Washington.
Tight end: I don't see a ton of value to be had with this position. I keep waiting to get Tony Gonzalez, Fred Davis and Jacob Tamme, because the second-round guys (Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham) are far more likely to bust than earn that value, and I don't like the value for where Vernon Davis and Jermichael Finley are going.
Top TE mid-round value: T. Gonzalez, F. Davis, Tamme.
Defense and kicker: There is no reason to look at these positions in the middle rounds, and that includes the mighty San Francisco 49ers defense. Just don't do it.