The League of Shadows. My first league, my longest league. Granted, I’ve only been playing for three years, but I’m glad my friends and I have managed to keep this league going even for that long.

It’s a corny name, I know. But my friend Sumith served as commissioner Year 1 and set it up, name and all. He even picked out that delightful photo above of the NFL Cheerleaders for our private Facebook group for trash talking. Lovely, isn’t it?

It’s a league made up of my high school buddies and my dad, since in our first year we couldn’t find an 8th person. We’ve since added Sarah, Sumith’s girlfriend and last year’s runner up (behind yours truly, naturally) and my new friend from LA Brian, who’s also doing this for the first year. We’re not exactly the type of league that is stacked with passionate, fantasy obsessives. We don’t play for money, we don’t get together every year to draft, and we don’t have any crazy traditions. But so far we’ve kept this league alive despite people who have otherwise lost touch and those like me who have moved away. In that sense, it’s special to me.

For these three years, we’ve been playing on NFL.com. 1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE, 1 Flex, 6 bench spots, 10 teams for the second year in a row (we started with only 8), and perhaps the most peculiar thing is QBs get only 4 points for passing touchdowns. But this is standard for NFL anyway.

But I can say now this will be our last year with NFL.com. One of my friends, Angel, had a problem logging into his account prior to the draft. When he had set up his team, he had signed in using Facebook. That option disappeared upon the latest app update. So now whenever he requested a reset password email, the email went to the void, not to his personal email address. I sent him an option to use a new email as a “co-owner” of his existing team, but because I had done so after the draft room had already opened, he was locked out, as was I from making any changes. We started the draft late as I tried to get him involved, to little avail. His team ended up on auto draft. Two other members of the league also had problems with the app mid-draft, receiving the endlessly loading screen after getting booted from the draft room and trying to enter back in. Worse yet, it even assumed that they were live in the draft, and didn’t automatically auto draft them. Suffice it to say, it took quite a while today.

And at the end of the day I wish my team was better than it was. The draft grader gave my team, The Springfield Meltdowns (named for a team in a late season episode of The Simpsons) a B post mortem, saying I reached for players in the early rounds. That’s not entirely inaccurate, but let’s see how I really did (I picked 10th). 

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I don’t mind those first two picks at all. You get to the middle of the draft and those first two picks are so far in hindsight that it starts to color your draft. With my other standby preferences of Adrian Peterson and DeAndre Hopkins off the board, I went with Gronk and Jordy, who I’m hoping has a major bounce back year after injury and who I like better than anyone going behind him. He was on my championship bound team in 2014, so I’m glad to have him back.

Then things quickly started to get barren. With these two picks, I felt one of them needed to be a running back, but I wasn’t thrilled with my options, Doug Martin, Jeremy Hill, Thomas Rawls, Jonathan Stewart, all of whom I have in my second tier, but all of whom I prefer behind someone like say, C.J. Anderson. I could’ve settled with two of those guys, but I decided not to let Brandon Marshall slide any further. It’s amazing to me that the number 3 WR last year didn’t get taken earlier. As for Doug Martin, he nearly totaled Adrian Peterson’s total yardage last year, and he still finished third amongst running backs despite only scoring 6 TDs. But he comes with risk. No running back in the top 25 lost more fumbles than he did, with 5.

By round 5, I faced another dilemma: take yet another WR and have massive depth at that position, reach for another RB I wasn’t thrilled about, or sacrifice my plan to wait further than this on QB. I went with the latter, because already at this point Cam, Rodgers, Brees, Wilson and even Eli (who I would’ve loved) were gone. That’s the way drafts go: based on who’s left, you have to be reactive, and sometimes your hand gets forced.

If I’m reLUCKtant on that particular QB from Indy, it has all to do with how he burned me in the finals in 2014 and was an embarrassment as a borderline 1st rounder last year, even when he was healthy, and nothing to do with how incredible he was throughout 2014. It’s not as though the Colts have any greater weapons this year compared to last year. Donte Moncrief has taken another step, but then they’ve lost Coby Fleener and now have to rely on Dwayne Allen full time, and Frank Gore is yet another year older on the wrong side of 30. It was also maybe a reach to take Jeremy Hill. The fantasy community hates him this year, but for a guy who went in the first round last year, 6th I would think could be a steal for a potential stud. I wouldn’t want to count on any other Bengals though.

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For picks 7 and 8, WR is deep, but it arguably has a saggy middle, with a lot of upside lottery ticket rookies going late, if not undrafted altogether. Just the morning before our draft, we got the news that Sam Bradford would be traded to the Vikings, meaning a rookie is taking the helm in Philly. That’s hard to know what the value will be for any Eagles WR, but Jordan Matthews is one of those guys for whom it gives me the most pause. He quietly finished last season as a Top 20 WR with 8 TDs and just shy of 1000 yards, and I got him even later than that, but having owned him last year and likely overpaid, there’s little about his upside to suggest that he’s a guy who can win me a season in my Flex spot.

I somewhat feel the opposite about Chris Ivory however. I probably reached for him as well, seeing as I originally pegged him at ADP 84. And although he has a new offense and could be splitting carries with TJ Yeldon, he’s got as high a ceiling, if not higher than any of the guys going around him. Last season he was a Top 10 RB, just ahead of Matt Forte, who took over Ivory’s job in New York. He’s due for some regression, but you’re accounting for a little when he’s your 3rd RB.

Auto draft for several players had forced my hand into taking a defense, and that’s a reasonable spot for the Cardinals, who won’t repeat their 7 TDs in all last season, but still look mighty good. Duke Johnson I don’t have much of an opinion on, and honestly am surprised he landed on my team at all. But word is that he’s likely to emerge as the Browns full time back over Isaiah Crowell and could be a stud.

When you get to these late rounds, there’s no such thing as a wrong pick, so it’s a question of which lottery tickets do you like best, which bench guys will give you the most depth to work with. Sterling Shepard is as good a lottery ticket as any, and is the rookie wide receiver to own ahead of Corey Coleman, Tyler Boyd, Laquon Treadwell or Kevin White. The Giants are poised to do a lot of damage this year.

So could Tyrod Taylor, who Matthew Berry said in his bold predictions column could take a step forward and finish as a Top 5 fantasy QB this year. Last year he was fighting for a job, and this year he’s got the trust of the team and deep threat Sammy Watkins. With 568 rushing yards last year, only behind Cam Newton and ahead of Russell Wilson, the dude can run. Do I see starting him over Andrew Luck in a given week? Sure, matchup permitting. Could I conceivably trade Luck and roll with him as my number one QB should I need a strong position player? You bet.

Jimmy Graham was a disaster last year, but my late round fliers of Coby Fleener and Zach Miller were gone. When you draft Gronk, you’re pretty much saying you only need one TE anyway, but could you imagine if Graham figured out how to be a stud again? And he went in the 13th round?

Tavon Austin is one of those guys who could put up three touchdowns one week and get a goose egg the next, and you’ll never know which week is which. I namely picked him to potentially have an LA Rams player to cheer for this year, overlooking guys like Justin Forsett, Travis Benjamin, Devin Funchess, Tyler Boyd, DeVante Parker, Laquon Treadwell, Christine Michael or more, all of whom I like as high upside candidates, but several of whom are still available on waivers! If Austin is a bust after Week 2, I’ll have no trouble cutting him.

Lastly, it doesn’t show up in the pictures above, but I took Tampa Bay Bucs kicker Roberto Aguayo with my final pick. NFL.com didn’t like that, saying he’s owned in fewer than 10 percent of leagues and negatively affecting my grade likely. But in the preseason he’s managed to kick a 50 yard field goal and several extra points, and (as I learn from Wikipedia) was the 3rd most accurate kicker in ACC history. The case to not take him has all to do with the team he plays for, not him. But then he’s a kicker, so who cares?

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Perhaps this is exactly the position you want to be in at the end of the draft: not miserable and already in panic mode, and not overjoyed and ready to rosterbate all over your iPad. Because being at either pole could have you in a complete 180 by the end of the season, let alone by Week 4. I can work with this team, I’m excited about this team, and above all, I’m excited about being back in this league for the third year running. I maybe just need a little (Andrew) Luck.

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