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A Way Too Early Look at 2016 Fantasy Drafts

Jan 6, 2016

A healthy Le'Veon Bell should once again be a first-round pick in 2016

As long as he’s healthy, Le’Veon Bell should once again be a first-round pick in 2016

With the NFL season officially over, it’s never too early to focus on 2016. League drafts are only seven or eight months away, and some of us (myself included) have a championship to defend.

The 2015 fantasy season will go down as one that was decimated by injuries, particularly to many players chosen in the first round. Here is a quick look back at 2015’s first round ADP:

  1. Adrian Peterson
  2. Le’Veon Bell
  3. Eddie Lacy
  4. Jamaal Charles
  5. Marshawn Lynch
  6. Antonio Brown
  7. Dez Bryant
  8. Andrew Luck
  9. Matt Forte
  10. C.J. Anderson
  11. DeMarco Murray
  12. Rob Gronkowski

Of these 12 players, five of them had season-ending injuries at some point in the year (Bell, Charles, Lynch, Bryant and Luck). Others were out for several weeks or were just flat-out disappointments. Except for Peterson, Brown, Gronkowski and possibly Forte, everyone on this entire list was basically a bust.

With so many injuries affecting running backs this year, the argument can be made that in 2016, the first round should be filled with more wide receivers rather than running backs.

At the very least, 2016 will not see the first five picks be running backs. That I can guarantee. With that said, here is a very early projection for the first two rounds of a draft this upcoming fall.

1. Le’Veon Bell RB PIT
It was a disappointing season for Bell owners this year. He was suspended for the first two games of the season and then went down with a season-ending injury in Week 8. An argument can be made that Bell’s teammate, Antonio Brown (or another wide receiver), should be the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft.

However, it’s not like wide receivers didn’t miss any time either this season (for example Dez Bryant, Alshon Jeffery, Keenan Allen). Assuming Bell is healthy by the start of next season, he is the best running back in football and should assume the role of best running back in fantasy as well.

2. Antonio Brown WR PIT
Brown doesn’t find himself too far down the list. Think of him more as 1A, and not a No. 2. Brown was the highest-scoring wide receiver in fantasy this year. 

“Mr. Consistency” was tied for first in receptions, he was second in yards and was tied for seventh in touchdowns. All-in-all, it was another remarkable year for Brown and 2016 should be another one for him.

3. Julio Jones WR ATL
I’m splitting hairs here between Brown and Jones, but I ranked Brown ahead of Jones because of the quarterback play. Jones had a remarkable season and should be a top pick next year once again. Jones was tied with Brown for first in receptions, led all wide receivers in yards and was second to Brown in points. 

The slight difference between the two was that Jones had eight touchdowns to Brown’s 10 and keep in mind Brown didn’t have Ben Roethlisberger for every game, or it could have been even more of a discrepancy. For that reason, Jones is a step below Brown at No. 3.

4. Todd Gurley RB STL
Gurley was the fifth-highest scoring running back in fantasy this season, and he basically missed the first three games of the year and sat out the last week of the season. He was one of only seven running backs to rush for over 1,000 yards, and one of only five to have 10 or more touchdowns. 

Imagine what he’ll do next year in a full season? The injury risk is certainly a concern for Gurley, but it’s worth it given the upside he brings.

5. Odell Beckham Jr. WR NYG
Beckham Jr. showed no signs of a sophomore slump and should be even better next year. I gave him a slight edge over DeAndre Hopkins, again because of who his quarterback is. He was the fifth-highest scoring wide receiver this year and even missed a game, due to suspension.

6. DeAndre Hopkins WR TEX
It’s unreal the kind of numbers this guy puts up considering he has Brian Hoyer and a band of nobodies throwing him the ball all season. If the Texans get a quarterback in the offseason (Peyton Manning perhaps?), watch out for Hopkins. He’s only going to get better.

7. Devonta Freeman RB ATL
What a year Freeman had. He had the second-most points of anyone other than a quarterback and Antonio Brown. There was a stretch in the middle part of the season, where he was virtually unstoppable. 

The Falcons desperately needed to find a running game, and it looks like they did that this year. Freeman will inevitably lose touches to Tevin Coleman next year, but based on the year he just had, should be considered a first-round pick.

8. Rob Gronkowski TE NE
Because of his dominance over the position, Gronkowski deserves to be drafted in the first round every year. Toward the end of the season, New England was decimated by injuries both on the offensive line and to their skill position players and it definitely affected Gronkowski’s play.

That should not be an issue next year, though. Drafting “Gronk” toward the back end of the first round will give you ownership over a position that is not very deep.

9. Adrian Peterson RB MIN
It certainly didn’t seem like Peterson missed a step sitting out all of 2014. In fact, it might have helped the 30-year-old running back. 

He had the second-most points among running backs and led the league in rushing. He’ll be 31 years old by the start of next season, so his production will slow down eventually, but it doesn’t look like it will be anytime soon.

10. David Johnson RB ARI
As good as Todd Gurley was, if the season were another four weeks long, Johnson might be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. Once Chris Johnson got injured, David Johnson won the job and never looked back. Over the last four weeks of the season, Johnson scored the most fantasy points among running backs and is now gaining buzz as a first round pick next season. 

He should be. He deserves it.

11. Dez Bryant WR DAL
Throw this season out for Bryant and the Cowboys. No Tony Romo for most of the year and a debilitating foot injury cost him the season. Bryant, as well as Romo, should be healthy next year and will resume his spot among the elites at the position.

12. Brandon Marshall WR NYJ
Marshall had an amazing season for the New York Jets and resecured his role as a No.1 wide receiver. Should Ryan Fitzpatrick return as their quarterback next season, there is no reason to think Marshall can’t duplicate his numbers from this year.

Round 2:

13. LeSean McCoy RB BUF

14. Allen Robinson WR JAX

15. Doug Martin RB TB

16. A.J. Green WR CIN

17. Cam Newton QB CAR

18. Alshon Jeffery WR CHI

19. Thomas Rawls RB SEA

20. Mark Ingram RB NO

21. Eric Decker WR NYJ

22. Demaryius Thomas WR DEN

23. Matt Forte RB CHI

24. Lamar Miller RB MIA

Free agency will impact where many of the guys in Round 2 end up playing next year. Martin, Jeffery, Forte and Miller are all free agents. Rawls will most likely replace Lynch as the starter in Seattle and will, therefore, be a top pick next year. 

This is also the first time a quarterback comes off the board. While I would not recommend picking a quarterback this early, I expect someone to stretch for Newton, based on the season he just had.

Other notables who just missed the cut:

Between free agency, coaching changes, the draft and position battles, there is so much left to happen before we can really dig deep and get a clear picture of what 2016 will look like. Based on what 2015 brought us, this is a pretty good start, however.

A.J. Stone is a correspondent at FantasyPros. To read more from A.J., check out his archive and follow him on Twitter @ajstone18.

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