Fantasy Football Mock Draft (12-Team Standard Early Pick)
Like a lot of fantasy footballers, I am a mock draft machine when it comes to my draft prep. I used to utilize Yahoo or ESPN mock draft lobbies, but those were only good for mapping out the first few rounds, assuming you didn’t get “that guy” taking Justin Tucker with the first overall pick. People would get bored after the first three or four rounds and leave, letting the algorithms Yahoo and ESPN have in place auto draft the rest.
Nothing against those sites, but it’s not realistic. Auto-drafted teams pick all their starters, then fill the bench. Most leagues won’t have QBs, TEs, and defenses taken super early, so it doesn’t give you a good feel for how a draft is going to play out.
Enter the FantasyPros Draft Simulator. Defenses and kickers were taken in the last round, and there were reaches for players, along with players who fell. You can customize league scoring settings, roster configurations, number of teams, and even what experts you want to “draft” against. It was a new experience, and it’s extremely beneficial and intuitive. I’d recommend everyone do it.
Today, we’re going to run through a quick draft from an early draft position to see realistically what a team could look like. Those of you in leagues where you can pick your draft slot may be able to decide what pick would work best for you.
We’re going with a standard-scoring, 12-team draft from what I believe to be the ideal draft spot: the #3 pick. Picking here is going to give you an opportunity to draft Todd Gurley, Le’Veon Bell, or David Johnson. Most people would put Ezekiel Elliott in this group, which is fine, but he’s just slightly below these three for me.
Round 1: David Johnson
As you can see on the left, Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell were unsurprisingly the first two picks off the board. But starting in Round 1 we’re going away from the experts and taking Johnson.
He’s coming off a lost season due to a broken wrist, but the legs are completely fine and refreshed. This is a guy who was far and away the RB1 in 2016 and is the clear cut best receiving back in the league coming in with an astonishing 558 Air Yards in 2016. To put that into perspective, Christian McCaffrey led the league last year with 284 Air Yards.
This guy is an absolute beast. My second option here would be Antonio Brown with Elliott rounding out the top five.
Round 2: Mike Evans
I would have loved Devonta Freeman to fall to me here, but I’m happy to settle with Evans as my WR1. The touchdowns were down last year, but this is a guy who had have averaged nine a year over his first three seasons. The Air Yards were still plentiful (fifth in the league at over 1,900), so we should see some positive regression in both yardage and touchdowns for him next year.
Some are worried about Jameis Winston’s three-game suspension to start the year, but using the RotoViz Game Splits App, we can see that Evans has performed better without Winston on the field. This won’t be widely known, and some more updated ADPs have him sliding in the third round. He’s good value in the late second and an absolute steal in the third.
Round 3: Jerick McKinnon
We’re only three rounds in, and I’m not happy with my pick. Baldwin was my #2 option in the second round, and he almost falls to my fake squad here, but I have to settle for McKinnon. McKinnon showed some flashes last season as the lead back in the Vikings offense, and his workout metrics are off the charts. He’s insanely athletic.
The problem is he’s 26 and hasn’t done all that much when given the opportunity for a big workload. I’m buying him at this price because of the situation. The 49ers front office gave him almost $16 million guaranteed in the offseason. You don’t pay that money to have him sit on the bench.
Since he’ll be on the field, Kyle Shanahan will continue to work his magic on his lead running back like he has his entire career. This pick has more downside than I’d generally like in the early rounds, but the upside is enormous, and I’m not in love with many of the other players in this range.
Round 4: Allen Robinson
With a run of four wide receivers right before my pick, I’m left scrambling. Wide receivers going to new teams always give me pause and Robinson is coming off an ACL tear, but I need a wide receiver, and I’m all but guaranteed to get a running back I like when I’m up in four picks.
Robinson went for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2016 with Blake Bortles as his quarterback. His upside is enormous assuming Mitch Trubisky and Matt Nagy can click. Couple that with the lack of receiver depth on Chicago’s roster and the positives outweigh the negatives for me when it comes to Robinson.
Round 5: Derrius Guice
Rashaad Penny was my hope here, but I’m happy with Guice, who some considered the best running back in the draft after Saquon Barkley. Samaje Perine looked horrible, and they invested a second-round pick in the rookie rusher. I have to believe they will feature him in the offense.
Chris Thompson is a dynamic pass catcher out of the backfield, but as Michael Salfino noted for Yahoo, 86% of a running back’s expected value comes from first and second down and goal line work. Guice would seem to fill both of those roles for the Redskins, and he is one of my main targets as we start to get into the middle rounds.
Round 6: Pierre Garcon
There’s another run on wide receivers immediately before I pick, but this time nobody takes my guy and I’m happy to select Garcon. I chased upside a little more than I typically would like in the early rounds with Robinson and McKinnon, so let’s grab a guy with a solid floor. There is a new quarterback in town, but in his seven healthy games last season, Garcon averaged nine targets a game.
Remember, volume is king in fantasy, and he got plenty. Expect for some positive regression in the touchdown department, making him a great high-floor WR3.
Round 7: Sony Michel
Drew Brees is the top suggestion, and I do expect positive regression with his touchdown totals this year but there’s too much value in picking a QB early in a 1QB league. I try to avoid it unless I just absolutely hate everyone around and that’s not the case here.
You may notice this screenshot has five players in it — Michel wasn’t even on the board for me according to the algorithm. Let’s defy it and pick him. New England is one of the smartest teams in the league, and, while their drafting isn’t perfect, I find it hard to believe they use a first-round pick on a running back just to let him get lost in the endless maze that is the Patriots backfield.
He’s not the most elusive runner, but he’s a smart player that Bill Belichick should love. Like McKinnon, I’m going in on the situation and fit here instead of picking a guy that is oozing with talent.
Round 8: Robby Anderson
A lot of people, myself included, wrote Anderson off as a fluke at times last season. I left him on the bench far more than I’m comfortable admitting. In Round 8, I’m drafting him again to be a bench player, but one that I’ll be much more comfortable putting into my lineup.
From Weeks 7-12 last year, he was the overall WR4. He was also the WR18 in points per game over the entire year. The underlying metrics suggest it’s not a fluke.
He was 12th in total Air Yards and 10th in average depth of targets for all receivers with over 100 targets. He received a respectable 22% target share that is in line to go up after his breakout second season, and he could be paired with the man who many considered to be the best rookie QB in the draft in Sam Darnold.
Round 9: Kelvin Benjamin
I followed up a high upside pick in Anderson with a floor pick in Benjamin. Vegas has the Bills as the fifth-worst team in the NFL. They’re going to be bad. They’re going to need to throw the ball and those receivers are also very, very bad. Zay Jones, Jeremy Kerley, and the rest of the group the Bills will trot out there aren’t going to do much, which leaves Benjamin.
He’s not that good of an NFL receiver and he doesn’t get much separation, but Josh Allen doesn’t seem to be scared to throw the ball into traffic. He is, yet again, another pick where I’m not in love with the player, but the situation could mean fantasy production and value.
Round 10: Jordan Reed
I know a lot of people will hate this pick. Reed is extremely injury prone and is probably one concussion away from retirement, but guys like Trey Burton and George Kittle are equally risky with how unproven their play and situations are. Waiting this long on a tight end almost guarantees you’ll be playing the waiver wire for one, so why not take Jordan Reed who is a top-five player at the position when he’s healthy? If you could get five weeks of RB1 status in the 10th round, you’d be crazy not to take it, so why avoid it for a tight end? If he somehow stays healthy, he can be a league winner in the 10th round, and if he doesn’t, you can just grab another TE off the waiver wire like you were going to anyways.
Round 11: Ben Roethlisberger
Round 11 is quarterback time. There are plenty of good ones out there still. Philip Rivers, who has finished as a QB1 in eight of the last 10 years, is a guy I’m consistently targeting in this round, but this time Roethlisberger falls to me.
There are some injury concerns along with his bizarre home/road splits, but Big Ben still leads an offense that has probably the best group of skill position players in the league. The weekly upside here is huge, and if he gets hurt (or you don’t trust him on the road), there are always plenty of options on the waiver wire in single-QB leagues.
Round 12: Corey Clement
When looking for sleepers, the biggest thing I like to look for is a path to relevancy. A guy like Nick Chubb might be more talented than Clement, but he has Carlos Hyde to compete with. Even if Hyde goes down with an injury, there’s Duke Johnson waiting. There’s clear of a path of fantasy viability in Cleveland.
Clement is different. Jay Ajayi has a history of injuries, isn’t signed beyond this year, and quite frankly isn’t all that good. It’s not a stretch at all to see Clement taking over as the lead back in what should be a potent offense should Ajayi get hurt or struggle early on. We’re in the dart throw stage of the draft, and Clement is a guy that could hit.
Round 13: Austin Ekeler
Like Clement, there’s a clear path to relevancy for Ekeler in what should be a good offense. Melvin Gordon has appeared to have been fairly durable in his career, but he’s ended two seasons on the IR, which can mask his injury concerns. Ekeler is small, but flashed as a rookie in 2017, and had some standalone value in the middle part of the year during bye weeks. The undrafted second-year player will have to compete with seventh-round pick Justin Jackson, but if he builds on his rookie year, he could play a big role if Gordon were to go down.
Rounds 14/15: Defense and Kicker
Some players like to draft lotto tickets here, and if you’re drafting early, that’s a very good idea. But for most this is where you take your defense and your kicker. For kicker, grab one on a high-scoring offense. For defenses, it’s not a bad idea to look at the schedule and get out ahead of the streamers and find a good Week 1 or 2 matchup.
Overall, I’d be extremely happy to go into a season with this team. My goal in every draft is to select a team that I feel could make the fantasy playoffs. I’ve had powerhouse teams get to the playoffs and lose in the first week, and I’ve limped in and gone on to win the title. The weekly randomness of the game has made me less risk-averse, and I feel like there’s a great mix of floor and upside on this squad.
Feel free to try out the Draft Simulator here and feel free to share. I’d love to see what you can come up with from the third slot.