Preseason games are underway, which means one thing: fantasy football season is here! Most leagues hold their draft as close to the regular season as possible, but that doesn’t mean this time isn’t a critical time for any fantasy footballer; preparation must be done!
In my opinion, in addition to research on individual players, the best form of practice is participating in mock drafts. You may have an idea on which players you like, but gaining skills on how to maximize each pick’s value, how to understand how others may draft, as well as marketplace valuations can allow you to draft as many as those players as you want! After all, this is going to be your team for the entire season, so you might as well be proud of it!
Over the course of the offseason, I’ll be reviewing each of the mock drafts I have the luxury of participating in at QB List. In this mock draft, I was able to partake in a 12-team PPR draft with my fellow colleagues, starting with the 10th overall pick. What picks did I make, and why did I make them? Let’s break down every one of my 13 picks here!
All Stats via Pro Football Focus
Round 1, Pick 10: RB Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
Based on my research on the correlation and stability of key fantasy football metrics when it comes to projecting future performance, finding running backs with the ability to produce as a receiver is critical in PPR formats. That brings me to Austin Ekeler. If you take away Week 4, in which he left injured, his 18.4 expected points would have ranked fourth at the position, while he was on pace for 113 targets over a 17-game season. His receiving ability may be the best of any non-Christian McCaffrey running back, while he’s a quality runner as well.
Ekeler has always been able to produce after contact and was on pace for 215 carries over a 17-game season (not top of league, but still notable), and now gets a major upgrade with his offensive line. With his receiving workload and a satisfactory amount of carries, why can’t he be new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s version of Alvin Kamara in this offense? I think we’re letting the disappointment of him getting injured last year and the perception around him being more of a “scat back” getting in the way of what could very well be a top-five running back. If he continues to be available around this slot, I’ll be sure to pounce on that opportunity.
Round 2, Pick 3: RB Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
Well, I guess I can’t contain myself from running backs who got injured last year! If you drafted Joe Mixon in 2020, I’m sure you’re frustrated you not only got just the first six games with him but also had to deal with the confusion about his availability throughout the rest of the year. However, don’t let yesterday’s mistake influence future decisions! I don’t think we realize how much an opportunity Mixon has; he ranked 5th in expected fantasy points per game last year! Now, Giovanni Bernard departs, and all indications are that Mixon is expected to have an extensive three-down workload this year. Yes, there are concerns about his rushing efficiency behind a subpar offensive line, but remember that volume trumps anything else! I’ll gladly take a duo of Ekeler and Mixon to solidify my running back corps at the start of the draft.
Round 3, Pick 10: WR Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
With how deep the wide receiver position is, settling on running backs early before shifting to wide receivers in the third round is starting to become a specific strategy of mine. Here, it appears to have worked out; I was still able to walk away with Allen Robinson at the end of the third round. Considering he’s finished as a top-ten wide receiver in back-to-back seasons catching passes from Mitch Trubisky, Nick Foles, and Chase Daniel, why would we not expect a similar finish from the ultra-talented receiver this year as well? There’s no doubt that Robinson will command a very high target share, while his quarterback situation still may not be ideal unless Justin Fields plays more games than expected, but Andy Dalton is still an upgrade over his previous quarterbacks. Of the receivers drafted in this range, you won’t find someone with as high of a floor as the 27-year-old.
Round 4, Pick 3: WR Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
It’s easy to want to be invested in the Cowboys’ prolific offense for fantasy this season. Yet, lost in the hype of CeeDee Lamb is Amari Cooper, who is somehow still 27-years-old. Trust me, I searched that up multiple times to verify it! I get the excitement with Lamb, who is entering his second season and was productive as a rookie, especially with Cooper missing some practice time while being on the PUP list. Nevertheless, he’s back healthy now and is a much more proven commodity. Not only has he been a top-15 receiver in back-to-back seasons, but he received 9+ targets in each of the first four games with Dak Prescott under center, and still managed to produce without him. Although I get the appeal with Lamb, Cooper seems to offer a higher floor without less upside.
Round 5, Pick 10: TE TJ Hockenson, Detroit Lions
I wasn’t planning on playing “wack-a-mole” here with regards to filling holes, but, hey, that’s how the value panned out. We know that tight ends start to reach their peak performance around the third season in the NFL, and there isn’t any reason to believe TJ Hockenson won’t follow suit. He was already sixth amongst tight ends in expected fantasy points last year, should only see a higher target share with the team’s top-three receivers departing in free agency, and already took a major step forward with a 76.3 PFF receiving grade. Even if the touchdown upside isn’t there, tight ends projected for over 100 targets aren’t just falling off of trees.
Round 6, Pick 3: RB Mike Davis, Atlanta Falcons
Oh, no, the running back ageists are coming for me! Really, I don’t understand the trepidation with Mike Davis around this range of the draft. There certainly are questions about his abilities as a runner, yet I’m always going to favor volume over anything else. To that end, Davis faces little completion on the roster and offers prowess as a receiver as well. Just for the chance he could have a three-down workload, he’s worth a shot as a high-end third running back. The receiving ability should allow him to be worth this investment on its own, while there is a legitimate chance he ends up being significantly more valuable. In the sixth round, why not?
Round 7, Pick 10: WR Brandin Cooks, Houston Texans
At this stage in the draft, it’s typical to target players with a high perceived “upside”. However, with me needing three receivers, I ultimately settled on a higher-floor player in Brandin Cooks. Yes, it’s hard to bank on the Texans’ offense right now. That said, Cooks should receive well over 100 targets, while he’s been a consistent performer throughout his seven-year career. In each of the five seasons he’s been healthy, he has totaled well over 1000 yards, and although the quarterback situation could be brutal, the targets alone make it hard for him not to be worth an investment at the end of the seventh round. I can understand not loving the potential “90th percentile” pay-off here compared to some other unknown commodities, yet he’s clearly priced close to his floor at the moment.
Round 8, Pick 3: QB Tom Brady, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Finally, the quarterback position is addressed! Fun fact; Tom Brady and I share the same birthday, August 3rd, which was the same day this mock draft was held. So, naturally, Brady was picked in the 8.03 slot! Based on the depth of the quarterback class, I’m not inclined to spend a premium investment on a quarterback; the replacement-level player here will be much more productive than other positions. Although Brady provides nothing as a runner, I like his chances of an extremely productive second year in Tampa Bay. Not only will there be more continuity with every starter coming back and a full season to prepare, but the Bucs’ 8.5% drop rate should regress positively, while his peripheral stats (92.3 PFF passing grade, 7.1% big-time-throw rate, 2.1% turnover-worthy play rate) suggest further improvement from his 7.6 yards/attempt a year ago. Even if he isn’t the “sexiest pick”, I feel very confident about him finishing as a top-ten quarterback.
Round 9, Pick 10: RB David Johnson, Houston Texans
Okay, now the running back ageists are definitely coming for me! Trust me, this was not a pick that I enjoyed making. Yet, when players are clearly priced close the floor, value presents itself. 29-year-old David Johnson is actually coming off of his best season (72.8 PFF rushing grade, 4.7 yards/attempt) as a runner, and he’ll likely be the Texans’ main receiving back. Considering how much Houston should be playing from behind, don’t be surprised if he vultures a lot of empty targets in perfect James Robinson fashion. When his age and the Texans’ discount is being priced into his draft position, he becomes a fine value in the ninth round as a FLEX option. Sometimes, the smartest picks aren’t the most fun to make.
Round 10, Pick 3: WR Curtis Samuel, Washington Football Team
Hey, this is a more fun pick! With 1.94 yards/route run and a 76.4 PFF receiving grade last year, Curtis Samuel is coming off of his best season as a pro and now gets the serve as the second option in the passing game with Washington. It’s unclear what his usage will be here – he’s worked both as a short-yardage weapon and a deep threat – but I’d anticipate that offensive Scott Turner utilizes him as a vertical threat, similar to how he did in Carolina in 2019. In that year, the 24-year-old posted 13 expected fantasy points per game, yet was let down by extremely poor quarterback play. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t a world-beater, but he sure beats Kyle Allen and Will Grier! Consider me excited about the possibilities for Samuel in 2021.
Round 11, Pick 10: QB Jalen Hurts, Philadelphia Eagles
To be frank, I was shocked to see Jalen Hurts last this far in the draft. There seems to be great concern about a) the possibility of Deshaun Watson being traded there and b) his poor underlying passing numbers last season. That said, in the lovely game known as fantasy quarterbacks, a lot is made easier when you can be a dynamic weapon in the rushing game. He’s certainly a boom-or-bust player, but paired with Brady, that is exactly what I want. This pairing may ultimately end up higher-priced over time, but if it can be done in a similar range, I’d be very intrigued by the possibilities of it.
Round 12, Pick 3: WR Cole Beasley, Buffalo Bills
Sigh. This was not a pick I loved making, though there was legitimate value here. Cole Beasley has finished 39th and 41st, respectively, in back-to-back seasons in expected points per game, which is likely where he’ll finish again. If you can stomach the off-the-field concerns and the lack of overall “excitement” with the pick, he could be an underpriced stopgap receiver for you.
Round 13, Pick 10: TE Adam Trautman, New Orleans Saints
Hopefully, this isn’t the last time I get to spotlight Adam Trautman! The 24-year-old was ultra-productive in college (albeit at Dayton) with a 94.3 PFF receiving grade, and was considered by many to be the top tight end in the 2020 draft. Now, he gets a chance to take over as the starting tight end in New Orleans, where he may command a notable target share simply based on a lack of weapons elsewhere. Tight end is such a difficult position to project on a year-to-year basis, so I’ll gladly embrace variance here with my last pick of the draft.
I’m definitely noticing positives from doubling up on running backs early, followed by multiple receivers. This allows you to guarantee yourself two workhorse running backs, before turning your attention to a stacked wide receiver class. Positional scarcity is something that doesn’t get enough attention, and the ability to land the likes of Keenan Allen, Allen Robinson, Amari Cooper, Terry Mclaurin, DJ Moore, and others in the third round or later demonstrate why waiting on a receiver may be a valid approach. This could also apply to tight end, but, for me, I’m still not inclined to spend a high-end investment there in standard “one tight end” leagues; depth is not needed and breakouts tend to happen at the position anyway. With there being no clear ranking of players outside of the top two (Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook), I’m intrigued by being able to pick as late in the first round as you can; the possibilities are endless. Hopefully, this exercise can guide you in preparation for your drafts! Will I continue to defy running back ageists? We’ll have to wait to find out!
(Photo by Chris Williams/Icon Sportswire)