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 SuperFlex draft with my fellow colleagues, starting with the 6th overall pick. Whereas our first mock draft was a traditional format, adding the superflex option certainly threw a wrinkle with regards to my strategy. What picks did I make, and why did I make them? Let’s break down every one of my 14 picks here!
All Stats via Pro Football Focus
Round 1, Pick 6: RB Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
With an early run on quarterbacks, it was tempting to go with Lamar Jackson, who went one pick later. In the end, though, the value provided by Dalvin Cook was too much to pass up. While running back rankings have been extremely volatile this year, the consensus appears to be that Cook is locked in as the second-best player at the position, and it’s easy to see why. The 26-year-old has ranked in the top-two in PPR points per game for back-to-back seasons, while he’s guaranteed a significant workload in Minnesota. With how much of a gap I perceive there to be between him and the next available running backs (Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara were off the board), I thought it made more sense to take advantage of the opportunity to draft, as opposed to waiting too long to address the position.
Round 2, Pick 7: RB Ezekiel Elliot, Dallas Cowboys
When everyone else zigs, sometimes you have to zag. It is certainly a risk to pass on a quarterback in back-to-back rounds in a superflex draft, though it is equally as risky to pass on the chance to build such a dynamic backfield. Sure, Ezekiel Elliot’s 2020 production wasn’t where we’d like it to be, but a lot of it was due to poor luck. His 18.8 expected points per game ranked third at the position, while his expected touchdowns (12) were double the amount of actual touchdowns (6) he actually scored. Back to being a three-down back for a very successful offense, with a quarterback (Dak Prescott) that isn’t afraid to pepper him with targets, positive regression should lead to him finishing as one of the top fantasy running backs this season. In my opinion, I’m getting two top-three running backs to be the core of my team. Even without a quarterback, you can’t pass that up.
Round 3, Pick 6: QB Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
Especially when Aaron Rodgers finds his way into the third round. Ironically, I appear to actually be lower on Rodgers, highlighting him as a potential bust for the upcoming season. That being said, even if his numbers come down from where they were in 2020, he still comes with an extremely high floor. I have him currently as the ninth-best quarterback for 2021, around where his previous expected points (10th 2020, 8th 2019) would place him. Typically, that wouldn’t lead to me drafting him at his typical price, but, as they say, “don’t fade players, fade their average draft position”. Being able to land Rodgers as my top quarterback after punting on the position early certainly made me feel more encouraged by my strategy.
Round 4, Pick 7: QB Joe Burrow, Cincinnati Bengals
I was hoping to land Jalen Hurts here to create the ultimate “high floor with high ceiling” quarterback duo, but I’ll gladly “settle” with Joe Burrow here. According to me, Burrow is going to finish top-ten all-time in passing yards*, so of course, he’s a great pick here.
NOTE: This is not my mean expectation, I promise I am not going crazy!
The reports out of Bengals’ training camp aren’t great, and Burrow’s recovery from a torn ACL and MCL is going to be difficult. Nevertheless, it’s going to be difficult for him not to function as a productive fantasy quarterback simply based on the number of pass attempts he’s likely to have in this offense, especially since he’ll be throwing to one of the better receiving corps in the league. Am I chasing volume too much? Perhaps. Yet, that sometimes remains a market inefficiency, and if Burrow’s recovery goes smoother than expected, there is more “upside” with him than you may think. Value is created here by the injury being baked into the cheaper price.
Round 5, Pick 6: WR Amari Cooper, Dallas Cowboys
So, is Amari Cooper just going to end up on my team in every mock draft? If so, I guess I’m happy to be high on him. The 8th-ranked wide receiver in expected fantasy points last year and a top-15 finisher in PPG in back-to-back seasons, Cooper received nine targets in all four games with Prescott under center last year and still was productive without him. Now that he’s back from the PUP list, I’d side with his proven track record over the excitement of the “unknown” with CeeDee Lamb. Really, this feels like Peter Griffin picking the box over the boat because the box could be a boat. Sometimes, it’s best just to take the boat!
Round 6, Pick 7: WR Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s becoming a similar situation to Dallas than it is in Pittsburgh, though no one is gonna mistake Ben Roethlisberger and co. with the Cowboys’ high-powered offense any time soon. I’m very high on Chase Claypool heading into this season, but why can’t he flourish while Diontae Johnson also remains extremely productive? Johnson’s 2020 statistics are skewed poorly by:
- Getting randomly benched at halftime
- Mason Rudolph
- Leaving two games due to injury
If you look at games in which he started and finished, Johnson would have been on pace for 181 targets. Thus, even if Claypool and Najee Harris take up more targets for a more run-heavy group, Johnson still will feast. Add in positive regression from his 13.2% drop rate, and there is a lot to like here. Anytime I can get a player at a cheaper ADP than he should because of overblown concerns (targets, high drop rate, injuries), I’m always going to take that chance. Now, here’s hoping Roethlisberger can throw him a pass beyond the line of scrimmage this season!
Round 7, Pick 6: WR Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland Browns
This mock draft really worked out in terms of me being able to link my bold prediction, where I declared that Odell Beckham Jr. would lead the league the NFL in receiving touchdowns. Will that happen? The odds are obviously stacked against him, but that doesn’t mean the 28-year-old won’t be a top-30 receiver this season. His 14.98 expected points per game prior to tearing his ACL ranked near the top ten at the position, and I’m expecting much better efficiency in his second season in head coach Kevin Stefanski’s system. We saw the offense get into the groove down the stretch, and when you add in a full offseason with better accuracy from Baker Mayfield, this profile suddenly becomes extremely enticing. The ACL injury is a concern, though as with Burrow, this works into the ADP. Hey, if he’s someone I’m going to be pounding the table for, at least he’s a super fun player to watch!
Round 8, Pick 7: QB Zach Wilson, New York Jets
I was quite surprised to see a run on quarterbacks start again, which meant that Zach Wilson was the only quarterback available who had a bye not in the same week as Brady or Burrow. A rookie quarterback on a below-average offense isn’t a super appealing player to take, but Wilson was at least the #2 overall pick for a reason. For a third quarterback who hopefully would be on my bench, I guess going with the extra “upside” of the unknown is appealing, although I have to admit I wasn’t thrilled to make this pick.
Round 9, Pick 6: RB David Johnson, Houston Texans
Why do I keep doing this to myself? I’ll one day be able to contain myself from going through the pain of investing in the Texans’ offense with a 29-year-old running back. Today isn’t that day, though! Here is what I had to say about Johnson when I drafted him in the ninth round in our previous mock draft:
“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.”
The same thing applies here. Trust me, this was still not a fun pick to make, even if it feels like the right one as a high-floor FLEX starter?
Round 10 Pick, 7: RB Ronald Jones, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The unsettling feeling of the previous pick clearly played an influence here, though with both of my starting running backs having a bye in Week 7, that was going to be the key area of my bench. It’s easy to forget Ronald Jones was tied for 21st with 13.6 expected fantasy points per game last year, and once again should command the early-down touches for one of the top offenses in the NFL. Whereas Giovanni Bernard could cut into Leonard Fournette‘s receiving attempts, that likely doesn’t affect Jones as much. I’ve gone back and forth this offseason, but Jones is probably the player to target from this backfield, though I’d be fine avoiding it altogether.
Round 11 Pick, 6: TE Tyler Higbee, Los Angeles Rams
Historically, if you miss out on an elite tight end, it is generally proven to be a better idea to wait until the later stages of the draft to select a player at the position. In drafts where you adopt that strategy, Tyler Higbee is someone I believe to be an optimal target. Most of Higbee’s issues producing have stemmed from not running a lot of routes, but with Gerald Everett departing, the hope is that no longer gets in his way. Since most of his red flags are with regards to his role as opposed to his quality of play, there’s a nice combination of “floor with enough upside” here that could guide him to finishing as a top-ten tight end.
Round 12, Pick 7: WR Corey Davis, New York Jets
Can I interest you with a wide receiver who will earn over $12 million per year over the next three seasons and should lead his team in targets? Wait, Justin, aren’t we in the 12th round? You bet! To be fair, Corey Davis‘ efficiency numbers will certainly decrease going from Tennessee to the Jets, and you usually don’t want to chase players on offenses projected to struggle. Hey, he’s got to do something with these targets, though, right? In that case, welcome aboard Mr.Davis! Even without Mike Davis, you knew I had to sneak in a Davis somewhere!
Round 13, Pick 6: WR Mecole Hardman, Kansas City Chiefs
Sleeper alert? Yes, this is a sleeper alert! At the same time, if everyone anoints you a sleeper, are you still a sleeper? What does “sleeper” even mean? These are mysteries I have yet to solve. Anyways, Mecole Hardman is a player you’ll want to have stashed on your bench. With a normal amount of routes from a second wide receiver, his 0.18/targets per route run would put him around 90-100 targets for a full season, while he ranked third in yards per target in the first two years of his career. Given how efficient he’s been and the offense he’s playing in, how can you not take a chance on him?
Round 14, Pick 7: TE Evan Engram, New York Giants
Most players experience linear progression as they adjust to the NFL level. That is unless you’re Evan Engram. After peaking in in his second season with 1.83 yards/route run and a 75.7 PFF receiving grade, he’s seen those numbers go down sequentially in back-to-back seasons. It’s not exciting to target an underperforming player on a poor offense, though Engram should improve from his 11.3% drop rate and 19% contested-catch rate. If he gets more targets than some expect, he could surprise this year, although I would prefer to select Adam Trautman here, and would be ready to pick up Blake Jarwin if he secured the starting tight end spot in Dallas.
In a typical scenario, you want to secure a quarterback in the first two rounds of a SuperFlex draft. However, with Dalvin Cook and Ezekiel Elliot available, I decided to secure two running backs that I believe could be top-three finishers this year, rather than reaching at the quarterback position. In the end, the duo of Aaron Rodgers and Joe Burrow is one that I would feel confident in, while I still had enough time to attack the middle rounds of the draft to build a receiving corps. Should I have been more aggressive drafting a quarterback? That’s up to debate. However, that’s the beauty in this all. Really, the only set strategy you should have is to as flexible as possible. In this draft, I tried to adjust to what my colleagues were doing, and work from there. The draft is always going to be unpredictable, and if you struggle to adapt, it is going to be tough to make quick, critical decisions. Hey, that’s what mock drafts are for!
(Photo by Larry Radloff/Icon Sportswire)