“Way too early” may be an understatement, as this draft happened before the Super Bowl and well before we know how any of the moves teams make in the offseason will change the fantasy landscape. Incoming rookies were not included, and particularly for running backs that really limits the depth available. But it was still helpful to give an early idea of how the position groups are shaping up and how other drafters value these guys currently. My general strategy is to prioritize running backs early and then look for volume at the receiver position, waiting on quarterback and tight end for as long as possible. Once I get out of the first five or so rounds I will prioritize upside over safety, especially guys I consider to have the chance to be a league winner even if there are a lot of red flags.
Round 1, Pick 2: Saquon Barkley
With Christian McCaffrey going first overall it was easy to select the next best running back, Saquon Barkley. Barkley was a bit of a disappointment this past season thanks to an ankle injury that cost him a few games and appeared to limit him a bit even after he returned to action, as well as a drop in total touchdowns from eleven to six. His beginning and end to the season were more reminiscent of his incredible rookie season, which leads me to believe that had he stayed healthy he would have finished as a top-three running back, and even with his struggles he still finished sixth in fantasy points per game. He’s a big-play threat whenever he touches the ball and he should touch the ball often as one of the few every-down, bell-cow running backs. I also considered Ezekiel Elliot and Alvin Kamara, but ultimately Barkley seems like the clear best option after McCaffrey.
Round 2, Pick 11: Chris Godwin
I expect Chris Godwin’s draft price to rise as we get closer to fantasy draft season but I would be thrilled to start a team with him and Barkley. Godwin’s season was overshadowed by just how incredible Michael Thomas was, but Godwin finished as the second-best fantasy receiver despite missing two games and sharing the field with another top-12 WR in Mike Evans. Godwin enjoyed a breakout season playing as the big slot receiver in Bruce Arians’ offense, and while we do not know if quarterback Jameis Winston will be back for Tampa Bay next season it seems like a safe bet that the offense will remain pass-heavy. Godwin should be a lock for 120 targets and should only improve as a player, which made him an easy pick for me at the end of the second round.
Round 3, Pick 2: Devin Singletary
This was the first difficult pick of the draft for me but with how quickly running back falls off I think going with Devin Singletary was a fine choice. The other player I considered here was Todd Gurley but given his injury situation, I went with Singletary in the hope that Buffalo moves on from Frank Gore and gives Singeltary a full workload. Singletary looked great as a rookie and handled at least 14 carries every week from Week 11 to the end of the season before handling 13 carries and seven targets in their playoff loss to Houston. Singletary has to compete with quarterback Josh Allen for goal-line carries, and it’s possible that he does not emerge as a workhorse running back this year, but even if he just builds on what he did the second half of last season I think this pick will end up returning a good value. There just are not many good running backs left in the draft at this point that do not come with major questions marks, and Singletary seemed like the best bet to take a step forward and move into the upper tier of running backs.
Round 4, Pick 11: Courtland Sutton
Courtland Sutton broke out last season, posting over 1,100 receiving yards and six touchdowns on his way to finishing as the WR18. He did that while losing targets early in the season to Emmanuel Sanders and while playing with the uninspiring combination of Joe Flacco and Brandon Allen at quarterback before rookie Drew Lock returned from injury to finish the season. Lock should be better next season, which would be great for Sutton, but even if Lock struggles Sutton is the clear number one target on this offense and has shown that he’s talented enough to thrive in that role. Sutton himself should improve heading into his third season and with his size and talent for contested catches he should be a threat to post double-digit touchdowns. A solid WR2 with upside is what I was hoping would be here when I passed on some more established receivers last round, and Suttons fits that bill perfectly.
Round 5 Pick 2: Juju Smith-Schuster
I thought about Juju Smith-Schuster with my fourth-round pick and did not want to pass on him with this pick. Last year he was awful but he also dealt with injuries and bad quarterback play. It seems like a process mistake to pass on a young and talented receiver simply due to one bad season that seems easy to explain away. Maybe it’s true that he can’t adjust to being a true number one receiver and that his production will never rebound with Antonio Brown no longer there to draw the defense away, but I’m willing to risk a fifth-round pick on a young player that was a consensus second-round pick just last season. We’ve seen Juju dominate before and with Ben Roethlisberger back next season Juju should rebound nicely.
Round 6 Pick 11: David Johnson
Similar to the last round I think these middle-round picks are a good time to take a chance on guys that the rest of the league seems to be ready to write off. David Johnson is a few seasons removed from being a dominant running back, but not so far removed that it’s clear his days of fantasy relevance are over. He struggled with an injury that cost him first a few weeks and then lost his starting job after the Cardinals traded for Kenyan Drake. With this pick, I’m hoping that the Cardinals are successful in their attempts to move on from Johnson this offseason, preferably to a team like Tampa Bay where the coach will use him in the passing game, and that a change of scenery will bring something resembling the 2016 version of his game. He was also the last running back on the board that has a non-injury related path to becoming an every-down running back next season, and with the depth at wide receiver still available I wanted to prioritize getting a third running back that had some upside.
Round 7 Pick 2: Robby Anderson
When I was reviewing my picks from this draft this was the first one I did not like in retrospect. I love Robby Anderson’s talent as a deep-ball threat with the ability to post the kind of fantasy scores that can single-handedly swing a week and I am a believer in both Sam Darnold’s talent and the chemistry these two have shown, but I hate that he’s tied to a Jets offense led by Adam Gase. This past season we got to see DeVante Parker and Ryan Tannehill away from Gase’s coaching, and both had career seasons. Damien Williams showed out in the playoffs after Gase never gave him a chance in Miami. Gase may be a good offensive coach that just did not mesh with these players, but it’s also possible he’s a bad coach that has turned a great season with Peyton Manning into several additional jobs. We should find that out this year, but heading into next season I would rather avoid the Jets entirely. With Terry McLaurin and Mike Williams still on the board, I would like to have this pick back.
Round 8 Pick 11: Curtis Samuel
Curtis Samuel was another receiver I think I would have preferred last round but fortunately, he fell to me here. Samuel saw 105 targets and 19 rushing attempts last season as the Panthers made an effort to get him the ball with room to work. He will be the third option on the offense behind Christian McCaffrey and D.J. Moore, but that offense should be better this season with Cam Newton returning from injury. Even if there is no improvement this is decent value for what Samuel was last year, especially if he can convert more of those targets into receptions. With Newton returning and a new coaching staff, plus youth being on his side as Samuel will only be 24 at the start of the season, improvement seems like a safe enough bet to make in the eighth round.
Round 9 Pick 2: Darwin Thompson / Round 10 Pick 11: John Ross / Round 11 Pick 2: Gus Edwards
These picks are all a reflection of the draft pool being pretty lacking without the incoming rookies, as well as my plan that if I couldn’t get an elite quarterback or tight end I would simply wait until the end of the draft to fill those positions. Darwin Thompson and Gus Edwards are backup running backs in situations that would make them fantasy stars if they somehow became the starter. Thompson had a cleaner path to the starting job before Damien Williams became a Super Bowl hero for the Chiefs, but Williams has never gone through a full season as the starter so I’m comfortable betting that Thompson will get a shot next season at some point. Edwards is behind Mark Ingram and possibly also Justice Hill by next season and isn’t an exciting prospect, but the Ravens run the ball so much that it seems like a solid idea to get any available piece of that backfield that touches the ball. John Ross might lose some touches with A.J. Green potentially back from injury next season, but Ross would still be a starter in three-receiver sets and last season he flashed some of the talents that made him such an exciting prospect when he entered the NFL. His health is a concern if his draft price was to rise, but this late in the draft he is a fine lottery ticket pick that should be good for a few big games every season thanks to his speed. It also seems like the Bengals will be upgrading at quarterback this offseason, which should only help Ross’s upside.
Round 12 Pick 11: Dallas Goedert
If I had this pick to make again I would take a long look at Mike Gesicki but the fact that Dallas Goedert and Gesicki were still available this late is a testament to how deep the tight end position has suddenly become. I expect to wait on a tight end in all of my drafts next season and Goedert will be one of my top targets. Goedert is a talented player that has gotten better every year he’s been in the league, and he plays for an Eagles team that is desperate for pass-catchers to emerge as key contributors. Goedert’s 87 targets last year were borderline TE1 targets and should improve as Goedert is too talented to be on the sideline. If Zach Ertz misses any time Goedert would jump up to the elite tier of tight ends, and that upside is something that’s hard to find at any position this late in the draft.
Round 13 Pick 2: Matt Ryan
Getting someone like Matt Ryan this late makes waiting on quarterback seem like the best strategy again this year. Every year people will chase whoever the top quarterback was last season, forgetting that those players were so valuable the season before because they typically were late-round picks. Ryan is a safe bet for 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns, with upside for more if this offense can regain its 2018 or 2016 form. He doesn’t have the rushing ability that typically gets a quarterback labeled “high-upside”, but he’s a reliable option that allows you to build up your roster elsewhere. Ryan is stable enough that there’s no need for a second quarterback in a one quarterback league, which means another open roster spot for a lottery ticket running back or receiver.
Round 14 Pick 11: Denver Broncos D/ST / Round 15 Pick 2: Jake Elliot
If your league allows you to leave your draft without a complete starting roster I would just avoid drafting a kicker or defense and wait to pick one up before your first week. It’s a small thing, but those roster spots can be used on backup running backs or receivers who are an injury or trade away from being much more valuable. The Denver Broncos D/ST is one I was high on last season, which did not work out, and will be again this season because they have the talent to have a great pass rush and a defensive-minded head coach that has coached top fantasy defenses before. Jake Elliot is a kicker with a contract that should give him some job security and plays with an offense that should be able to generate a lot of points.
(Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)