Fantasy football mock draft: Deep league draft strategy
Most of our strategy centers on 10- or 12-team leagues, but Tyler Loechner wonders if the tips can apply when the league gets bigger.
Fantasy football mock draft: Deep league draft strategy
After playing around with a unique draft strategy earlier this week — which yielded better-than-expected results — I once again loaded up the PFF Fantasy Draft Master tool to make my way through another mock draft.
While the last mock focused on a different strategy in a familiar league (12-team standard format), this mock draft will focus on a familiar strategy in an unfamiliar format (16-team PPR). The starting lineup for this league featured 1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE and 1 Flex. I nabbed the 8-hole so I would be drafting in the middle of each round.
I went into the draft with the intention of waiting on quarterbacks and a tight end, while still taking the best available player. As you’ll see below, these two strategies clashed as early as Round 3.
Here are the results:
Round 1 — David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
With the eighth pick in the first round, I thought for sure I’d be taking a wide receiver. But Johnson — who arguably could have gone second in this draft behind Antonio Brown — fell to me, and I had to take him.
Johnson is a stud in PPR formats. Last season, he gained 1.86 yards per pass route run, fifth among all running backs. He only trailed pass-catching specialists Charles Sims, Theo Riddick, James White and Danny Woodhead. I drafted Johnson here with no reservations.
Round 2 — Alshon Jeffery, WR, Chicago Bears
Jeffery was a pure value pick at 2.08. He was the 15th wide receiver to come off the board in this mock, but he’s actually my No. 7 ranked wideout. This was a no-brainer.
Jeffery is a highly efficient target hog, and in the world of fantasy football, there’s no better combination. Jeffery ranked fourth last season among wideouts by scoring 0.57 fantasy points per opportunity.
Round 3 — Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins
This is where my pre-planned strategies created a fork in the road. I wanted to wait on a tight end and quarterback in order to scoop up as many running backs and receivers who would actually see playing time as possible (which can be difficult to do in such a deep league) — but I also wanted to leave the door open for finding great value.
My choice came down to Reed, Dion Lewis or Latavius Murray. I’ve already made the case that Murray is overvalued, and while Lewis is a strong RB2 in PPR formats, Reed is well above all tight ends not named Gronkowski or maybe Olsen.
I decided to pull the trigger on the best player available in Reed, knowing full well that I’d have to find some undervalued running backs and wideouts later in the draft.
Round 4 — Ryan Mathews, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
My hunt for bargains began just one round later when I scooped up Ryan Mathews in Round 4. I’ve named Mathews one of the most undervalued fantasy players heading into the 2016 season, and I drafted him in my previous mock draft as well. Apparently I just can’t stay away.
I’m all in on Mathews this season, and as long as his price doesn’t change — Jeremy Langford went one pick before him in this mock — I’m going to continue buying Mathews shares.
Round 5 — Michael Crabtree, WR, Oakland Raiders
This was my least favorite pick of the draft. I wanted Larry Fitzgerald, Jordan Matthews, Emmanuel Sanders, DeVante Parker or John Brown to fall to me, and, naturally, all five of them were drafted prior to my pick.
Wideout value was about to fall off a cliff, and Crabtree was one of the last remaining safe bets left on the board. And while he’s an unsexy pick, he’s far from bad. In fact, Crabtree was quietly the ninth-most-targeted wideout in the league last season, his 85 receptions ranked 13th, and he was the No. 17 fantasy wideout in PPR leagues. There’s no reason to think Crabtree’s role in Oakland’s offense will change this season, so his stat line should be similar.
Crabtree offers me a safe, if unspectacular, WR2, which is great value in Round 5 of a 16-team league. The only reason I wanted one of the players mentioned above instead of Crabtree is because they offer similar floors but have higher ceilings.
Round 6 — Charles Sims, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Sims is one of my favorite mid-round targets in PPR leagues. Even with Doug Martin shining as Tampa Bay’s lead back last season, Sims was still able to put up 533 rushing yards and 557 receiving yards. He added four receiving touchdowns as well, tied for second among running backs.
Overall, Sims ranked eighth in fantasy points per snap in this format, and he finished the season as a top-20 fantasy running back. I’d happily roll with Sims as my high-floor flex option in this league.
Round 7 — Torrey Smith, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Smith fills my WR3 position, but in a 16-team league, you could almost consider him a tail-end WR2. There wasn’t much to like about Smith’s 2015 campaign, in which he finished as the No. 54 wideout in PPR leagues, but he was a top-30 fantasy wideout every year from 2011-2014.
Last season was the blip on the radar, and it’s causing Smith to be devalued. Smith should return to form this season as the most-targeted player in Chip Kelley’s offense.
Round 8 — Shane Vereen, RB, New York Giants
In a deep PPR format, I like to spend my mid-round picks on running backs who have safe floors rather than limitless ceilings. Vereen’s potential may be capped due to the fact he doesn’t run the ball, but I can swing for the fences at the running back position later in the draft. I’d rather secure a reliable flex fill-in at this point.
Vereen saw 74 targets last season — fourth among running backs — and hauled in four receiving touchdowns, tied for second. Despite doing almost nothing on the ground (61 carries for 260 yards and no touchdowns), Vereen still put up top-30 numbers in PPR leagues by season’s end. He’d be a fine flex option, so I was thrilled to grab him as a backup.
Round 9 — Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
Thomas is a bit of an unknown, but it’s hard not to be enamored by the potential. As the No. 2 wideout in a Drew Brees-led offense, Thomas will rise up draft boards as the preseason progresses — especially if his next few preseason games are as good as his first.
Thomas caught 4-of-6 targets for 67 yards in preseason Week 1. He ranked fourth in PPS and fifth in PPO among wideouts who saw at least 50 percent of snaps in preseason Week 1.
Round 10 — Tyrod Taylor, QB, Buffalo Bills
I was tempted to take Taylor in Round 9, but I couldn’t pass up on Thomas. After drafting Thomas, I had buyer’s remorse for a few seconds as a wondered if I waited too long on a quarterback. But fortunately, Taylor was still waiting for me in Round 10.
Last year’s breakout player of the year, the Bills just gave Taylor a huge deal that was ideal for all parties involved, including us fantasy players. Last season, Taylor scored 0.59 fantasy points per dropback, tied for third among all quarterbacks behind superstars Cam Newton (0.73) and Russell Wilson (0.60).
Taylor is a QB1 in 12-team league — and maybe even 10-team leagues — so he’s certainly starter material in a 16-team format. My decision to wait on a quarterback paid off.
Round 11 — Chris Thompson, RB, Washington Redskins
Do you see my trend with running backs in PPR leagues yet? A pass-catching specialist whose role on the team is secure, Thompson provides me with a bench player who will always be good for a handful of points in PPR leagues. Additionally, he has the potential to be a breakout PPR player. He had a 10-target game in Week 3 last season, and he saw seven or more targets in two other regular season games.
Additionally, in the Wild Card playoff round last year, the Redskins gave Thompson eight targets, and he caught all eight for 89 yards. By comparison, Jordan Reed had nine receptions in that game.
By the 12th round of a 16-team league, you’re starting to draft players that often go undrafted in 10- or 12-team leagues. So at this point in the draft, you’re looking to do one of three things:
- Draft one of the few remaining running backs or wide receivers who have a clear path to playing time (“bargain hunting”)
- Draft a player who may not have a clear path to playing time, but who has tremendous potential if they win extra snaps (“taking a flier”)
- Draft a player who simply rounds out your roster (“playing it safe”)
Additionally, if you have the option, you should pass on drafting a defense or kicker in 16-team leagues, which is what I did here. You can always fill those voids right before Week 1. It’s better to take a few chances on young players at skill positions and see how the preseason pans out.
Round 12 — Will Fuller, WR, Houston Texans
I went bargain hunting for Fuller here. During the team’s preseason Week 1 game, Fuller was clearly the team’s No. 2 wideout, ahead of Jaelen Strong. Assuming he holds onto that spot on the depth chart, Fuller should see enough volume to be a viable fill-in during bye weeks.
Round 13 — Charles Clay, TE, Buffalo Bills
Round 14 — Alex Smith, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
I played it safe by taking Clay and Smith. I rarely take a backup quarterback or tight end in regular formats, but in a 16-team league, I think it’s essential to have all of your bases covered — including your backups. Clay and Smith are not starter material, but they are above-average backups, and that’s all I need them to be.
Round 15 — Cole Beasley, WR, Dallas Cowboys
I went bargain hunting for Beasley. Beasley saw over one additional target per game and nearly one additional reception per game when playing with Tony Romo last season. Beasley is good for about four receptions and 40 yards any given week, which, in this format, would actually make him a WR4. Landing him as my WR6 provided excellent value.
Round 16 — Christine Michael, RB, Seattle Seahawks
I took a flier on Michael. He gained 44 yards on just seven carries in preseason Week 1 this year for an impressive 6.3 YPC. He gained an average of 4.86 yards after contact — ninth among running backs through preseason Week 1 — and he busted out one run of 15-plus yards, which is as many as he had all of last season. Michael is probably looking at a best-case scenario of backfield-by-committee in Seattle, but he’s certainly worth owning throughout the preseason in case he continues to surprise and wins more playing time.
I threw a wrench in my own draft by going off script and taking a tight end instead of a wideout or running back in Round 3, but through some value hunting in the middle rounds of the draft, I was still able to fill out my roster with solid starters in this 16-team PPR mock.
Additionally, unlike my previous mock draft in which I went way off script by taking two tight ends and a quarterback in the first four rounds, I was able to build great depth with this roster. I specifically targeted pass-catching running backs, as I find their safe floor to be highly valuable in deep PPR leagues — but I still took a gamble on Michael at the end of the draft.
At wide receiver, I searched for players who should see plenty of opportunity relative to where they went in the draft. I may only have one big-name receiver on this squad, but my depth at the position makes up for it. I’d be moderately happy with Jeffery, Crabtree, Smith, Thomas and Fuller even if this were a 12-team league.
Overall, this mock draft proves that simply sticking to your draft board and taking the best available player — even if that means breaking from a strategy such as waiting on a particular position — is a surefire way to net a strong team and plenty of depth in deep PPR leagues. And in larger leagues, depth is often the difference between making the playoffs and ending your season early.
Tyler Loechner is a lead writer at PFF Fantasy. He has played fantasy football since 1999 and has been a part of the PFF Fantasy staff since 2010. Tyler was also previously a fantasy football featured columnist at Bleacher Report.