Fantasy football mock draft: Gain an edge with this surprising strategy
For years, fantasy players were programmed like robots to take a running back in the first, second and maybe even third rounds of drafts. But new strategies — namely zero-RB, which usually takes the form of drafting a bunch of wide receivers early — have emerged to shake things up. Heck, there’s even a zero-WR draft strategy to be the yin to zero-RB’s yang.
But most of these strategies revolve around taking either wideouts or running backs early, unless you draft Rob Gronkowski.
The option of choosing Gronkowski at the end of the first round got me thinking: What if you followed up your Gronkowski pick — a somewhat unconventional first-rounder (albeit definitely worth it) — with a few more unconventional picks? Let’s consider this the “what happens if you do everything fantasy analysts tell you not to do?” draft.
To clarify: I wasn’t trying to draft a trash team. I actually think it turned out fairly well. I simply wanted to see what team I could field with a highly unconventional draft strategy. My goals were to take Gronkowski in the first round, but also land a top quarterback and Jordan Reed.
Gronkowski’s average draft position (ADP) is 1.12, so I fired up the PFF Fantasy Draft Master tool, assumed the No. 12 spot and started drafting. This standard league starts 1 QB, 2 RBs, 2 WRs, 1 TE, 1 Flex (RB/WR/TE).
First round — Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots
Things started off the way I planned with Rob Gronkowski still sitting pretty at pick 1.12. My plan to take tight ends and quarterbacks early was off and running.
Second round — Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons
I love Devonta Freeman in the early second round. Here’s my favorite Freeman stat: He could have scored no rushing touchdowns last season and he still would have finished seventh among running backs in fantasy. In this mock draft, he was the sixth running back drafted. He’s one of the most undervalued players in fantasy right now.
Also, despite my plan to take tight ends and quarterbacks early, I knew the 2.01 pick was too early to take either Cam Newton or Jordan Reed. I knew it was unlikely Newton would still be there by pick 3.11, but I had a good feeling either Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers would be. I had to take a top-flight running back while I had the chance.
Third round — Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks
As expected, Wilson was still on the board for me at 3.11, so I scooped him up. Wilson scored 0.60 fantasy points per drop back last season, second among all quarterbacks behind Newton. Wilson also scored 0.61 fantasy PPDB in 2014 (second behind Rodgers) and 0.58 PPDB in 2013 (fourth). He’s consistent when it comes to fantasy efficiency.
Fourth round — Jordan Reed, TE, Washington Redskins
This is where my mock draft got really unconventional. By snagging Reed, I had two tight ends on my roster before drafting my first wideout. But Reed was phenomenal last season, and his rapport with quarterback Kirk Cousins is expected to seep into 2016 as well.
My team may have looked funky at this point, but Wilson, Freeman, Gronkowski and Reed is a strong core.
Fifth round — Ryan Mathews, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
I was thrilled to land Mathews in the fifth round. One of my favorite players this season, Mathews has the potential to put up RB1 numbers as a workhorse for the Eagles, and he’s a great RB2 for my tight end/quarterback squad.
Mathews has ranked in the top 10 in fantasy points per snap in four of his six years in the NFL, including the past three straight. He got things started off on the right foot in 2016 by scoring the first touchdown of the preseason as well.
Sixth round — John Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals
I knew going into the draft that I’d have to fish for value at the wideout and running back positions. Brown fits the bill. He has the statistical makeup of a No. 1 fantasy wideout, and he has a safe floor as well.
Seventh round — DeSean Jackson, WR, Washington Redskins
Like Brown, Jackson has the statistical makeup of a No. 1 fantasy wideout. Also like Brown, Jackson is slightly more valuable in standard leagues because he doesn’t catch too many passes but he still gains a lot of yards. He ranked first among wideouts last season with 12.0 yards per target. Additionally, he ranked 10th in fantasy points per snap.
Eighth round — Danny Woodhead, RB, San Diego Chargers
Woodhead is obviously more valuable in PPR leagues, where he finished as the No. 3 fantasy running back last season, but he’s much more valuable in standard formats that people give him credit for. Woodhead finished as the No. 11 running back him standard leagues last year, which means he produced as a tail-end RB1 despite recording only 98 rushing attempts. All other running backs who ranked in the top 30 last season had over 100 attempts. He’s a great RB3 or flex option for this squad.
Ninth round — Torrey Smith, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Apparently, I decided to go with the deep threat team during this mock draft. But Smith offers too much value in the ninth round to pass up. He was second in yards per target last season with 11.8, and he’s now the No. 1 wide receiver in new head coach Chip Kelly’s offense. During Kelly’s three years in Philadelphia, at least one Eagles receiver saw a minimum of 119 targets. That’s a more-than-healthy amount.
10th round — Corey Coleman, WR, Cleveland Browns
Coleman completes my all-upside wideout squad. His current ADP is 9.06, so this was a value pick as much as anything else. I also have Coleman ranked as a borderline WR3, so it’s great to land him as my No. 4 option.
11th round — DeAndre Washington, RB, Oakland Raiders
I didn’t draft Latavius Murray, but this pick was Murray insurance nonetheless. That’s because Murray is one of the most overrated fantasy players this season, and there’s a legitimate chance he loses the job to — or at least shares duties with — Washington.
12th round — Marcus Mariota, QB, Tennessee Titans
I almost never draft a backup quarterback, but since the purpose of this exercise was to do things differently — and because the core of my team revolves around tight ends and a great quarterback (Wilson) — I had to make sure I grabbed Wilson insurance. I feel good about landing Mariota in the 12th round. Over his final six games last season, he was the sixth-highest scoring fantasy quarterback. He has QB1 potential and is currently undervalued.
13th round — Jerick McKinnon, RB, Minnesota Vikings
McKinnon doesn’t offer much value in his own right, but should something happen to Adrian Peterson — who is 31 years old — McKinnon could turn into a league winner. The Vikings are a run-heavy team, and that wouldn’t change even if Peterson were to miss time. And McKinnon would likely flourish with a boost in chances. He scored 0.48 fantasy points per opportunity last season, ninth among running backs, while averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Additionally, he averaged 2.39 yards gained after contact — on par with Peterson’s own 2.40 average.
14th round — Eric Ebron, TE, Detroit Lions
I almost never take a backup tight end, either, let alone a third tight end. But since — as I said earlier — the core of my team is tight ends, I figured it would be smart to back my big bet up. Ebron has tail-end TE1 appeal and is almost always available in the last couple of rounds.
So that’s my draft. I would roll into Week 1 with a starting lineup of Russell Wilson, Devonta Freeman, Ryan Mathews, John Brown, DeSean Jackson, Rob Gronkowski and Jordan Reed. Not too shabby for such a unique strategy.
My wide receivers are certainly the worst part of my team, although I likely could have taken two extra fliers on wideouts late in the draft instead of drafting backup quarterbacks and tight ends.
Additionally, my running back depth consists of Danny Woodhead and some backups; I’d need one of them to win some more playing time in order to become truly valuable.
All in all, this draft strategy (two tight ends and a quarterback in the first four rounds) is viable in terms of fielding a great starting lineup, but it’s hard to build accountable depth this way.