Fantasy football mock draft: Get a stacked roster by waiting on WRs
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. Antonio Brown should be the No. 1 overall pick in fantasy drafts, even if you don’t play in a PPR league. It’s that simple.
But since our mock draft series has gone over some quirky scenarios — such as drafting in a 16-team PPR league, or a bold strategy that revolved around taking quarterbacks and tight ends early — I figured we’d continue the trend by focusing on a strategy that isn’t as popular today as it once was.
I’m talking about the zero-WR strategy. As in, not drafting Antonio Brown first overall. Or Alshon Jeffery in the second round. Or any wide receiver early, for that matter.
What kind of team can you draw in a 12-team standard league by employing the zero-WR strategy? I fired up the PFF Draft Master tool tool to find out.
Round 1 — David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
With the first pick in the first round, I sprung for David Johnson. He ranked fifth in fantasy points per opportunity last season among running backs, and he’s a true dual-threat workhorse in one of the league’s best offenses. There’s nothing to not like about Johnson. As the top running back on my rankings, this was an easy choice (given the zero-WR strategy I was going for).
Round 2 — Mark Ingram, RB, New Orleans Saints
I followed up the Johnson pick by snagging Mark Ingram at the end of the second round. He was the No. 15 fantasy running back in standard leagues last season despite playing in only 12 games. Now healthy, Ingram is expected to put up top-10 numbers. He’s the clear lead back in a high-scoring offense. Pairing Ingram with Johnson gives me a deadly running back duo.
Round 3 — C.J. Anderson, RB, Denver Broncos
Anderson is a bit of an enigma in fantasy this season due to his poor showing in 2015, but he’s a prime rebound candidate. He didn’t start to perform well until Week 12 last year — far, far too late for fantasy purposes — but he carried his momentum through the rest of the season, including the playoffs.
We’re not giving up on Anderson yet, and Denver appears headed toward a season in which they rely on their defense and the ground game, so they aren’t giving up on him yet either. Anderson has the makings of a solid RB2 with tail-end RB1 upside. Not bad for the third running back on the roster.
Round 4 — Ryan Mathews, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
I take Ryan Mathews in pretty much every draft, real or fake. The other running backs in Philadelphia are Darren Sproles and Wendell Smallwood, and while that means Mathews will be coming off the field a fair amount in passing situations, it also means he’s in line for a lot of work on the ground and around the goal line. He looked great last season with the Eagles while finishing first in fantasy points per snap among running backs, and he has looked good so far this preseason. Mathews is a strong RB2 pick in the fourth round this year.
Round 5 — Greg Olsen, TE, Carolina Panthers
At this point in the draft, I would have been open to taking a wide receiver. However, Greg Olsen was the best value left on the board. He’s a top-three tight end who is actually a lot closer to Jordan Reed than people think. He finished second in yards (1,104) and third in targets (115) among tight ends last season. Olsen can be deadly down the seam in Carolina’s offense; he caught two touchdowns on passes thrown 20-plus yards down the field last season, tied for second among tight ends behind Tyler Eifert.
Round 6 — John Brown, WR, Arizona Cardinals
After waiting on receivers, I had to make sure I snagged a few players who had high floors and even higher ceilings. Brown competes for targets with Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald (and David Johnson), but there’s plenty to go around in Arizona. Brown should put up WR2 numbers even with the crowded target share, and he has WR1 upside should something happen to any of those other targets.
Round 7 — Jordan Matthews, WR, Philadelphia Eagles
It’s easy to forget that at this point last season, Matthews was viewed as a fringe WR1. Now he’s being drafted as a WR3. As usual, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Matthews is a WR2 this season, but his WR1 upside remains intact.
Round 8 — Torrey Smith, WR, San Francisco 49ers
Torrey Smith is another undervalued fantasy player who is impossible to ignore at his current price. Smith has been a top-24 fantasy receiver in four of the past five seasons, but this year, he’s being drafted outside of the top 40. His 2015 campaign was abysmal, but all signs indicate that Smith will rebound in 2016. While he may not put up WR2 numbers again, given San Francisco’s offensive shortcomings as a whole, he should be a lock for WR3 status.
There is one caveat, and that is the fact that through two preseason games, Smith has yet to log a reception. However, we don’t want to put too much stock into the first two preseason games. If anything, it should make Smith even more undervalued.
Round 9 — Isaiah Crowell, RB, Cleveland Browns
This was my least favorite pick of this mock draft, but it had to be done. Crowell is the primary running back in Cleveland’s surprisingly decent offense. He finished last season as a top-30 fantasy running back with 185 carries for 706 yards and four touchdowns. There’s no reason to expect his stat line to be any different this year, which makes him a boring but serviceable backup.
Round 10 — Rishard Matthews, WR, Tennessee Titans
Matthews is in line to be Tennessee’s No. 1 receiver this season, and while the Titans will surely spread the ball around and lean on the run, it’s difficult to find a team’s primary receiver in Round 10. He finished last season as the No. 48 overall fantasy receiver, but he also only played 11 games. Matthews won’t be in my starting lineup, but he has a reliable floor, which makes him a viable flex fill-in for this squad.
Round 11 — Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals
Dalton is one of my favorite late-round quarterback targets. He was a top-10 fantasy quarterback on a per-game basis last season, and he has a top-three fantasy season (2013) under his belt as well. Dalton’s offense is loaded with receiving weapons and red-zone targets, including A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard. The team brought Brandon LaFell and rookie Tyler Boyd into the fold as well.
Dalton is also an extremely efficient fantasy scorer. He was tied for third last season with 0.59 fantasy points per dropback, behind on Cam Newton and Russell Wilson. What more can you ask for from an 11th-round pick? Dalton makes waiting on a quarterback easy.
Round 12 — Theo Riddick, RB, Detroit Lions
Riddick is obviously more valuable in PPR leagues, but he’s perfectly rosterable in standard leagues as well. He notched 80 receptions last season and compiled 697 receiving yards. He finished as the No. 38 overall running back in standard leagues, which meant he was a backup player who could be trusted in the flex spot if necessary. As the sixth running back on this squad, that’s fine with me.
Round 13 — Mohamed Sanu, WR, Atlanta Falcons
This pick was about opportunity as much as anything else. As Atlanta’s No. 2 receiver, Sanu will see plenty of playing time. This offense will largely flow through Julio Jones and Devonta Freeman, but Sanu should be good for about four receptions and 50 yards per game.
Additionally, last year’s No. 2 receiver for the Falcons, Leonard Hankerson, logged three touchdowns in seven games. If Sanu is able to generate similar touchdown production, he could have legitimate flex appeal.
Round 14 — Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
This was my lotto ticket of the draft. Thomas is fighting Willie Snead for the No. 2 receiver spot in New Orleans — and newcomer Coby Fleener is also in the mix for targets. Snead currently holds the upper hand, but if Thomas is able to carve out a healthy target share for himself — or even win the No. 2 job — then his upside is immense.
There’s no doubt that the running backs on this team are good enough to win some fantasy games by themselves. David Johnson and Mark Ingram provide an excellent one-two punch, while C.J. Anderson or Ryan Mathews give me a top-notch flex player. The depth at this position would enable me to play the matchups each week while stockpiling potential trade value.
I was also able to scoop up Greg Olsen, which means I wouldn’t have to worry about the tight end position all season long.
Wide receiver, as you would expect with a strategy name like “zero-WR,” is the weakest part of the team. But the position is far from a burden. John Brown and Jordan Matthews are reliable WR2s with tail-end WR1 upside. Torrey Smith is set for a WR3 season, and Rishard Matthews, Mohamed Sanu and Michael Thomas serve as backups laced with upside.
There’s no doubt that zero-WR is a viable strategy this season.