News & Analysis

Fantasy football mock drafts: Strategies from a 12-team PPR draft

By Daniel Kelley
May 21, 2019

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Nov 27, 2017; Baltimore, MD, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins (10) looks to the referee after having his jersey ripped on the previous play during the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium. Baltimore Ravens defeated Houston Texans 23-16. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

A single mock fantasy football draft isn’t going to give an entire picture of the draft season. That’s why you should participate in several of them to get ready for the fantasy season. But one draft can give ideas or a picture of how things might go.

The PFF Fantasy team and several big-name outsiders got together over the last week for a 12-team PPR slow mock. This field helps to answer some of the most pressing questions for drafts in 2019, all centered around “Where does this position go?” Some of the biggest queries for this year include when to take the first wide receiver, tight end, and quarterback, and for the latter two positions, how long after the first player is taken to go for the second.

Again, a single draft won’t paint a complete picture of what to expect from the year’s drafts — especially an analyst-heavy draft that skews more, to name a single strategy, to “wait on QBs” — but it’s an excellent starting point.

Check out the draft recap below, with analysis of some of the teams’ specific strategies. First, the participants:

Pick Drafter Home site
1 Evan Silva Rotoworld
2 Jake Ciely The Athletic
3 Brad Evans Yahoo
4 Dan Schneier PFF Fantasy
5 Mike Clay ESPN
6 Michael Fabiano NFL.com
7 Mike Wright Fantasy Footballers
8 Scott Barrett PFF Fantasy
9 Jeff Ratcliffe PFF Fantasy
10 Daniel Kelley PFF Fantasy
11 Scott Spratt PFF Fantasy
12 John Paulsen 4for4

Now, the draft.

The first round

The question of the first round in drafts this season is primarily going to be when to deviate from running backs and start taking wide receivers, and also whether the top tight end makes it into the first. We got those answered here:

Pick Owner Player Pos Team
1.01 Silva Saquon Barkley RB NYG
1.02 Ciely Christian McCaffrey RB CAR
1.03 Evans Ezekiel Elliott RB DAL
1.04 Schneier Alvin Kamara RB NO
1.05 Clay Le’Veon Bell RB NYJ
1.06 Fabiano Todd Gurley RB LAR
1.07 Wright Melvin Gordon RB LAC
1.08 Barrett David Johnson RB ARZ
1.09 Ratcliffe James Conner RB PIT
1.10 Kelley DeAndre Hopkins WR HOU
1.11 Spratt Davante Adams WR GB
1.12 Paulsen Joe Mixon RB CIN

Running backs went with the first nine picks before DeAndre Hopkins went 10th. I broke the seal, as it turned out — something I alluded to a few weeks ago in my dive into early ADP. The gap between the top running backs and the middle ones is so much greater than the gap at wide receiver that it makes all the more sense to take a top running back. If anything, I could argue that I might have wanted to go Joe Mixon over Hopkins there, but I think Mixon presents the first significant step down in value in the RB tiers, and Hopkins is among the safest bets in the game.

Other takeaways: Todd Gurley’s slide has begun, but not in earnest yet — he fell to sixth in this draft, behind the names most might have expected entering draft season plus Le’Veon Bell. You might be able to get him even later when drafts get going. … Davante Adams went to Scott Spratt right after I took Hopkins before John Paulsen brought us back to running backs with Mixon.

The second round

The second round answered the tight end question and also illustrated that a balanced roster is likely to be the dominant approach in 2018.

Pick Owner Player Pos Team
2.01 Paulsen Michael Thomas WR NO
2.02 Spratt Julio Jones WR ATL
2.03 Kelley Odell Beckham Jr. WR CLE
2.04 Ratcliffe Antonio Brown WR OAK
2.05 Barrett Travis Kelce TE KC
2.06 Wright JuJu Smith-Schuster WR PIT
2.07 Fabiano Mike Evans WR TB
2.08 Clay Dalvin Cook RB MIN
2.09 Schneier Nick Chubb RB CLE
2.10 Evans Keenan Allen WR LAC
2.11 Ciely T.Y. Hilton WR IND
2.12 Silva Adam Thielen WR MIN

Travis Kelce went with the fifth pick in the second round to Scott Barrett — who is on the record as saying that Kelce might even be worth a first-rounder in 2019. It was 10 picks before the other two of the top-three tight ends went, and Round 5 before anyone else went, so the established value gap at the position this year is clear.

Other takeaways: Of the 10 teams that went running back in the first, eight went pass-catcher in the second, while both teams that went receiver in the first stuck with receiver. The end result: 8/12 teams started balanced (RB/WR or RB/TE), two went RB/RB (Dan Schneier and Mike Clay), and two went WR/WR (Spratt and me).

Now, with the first two rounds out of the way, drafts start to become more a question of team structure than round structure, so from here I’ll look at specific roster structures that stuck out to me.

Wait on everything

Scott Barrett roster
Position Player Team Pick
QB Patrick Mahomes KC 3.08
QB Drew Brees NO 11.08
RB David Johnson ARZ 1.08
RB Miles Sanders PHI 5.08
RB LeSean McCoy BUF 8.05
RB Jalen Richard OAK 13.08
WR Robert Woods LAR 4.05
WR Allen Robinson CHI 6.05
WR Golden Tate NYG 7.08
WR Malcolm Brown BAL 9.08
WR DeSean Jackson PHI 10.05
WR Adam Humphries TEN 14.05
TE Travis Kelce KC 2.05
TE Delanie Walker TEN 12.05
K Mason Crosby GB 16.05
DST Minnesota Vikings 15.08

Our own Scott Barrett took David Johnson in the first round (a pick that is in line with his typical advice this season) and then only one more running back (Miles Sanders in the fifth) until the eighth round, only taking four running backs total. You’d expect that roster to be top-heavy at receiver, except that he also didn’t take a receiver (Robert Woods) until the fourth round and only had one through five rounds. That’s because he followed Kelce in the second up with Patrick Mahomes in the third. If Mahomes puts up a 2019 anything like his 2018, especially with he prospect of Tyreek Hill being gone for most or all of the year and Kelce being an absolute target monster, Barrett’s team could benefit, but it’s an unusual approach.

Modified zero-RB

Evan Silva roster
Position Player Team Pick
QB Jameis Winston TB 13.01
QB Tom Brady NE 15.01
RB Saquon Barkley NYG 1.01
RB Tevin Coleman SF 6.12
RB Darrell Henderson LAR 7.01
RB Kareem Hunt CLE 8.12
RB Jordan Howard PHI 9.01
RB Justice Hill BAL 11.01
RB Mike Davis CHI 14.12
WR Adam Thielen MIN 2.12
WR A.J. Green CIN 3.01
WR Chris Godwin TB 4.12
WR Tyler Lockett SEA 5.01
WR Keke Coutee HOU 10.12
TE Chris Herndon NYJ 12.12
K Adam Vinatieri IND 16.12

With the first overall pick in the draft, Evan Silva took Saquon Barkley, probably the dominant No. 1 overall pick in 2019. And then he ignored the position until the Round 6/7 turn, taking Adam Thielen, A.J. Green, Chris Godwin, and Tyler Lockett before returning to the position. Silva took only running backs and wide receivers through 11 rounds of the draft before finally looking to quarterback and tight end, so it’s not like he left those positions light … but he definitely needs Barkley to be Barkley again.

RB-first rosters

Dan Schneier roster Mike Clay roster
Position Player Team Pick Position Player Team Pick
QB Matt Ryan ATL 11.04 QB Ben Roethlisberger PIT 14.08
QB Jimmy Garoppolo SF 14.09 RB Le’Veon Bell NYJ 1.05
RB Alvin Kamara NO 1.04 RB Dalvin Cook MIN 2.08
RB Nick Chubb CLE 2.09 RB Derrick Henry TEN 4.08
RB Kerryon Johnson DET 4.09 RB James White NE 5.05
RB Peyton Barber TB 9.04 RB Austin Ekeler LAC 10.08
RB Carlos Hyde KC 10.09 RB Duke Johnson CLE 15.05
WR Calvin Ridley ATL 5.04 WR Amari Cooper DAL 3.05
WR Sterling Shepard NYG 6.09 WR Robby Anderson NYJ 6.08
WR N’Keal Harry NE 7.04 WR Tyreek Hill KC 7.05
WR Courtland Sutton DEN 8.09 WR Emmanuel Sanders DEN 8.08
WR Tre’Quan Smith NO 12.09 WR Tyrell Williams OAK 11.05
TE Zach Ertz PHI 3.04 WR Jamison Crowder NYJ 12.08
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins NE 13.04 TE Jared Cook NO 9.05
K Jake Elliott PHI 16.09 K Michael Badgley LAC 16.08
DST Los Angeles Rams 15.04 DST Chicago Bears 13.05

The two teams that went RB/RB to start the draft combined to have one wide receiver through four rounds and one receiver each through five, as Dan Schneier followed his first two rounds up with Zach Ertz and Kerryon Johnson before taking Calvin Ridley, while Mike Clay took Amari Cooper in the third before going back to running back with Derrick Henry and James White. The end result is that both teams are very strong at running back but have more question marks at receiver. Clay’s third and fourth receivers are Tyreek Hill (who might not see the field at all) and Emmanuel Sanders (who is recovering from a late-season Achilles tear and carries a load of question marks), while you could argue Schneier came out of the draft without a single receiver who will be his team’s No. 1.

WR-first rosters

Daniel Kelley roster Scott Spratt roster
Position Player Team Pick Position Player Team Pick
QB Deshaun Watson HOU 7.10 QB Russell Wilson SEA 9.11
RB Josh Jacobs OAK 3.10 RB Aaron Jones GB 3.11
RB Marlon Mack IND 4.03 RB Chris Carson SEA 4.02
RB Lamar Miller HOU 6.03 RB Rashaad Penny SEA 7.11
RB Ronald Jones TB 9.10 RB Kalen Ballage MIA 11.11
RB Kenneth Dixon BAL 12.03 RB Jamaal Williams GB 13.11
WR DeAndre Hopkins HOU 1.10 RB Spencer Ware IND 14.02
WR Odell Beckham Jr. CLE 2.03 WR Davante Adams GB 1.11
WR Corey Davis TEN 5.10 WR Julio Jones ATL 2.02
WR Curtis Samuel CAR 8.03 WR D.J. Moore CAR 5.11
WR Parris Campbell IND 10.03 WR Alshon Jeffery PHI 6.02
WR John Brown BUF 11.10 WR Dante Pettis SF 8.02
TE Trey Burton CHI 13.10 WR Marquez Valdes-Scantling GB 12.02
TE Jack Doyle IND 14.03 TE David Njoku CLE 10.02
K Ka’imi Fairbairn HOU 16.03 K Justin Tucker BAL 16.02
DST New England Patriots 15.10 DST Seattle Seahawks 15.11

It might be easier to take running backs early and follow up with the lower-tier receivers than the inverse, but (and yes, I’m clearly biased here) I like the results better when going WR early. In addition to having incredible WR corps (DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham Jr.; Davante Adams and Julio Jones), both Spratt and I went with running backs in the third and fourth rounds, and while Josh Jacobs, Aaron Jones, and company aren’t the theoretical guarantees that the first-round backs are, their upsides and chances at being bell cow backs are better (for my money) than the chances of Calvin Ridley and Robby Anderson to be monster receivers.

Quarterbacks

Here’s where the quarterbacks went:

3.08 Patrick Mahomes Barrett
7.10 Deshaun Watson Kelley
8.05 Andrew Luck Ratcliffe
9.02 Baker Mayfield Ciely
9.03 Aaron Rodgers Evans
9.11 Russell Wilson Spratt
10.07 Cam Newton Fabiano
8.04 Matt Ryan Schneier
8.06 Kyler Murray Fabiano
8.08 Drew Brees Barrett
13.01 Jameis Winston Silva
13.07 Jared Goff Wright
13.09 Carson Wentz Ratcliffe
13.12 Dak Prescott Paulsen
14.08 Ben Roethlisberger Clay
14.09 Jimmy Garoppolo Schneier
14.10 Josh Allen Evans
15.01 Tom Brady Silva

Obviously, an analyst-heavy draft like this one is going to skew toward the “wait on quarterback” approach. So the specific rounds the various quarterbacks went in might not be illustrative. But the names that didn’t get picked are noteworthy. Kirk Cousins. Philip Rivers. Lamar Jackson. Mitchell Trubisky. All of those names were sitting on the waiver wire at the end of the draft. Half of the teams in our league took backup passer — 18 total went off the board — and still guys with bona fide QB1 potential went undrafted. Even if your league skews more toward taking backup quarterbacks, there will still be big names available late.

Other draft notes

  • Drafts are about balancing risk and reward. To that end, Mike Clay took Tyreek Hill in the seventh, which means he could end up with a potential WR1 in the middle rounds, or he could have wasted a pick on a guy who will never see the field. Similarly, Brad Evans took Josh Gordon in the 11th, which could have been a pick wasted on a guy who will never play again or could be a pick spent on a guy with sky-high potential in a shallow depth chart. Risk, meet reward.
  • Again, because this was an analyst draft, some things happened that you can’t count on in regular leagues. But the first DST didn’t go off the board until the fifth pick of the 13th round, with Mike Clay taking the Bears. Even the most die-hard “wait on defense” draftnik out there probably wouldn’t mind that pick — there’s a huge difference between taking a defense in the ninth and taking the previous year’s dominant No. 1 in the 13th.
  • Handcuffing wasn’t a thing here — the Alvin Kamara owner didn’t take Latavius Murray, the Todd Gurley owner didn’t take Darrell Henderson, the Melvin Gordon owner didn’t take Austin Ekeler. In fact, as far as I can tell, only one person took any teammate running backs, with Scott Spratt drafting Chris Carson and Rashaad Penny and Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams.

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