Le’Veon Bell, fell to the No. 2 overall pick because he was to serve a two-game suspension to start the season, scored 18 or more fantasy points in each of his first three games played but suffered a season-ending injury in Week 8. Until that point, he was averaging a robust 3.4 yards per attempt after contact, and his nine rushes in excess of 15 yards tied for third most in the NFL before he was sidelined.
The third overall pick, Jamaal Charles, saw his year end in Week 5 with a knee injury. Charles was averaging 108.2 total yards from scrimmage per game and had five touchdowns before missing the last 11 games of the season.
Eddie Lacy, tabbed at No.4, managed to stay healthy all season. Too bad he stunk. Lacy scored just three rushing touchdowns and was ranked 35th out of 44 rushers for defense-adjusted yards above replacement. In other words, any guy off the waiver wire or practice squad would have provided equal or higher value to the Green Bay Packers than Lacy did.
Marsahwn Lynch, pick No. 5, struggled early on, but was productive in Weeks 6 through 9 (three touchdowns in the red zone) before being shut down for the rest of the season. Lynch would announce his retirement shortly after the Super Bowl, ending his career on a 417-yard campaign.
Wideout Antonio Brown provided tremendous value at No. 6. The 27-year-old out of Central Michigan caught a league-high 136 passes for 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns, and led all non-quarterbacks in fantasy points for the season (250). His 2.89 yards per route run were second only to Julio Jones (3.04), who was positioned as the 13th best player in the perfect draft.
C.J. Anderson would follow Brown in the rankings, but his 48 yards per game and five total touchdowns is more on par with a player outside the top 100 rather than a first-round pick.
The next player up, running back Jeremy Hill, tied with Lynch for the league lead in rushing touchdowns (11) but was a boom or bust proposition in any given week. Over his 16 games, there were eight in which Hill scored 10 or more points, but he averaged just 3.4 in those where he failed to top double digits.
Dez Bryant (No. 9) wasn’t as explosive as he was in 2014, but foot and ankle problems limited him to 31 catches for 401 yards through nine games before requiring season-ending surgery. He made the problem worse by rushing back to the field too early the first time he had an issue.
“After I broke my foot and tried to come back, I knew I wasn’t [right],” Bryant told the Star-Telegram back in January. “But at the same time, I knew what was at stake. I thought I could potentially perform at a high level despite dealing with this foot. It turned out very unfortunate.”
Matt Forte was a solid choice at No. 10. He scored double-digit fantasy points in nine of his 16 games and was a scoring threat on the ground (four rushing touchdowns) and through the air (three receiving touchdowns).
No. 11 Demaryius Thomas averaged the seventh highest yards per route run (2.2) and caught 105 of his 177 targets for 1,304 yards and six touchdowns. Good enough performance for 58th overall among fantasy performers but still well short of what is expected from a late first-round pick.
Rob Gronkowski, meanwhile, ended the first round on a high note, tallying 1,176 yards and 11 touchdowns. The game charters ranked him as the league’s best tight end and it wasn’t close; Delanie Walker was rated almost six points behind him followed by Tyler Eifert, who was more than 15 rating points back.
The moral of the story: avoid injuries at all costs. If you can’t do that, eliminate running backs from your first-round selection strategy, with wide receiver offering the less-risky, propositions.
As expected, Murray regressed from his sensational 2014 campaign, in which he won AP offensive player of the year. In 2015, he was anything but outstanding, averaging 46.8 yards per game with seven total touchdowns. Just two of those touchdowns occurred during the second half of the season.
McCoy saw fewer attempts per game than he did in his two priors years with the Eagles and scored just five total touchdowns all year for his new teammates in Buffalo. He did have an excuse: injury limited him to 12 games all season.
Forsett was also injured, accumulating 641 yards and two touchdowns in 10 games for the Ravens.
Miller made the most of his 12.1 rushing opportunities per game, producing 872 yards and eight touchdowns. he would add 397 yards and two touchdowns receiving, making him slightly more valuable in PPR leagues.
Gore, with 967 yards and six touchdowns, was a decent fantasy performer after leaving San Francisco for the
Philadelphia Eagles Indianapolis Colts, and saw his usage increase in the passing game. Colts quarterbacks called his number 58 times, the most targets he has had since the 2010 season.
As expected, there was value to be had among the quarterback ranks. Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson were each pegged to be best selected after the first 50 players and they didn’t disappoint. Rodgers threw for 3,821 yards and 31 touchdowns with just eight interceptions. Wilson led the league in passer rating (110.1) with 4,024 yards and 34 touchdowns. Both ended the season among the league’s top 10 fantasy options. Overall, the perfect draft saw the quarterback position provide the average value of a player ranked 44 spots higher than their selection warranted.
The most interesting outcome might have been how much value the defense/special teams picks provided throughout the draft. I got a lot of ridicule when I advocated taking a defense way earlier than conventional wisdom dictates, but four of the top five defensive choices offered in the perfect draft provided value on par with players within the top 50. For example, Seattle’s defense was slotted in the seventh round at No. 84, but they provided the 53rd most points among all fantasy options. The Houston Texans were at No. 107th in the perfect draft, finishing the season at No. 43, just one behind the Arizona Cardinals. The historically good Denver Broncos were the 38th most productive fantasy option. That’s more production than Gronkowski, Lamar Miller, or Matt Forte.
The takeaways from last year’s perfect draft are obvious: avoid injuries, wait on a quarterback, and don’t be afraid to go with a defense earlier than expected. The latter two are easy to manage, but knowing which payers will get hurt or become busts is much more difficult in practice. However, all these tenets will be included in this year’s iteration of the perfect draft, as well as a heightened focus on avoiding busts in the early rounds.