On Wednesday, July 23, 10 members of the Post Sports department — Scott Allen, Matt Bonesteel, Gene Wang, Kelyn Soong, Matt Rennie, Mike Hume, Des Bieler, Thomas Johnson, Neil Greenberg and Keith McMillan — collaborated on a mock fantasy draft. The draft was set for a standard-scoring league, with the lineup settings as follows: 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB/WR/TE, 1 D/ST, 1 PK, plus seven bench spots. The exercise was meant to provide some insight into some of the prevalent trends popping up in 2014 that fantasy owners can expect to see on draft day. And indeed, the mock draft produced some interesting results.
Below you will find the top takeaways from the mock draft, as well as Neil Greenberg’s analysis of some of the best and worst value picks from the draft. You’ll also find team-by-team breakdowns, including analysis and grades for each roster so you can see in more detail which owners emerged confident for the season ahead, and which are harboring some regret from draft strategy gone awry.
Take your time, study up, and save these findings for when your own draft day rolls around.
Roster Breakdowns and Grades
1. Elite running backs still rule the roost
The more things change, the more the best running backs stay atop fantasy drafts. Seven of the first nine picks were RBs. It took Hall of Fame talents in Calvin Johnson and Peyton Manning, the latter coming off a record-smashing season, to elbow their way into the penthouse that is the first round.
2. The power of Peyton
Speaking of Manning, he exerted an unparalleled influence over the early rounds. Not only was Peyton the fifth overall pick, his top RB (Montee Ball) was ninth, his top WR (Demaryius Thomas) was 14th, and his top TE (Julius Thomas) was 23rd.
The ascent of Ball is most striking, because his value is so clearly tied to Manning. Knowshon Moreno’s remarkable campaign last season (fourth-best RB) cemented the notion in people’s minds that any primary running back will do well in a Peyton-led backfield. And as Ball is considered the superior runner, he’s a no-brainer first-round pick, right? Well, yes, probably.
But it’s a reminder of the degree to which a Manning injury would send shock waves throughout fantasy leagues. And while there’s no reason to expect such a thing, we are talking about a 38-year-old whose neck surgeries cost him a full season in 2011.
3. Sifting through second-year backs
Remember how no running backs were taken in the first round of the (real) 2013 draft? Well, that class is feeling the love, and then some, in the fantasy world. Five sophomore RBs — Eddie Lacy, Montee Ball, Le’Veon Bell, Zac Stacy and Giovani Bernard — went in the top 22 picks of our exercise. Plus, highly regarded Andre Ellington went 46th.
And while it’s great for would-be owners to see so much talent enter the league at fantasy’s most vital position, the catch, at least this year, is that it’s extremely unlikely that all of these guys will pan out.
A study by Rotoworld found that, of 33 RBs between 2003 and 2012 who rushed for at least 600 yards as rookies, 22 ran for fewer yards the next season (for a variety of reasons). So caveat emptor, y’all.
4. A quarterback for every taste
Enjoy the comfort of knowing an elite QB is anchoring your roster? Four QBs went in the first 17 picks. Like to go with a guy who has a real chance to become elite? Two more went a couple of rounds later. Prefer to wait on a QB while stockpiling talent elsewhere? Two teams got their starting signal-callers in the 10th and 11th rounds. Whatever your draft preference, have we got a QB for you!
The last team to draft a quarterback took its first one with the 103rd overall pick. The same type of picks at other positions went 30th (RB), 52nd (WR) and 88th (TE). This is not to say that everyone should wait on a QB — after all, Aaron Rodgers can only last so long — but you can likely hold off and still find a good option.
In fact, looking at the draft positions of the pass-catchers for a couple of QBs makes one wonder if they should have gone so late. Four of Tony Romo’s targets (Dez Bryant, DeMarco Murray, Jason Witten, Terrance Williams) were taken in the top 95, so why did he only go 94th, as the 14th QB drafted? Similarly, Jay Cutler had four targets (Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Martellus Bennett) in the top 97, and three in top 34, so why was he taken 99th, as a backup?
The answer is because there are just a lot of good QBs from which to choose. None of them named Johnny Manziel, in case anyone (who may have been watching ESPN anytime recently) was wondering.
On the flip side is Cam Newton, who has known nothing but top-four fantasy finishes in his three years in the NFL. He was the eighth QB taken here, and looking at how his teammates fared makes one wonder if Newton should have gone lower. The only other Panthers to get drafted were tight end Greg Olsen at 80, and running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart at 105 and 138, respectively.
5. WRs just keep coming
One of the prominent themes that emerged in our mock draft’s chat room was how quickly owners became uncomfortable with their looming choices at running back. That led to holding-my-nose picks such as the suspended Ray Rice at 31, Ben Tate at 33 and Stevan Ridley at 43. (You can see more commentary on Rice in Team McMillan’s roster breakdown.)
No such complaints were lodged at the wide receiver ranks, which took much longer to thin. While the guys who drafted Trent Richardson at 61 and Chris Johnson at 62 were left to wonder what they would get out of them, the owners around them happily selected WR2 candidates in Torrey Smith (60), Julian Edelman (64), Percy Harvin (65) and Michael Crabtree (66).
A pair of receivers who are currently the top targets on their respective NFL teams and have done great things in the recent past went at 101 and 104. Highway robbery! Granted, those guys, Mike Wallace and Eric Decker, did those great things on other teams with much better quarterbacks, but they stick out like sore-from-catching-all-those-passes thumbs amid Maurice Jones-Drew and DeAngelo Williams who fell in that same range.
6. There’s Jimmy Graham, then everyone else
At tight end, that is. The biggest drop from the first player taken at a certain position to the next such player was 13 (not counting defense or kicker), the difference between Graham’s selection at 10 and Julius Thomas’s at 23.
In fact, this draft reflected the fact that tight end appears to have some very clearly defined tiers, at least for its top 10. Obviously, Graham is a tier all by himself, usually going in the first round. Then Thomas and Rob Gronkowski make up the next tier, with that duo getting taken in the second or third rounds. Then a trio (Vernon Davis, Witten and Jordan Cameron) can be found in the fifth/sixth area, followed by a quartet (Olsen, Jordan Reed, Dennis Pitta and, in this case, Charles Clay, although it will more often be Kyle Rudolph) in the seventh through ninth rounds. Neat!
Then it’s pretty much a grab-bag, with Martellus Bennett and Zach Ertz among the popular choices for laggards in 12-team leagues.
7. Buying in on Bishop
When Tennessee cut Chris Johnson in April, it left a hole at running back that nobody believed Shonn Greene would fill. Sure enough, in May’s NFL draft, the Titans were the first team to take a back, and that lucky fellow was Bishop Sankey. Little wonder, then, that Sankey is widely viewed as the rookie, at any position, best situated to have a large impact.
That said, nobody in this draft was looking for a rookie to carry his team. Sankey, as expected, was the first to go, but not until the 54th pick. Next was Buffalo WR Sammy Watkins at 70, although if reports continue of his jaw-dropping exploits in training camp, that number will surely rise. A couple of other first-year players who went late in this draft but could easily see their stock soar over the next month: Bengals RB Jeremy Hill (118) and Saints WR Brandin Cooks (130).
8. Beware the Week 4 bye
There are going to be some fantasy teams that will be in a world of hurt when the NFL’s first bye week rolls around. Teams on Week 4 byes include Denver, Cincinnati, Seattle and St. Louis (plus Cleveland and Arizona). Those four teams accounted for seven of the first 22 picks.
Just something to keep in the back of your mind. If you are trying to choose between, say, Demaryius Thomas and Dez Bryant, you might consider the fact that Bryant shares his bye week with the lowly likes of the Jets, Jaguars and Ravens. You’re not going to see a lot of players from that crew showing up in the first few rounds. — Des Bieler
Fancy Stats Value Picks
Fantasy owners can approach their draft through any number of angles — in this case we’ll be using metrics — but the goal is always the same: Maximize the value of each draft pick.
To that end, here are three players that provided good (and bad) values given their position in the Washington Post Mock Draft.
Le’Veon Bell was the follow-up pick to Peyton Manning from the first round, but (per the projections of Fantasy Pros) Bell is expected to score just 12 points more than the worst available starting running back in the Post’s mock draft league, also known as VBD. A better bet would have been to look at the WR position, especially Dez Bryant (plus-64 VBD) or Brandon Marshall (plus-59 VBD), or even consider doubling down on the Denver offense with TE Julius Thomas (plus-62), all of whom should outscore Bell once adjusted for positional scarcity.
Andrew Luck was a mid-fourth round pick despite an average draft position (ADP) of 6.02. I can see the allure here, but Matt Stafford was selected five picks later and offers better upside. One of the best predictors of future QB success is net yards per attempt (NY/A) which is simply yards per attempt with sack yards subtracted from the numerator and sacks added to the denominator. Stafford had a better NY/A (6.82) than the league average last season while Luck was below the average (5.97). That could be a difference of 71 fantasy points over the course of a season.
It’s easy to overvalue running backs, but when you know for sure your second starter will lose at least two games, as Ray Rice will, you have to consider other options. Rice is projected to be the 21st-best RB (163.9 projected points) and while it is tempting to shore up two RBs early, with Alshon Jeffrey (184.8 projected points) and Vincent Jackson (166.5 projected points) on the board, the right move is to get the best player available.
Jimmy Graham is a first-round pick but he might still be undervalued. Once you adjust for positional scarcity, he would rank sixth in VBD (plus-87) behind Peyton Manning, Calvin Johnson, Jamaal Charles, LeSean McCoy and Adrian Peterson. And he is projected to score more than six of the top 10 receivers. Plus, no one was targeted more in the red zone last season than Graham, who caught 17 of 26 passes for 118 yards and 11 TDs.
Team owner and Post fantasy football writer Gene Wang collected skill position players with his first three picks and resisted the urge to take a middle-of-the-road QB. Instead, he selected WR Antonio Brown (plus-51 VBD). Matthew Stafford, while likely better than Luck, wouldn’t have provided the value Brown did in this spot (plus-23 VBD). Plus, the WR taken immediately after, Roddy White, is projected to score 43 fewer points during the season. That’s how you capitalize on value in the draft.
Rashad Jennings is projected to have the 26th most points among RBs, but he could likely be the Giants’ starter — especially with David Wilson again battling neck problems. Since the Post’s mock draft, Jennings has seen his ADP rise from the sixth to fifth round. Jennings caused 16 missed tackles on 163 rushing attempts last season and had the 11th highest breakaway percentage (per Pro Football Focus) among running backs taking at least 50 percent of their team’s attempts, showing he has the elusiveness to suggest a more optimistic projection. — Neil Greenberg
Roster Breakdowns and Grades
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