Sure, fantasy football experts can peddle their insights and publish rankings, but what happens when they’re actually asked to match wits against each other? The Post endeavored to find out, inviting a number of analysts to join some in-house staffers with purported pigskin knowledge in a mock draft to glean some trends and top takeaways heading into the busiest draft weekend on the fantasy calendar.
The settings — 1 QB, 2 RB, 2 WR, 1 TE, 1 flex, 1 D/ST, 1 K, seven bench spots and PPR scoring — were straightforward. The results were interesting. [Editor’s note: An earlier version of this file contained a link that was not accessible to non-league members. The full draft results, by team, are now shown below.]
Running backs: So hot right now
The first thing that popped out, then popped out some more, was the initial emphasis on RBs. The PPR format meant that there was at least a chance of seeing some WRs creep upward, but the top of the draft was as RB-heavy as it has tended to be elsewhere, with that position accounting for seven of the first eight picks. Twelve RBs went in the first 19, doubling the top receivers taken, even with Rob Gronkowski thrown into the mix. Fifteen went in the first 26 selections.
The bottom quarter or so of the first round is where things start to become unpredictable, but in most cases the elite players who get squeezed out are quickly scooped up by the same owners at the top of the second, so ultimately which round they go in is less significant than whether anyone decides to start RB-RB (as Pro Football Focus’s Walton Spurlin did in this case) or WR-WR. Two teams went RB with their first three picks, including ESPN’s Mike Clay, who showed plenty of confidence in a pair of backs, Joe Mixon and LeSean McCoy, about whom many fantasy players have some reservations.
We also saw confidence in Royce Freeman, who apparently hasn’t fully seized the reins in Denver’s backfield despite looking terrific in preseason games, as he went as the 17th RB off the board. That was ahead of the likes of Derrick Henry, Kenyan Drake, Alex Collins and Lamar Miller, the latter of whom continues to look like a nice value, especially for those going WR-heavy to start and looking for a safe RB to anchor that position.
The experts’ read on split backfields
Chris Carson’s meteoric rise (Fantasy Football Calculator has him vaulting up five and a half rounds since late July) was reflected here, as he was the 25th RB off the board, while Seattle’s first-round pick, Rashaad Penny, was 36th at the position. That brings us to a number of intrasquad battles for work out of the backfield, always a major source of intrigue at this time of year.
Another first-round NFL pick, Sony Michel, went as the third Patriots RB in fantasy land, behind Rex Burkhead and James White, as concerns about his creaky knees take their toll (in a standard format, we probably could have expected White to remain behind Michel). Yet another first-year RB not off to the greatest career start, Ronald Jones, went 113th overall, well behind teammate Peyton Barber (84th), while the experts didn’t seem to think Latavius Murray (136th) really was much of a threat to Dalvin Cook (14th). In a similar vein, Drake (44th) easily eclipsed Frank Gore (139th), as did Christian McCaffrey (16th) to C.J. Anderson (151st).
It’s worth noting that Adrian Peterson, picked off the scrap heap by Washington in the wake of Derrius Guice’s season-ending injury, went 99th as the 40th RB off the board.
Whither the wide receivers
The wideouts had begun to have their say in matters starting in Round 3, as more of them were drafted than RBs in the third, fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth rounds. Stephon Diggs, who has overtaken Adam Thielen in average draft position over the past month, again bested his Vikings teammate, albeit not by much (28th overall to 30th).
In terms of the crowded Rams receivers room, Brandin Cooks (24th WR drafted) was expected to immediately take over as top dog and produce at a borderline-WR2 level, but Robert Woods (28th) got plenty of love, as well, leaving Cooper Kupp (37th) looking like quite possibly the best value out of the trio. Another major riser over the past month, Chris Hogan, maintained his suddenly lofty perch, going 21st at his position, while Keelan Cole (103rd overall) was the clear favorite, if in a lukewarm way, among the post-Marqise Lee WRs in Jacksonville, with Dede Westbrook the only other one drafted, at a distant 168th overall.
Experts drafts in one-QB formats invariably feature that position unspooling at a glacial pace, and this was no exception. Not surprisingly, Aaron Rodgers was the first one taken, but not until the 43rd overall pick, and while Tom Brady hewed fairly close to his ADP at No. 51, Deshaun Watson lasted until 68 and Russell Wilson was next at 82.
Clay and ESPN colleague Matt Bowen were able to wait until the 13th round to snare consensus top-12 options at QB in, respectively, Kirk Cousins and Matthew Stafford. However, Rotoworld’s Raymond Summerlin pulled off the real coup de grace, holding out until his 16th and final pick — yes, after he drafted his defense and kicker — before nabbing Dak Prescott, who has finished top-10 in QB scoring in each of his two NFL seasons.
No one is forgetting about Trey
Finally, the action at TE confirmed what has become increasingly apparent: if you want Trey Burton, be prepared to make an aggressive move. The Bears’ offseason acquisition, last seen throwing a TD pass to Nick Foles in the Super Bowl, went sixth at his position, ahead of stalwarts such as Jimmy Graham and Delanie Walker, not to mention the high-upside likes of Evan Engram and Jordan Reed. Speaking of upside, Yahoo’s Dalton Del Don was intrigued enough with Ricky Seals-Jones to take him in the 12th round, passing up TEs with far higher ADPs, but possibly lower ceilings, in Charles Clay and Eric Ebron.
Grades and Self-Analysis
Des Bieler hands out his post-draft report card, while each participant IDs their favorite and least-favorite selection.
Raymond Summerlin, Rotoworld (@RMSummerlin): A
Made everyone else look silly by using final-round pick to get a QB (Prescott) who at a minimum should keep his team afloat. He has heavily targeted players all over the map and a terrific bench. — Bieler
My best pick: Christian McCaffrey (Round 2) In a PPR format, I fully expected him to be a first-round pick. In fact, I was considering him at No. 9 before I selected Odell Beckham. His rookie reception total will be difficult to match, but McCaffrey finished as the RB10 in PPR formats last season on just 12.3 touches per game. Even if he does not reach 80 catches again this year, his preseason workload suggests he is going to see several more touches per game, and that should give him a floor of right about where I took him with the upside for a lot more.
My worst pick: Kenny Stills (Round 9) I really like Kenny Stills — he matches big-play upside with what could be a large target share, making it possible he is this year’s Robby Anderson — but I really needed running back depth at that point. I only selected Stills because I expected Bilal Powell to be available at my next selection. He was taken off the board the very next pick. Weak at running back, I should have just reached for Powell and filled my receiver spots later in the draft. — Summerlin
Daniel Kelley, Pro Football Focus (@danieltkelley): A-
The elite-TE double dip was a very defensibly strategy in a league that only starts two WRs and one flex, and he was smart to handcuff Spencer Ware to Kareem Hunt while adding a pair of high-upside RBs in Ty Montgomery and Ronald Jones. — Bieler
My best pick: Zach Ertz (Round 4) I’ve been wanting to give this strategy a whirl all offseason long, and it shook out for me this time around — take two of the top three tight ends. I’m of the opinion that there isn’t just a top tier at the position this year, there’s a massive, gaping chasm between the top three and the rest of the position. Pairing Ertz with Rob Gronkowski might have been an expensive pick (second- and fourth-rounder), but the second one of those will be a flex option as good as any receiver I’d have taken in that range.
My worst pick: Marshawn Lynch (Round 6) The downside of going Gronk/Ertz early is that the running back position dries up in a hurry. On the flip side, if there’s a spot I want to be weak this year, it’s at the second RB slot, where I can move players in and out at will and find the best play. Lynch carries risk, but he looked much better in the second half of 2017 and has obvious upside. Still, if I had to do it over again, I’d probably take a different back in the fifth and let my second receiver pick slide to the sixth. — Kelley
Scott Allen, The Washington Post (@ScottSAllen): A-
Nice mix of volume receivers (Saquon Barkley, Golden Tate, Delanie Walker) and double-digit TD candidates (Leonard Fournette, Jordan Howard, Michael Crabtree), and he can see who emerges among Devin Funchess and DJ Moore as Panthers’ top WR. — Bieler
My best pick: Drew Brees (Round 11) I probably reached a bit on unproven Patrick Mahomes in the 10th round, so I was happy to land Brees a round later as insurance. I don’t usually draft a second QB, but Brees in the 11th round was too good to pass up. If Mahomes puts up the type of numbers I think he’ll put up and Brees gets off to a fast start, the 39-year-old veteran could be an early-season trade chip.
My worst pick: Jordan Howard (Round 3) I’m a big believer in the Bears running back and have drafted him in a couple of other leagues, but after taking Saquon Barkley and Leonard Fournette in the first two rounds, I regret not grabbing Amari Cooper or Demaryius Thomas as my WR1. Instead, I was forced to settle for Golden Tate a round later. — Allen
Neil Greenberg, The Washington Post (@ngreenberg): B+
Got the Titans back far more likely to rack up receptions, well after Derrick Henry was taken, but the thought process in making the Vikings the first D/ST drafted seems a bit at odds with a major investment in Minnesota’s passing attack. — Bieler
My best pick: Vikings defense (Round 11) Minnesota’s defense was a value pick in the 11th round. Normally a ninth-round selection, the Vikings combine a ferocious pass-rushing attack with a well-rounded secondary led by Harrison Smith, the top-ranked safety per the game charters at Pro Football Focus. The defensive line, meanwhile, is anchored by Everson Griffen (13 sacks in 2017), Linval Joseph, Sheldon Richardson and Danielle Hunter, four players who can disrupt the passing game of any offense in the NFL.
My worst pick: Devonta Freeman (Round 2) I hoped Christian McCaffrey, Leonard Fournette or Rob Gronkowski would have been available at this point of the draft but they weren’t, and I felt I needed another starting running back early because the good ones tend to go early and often. It’s not that Freeman is bad — he had 865 yards and seven touchdowns last season — but teammate Tevin Coleman is cutting into his playing time. — Greenberg
Dalton Del Don, Yahoo Sports (@daltondeldon): B+
Did well to construct a fearsome-looking starting lineup, then indulged himself with luxury items at QB, TE and D/ST rather than ensure solid RB depth. — Bieler
My best pick: Kenyan Drake (Round 4) I have Drake as a top-15 fantasy back this year and am not too concerned with 35-year-old Frank Gore stealing many touches, so I was happy to get him in the fourth round. Drake finished first in YPC after contact last year and excels in pass protection, so I’m expecting big things (although his environment certainly could be better).
My worst pick: Aaron Jones (Round 9) I suppose Aaron Jones, who’s suspended the first two games of the year and has fallen well behind Jamaal Williams as Green Bay’s RB1 if preseason chatter were to be believed, was a bit of a stretch where I took him. — Del Don
Shawn Siegele Rotoviz (@FF_Contrarian): B
The industry figure most closely associated with Zero RB was true to form, assembling a WR1 armada with Hogan and Smith-Schuster rounding out his first five picks; it might have made sense to add Aaron Jones after taking Jamaal Williams, but he has some solid receiving RBs on bench in Gio Bernard and Austin Ekeler. — Bieler
My best pick: JuJu Smith-Schuster (Round 5) Smith-Schuster’s been going in late Round 3 of some high-stakes formats and is due for a big secondary breakout. I held off on him the previous round to get some diversification after Antonio Brown early and with WR less valuable in a start-2 format, but he’s a borderline top-30 player for me.
My worst pick: Marlon Mack (Round 9) Despite starting with a modified Zero RB approach, I was able to grab (likely) starting RBs from (probable) offensive juggernauts in Kerryon Johnson and Jamaal Williams. My normal target in Round 9 is Ronald Jones, but with Jones plummeting and Marlon Mack available, I wagered that Jones would be available later. Jones went four picks before my selection in Round 10. Gio Bernard and Nick Chubb fill out the RB group in solid fashion — Bernard is on the Top 15 Zero RB Update and Chubb is the range that has historically provided league-winning upside — but I regret the Jones gamble. — Siegele
Mike Hume, The Washington Post (@MikeHumePost): B-
Didn’t need to draft a second QB after going with Brady, especially given that he also has a second TE on his bench; has shaky and certainly not PPR-friendly backup RBs in Peterson and Blount and, in general, lacks volume receiving upside among his reserves. — Bieler
My best pick: Jordan Reed (Round 8) I think I did pretty well in setting a decent floor for my starters in terms of point production and playing time. But I didn’t think any of my picks were very exciting given the risk some of my potential value picks carry in terms of either injuries or inexperience. That said, I like the gamble I took on Jordan Reed. If he’s healthy (an admittedly big “if”) I’ve got a pretty great TE combo that can give me a top-three-round-caliber starter at flex.
My worst pick: Randall Cobb (Round 7) I think I made an audible “ooof” noise as I clicked on Randall Cobb’s name. Best case scenario he’s a dynamic threat in a high-powered offense with the league’s best quarterback. But those types of players generally don’t get shopped around and the Packers could be looking to phase him out. I didn’t love too many other options in that range given most of the best targets were tight ends and I already had one (and was eyeing another) but I think I would have preferred Peyton Barber, Rashaad Penny or Robby Anderson in hindsight. — Hume
Jeff Dooley, The Washington Post (@JeffDooley_): C+
Starters should have some huge weeks, but after taking second and third RBs with injury concerns (Jerick McKinnon and Chris Thompson), I’d like to have seen him add more at the position than Jeremy Hill; QBs have the same bye week but he has until Week 9 to sort that out. — Bieler
My best pick: Chris Thompson (Round 6) I was really happy to get Thompson at the end of the sixth round, and as my third running back behind Todd Gurley and McKinnon. This is typically the point in drafts where I feel like all the running back options become fliers, and Thompson is poised for a really big role in the Redskins’ offense this year as its primary (only?) pass-catching back. He’s getting knocked down due to injury concerns, but the health reports have been good on him.
My worst pick: Sterling Shepard (Round 8) I sort of panicked myself into this one, thinking I needed a higher-floor wide receiver given that I’d already taken risk-reward options in Josh Gordon and Alshon Jeffery earlier. But in hindsight I would have been happier with either of the guys Mike Clay nabbed immediately after me: Sony Michel and Kelvin Benjamin, both of whom have much higher upsides than Shepard. — Dooley
Matt Bowen, ESPN (@MattBowen41): C+
Not hard to see this team coming together but still needs things to go right for a number of key players, including Dalvin Cook (workload), Royce Freeman (same), Allen Robinson (health, role in overhauled offense), Jack Doyle (Eric Ebron competition, Andrew Luck’s health) and Marquise Goodwin (primacy in passing attack). He also passed up inexpensive Cook insurance to take Matt Breida over Latavious Murray, who went two picks later. — Bieler
My best pick: DeAndre Hopkins (First round) Hopkins at No. 11? I’ll take that all day. The Texans WR led the NFL in 2017 with a whopping 172 targets, while racking up 13 touchdown receptions. It’s the consistent target volume here with Hopkins, paired with his monster catch radius on contested throws and the matchup ability that pops inside the 20-yard line. And with quarterback Deshaun Watson back from injury, Hopkins can also produce some explosive plays off the multiple misdirection schemes in the Texans’ offense. Open windows there for Watson to look-up his No.1 wideout.
Worst pick: Tarik Cohen (Round 6) Don’t get me wrong about Cohen — his skill set is a really good fit for Matt Nagy’s new offensive system in Chicago. Think of Cohen as that “joker,” an electric talent who can carry the ball out of the backfield, run jet sweeps, align in the slot as a receiver and impact the screen game. However, did I reach here in the sixth round for a player with a current ADP of 97.8? Maybe. And that’s why I’m questioning the move for a running back who might not see enough volume playing behind starter Jordan Howard. — Bowen
Mike Clay, ESPN (@MikeClayNFL): C
He’ll be relying heavily on both LeSean McCoy and Joe Mixon to come through, and after hugely RB-heavy start, only took a major injury question in Sony Michel as a backup at that position while stacking the bench with WR2/3 candidates. — Bieler
My best pick: Kirk Cousins (Round 13) Wait, wait, wait at quarterback and you will be rewarded. Cousins was the 13th quarterback off the board and was available in the 13th round. This is a guy who has finished as a Top 10 fantasy quarterback each of the past three seasons and heads to Minnesota where he’ll enjoy an even better supporting cast. Even if you don’t love Cousins, there were at least a half dozen viable QB options available in the double-digit rounds.
My worst pick: Joe Mixon (Round 3) This really depends on your strategy. I have no particular issue with picking Mixon in this spot, but I already had two running backs and easily could’ve beefed up at wide receiver and worked on the flex later. Instead, I ended up weaker than most at wide receiver, though the upside I added later will certainly help with that. — Clay
Walton Spurlin, Pro Football Focus (@WaltonSpurlin): C-
Despite potency of Keenan Allen/Julio Jones combo, the overall upside of his team looks somewhat limited, with Duke Johnson and David Njoku possibly getting in each other’s way and second choices at QB and TE dampening Spurlin’s ability to maximize his bench. — Bieler
My best pick: Philip Rivers (Round 14) Rivers has been a top-12 fantasy QB in four of the last five seasons and has nine top-12 finishes in his career.
My worst pick: Ben Roethlisberger (Round 10) Hindsight being 20/20 my worst pick is taking Ben Roethlisberger in the 10th round. Knowing now that Rivers would still be there as late as he was I could have passed on ‘Big Ben’ and bolstered my wide receiver corps. — Spurlin
Des Bieler, The Washington Post (@DesBieler): D
This isn’t unnecessary self-deprecation — I’m really not too crazy about this squad, which doesn’t flaunt much except perhaps RB depth (something my comments on other rosters would reveal is important to me), and having both Amari Cooper and Jordy Nelson feels more like an oddity than any particular advantage. — Bieler
My best pick: Amari Cooper (Round 3) This was the last time I felt kinda good about my squad, as I love Cooper as a WR2. Whatever offense Jon Gruden winds up running, it sounds like he’s intent on making Cooper a major part of it, as the former fourth-overall pick is primed for a sizable bounce-back from last year’s calamitous campaign.
My worst pick: Alex Collins (Round 4) I was choosing here between him, Jarvis Landry and Zach Ertz, and in retrospect, I’d feel better about my squad with either of those other two players (bearing in mind, again, that this is a PPR format). If I don’t go RB heavy early, I generally feel very comfortable waiting on my RB2 and drafting a number of candidates for the job, but instead somehow wound up with an uninspiring selection that left me wishing my squad had a more imposing receiving corps. — Bieler
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