It only took two weeks for the perfect draft to require an update. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck abruptly retired. Houston Texans running back Lamar Miller suffered a torn left ACL during Saturday night’s preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys and is out for the season. Seattle receivers DK Metcalf and David Moore also suffered injuries during the preseason, albeit less severe than Miller.
There’s more. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is dealing with a mid-foot sprain but the Panthers are “cautiously optimistic” that he will be ready for Week 1 against the Los Angeles Rams. Wideout Josh Gordon rejoined the New England Patriots after the NFL reinstated him from an indefinite suspension. And running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon continue to hold out from their teams.
A reminder about our definition of “perfect” for this exercise. Perfect means getting the optimal value at each draft spot. In other words, all the rosters in the draft below should outperform an average team in any given week, with most performing at a playoff-caliber level.
The methodology starts with each player’s consensus draft ranking from the experts surveyed at Fantasy Pros and ends with a projected week-by-week fantasy point total that is adjusted for strength of schedule and draft scarcity. Adjusting performance for strength of schedule and then comparing that to a baseline allows us to see where positional scarcity affords fantasy owners the opportunity to go after a player from the top tier of their position rather than settle for a selection from a lower grouping. A more in-depth explanation of our methodology can be found here.
However, I will caution you that some players come off the board in this “perfect draft” at significantly different slots than their average draft position would suggest. This is a feature, not a bug.
Remember: This is the perfect draft based on our 2019 projections, which are adjusted for strength of schedule and positional scarcity, so some players will have more or less projected value than the public perceives. Use this to your advantage. If you see a player such as quarterback Matt Ryan (6.10 ADP) slotted in the fifth round of the perfect draft, that indicates he has been identified as an undervalued player who could pay big dividends in 2019.
(You can also consult our beginner’s guide, which charts out the first three picks for every draft slot, or our lazy person’s draft guide, which takes care of all the hard work. And here’s an explanation for why Saquan Barkley should be the top overall pick, along with the rest of the first six picks. Finally, here is our list of riskiest potential picks by round.)
The picture of perfection in the draft grid below was crafted for a 12-team point-per-reception (PPR) league using the following starting lineup: one quarterback, two running backs, two wide receivers, one tight end, one flex player (RB/WR/TE), one defense, a kicker and seven bench players.
The projection below is updated based on reports of player health and anticipated roles as of Aug. 26.
The first five picks of the first round haven’t changed and should be running backs. Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey, Alvin Kamara, David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott, in that order, will likely be the first names you hear. Running backs Le’Veon Bell and James Conner and wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins should be selected shortly after. The perfect draft agrees with this ordering, but then, due to positional scarcity, another pass-catcher should be taken with the ninth pick — and it isn’t Davante Adams, Michael Thomas or Julio Jones. It’s tight end George Kittle.
Before you write an angry letter to the editor, consider that Kittle and Travis Kelce are both rated as potential No. 1 choices at the position by the experts polled at Fantasy Pros, although many more experts favor the Chiefs star. So why Kittle over Kelce, and why so high in the first round? Because, again, our model adjusts for strength of schedule and positional scarcity.
Another player who goes earlier in the perfect draft than he does in active mock drafts is Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The second-year-pro completed 66 percent of his passes for 5,097 yards and a league-leading 50 touchdowns in 2018. Sure, there is the same strength of schedule concern as with Kelce, and there could be some regression in the touchdown total — Mahomes saw almost nine percent of his passes end in a score last season, the seventh-highest rate in NFL history. But Kansas City’s offensive line faces an easier-than-normal task in 2019, giving Mahomes time to utilize his other weapons, including running back Damien Williams and speedy wideout Tyreek Hill.
More takeaways from the perfect draft:
The first three drafting positions look great for building starting rosters
Focusing solely on the starting rosters shows the first three draft slots offer the most opportunity to build high-scoring teams. Those three spots average a projected 114 to 115 points per week using these rankings which, according to research by Dave Seal, would be good enough to win between 10 and 11 games over a 13-week fantasy regular season. All of the draft slots averaged in excess of 108 points, one point more than a team needs to be average during the season.
The best slots for bench strength appear to be the No. 6 and No. 9 slots. Those both average 10 projected points per week per bench player, the highest in the draft. The No. 5 spot is close with nine projected points scored per bench player per week.
There is plenty of depth at the wide receiver position
As the NFL turned into more of a passing league, the wideout position has flourished, with more receivers producing more points than ever before. This year should be no different. According to our projections, the drop-off from the top wideout to the fifth best is just 19 points, a fraction of the equivalent positional drop-off among running backs. In addition, the drop-off from No. 1 to No. 10 among wideouts is a mere four points per game — half of the loss of production among equivalent running backs.
Carolina’s Curtis Samuel and Oakland’s Tyrell Williams are among the late-round sleepers we’ve already identified this season, and you can also look to Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley for some late-round upside. Ridley caught 64 of his 92 targets for 821 yards and 10 touchdowns as a rookie last season and could see that workload increase under new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. Koetter’s No. 2 wideouts averaged 7.0 targets per game over the past seven seasons, per Scott Barrett of Pro Football Focus, potentially giving Ridley one or two more targets per game.
Carolina’s D.J. Moore could also improve. He became the 13th rookie wideout since the league expanded to 32 teams in 2002 to produce 700 or more yards before his age-22 campaign. Other names on that list include JuJu Smith-Schuster, Amari Cooper, Mike Evans, Sammy Watkins, Keenan Allen and DeAndre Hopkins.
Josh Gordon is moving up draft boards after his reinstatement — his average draft position improved from the 12th to sixth round in a matter of days — giving fantasy owners another viable pass catcher. Gordon started all 11 games he played with the Patriots last season, catching 40 of 68 targets for 720 yards and three touchdowns. Tom Brady’s passer rating on throws to Gordon in 2018 was 109.9; it was 96.0 to all other Patriots receivers, including tight ends and running backs, according to data from TruMedia.
One receiver who is often going undrafted but has potential value is Albert Wilson of the Miami Dolphins. Wilson is recovering from a season-ending hip injury sustained last October, but when on the field he caught 26 of 35 passes for 391 yards and four touchdowns as the team’s primary slot receiver. According to the game charters at Pro Football Focus, Wilson has ranked sixth out of 94 qualifying wide receivers in yards per route run from the slot (2.2) over the past two seasons, behind only Michael Thomas, A.J. Green, Tyreek Hill, Antonio Brown and Davante Adams. Wilson resumed practice on Sunday.
(There is also great quarterback depth in later rounds; use that to your advantage.)
Plan for running back injuries
Every position is subject to injury, but because the drop-off among running backs is so severe from the top players to the rest of the field, it pays to insure the position with backups and high-ceiling players toward the end of the draft. According to the Sports Injury Predictor, Marlon Mack, Josh Jacobs, David Johnson, Bell, Kerryon Johnson, Leonard Fournette and Freeman are all running backs potentially selected in the first three rounds who are projected to miss at least two games this season due to injury.
That means you should keep Nyheim Hines (Colts), Jalen Richard (Raiders), Chase Edmonds (Cardinals), C.J. Anderson (Lions) and Ito Smith (Falcons) on your radar. (While Bell and Fournette are on the above list, their backups aren’t likely worth a look.)
Of these backups, Hines has the most fantasy value immediately after the draft. The 2018 fourth-round pick out of North Carolina State touched the ball 148 times for 739 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns as a rookie. His pass-catching ability (63 targets for 81 catches last season, a 78 percent catch rate), coupled with the Colts’ formidable offensive line (fifth best entering 2019, per PFF) should make Hines a valuable asset relative to his average draft position as a 13th-round pick.
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