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Fantasy Football 2017: Preseason Mock Draft Strategy, Rankings and Analysis

Fantasy Football
August 24, 2017

Fantasy football drafts represent the biggest hurdle between owners and a league championship. 

Owners have other options available to them when it comes to improving rosters. Trades remain a viable avenue and the waiver wire is a good way to dig up production, provided an owner plays his or her cards right and can land, say, a Jordan Howard like many did a year ago. 

But here is the catch: neither option’s door swings open wide without a solid draft. No owner will want to trade with a team lacking assets, and the waiver wire can patch a hole in a boat, not build the thing from scratch.

The draft is the foundation, so let’s provide some resources in the form of a mock draft and general rankings based on a 12-team standard Yahoo league. 

            

Mock Draft

For those new to the fantasy football landscape, a mock draft isn’t going to look anything like the real thing. 

In the real world, quarterbacks come off the board first as potential franchise players, though in hindsight, they’re incredibly difficult to project. In the fantasy landscape, they’re the easiest thing to project on a weekly basis, making it easier to wait until the middle rounds, where owners will still find a recognizable name. 

Quantity is a good way to decide between running back and wide receiver in the first round. David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell are the top-tier scorers at running back because of their usage and ability on the ground and through the air. But they’re alone—for those two, owners can pick from top-tier wideouts like Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., Julio Jones, Mike Evans and A.J. Green

There is nothing inherently wrong with taking a wideout over a running back in the first round. But look at Johnson, for example, who received 373 touches a year ago, and compare it to Jones, who over the course of 14 games received 129 targets. 

With so few backs receiving notable usage and reliably producing on a year-to-year basis (Howard and Ezekiel Elliott came out of nowhere last year while others faded), it is safe to grab one of the big names in the first or second round and stockpile wideouts later. Brave owners could also employ something called the zero running back strategy and ignore the position outright until the later rounds, where they then target versatile pass-catching backs projected to see usage. 

This flexibility is the beauty of fantasy football because almost any approach can work. A mock like the above outlines the basic value for each position, but it is far from a hard rule.

       

Player Rankings/Cheat Sheet

Based on the information above, it’s not hard to see why rankings fall the way they do. 

Let’s expand on the quarterback ideas mentioned. Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers deserves the nod as the top quarterback a year removed from throwing for 4,428 yards and 40 touchdowns. It’s production worth ignoring a different position, though just how much is an eye-of-the-beholder ordeal. 

Passing on Rodgers to load up on skill positions is certainly viable. Let’s look at a few examples of how to counteract the perceived “loss” of skipping on an early round quarterback by pointing out numbers and average draft position (ADP) of some notables from a year ago: 

  • Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins: 4,917 yards, 25 TD, 12 IND, 10.02 ADP
  • Matthew Stafford, Detroit Lions: 4,327 yards, 24 TD, 10 INT, 11.04 ADP 
  • Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys: 3,949 total yards, 29 total TD, 4 INT, 12.06 ADP 

Owners can wait until the double-digit rounds and still find solid fantasy producers under center, which in 12-team leagues is a boon. Grabbing a couple guys later after loading up skill positions means an easy job of projecting which player should have the better day. 

Running backs, as readers can guess, is organized by projected touches and versatility. It remains king of fantasy football regardless of how the actual on-turf game continues to involve.

Look at a bit of history, via 4for4’s Chris Raybon (via Sports Illustrated): “They don’t get paid as much as they used to, but elite RBs are still money in the bank in standard fantasy leagues: the position has accounted for 21 of the top 25 fantasy seasons by non-QBs over the past five years.”

At wideout, the great divider other than targets is touchdowns. This is especially the case once the rankings filter through the target hogs. Rishard Matthews (ADP 11.08), who scored nine touchdowns a year ago, will be quite a bit more valuable than, say, Adam Thielen (ADP 11.04), who scored five. 

Tight end is Rob Gronkowski, Tyler Eifert and then the rest. It’s the most matchup-based position of all, so sort the names by targets and look at schedules to come up with who to draft and when. Tight end feels a bit like playing the lottery outside the top two names, but the right gamble can provide the difference in a few matchups per season.

As mentioned, fantasy is an inexact science. Like the NFL itself, players fall off, others emerge, injuries happen and immeasurable variables from location to playing surface to schematics and beyond skew results. The best thing an owner can do, at least, is enter the fray of a live draft with a baseline of information.  

           

All scoring info, points-against info and ownership stats courtesy of Yahoo standard leagues. Average draft position courtesy of Fantasy Football Calculator.

Read more Fantasy Football news on NerdyFootball.com

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Aaron Rodgers

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Matthew Stafford

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Kirk Cousins