The mock draft is dead.
I’m not talking about what Mel Kiper and Daniel Jeremiah and Todd McShay do for millions of page views, to rousing success. Rather, I mean the fantasy mock draft, in which a fantasy player logs on to Yahoo or ESPN and picks the proper format to practice for an upcoming draft, and is at the mercy of the room and its (often goofing off) participants.
You can still join those kinds of mocks if you dare, but the advent of affordable best-ball drafts — thanks to MFL10s (now BestBall10s) and the PlayDRAFT app — has made fantasy football drafting a year-round exercise. With real money on the board (as little as $1 per draft), serious fantasy players are far less likely to run into people drafting Johnny Manziel. And if you do run into folks like that… thank them for their donation!
I draft about 100 best-ball teams every year, for as little as $1 a draft and for as much as the entry to some of the biggest best-ball tournaments that are offered. I find they are the single best way to prepare me for my season-long and high-stakes drafts in August and September. Ultimately, I still want to kick my friends’ asses in the leagues I’ve belonged to for over a decade, but the fact that I can prep better and make real money in the process is a serious improvement over the boring old mock draft.
The other advantage to this is that I can track which players have ended up on my team quite a bit. Nothing tells me what players I like the most more than actually drafting them in real live drafts that matter.
I start drafting best-ball teams at the end of the NFL Draft every year (you can do them before the Draft, but I prefer to wait) and come July, I usually have at least two or three “slow” drafts going at all times. So it also helps me visualize how ADP is rising and falling in real time.
Now, I think it’d be helpful to the people to actually put to paper what I say on the podcast. What I’m doing here is not a new concept — my friend Scott Pianowski at Yahoo has been doing it for years — but these are the players with whom I’ve put my money where my mouth is in best ball thus far.
Ben Roethlisberger (Pit, 23% of my teams) — As is typical at the QB position, I’m just playing the bargain game, and Ben has been one of the best bargains on the board in all drafts thus far, typically going as a QB2 after the top-12 guys come off the board. I like him more than some of the guys going ahead of him. Obviously, I’m taking the “under” on 675 pass attempts this year given Antonio Brown is out of town, but JuJu Smith-Schuster is the best young receiver in the NFL and the Steelers’ offense will once again flow through the pass. Roethlisberger’s tendency for massive ceiling games — especially at home — is great in best ball formats as well.
Carson Wentz (Phi, 23%) — Yeah, I wrote about this one already. Simply, I think Wentz has the upside of the overall QB1 and reports from training camp have been excellent so far. Wentz’s ADP is rising, but it hasn’t risen to the point where I’m uncomfortable taking him.
Cam Newton (Car, 20%) — Ditto to what I said about Carson Wentz. I wrote about Cam in the QB Rankings Report, and the fact that Cam appears healthy after off-season shoulder surgery is utterly massive. He has two of the most popular breakout candidates in the NFL in DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel, and yet Cam’s price is totally suppressed. He was the overall QB3 through Week 12 last year. If you draft him in redraft, just monitor his health and be proactive with picking up a replacement (if you paired Cam with Josh Allen late last year, for instance, you were in good shape for a fantasy championship). Unlike Wentz, though, Cam’s ADP still seems to be way too low.
Jared Goff (LAR, 20%) — Goff may not be as gifted as the three other guys I’ve discussed here, but his 1-2-3 punch at WR — Robert Woods, Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp — is better than anyone else’s. Kupp’s health (knee) is particularly important, given Goff was significantly better with Kupp in the lineup last year. Kupp avoiding the PUP list heading into training camp was the exact type of news I needed to hear to invest more in the still-affordable Goff.
Other Notable QBs
Lamar Jackson (Bal, 13%)
Mitchell Trubisky (Chi, 13%)
Dak Prescott (Dal, 13%)
Duke Johnson (Cle, 30% of my teams) — The Duke pick has been a popular one for me, for multiple reasons. The first and most obvious — he’s requested a trade away from Cleveland, and he’d be a huge boost to several backfields (I think Tampa Bay is a great fit under Bruce Arians). Secondly, even if Johnson stays with the Browns, he’s the obvious #2 behind Nick Chubb for at least eight games, until Kareem Hunt’s suspension is up. He’s currently a free pick in one of the NFL’s best offenses, and if he gets moved to a team where he’ll be more utilized, his ADP is going to utterly skyrocket.
Jordan Howard (Phi, 26%) — I fully expect Miles Sanders to take over lead back snaps in Philly before long, but what exactly do “lead back snaps” mean under Doug Pederson? Howard has been cheaper than Sanders basically since the Eagles drafted the rookie in the second round back in April, and I’ll pay the price of an 8th- or 9th-round fantasy pick with double-digit TD upside, which Howard has. The Eagles had one of the NFL’s worst run games last season, and Howard is a part of a complete overhaul in the backfield. I like him more in best-ball formats because his skill set suggests he has the potential for some multi-TD games interspersed with guaranteed goose eggs. It’s a cheap investment into one of the NFL’s best offenses, and the price will get cheaper if the Sanders hype continues.
Mark Ingram (Bal, 23%) — Ingram has basically been at the center of my draft plan at the RB position all off-season. The Ravens were the run-heaviest team in the NFL following the switch to Lamar Jackson at QB last season. They hired Greg Roman — who designed the NFL’s most dynamic run game with Colin Kaepernick under center in San Francisco — to be their new OC. They then made Ingram one of the 15 richest RBs in the NFL in total contract value. He’s basically an auto pick for me when he’s there in the middle of the fourth round, and his ADP really hasn’t risen at all.
Other Notable RBs
- Matt Breida (SF, 20%)
- Miles Sanders (Phi, 20%)
- Joe Mixon (Cin, 16%)
- James White (NE, 16%)
- Kerryon Johnson (Det, 16%)
- Lamar Miller (Hou, 16%)
- Nyheim Hines (Ind, 16%)
DeSean Jackson (Phi, 30% of my teams) — Yeah, you may see a trend here. I’m all in on the Philly offense. I have been all off-season (I recorded this video in April). The fact of the matter is Carson Wentz has never played with a receiver of DeSean’s caliber as a downfield weapon, and their connection has already been evident to beat reporters in training camp. I think there’s a legitimate chance DJax leads this top-five offense in receiving yards. Check this out: the Eagles WRs last year had 24 receptions of 20 or more yards, 29th in the NFL. Jackson alone had 13, and he did it in only 12 games. Health is a concern, but DJax’s dirt-cheap ADP has made him my single most popular best-ball pick thus far.
Trey Quinn (Was, 30%) — When I get to the end of a best-ball draft (16th round or so), one of my first moves is to check if Quinn is available. I don’t think he’s going to have a huge year or anything, but coach Jay Gruden has already said that Quinn has Washington’s slot receiver job locked up early in camp. He’ll be the fabled SAFETY VALVE for whoever wins this three-man QB battle. I don’t care if you think Washington is going to have the worst offense of all time; getting a player who has a chance to lead his team in receptions in the last round of a draft is always a good pick.
TY Hilton (Ind, 26%) — I’m a little more nervous about this since Andrew Luck’s calf injury hasn’t gotten better since the spring, but the hope is that the Colts are just keeping Luck wrapped in bubble paper to avoid a Kevin Durant situation. I had been absolutely hammering Hilton as a value in the third round of drafts. Hilton is coming off a year in which he played 14 games and averaged 90.7 receiving yards per game. That’s a higher number than in 2016, when Hilton averaged 90.5 YPG and led the NFL in receiving yards (1448). If Luck is healthy, there’s absolute blowup potential here in the second year of Frank Reich’s offense.
Tyler Lockett (Sea, 26%) — Like everyone else, I’m drafting Lockett in the 5th round hoping for a significant increase in targets. That’s because there’s no way he can be more efficient than last year — QB Russell Wilson had a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeting Lockett last year. Lockett had 965 receiving yards on only 70 targets, averaging a ridiculous 13.79 yards per target. He’s only the second WR since the tracking of targets began in 1992 to average more than 13 yards per target while totaling 800 or more receiving yards (Jordy Nelson, 2011). The Seahawks’ passing offense relies on being more efficient than others simply because it throws so much less than others (whether or not that’s smart, well, you decide). But Lockett was impossibly efficient last year, so for Lockett to pay off his ADP he needs a significant increase in target volume. Fortunately, with Doug Baldwin retired, there should be plenty of opportunity for him.
John Brown (Buf, 26%) — Yeah, there’s nobody happier than me about the Smokey camp hype. I’ve drafted both him and the cheaper Robert Foster a ton given their fits with QB Josh Allen’s skill set. But it’s Brown who has eaten up all the camp buzz, working with Cole Beasley and Zay Jones as the Bills’ first-team WRs while Foster has been relegated to the second team. Brown’s ADP is rising with his big camp thus far, but I got in on the ground floor when he was consistently available around the 13th round for the last few months. I’m still willing to pull the trigger on him as an arbitrage DeSean Jackson as he’s still a bit cheaper than DJax.
Golden Tate (NYG, 26%) — I drafted most of my Tate shares before his four-game PED suspension, but in the interim, he’s become significantly cheaper in best-ball leagues. I snagged him in the 14th round in my latest draft, which is a huge discount for a guy who could catch 4-6 passes per game when he returns to the lineup. Honestly, if he continues to fall in drafts and is constantly available as a 6th or 7th WR, my shares of Tate will increase. In redraft leagues, however, he’s probably waiver wire fodder, and will be someone to pick up as a speculative add when his suspension is about to expire.
Other Notable WRs
- DaeSean Hamilton (Den, 26%)
- Mike Evans (TB, 23%)
- DJ Moore (Car, 23%)
- Robert Foster (Buf, 23%)
- Robert Woods (LAR, 20%)
- Demarcus Robinson (KC, 20%)
- Keenan Allen (LAC, 16%)
- Marquez Valdes-Scantling (GB, 16%)
- Taylor Gabriel (Chi, 16%)
Delanie Walker (Ten, 20% of my teams) — Last year, I thought Eric Ebron was the most exciting TE2 on the board in best balls, and he really paid off. I frankly don’t see that kind of value this year, but Walker is the closest, with his cost being driven down by age and injury. The Titans’ offense missed him badly last year, and I still expect him to be the club’s second-most important target, behind Corey Davis.
OJ Howard (TB, 16%) — Most of my teams have at least one TE1 I feel good about on it. This year, that means I usually have to draft one before the 6th round is over. Howard has been the guy in my sweet spot most often, when I don’t like the RBs or WRs available in the late 4th round. When he slips into the 5th round, which happens often enough that it’s not a fluke, I absolutely love drafting him. He’s a freak who has averaged 16.6 YPR in each of his first two NFL seasons. Don’t worry about those old “Bruce Arians doesn’t throw to the TE” narratives. He’s never had one who can move like Howard (few teams have).
Chris Herndon (NYJ, 16%) — Herndon was one of the “dark horse” TE1s I was drafting early. I thought I’d be done drafting him once his four-game personal conduct suspension came down, but his ADP has plummeted — he’s now TE20 on PlayDraft. He’s got serious upside once he comes off suspension, and he’s been one of my favorite TE2s to pair with a high-end TE1 — like George Kittle or Zach Ertz — to try to create a serious advantage at that position. The bad news for redraft leagues is Herndon won’t play until Week 6 as the Jets have a Week 4 bye. Only those with super-deep benches will be able to stash him, but he’s going to be someone to consider adding around the end of his suspension for teams struggling at TE early.
Noah Fant (Den, 16%) — Though I believe TJ Hockenson to be the better of the two rookie TEs from Iowa, I like Fant’s situation more and have invested in him more for fantasy. Just ask Todd Heap, Dennis Pitta, and Mark Andrews (who was a rookie last season) how much Joe Flacco likes to filter targets to the TE position. This is the rare situation in which I’m willing to invest a lot into a rookie TE, but fortunately the cost isn’t high on Fant. He’s always available as a TE2.
Ian Thomas (Car, 16%) — Greg Olsen is 34 and has played a grand total of 16 games the last two seasons after not missing a single game from 2008-2016. The bigger problem is that Olsen’s foot injuries recurred last year, and the Panthers may want to limit his snaps this year to keep him as healthy as possible. Fortunately, the gifted Thomas is a nice player to help with that, as he caught 36 passes in 16 games as a rookie last season. He’s almost always available in the final round of best-ball drafts as a high-upside TE3, and I’ve even done a “TE2 stack” with Olsen and Thomas behind a stud like Zach Ertz.
Other Notable TEs
- Jared Cook (NO, 13%)
- Jack Doyle (Ind, 13%)
- Eric Ebron (Ind, 13%)
- Jason Witten (Dal, 13%)
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