With free agency and the NFL Draft squarely in the rear view, the ribbon has officially been cut on the 2017 fantasy football draft season.
Well, not really.
But the major puzzle pieces needed to create team and player projections with some semblance of intelligence are now in place, and that’s cause for celebration here at Footballguys HQ. To mark the occasion, 12 staffers got together to draft the first all-Footballguys MFL10 league of the upcoming season.
If you’re unfamiliar with the MFL10 format, you can check out this handy primer our Justin Howe wrote last year. But if you have no interest in learning about or trying MFL10s for yourself, and just want some early ADP and player analysis to help you start prepping for your redraft league, you should still find this article useful.
MFL10s are best ball leagues, which means your best scoring players at each position are automatically inserted into your starting lineup each week. There are no lineups to set, no waiver wire, and no trades -- only the draft. The format places a bit of a premium on high-ceiling players as opposed to those with safer floors. It also requires you to take a slightly different approach to roster construction than traditional redraft leagues, but otherwise you won’t find a significant difference between MFL10 and traditional PPR redraft ADP.
Below are the results of the first four rounds of the staff league, along with some of my takeaways from each round. If you’re interested in what happened after Round 4, the full draft results are available here.
1.01 Justin Bonnema - Elliott, Ezekiel DAL RB
1.02 Stephen Holloway - Johnson, David ARI RB
1.03 Sigmund Bloom - Bell, Le'Veon PIT RB
1.04 Jeff Haseley - Brown, Antonio PIT WR
1.05 Alex Miglio - Beckham, Odell NYG WR
1.06 Justin H - Gordon, Melvin LAC RB
1.07 James Brimacombe - Jones, Julio ATL WR
1.08 John Lee - Evans, Mike TBB WR
1.09 Simon Shepherd - Freeman, Devonta ATL RB
1.10 Chris Feery - Thomas, Michael NOS WR
1.11 Phil Alexander - Nelson, Jordy GBP WR
1.12 David Dodds - Green, A.J. CIN WR
Jordy Nelson - The guys I would have been comfortable drafting with my first pick were all gone by 1.07, leaving me to decide between a second tier running back (likely LeSean McCoy), A.J. Green, and Nelson. I stayed true to my rankings and went with Nelson, who finished less than a point behind Antonio Brown for the PPR wide receiver scoring crown last season. Nelson posted elite WR1 numbers (> 19 points per game) eight times in 2016, which tied Brown and Odell Beckham for the league lead. Besides the addition of Martellus Bennett, there weren’t any significant offseason personnel changes in the Green Bay passing game. Nelson seems locked into his team leading 24% target market share from a season ago, and the knee injury that washed out his 2015 is now another full year behind him. MFL ADP has Green going six spots ahead of Nelson, which shouldn’t be the case. One guy is tied to Aaron Rodgers and a perennial top-5 offense, the other to Andy Dalton and a questionable offensive line that may have trouble providing enough time for downfield routes to develop. Give me Nelson, who has finished no lower than WR3 in his last two healthy seasons.
David Johnson - Despite what I just wrote about Green, Dodds got nice value landing him four spots below his current ADP. On a per game basis, Green’s production was right there with Julio Jones’ and Odell Beckham’s a season ago. But any time Johnson doesn’t go with the first overall pick in the draft, he’ll get my vote for best value. If he hadn’t rushed for a single yard last season, Johnson still would have finished as a top-20 running back (and top-30 wide receiver) in PPR leagues. Simply stated, Johnson is the best player in fantasy football and if you have the opportunity to get him on your team, you must take it.
Ezekiel Elliott - This isn’t a knock on Elliott or his fantasy prospects, but Justin taking him over Johnson and LeVeon Bell was egregious. As good as Johnson was through the air last season, Bell was better. His 6.25 receptions per game were topped only by Antonio Brown, Larry Fitzgerald, and Green in 2016. In fact, Bell was a better fantasy scorer on a per game basis than Johnson was last season. If not for injury and suspension concerns, Bell would be the no brainer top player in fantasy. Taking Elliott over two players who provide such an unfair advantage didn't add up to me, so I asked Justin for his reasoning:
“Johnson and Elliott are equal to me, but I give Zeke a slight advantage because the offense is more likely to repeat what they did last year. Arizona makes me nervous. Bell's injury history makes me nervous as well. If Elliott gets a little more involved in the passing game (a likely scenario in my opinion), he's the top running back. I understand it's super risky to pass on Johnson and Bell, but Elliott did finish as RB2 in PPR leagues last year despite not getting the same treatment as a receiver. I love Johnson, but fear he's coming back to earth this year (still think he finished top five). 20 touchdowns is not happening again.”
Justin is one of my favorite fantasy writers, so I don’t want it to seem like I’m picking on him here, but I refuse to buy what he’s selling on Elliott for a number of reasons.
Is the Dallas offense really more likely to repeat what they did last year than Arizona? The strength of the Cowboys remains their offensive line, but with Doug Free retiring and Ronald Leary landing with the Broncos in free agency, they suddenly have depth issues up front. Dak Prescott had a historic rookie season, but the Cowboys will play a first place schedule this year and Prescott has to prove he can replicate his success against tougher competition, after opposing defensive coordinators have had a full offseason to gameplan for him. For what it’s worth, Vegas set the over/under for Cowboys wins at 9.5 after they won 13 games last season, which insinuates regression for the team as a whole.
Why hope Elliott will get more involved as a receiver, when we already know Johnson or Bell will absolutely anchor their team’s respective passing attacks?
Elliott finished as the cumulative RB2 in PPR scoring as a rookie, but my goal is to win as many weeks as possible. Johnson had a staggering nine games with more than 25 PPR fantasy points last season. Elliott had only four.
Why can’t Johnson score 20 touchdowns again? He’s in rare company as a touchdown maker through two years in the league. Check out the names on the short list of running backs in NFL history to score 30 or more total touchdowns through their first two NFL seasons. Even if another 20 is asking a lot, how many other backs are you confidently penciling in for 15+?
2.01 David Dodds - McCoy, LeSean BUF RB
2.02 Phil Alexander - Hilton, T.Y. IND WR
2.03 Chris Feery - Murray, DeMarco TEN RB
2.04 Simon Shepherd - Ajayi, Jay MIA RB
2.05 John Lee - Cooper, Amari OAK WR
2.06 James Brimacombe - Jeffery, Alshon PHI WR
2.07 Justin Howe - Howard, Jordan CHI RB
2.08 Alex Miglio - Hopkins, DeAndre HOU WR
2.09 Jeff Haseley - Gurley, Todd LAR RB
2.10 Sigmund Bloom - Gronkowski, Rob NEP TE
2.11 Stephen Holloway - Baldwin, Doug SEA WR
2.12 Justin Bonnema - Robinson, Allen JAC WR
T.Y. Hilton - With David snatching my preferred pick -- LeSean McCoy -- at the turn, the decision to go with Hilton was an easy one. Like my selection of Nelson before him, Hilton dominates targets in an offense we can safely project to score 25+ points per game. Maybe he doesn’t play up to the career year he enjoyed last season (Hilton’s 1,448 receiving yards led the league), but I know what I’m getting here -- a top-12 weekly finish in at least half his games, with a couple of 150+ yard box scores mixed in. I briefly considered Doug Baldwin and Amari Cooper here. None of the running backs on the board felt like they warranted an early second round pick, but there’s no doubt I’ve dug myself a hole at the position.
Doug Baldwin - Stephen Holloway got a steal at 2.11. There’s no way DeAndre Hopkins or Alshon Jeffery, both of whom were picked earlier, are better bets for a WR1 season than Baldwin. Baldwin managed a top-8 PPR finish in 2016, despite Russell Wilson hobbling through various injuries. Assuming Wilson is healthy, there’s a strong chance Baldwin bounces back to his 2015 form. You’ll recall over the final eight games that season, Baldwin was the best fantasy receiver in the league outside of Antonio Brown.
Alshon Jeffery - Jeffery is going with the 32nd pick on average in MFL10s, and Brimacombe took him 18th here. I’m all for reaching for your guy if you don’t think he’s making it back to you on your next pick, but no thanks on having my second pick tied to Carson Wentz. Wentz finished 29th in yards per pass attempt last season, and was bottom-10 in percentage of un-catchable passes thrown. For Jeffery to pay off, not only does Wentz need to improve significantly, he also has to command targets in a crowded passing game that features Jordan Matthews, Zach Ertz, Darren Sproles, and Torrey Smith. In head coach Doug Pederson’s first year on the job, no Eagles receiver reached a 20% target market share. Aside from Tyreek Hill (who can barely be considered a wide receiver), no pass catcher with a sub-20% target share finished inside the top-28 fantasy wide receivers in 2016.
3.01 Justin Bonnema - Bryant, Dez DAL WR
3.02 Stephen Holloway - Thomas, Demaryius DEN WR
3.03 Sigmund Bloom - Miller, Lamar HOU RB
3.04 Jeff Haseley - Cooks, Brandin NEP
3.05 Alex Miglio - Allen, Keenan LAC WR
3.06 Justin Howe - Watkins, Sammy BUF WR
3.07 James Brimacombe - Fournette, Leonard JAC RB
3.08 John Lee - Kelce, Travis KCC TE
3.09 Simon Shepherd - Landry, Jarvis MIA WR
3.10 Chris Feery - McCaffrey, Christian CAR RB
3.11 Phil Alexander - Mixon, Joe CIN RB
3.12 David Dodds - Crabtree, Michael OAK WR
Joe Mixon - Terrelle Pryor and Davante Adams were receivers I liked in this range, but with Nelson and Hilton already in toe, this pick was always going to be a running back. For me, it came down to a decision between Mixon and Marshawn Lynch, and I decided to swing for the moon. His workload is difficult to project at this point, but my intuition is telling me 3.11 is much lower than we’ll see Mixon drafted come August.
For starters, I can’t imagine the Bengals being willing to take on Mixon’s PR nightmare if they didn’t think he can come in and make a difference from day one. And while Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard are other capable backs on the roster, it’s entirely possible they’ll be competing to back up Mixon. Bernard still needs to prove he’s healthy enough to start the season after tearing his ACL in late November, while Hill has been three yards and a cloud of dust for two straight seasons after a promising rookie year. Mixon is better than both incumbent backs at what they do best, and has especially monstrous upside as a receiver. If the LeVeon Bell comps are even 75% accurate, this is a home run swing that can win me the league.
Dez Bryant - Bonnema may have reached on Elliott as the 1.01, but he redeemed himself by landing Bryant at the top of third round. Bryant has been going around pick 17 on average in MFL10s since May 1st, and Justin landed him here at pick 25. In the 13 games he appeared in last season, Bryant finished as a weekly top-12 wide receiver seven times. Only seven other receivers had weekly WR1 finishes in a higher percentage of their games played. And of course, no pass catcher has Bryant’s nose for the end zone. His multi-touchdown upside can be rivaled only by Rob Gronkowski, giving Bryant the high weekly ceiling you’re after in this format.
Jarvis Landry - It’s not as though Landry doesn’t belong in the third round. He’s settled in as a threat to catch 100 passes each year. But the format I chose for this article demands I pick someone, and it’s Landry for two main reasons. First, Simon drafted running backs (Devonta Freeman and Jay Ajayi) with his first two picks. If I were in his boat, I’d be aiming for a WR1 with greater weekly upside than Landry. Landry recorded a top-12 finish in just over a third of his games in his first season playing in Adam Gase’s system, which barely placed him inside the top-20 wide receivers, despite his cumulative WR13 finish.
And second, the Dolphins assumed more of a run-first identity under Gase once they settled on Jay Ajayi as their lead back. Ajayi’s first game with 20+ carries last year was in Week 6 vs. the Steelers. Prior to Week 6, Landry saw double digit targets in four out of five games. After Week 6, he cracked double digit targets in just two out of nine games. Throw in the anticipated emergence of DeVante Parker in year three, and the one thing Landry relies upon for fantasy value (heaps of targets) may not be there this season.
4.01 David Dodds - Tate, Golden DET WR
4.02 Phil Alexander - Rodgers, Aaron GBP QB
4.03 Chris Feery - Diggs, Stefon MIN WR
4.04 Simon Shepherd - Adams, Davante GBP WR
4.05 John Lee - Reed, Jordan WAS TE
4.06 James Brimacombe - Cook, Dalvin MIN RB
4.07 Justin Howe - Moncrief, Donte IND WR
4.08 Alex Miglio - Hyde, Carlos SFO RB
4.09 Jeff Haseley - Ware, Spencer KCC RB
4.10 Sigmund Bloom - Hill, Tyreek KCC WR
4.11 Stephen Holloway - Fitzgerald, Larry ARI WR
4.12 Justin Bonnema - Pryor, Terrelle WAS WR
Aaron Rodgers - I’m far from a proponent of taking a quarterback early, yet there I was drafting Rodgers about a round-and-a-half before the next QB came off the board. In retrospect, the correct play here would have been to take another wide receiver with this pick (Pryor and Adams -- two guys I was considering late in round 3 -- were still available), and then a quarterback in the next two-three rounds who can get me 90% of Rodgers’ expected production. Ultimately, I looked at the list of players available and saw nothing but question marks at running back and receiver. Although I could have easily cobbled together a respectable quarterback platoon in the mid-late rounds, Rodgers led the league in weekly QB1 finishes last season, and (barring injury) is likely to again. Owning Rodgers will also maximize my point totals in the weeks he hooks up with Nelson for multiple touchdowns.
Terrelle Pryor - Pryor has been going around pick 40 on average in recent MFL10s and Bonnema lands him here at pick 48. While Pryor’s fantasy prospects in Washington recently caused some hot debate among staff members, I’m in the camp that says Pryor has fantasy WR1 potential playing with Kirk Cousins. Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson leave behind 36% of Washington's overall targets from last year (including about 33% of their red zone targets), so opportunity shouldn’t be a problem. Pryor moves from one of the least efficient passing offenses in Cleveland (5.8 yards per pass attempt) to one of the most efficient in Washington (7.8 yards per pass attempt). Even if target volume were a concern, the increased quality of those targets is enough to offset it. Pryor’s physical peers are the best wide receivers in the NFL and he was better as a technician last year than most give him credit for. I can count at least five wide receivers picked ahead of Pryor in this draft who don’t possess half his upside.
Tyreek Hill - In fairness to the venerable Sigmund Bloom, I see the case for taking Hill about nine spots ahead of his ADP. Hill’s unrivaled big play ability gives him the massive weekly upside you’re looking for in this format. The fact he averaged only 5.3 total touches per game last season, however, puts him at great risk of disappearing from the box score completely in any given week. But Bloom doesn’t need to worry about those down weeks in the best ball format, since another receiver will automatically take Hill’s place in his starting lineup. And if Andy Reid can be believed, Hill will be used more as a wide receiver this year, which may allow him to establish some consistency. While I understand the pick, if the play here was for a boom/bust wide receiver, I can’t see taking Hill over Pryor or Martavis Bryant, both of whom have a legitimate shot at becoming weekly WR1s.