With free agency and the NFL Draft squarely in the rear view, the ribbon has officially been cut on the 2016 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 back in February. 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 staggering difference between MFL10 and traditional PPR redraft rankings.
Below are the results of the first five rounds of the staff league, along with some of my takeaways from each round. If you want to see what happened after Round 5, the full draft results are available here and you can view everyone’s complete roster here.
1.01 Chris Feery - Todd Gurley, RB LA
1.02 Stephen Holloway - Antonio Brown, WR PIT
1.03 Simon Shephard - Le’Veon Bell, RB PIT
1.04 Jason Wood - Odell Beckham Jr., WR NYG
1.05 Devin Knotts - Ezekiel Elliott, RB DAL
1.06 Jeff Pasquino - Rob Gronkowski, TE NE
1.07 B.J. Vanderwoude - Julio Jones, WR ATL
1.08 Phil Alexander - DeAndre Hopkins, WR HOU
1.09 James Brimacombe - Allen Robinson, WR JAX
1.10 Justin Bonnema - David Johnson, RB ARI
1.11 Alessandro Miglio - A.J. Green, WR CIN
1.12 Aaron Rudnicki - Dez Bryant, WR DAL
DeAndre Hopkins - I had my hopes up Julio Jones would slip one more spot to me at 1.08, so getting stuck with Hopkins in the first round felt like a booby prize. Coming into this draft, I wanted to see how things would play out if I took a wide receiver in the first three rounds (MFL10s are a great sandbox for testing out different draft strategies), so while David Johnson (my RB2) was tempting here, he was never really in consideration.
I debated the merits of A.J. Green and Dez Bryant before settling on Hopkins. Green mysteriously saw his lowest number of targets per game (8.25) since his rookie season last year. With the departures of Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones from Cincinnati, it wouldn’t be a shock for Green to see between 10 and 11 targets per game like he did when he finished as the WR4 in both 2012 and 2013.
I have Bryant ranked ahead of Hopkins, but I wasn’t sure how the rest of the staff would value him coming off a lost season. The foolish notion he may still be on the board when my next pick (17 overall) came up kept me from pulling the trigger in the middle of round one.
It’s not that Hopkins was a bad pick. He had eight games with at least 24 PPR fantasy points last season (the baseline I use for elite weekly wide receiver performances), which trailed only Jones’ 10 among wide receivers. My concern is just two of those elite performances came in the Texans final eight games. numberFire’s JJ Zachariason did a great job breaking down the cause of Hopkins’ dip in target volume during the second half of 2015, and why we should probably continue to expect very good, but not elite numbers from him moving forward. Ultimately, I viewed Hopkins as the safest of the three options I was considering, which is probably not a good tie breaker to use in a best ball league. If I had to do it over, chances are I’d go with Green.
David Johnson - With Le’Veon Bell still on the mend, it’s not difficult to make the case for Johnson as the PPR RB1. After taking over Arizona’s starting job in Week 13, Johnson led the league in running back PPR scoring by nearly 15% over the next closest back (DeAngelo Williams). Buoyed by an offense that scored over 29 points per game last season, Johnson is primed for a monster year. I’m not buying the notion a nearly-washed Chris Johnson will eat into his touches in a significant way. Justin Bonnema did well to get him as the fourth running back off the board. Also, #NeverForget.
Todd Gurley - It’s the first round, so calling any of these picks a reach is sort of...reaching. But I was surprised to see Gurley come off the board first overall and even more shocked to see three running backs taken in the first five picks. I’m not particularly down on Gurley, but if I’m taking a running back ahead of Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr., and Jones this season (chances are I won’t be), it will be one tied to an elite offense (i.e. Bell or D. Johnson), rather than one hitched to Jeff Fisher, a rookie quarterback, and the least talented receiving corps in the league.
2.01 Aaron Rudnicki - Devonta Freeman, RB ATL
2.02 Alessandro Miglio - Lamar Miller, RB HOU
2.03 Justin Bonnema - Jordy Nelson, WR GB
2.04 James Brimacombe - Mike Evans, WR TAM
2.05 Phil Alexander - Alshon Jeffery, WR CHI
2.06 B.J. Vanderwoude - Sammy Watkins, WR BUF
2.07 Jeff Pasquino - Amari Cooper, WR OAK
2.08 Devin Knotts - Keenan Allen, WR SD
2.09 Jason Wood - Adrian Peterson, RB MIN
2.10 Simon Shephard - Brandin Cooks, WR NO
2.11 Stephen Holloway - Demaryius Thomas, WR DEN
2.12 Chris Feery - Jarvis Landry, WR MIA
Alshon Jeffery - As I mentioned earlier, this pick was always going to be a wide receiver. After Bonnema sniped my preferred choice -- Jordy Nelson -- I was happy to land Alshon Jeffery, who reached double-digit targets in seven of the eight games he finished last season. There’s no doubt Jeffery is an injury risk, but dealing with a few missed games is less worrisome in best ball leagues since a bench player is automatically plugged into your lineup when your starter misses time. Jeffery is a darkhorse to lead the entire league in targets this season. Pairing him with Hopkins anchors my team with two receivers who are guaranteed monstrous target shares in their respective offenses.
Adrian Peterson - Peterson led the league in rushing and finished last season as the PPR RB2. Nothing about his situation has changed for the worse, and Jason Wood was able to get him as the RB7, arguably making Peterson the best value of the first two rounds. This tweet from Rotoworld's Rich Hribar points to some progression in the touchdown department for Peterson.
Adrian Peterson converted just 4 of 16 carries from the 5-yard line in last year for TDs and still had 11 rushing TDs.— Rich Hribar (@LordReebs) May 17, 2016
Before last season, Peterson had converted carries from inside his opponent’s five yard line into touchdowns at a 47% clip (nearly twice as frequently). After making the pick, Wood had this to say:
“Not really a huge Peterson fan this year, but I think the new stadium can only help the offense in aggregate, which means AP should safely be a fantasy RB1 for at least another season.”
Devonta Freeman - On the surface, drafting last year’s cumulative RB1 (by a mile) at the top of the second round doesn’t sound like a bad idea. My issue with Freeman is that aside from a five game stretch (Weeks 3-7) where he accumulated 55% of his season-long fantasy production against mostly terrible run defenses, he looked pretty ordinary. Over the last seven games of 2015, Freeman topped 3.4 yards per carry in just one contest. And with last year’s third round pick Tevin Coleman presumably healthy, the volume Freeman enjoyed last season (22.5 total touches per game) might not be there to prop up his counting stats again.
3.01 Chris Feery - Doug Martin, RB TAM
3.02 Stephen Holloway - Brandon Marshall, WR NYJ
3.03 Simon Shephard - Kelvin Benjamin, WR CAR
3.04 Jason Wood - Cam Newton, QB CAR
3.05 Devin Knotts - Jamaal Charles, RB KC
3.06 Jeff Pasquino - Mark Ingram, RB NO
3.07 B.J. Vanderwoude - Eddie Lacy, RB GB
3.08 Phil Alexander - Randall Cobb, WR GB
3.09 James Brimacombe - Thomas Rawls, RB SEA
3.10 Justin Bonnema - Carlos Hyde, RB SF
3.11 Alessandro Miglio - Jeremy Maclin, WR
3.12 Aaron Rudnicki - T.Y. Hilton, WR IND
Randall Cobb - Had my DFS life partner, B.J. Vanderwoude, not taken Eddie Lacy right before my turn, I would have been tempted to deviate from my planned WR-WR-WR start. It may not feel like it, but it was less than a year ago Lacy was being taken first overall in fantasy drafts. He was a prime-age player, who dominated his team’s backfield snaps, caught passes, and had through-the-roof touchdown potential thanks to his association with Aaron Rodgers. It didn’t end up working out for Lacy last year because, well, he was fat.
But now Lacy is looking rocked up, playing for a new contract, and besides re-signing James Starks, the Packers did nothing to address the running back position during the offseason. With Jordy Nelson and Green Bay’s starting offensive line back to full health, all the reasons we loved Lacy at this time last year are once again viable, yet his price tag has been discounted by two and a half rounds.
Maybe it was the sting of missing out on Lacy that led me to choose another bounceback candidate from Green Bay -- Randall Cobb -- by the slimmest of margins over T.Y. Hilton (excellent value pick by Aaron Rudnicki to land Hilton with the last pick of the round).
Not much went right for Cobb last season. First, Nelson’s knee injury robbed the Packers of a threat on the outside to stretch the field and draw away defensive attention. Then he suffered a shoulder injury in the preseason that continued to hamper him at least through the Packers Week 7 bye.
Assuming Cobb (who’s shockingly still only 25 years old) and the Packers offense are back to full strength, an 80-1100-8 receiving line isn’t far from a baseline projection for this season. Those numbers would land him inside the Top 15 wide receivers most years, so I was happy to land him at WR19.
Brandon Marshall - As much as I loved B.J.’s Lacy pick and Rudnicki taking Hilton, I was really hoping Marshall would continue to slide. Marshall finished last season right behind Hopkins with seven elite PPR fantasy weeks (minimum 24 fantasy points), and was the cumulative WR3. The third round is too late for a proven stud receiver who commands such massive target (29%) and touchdown (42%) market shares.
I suppose Marshall’s age (32) is a concern, but the main factor driving down his asking price is the Jets unsettled quarterback situation. Even if Ryan Fitzpatrick doesn’t re-sign (which I still can’t see happening), I’m not assuming Geno Smith will tank New York’s offense to the point Marshall fails to return at least third round value. None of Marshall’s upside was built into this price for Stephen Holloway, who now boasts the wide receiver trio of Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, and Marshall. If our respective WR-WR-WR starts to this draft were twins, Holloway's would be Arnold Schwarzenegger and mine would be Danny DeVito.
Kelvin Benjamin - I don’t have a huge problem with any of the picks in this round, but I would have taken any of Cobb, Hilton, Jeremy Maclin, or Julian Edelman (who went in the next round) ahead of Benjamin. Could Benjamin see 146 targets next season like he did in his surprising Top-15 rookie year? Simon Shephard better hope so because Benjamin’s 6.95 yards per target were downright tight-endish. The notion Benjamin is some sort of red zone monster also seems misguided. While it’s true Benjamin dominated red zone looks for Carolina as a rookie, he converted only three touchdowns on 17 targets (17.6% conversion rate). The league average red zone touchdown conversion rate in 2014 was 22.5%.
4.01 Aaron Rudnicki - Greg Olsen, TE CAR
4.02 Alessandro Miglio - Andrew Luck, QB IND
4.03 Justin Bonnema - Julian Edelman, WR NE
4.04 James Brimacombe - T.J. Yeldon, RB JAX
4.05 Phil Alexander - C.J. Anderson, RB DEN
4.06 B.J. Vanderwoude - Jordan Reed, TE WAS
4.07 Jeff Pasquino - Jordan Matthews, WR PHI
4.08 Devin Knotts - Aaron Rodgers, QB GB
4.09 Jason Wood - LeSean McCoy RB BUF
4.10 Simon Shephard - Michael Floyd, WR ARI
4.11 Stephen Holloway - Tyler Eifert, TE CIN
4.12 Chris Feery - Russell Wilson, QB SEA
C.J. Anderson - After drafting three consecutive wide receivers, it was definitely time to switch my focus to running backs. In addition to Anderson, I had my eye on LeSean McCoy (see below) and Matt Forte (see further below) at 4.05.
I’m far from confident Anderson was the right pick over McCoy, but I decided to swing for the fences. Anderson started only seven games in 2014 and still managed to rank third in the league with six elite running back fantasy performances (minimum 22.5 fantasy points), proving he has a first round ceiling.
While the follow-up to his breakthrough 2014 campaign was disappointing, I’m convinced we would never have seen so much Ronnie Hillman had Anderson not suffered a preseason foot injury that caused him to struggle out of the gate. After healing up over Denver’s Week 7 bye Anderson looked back to his explosive self, running for at least 4.5 yards per carry in all games but one and exceeding six yards per carry five times.
The problem from a fantasy perspective was that Anderson remained mired in an even timeshare with Hillman, which won’t be the case again this season. The Broncos matched Miami’s front-loaded restricted free agent offer sheet to Anderson, guaranteeing him $7.6 million. Hillman was eventually brought back also, but on a one year deal with only $500,000 guaranteed. Fourth round draft pick Devontae Booker is in the mix too, but I expect him to play a complementary role at Hillman’s expense, while Anderson is given every opportunity to live up to his big free agent deal. Considering the strength of Denver’s defense and the questionable state of their quarterback depth chart, it’s clear the Broncos will be relying heavily on their running game to move the ball. I’m penciling Anderson in for about 20 total touches per game.
LeSean McCoy - I can’t envision a non-injury-related scenario where McCoy doesn’t finish the season as a Top-12 running back, so I’m sure Wood was pleased to land him here as the RB16 -- over a full round below his early ADP. Jason’s team is looking good on paper after adding McCoy to Beckham, Peterson, and Cam Newton. Maybe the rest of the staff is scared of an expanded role for Karlos Williams, coming off his hyper-efficient rookie season? Personally, I’m not worried about Williams siphoning McCoy’s value. In McCoy’s healthiest stretch of the season last year (Weeks 6 through 13), he was on the field for about 80% of Buffalo’s offensive snaps.
T.J. Yeldon - Yeldon is currently going in the middle of round five in early MFL10s, which is closer to where I’d be targeting him. Jacksonville’s addition of Chris Ivory all but guarantees Yeldon won’t once again benefit from handling over 30% of the team’s total touches (rushes plus receptions per start). A few days after Ivory signed, I wrote Yeldon’s ceiling is likely capped at low-end RB2 if both backs remain healthy, and subsequent comments from Jaguars’ Head Coach Gus Bradley have cemented that theory for me. Even though I’m a fan of Yeldon’s game and the fact he’s a lock for third-down duty, I wouldn’t have taken him ahead Anderson, McCoy, Dion Lewis, and Forte.
5.01 Chris Feery - Allen Hurns, WR JAX
5.02 Stephen Holloway - Latavius Murray, RB OAK
5.03 Simon Shephard - Emmanuel Sanders, WR DEN
5.04 Jason Wood - Danny Woodhead, RB SD
5.05 Devin Knotts - Doug Baldwin, WR
5.06 Jeff Pasquino - Jeremy Langford, RB CHI
5.07 B.J. Vanderwoude - Dion Lewis, RB NE
5.08 Phil Alexander - Matt Forte, RB NYJ
5.09 James Brimacombe - Golden Tate, WR DET
5.10 Justin Bonnema - Donte Moncrief, WR IND
5.11 Alessandro Miglio - Matt Jones, RB WAS
5.12 Aaron Rudnicki - Larry Fitzgerald, WR ARI
Matt Forte - I almost went with Forte in the previous round, so I was delighted when he fell into my lap here in the fifth. Forte won’t be racking up many of those 25-30 touch games that made him a perennial Top-5 fantasy running back with the Bears. But even if he’s only on the field for the 53% of snaps Chris Ivory left behind in New York, Forte projects as a solid RB2. He didn’t see much of a decline in efficiency during his age-29 season (Forte’s 0.82 PPR fantasy points per touch ranked seventh out of 25 running backs with at least 200 total touches), and he’s moving to an offensive scheme that dovetails nicely with his receiving skills. Chan Gailey offenses have produced at least 80 combined running back receptions in each of his last three seasons as a head coach or offensive coordinator, while Forte has more total receptions than any other running back since entering the league in 2008.
Matt Forte - You didn’t think I’d get through the entire article without a single Barry Horowitz moment, did you?
In all seriousness though, I felt lucky to grab Forte over two full rounds below his current ADP, especially considering my WR-heavy strategy and Anderson not being a sure-thing as my RB1.
Matt Jones - I wasn’t a fan of Allen Hurns at the top of the round either (regression for all Jacksonville pass catchers is inevitable this year -- a topic for another article), but his high weekly ceiling plays well in this format so I landed on Jones.
On one hand, Miglio did well to snag a running back in round five who we have to project for about 18 touches per game at this point. On the other, I have to wonder if Jones can be effective enough to keep the job all season.
Among running backs with at least 100 rushing attempts, Jones’ 2.76% fumble rate trailed only Ryan Mathews (2.83%) and Ameer Abdullah (2.80%). And while his 3.4 yards per rush attempt as a rookie were thoroughly unimpressive, it’s much more of a concern Jones particularly struggled against base defenses. On first down carries, Jones ranked 57th out of 58 qualifying running backs with just 2.76 yards per carry.
Washington back-up Chris Thompson flashed as a third-down back last year and could cut into Jones’ upside as a receiver. There are also quite a few in the draft community who think highly of seventh round pick Keith Marshall, who lit up the scouting combine and would have gone much higher if not for concerns about his knee.
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