The Gut Check No.337: PPR Tiers and Mocks

Waldman presents his PPR tiers, value exchanges, and mock drafts from the 1, 6, and 12 spots. 

Imagine you're planning a car trip from Atlanta to Austin. There are several routes you can take. One of them is a 13 or 14-hour trek through Mobile, Alabama, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Houston, Texas. Another takes you through Birmingham, Jackson, and Shreveport.

MapQuest, Google Maps, or your car's GPS will give you the directions, but they won't supply a journey. None of them account for where to stay, where to eat, and what's worth seeing along the way. TripTik's supply those opportunities in abundance. It's why I'm a AAA guy when I'm trying to do more than get from A to B. 

Fantasy rankings are the MapQuest, Google Maps, or GPS of draft "directions". It's a linear presentation that gets you from A to B, but it lacks nuance. When is it smart to deviate from a projection? Which players' projections are on a firm foundation and which are resting atop a sinkhole?

Which routes will enrich the travel experience? More often than we care to admit, the journey matters. 

Depending on the detail of the writer, fantasy tiers are closer to a TripTik.

Every year for the past three, Sigmund Bloom and I have discussed our desire to present more nuanced draft plans that are still easy for readers to grasp. A snap shot of what's going on in our brains without the page looking like jumbo jet's instrument panel that has come to life in a horror movie.

Trust me, you don't want to see the inside of my brain unless you can handle the soundtrack. Bloom's noggin? Hmmm.   

I'm advancing my tiers another step and it looks a bit like the instrument panel of a plane. Most of you are experienced enough fantasy pilots that I don't think you'll be overwhelmed. The journey might actually be easier. 

ABOUT MY TIERS

My 2015 tiers have greater subtlety of detail than previous incarnations. It's not a fully realized fantasy TripTik. I'm not sure it will ever be.  

One of the differences between my tiers and others is that I ordered the players by ADP rather than my ranking. As you read on, you'll begin to understand how these tiers will help you identify multiple, successful ways to build a competitive roster. They also share a thought process and a method for organizing rankings:

  • My rankings (MW).
  • Average draft position (ADP).
  • Round Value (Value):
    • Rx (x equals the round value based on my rankings).
    • Par (my rankings and ADP are within 12 picks for the first 6 rounds; within 24 picks for rounds 7-20).
  • How I value each player's potential this year (Class):
    • U = Underrated - A greater talent than many analysts and fans regard him.
    • S = Safe - A combination of talent, opportunity, and scheme that limits his downside.
    • BB = Boom-Bust - Talent, opportunity, and/or scheme presents high upside, but equal downside.
    • LC = Low Ceiling - Talent, opportunity, and/or scheme presents limited upside.
    • H = High Upside - Talent, opportunity, and scheme presents high upside.
  • Color-coded tiers/values - My tiers are ordered by ADP and the tier headings are color coded. Players are also color coded to match the tier where I value them. For instance, Marshawn Lynch has an ADP of 13, which places him in the Round 2 tier. I value him as a Round 1 player (No.4) overall. Lynch's info is highlighted the same color as the Round 1 tier heading although he's listed in the Round 2 tier. 

Before I share the tiers, let's review relationships among players based on my value of them relative to their ADP. Learning more about these value exchanges should help you formulate draft options that integrate my views with yours. Getting faimilar with these player relationships should also make the tiers more useful. 

VALUE EXCHANGES

Each position has players that we can classify like items in retail:

  • Name Brand - These are the top-tier, premium picks.
  • On Sale - Premium-caliber at a discount value or off-brand merchandise with good value.
  • Thrift Store - Potential steals, but you have to hunt. Even if you locate them, their condition isn't always top-notch.

The exercise of identifying players with each of these values according to your rankings will enhance your decision-making because you'll have a clearer understanding of how you can shape your draft.

These values will change throughout training camp and I'll update both the value exchanges and the tiers at least once in August. 

Quarterbacks (ADP in parens)

Most of my quarterback values are on par with their current ADP. There are three players that I believe offer enough value to target them as potential substitutes for the premium picks. 

It will be tough for any of the quarterbacks in the tiers below Luck and Rodgers to match that duo's output, but they have the skills, surrounding talent, and scheme to meet or exceed the production of Peyton Manning and Wilson. Roethlisberger is my 58th player overall in my rankings, which is a 5th-round value leaving boards at the end of the 6th. Eli Manning and Rivers have 10th-round ADPs that I have 7th and 8th-round values, respectively.
 
If these players aren't available or don't fit the draft plan you formulate, I also recommend passers whose values are on par with their current ADP, but I have classified as Underrated (U), High Upside (H) or Safety and High Upside (S,H): Tom Brady, Matt Stafford, Teddy Bridgewater, and Carson Palmer. Robert Griffin III III is a High Upside player and I have him as a 12th-round with a 16th-round ADP.  
 
I've found that Wilson and Manning sometimes drop a round or two below their ADP and it's good enough for me to take them if there are still worthwhile value exchanges at RB and WR in the rounds to follow.  
 
These eight quarterbacks will offer you enough options to formulate a variety of plans around them. Roethlisberger is the safest bet to reach the top tier at a lower price and allows you to take safer RB2s, RB3s, WR2s with WR1 upside, and a potentially elite TE1.
 
Eli Manning and Rivers should provide QB1 production at ADPs on the fringes of QBBC value. If you take one of this duo over Roethlisberger, you can take a chance on an upside rookie like Ameer Abdullah, get potential value with Joseph Randle (see below), or land a receiver with high-WR2 upside like Jeremy Maclin Vincent Jackson or Martavis Bryant.
 
Brady and Stafford offer similar potential as Eli Manning and Rivers, but they don't come at a discount. Bridgewater, Palmer and Griffin make sound backups with QB1 upside or QBBC candidates.
 
Running Backs (ADP in parens)
 
I have more value differences at running back than the other positions, especially after the opening two rounds. Even so, the first two rounds go a long way toward determining the shape of your draft strategy. 
 
When conducting mock drafts using "expert" rankings and different ADP settings, the "On Sale" and "Thrift Store" tier for the backs I value as RB1s has enough variability that in some drafts, Lynch and Anderson are gone as early as 1.07. Foster or Lynch have more variability than Anderson at this time.
  
I've never been one to tout Randle's talent. It doesn't matter what I think of Randle if Dallas names him the starter and gives him a large enough portion of the ground game behind the Cowboys line. Most projections for Randle value the back as a late 5th-early 6th round talent. These are understandably cautious takes because few believe that Dallas has determined the starter, the allocation of a starting rotation, and in some cases, some wonder if the Cowboys even have its starting RB at this point.
 
Randle's talent or his past issues with the team shouldn't matter. If he's the starter heading into camp, then assign production commensurate with a starter behind an excellent Cowboys line. It doesn't mean you have to assign production in the range of DeMarco Murray's 2014 season, but there should be more optimism for the Dallas starter until we learn the has changed to a full-blown committee .
 
Until we learn otherwise, Randle is a second-round value available in the 5th or 6th round. If you employ the Upside Down Draft Strategy, Randle fits well within this plan. If your league has a flex RB, Randle's current ADP makes him a worthwhile risk-reward as an RB3, but his value is rising.
 
As it continues to rise may find soon enough that he's leaving drafts as high as the 3rd round. This is the line where that uncertainty about the committee split and his talent becomes a more compelling argument. I can't take Randle that high.
 
Rashad Jennings evokes disappointment and skepticism from fantasy owners because he failed to stay healthy during his first tour of duty as a team's feature back. Throw in Jennings' age and the addition of free agent Shane Vereen and fantasy owners aren't touching Jennings until the 7th round.
 
A more optimistic view of Jennings is to compare him with Justin Forsett. Both players have less tread than their chronological ages indicate. Shane Vereen has never earned a starter load, he has his own history of injuries that kept him off the field, and that injury history hasn't dispelled concerns about his size and workload.
 
I have Jennings valued as a 4th-round pick in the same tier as Frank Gore and Alfred Morris. If you buy into that risk-reward of targeting Jennings between the 6th-8th rounds, you can shape a viable Upside Down Strategy with this pool of backs: 
 
It's a pretty strong pool of 17 backs within this range of 6 rounds. You can also use this pool to select a quality RB3-flex option and RB4 reserve if you're not going UDD.
 
When it comes to backs in this block that are on the same time, it's unlikely you can have your cake (Bell, Crowell, Jennings, or Sims) and eat it too (Abdullah, Johnson, Vereen, and Martin). As of July, I'd prefer Abdullah, Johnson, Jennings and Martin. Crowell and Johnson are a toss-up in terms of talent, but the potential of Terrance West mucking things up in Cleveland gives Johnson a clearer path as a cheaper Giovani Bernard than Crowell as Jeremy Hill
 
The Tevin Coleman-Devonta Freeman depth chart in Atlanta is one of the riskiest and more compelling fantasy decisions of the summer. Common sense is in Coleman's favor: He's an early pick of a new coaching regime, he has tantalizing breakaway speed, and he played in a system that utilizes the same outside zone scheme as its bread and butter for the ground game.
 
The comparisons Coleman draws range from DeMarco Murray to Darren McFadden. I lean much closer to McFadden, because Coleman's gait inhibits his ability to generate power with his hips and legs in short spaces. Give him an unfettered running start and a big hole to cut through and Coleman can rip off healthy gains, if not change the game.
 
Ask Coleman to create with penetration in the backfield, change direction in tight spaces, or push for extra yards without the room given to a track star in the blocks, and he's not productive. Coleman may prove to be the exception, but he'll have to show that he change his running style--not his decisions, but his actual physical method of running--to become more a more productive runner in tight spaces. Until them, I don't see the value of the common sense fantasy owners assign to Coleman as the top RB prospect for the starting job--I see a boom-bust running back with similar issues as McFadden in a pro scheme.
 
Freeman isn't a special athlete by NFL standards. He's quicker than fast and he lacks great size and strength. What he possesses in greater supply than Coleman is the ability to change direction and maintain his power base in tight spaces. Freeman has that slippery power of quick backs with good change of direction.
 
If I'm going to put a chip on the Falcons ground game, Freeman in the 8th makes more sense to me than Coleman in the 6th. It's still risky, because of early-round draft politics that often infiltrate coaching decisions. Coleman is Dan Quinn and Kyle Shanahan's pick, Freeman isn't.
 
Atlanta may prove otherwise, but Coleman will have to struggle mightily for the Falcons to give Freeman more than 12-15 touches per game. At this point, I have Freeman projected for nearly 18 total touches per game because I want to see the potential value of an unquestioned starter in Atlanta. Based on Freeman's more proven ability and Coleman's tape, I'm giving those 18 touches to Freeman and 9 touches to Coleman.
 
Allocating a combined 27 RB touches per game seems like a lot for an Atlanta offense that hasn't been good at running the football in recent years. I didn't do this by accident, Shanahan's offense in Cleveland had its backs touch the ball nearly 27 times per game last year. Count on me changing the spread of those touches and dropping the total between 22-25, especially if Atlanta's offensive line suffers another spate of injuries this summer.
 
I'm reticent to endorse either back today, but the potential value is there and I am ready to have my mind changed over the next 5-8 weeks. I'll be monitoring closely.
 
Wide Receivers (ADP in parens)
While I have several divergent opinions on current WR ADP, the greatest volume of differences begin in the 9th round. There are still some early-round differences worth noting. 
 
You must be higher on Geno Smith than most, would be the first thing I would ask when reviewing this list. And I am, Smith has a 13th-round value with my projections as a Boom-Bust player. ADP has Smith as a 22nd-round pick. The 13th round places Smith in the tier of Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer, Sam Bradford and Jameis Winston. It's enough of a difference for Smith that Marshall and Decker sustain value as viable fantasy starters. 
 
Nelson, Marshall and Floyd possess WR1 upside based on their talent and offense. Smith, Bowe and Britt opportunities to maximize their talents to achieve this volume of WR1 production is more remote, but the physical skills are still there.
 
Maclin and Boldin should remain safe options and solid values to build around. In addition to options above, there are several receivers between Rounds 9-15 that I'll choose as my WR3s-WR7s in leagues where I can start 4 in a lineup. My mock drafts will show this in more detail. 
 
Tight Ends (ADPs in parens)
I split this position into tiers within the TE1 label: Top-3 TE, Mid-range TE (4-7), and low-end TE1/high-end TE2. In a PPR league that allows a TE flex, I don't believe the difference between Gronkowski and Graham will be as great as many have it projected. It means, I'm not averse to drafting both Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham this year because I think I can exploit this advantage with mid-round receiver talent that out-performs its station. 
 
If you can't imagine spending a top-12 pick on Gronkowski, take Graham and the end of the second or early third with enthusiasm. I'm also confident in Travis Kelce building on his 2014 season as the No.7 TE. Kelce is the the No.3 TE by ADP, but I have him valued about 10 spots higher than the average fantasy owner.
 
If your projections aren't as robust for Graham or Kelce and Gronkowski is too rich for your blood, I wouldn't hesitate to take Walker, Witten or Rudolph at their values. Donnell and Miller make good TE2s with TE1 upside that offer fantasy owners depth or trade bait. 
 

PPR Tiers

 

Tier Info: I order the players by ADP rather than my ranking:

  • My rankings (MW).
  • Average draft position (ADP).
  • Round Value (Value):
    • Rx (x equals the round value based on my rankings).
    • Par (my rankings and ADP are within 12 picks for the first 6 rounds; within 24 picks for rounds 7-20).
  • How I value each player's potential this year (Class):
    • U = Underrated - A greater talent than many analysts and fans regard him.
    • S = Safe - A combination of talent, opportunity, and scheme that limits his downside.
    • BB = Boom-Bust - Talent, opportunity, and/or scheme presents high upside, but equal downside.
    • LC = Low Ceiling - Talent, opportunity, and/or scheme presents limited upside.
    • H = High Upside - Talent, opportunity, and scheme presents high upside.
  • Color-coded tiers/values - My tiers are ordered by ADP and the tier headings are color coded. Players are also color coded to match the tier where I value them. For instance, Marshawn Lynch has an ADP of 13, which places him in the Round 2 tier. I value him as a Round 1 player (No.4) overall. Lynch's info is highlighted the same color as the Round 1 tier heading although he's listed in the Round 2 tier. 
Opening Rounds 1-3
The only position I have not felt comfortable taking in these rounds based on my tiers is quarterback. Nabbing an early-round quarterback works out when you pick one that produces at a record pace. It's possible that Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers have the firepower to threaten Peyton Manning's records, but I'm not counting on it. As you will see, I prefer opening combinations of RB-WR-TE in any order. 
 
 
I've found that there's enough value exchanges at RB to build a variety of teams I can live with, including selections of Antono Brown, Rob Gronkowski or Le'Veon Bell in the opening round. My favorite early-round 1-2 punch at RB thus far is Marshawn Lynch and C.J. Anderson. It doesn't happen often, but when drafting from the back end, I've had the opportunity to start this way.
 
The back I end up with most often after the first three rounds is Justin Forsett as a late-second or early third-round pick, coupled with Jimmy Graham. Forsett is one of those rare players that is at the intersection of conceptual maturity, physical freshness, and scheme fit.
 
As for the players listed in these opening tiers, I don't have see any surprises. I'm a little lower on Beckham and Julio Jones than the masses, but not enough to debate anyone about taking them in the first round. The same is true for Randall Cobb and Mike Evans.   
 
 
I'm seeking as many picks as possible with "S,H" (Safe and High Upside) as the class and I want to keep my "BB" (Boom-Bust) picks to a minimum. I generally avoid "LC" (Low-Ceiling) players unless I've drafted my way into a corner. 
 
 
I have no problem taking Forsett or Graham in the second round if it sets up an opportunity to take one or both of T.Y. Hilton or Brandin Cooks at the 3-4 turn. If I'm opting for UDD, Gronkowski-Nelson-Hilton-Cooks or Green-Nelson-Hilton-Cooks is a fun start. 
 
If drafting from the middle, Lynch-Green-Cooks also offers promise, especially when you have the choice of plays like Andre Ellington, Golden Tate, Brandon Marshall, or Jeremy Maclin in the 4th as your WR3 and often enough, Travis Kelce in the 5th as your TE.  
 
I'll grab Kelce in the 3rd round if it suits my needs, but he often dropped to the 5th round. Continue mocking this summer to see how Kelce's value changes as the preseason gets under way. If going UDD, Tate, Keenan Allen, Julian Edelman and Andre Johnson are four options that I'd love as a WR3 or WR4.
 
I'd also be satisfied with them as my WR2 if I landed the top two TEs and a RB. If went RB-RB-RB with a combo like Lynch-Anderson and one of either Melvin Gordon III, Lamar Miller, Frank Gore or Alfred Morris, I could live with one of these options as my WR1. 
 
 
If I'm seeking a RB in the 4th round Andre Ellington is the best value even if see a cumulative number of issues that involve injury, Bruce Arians' initial reluctance to use Ellington as a feature back, and the potential for rookie David Johnson to cut into Ellington's workload. Add it up, and there's a boom-bust factor for Ellington.
 
Keep in mind that Johnson's addition is an indication that the team isn't happy with its depth and not necessarily a screaming indictment of Ellington. If the Cardinals back stays healthy and builds on his rookie year, Ellington could shut up those touting the Johnson pick for a couple of years. 
 
 
I myself taking T.J. Yeldon or one of Peyton Manning or Russell Wilson here if players in the tiers above didn't drop. I saw Golden Tate and Keenan Allen drop to the fifth round in more than a couple of mocks with these settings. I often got the chance to take Wilson in the sixth round.
 
Of the non-QBs in this ADP tier that I like the most, Amari Cooper heads the list. I think he's a safe WR3 and maybe even a safe WR2. His upside this year is WR1 and I don't say it lightly. The reason is is route running.
 
There are drafts where I preferred Yeldon. Denard Robinson was the No.27 RB last year from Weeks 5-17 and did it with a struggling offensive line, a pair of rookie receivers, and a rookie quarterback. Yeldon is a better all-around running back and I expect top-24 production at his position. 
 
 
The quarterback I've taken most often in mock drafts is Ben Roethlisberger. He was often available in the early seventh round and I have him as a fifth-round value with statistical upside to produce as a top-three quarterback if his yardage totals remain similar to last year and he increases his touchdowns. With Le'Veon Bell suspended to begin the year and Martavis Bryan another year wiser, it's possible Roethlisberger exceeds 35 passing touchdowns. 
 
Joseph Randle's value is somewhere between the end of the fifth and the late sixth in the mocks I performed. I found myself skipping him more times than not because Russell Wilson would drop to me and I could then take a block of backs like Rashad Jennings, Ameer Abdullah and LeGarrette Blount. I could see bypassing Wilson for Randle and taking Matt Stafford in place of one of these running backs or waiting a couple of rounds longer and pulling the trigger on Eli Manning or Philip Rivers.
 
Randle's ADP us rise. If you're going to be bold, it may be best to take the chance now when the investment isn't as costly. 
 
Round 7 is the range where "Par" is a differential of +/- 24 picks rather than +/- 12 picks. A player that never sniffs the 7th round in expert ADP scenarios is Nelson Agholor. He's long gone.
 
I understand the love, but I'm not on board with the projections. I'll emphatically say the same about Victor Cruz. The Giants receiver seems like wasted pick, because there isn't a receiver I'm aware of that has regained his explosion after experiencing a torn patellar tendon. The swelling may no longer be an issue and Cruz and run through routes in practice, which keeps him off the P.U.P., but until he whips a quality NFL corner pressing him at the the line of scrimmage, I'm not remotely sold on his return to fantasy stardom.
 
 
I find that I'm either taking a back or when presented with Michael Floyd, I can't refuse. Wallace, Johnson and Robinson are all compelling options, but I believe the fantasy owners down on Floyd are overreacting a 2014 season where the total yards dropped by 200, but he YAC was a scintillating 17.89 despite Carson Palmer missing 10 games. As long as Palmer is starting, Floyd is a 5th round value available in the early 7th.
 
The most intriguing player in the 9th round for me is Doug Martin. I've seen running backs have bouts of immaturity after a strong year and come to camp unprepared. I've also seen players fail to mesh with their coaching staff and their games go down the toilet. The fact Dirk Koetter stood up for Martin to keep the veteran during the offseason says something that I want to hear. 
 
Martin is in shape and when he's prepared, he's a top-15 RB in this league. I'm not sure Charles Sims is a top-30 RB in this league if he earns the lead role. The problem here is that Martin doesn't have the political clout to win the job outright unless Sims does something stupid or looks horrible. It's Sims' job to lose and Martin's job to win trust back.
 
Speaking of trust, there will be fantasy owners reticent about Steve Smith and Anquan Boldin. I'll take both of these warriors at this point of the draft until the wheels fall off. 
 
 
Smith and Boldin begin a block of wide receivers that I want as my reserves: Kendall Wright, Kenny Stills, Rueben Randle, Marvin Jones Jr, Dwayne Bowe, Marques Colston, and if they drop, Percy Harvin and Dorial Green-Beckham. If I can land 3-5 of these receivers while I'm selecting a reserves at QB and TE and a team defense between rounds 9-16 then I"m feeling good. 
 

I have to watch Randle and Terrance Williams a little closer, but I think these are players whose trajectories have ended at the same point, but Williams seems to have flatlined, where Randle has climbed after an early trough. I found that at least two of Colston, Wright, Stills, Harvin and Randle dropped enough from their ADP that you can often get 3-4 of them. 
Austin Seferian-Jenkins could be a fast riser in August. I'm waiting to seen how reports of him being uncoverable translates to padded practices and preseason games. Until then, I suspect local writers are a little too excited about the big man. 
 
If I allowed some of my prime QB2 targets to pass me by, I am willing to take a chance on the quarterbacks in the rounds 13-14 tiers. I'm more inclined to wait another round and take a shot on Robert Griffin III. Most fantasy owners have left him for dead. I think he's smart enough, skilled enough, and at this point healthy enough to rebuilt his career as a pocket quarterback. He had the promise before the Shanahans took the path of least resistance and got burned. 
 
 
There's some buzz about Andrew Hawkins in the Cleveland passing game, because the new system will feature routes that encourage running after the catch. It's easy to forget that Dwayne Bowe earned a high draft pick because of his work after the catch at LSU. Bowe was a rugged player in the open field. 
 
Hawkins could be a nice bye week option, Bowe has WR2 upside and he's the only active receiver on this depth chart with primary receiver experience. I'm doubling down on Kenny Britt this year. He didn't have a miraculous turnaround on the field in St. Louis last year, but some might say it's a miracle that Britt stayed out of trouble and become a helpful veteran presence in the locker room.
 
Nick Foles is a good enough NFL quarterback to find Britt more often than the parade of backups that took the field to begin the year. The one good backup in. St. Louis was Shaun Hill. He started Weeks 9 and 11-17. Britt had both of his 100-yard games and 2 touchdowns during that span. Modest production, but something to build on with a veteran passer in Foles. 
 
By the time I finish this article, Ladarius Green's ADP should rise as much as Antonio Gates' drops. I'm not focused on getting either one. Jacob Tamme's move to Atlanta intrigues me enough that if I don't land a second TE between rounds 9-15, I'll wait until the late rounds. Tamme should establish enough rapport with Ryan to see a lot of red zone looks.  
 
 
There are lots of good backups to consider from these final three tiers. There is also the prospect of Cecil Shorts. Two years ago, fantasy owners considered Shorts an oft-injured big-play threat on the verge of breaking out if he could only get a quarterback.
 
Ryan Mallett has the arm to make Shorts and DeAndre Hopkins a dangerous 1-2 punch. It's true Shorts might be little more than a short-term placeholder for Jaelen Strong's development, but I can also see how the could coexist with Strong as a Colston-like big-slot man.   
 

Mock Drafts 

 
These are 12-team, 20-round mocks for PPR leagues with starting lineups of 1 QB, 2RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 flex (RB/WR/TE), 1 DEF, 1 K. I mocked against expert consensus ADP data. 
 
Drafting from 1.01 
 
I did five mock drafts from this spot. I experimented heavily with the first three. The fourth and fifth drafts are the ones I'd roll with. 
 
Draft I
Do you believe enough in the Steelers offense and Antonio Brown to select the Pittsburgh receiver first overall? I can't say I'm completely on board, but I experimented with Brown as my opening pick in one of these mocks. I see potential with that opening gambit even if I'm not entirely satisfied with the results of this mock. 
 
Brown, Justin Forsett and Jimmy Graham as the initial trio of picks is not the problem. I like the balance of three players that I expect to offer top-12 production at their respective positions. The challenge was striking a good balance with receivers, backs, and a starting quarterback between rounds 4-8. In hindsight I would have changed this block of picks, because there's enough upside at wide receiver between rounds 9-14 that I could go heavier on running back. 
 
 
There's not enough upside to my liking to take both Giovani Bernard and Rashad Jennings back-to-back as my No.2 and No.3 RBs. Todd Gurley offers that promise by year's end, which is likely too late if my backs are struggling enough to weigh my team down. If I were to re-do rounds 4-8, I would have stuck with picks 4-7, skipped Boldin and Gurley and taken two of the following three: Joseph Randle, LeGarrette Blount, and Ameer Abdullah
 
I'm not down on Gurley, but my team needs players that I don't have to wait on. I like Jennings and Bernard, but Bernard is a committee back and Jennings has an injury history. If Gurley isn't ready by Week 4, I could be 0-4 and armed with one decent starter at RB. I needed to trust that I could land more quality receivers between rounds 9-16. 
 
John Brown and Pierre Garcon offer that promise. If I waited on a second quarterback, I could have grabbed my choice of Rueben Randle, Kenny Stills, and Kendall Wright. If I didn't draft Larry Donnell, I could have taken two of the three receivers and waited until the end of the draft to take Jacob Tamme as my No.2 TE. 
 
 
This is not a flashy draft. It's one of my least favorites.
 
Draft II
Here's another with an unconventional beginning that I like a little more from the 1.01: a two-tight end, three-RB opening: Rob Gronkowki, Justin Forsett, Jimmy Graham, Carlos Hyde and T.J. Yeldon.  I like this opening for the scarcity that I create with tight ends. I will have trade bait if my team needs it.
 
If I don't, Gronkowski and Graham potentially give me production equivalents of two low-end WR1s. When combining WR/TE rankings in PPR leagues last year, Gronowski was the No.10 fantasy producer and Graham No.15. Travis Kelce, the No.6 TE, was 36th overall and in the range of players like Jarvis Landry and Eddie Royal.  
 
I feel comfortable finding values at wide receiver that will outproduce their draft position and make this 1-2 TE punch worthwhile. The key isn't going for pure upside as much as finding reliable veterans that good quarterbacks trust. Eric Decker and Anquan Boldin fit this description perfectly. They are not idea, WR1s-WR2s, but they should out produce most of the fantasy tight outside the top-5 by a healthy margin. That's all I really need. 
 
 
 
I like my running back choices given the opening strategy. Justin Forsett is the feature back and should catch a lot of passes this year in Marc Trestman's system. Carlos Hyde may have to contend with Reggie Bush and Kendall Wright in some type of committee, but I'd be surprised if Hyde doesn't earn 15-17 touches per game. 
 
T.J. Yeldon and LeGarrette Blount also offer the potential for 12-15 touches per game. As you'll see, I handcuffed this pair in the second half of the draft after focusing on a five-round block of receivers to supplement Eric Decker and Anquan Boldin, including the reliable Marques Colston and the maturing Rueben Randle, who is a value because of most owners over-drafting Victor Cruz
 
Peyton Manning's new offense won't inspire record passing production, but I'm not expecting him to fall outside the top-7 quarterbacks. He's still a safety enough that I'm confident to wait on a high-upside quarterback like Robert Griffin III late in the draft and use those earlier picks on receivers. I see Griffin's upside as a pocket passer, not a runner.  
 
 
The receiver block has big-week upside with Randle, Kenny Stills, DeVante parker, and Marvin Jones Jr. I probably would have benefitted more if I took Dorial Green-Beckham over Denard Robinson. This is a scenario where handcuffing can be a mistake because you're forsaking upside for safety. Robinson was an RB3 last year. I don't think his upside is much greater than a low-end RB2. Green-Beckham's upside is low-end WR1 territory. 
 
This Robinson-Green-Beckham example is a great illustration why rankings and ADP aren't as nuanced or valuable as tiers and other analysis that weighs upside heavier in later rounds. You don't want to forsake strategic thinking because you're following projections and rankings too strictly. 
 
Draft III
The third mock from 1.01 begins with a more traditional RB-RB opening, but I can't let Graham pass me by at the 3-4 turn. You'll see some of the same familiar faces at WR between rounds 6-16.  I should have taken more backs in this draft. I should have taken Ben Roethlisberger in the 7th and went with at least one RB at the 8-9 turn, choosing from Doug Martin, Rashad Jennings, LeGarrette Blount, Ameer Abdullah, Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson Jr, or Devonta Freeman. Wide receivers are easier to come by via the waiver wire.  
 
 

 

Draft IV
Of the 1.01 mocks, this is my favorite. It's a well-balanced team in terms of positional talent, upside, and offensive roles. The opening trio of Le'Veon Bell, Justin Forsett, and Jimmy Graham give me three workhorse players. I'll tolerate Bell's initial absence, because my picks of Rashad Jennings and LeGarrette Blount a the 8-9 turn gives me two players who should produce well early in the season if my Bell handcuff DeAngelo Williams doesn't. 
 
 
Compared to the other drafts at 1.01, I found a better balance with receivers and backs while including Jimmy Graham in the equation. Brandon Marshall may not be a WR1 with the Jets, but it's possible the trio of Marshall, Keenan Allen and Mike Wallace could produce in a way where a hindsight draft in 2016 would have the order reversed. Even with Bell's suspension, I feel like this team is on much more solid ground. 
 
 
I probably should have resisted the urge to make Matt Stafford my QB2, but I liked the value. The Randle, Jones, and Cody Latimer trio of receivers is a decent mix of upside and reliable playing time. I wonder if I would have been better off taking David Cobb over Kendall Wright, but not enough to regret it in July. 
 
Draft V
This is a WR-WR-TE opening that works. It would have been my favorite draft if I didn't take Kendall Wright in the eighth round. It was way too early to take Wright and the opportunity to grab one of Abdullah, Joique Bell, Jennings, Crowell, Johnson or Martin has more appeal for this team that has Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and Amari Cooper as its starting trio of wide outs. 
 
 

 
Nabbing John Brown and Marques Colston at the 11-12 turn is another reason I like this team. I get additional upside and security for my receiving corps at a mid-round price tag. In hindsight I would have taken Dorial Green-Beckham in the 15th round over Matt Jones--once again, it's about upside and not the projections.
 
Drafting from 1.06
I drafted twice from this spot, but I'm only going to share one of them. The other isn't much different and where it is, I've discussed potential alterations with some of the drafts in the 1.01 section.
 
Marshawn Lynch headlines my opening. He won't make it back to me in the second round and I wanted a premium runner in this draft. I'm especially happy that I can also get A.J. Green and Brandin Cooks, follow it up with Andre Ellington, and finish my first quarter of the draft with Travis Kelce. Upside, versatility, and heavy use in their respective offenses are the hallmarks of these picks.
 
Taking Kelce instead of Jimmy Graham afforded me a shot at Cooks. With Kelce's upside and a nice jump into starter territory last year, I'm confident that it will pay off. 
 

When Russell Wilson falls to me in the sixth round, it's hard for me to resist taking him.  It gives me confidence to wait a little longer to take a second quarterback and invest in more receivers with that round 9-13 block that I've been targeting. 

 
Drafting from 1.12

I also did two mocks from the 12-spot and took a similar approach. The one I'm sharing below is the best one. This is always one of my favorite spots to draft. Getting Lynch and C.J. Anderson back-to-back confirms why. I reached a bit for Kelce when a combo of Kelvin Benjamin and one of Golden Tate and Keenan Allen might be more fruitful. At this point of the summer, I found it worthwhile to take Randle at the end of the 5th round, especially when Vincent Jackson in the 6th gives a me a solid WR2-WR3 despite Jackson's perceived upside not what it used to be. 
 
Roethliseberger in the 7th remains appealing and so does a grabbing a couple of backs before embarking on a block of wide receivers between the 11th and 14th rounds.  Feature backs, big-play receivers with red zone prowess, a good quarterback, and a tight end with elite upside, this is one of my favorite drafts of the mocks I did last week.
 
 

Takeaways

  • Use mock drafts to determine value exchanges across positions. For instance, "if you don't take WR Kendall Wright in the 8th round, what RBs are available?" How does this impact the shape of your draft?
  • Incrementally assign more weight to players in your rankings/tiers based on their upside as you pass the halfway mark of your draft. 
  • Determine what those upside factors are for you. I have three, and I don't assign a player with a high upside tag unless two of these three conditions are met. If only one his met, I assign the boom-bust tag: 
    • Physical talent - Does the player have physical skills that make them a mismatch for even top opponents? 
    • Surrounding talent - Does the player have teammates that help or hurt this player's opportunities? 
    • Scheme/Role - Does the scheme or role that this player could earn due to injury or promotion offer enough opportunities for consistent production?
  • If you determine a player is more than 2-3 rounds undervalued and believe strong enough in that assessment, experiment with ways to draft around it. Think of the financial advantages the Seahawks had building a football team around Russell Wilson's third-round, rookie contract? Translate that thinking to a fantasy football context. 
  • Spend time mocking scenarios that you wouldn't normally try. This will help you understand the way drafts are unfolding so you can be prepared with the strategies you actually prefer. 

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