Fantasy Football

NFL Offseason Fantasy Mock Draft 1.0: Jonathan Taylor, Travis Kelce go early

The NFL's Free Agency Frenzy is still two weeks away. Colleges around the country are having pro days left and right. We're just under two months away from the league's 32 teams starting to onboard new employees. You know what it's a perfect time for?

That's right! Let's do a fantasy football mock draft.

Sounds kinda silly, right? After all, players are going to move to new teams. New rookies are going to come in and shake up depth charts. There's no way that the drafts we're doing in early March will resemble what we see in August.

Well … yes and no. As NFL rosters solidify and we start getting a better handle on certain players' roles within their respective offenses, we'll see names move up and down draft boards. But some things will remain constant. You can expect a lot of the names at the top to say mostly where they are. More importantly, doing mock drafts this early can give you a sense of what range of players might be available at certain points in the draft. You can get a sense of when positional runs might happen, and you can get a sense of when you might need to reach early for a player or when it's okay to sit back and wait.

So, in the name of content science, Michael F. Florio and I dedicated our most recent podcast episode to taking the temperature of fantasy drafters with the first of (hopefully) many way-too-early mock drafts. It was illuminating. For more in-depth, "real time" analysis, check out the pod. Meanwhile, read on for more of my post-game thoughts.

Off and running (backs)

To no one's surprise, the first round was running back-heavy. Sixteen of the first 24 picks were running backs with the first-round exceptions being Travis Kelce at 1.5 (more on that in a bit), Davante Adams at 1.8 and Tyreek Hill at 1.10. But even within this run on runners, there were some notable events.

Florio took Jonathan Taylor with the third pick -- which was more than just a declaration of love for the second-year RB's potential. It's also a shot across the bow for anyone thinking you might be able to sit back and have Taylor fall in your lap. You might not need to reach quite that high for the Colts' back later this summer, but it's hard to imagine him lasting through the entire first round.

The end of the first round featured a bit of an eye-opener with Josh Jacobs going one pick ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. I expect there to be some concern about Zeke's ceiling in an offense now centered around Dak Prescott but I'd still prefer him to a somewhat limited back in a mediocre offense.

Let's get to the elephant in the room -- Kelce at No. 5.

The early consensus is that the Chiefs tight end will be a first-round pick in most drafts. The only question is how high he'll go. When choosing spots for this mock, I purposely chose fifth as a thought experiment. After those first four players come off the board, there's a big decision to be made. Do you take Alvin Kamara, whose production could be greatly impacted by whoever the Saints quarterback will be? Maybe you pick Derrick Henry, who has been a monster as a runner but will never be confused for Kamara with his pass-catching prowess. Or you could pivot and go with a receiver like Adams.

I eschewed all of that and drafted Kelce with the goal of seeing what the rest of my roster might look like. Hey, if you're going to tinker with ideas, there's no better time to do it than a mock draft in March. How'd it turn out? Read on for the answer.

Bulk orders

Once the early rush on running backs died down, it was a matter of waiting to see when the next big positional run would happen. My early prediction was that we'd see a glut of wide receivers coming off the board in the fourth round. That turned out to be one round too early.

The fifth round of this mock saw receivers make up eight of the 12 picks and all of them were players with incredible upside combined with legitimate questions. What is the ceiling for Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods with Matthew Stafford now in Los Angeles? What can we expect from the Steelers receivers in 2021? Will JuJu Smith-Schuster even be in Pittsburgh? And which versions of Odell Beckham and Tyler Lockett should we bank on this season?

The good news is that for every team that took a wideout in the fifth round, that player was his manager's WR2 or WR3. Not having to rely on that player for potential week-winning performances gives them the flexibility to be patient.

Then there were the quarterbacks. Six signal-callers were taken in the sixth round, reinforcing the idea that you might not be able to sit back and wait until the double-digit rounds to fill the position. Especially if you're coveting a player that can add valuable rushing yards.

Side note: Patrick Mahomes was the first QB selected. No surprise there. What was interesting was that he didn't come off the board until the third pick in the fourth round. I fully anticipated seeing him gone at least one round earlier. If the asking price for the game's top quarterback is coming down, that could make for some interesting early round draft decisions.

Surprise!

As with any mock draft, there were a few thunderbolts…

  • Speaking of quarterbacks, I didn't expect Justin Herbert to be drafted as the QB6. Recently, Florio and I predicted the young Chargers star to be the QB8. In that regard, being the sixth quarterback taken isn't egregious. It could be a case of "get your guy", which is understandable. Still, I didn't see it coming.
  • What was far more shocking was seeing rookie Justin Fields go just two picks later. Not only was he selected as the QB7, but he was the first rookie quarterback off the board -- ahead of Trevor Lawrence. That shook me up.
  • Lawrence went one pick later … but Deshaun Watson and Prescott were still on the board. I was certainly happy to have Watson fall in my lap at 6.8 and it made me wonder if fantasy drafters are spooked by the drama happening in Houston. If so, I'll gladly take advantage of the fear to get a player I think has top-3 upside and figure out the rest.
  • Last thing on quarterbacks; One person drafted Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray with back-to-back picks in the fourth and fifth rounds. In a two-QB or Superflex league, that would have been a stroke of genius (though neither was likely to be there that late). But in this format, it felt like a missed opportunity -- especially when you look at their wide receivers.
  • Away from the quarterback spot, watching Michael Thomas fall had the Mad Men theme song playing in my head. If there's concern about what a quarterback change could mean for Kamara, that worry is multiplied when it comes to MT. Nonetheless, I didn't think he'd last until the third round.
  • One of the big fantasy football debates this offseason will center around the TE4. After Kelce, Darren Waller and George Kittle are off the board, who will be next to go … and when? In this instance, we didn't have to wait long for the answer. One pick after Kittle, Mark Andrews was selected. Despite consecutive top-6 positional finishes, there's still an air of volatility with Andrews. I don't think he's a bad choice for TE4 -- personally, I'm going with T.J. Hockenson -- taking him in the third round was too early for my taste. Especially when Hockenson lasted until the top of the seventh.

Gems

A few picks that look like steals (in early March):

  • Ronald Jones (8.3): Maybe people are worried about what happens with Leonard Fournette and the Bucs' backfield rotation. But RoJo finished the season as a top-20 running back who exceeded the expectations of many. In this mock, he was the RB32 going behind David Johnson, Todd Gurley and Myles Gaskin, who all come with far more risk.
  • Jalen Hurts (10.7): In the immediate aftermath of the Carson Wentz trade, the Hurts hype was deafening. That led me to believe that he would be drafted as a top-12 quarterback. I certainly didn't think he would last longer than Fields. Instead, sanity (or was it caution?) reigned. Hurts was the 14th quarterback selected, which feels like something closer to right to me. It looks even better because Hurts was taken by the same person who drafted Lawrence, which gives that roster plenty of upside at QB.
  • Laviska Shenault (12.4): I'm kicking myself a bit for not taking a swing at Shenault earlier. I was a big fan of him coming out of college and touted him as a nice roster depth add for most of his rookie season. With Lawrence seemingly signed, sealed, and delivered to Duval, the optimism for guys like Shenault and D.J. Chark is growing. It will be a surprise if this discount lasts all summer long.
  • Robby Anderson (13.3): Maybe we were scared away by Anderson's weekly volatility. Or maybe everyone's waiting to see how Carolina will address its quarterback situation. Either way, letting a receiver with top-20 upside, who's in line for positive touchdown regression feels like a major mistake. Good on Florio for snagging him when he did.
  • Irv Smith (13.6): This mock draft happened before the Vikings released Kyle Rudolph. At the time, getting Smith midway through the 13th round was good value for a player who is likely your favorite analyst's favorite late-round TE. But after the Vikings cleared the deck by cutting ties with Rudolph, it turned into insane value. The price will be rising rapidly.

My draft

I mentioned earlier that I took Kelce midway through the first round to see what my roster might look like. In the end, it was … meh. But upon further review, I don't think the issue was my first-round pick. Given the chance to do it over (and thank goodness it's only March), I would likely have taken another running back in the third round and doubled up on WRs in the fourth and fifth rounds.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you do mock drafts. See ya next time.

Marcas Grant is a fantasy analyst for NFL.com and a man who is wondering why it took him so long to discover overnight oats. And does that make him old? Send him your signs of aging or fantasy football questions on Twitter @MarcasG or Instagram at MarcasG.

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