The calendar has turned to July, which means NFL training camps will soon be starting up and fantasy football is just around the corner. If you haven’t started your fantasy draft preparation yet there’s still plenty of time to get caught up on everything that has happened since Super Bowl 50 in February.
And when it comes to draft prep, there’s nothing better than doing a mock draft. That’s just what 12 Athlon editors and fantasy contributors did in early May. Since this was done a few months ago, it should come as no surprise that plenty of things have changed. For example, since this mock draft took place Tyler Eifert underwent ankle surgery, Arian Foster and Ryan Fitzpatrick both signed one-year deals, Le’Veon Bell was notified of a possible four-game suspension, and Josh Gordon was conditionally reinstated. That’s not all and expect even more developments now that training camps have started.
Below is a complete breakdown of the 12-team, 20-round IDP mock draft we conducted, along with some analysis of my own. This mock draft also can be found in this year's Fantasy Football Preview. This year’s magazine also features more than 400 in-depth player reports including projected stats, a 280-player big board and team-by-team analysis from NFL beat writers as well as other features and content. And for those who enjoy mock drafts, be sure to check out FantasyPros’ Mock Draft Simulator.
12-team, 20-round serpentine-style mock draft based on Athlon Sports standard scoring:
Starting lineup: 1 QB, 2 RB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 1 Flex (RB/WR), 1 K, 1 DEF/ST, 1 DL, 1 LB, 1 DB, 1 Flex IDP (DL/LB/DB), 6 bench spots
Round 1 Analysis: No QB in the first round? Get used to the sight, as I don’t think you will see many go this early for a QB, even if Athlon cover boy Cam Newton is coming off of an MVP season that probably led many to a fantasy championship. No, while there are many opinions when it comes to who should be the No. 1 overall pick, you can’t really argue with starting with Antonio Brown. That’s not the case for the No. 1 RB, as any of the first five off of the board could be that guy. I for one will be very happy if I have the ninth pick and David Johnson is still hanging around. As for me, I went with Miller thinking Allen Robinson or Dez Bryant would still be there for me with my next pick. Oh well, I still think Miller could have a big season with the expectation he will get a RB1-worthy workload in Houston, which was not the case in Miami. (Note: Mock draft was done prior to the news of Le’Veon Bell’s possible four-game suspension.)
Round 2 Analysis: Will Ezekiel Elliott even last this long? The Dallas running back is certainly no sleeper and if anything the injury to Darren McFadden (fractured elbow) only adds fuel to the fire when it comes to his rising draft stock. At this point it’s all a matter of risk aversion and how much you are willing to trust a rookie to be your RB1. As for the rest of this round it’s the expected WR1 and RB1 types, although Sammy Watkins’ stock is likely to drop with his status for the preseason up in the air following foot surgery in April.
Round 3 Analysis: Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton are the first QBs to come off of the board, and while the order could be switched depending on preference, this will likely be the case once the real drafts get started. Other than Doug Martin, the other RBs taken in this round either underperformed last year (Ingram, Anderson, McCoy) for different reasons (including injury) or the jury is still out on (Rawls). As last year showed with guys like LeSean McCoy, Eddie Lacy, DeMarco Murray and others, sometimes wasting an early-round pick on a RB that turns out be a bust is enough to wreck your fantasy championship dreams.
Round 4 Analysis: QBs continue to trickle out with Andrew Luck becoming the third in the first four rounds. Luck was beset by injuries last year but even with better health and the investments Indianapolis has (finally) made along the offensive line, I think it’s perfectly understandable to approach the guy who was supposedly the next sure thing in fantasy cautiously. Speaking of injury, Dion Lewis, Kelvin Benjamin, Julian Edelman are all looking to bounce back after missing all or most of last season because of different issues that required surgery. And has Jordan Reed finally shed his injury-prone label?
Round 5 Analysis: Russell Wilson makes it four QBs in the first five rounds, while the first two IDPs go. No argument that J.J. Watt should be the first IDP taken, but in Round 5? You are expecting a lot of the three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year to produce along the lines of a top-50 overall fantasy player. Same for Luke Kuechly, who finished near the back end of the top 10 fantasy scorers at his position in 2015. Also getting to the end of the RB1 options, at least in terms of expected workload, and even that could be debatable given the propensity of teams to employ more of a committee approach in the backfield. Case in point: both Jeremy Hill and Ryan Mathews have produced decent fantasy numbers before, but will they do so again in 2016?
Round 6 Analysis: Finally a round with more than one QB taken! Well actually maybe we shouldn’t put too much stock in this considering it appears that Tom Brady will end up serving his four-game Deflategate suspension after all. Brady should be just fine starting in Week 5, but when does it make sense to draft a guy you know will miss at least a quarter of the season. Even without the suspension, I prefer Ben Roethlisberger as I think the Steelers offense could be even better this season with Ladarius Green at TE and a recovering Le’Veon Bell likely to not see a ton of carries, at least early on. Speaking of carries, are Ameer Abdullah , Melvin Gordon or Duke Johnson ready to break out in their second seasons? The first two are coming off of offseason surgeries, so be sure to keep an eye on their recoveries during training camp and in the preseason.
Round 7 Analysis: After Ezekiel Elliott in the second round, the next rookie off of the board is Derrick Henry with the second pick of Round 7 (no. 74 overall). The Heisman Trophy winner’s situation is entirely different from Elliott’s, starting with the fact that Henry has DeMarco Murray ahead of him on the depth chart. There’s also the undisputable fact that Dallas’ offensive line is considerably better than Tennessee’s. So is Henry worth taking before say a clear-cut starter like Frank Gore or a more established veteran like a Giovani Bernard or Justin Forsett? The potential is clearly there, but as we have seen all too often in fantasy potential doesn’t always trump opportunity and there’s always risk when it comes to trusting a rookie over a player with a track record.
Round 8 Analysis: The first three rookie WRs come off of the board in Round 8. Of the seven WRs taken in this round, Markus Wheaton or DeSean Jackson could be viewed as the safest because of their situations on their respective teams, while Dorial Green-Beckham arguably has the most upside and Marvin Jones could flourish now that he’s in Detroit and doesn’t have to compete with Calvin Johnson for targets. Frank Gore could end up being a huge steal if he lasts this long, considering he rushed for nearly 1,000 yards behind a shaky offensive line and in spite of the fact that Andrew Luck missed more than half of the season. Yes, age and wear and tear are concerns, but it also doesn’t appear that Gore will be taking a back seat to any other RB on the Colts’ roster just yet.
Round 9 Analysis: Khalil Mack sneaks inside the top 100 players taken and chances are his value will continue to rise as we get closer to the start of the season. An All-Pro at two positions, Mack is a legitimate elite starting option at either DL or LB because of his J.J. Watt-esque ability as a playmaking pass rusher. It wouldn’t surprise me if Ladarius Green’s stock continued to rise as well now that he’s landed in Pittsburgh. After all, Antonio Brown can’t catch EVERY pass Ben Roethlisberger throws. Rounding the first 10 QBs taken are Blake Bortles and Philip Rivers. The former had a big 2015 season, but the latter is no slouch and has a few more years under his belt. Whom do you trust more in 2016?
Round 10 Analysis: Halfway through the mock and we barely have more QBs taken than rounds. More evidence that unlike in years past you can wait maybe even a little longer for your QB? Also, look how far Jimmy Graham has fallen in a short span. A debatable first-round pick just two years ago, Graham’s first season in Seattle was nothing short of a disaster as declining production was compounded by another serious knee injury. It’s possible he could bounce all the way back be a top-five fantasy TE once again, but it’s probably best to lower your expectations or at minimum draft a strong backup option should you decide to take your chances on Graham.
Round 11 Analysis: Near the end of Round 11 we finally have our first defense/special teams to come off of the board. But is Seattle still the clear-cut No. 1 fantasy DST? Last season the Seahawks finished fifth in fantasy scoring and a case can certainly be made that the Broncos, Cardinals or even Panthers (and maybe Texans and Vikings?) are just as appealing options.
Round 12 Analysis: It’s a rookie RB-palooza as five first-year ball carriers are taken, including three in a row at one point. Which one will end up being the most valuable in 2016? It’s hard to tell although the buzz has been pretty positive for Kenneth Dixon and Jordan Howard in particular. C.J. Prosise is interesting because he started at Notre Dame as a wide receiver while Devontae Booker could produce in Gary Kubiak’s zone-blocking, run-oriented offense, if given the opportunity. Taking a flyer on any of these guys at this point in the draft is perfectly understandable and it’s likely the stock of a few of these guys will continue to rise depending on what happens in training camp and preseason games.
Rounds 13 and 14 Analysis: This is the point in the mock where IDPs become more of a focus, especially linemen. While J.J. Watt, Khalil Mack, Muhammad Wilkerson and Carlos Dunlap are long gone, there’s nothing wrong with ending up with Aaron Donald or Fletcher Cox. Also interesting is the QBs that go in these two rounds. The upside of Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston and Derek Carr is obvious, but Tony Romo could be a potential steal if he (and Dez Bryant) can stay healthy.
Rounds 15 and 16 Analysis: Eli Manning in the 16th round? The QB market has definitely changed. I wouldn’t count on being able to wait that long to snag the only Manning now playing in the NFL, but he could be another later-round value should he slip between the cracks. Along those lines, Kirk Cousins was a top-10 fantasy QB in his own right last season. I would rather put my faith in the Giant than the Redskin, but this is another example of how deep the QB position could end up being.
*When mock draft was done in early May, Foster was a free agent. He signed a one-year deal with Miami on July 18.
Rounds 17 and 18 Analysis: Similar to Eli Manning and Kirk Cousins, Matt Ryan could be another steal this late, but Ryan also is a few seasons separated from his best statistical production. Still, as long as Julio Jones stays on the field and the running game does its job, Ryan could very likely find himself back upon the upper tier of fantasy QBs before all is said and done. As has already been mentioned, this mock draft was done prior to Arian Foster signing a one-year deal with Miami. Before this move Foster was an interesting pick. Now, he’s even more intriguing considering the presumption before was that Jay Ajayi was going to get every opportunity to fill Lamar Miller’s shoes as the Dolphins’ No. 1 back. That could still be the case but, provided Foster is completely recovered from the torn Achilles tendon he suffered last October, the former NFL rushing champion could end up being fantasy relevant this season. The same goes for Victor Cruz, who could see plenty of targets (again, if he’s healthy) for the Giants even though Odell Beckham Jr. is now Manning’s No. 1 option.
*When mock draft was done in early May, Fitzpatrick was a free agent. He signed a one-year deal to return to the Jets on Miami on July 27.
Rounds 19 and 20 Analysis: As can be expected, it’s mostly kickers and the necessary IDPs to round out starting lineups in the final two rounds. At the time this mock draft was conducted, I thought the Josh Gordon selection was a wasted pick. Even though he has been conditionally reinstated, I would temper my expectations if you decide to take a flyer on him. Zach Miller could be in line for a breakout season with the Bears now that Martellus Bennett is in New England. Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets seemed to engage in a game of contract chicken the entire offseason before the two agreed to a one-year deal right at the start of training camp. Back in the same situation in which he thrived in 2015, Fitzpatrick immediately vaults into QB2 territory, meaning don’t expect now to get him in this range come draft day.