As we approach the NFL season in September, fantasy football draft trends will shift throughout the process. Over the next several months, common trends will be discussed in this space and give way to more nuanced strategy.
Not a lot can be gleaned from fantasy drafts in the month of May, but a few items stood out after participating in several mock drafts. All of them were 12-teamers, mixing in point-per-reception scoring, half-point and standard across varied levels of skilled participants.
Rookies are all the rage
Owners interested in drafting Leonard Fournette, Christian McCaffrey, Dalvin Cook and Joe Mixon must prepare to spend dearly. The first two bounced between the top two rookies drafted in the second and third rounds, regardless of scoring system.
What surprised the most was the willingness by owners to pay for Cook and Mixon. Since neither situation is clear yet, perhaps part of the willingness to spend can be attributed to the time of the year. These are mocks, thus making owners less cautious. At any rate, all of the four backs came off the board in the first five rounds in every draft.
Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis has been going in the range of Rounds 5-8, depending on the scoring format. He went earliest in a non-PPR. His size makes Davis a weapon in the red zone, which likely was the logic. Only receivers John Ross and Mike Williams consistently appeared before Round 13.
Tight ends O.J. Howard, David Njoku and Evan Engram all have been chosen inside of 16 rounds in each draft, which comes as a mild surprise. It probably is the Hunter Henry effect, since rookie tight ends rarely contribute in fantasy.
Wide receiver pool is an ocean
Once the consensus top three running backs (David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott) came off the board, the wide receiver dam broke in all of the drafts.
In one draft, six of the first 12 choices were wide receivers. The second round was consumed by wideouts, as well, with six (and a TE) going. Round 3 featured seven more receivers. Amazingly, this wasn’t even a PPR draft!
In the first eight rounds, 44 of the 96 picks were wideouts. Four or more went in every one of those rounds. It cooled off to 32 chosen in the second half of the draft. That was the hottest wideout draft of the lot, but the others were still very much wide receiver-laden.
Early player valuation wildly differs
This theme is nothing new to anyone who has drafted year over year. The first few players always tend to come off the board in a general pattern, while the subsequent rounds provide roller coaster-like inconsistency. As draft season wears on, we typically see more uniformity and fewer outliers.
An example of this is found in values of Baltimore Ravens running backs Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon. The latter is suspended four games and still managed to go earlier than West in a couple of drafts. West is hardly anything special, but he proved quite capable in 2016 and currently has a leg up on Dixon. Make a note of his potential depth value.
Another case would be Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr. He fell all the way to the 10th round in one league, but Carr was chosen three rounds earlier in another — both with the same general group of participants and scoring parameters. My interpretation of such a wild swing is two-fold: 1) There is real fear about his durability and, more likely, 2) people seem convinced Marshawn Lynch will turn back the clock a few years. Both perspectives are exaggerated.
Washington Redskins rusher Robert Kelley was drafted several rounds after rookie Samaje Perine in multiple mocks, whereas only one time was it flipped — and only by three picks. The best value of this backfield, at least in PPR, may be Chris Thompson, who was selected just once before Round 14.
Be fully aware of player trends before drafting as they directly impact the ability to land targets. Understanding that perceptions vastly differ ultimately forces gamers to make decisions of just how early they are willing to take specific players. It helps eliminate the last-second scramble of frantically searching for a recognizable name when draft swings don’t go your way.
Mocks don’t draw a precise road map — much like using average draft placement data — owners get only a general idea of how early or late spending trends can manipulate draft plans.