News & Analysis

First round of a 2019 mock draft features 7 RBs

Dec 24, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley (30) rushes against the Tennessee Titans during the second half at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

This article is the answer to the question of whether you can ever mock draft too early. While most have yet to draft for this season, looking ahead to 2019 can be a big part of your 2018 plans. Some of you may be in a one- or two-keeper leagues or you’re just curious to see who should be going at the top of drafts next year. Either way, below is a three-round 2019 mock draft in a 12-team PPR league and includes the players age at the time the 2019 season starts.

We do have a slight change from previous years’ versions of this piece in that we will go ahead and assume the teams that 2019 rookies (and 2020! Coming next week!) will be on by the time they are ready to be part of your fantasy team. We will do the same for any potential free agents (looking at you, Le’Veon Bell). So without further ado, let’s go back to the future.

Round 1

1. Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams (25): After a rough sophomore season, Gurley bounced back in a big way under new coach Sean McVay. Pick any stat and it will show you just how good Gurley was in 2017 — from the 2,000 total yards from scrimmage to the 19 total touchdowns to outscoring the next-closest running back by 50 fantasy points. Gurley will be creeping up in age by next season, but it will only be his fifth season in the league, leaving plenty of tread left on the tires. With a good young quarterback and a coach who has made Gurley the centerpiece of the offense, there’s no reason to expect Gurley not to keep being fantasy’s top back.

2. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants (22): By the time 2019 rolls around, Barkley could easily be the top pick in fantasy drafts and should be in the conversation for years to come. Hell, he was the second pick in the actual NFL draft so being second in a fantasy draft isn’t that much of a departure. When you couple the talent Barkley has, as one of the best running back prospects of the last decade, with the talent around him — Odell Beckham Jr., Evan Engram, and more — the sky's the limit on his fantasy potential.

3. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans (27): Not only is Hopkins exceptionally talented (duh) but what makes him a top-three fantasy pick is the volume. From 2014 to 2017, he’s seen an average of 161 targets in a season — a gaudy 10 targets per game. What’s even more impressive is he’s seen targets from 10 different quarterbacks in that time. Luckily for Hopkins, he, along with the Texans, appear to finally have a long-term solution in Deshaun Watson. Hopkins scored seven times in the seven games Watson appeared before Watson tore his ACL which is very promising for future Hopkins fantasy owners.

4. Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs (24): It’ll be hard to top Hunt’s rookie season but as long as he is the lead back of the new, young Chiefs offense, he’ll still be worthy of a top fantasy pick. With the signing of Sammy Watkins and the continued development of receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce, all of which will see more downfield targets from new starting quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Hunt will have plenty of space up front score points on either the run or pass.

5. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants (26): Beckham will be a free agent after the 2018 season, but I predict he stays with the Giants either on a new deal or franchise tag. He’ll be just 26 when 2019 rolls around and many have already forgotten his unprecedented first three years in the league when he averaged 96 receptions and over 1,350 yards and 12 touchdowns per season. Those concerned with how Barkley’s presence could cut into Beckham’s numbers should rest easy. The Giants averaged 28 rush attempts per game in Beckham’s rookie season and he still saw 130 targets per game. If Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown can both be top fantasy options on the same team, these two can, too.

6. Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings (24): Cook played in only four games his rookie season, but in that short time, he averaged more than 100 total yards in each game and scored twice. By the 2019 season, Cook would be more than a year and a half removed from the ACL injury he suffered during his rookie year and in the second year with new quarterback Kirk Cousins, both of which should propel Cook to the first round of fantasy drafts.

7. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (26): All Evans has done his first four seasons is total at least 1,000 yards and averaged eight scores a season. There may be some concern that the talent around him, which has gotten better over the years, might draw attention away. But in 2013, fellow receiver Vincent Jackson totaled 1,000 yards and Evans still scored 12 times. The next year, Doug Martin rushed for 1,400 yards while Evans totaled 1,200 yards receiving. No matter who he plays with in Tampa, Evans will still be a top fantasy option.

8. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints (26): If I would have told you Drew Brees’ pass attempts would be down 20 percent in 2017, you might have bet Thomas’ stats would have declined too. But Thomas actually finished with more receptions and yards and about the same fantasy ranking. This shows that Thomas’ role in a revamped Saints offense, one with much more runs, is safe and he’ll still be a top fantasy receiver.

9. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys (24): After a rocky 2017, one in which no one knew exactly how many games Elliott would play, I predict he bounces back and has 2018 and 2019 seasons closer to his stellar 2016 when Elliott ran for over 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns. With full 16-game seasons and no looming suspensions (that we know of), the Cowboys offense will ride him again. (It’s not like they’ll have much choice after cutting Dez Bryant and seeing off the retiring Jason Witten.)

10. Derrius Guice, RB, Washington Redskins (22): Guice’s story has happened many times before — first-round talent falls in the draft due to “character issues” only to become a model citizen and the great player we all thought he would be. I believe that will happen with Guice in Washington. The 2018 season will see him work as a first- and second-down back while Chris Thompson complements him in the passing game. But Thompson will be 28 by the start of next season, is strictly a complementary back and has seen more than 13 games in just one season out of his five-season career. Talent usually wins out and Guice has a ton of it.

11. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars (24): A rookie season that totaled 1,300 yards and 10 touchdowns is impressive no matter how high you were drafted. Yet, for some, it wasn’t indicative of Fournette’s ceiling. By 2019, that potential should be realized as the Jaguars will (should) have a new quarterback that doesn’t allow defenses to stack the box like they do now for Blake Bortles. Plus, the Jaguars should still have a top-10 graded run-blocking unit that paves the way for Fournette to run wild.

12. Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers (26): As Aaron Rodgers’ top target in Green Bay, and with a nice new contract too, Adams is locked in as a top-five fantasy receiver for the foreseeable future. For some perspective, former Rodgers top target Jordy Nelson saw an average of 143 targets from 2013 to 2016 (not counting the missed 2015 season due to injury). With that kind of volume, Nelson averaged 93 receptions, 1,363 yards and 12 touchdowns.

Round 2

1. Le’Veon Bell, RB, New York Jets (27): Our first big move sees Bell sign with the Jets in the offseason. As it stands, the Jets have very few offensive weapons to surround new quarterback Sam Darnold. Enter Bell, who will command a ton of money as a free agent, money the Jets will have, as they have the most cap space heading in to 2019. I don’t see Bell having the same workload as he does in Pittsburgh but just running the ball last year, he totaled nearly 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns.

2. David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals (27): The top part of round two in 2019 looks like the first round of 2017 but that’s what often happens when top players suffer an injury and/or get older. Johnson has done both but should still be a big part of the Cardinals offense. The factor that could be more significant is the supporting cast. We don’t know yet how good Josh Rosen will be or if Larry Fitzgerald will be around in 2019. But whether the Cardinals offense is good or bad, Johnson figures to be a big part of it.

3. Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers (27): The breakout the fantasy community has been waiting for finally happened to Allen in 2017 after he totaled over 100 receptions and nearly 1,400 yards. Philip Rivers doesn’t seem to be slowing down either, with the fourth-most pass attempts of his career last year. Allen will be the top target for him the rest of his career, which means he’s a top fantasy receiver.

4. Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints (24): This may seem low for Kamara but it’s also not fair to assume he’ll rush for six yards per carry every season like he did his rookie year. Nonetheless, he’ll be a big part of the Saints offense and will continue to rack up points on the ground and in the air.

5. Rashaad Penny, RB, Seattle Seahawks (23): Ever since Marshawn Lynch left Seattle, the Seahawks have failed to find a suitable heir. They’re done messing around after taking Penny with their first pick in 2018 and have shown a willingness to get back to the run-first style they had in previous years. If that’s the case, Penny, PFF’s second-rated running back in the 2018 class, will be the beneficiary.

6. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers (23): He’s young, his role in Carolina is secure as a souped-up pass-catching back and he already turned in a top-10 fantasy finish in his rookie year. For PPR leagues, McCaffrey is a safe choice in the middle of the second.

7. Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs (29): The first tight end off the board and it’s not named Rob Gronkowski. Welcome to 2019 (some would say that in 2018, too). Kelce would have been the ninth-best fantasy receiver in 2017 and plays a premium position. He’ll also be in the second year of the Mahomes era, which should be a plus.

8. Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals (23): After an uninspiring rookie season, I think Mixon bounces back in 2018 with a 1,000-yard campaign. This will be a result of an improved offensive line, which ranked just 26th in pass-blocking in 2017 but added former Bills guard Cordy Glenn and Ohio State center Billy Price this offseason. Glenn was consistently a top-25 graded tackle before a foot injury last season and Price had the sixth-best run-block efficiency in this rookie class.

9. Melvin Gordon, RB, Los Angeles Chargers (26): While I’ve never been a big believer in Gordon’s talent, I do think his role as the running back of the Chargers has value. He’s posted over 1,400 total yards the last two seasons and will be in a contract year in 2019. It’s a perfect storm for fantasy production.

10. Jerick McKinnon, RB, San Francisco 49ers (27): McKinnon takes the Devonta Freeman in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, which is great news for future McKinnon owners. All Freeman did during his two years with Shanahan was average 1,000 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns plus another 500 receiving yards.

11. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans (25): Henry would be much higher if it weren’t for the Titans constantly pairing him with another back. Even so, Henry will get a majority of the carries in Tennessee by 2019 and should be a good bet for 1,000 rushing yards.

12. Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears (26): By 2019, Robinson will have been more than a year removed from his torn ACL and in year two of new coach Matt Nagy’s system. He’ll also have a year of rapport with quarterback Mitchell Trubisky under his belt and will be the top option on a potentially very good offense.

Round 3

1. Josh Gordon, WR, Cleveland Browns (28): This may be an optimistic look, but Gordon looked like the same old Gordon upon his return at the end of 2017, averaging more than 18 yards per reception on his eight catches. And despite the big contract handed out to Jarvis Landry, Gordon should be Baker Mayfield’s top target in 2019 where the Browns offense is suddenly looking up.

2. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons (30): Jones’ fantasy stock is sure to take a slight dip after crossing the 30-year-old mark along with the Falcons taking receiver Calvin Ridley in the first round. But he’s still Julio Jones and taking him at the first part of the third round is still good value.

3. Ronald Jones, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (22): There are a ton of things to like about Jones, from being a top-40 pick in the draft to having little competition for carries to having studs all around him in the passing game to take the pressure off the line. All of those point to him being the lead back in 2019 and seeing a ton of opportunity for fantasy points.

4. Adam Thielen, WR, Minnesota Vikings (29): After exploding on the scene with 91 receptions for 1,276 yards in 2017, Thielen won’t take anyone by surprise and will be drafted in the first three rounds by 2019. Not only does he get to play with new quarterback Kirk Cousins, but he’ll have (hopefully) a full season of Dalvin Cook to take the pressure off the passing game. Additionally, the Vikings have yet to re-sign fellow receiver Stefon Diggs, which could leave a lot more targets for Thielen in 2019.

5. Jordan Howard, RB, Chicago Bears (24): Howard won’t go near the first-round price tag he carried just a year ago but, despite losing passing down snaps to Tarik Cohen, should still produce 1,000 yards on the ground. It’s not sexy but as a third-round pick, it’s fine value.

6. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs (25): Despite the presence of fellow receiver Sammy Watkins, I expect Hill to still produce the numbers he did in 2017 when he totaled over 1,000 receiving yards. The passing game pie should be bigger now with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, which means the number of targets for Hill should remain largely unchained.

7. D’Onta Foreman, RB, Houston Texans (23): With Lamar Miller declining and the Texans not drafting or signing serious competition in 2018, Foreman will have a massive opportunity for carries in 2018. If he can claim the starting job in an offense led by Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, he should produce significant fantasy numbers.

8. Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons (27): Freeman is one of the older backs still being taken this high but he’s still producing, averaging 4.4 yards per carry last season. His contract extension before 2017 also makes it difficult for the Falcons to cut him before 2020 which means his role should be secure for 2019.

9. Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (31): In previous years, it would be blasphemous for Brown to last this long. But by 2019, he’ll be 31 and could have not one, but two, possible successors to his target share in JuJu Smith-Schuster and 2018 rookie James Washington. He’ll still be the top target for Ben Roethlisberger though, who should still be there.

10. Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns (23): Fantasy players shouldn’t expect much from Chubb in 2018 but he should show enough flashes that the Browns move on from Carlos Hyde and/or Duke Johnson and clear the way for Chubb to see even more touches in 2019. After all, he was the 35th overall pick and it’s fair to assume the Browns view him as a starter.

11. Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills (25): I don’t see the Vikings shelling out big money for Diggs and see the receiver-needy Bills forking over the money to sign Diggs. Quarterback Josh Allen will need weapons and Diggs is a playmaker who will be the WR1 in Buffalo. At the very least, he should be a target hog in Buffalo, even if Allen isn’t accurate enough to throw it to him.

12. Amari Cooper, WR, Oakland Raiders (25): With Michael Crabtree now in Baltimore, Cooper will be the top receiver in Oakland. And to his credit, Jon Gruden-coached teams have finished in the top-half of pass attempts more than they haven’t. If anything, this will be a pick based on volume rather than talent.

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