News & Analysis

Fantasy football mock drafts: Breaking a mock down by strategies used

By Jeff Ratcliffe
Mar 26, 2018

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Jan 14, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27) carries the ball past Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Sean Spence (51) during the fourth quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL calendar year officially kicked off this month and the first wave of free agency is squarely in the rear-view mirror. To get a sense of what the fantasy landscape now looks likes, we recently conducted our second PPR mock draft of the year. Will fantasy drafts in August and September look anything like this mock? Probably not. But that really isn’t the point. The goal here is to show how players are currently being valued.

As a fantasy player, you can use this information to start building your 2018 draft board. It’s also helpful to look at how other people approach drafts and the strategies they use to build their rosters. Typically, mock draft fantasy articles go round-by-round and tell you about the picks in each round. While there’s certainly value to that sort of recap, this article is going to dive into the actual strategies displayed by the drafters in this mock. You can find the full results of this mock here.

The early rounds

In terms of roster construction and draft tendencies, best player available was the predominant approach. Nine of the 12 teams in this mock showed no discernable strategy when it came to selecting positions in the early rounds of the draft. That meant a balance of running backs and wide receivers, presumably based on value, for these teams.

Round Pick Drafter Selection
1.01 1 Curtis Patrick Gurley, Todd LAR RB
1.02 2 Tyler Buecher Bell, Le’Veon PIT RB
1.03 3 Scott Barrett Brown, Antonio PIT WR
1.04 4 Walton Spurlin Johnson, David ARI RB
1.05 5 Scott Spratt Hopkins, DeAndre HOU WR
1.06 6 Pat Thorman Elliott, Ezekiel DAL RB
1.07 7 Michael Moore Kamara, Alvin NOS RB
1.08 8 Daniel Kelley Beckham, Odell NYG WR
1.09 9 Dan Clasgens Hunt, Kareem KCC RB
1.10 10 Jeff Ratcliffe Fournette, Leonard JAC RB
1.11 11 Dan Schneier Jones, Julio ATL WR
1.12 12 Mike Castiglione Thomas, Michael NOS WR
2.01 13 Mike Castiglione Cook, Dalvin MIN RB
2.02 14 Dan Schneier McCaffrey, Christian CAR RB
2.03 15 Jeff Ratcliffe Gordon, Melvin LAC RB
2.04 16 Dan Clasgens Green, A.J. CIN WR
2.05 17 Daniel Kelley Allen, Keenan LAC WR
2.06 18 Michael Moore Evans, Mike TBB WR
2.07 19 Pat Thorman Barkley, Saquon FA RB
2.08 20 Scott Spratt Freeman, Devonta ATL RB
2.09 21 Walton Spurlin Cooper, Amari OAK WR
2.10 22 Scott Barrett McCoy, LeSean BUF RB
2.11 23 Tyler Buecher Adams, Davante GBP WR
2.12 24 Curtis Patrick Hill, Tyreek KCC WR

As you can see above, the first two rounds go as you might expect in any draft. However, some interesting patterns emerged for four teams in the early rounds. Let’s start with Buecher’s first eight picks:

Round Pick Selection
1.02 2 Bell, Le’Veon PIT RB
2.11 23 Adams, Davante GBP WR
3.02 26 Diggs, Stefon MIN WR
4.11 47 Bryant, Dez DAL WR
5.02 50 Tate, Golden DET WR
6.11 71 Crowder, Jamison WAS WR
7.02 74 Jones, Aaron GBP RB
8.11 95 Chubb, Nick FA RB

He kicks things off with the chalk pick of Bell at 1.02, but then rattles off five straight wide receivers. While this could have simply been a product of Buecher’s board, he passed up on running backs like Mark Ingram, Jordan Howard, Derrick Henry, and even Jay Ajayi to select Diggs in the third round. This approach allowed Buecher to load up at wide receiver and get excellent value on Bryant and Tate. At the same time, he’s very thin at running back beyond Bell and will need Jones or Chubb to hit. There’s certainly no guarantee of either happening.

Buecher was the most extreme example of zero-RB, but Schneier also went with a wideout-heavy strategy early in the draft. Here are his first eight rounds:

Round Pick Selection
1.11 11 Jones, Julio ATL WR
2.02 14 McCaffrey, Christian CAR RB
3.11 35 Jeffery, Alshon PHI WR
4.02 38 Baldwin, Doug SEA WR
5.11 59 Crowell, Isaiah NYJ RB
6.02 62 Miller, Lamar HOU RB
7.11 83 Wentz, Carson PHI QB
8.02 86 Goodwin, Marquise SFO WR

Unlike what we see with Buecher’s start, Schneier was likely forced to go wide receiver heavy given his spot in the draft. There were 20 picks between his second- and third-round selections, and during that span eight running backs came off the board. That brought the total to 17 running backs and 16 wide receivers off the board at pick 3.11. At that point, the value was higher at wide receiver than it was at running back.

This example shows one of the major pitfalls of snake drafts. The draft can potentially dictate your picks and throw your roster out of balance. While Schneier has a nice group of receivers, he wasn’t able to make up ground at running back. Instead he was forced to take a very volatile duo in Crowell and Miller. Crowell has upside, but he isn’t in the best spot for fantasy value with the Jets. Miller is coming off a forgettable 2017 campaign and is at risk of losing his job to D’Onta Foreman.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have two mock drafters who didn’t select a single wide receiver in the first three rounds. We’ll start with yours truly:

Round Pick Selection
1.10 10 Fournette, Leonard JAC RB
2.03 15 Gordon, Melvin LAC RB
3.10 34 Henry, Derrick TEN RB
4.03 39 Landry, Jarvis CLE WR
5.10 58 Funchess, Devin CAR WR
6.03 63 Woods, Robert LAR WR
7.10 82 Parker, DeVante MIA WR
8.03 87 Foreman, D’Onta HOU RB

Like Schneier, I was stuck in the back end of the first round, but fortunately the draft dictated that my picks were running backs in the first three rounds. It’s important to note that I did not set out with the intention of using this strategy. It’s simply how things worked out based on my board. However, landing three lead backs with RB1 potential gives this roster potent depth at the position. That being said, wide receiver is a bit thin, though I was able to grab three No. 1 options on their respective teams in Funchess, Woods, and Parker. Landry isn’t likely to see as much volume in Cleveland, but he could still prove to be a solid PPR asset this season.

We also saw a quasi-zero-WR approach from Thorman. Here are his first eight rounds:

Round Pick Selection
1.06 6 Elliott, Ezekiel DAL RB
2.07 19 Barkley, Saquon FA RB
3.06 30 Gronkowski, Rob NEP TE
4.07 43 Smith-Schuster, JuJu PIT WR
5.06 54 Jones, Marvin DET WR
6.07 67 Kupp, Cooper LAR WR
7.06 78 Crabtree, Michael BAL WR
8.07 91 Fuller, Will HOU WR

He starts things out with back-to-back running backs. Elliott is solid value in the middle of the first round, but Barkley is the more interesting pick. Yes, we’re operating with incomplete information, but you can expect Barley to be picked here or earlier in most drafts this year regardless of his landing spot in next month’s draft. Thorman then selects the first tight end off the board in Gronk.

Interestingly, he then takes what can best be described as a modified zero-RB approach, selecting wide outs with his next six picks (he also took Emmanuel Sanders in the ninth round). While none of the players he selected are WR1 types, he was able to grab a number of upside options, each of whom could easily finish as a top-20 option at the position. From a roster construction standpoint, this approach is very intriguing.

Quarterback

Round Pick Drafter Selection
6.01 61 Mike Castiglione Rodgers, Aaron GBP QB
6.06 66 Michael Moore Wilson, Russell SEA QB
6.10 70 Scott Barrett Brady, Tom NEP QB
7.01 73 Curtis Patrick Watson, Deshaun HOU QB
7.04 76 Walton Spurlin Stafford, Matthew DET QB
7.11 83 Dan Schneier Wentz, Carson PHI QB
8.08 92 Scott Spratt Newton, Cam CAR QB
9.10 106 Jeff Ratcliffe Cousins, Kirk MIN QB
10.05 113 Daniel Kelley Brees, Drew NOS QB
11.09 129 Dan Clasgens Garoppolo, Jimmy SFO QB
11.10 130 Jeff Ratcliffe Luck, Andrew IND QB
12.04 136 Dan Clasgens Roethlisberger, Ben PIT QB
12.06 138 Michael Moore Goff, Jared LAR QB
12.07 139 Pat Thorman Mariota, Marcus TEN QB
13.01 145 Curtis Patrick Prescott, Dak DAL QB
13.02 146 Tyler Buecher Winston, Jameis TBB QB
13.04 148 Walton Spurlin Rivers, Philip LAC QB
13.06 150 Pat Thorman Mahomes, Patrick KCC QB
13.11 155 Dan Schneier Carr, Derek OAK QB
13.12 156 Mike Castiglione Ryan, Matt ATL QB

At quarterback, the late-round strategy in the fantasy industry appears to have gone too far. The first signal-caller didn’t come off the board until pick 6.01, when Castiglione selected Aaron Rodgers. While there’s ample merit to the approach of waiting at quarterback, this mock simply won’t reflect what fantasy drafters will see in home leagues where Rodgers is likely to come off the board in the second round.

However, once the seal was broken, quarterbacks quickly came off the board with seven more teams selecting a signal-caller between rounds 6 and 10. While some of the quarterbacks selected in this range may not be available in these spots in home leagues, the middle rounds will still be the optimal time to select your first quarterback.

Only three teams took a true late-round approach and waited until at least Round 11 to draft a quarterback. Clasgens pulled the trigger on Jimmy Garoppolo at pick 11.09 and followed up with Ben Roethlisberger at 12.04. In this duo, Clasgens has a safer veteran paired with an upside option, which is a solid tactic if you decide to go late-round quarterback. Thorman took a slightly riskier approach, selecting two upside options with Marcus Mariota at 12.07 and Patrick Mahomes at 13.06. While Thorman doesn’t start the season with a safer fallback, it’s hard to ignore his potential for a massive return on investment if either player hits. Buecher went the riskiest route, picking just one quarterback with Jameis Winston at 13.02. It’s great value for Winston, but pairing him up with another option at the position would have helped shore things up a bit more.

Tight end

Round Pick Drafter Selection
3.06 30 Pat Thorman Gronkowski, Rob NEP TE
4.06 42 Michael Moore Kelce, Travis KCC TE
4.12 48 Curtis Patrick Engram, Evan NYG TE
5.03 51 Scott Barrett Ertz, Zach PHI TE
5.12 60 Mike Castiglione Henry, Hunter LAC TE
6.08 68 Scott Spratt Olsen, Greg CAR TE
6.09 69 Walton Spurlin Graham, Jimmy GBP TE
8.04 88 Dan Clasgens Rudolph, Kyle MIN TE
9.02 98 Tyler Buecher Walker, Delanie TEN TE
9.11 107 Dan Schneier Reed, Jordan WAS TE
10.03 111 Jeff Ratcliffe Doyle, Jack IND TE
10.09 117 Walton Spurlin Howard, O.J. TBB TE
11.07 127 Michael Moore Burton, Trey CHI TE
11.08 128 Daniel Kelley Eifert, Tyler CIN TE
12.05 137 Daniel Kelley Seferian-Jenkins, Austin JAC TE
13.05 149 Scott Spratt Njoku, David CLE TE
14.01 157 Mike Castiglione Ebron, Eric IND TE
15.01 169 Curtis Patrick Kittle, George SFO TE

Our mock drafters didn’t wait as long at tight end as they did at quarterback, but it did take 30 picks for the first one to come off the board. Gronk isn’t likely to last this long in a home league draft, but this is a good indicator of where you’ll have to look if you want to get an elite option. It’s very likely that Gronk, Kelce, and Ertz will all be off the board by the middle of the fourth round. The fantasy drafting community also seems to be very high on Engram and Henry, so expect both players to also go in the early rounds.

In terms of strategy, Kelley was the only drafter to take a late-round approach and not select at tight end in the first 10 rounds. He certainly has the potential for an excellent return on investment if Eifert is able to stay healthy. Of course, that’s a big if, as Eifert has missed 41 games during his five-year career.

My pick of Doyle in the 10th round came before the news that Eric Ebron signed with the Colts. Even without that move, this wasn’t a particularly comfortable option. Doyle is coming off a strong 2017 campaign, but the numerous question marks in Indianapolis make this a suboptimal choice. Given how the tight end selections played out, Rounds 8 and 9 seem to be the best spot to get value at tight end.

At this point, there are a wide range of strategies that have the potential to be successful in 2018 fantasy drafts. Given the strategies deployed by our mockers, the optimal approach appears to be a combination of going running back early and then attacking wide receiver for depth through the middle rounds. From there you’ll backfill with upside running backs in the middle and late rounds. It’s also important to keep an eye on tight end and address the position in the middle rounds. While quarterbacks will likely go much earlier in home leagues, you’ll still be very likely to get away with waiting until the late rounds where your best bet will be to pair an upside guy with a safer option.

Of course, the only way to know if this approach works for you is to get out there any practice in mock drafts of your own. Each draft you do is going to be unique, but getting a lot of reps under your belt during the offseason will prepare you to deal with anything your drafts throw at you this year.

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