News & Analysis

Fantasy football mock drafts: Drafting for 2018 while ignoring 2017

Jan 1, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) (left) greets New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) after the Falcons defeated the New Orleans Saints at the Georgia Dome. The Falcons defeated the Saints 38-32. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Gonna talk baseball for few paragraphs, sorry. Don’t worry, it’s relevant.

Boston Red Sox outfield Mookie Betts had a monster 2016 season, putting up an offensive WAR of 6.4. Combining that to his 4.8 oWAR 2015 left Betts as a top-three fantasy pick for 2017. And during that 2017, Betts … disappointed. He was still very good — All-Star, No. 6 in MVP voting, 3.3 oWAR — but he wasn’t top-three-in-fantasy good.

So entering this season, the market adjusted. Betts was still a borderline first-rounder according to most people, but there were at least some articles bouncing around that doubted whether he really warranted a first-round pick. Over at ESPN, Eric Karabell was an outlier, keeping Betts as a top-three option and venting on his podcast about how people give too much weight to the previous year.

Fast-forward a few months, and Betts has already bested 2017’s oWAR total (he sits at 3.5 as of this writing) and leads all of baseball in runs, batting average, slugging percentage, OPS, and total bases. Mike Trout, the standard-bearer for best baseball player, has still probably been better, butit’s at least a conversation.

That’s a best-case-scenario example, obviously. Jonathan Villar rode a breakout 2016 into high fantasy status in 2017, fell flat, and hasn’t really recovered.

But the point holds (football coming!). Sometimes we give too much weight to the previous year’s results and ignore all the data that came before. Karabell talks about nearly throwing out the year before in making his rankings. And while that’s probably a bit extreme (especially in football, where fortunes can change wildly), I’m intrigued by the notion.

So I gave it a shot. I joined a couple of 12-team PPR mocks for 2018, with only 2017 ADP data to guide me. It meant I wouldn’t be drafting 2018 breakout players — Alvin Kamara and Jerick McKinnon and Deshaun Watson never had a prayer of falling to their 2017 statuses in 2018 — but it also meant I wouldn’t fall victim to a simple down year.

I followed last year’s ADP data completely, allowing myself three exceptions:

  • Injuries/unemployed players. Last year’s ADP would have had me drafting DeMarco Murray, which … seems like a bad idea.
  • 2018 rookies. I didn’t actually end up drafting any, but I did give myself the option of slotting this year’s rookies into the 2017 information wherever I felt they’d fit.
  • Position availability. I simply picked the next guy up in last year’s data, except when it overloaded a position.

Other than that, I was a complete slave to 2017. It’s a curiosity project more than anything else, but I’ll revisit it at the end of the season to see how it would have fared. Below, let’s look at the rosters I drafted (really, it was one roster, with the second having only a tiny change, because using the same unconventional list meant the results started unifying really fast).

The roster

Round Player Team Position
1 David Johnson ARZ RB
2 Devonta Freeman ATL RB
3 Jordy Nelson OAK WR
4 Brandin Cooks LAR WR
5 Amari Cooper OAK WR
6 Drew Brees NO QB
7 Jordan Reed WAS TE
8 Isaiah Crowell NYJ RB
9 Martavis Bryant OAK WR
10 Carlos Hyde CLV RB
11 Terrelle Pryor NYJ WR
12 Eric Ebron IND TE
13 Matt Ryan ATL QB
14 Ty Montgomery GB RB
15 Kansas City Chiefs DST
16 Dan Bailey DAL K

 

That draft came from the first overall position. For the second draft, I had the fifth pick, and the only differences were David Johnson and Amari Cooper were replaced by Julio Jones and Jay Ajayi. I’ll focus on the draft above for simplicity’s sake.

Quarterbacks

Drew Brees (sixth round), Matt Ryan (13th)

Brees and Ryan were fantasy's No. 2 and 3 quarterbacks in 2016, but fell to 11th and 14th, respectively, in 2017. They are two of the prime bounceback candidates at quarterback for the season, so stocking up on both of them should lead to a productive 2018.

Running backs

David Johnson (first), Devonta Freeman (second), Isaiah Crowell (eighth), Carlos Hyde (10th), Ty Montgomery (14th)

I’d be happy with Johnson and Freeman as my top two backs in 2018 without question. Crowell should be the Jets’ lead back with the majority role if not the bell-cow one — he's no PPR boon, and Bilal Powell remains relevant, but he'll get carries. Hyde could be a fantasy-relevant back if he can beat out Nick Chubb. The only real miss here is Montgomery, and even he only has to beat out a pair of 2017 rookies in Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams who didn’t exactly set the world on fire. All told, I’m calling 2017 a win here.

Wide receivers

Jordy Nelson (third), Brandin Cooks (fourth), Amari Cooper (fifth), Martavis Bryant (ninth), Terrelle Pryor (11th)

In retrospect, I should have allowed myself to adjust for overloading on a single team, because three Raiders receivers seems like a really bad idea. Still, if there’s one team that it makes sense to have a bunch of players searching for a rebound, it’s the Raiders, who are building a 2014 Pro Bowl roster. Cooper is one of our prime receiver rebound candidates, while Bryant was one of the big winners of the NFL draft weekend. If Nelson and/or Pryor can have some bounceback and/or if Cooks can beat out Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, this receiving group has potential, but you can’t really call 2017 a winner here. That said, it’s a veritable zero-WR roster, and I’m not completely devastated by it.

Tight ends

Jordan Reed (seventh), Eric Ebron (12th)

Ebron is (at best) on the wrong side of a timeshare with Jack Doyle in Indianapolis, but Reed has an exceptionally high ceiling when healthy, and you could do worse than Ebron as his handcuff in a pinch. It’s not how you’d draw it up in 2018, but it’s not without its virtues.

Kicker/defense

Dan Bailey (16th), Chiefs defense (15th)

Bailey is fine here. The Chiefs defense isn’t likely to be a great 2018 pick, but then it makes less sense to draft an 11-man unit after a year of changes than a single player.

All in all, this team might not be a 2018 champion, but … honestly, it’s not bad. Other than Montgomery, Bryant, and Ebron, every choice ended 2016 as a fantasy starter (top-12 or -24, based on position), while Montgomery would have qualified on the year's second half.

As I said above, I’ll revisit this roster after the season and see how it would have fared. My hypothesis: No, we shouldn't ignore the most recent year when drafting for fantasy, but there's certainly an argument to be made that we give it to much weight.

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