Because fantasy football is a year-round sport.
All 32 NFL teams participated in the first-ever virtual draft last week, which means it’s officially mock draft season. Digging through the rubble of the NFL draft isn’t always easy. Predicting roles for new running backs, quarterbacks and receivers is much easier once training camp starts. As of right now, they’re still just prospects with destinations. Their fantasy draft positions will continue to evolve over time as hype builds and falls and teams come out with depth charts. Between you and me, I’m ahead of the game. I know where these players will fall in the draft, and I can tell you which ones will bust.
With the final pick in the first round, the Chiefs selected RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire from LSU. He is known for his receiving ability and elusiveness. At just 5’7” and 207 pounds, he might not be the Chiefs’ first option at the goal line. Kansas City is still hanging onto Damien Williams, who I expect will steal a pretty good chunk of CEH’s workload. What he does have going for him, however, is that Patrick Mahomes wanted Kansas City to draft him. If Mahomes told his GM to draft D’Andre Swift or Jonathan Taylor, the Chiefs would have done so. CEH has a pretty safe floor, but he’s probably not going to be a three-down back when the regular season starts. Until I hear otherwise, I won’t draft him until the third round.
Unlike years past, there were no teams looking to fill a lead back position for Week one. CEH is the closest we have to that this season, and that will probably be a committee approach in Kansas City. RB D’Andre Swift was taken by the Lions with the third pick of the second round. The junior out of Georgia is a sturdy back with afterburners the Air Force would be envious of. Swift was the top running back prospect on a lot of boards. RB Kerryon Johnson hasn’t been able to stay healthy in his two seasons with Detroit, and there’s a strong probability that Swift takes the reins in the offense. Unfortunately, the Lions run game will probably play second fiddle to its passing game yet again. Swift is a third to fourth-round pick for me, pending news that he is taking on lead duties.
Few running backs in the history of college football can match Jonathan Taylor’s resume at Wisconsin. He is one of two college players to put together back-to-back 2,000-yard seasons, and he won the Doak Walker Award twice. The Colts drafted him with the ninth pick of the second round. Marlon Mack was productive with Indianapolis in 2019, and I don’t expect them to leave him on the bench. Taylor is going to have to wrestle away carries from Mack to be a viable fantasy option. Indianapolis has one of the best offensive line units in the NFL, so Taylor has great potential if he can work his way up the depth chart. I would draft him near the back of the fifth round, and I wouldn’t start him until he breaks out.
With RB Todd Gurley out of the picture, the Rams drafted Cam Akers with the 20th pick of the second round to fill his spot. On their roster, LA has Darell Henderson, who they drafted in the third round of last year’s draft, and Malcolm Brown, who has been with the team since 2016. At Florida State, Akers found a way to produce behind poor offensive line play. Unfortunately for him, he will feel at home behind the Rams line. If the Colts’ offensive line is a brick wall, the Rams’ offensive line is a brick wall backdrop from a high school production of West Side Story. Akers has the starting role in his sights, but the Rams might limit his ceiling. The fifth round will be his resting place until Los Angeles’ depth chart becomes more clear.
In non-dynasty formats, rookie quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends shouldn’t be drafted before the ninth round. It’s extremely rare for a rookie tight end to produce in fantasy. In the last decade, only Rob Gronkowski and Evan Engram produced the top 10 fantasy seasons as rookies. Quarterbacks are usually limited by their ability to run in their rookie seasons. Kyler Murray snuck into the top 10 last season because he had over 500 yards on the ground. Joe Burrow could be an anomaly, but he won’t be worth what you pay for him.
Wide receivers can be productive in their rookie seasons, and they have been recently. Terry McLaurin, A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf had stretches of excellence last season as rookies. I suspect that Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Justin Jefferson and others will be relevant in 2020. The key to utilizing rookie wideouts is knowing that they don’t usually do anything until the second half of the season. Once they become acclimated into their systems, they become more consistent. What happens every year is fantasy owners jump on rookie receivers and drop them a few weeks into the season when they don’t produce. When you’re looking at rookies in the late rounds of your draft, consider taking sophomores instead. With older players, it is easier to know in the early weeks whether you drafted an asset or a bust.