With the early football team research done, it’s time to get an early feel for draft flow to be ready for the live draft season in Vegas for the Fantasy Football World Championship in September. Here’s a look at a World Championship draft in early July before the LeSean McCoy drama:
My first observation about the 2018 draft season for this upcoming World Championship is the strength of the top RB options. In this draft, there were nine running backs drafted in the first round and 14 over the first 23 picks. As great as each RB selection feels, at the end of the season one or two of these RBs will separate themselves from the field while offering impact and overall championship value.
The key to finding the “special back” in a World Championship draft is a three-down ability with an edge on both TDs and catches.
*** Todd Gurley proved in 2017 he was worthy of being a lead back in the NFL with the skill set to push the bar even higher with further growth improved play by Jared Goff and more development of the Rams’ offense. His edge over Le’Veon Bell is his TB ability while losing some value in catches to Bell, David Johnson, and Alvin Kamara. I love Gurley’s game and upside, but I also know it is extremely tough for an elite player to deliver back-to-back top seasons in production.
*** Le’Veon Bell is a special player with the best opportunity in the league at RB when healthy. He’ll be on the field for almost all the offensive plays by the Steelers. His only knock is his upside in TDs, which falls more on the Steelers offense. If he pushed his way to 16 or more TDs, Bell would almost be a slam dunk to be the first overall pick with a high floor set by his pass catching ability. I can remember back in the early days of Priest Holmes when Fantasy owners shied away from him due to his ten TDs in 2001 despite 2,169 combined yards with 62 catches. Holmes scored 24 TDs in 2002 and 27 in 2003.
*** David Johnson is another high volume back with the ability to produce impact TDs and catches. His injury last year was a wrist issue, so he has a full green light in 2018. Johnson is the focal point of the Cardinals offense with a chance to match Bell stride from stride in touches. His question comes from the changing talent on offense in Arizona. The lack of options in the passing could lead to a step back in TDs compared to 2016 season (20 TDs). His high value in catches and touches does set a high floor each week.
*** Ezekiel Elliott plays behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, but Dallas looks to be in transition at WR and TE in 2018. Elliott will be a top player in the Cowboys offense with growth expected in catches. His scoring chances should regress until Dak Prescott proves he can beat a defense deep with his right arm. His value in TDs tend to be about one per game, but Prescott will steal plenty of rushing TDs at the goal line. I don’t expect Ezekiel to have a top RB opportunity in catches, which leave him a step behind Gurley, Bell, and Johnson for sure.
*** Alvin Kamara will get a high percentage of touches over the first four games in 2018 with Mark Ingram suspended. Last year Kamara was the most explosive player in the league thanks to his ability to make huge plays in both the run (6.1 yards per rush) and passing game (10.2 yards per catch). With a bump in touches, his production per play should regress. Alvin doesn’t project to be a player with 20+ touches per game over his last 12 games of the year unless Ingram has an injury. He checks two explosive boxes, which come in TDs and catches. If given the same opportunity as the top RBs in the game, there is no doubt that Kamara would be worth the first pick overall. He passed the eye test in a big way last year, and he could be a great value pick in the first round if too many Fantasy owners overlook him.
*** Saquon Barkley is the new kid on the block who has the talent to add value in yards, TDs, and catches. The Giants don’t have a great offensive line, but they do have talent in the passing game. Barley should receive a huge part of New York’s touches at RB, but a Fantasy owner needs to speculate on his floor and upside. Last year the Giants struggled to score rushing TDs (5), which leaves that bucket in question in 2018 even with a huge step up in RB scoring. Based on talent, he’s priced right. His impact value should improve as the season moves on.
*** Kareem Hunt will be the top RB that slides this draft season. He had some issues off the field over the winter, and the Chiefs may give some of his touches to Spencer Ware in 2018. Hunt proved to offer big-play ability last year while being active in the passing game (53/455/3). I’d prefer to buy at a discount than bet on the come by pricing him off the RBs list above him here. At the back end of the first round, Kareem should be a nice foundation piece to the puzzle despite being a step below the best looking RBs in 2018.
When reviewing the RBs drafted in the first round, Dalvin Cook is a mistake for me. I know he looked great early in 2017, and the overall RB output by the Vikings projects well this based on their success last season. I can’t see paying full price for a player coming off a significant injury. As time passes this summer and Fantasy owners see Cook on the field, he may push his way into this area of the draft. Ijust can’t make this type of bet in early July.
*** Leonard Fournette is a beast with huge upside in TDs thanks to the Jaguars strong defense and premium on running the ball. Last year Fournette was more active than expected in the passing game, which helped his floor in PPR leagues. As great as he is, Leonard is the back in the first round which comes with the most injury risk based on his rookie season (three missed games) and his last year in college (only seven games played). If he played a full season, Fournette would certainly have 350+ touches with a run at 20+ TDs. Exciting RB in the first round, but insurance is a must.
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The top inventory at WR took a hit in 2017, which is a big season for the change in draft flow this season. When adding back the depth at the front end of the RB position, this is going to create a huge edge at WR for the early draft positions.
Depending on draft flow in the second round, a team picks from an early draft position is going to be able to land a foundation RB plus two WRS with top 12 value. Each one of these decisions won’t be clear on draft day. But at the end of the season, I expect to see some impressive teams built over the first three rounds.
In 2018, the top three WRs have to be Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, and Odell Beckham. Each player can score impact TDs plus catch a high volume of big plays.
Brown has a great resume while playing in a strong offense that allows him to shine in many games. No receiver in the game can match his upside in catches when healthy for 16 games.
Hopkins is just a beast who can make tough catches against the best CBs in the game. With Deshaun Watson back behind center, his scoring ability approaches the best in the game at WR.
As great as Beckham is, he’s coming off an injury. His opportunity for targets can’t match Brown or Hopkins due to strength in his supporting cast in the passing game. The Giants should be much better offensively in 2018, which in turn will help Odell’s scoring ability. Beckham has the talent to be the best in the game while just waiting for the opportunity.
After reviewing the first round, I would be happy to draft Gurley, Bell, or Johnson over the first four picks. If given the opportunity to pick in this area of the draft, I would select Alvin Kamara as my fourth choice. I’ll take his high floor set by TDs and catches while hoping touches improve dramatically in 2018. The Saints will score plenty of TDs while creating yards from him on the ground and in the air.
I would struggle to take Antonio Brown in this area of the draft unless I found my targeted back in the second round. This season my best pairing at RB would be Christian McCaffrey due to his ability to catch passes. For this combo to happen, Brown will need to slide to the middle of the first round while McCaffrey gets overlooked in the second. My second option to draft with Brown would be Jerick McKinnon, but my opinion on this player will be fluid over the summer once I see him in game action for the 49ers.
Teams 10 and 12 of this World Championship draft had an opportunity to draft WR strong rosters.
I like the decision making by Team 12 after the first four picks (Odell Beckham, Julio Jones, Tyreek Hill, and Josh Gordon), but his path does show the risk of getting out at RB with overkill at WR. If I drafted this team, I would have gambled the Derrick Henry made the step forward to elite RB with a top 12 opportunity while bypassing Gordon. By doing this, I’d only need to find one second out at RB, and I would be fine with Corey Davis or Cooper Kupp as my fourth WRs in the fifth or sixth round.
Team 10 could have taken Michael Thomas in the second round to pair with DeAndre Hopkins, which would be a strong starting WR combo. I can understand not passing in Melvin Gordon in the second based on his three-down ability at RB.
Well, that was a quick look at the first round of a World Championship draft with more thoughts coming over the next month or so once I have more inventory of drafts to look at or practice on the playing field.
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