2014 Fantasy Football Mock Draft: Best Pick for Each Spot in the 1st Round
Your fantasy football draft is around the corner. Pop quiz, hot shot—who are you going to take in the first round?
The first round is fraught with peril, capable of making or breaking your fantasy season in one fell swoop. Never fear, your first-round sherpa is here.
Here is a pick-by-pick analysis of a solid first round. There is a selection for both standard and points-per-reception (PPR) scoring formats.
As usual, running backs take precedence in the first round, particularly in standard scoring formats. There is a somewhat popular theory extolling the virtues of eschewing running backs early in fantasy leagues, but that is a dangerous game.
Top running backs put up consistent points on your fantasy squad, and there aren't too many to go around compared to other positions. If you don't take a running back early, you could wind up with a lackluster starting duo that might drag down your entire squad.
Of course, receivers get a big bump in PPR leagues, which is why they creep up in the PPR section of this first-round mock.
Why no quarterbacks? Simply put, no quarterback is worth a first-round pick in these scoring formats. The relative positional scarcity is far greater at other positions, and drafting a quarterback in the first round will put you behind the eight ball.
With all that, let's dive in, using my personal rankings as a guide.
Pick No. 1: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Adrian Peterson will be back this season.
The Grand Poobah of running backs didn't quite match his record-threatening MVP season from 2012 last year, and he fell to seventh in fantasy scoring among ball-carriers as a result.
The drop-off was somewhat understandable, as even by Peterson's lofty standards, repeating his glorious 2012 season was simply a pipe dream. Still, he was the top pick in many drafts, and his relatively lackluster season resulted in 1,266 yards rushing and 10 touchdowns on the ground.
Peterson remains one of the league's best running backs—perhaps the best, if we are simply talking about his abilities as a runner. He also has the Minnesota backfield all to himself after the free-agent departure of Toby Gerhart (Jacksonville), including the goal-line work.
Prorated to 16 games, Peterson, who participated in 14 contests, would have garnered 36 percent of all fantasy scoring opportunities among skill-position players in Minnesota last season. That is to say, Peterson either carried the ball or was targeted on 36 percent of all non-penalized offensive plays last season if we prorate his statistics to 16 games.
He has been a huge part of that offense and should continue on that path in 2014.
PPR Pick: LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
What Peterson lacks in pass-catching ability, LeSean McCoy has in spades.
McCoy was the third-best PPR back last season, and he has always been a big threat out of the backfield. He caught 52 passes out of 64 targets last season for 539 yards and a pair of touchdowns, par for the course since he took over the starting gig in Philadelphia.
Even with Darren Sproles around to take away some of those targets out of the backfield, McCoy should grab around 50 receptions this season. More importantly, he should continue to thrive in that Chip Kelly offense and challenge for top PPR honors this season.
Pick No. 2: LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
McCoy quite nearly made the top of this list.
The Philadelphia Eagles have become an offensive powerhouse, and McCoy is the generator. He enjoyed a career year in 2013, surpassing 2,100 total yards from scrimmage and coming in second behind the Chiefs' Jamaal Charles in standard fantasy scoring among running backs. With a few more rushing touchdowns, he would have been right at Charles' heels.
There shouldn't be much difference this season if McCoy can stay healthy.
Sure, the Eagles may use Sproles a bit more in the passing game, but nobody else in that backfield is going to keep McCoy off the field.
PPR Pick: Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
Who could argue with taking last year's top running back here?
Charles is a pass-catching machine out of the backfield, and he has the checkdown king in Alex Smith tossing him the football. He garnered 104 targets last season, a ridiculous number for a running back.
Charles is the Kansas City offense, and he will be a fantasy force once again in 2014.
Pick No. 3: Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
When was the last time a running back repeated as fantasy football's top scorer? That would be 2007, LaDainian Tomlinson's penultimate season as a dominant fantasy running back.
Repeat offenders were common before then, but things have gotten a bit more difficult since. Not even the mighty Peterson was able to repeat.
That is the hill Charles has to climb after dousing the league in kerosene and lighting it on fire last season.
Of course, recent history doesn't preclude Charles from being a top fantasy back—he doesn't have to be the best scorer to be great for your fantasy squad.
Charles is still the main man in that Kansas City backfield. He got 37.6 percent of his team's fantasy scoring opportunities when prorating his stats over 16 games, a massive number that doesn't figure to be much different in 2014.
The biggest question for this season is whether his revamped offensive line is going to give him and his fantasy owners fits at times.
PPR Pick: Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears
If someone asked you who the second-best PPR back was in 2013, what would your answer be?
If your first thought was "Matt Forte," you cheated, didn't you?
Forte had a fantastic season, catching a whopping 74 passes en route to that second-best fantasy ranking in PPR scoring formats. There is more of that coming in 2014, especially if quarterback Jay Cutler can remain healthy for the full 16-game slate this season.
Pick No. 4: Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears
For years we salivated over Forte's potential only to come away disappointed by unfulfilled expectations. Last season, Forte finally got an offensive-minded head coach in Marc Trestman, and he fulfilled his fantasy owners' dreams accordingly.
Forte was a focal point of a Chicago offense that ranked eighth in yards per game (381.8) and second in total points (445) last season.
The talented running back wound up being the third-best fantasy back in standard leagues. He got there in large part because he garnered 71.3 percent of the team's carries and 37.8 percent of the offense's fantasy scoring opportunities, both among the best in the league.
Forte is a dynamic back who can do it all, and as a result, he is one of the safest picks of the 2014 fantasy season.
PPR Pick: Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
Too early for Jimmy Graham?
He only annihilated his competition in PPR scoring last season by 85 points over his next-closest competitor. Outside a healthy Rob Gronkowski—which he is not quite, at this stage—there is no tight end who gives you a consistently great stat line.
Pick No. 5: Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
There is little reason to think Green Bay Packers running back Eddie Lacy cannot build on a fantastic inaugural season that saw him win Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.
Lacy is the main man in that Green Bay backfield, finally a nice yang to Aaron Rodgers' yin at quarterback. The bruising ball-carrier gives the Packers a bona fide rushing threat, and he benefits from the fact that Rodgers is arguably the best quarterback in the league.
If he can stay healthy—his bruising style lends itself to injury, unfortunately—Lacy should top his rookie statistics in that offense. That would put him over 1,500 total yards and 11 touchdowns.
PPR Pick: Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
Wide receivers have higher value in PPR leagues, so taking the best one in the league in the top five is a perfectly reasonable strategy.
When healthy, Johnson is quite simply the top receiver in the league. He was going to be hard-pressed to repeat his monstrous 2012 season in 2013, but Johnson is a good bet to get close to 100 receptions and over 1,500 yards receiving this upcoming campaign.
Johnson's ceiling might have actually moved up now that he has some quality help around him after the Detroit Lions signed wideout Golden Tate and drafted tight end Eric Ebron.
Pick No. 6: Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions
He sits atop Mt. Fantasy at wide receiver, as he does every year.
Few receivers have garnered as much annual respect as Detroit's Johnson. The 6'5", 236-pound monster of a receiver has been Matthew Stafford's safety blanket over the years, averaging nearly 173 targets per season over the past three seasons.
With the top running backs out of the picture here, the top receiver is more than fine consolation.
PPR Pick: Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Why did Peterson fall all the way from the top in standard leagues to No. 6 in PPR scoring?
Quite simply, Peterson has never been a big pass-catcher. There has been talk of getting Peterson more involved in the passing game this season, per Brian Murphy of the Pioneer Press, but it would take quite the transformation to get Peterson to Forte or Charles levels as a receiver.
Pick No. 7: Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
The offseason hasn't been kind to Marshawn Lynch's fantasy value.
He sat out organized team activities—during which rumors swirled he was contemplating retirement—eventually holding out for a few days at the outset of training camp before the Seattle Seahawks gave him a little more of his future salary up front. He was also accused of assault and property damage, for which he was eventually cleared, per ESPN.com's Terry Blount.
That all put a drag on his fantasy draft stock—Lynch has fallen out of the first round entirely if average draft position for certain websites is to be believed.
The truth of the matter is that Lynch is still going to be a workhorse in Seattle. That includes the bulk of the goal-line work, where Beast Mode makes it rain Skittles. Lynch should approach or exceed 325 touches this season, and his fantasy owners will reap the rewards those touches bring.
PPR Pick: Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos
Johnson may hold the fantasy rankings crown at receiver, but Demaryius Thomas isn't far behind.
Peyton Manning's top receiver is going to see a ton of targets, making him highly valuable in PPR formats. Thomas saw 142 targets last season, catching nearly 65 percent of them en route to the highest PPR score at his position last season.
Manning is back for more, and Thomas figures to score oodles of points once again.
Pick No. 8: Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos
As mentioned on the previous slide, Thomas is highly valuable largely thanks to the fact that he has Manning throwing him the ball.
Thomas has topped 1,400 receiving yards and scored double-digit touchdowns in each of the past two seasons. We should expect more of the same this year if the key cogs in that offense remain healthy.
PPR Pick: Eddie Lacy, RB, Green Bay Packers
Like Peterson, Lacy takes a bit of a tumble because he is not nearly the pass-catching threat that some of his peers are.
Lacy caught just 35 passes in his Offensive Rookie of the Year campaign. It's a number that could certainly go up this season, especially if he stays healthy. However, there are more-proven commodities in that department ahead of him on this list.
Pick No. 9: Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos
Montee Ball in the first round? That's just crazy, isn't it?
When one looks at what a running back in a Manning offense can do for you, it says otherwise. Knowshon Moreno was all but left for dead before last season—even proclaimed a likely training camp cut by yours truly at one point.
He wound up the fifth-best fantasy scorer among all running backs.
Moreno is gone, replaced by second-year man Montee Ball as a starter.
It's dangerous to think Ball will simply pick up where Moreno left off, but he will have every opportunity to do so. The biggest concerns with him are fumbling issues that kept him off the field early as a rookie and a recent appendectomy that threatened to keep him out for the beginning of the season.
Ball resumed practice this week, though, so he should be fine to start the year, per ESPN.com's Jeff Legwold.
PPR Pick: Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
The biggest reason why Giovani Bernard was a rookie sensation was his pass-catching ability out of the backfield. Despite being stuck in a timeshare with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bernard saw 71 targets as a receiver last year.
There's more where that came from, and that makes him rather valuable in the PPR department going forward.
Pick No. 10: Giovani Bernard, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals found themselves a gem in the 2013 draft when Bernard fell to them in the second round.
Bernard was fantastic as a rookie, keeping himself in the Rookie of the Year conversation until Lacy ran away with it. He wound up with the 18th-best standard score at his position.
The biggest reason why Bernard didn't have a huge volume of touches as a rookie was Green-Ellis, whom the Bengals inexplicably utilized often despite his general inefficiency. It was a bid to keep Bernard healthy and fresh as a rookie, one that is less necessary a year later.
Bernard still must contend with the likes of Green-Ellis and rookie Jeremy Hill, but the latter is hurt (shoulder) and Green-Ellis isn't going to plod his way into the heart of new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson.
PPR Pick: Montee Ball, RB, Denver Broncos
Moreno was a big-time fantasy back last season, and he did plenty of damage through the air. Moreno was targeted 74 times, catching 60 of them.
Ball should get most of those targets now that he has ascended to the starting position with Moreno in Miami.
Pick No. 11: Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints
Whereas Graham is a no-brainer in the first round in PPR-scoring formats, his value is a bit murkier in standard leagues.
The immense advantage Graham has over other tight ends shrinks considerably when taking receptions out of the fantasy-scoring equation, which makes him less valuable in standard formats. That doesn't mean you should avoid him in the first round altogether, however.
Simply put, even though there are just two draft picks between this and your second-round pick after the turn, you cannot risk losing Graham by passing on him here. He could well make it back, but you are still getting the best player at his position.
PPR Pick: Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears
Wide receivers are more valuable in PPR leagues, hence the reason Brandon Marshall cracks the first round here.
Marshall is quarterback Jay Cutler's safety blanket and best friend wrapped up into one neat little fantasy football package. He has averaged 177.5 targets over the past two seasons, getting to triple-digit receptions and double-digit touchdowns in each of them.
Despite the rise of fellow receiver Alshon Jeffrey, expect the Cutler-Marshall connection to live on in 2014.
Pick No. 12: DeMarco Murray, RB, Dallas Cowboys
The 12th pick in the draft affords some flexibility due to the fact you'll get to pick again immediately. Thus, there are several good choices from which to choose in this slot.
Knowing you won't get to pick for a while after the turn is key, though. If you forgo a running back, for example, you may be seriously handicapped at the position. It also means anyone you might be eyeing over the next 15 to 20 picks will likely be gone, so don't worry about trying to maximize value against average draft position or ranking.
In this case, Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray makes a good deal of sense.
There is a bit of trepidation in the fantasy community about drafting Murray, who has had a well-documented injury history in his NFL career. Murray has never played a full season, but he got closest to it last year when he appeared in 14 games.
He might be higher on boards across the country were it not for those injury concerns, but one thing is for sure—Murray can score fantasy points in bunches. He was sixth at his position last season in points per game, according to FantasyPros.com, meaning he will be good when he is in your lineup.
PPR Pick: Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks
Murray would make for a good pick here in either format, but for variety's sake, let's not allow Lynch to fall all the way out of the first round.
For as much as Seattle utilizes him, Lynch hasn't been a huge factor in the passing game. He actually had the second-most receptions of his career with 36 last season, not a terribly high number.