Fantasy Football 2016: 1st-Round Mock Draft and Winning Strategy

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistAugust 8, 2016

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown catches a touchdown pass against the Cleveland Browns during an NFL football game in Cleveland, Ohio Sunday, Jan. 3, 2016. (Winslow Townson/AP Images for Panini)
Winslow Townson/Associated Press

While all 32 NFL teams are preparing for the 2016 season with the start of the preseason schedule, millions of fantasy football players are squeezing in some last-minute research in anticipation of their ever-important drafts.

Landing the right sleeper running back or a game-changing wide receiver could be the difference between a championship and a long offseason of humiliation after finishing in last place behind all of your friends or co-workers.

With that in mind, here is a look at a 12-team first-round mock before digging into a few strategic pointers to follow.

Mock First-Round Fantasy Draft
1Antonio Brown, WRPittsburgh SteelersWith Martavis Bryant suspended, the Steelers' passing attack will ride Brown hard this season.
2Todd Gurley, RBLos Angeles RamsAssuming Jared Goff starts under center, the Rams will look to ease the pressue by putting the ball in Gurley's hands early and often.
3Odell Beckham Jr., WRNew York GiantsA stud wide receiver who will only get more dangerous in the open field as he enters the middle of his prime.
4Julio Jones, WRAtlanta FalconsFinished with 1,871 receiving yards last year, while no other Falcons pass-catcher even reached 700. Expect more of the same in 2016.
5David Johnson, RBArizona CardinalsBurst onto the scene last year and will have plenty of running space with a talented group of receivers preventing defenses from stacking the box.
6Lamar Miller, RBHouston TexansMuch like Johnson, Miller will enjoy the benefits of the passing attack (hello, DeAndre Hopkins) and take advantage of tilted numbers inside the box.
7A.J. Green, WRCincinnati BengalsThe Bengals lost Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones this offseason, which means even more passes for Green.
8Adrian Peterson, RBMinnesota VikingsPeterson is simply a machine who will reach the 1,000-yard mark for the eighth time in his career.
9Rob Gronkowski, TENew England PatriotsTom Brady's go-to weapon at a position that isn't deep in fantasy circles.
10DeAndre Hopkins, WRHouston TexansBrock Osweiler knows his best chance in Houston is to target Hopkins throughout the season.
11Cam Newton, QBCarolina PanthersNewton gives fantasy players the rushing yards to go along with the passing yards, and he will likely be motivated to bounce back from last season's Super Bowl loss.
12Le'Veon Bell, RBPittsburgh SteelersEven with the suspension concerns, Bell may be the best running back in the league. Lock him up for the stretch run.


Fantasy Football Draft Strategies

Wait on Adding Wide Receiver Depth

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

That may seem like a strange tip with five wide receivers taken in the first round above, but if you can’t land one of the top guys, it is worth filling up other positions before investing in a wideout in the middle rounds.

Electrifying playmakers thrive in today’s pass-happy NFL and will likely single-handedly alter the outcome of a number of fantasy games during the season (see the above draft). Someone like Antonio Brown is the cornerstone of any fantasy team, and the depth at the position shouldn’t scare you away from taking a wide receiver in the first round.

However, there is no need to draft wide receivers outside of the absolute elite in the first and second rounds.

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Twenty-two wide receivers reached 1,000 yards through the air last season, while 34 topped 800 yards. A number of fantasy options who don’t often leap off the page—such as Marvin Jones, Terrance Williams and Willie Snead—all reached at least 800 yards in 2015.

The NFL has become a passing league (22 quarterbacks threw more than 400 passes last season, while 15 threw more than 500, and six threw more than 600), so there are plenty of yards to go around for wide receivers. 

Don’t use an early pick on someone who will likely rack up 1,000 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns if you can land someone who will tally 900 receiving yards and eight touchdowns five rounds later.


Don’t Be Afraid to Take a Tight End Early

Steven Senne/Associated Press

While the proliferation of the passing attack means there are plenty of capable wide receivers to go around, the same cannot be said about tight ends.

Only four of the 26 players who notched 1,000 receiving yards last season were tight ends—Rob Gronkowski, Greg Olsen, Delanie Walker and Gary Barnidge. What’s more, a mere eight of the 42 players who reached 800 receiving yards were tight ends.

For context, Detroit Lions running back Theo Riddick would have finished in the top 10 in receiving yards for tight ends last season with his 697. The depth just isn’t there at this position like it is for quarterback, wide receiver and running back, which means you have fewer fallback options if you miss the top guys in the early going.

If you think Gronkowski is going to be a crutch for Jimmy Garoppolo in the first four games and then the go-to receiver for Tom Brady the rest of the season, you should jump on him in the first round. Snatch up Olsen in the third or fourth round if you think he is going to be the primary target for Cam Newton again this year, as D.J. Foster of Fox Sports does, "even with Kelvin Benjamin back in the fold."

There are few impact tight ends, so make sure one of them is on your team.


Quarterbacks Are Overrated

Newton is a first-rounder in this mock draft, but he is an exception to the rule (his 636 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns on the ground last season are a big reason why). There isn’t that much separation elsewhere at the quarterback position in terms of fantasy numbers.

Newton was the top quarterback in ESPN.com's standard scoring last season with 373 points (a full 38 points ahead of second-place Brady and 51 points ahead of third-place Russell Wilson), but there was little difference between the other options.

Carson Palmer was fifth in ESPN.com’s standard scoring with 300 points, while Derek Carr was 13th with 262 points. That is a mere 38 points of separation (or the same distance between Newton and second place, hence the defending MVP’s spot in my first round). That also leaves plenty of other nearly capable options to choose from before the draft reaches Carr.

This is not to say you shouldn’t be ecstatic with the likes of Aaron Rodgers or Palmer; just don’t pass up another coveted player at a position that isn’t so close in terms of the middle and top-notch options.

Someone without the name brand of a Drew Brees or Rodgers could slip through the cracks in the early rounds; for example, Blake Bortles ranked fourth in ESPN.com's standard scoring last year with 302 points.

Quarterbacks are arguably the most important players on the field every week in the NFL, but that is often not the case in fantasy.

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