Fantasy Football 2018: Preseason Mock Draft Strategy, Rankings and Analysis

Paul KasabianSenior ContributorAugust 23, 2018

BALTIMORE, MD - DECEMBER 31: Running back Alex Collins #34 of the Baltimore Ravens rushes for a touchdown in the third quarter against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium on December 31, 2017 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Fantasy football drafts are ramping up as the opening game of the 2018 NFL season between the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons quickly approaches on Thursday, September 6.

Before then, the third week of the preseason will take place, with most games occurring on Friday and Saturday. That is a crucial time in the calendar, as teams use the occasion as a dress rehearsal before the season kicks off. It's imperative to keep an eye on how players are used in Week 3, as it may foreshadow regular-season usage.

Therefore, any ranking shouldn't be set in stone until after Week 3 preseason games take place, but chances are that changes won't be too seismic at this stage.

Here's a look at a top-40 overall ranking as of now, in addition to a recent mock draft's first three rounds. Analysis and general strategy tips can be found below.

                 

Top-40 Rankings (Point-Per-Reception Leagues)

1. Pittsburgh Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell

2. Arizona Cardinals RB David Johnson

3. Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley

4. Pittsburgh Steelers WR Antonio Brown

5. New Orleans Saints RB Alvin Kamara

6. New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley

7. Houston Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins

8. Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

9. Carolina Panthers RB Christian McCaffrey

10. New York Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr.

11. Atlanta Falcons WR Julio Jones

12. New Orleans Saints WR Michael Thomas

13. Kansas City Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt

14. Jacksonville Jaguars RB Leonard Fournette

15. Los Angeles Chargers RB Melvin Gordon

16. New England Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski

17. Baltimore Ravens RB Alex Collins

18. Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook

19. Chicago Bears RB Jordan Howard

20. Indianapolis Colts WR T.Y. Hilton

21. Los Angeles Chargers WR Keenan Allen

22. Green Bay Packers WR Davante Adams

23. Minnesota Vikings WR Stefon Diggs

24. Cincinnati Bengals WR A.J. Green

25. Pittsburgh Steelers WR Juju Smith-Schuster

26. Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce

27. Los Angeles Rams WR Brandin Cooks

28. Atlanta Falcons RB Devonta Freeman

29. Kansas City Chiefs WR Tyreek Hill

30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Mike Evans

31. Arizona Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald

32. Detroit Lions WR Marvin Jones Jr.

33. Philadelphia Eagles TE Zach Ertz

34. New England Patriots WR Chris Hogan

35. Denver Broncos RB Royce Freeman

36. New England Patriots RB Rex Burkhead

37. Minnesota Vikings WR Adam Thielen

38. Houston Texans QB Deshaun Watson

39. New England Patriots QB Tom Brady

40. Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers

      

Alex Collins in the Top 20

Per FantasyPros, Baltimore Ravens running back Alex Collins' average draft position is 34th overall. Admittedly, I am higher on Collins and think he has a good chance to be a top-10 point producer at running back by season's end.

Last season, the former Arkansas Razorback finished sixth among running backs with 100 or more carries in defense-adjusted yards above replacement and third in defense-adjusted value over average, per Football Outsiders

Collins doesn't play in a high-scoring or explosive offense, but he's proved to be one of the more efficient backs in the league. He also has a clear hold on the lead-back spot, which wasn't the case for much of last season as he split carries with Buck Allen. However, from November 19 to the end of the year, Collins had 17 or more touches each game.

It will be interesting to see how Collins fares as the No. 1 back for a full season. If his efficiency is anything like last year, then he would be a steal if taken anywhere past the third round.

                          

Mock Draft (First Three Rounds)

This 12-team Yahoo mock draft was based off half-point-per-reception scoring.

1. Todd Gurley

2. Le'Veon Bell

3. David Johnson

4. Antonio Brown (writer pick)

5. Alvin Kamara

6. Ezekiel Elliott

7. Saquon Barkley

8. DeAndre Hopkins

9. Melvin Gordon

10. Kareem Hunt

11. Michael Thomas

12. Julio Jones

13. Odell Beckham Jr.

14. Leonard Fournette

15. Dalvin Cook

16. Christian McCaffrey

17. Davante Adams

18. Keenan Allen

19. A.J. Green

20. Rob Gronkowski

21. T.Y. Hilton (writer pick)

22. Devonta Freeman

23. Joe Mixon

24. Jordan Howard

25. Travis Kelce

26. Alex Collins

27. Jerrick McKinnon

28. Stefon Diggs (writer pick)

29. Tyreek Hill

30. Aaron Rodgers

31. Mike Evans

32. LeSean McCoy

33. Kenyan Drake

34. Deshaun Watson

35. Lamar Miller

36. Adam Thielen

      

Mock Draft Analysis and General Strategy

Running Backs and Wide Receivers Early, Quarterbacks Late

A quarterback wasn't taken until the 30th overall pick in the aforementioned draft. Sometimes, you may find yourself in a league where quarterbacks are going even earlier, perhaps even in the first or second round.

Try to avoid that strategy. There's far more depth at quarterback than there is at the other three main positions, and you can grab a solid top-10 quarterback by waiting until the middle rounds.

For example, in the above mock, only eight quarterbacks were taken in the first six rounds. In the seventh round, I was able to grab Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, who is ranked eighth overall at signal caller via FantasyPros' expert rankings. Cousins' average draft position is No. 80, per FantasyPros, so chances are you can get him in the seventh round of a 12-team league.

Ultimately, I'm looking to fill out the starting running back, wide receiver and tight end slots before moving to quarterback. Admittedly, I have fallen into a trap of drafting a quarterback I love just sitting there when it's my turn to pick, but it's not an ideal strategy.

As far as the opening rounds go, I am looking to take the best flex players available. Pittsburgh Steelers wideout Antonio Brown was the easy choice at No. 4: He's had no fewer than 101 catches and eight touchdowns in each of the past five seasons.

It got trickier in the second round. As noted before, I am high on Collins, but I didn't think anyone would look to take him that early. I held off on picking him, hoping he would drop to the fourth round. Therefore, I selected Indianapolis Colts wideout T.Y. Hilton, who had 91 catches, 1,448 yards and six touchdowns in 2016 with Andrew Luck throwing him the ball.

It remains to be seen how Luck does after sitting out 2017 with a shoulder injury, but the Luck-Hilton connection has been one of the best quarterback-wideout combos in the game this decade.

Unfortunately, I got too greedy with the third-round pick (I took a gamble that the aforementioned Collins would fall to my spot in the fourth round, but that did not happen), although I am definitely happy with Minnesota Vikings wideout Stefon Diggs, who could be in line for a breakout season.

Diggs isn't a top-tier NFL wideout (a la Brown) at this time, but it's possible that he develops into one.

Here's an eye-popping stat from Matt Harmon of Yahoo Sports that puts the former Maryland star in excellent company:

There's no doubt Diggs has the ability, but the primary issue is that there are a lot of mouths to feed on that Minnesota offense. Running back Dalvin Cook is back after missing most of last season with a torn ACL, and Latavius Murray should get his fair share of carries as well. On the pass-catcher side, wideout Adam Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph also return.

However, Diggs was fifth in defense-adjusted value over average and ninth in defense-adjusted yards above replacement among wideouts with at least 50 catches last year, per Football Outsiders. If that efficiency rate continues into this season, and he accrues a few more targets, an excellent campaign may be on the way.

                     

Wide Receiver and Running Back Depth Late

It's imperative to load up on depth at running back and wide receiver for numerous reasons, but most notably, you have more options to use weekly matchups to your advantage if you have enough players at running back and wide receiver.

For example, let's say you are starting Tennessee Titans wide receiver Corey Davis in your flex spot most weeks. Davis showed promise at the end of last year with a two-touchdown performance against the New England Patriots in the playoffs and could be a breakout sophomore star this season.

However, he has some tough matchups on the ledger, most notably two dates with the stout defense of the Jacksonville Jaguars and shutdown cornerback Jalen Ramsey. The clear edge goes to the Jags in that matchup, which means Davis isn't the best bet at the flex spot.

However, if you load up on depth in the middle-to-late rounds (roughly rounds eight through 11), you may have solid options to plug in there. For example, New Orleans Saints wideout Ted Ginn Jr. is playing the Atlanta Falcons in Week 3, when Davis is facing the Jags for the first time.

Saints-Falcons games this decade are often high-scoring affairs, where two good-to-great offenses match up in a dome environment conducive to more points.

Ginn, who had a career-high 75.7 percent catch rate in 2017, could be the beneficiary there if the game approaches the 30-point barrier for both sides. If you were able to draft him late as a backup, then you could plug him in instead of Davis in this hypothetical scenario and raise your team's ceiling.

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