The NFL's opt-out deadline has passed, and we are about a month away from the season's start. It's time to get ready for draft day, and there's no better place to start than with the first round.
Working through a standard scoring lens, we will be analyzing a first-round mock draft for a 12-team league and subsequently assessing how those selections may affect your cheat sheet moving forward.
We will be using FantasyPros' consensus rankings for current ADP information but my mock for the first round. In the spirit of transparency, my 2019 rankings missed in their demotions of Ezekiel Elliott and Nick Chubb from ADP. But to inspire some courage, the rankings projected players like Lamar Jackson, Josh Allen, Devin Singletary and Darren Waller to vastly outperform their ADP while correctly foreshadowing Melvin Gordon, Joe Mixon and Tyreek Hill's disappointing outings.
1st-Round Standard Mock Draft
1. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
2. Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
3. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
4. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
5. Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
6. Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
7. Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
8. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
9. Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
10. Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns
11. Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals
12. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
The biggest deviations from ADP here are Clyde Edwards-Helaire's inclusion at the expense of Joe Mixon and the replacement of Tyreek Hill (No. 9 per ADP) with Kenyan Drake (No. 23).
Edwards-Helaire is ranked at No. 22 by FantasyPros' ADP, while Mixon is ranked at No. 10. One has to imagine that the former's spot will rise shortly, as Damien Williams has opted out for the season. With Williams and LeSean McCoy both gone, the Kansas City Chiefs' first-round pick is likely to get the majority of touches on one of the league's most potent offenses. And as an electric dual-threat, he was rightfully the first running back drafted this year.
As for the latter, the Cincinnati Bengals should be better this season, and Mixon still deserves to be drafted in the first two rounds—but he is more easily affected by game script than the others.
The best fantasy teams in standard leagues are anchored by dominant running backs. There's simply less depth at the position and more of a gulf in scoring after the top guys. That's why dynamic players like Edwards-Helaire, Drake and Chubb are worth locking down at the back of the first.
Thomas, Adams and Jones simply crack the top 12 because they are the only true target vacuums for dangerous quarterbacks in the league. In 2019, they averaged 11.6, 10.6 and 10.5 targets per game. If you are between RB tiers in the first, you can grab one of them and go running back-heavy for the next two rounds before rounding out your offense.
Conversely, if you grab a running back in the first, you may have the flexibility to target a talented receiver who figures to see a lot of targets in the second, like DeAndre Hopkins, Mike Evans, Kenny Golladay or Allen Robinson.
However the board lines up, you should optimally draft for talent at running back and wide receiver over the first half while keeping a slight eye toward positional need. Unless something surprising happens, like lucking into a tremendous, balanced core or a superstar quarterback or a tight end dropping past the sixth round, your last four selections should be quarterback, tight end, kicker and defense in that order.
Every year, there is tremendous late-round value among wide receivers and tight ends but mostly among quarterbacks. There were 23 quarterbacks who finished in the top 30 for overall scoring in fantasy leagues last season, and outside of Jackson, the scoring gulf wasn't particularly high.
As for receivers and tight ends, ADP sleepers like DeVante Parker, A.J. Brown and Allen Robinson all finished in WR1 territory, while Mark Andrews and Darren Waller were in the top four among tight ends.
The NFL is always full of high-scoring quarterbacks, and this year has some great sleepers at wide receiver and tight end, as players like Henry Ruggs III and Mike Gesicki aren't projected to be drafted until past the ninth round. You should always be flexible, but aim to lock down your lineup's potential stars early, especially at running back.