When it comes to season-long fantasy football, the draft can make or break your campaign. While smart roster management, keen waiver-wire skills and a little bit of luck can help turn around a season that starts slow, making major draft-day mistakes can be virtually impossible to overcome.
Missing out on a fantasy stud can be tough to take, but spending early draft picks on players who prove to be virtually unstartable can be devastating.
Last season, for example, first-round targets Le'Veon Bell and Odell Beckham Jr. both underperformed. While neither had to be glued to the bench, they were regularly outclassed by draft sleepers like Davante Parker and Austin Ekeler.
Of course, there was always some risk with Bell and Beckham, as both were joining new teams and new situations. This brings us to our first piece of winning strategy advice, which we'll get into right after we examine a 12-team first-round mock.
12-Team NFL Fantasy Mock Draft, PPR
1.01: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
1.02: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
1.03: Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
1.04: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
1.05: Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
1.06: Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
1.07: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
1.08: Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
1.09: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals
1.10: Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
1.11: Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
1.12: Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
* Draft simulated with FantasyPros' Mock Draft Simulator
Be Wary of Players in New Situations
As mentioned above, both Beckham and Bell disappointed in their new homes. There's a chance that players who moved this offseason—like Melvin Gordon III, Stefon Diggs, Todd Gurley and DeAndre Hopkins—will as well.
Now, to be fair, Hopkins still feels like a relatively safe pick in Round 1, though not a first-round lock. He was able to work magic with the likes of Brandon Weeden and Tom Savage with the Houston Texans and should be just fine playing with Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.
However, Hopkins will still be learning a new system with no preseason preparation, so a slow start could be inevitable. Hopkins is regularly a top-five selection in fantasy drafts and slipped to the bottom of Round 1 in this mock.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is an even bigger risk in Round 1. When we're looking at players entering new situations, rookies have to top the list.
Darren Williams' decision to opt out in 2020 could hand Edwards-Helaire the starting job, but the LSU product is completely unproven at the pro level. A proven back like Nick Chubb or Joe Mixon would be a safer pick in Round 1.
Injury Risks Can't be Ignored
While playing it safe isn't always fun, the one thing you must avoid is wasting a first- or second-round pick on a draft bust. These are supposed to be the centerpieces of your roster, guys who only see the bench if injured or during the bye week.
Target high-end starters who you are confident will perform and perform consistently. With this in mind, players who are injury risks have to be viewed as a complete gamble.
Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook, for example, is a huge risk in the first round. Not only has he missed 19 games in three seasons, but he's had just one year of high-end fantasy production. Yes, his upside is tremendous, but his floor could be a disaster.
Two years ago, Cook missed five games and finished with 920 combined rushing and receiving yards and four touchdowns.
Injury risks should be strongly considered in the next several rounds as well—basically wherever you plan on targeting one of your top starters. If you do decide to gamble on a guy like Cook, though, don't double up by picking, say, James Conner, who has missed nine games over the past two seasons.
Try to limit injury gambles to one in the first five rounds of the draft.
Be Aware of How Rookies Can Impact Veterans
While it's important to be cognizant of how players are adapting to new teams, it's important to know how teams are adapting around players. For example, when the New York Giants took Daniel Jones in the first round last year, it meant that quarterback Eli Manning could be on a short leash. When the San Francisco 49ers took wideout Deebo Samuel, it meant that 2018 second-round pick Dante Pettis could be in line for a reduced role.
The key here is to decipher what sort of roles the incoming rookies are likely to have during training camp—and in a more traditional year, the preseason.
This year, Baltimore Ravens running back Mark Ingram II, who had 1,018 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns last season, could lose touches to rookie J.K. Dobbins. This doesn't guarantee that Dobbins is going to steal the starting job or be a high-value fantasy option, he's simply competing for playing time at this point.
"My main objective is to come in and learn, compete, and however the chips fall, that's how they fall," Dobbins said, per Todd Karpovich of Ravens Country.
However, with Gus Edwards and now Dobbins also in the backfield, it would be unwise to pencil in Ingram for 1,000 yards and double-digit rushing touchdowns
This brings us to our final tip for the day, which is this: Pay attention to what's going on in training camps. There are no preseason box scores to study this season and no other clear indication of who is performing well, who is in line to start and who might be slipping other than reliable training-camp buzz.
Knowledge is power in fantasy, and it would behoove you to know how things are unfolding in camp.