While February and March are prime mock-draft months for the NFL, August is mock-draft month for fantasy football. The difference is that while real-world mocks are largely for entertainment and prognostication purposes, fantasy mocks can actually help fantasy managers have better seasons.
No, mock drafts aren't going to tell you who is a safe pick or where the best sleepers lie. However, they can help determine how players are being valued and in what range certain positions or players should be targeted.
For example, let's take a look at Kansas City Chiefs rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire. There's been plenty of buzz surrounding the former LSU star—especially after Damien Williams opted out of the 2020 season.
"He's on pace to have a big year, to be our primary ballcarrier," Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said, per NBC Sports' Peter King.
This buzz would naturally lead most fantasy managers to value Edwards-Helaire highly. However, by analyzing mock drafts, managers can get a better idea of just how highly they'll need to pull the trigger on him.
While rookies rarely enter the first-round conversation, that's exactly where mock drafts are putting Edwards-Helaire.
Here, we'll examine a simulated mock draft—ran with FantasyPros' Mock Draft Simulator—to gauge where Edwards-Helaire and other top fantasy targets are being valued in the early rounds. We'll also provide a cheat sheet on the top position players to target—no quarterbacks, and we'll dive into that topic shortly.
2020 NFL PPR Mock Draft, Rounds 1-2
1.01: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
1.02: Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
1.03: Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
1.04: Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
1.05: Michael Thomas, RB, New Orleans Saints
1.06: Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
1.07: Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
1.08: Clyde Edwards-Helaire, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
1.09: Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs
1.10: Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
1.11: Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
1.12: Austin Ekeler, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
2.01: JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
2.02: Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears
2.03: Travis Kelce, TE, Kansas City Chiefs
2.04: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals
2.05: Miles Sanders, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
2.06: Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
2.07: George Kittle, TE, San Francisco 49ers
2.08: Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers
2.09: Nick Chubb, RB, Cleveland Browns
2.10: Kenyan Drake, RB, Arizona Cardinals
2.11: Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
2.12: Kenny Golladay, WR, Detroit Lions
As you can see, Edwards-Helaire is being valued alongside perennial fantasy all-stars like Davante Adams and Julio Jones. This isn't entirely surprising as, based on his projected role, Edwards-Helaire could be in store for a special season.
Just consider that Kareem Hunt was the Chiefs' every-down back as a rookie in 2017. He finished with 1,327 rushing yards, 455 receiving yards and 11 total touchdowns. This is the sort of season that Edwards-Helaire could theoretically have.
What's a little more surprising is that there's a heavy early run on receivers in this mock. While target-dominant receivers like Michael Thomas, Jones and Adams are regularly first-round fixtures, pass-catchers like Tyreek Hill, Chris Godwin, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Allen Robinson are being targeted early here.
Because of the depth at wide receiver—No. 2 wideouts frequently top the 1,000-yard mark—early runs usually involve running backs. Here, we have mock managers doubling up on pass-catchers early.
This isn't the worst strategy in points-per-reception (PPR) formats, though I recommend grabbing at least one running back in the first two rounds. You can usually find a No. 1 receiver in the third or fourth round—Amari Cooper went in Round 4 in this mock—but every-down running backs usually don't last that long.
Of course, it's important to be flexible and to not force picks based on what's typical. In this mock, for example, the team that grabbed Tyreek Hill and DeAndre Hopkins early also landed Todd Gurley and Mark Ingram II in Rounds 4 and 5, respectively.
I also don't recommend targeting a quarterback in the first two rounds, and even in Round 3, Patrick Mahomes and Lamaar Jackson are the only two sensible targets. I'm an advocate of waiting until Round 5 or later for a signal-caller, as you can usually land an elite fantasy passer there—Kyler Murray and Dak Prescott were both fifth-round selections in this mock—but you're far less likely to get an elite running back or receiver past Round 4.
Unless you're getting one of the big three—Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Zach Ertz—it's also wise to wait on a tight end. Darren Waller, who had 1,145 receiving yards last season, went in Round 6 of this mock. Austin Hooper, who had 787 yards and six scores in 2019, went in Round 12.
As is the case at quarterback, you can usually land starting-caliber tight ends in the middle rounds. The focus in Rounds 1 and 2 should be on running backs and receivers—though Kelce, Kittle and, to a lesser extent, Ertz can be valued as wide receivers thanks to their roles in their respective offenses.
2020 Fantasy Early-Round Cheat Sheet
1. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers
2. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants
3. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
4. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
5. Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City chiefs
6. Dalvin Cook, Minnesota Vikings
7. Nick Chubb, Cleveland Browns
8. Derrick Henry, Tennessee Titans
9. Miles Sanders, Philadelphia Eagles
10. Austin Ekeler, Los Angeles Chargers
11. Joe Mixon, Cincinnati Bengals
12. Aaron Jones, Green Bay Packers
13. Josh Jacobs, Las Vegas Raiders
14. Kenyan Drake, Arizona Cardinals
15. Leonard Fournette, Jacksonville Jaguars
1. Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
2. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons
3. Davante Adams, Green Bay Packers
4. Chris Godwin, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
5. Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs
6. Kenny Golladay, Detroit Lions
7. DeAndre Hopkins, Arizona Cardinals
8. D.J. Moore, Carolina Panthers
9. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
10. Allen Robinson, Chicago Bears
1. Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs
2. George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers
3. Zach Ertz, Philadelphia Eagles
4. Mark Andrews, Baltimore Ravens
5. Darren Waller, Las Vegas Raiders