Welcome to the first Fantasy Friday of the preseason here at The Draft Network. Each Friday from July 17th until September 4th will include a fantasy mock draft with its own theme. Most will be three-round mocks, some for PPR formats and some for standard formats. The majority of these mocks will be done by Jaime Eisner, with guest mocks from Paige Dimakos, Jake Arians, and our TDN Premium members sprinkled in. Be sure to check in every Friday to see the latest mock and come back each day to check out the Fantasy section of TheDraftNetwork.com as you prepare for your draft.
We’ll open this series with a one-round PPR mock—with a twist. Eisner will draft for the odd-numbered teams, while the even-numbered teams will select players based on the AI over at Fantasy Pros. Each of the 12 players will be evaluated. Let’s roll…
1.1 Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
Yeah, not shocking. It’s hard to make an argument against taking McCaffrey No. 1 overall. He just had the second-best fantasy season of all time one year after posting one of the 25-best fantasy seasons of all time. That’s truly remarkable. His volume in the passing game is unmatched at the position, as he’s poised to put up a third consecutive 100-catch season. He scored 149.9 more fantasy points than the next-best running back last season (an average of 10 points per week!) and I have him projected for a more modest 65-point cushion over the competition in 2020.
If there is one knock on McCaffrey, it’s all of the unknowns in Carolina. He has a new head coach (Matt Rhule), a new offensive coordinator (Joe Brady), and a new quarterback (Teddy Bridgewater). We don’t really know what to expect from this Carolina offense in 2020. However, it’s hard to imagine them relying on McCaffrey less than they have in the past. He’ll still be a great check-down option for a low depth of target quarterback that will have to throw a lot with the Panthers’ defense unable to stop anybody. I can’t talk myself into anyone else at No. 1.
1.2 Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
The consensus No. 2 overall pick, Barkley is poised for a huge season if he can remain healthy. An ankle injury cost him three games in the middle of last season. But, he returned early from his projected timetable and really finished the season strong with a huge final three weeks—539 total yards and five total touchdowns. Barkley is arguably the most talented running back in football, has no competition for carries, and should finish somewhere close to the top-five running backs in receptions. Aside from McCaffrey, Barkley has the best chance to reach 2,000 yards from scrimmage (like he did as a rookie).
The only real knock on Barkley is that his pass-catching totals decreased when Daniel Jones took over for Eli Manning as the Giants’ starting quarterback. Barkley averaged 5.3 catches on 7.2 targets per game in 20 games with Manning as the starter. In nine games last season with Jones, Barkley averaged 4.2 catches on 5.7 targets per game. That’s not alarming, but it’s hard to imagine him finishing as the RB1 overall if he can’t get to the 90-plus catches he had in his rookie season.
1.3 Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
I’ve planted my flag firmly on the full bounce-back side of the Kamara debate this offseason. After finishing the season outside of the top 10 running backs in total points—although, he was the RB8 on a per-game basis—many wondered whether his days as a no-doubt top-five pick were over. Some were even willing to take another Saint, wide receiver Michael Thomas, before him. I couldn’t justify that at any point in the offseason, especially after news broke about how hurt Kamara was last season.
Aside from being healthy, the biggest thing in Kamara’s favor this season is positive touchdown regression. Kamara scored a touchdown about every 15 touches if you combine his 2017 and 2018 seasons. Last year, he scored one touchdown per 42 touches. That won’t happen again. He’ll be back in double-digit territory in total touchdowns in 2020. If Kamara scored a touchdown every 15 touches last season, he would’ve finished as the RB5 in total points and the RB2 in points per game, despite missing two games. His RB11 finish last season is his downside. Sign me up.
1.4 Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints
In some ways, Thomas was McCaffrey-esque last season. He scored 90.8 more points than the next closest wide receiver—an average of about 4.8 points per game more than WR2 Chris Godwin. He led the NFL in targets (185) and set a new record for most single-season receptions in NFL history (149). He did all that despite quarterback Drew Brees missing a handful of games.
The optimism is understandable. Wide receivers tend to be viewed as “safer” picks than running backs. However, some of that safety comes from being drafted in the back-end of the first round, not the top five. This is the first pick where my personal rankings differ.
I wrote an article breaking down why Thomas is going too high in fantasy drafts, but this is the excerpt that may be most pertinent:
If anything, his 2018 season is the best comp for what’s reasonable to expect in 2020: 125/1405/9 on 147 targets. He finished that fantasy season as the 11th-best non-QB and third-best wide receiver on a points-per-game basis (20.5). He was taken as either the WR3 or WR4 (behind Davante Adams and DeAndre Hopkins and with a nearly identical ADP to Julio Jones) the following season with an ADP of 10.4.
Fantasy managers certainly wouldn’t be devastated if Thomas finishes as the WR3 again or even as the WR1 with 2018’s fantasy point total, but it would be disappointing given his current ADP.
1.5 Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
If you want safe, Elliott is as safe as they come at a pretty volatile position. Here’s where Elliott has finished among running backs since being drafted in 2016 on a per-game basis: 3rd, 3rd, 7th, 5th. You talk about a high-floor player, Elliott is the epitome. While that “7th” and “5th” might give the haters some fuel, consider that only McCaffrey, Barkley, and Kamara have scored more combined fantasy points over the last two seasons.
There are concerns from some about new head coach Mike McCarthy coming in and taking away a bunch of carries from Elliott. That fear stems from McCarthy’s scarce use of running backs in Green Bay. However, he did lean quite heavily on Eddie Lacy at times, and McCarthy never had a back even 75% as talented as Elliott. Especially with offensive coordinator Kellen Moore still there, I don’t project any sort of precipitous drop in workload for Elliott in 2020. Plus, his statistical progression as a pass-catcher over the last two seasons compared to his first two is a plus.
1.6 Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
Normally I’d be perfectly OK with this pick here. But given the uncertainty surrounding Cook’s potential hold out, he’d need to fall at least a couple more picks before I’d consider taking him. Between that and his extensive injury history, there’s a tremendous amount of risk for any fantasy manager brave enough to select Cook. However, there’s also a lot of upside.
Cook was the only running back not named McCaffrey to average more than 20 fantasy points per game last season (20.9). Despite missing a game during the fantasy season (Weeks 1-16), he still finished as the RB3 in total points with 292.4. There’s little doubt about his RB1 status when he’s on the field, but we just don’t know how often he’ll play. My suggestion to fantasy managers is to come up with a games played projection you can live with and rank Cook accordingly. For me, that’s 12 games and RB6. However, that will likely change as we get closer to the season and more information about his availability is known.
1.7 Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay Packers
This will be considered a reach by some, as Jones is currently coming off the board early in the second round as the RB10 or RB11 in most fantasy drafts. However, I’m not sure why fantasy managers are so bearish on the Packers running back. In fact, he’s probably the biggest beneficiary of a questionable offseason that saw Green Bay add no weapons of value for quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Jones finished as the No. 2 running back in fantasy last season with 298.5 fantasy points—he was the RB3 on a per-game basis with an average of 19.9 points. He got stronger as the season went on and had a great final four weeks, rushing for 439 yards and five touchdowns (along with a receiving stat line of 10-107-0) from Weeks 14-17. He was also the second-most targeted pass-catcher on the Packers last season (68) behind only wide receiver Davante Adams.
My question is: why is any of that going to change? The Packers didn’t add anyone of note aside from wide receiver Devin Funchess. Fellow running back Jamaal Williams isn’t going to play any more than he did last season. Rookie running back A.J. Dillon isn’t a threat. I’m all in on Jones this season and have him ranked as a top-five running back.
1.8 Derrick Henry, RB, Tennessee Titans
BEAST. That’s the word that comes to mind when discussing Henry’s play. He’s been absolutely sensational over the last two seasons, particularly late in the season. He’s been a true league-winner for those who drafted him. This stat might blow your mind: Henry has averaged 106.62 yards per game from Week 10 on over the last two seasons. If that one doesn’t, this one will: If you combine his rushing yards from just his final four games of the last two seasons, he’d have 1,134 yards in what is essentially a half-season. Remarkable.
Henry doesn’t catch passes but he doesn’t have to in order to be an RB1, even in PPR. He’s the favorite to lead the league in rushing yards and carries in 2020 and it’s likely that only an injury can prevent a top-three finish for Henry in those categories. He’ll score a boatload of touchdowns and can be a matchup-winner for you any given week. He doesn’t have top-three upside because he doesn’t do enough in the receiving game, but he has an astronomical floor.
1.9 Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers
I’ll refer you to the Jones section above. Aside from the aforementioned running back, no player benefits more from Green Bay’s inactivity this offseason than Adams. He’ll continue to see a massive target share and is my pick to lead the league in that category this season (if he plays at least 15 games). He’s Benjamin Solak’s pick to lead the league in receiving yards. He finished as the WR8 on a per-game basis in 2017, the No. 1 overall player at the position in 2018, and was the WR6 on a per-game basis last season. He’s a touchdown and target hog with no competition, what more can you ask for?
The answer to that question is health. He hasn’t played a full season since 2016. He’s usually not out long, but he has missed seven games over the past three seasons. Still, it’s a factor to consider when players like Julio Jones and DeAndre Hopkins have been more reliable. All that said, the upside is tantalizing. Adams has a 115 catch-per-16-games pace over the last two seasons and my projection on a per-game basis is nearly equal to Thomas’.
1.10 Josh Jacobs, RB, Las Vegas Raiders
This was a reach by the AI, but given his talent level, college pedigree, and overall success as a rookie, this will happen from time to time in drafts even though his ADP is 6-7 picks later. The positives: he has the starting job in Las Vegas’ backfield to himself, already had success in the role last season, and should be fully recovered from the shoulder injury that bothered him for a big portion of 2019. The negatives: he doesn’t catch a lot of passes and the re-signing of Jalen Richard doesn’t portend a significant expansion in that role.
Jacobs finished as the RB19 in total points and the RB15 on a per-game basis last season. That’s fine and the almost-bankable 20 carries per game are even better, but there’s no upside at a first-round price tag.
1.11 Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Despite 2020 being his age-31 season, Jones continues to produce. He was the WR4 overall and WR3 in average fantasy points per game last season. He’s reliable, missing only four games in the past six seasons and only one in the last three. He’d led the league in receiving in two of the past five seasons and in yards per touch in three of the last six. He’s as solid as they come. You can check out my projections for his 2020 season here, including why I have him as my pick to lead the NFL in receiving yards.
The only real downside here is his lack of consistency as a true elite-four option on a per-game basis. He finished as the WR5 in 2016 and the WR7 in 2017 and 2018. The bread for that sandwich is being the WR1 in 2015 and the WR3 last season. Still, his floor is high and he’s less likely to miss time than most. Plus he’s overcome that pesky touchdown issue he had a couple years ago. Despite being north of 30, you can draft him with confidence.
1.12 Joe Mixon, RB, Cincinnati Bengals
Let’s hope the finish to Mixon’s 2019 season is a sign of things to come. He had 494 yards and three touchdowns from Weeks 14-17 and saw a spike in carries up to 24 per game. As a result, he finished as the RB22 in average fantasy points per game. Not quite what you’d be hoping for out of a first-rounder, but last season was truly a tale of two halves.
Through Week 8, Mixon ranked as the RB36 in on a per-game basis. From Weeks 9-16, he was the RB14 and scored 6.4 more points per game in the second half than the first half. The Bengals’ offense should be better this year with the return of wide receiver A.J. Green and the addition of No. 1 overall real-life pick Joe Burrow. Mixon’s additional usage in the passing game was a welcomed sight and leaves many hopeful of a return to RB1 territory this season. He was a top-10 back in 2018, so that hope isn’t far-fetched.