First draft: One expert's early 2019 fantasy football mock

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Super Bowl LIII and its 600-plus yards of punts are, at last, behind us. We’re left with only seven short months to prep for 2019 fantasy drafts, people. The clock is ticking. It’s never too early to mock.

Our objective here is to sketch out the first five rounds of a plausible fantasy draft for the upcoming season — which, like every season before it, will no doubt be the craziest and least predictable in memory. The NFL never fails to surprise and horrify and confuse us, so this is a mostly pointless exercise. I will, in all likelihood, disavow these picks as soon as they are published. Consider everything here to be written in pencil. This is back-of-the-envelope stuff, intended simply as a conversation starter. Assume we’re using Yahoo’s half-PPR default settings.

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LET’S MOCK!

It’s tough to go wrong near the top of 2019 drafts. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth, File)
It’s tough to go wrong near the top of 2019 drafts. (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth, File)

ROUND ONE

1. Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dal
2. Saquon Barkley, RB, NYG
3. Todd Gurley, RB, LAR
4. Christian McCaffrey, RB, Car
5. Melvin Gordon, RB, LAC
6. Alvin Kamara, RB, NO
7. James Conner, RB, Pit
8. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Hou
9. Tyreek Hill, WR, KC
10. Nick Chubb, RB, Cle
11. Davante Adams, WR, GB
12. Julio Jones, WR, Atl

It’s easy to build a case to select any of those top four backs as the No. 1 overall player in 2019 drafts. Just put the names in a hat and pull one. We’re choosing from a group that includes this year’s rushing leader (Zeke), the touchdown leader (Gurley), the scrimmage yards leader (Saquon) and the guy who set the single-season record for receptions by a running back (CMC). All have top-of-draft credentials.

For me, Elliott’s emergence as a high-volume receiver gives him an almost perfect fantasy profile. He gets a small edge in the RB1 conversation. But the player with the most impressive highlight reel might just be this dude…

…so I can’t guarantee Barkley’s name won’t be atop my draft board in August.

We should note that Kamara might very well be a 1000/1000 candidate next year if Mark Ingram relocates (see below), which would vault him into the top-pick discussion as well. Ultimately, the sweet spot in 2019 drafts should be the fourth or fifth pick.

Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown both seem likely to relocate in 2019, to new cities and new fantasy draft rounds. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown both seem likely to relocate in 2019, to new cities and new fantasy draft rounds. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

ROUND TWO

13. Michael Thomas, WR, NO
14. Le’Veon Bell, RB, Oak?
15. JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Pit
16. Aaron Jones, RB, GB
17. Joe Mixon, RB, Cin
18. Antonio Brown, WR, SF?
19. Dalvin Cook, RB, Min
20. Sony Michel, RB, NE
21. Odell Beckham Jr, WR, NYG
22. Derrick Henry, RB, Ten
23. Phillip Lindsay, RB, Den
24. Keenan Allen, WR, LAC

OK, you might have noticed that a pair of wayward/dissatisfied Steelers have been assigned to new teams for the purposes of this mock. The Raiders have plenty of cap space and a well-established affection for high-mileage running backs, plus the team has a desperate need for playmakers. Le’Veon isn’t necessarily a recommended signing at his likely price tag, but the idea feels very Grudenish.

Antonio Brown is of course believed to have an interest in the Niners, assuming he’s dealt by Pittsburgh. There’s no question that San Francisco should be interested in acquiring Brown, as should every team that can possibly afford him. Even if AB remains with the Steelers, there’s a strong argument to be made for drafting JuJu ahead of him. Both receivers topped 160 targets last season, and Smith-Schuster finished with more receptions and yards. JuJu had the better catch-rate, too (66.9 vs. 61.9).

Henry is a clear rankings problem for 2019, following his ridiculously lopsided year. He produced a whopping 41.4 percent of his full-season rushing yards and half his TDs in just two December games, but was otherwise unhelpful. Still, those December games actually happened; we can’t dismiss ’em. He’s the presumptive centerpiece of a sketchy offense and, if his late-season usage holds, he’s looking at another dozen touchdowns.

George Kittle feasted this season, despite the quarterback issues. He’s earned his spot in the top tier at tight end. (AP Foto/John Hefti)
George Kittle feasted this season, despite the quarterback issues. He’s earned his spot in the top tier at tight end. (AP Foto/John Hefti)

ROUND THREE

25. Travis Kelce, TE, KC
26. George Kittle, TE, SF
27. David Johnson, RB, Ari
28. Zach Ertz, TE, Phi
29. Mike Evans, WR, TB
30. Amari Cooper, WR, Dal
31. T.Y. Hilton, WR, Ind
32. Marlon Mack, RB, Ind
33. Damien Williams, RB, KC
34. Adam Thielen, WR, Min
35. Leonard Fournette, RB, Jac
36. Stefon Diggs, WR, Min

Kelce is a fair bet to land 5-7 spots earlier when we’re drafting for keeps, but I’m equally interested in Kittle and Ertz. All three belong to the same tier; all deserve top-30 consideration. The position was a minefield outside the top four in 2018, yet the leading scorers managed to produce all-time numbers. Odd. Kittle has a clear shot to lead all tight ends in fantasy scoring next year if we get a full, healthy season from Jimmy Garoppolo, so I’m not prepared to commit to Kelce as the TE1.

Amari Cooper averaged 81.5 yards per game following the trade to Dallas last season, playoffs included, which would have translated to a 1300-yard campaign over 16 weeks. He’s awfully tough to exclude from his position’s top-10. In a healthy season, his floor might be 80-1100-6.

Williams was mostly phenomenal for the Chiefs from Week 14 through the postseason, so we have to assume he locked down a high-volume role for 2019. But if KC uses, say, a second-day pick on a running back, his situation obviously gets complicated. It should go without saying that we want plenty of shares of an offense that just averaged 35.3 points and 425.6 total yards per game. Which brings us to this dude…

Patrick Mahomes was an unfair fantasy weapon in 2018. How early is too early next year? (AP)
Patrick Mahomes was an unfair fantasy weapon in 2018. How early is too early next year? (AP)

ROUND FOUR

37. Patrick Mahomes, QB, KC
38. Robert Woods, WR, LAR
39. Kerryon Johnson, RB, Det
40. A.J. Green, WR, Cin
41. Tarik Cohen, RB, Chi
42. Brandin Cooks, WR, LAR
43. Kenny Golladay, WR, Det
44. Julian Edelman, WR, NE
45. Mark Ingram, RB, NYJ?
46. Josh Jacobs, RB, Bal?
47. Chris Carson, RB, Sea
48. James White, RB, NE

Mahomes is definitely not gonna slip to the fourth round of anyone’s hometown draft. Let’s just acknowledge that fact right here. He won’t fall beyond the first half of the second round, in fact. He’s a thrilling player coming off a historic season, at the controls of the league’s best offense. He’s the unrivaled top-of-ranks QB entering 2019. I really have nothing negative to say about him.

Instead, I’ll just remind you that it’s basically always a mistake to draft a player at a spot in which he can’t possibly deliver a profit without producing an all-time outlier season. We just had this conversation a few weeks back. Even if you believe Mahomes is the greatest quarterback the NFL has yet seen, you still have to accept that last year’s TD rate (8.6) and Y/A (8.8) are not sustainable. No player in league history has consistently performed at those levels, because those levels are absurd. We should all be able to appreciate the brilliance of the season Mahomes just authored without expecting 320 yards and 3 TD passes each week, forever. In any case, he’s unchallenged as our game’s top QB. If you think he belongs to a tier of his own, I get it.

Ingram is entering free agency, and, despite his reported desire to stay in New Orleans, he seems like a strong candidate to land elsewhere. The Saints are a cap-stressed team with another exceptional back already on the roster. The Jets are likely to kick the tires on Ingram, and so might the Bucs, Lions, Raiders and others.

Because it seemed wrong to exclude the 2019 rookie class from this mock, you’ll note the placement of Alabama running back Josh Jacobs above. He’s not a total lock to be the first RB off the draft board, but he’s the favorite as of this writing. He has an every-down skillset and he’s a merciless blocker, though he wasn’t a full-time featured runner in college. Baltimore is presumably in the market for running back talent and Jacobs would be an exceedingly fun addition.

The fifth round of your fantasy draft will not lack birds. (AP Photo/Rey Del Rio)
The fifth round of your fantasy draft will not lack birds. (AP Photo/Rey Del Rio)

ROUND FIVE

49. Andrew Luck, QB, Ind
50. Aaron Rodgers, GB, QB
51. Eric Ebron, TE, Ind
52. Tyler Lockett, WR, Sea
53. Jarvis Landry, WR, Cle
54. Allen Robinson, WR, Chi
55. Deshaun Watson, QB, Hou
56. Doug Baldwin, WR, Sea
57. Lamar Miller, RB, Hou
58. Golden Tate, WR, NYJ?
59. Calvin Ridley, WR, Atl
60. D.J. Moore, WR, Car

Ebron and Lockett make for a satisfying back-to-back pairing, as both players should appear on every list of touchdown regression candidates. Ebron found the end-zone 13 times on 66 catches last season, adding another score as a runner; Lockett caught 10 TD passes on just 57 receptions (and only 70 targets!), resulting in the season’s most insane stat…

Based on projected volume and position scarcity, I’d lean Ebron over Lockett. But it’s damn close. If we could guarantee something close to 100 targets for Lockett in the season ahead — a number he’s never approached — then he’d be an easy WR2 in any fantasy format.

And with that, my work here is done. It’s hard to see how any of you could find serious fault with a way-too-early February mock, but, if you have any objections, please file them in comments below. Again, this is simply a non-binding first attempt to sort the player pool. Let’s reconvene after free agency and the draft, at which point I will be far too bullish about all the wrong rookies.

Follow the Yahoo fantasy football crew on Twitter: Andy Behrens, Dalton Del Don, Brad Evans, Matt Harmon, Liz Loza, Scott Pianowski and Tank Williams

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