Our ESPN fantasy football experts gathered on June 9 for this standard (no PPR) 10-team mock draft. We all know that many things will change between now and the season, as roles are fleshed out and injuries occur during training camp and the preseason, but this mock offers a good starting point for your preseason draft prep.
The participants in order of draft position are: Keith Lipscomb, Eric Karabell, KC Joyner, Matthew Berry, Field Yates, Mike Clay, Matt Bowen, Tom Carpenter, Jim McCormick and Tristan H. Cockcroft.
I've long supported the idea of taking the top wideout or Rob Gronkowski with an early first-round selection, so I love seeing Antonio Brown and Julio Jones going first and second overall. The thinking here is that there are enough concerns with the top running backs -- Adrian Peterson (age), Le'Veon Bell (knee), Todd Gurley (bad O-line) -- that locking in what should be sure-fire elite wide receiver production in Brown and Jones makes a lot of sense.
For me, I was thrilled to get Ezekiel Elliott at No. 8. I currently have him ranked behind only Adrian Peterson among running backs, and that may well change during the preseason. I broke down my thoughts on Elliott as my top breakout candidate here, but the bottom line is I don't see another running back who has a floor and ceiling as high as Elliott's, and a bold owner could even take him first overall.
The second round may be the biggest key to success in fantasy drafts this year, because nearly every player carries substantial risk. No player is as risky as Jamaal Charles, who is working his way back from his latest torn ACL, and the middle of this round is about where he likely will go. Dez Bryant (foot) and Jordy Nelson (ACL) also are coming off their own major surgeries.
I went with a different kind of risk by taking Eddie Lacy, who was a tortuous flop in 2015. All of the offseason buzz has been that Lacy has shed weight and improved his cardio, and with a contract year on tap, I am a buyer on a running back who has the upside of a No. 1 overall player. We'll see how good he looks in the preseason, though, before I fully commit to him.
With the second pick of Round 3, Eric Karabell took his third straight wide receiver. Here is what Karabell had to say about that approach:
"It wasn't planned. I really thought about Doug Martin at No. 19 but thought it was too early to worry about positions and I like Jordy Nelson more. Just take best available. I like my top two running backs, so it worked out. With three top-10 WRs this team would compete."
I was targeting Jordan Reed in this round but got sniped by Bowen. I'm mighty tempted by his upside, especially in this range, where there is so much uncertainty. However, his ongoing concussion concerns are legitimate enough that I may be better off not having landed Reed.
I considered going with a quarterback near the end of Round 3, but I see Cam Newton, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers as fairly interchangeable at the top of the class, so I knew I would get one of them on the way back. As it turns out, I got the best of the best in Newton and can check "quarterback" off of my draft sheets.
Bowen followed up with Wilson, but Rodgers wouldn't go until the top of Round 6. Good luck getting Rodgers that late in most standard drafts, but that's still a quality steal for Cockcroft to land him that far along in an experts' draft, where everyone waits on quarterbacks. Make sure you have a read on when your opponents will start targeting quarterbacks and factor that into your draft strategy.
At the top of the round, Lipscomb chose Jeremy Hill over the likes of Ajayi, noting that "Ajayi's injury history still concerns me, especially in terms of him handling a heavy workload." Clay noted also that rookie Kenyan Drake should be "super busy on passing downs at least."
At this stage of the draft, there is a fair amount of just throwing darts at talented running backs in the hopes some of them come through with breakouts. Lipscomb summed it up well: "You just hope and pray you pick one who gets the opportunity and runs with it."
With that in mind, we'll all need to watch the Dolphins' and other backfields in the preseason to determine how workloads will be divvied up.
In this round, I took Randall Cobb, who I think will turn out to be a real bargain at this stage of the draft. He should return to form with Jordy Nelson back in the mix.
After taking David Johnson in Round 1, McCormick didn't select another running back until pairing Ryan Mathews and Matt Jones on the turn of Rounds 5-6. As noted above, sometimes you just have to load up on talented players who have an opportunity to shine, and McCormick did that with this pair of backs.
I expect Coby Fleener's stock to rise as we get closer to the season and people have had more time to contemplate his upside catching passes from Drew Brees in Jimmy Graham's former role. I considered taking him in Round 5 and could see him going in the first few rounds in some formats.
A few other players I expect to have on a lot of my teams are Tom Brady, Kevin White and Sterling Shepard. Lipscomb took Brady at the top of this round and paired him with Philip Rivers. I love the picks, because Rivers should hold down the fort during Brady's suspension, and Brady could well be the No. 1 quarterback the rest of the way.
I really wanted White, but again Bowen beat me to the punch. White is a special athlete and back to full speed after missing his rookie campaign, and I expect him to bust out immediately. Shepard is a nice fallback option, though, since he also is physically elite and in a terrific position on the New York Giants to bust out as a rookie.
Again, there is a reason why you can wait on quarterbacks if one of the top ones doesn't fall to you at the right spot in your draft. Yates and Joyner waited until the eighth round, yet they scored Brees and Ben Roethlisberger. Yes, there is more risk in these aging veterans, but both are studs when healthy.
With a pair of running backs and wideouts, a quarterback and tight end at this stage of the draft, I began targeting upside plays at running back and wide receiver. I'm concerned about Melvin Gordon's surgically repaired knee, but he has the talent and opportunity to shine, if he gets back to full speed.
Just like Gordon, Ameer Abdullah has talent and opportunity. The Detroit Lions ditched Joique Bell, lost Calvin Johnson to retirement and improved their O-line, so the door is wide open for Abdullah this season, at least if he proves capable of handling a large workload and protecting the ball.
Sticking with the high-ceiling plan, I took Tyler Lockett, who has tremendous upside. He has a full NFL season under his belt and I expect the Seahawks to pick up where they left off last season, with Wilson airing the ball out and Lockett being a scary-good deep threat.
Although I believe in Fleener, it never hurts to have a good backup plan, so I couldn't pass up Gary Barnidge at this point. To be honest, I was surprised he was still sitting there. In Clay's opinion, "He's one of the top early steals this year." Berry agreed, noting that "He drops way too much."
Speaking of backup plans, I took Darren McFadden in Round 13 to handcuff Elliot. I think Elliot will be durable, but this is football we're talking about and McFadden can make an impact in short stretches as a fill-in.
Traditionally, and especially in experts' leagues, defenses and kickers won't be touched by most owners until the final couple of rounds. Again, it's important to know your opponents' draft tendencies, though, so you can game plan ahead of time. If you want to get one of the top kickers or defenses, you'll have to time it right, and that may mean taking them around before everyone else is thinking about it.
Bowen pulled the trigger on the Seahawks D/ST in Round 11, and I took the Panthers D/ST early in Round 14. Clay took Stephen Gostkowski midway through Round 14 and I took Steven Hauschka before the turn in Round 15. By going early on kickers and D/STs, we still ended up with some nice upside plays in Round 16, as I got Devin Funchess and Clay got Tevin Coleman.