With more users differentiating their fantasy football experience with point-per-reception scoring each year, we rounded up the fantasy staff for a 10-team PPR mock draft on July 10.
Unlike a pop quiz, which is basically just an awful mini-test that no one told you about, a mock draft is a fun and helpful exercise in preparation for the actual test that comes on draft day. In a mock, it's wise to experiment, as well as valuable, to develop your impression of the shifting market throughout the summer.
Joining me from the fantasy team in the draft were James Quintong, Keith Lipscomb, Pierre Becquey, Tim Kavanagh, Tom Carpenter, Tristan H. Cockcroft, Christopher Harris, Matthew Berry and Eric Karabell.
It's not surprising that the top six running backs and Peyton Manning all went in the first round of this draft as well as in our June 24 mock that coincided with the launch of the draft kit. You might find that Manning falls out of the first in some leagues, but it's safe to assume this six-pack of backs is a first-round fixture.
It's also not unexpected to see Calvin Johnson make his way into the first round of a PPR draft when you consider that he has scored 14.7 percent more fantasy points than the next closest wideout (Brandon Marshall) since 2011 using ESPN PPR scoring. In that span, Megatron also boasts 1,120 more receiving yards than the next-closest receiver, again Marshall, while the fantasy gap extends to 20.9 percent more point production than Wes Welker, who ranks third in PPR scoring during the past three seasons at the position.
The argument for Jimmy Graham in the first round is buoyed by similarly dominant trends, as Graham leads the position by 675 yards and a whopping 26.2 percent more fantasy point production in PPR than the second tight end (recently retired Tony Gonzalez) since 2011.
The most interesting selection here is undoubtedly Montee Ball, a breakout candidate seemingly bound to ascend ADP charts throughout the summer. Karabell was happy to land Ball: "I want running backs and Ball is going to be a star in standard and PPR formats. He's better than Knowshon Moreno, and look at what he achieved. Fantasy owners should never be afraid to take the players they want, while also considering value. And I think Ball is worth it, especially in PPR."
The numbers side with Karabell here. The Broncos led the league in rushing attempts inside the 5-yard line last season and sit second in the league in such attempts since Manning joined the roster in 2012. Moreno had the fourth-most points among backs in PPR leagues last season.
I am not among the crowd that believes Arian Foster is close to the proverbial production cliff after years of workhorse duties. Big plays are still in the wheelhouse; Foster reeled off 23 plays of at least 10 yards last season in just six games. Ben Tate produced 20 such plays in 11 games for the Texans last season. Fears of being hamstrung (dangerous wording) by a low-octane passing offense are legitimate, as the Texans' offense produced just 17 rushes inside the 5 in 2013 after averaging 29.3 such attempts from 2010 to 2012. I'm willing to gamble that Foster endures and thrives given another massive, three-down workload. Foster led all backs in PPR scoring from 2010 to 2012, besting the second back by more than 7 percent in point production.
Karabell went after another second-year breakout prospect in Bernard, but "Gio" has already broken out as a PPR performer after tying for 13th among backs in PPR scoring last season. As a measure of how much this format caters to Bernard's usage, his scoring output from 2013 leaps 37.5 percent when you convert the scoring legend from standard to PPR. For some more scoring context, a short-pass maven like DeMarco Murray enjoyed a 28 percent boon in PPR scoring last season, while a more traditional run-heavy back Alfred Morris saw just a 5.6 percent increase, due to a low reception rate.
Le'Veon Bell was second among running backs in targets from Week 7 on last season, behind only Shane Vereen, and fifth in fantasy points over that span in PPR scoring. Even if efficiency still eludes Bell's per-carry production this fall, a track record for healthy per-catch production (8.9 yards per reception in 2013) has already been established.
Harris shared his take on Ellington's value in this format: "I don't believe Bruce Arians when he says he's looking at 25 touches per game for Ellington; in fact, I think another RB (Jonathan Dwyer? Stepfan Taylor?) will be very involved. But Ellington is the pass-catcher. I think 50 catches is a reasonable goal, which certainly does elevate him above where he should go in a standard-scoring league."
For me this is about when drafts get interesting. The first three rounds are certainly exciting and rife with elite commodities, but I really enjoy seeing rosters form and differentiate in the middle rounds. Preferences and strategies really start to emerge and evolve. With two feature backs and a legit top wideout in my stable already, it was time to get weird and risky with "Gronk." Even in a smaller sample, the per-game results remained stellar last season, as Gronkowski's 16-game scoring pace would have seen him produce 91.5 percent of Jimmy Graham's 2013 PPR production.
Carpenter's investment of Vereen this high might appear bold, but any durability risks should be offset by the perfect marriage between player and format. Jamaal Charles led all NFL backs last season with 102 targets, while Vereen accrued 68 in his eight games. In a full season, Vereen would have produced the sixth-most points among backs in a PPR scoring format (21 points ahead of Eddie Lacy's awesome rookie campaign and just six points shy of Marshawn Lynch). A product of Jeff Tedford's back-friendly Cal program (a system that could help Doug Martin thrive), Vereen's 2013 fantasy production inflates by 49.6 percent when converting to PPR. Even if you price in a significant correction for targets per game with the Patriots expected to have a more diverse passing attack, Vereen stands to net six-plus targets per game.
Alfred Morris going in the fourth here is possibly evidence that you can still profit from players who don't see strong increases in this scoring system. Morris' point production hasn't to date and might never come from work in the passing game, but it's still coming. With the crowd avoiding him, Morris still ranks ninth among running backs in PPR scoring since 2012.
In the last five weeks of the 2013 season, Roddy White had the fourth-most fantasy points in PPR scoring among receivers. Lipscomb selected White as the 13th receiver off the board and is unwavering in his support for a bounce-back campaign: "White began last season injured and was a shell of his usual self for the first two-thirds of the season. The fact that he missed the first games of his nine-year career spoke volumes to me. But he played through it most of the season, and by season's end he actually had a few big games. White finished among the top-10 wide receivers in PPR fantasy points in each of the five previous seasons and I refuse to think he's not still in the discussion to finish in the top 10 at the position again this season."
I'm fairly confident in a revival for Victor Cruz, who was as much a victim of Eli Manning's poor play as any Giants fan in 2013. In 2011-12, Cruz produced the fifth-most fantasy points at the position in PPR scoring, and third-most in standard over this time frame. It took historic ineptitude from Manning to deflate Cruz to his 2013 level. A positive correction is coming.
The advanced numbers seem to agree that Reggie Bush is among the more elusive backs in the league, as he forced a missed tackle on a respectable 18.4 percent of his touches last season, per Pro Football Focus. My major hesitation, however, in investing in Bush as a top RB2, or even a borderline RB1 in a PPR format, stems from the undeniable presence teammate Joique Bell, who is among the most elusive and productive per-touch backs in the league. Bell forced a missed tackle on 21.9 percent of his touches last season (Adrian Peterson landed at 21.7), while producing .983 fantasy points per touch the past two seasons in PPR scoring to Bush's .782. Bell is the back of choice in short-yardage scenarios and has equal footing in the passing game. Both of these backs are really strong starting options at a thin position, particularly in this format, but I have a hard time paying the premium on Bush when Bell costs so much less.
When it comes to Welker, the reality might just be that fantasy investors are wary of a slot weapon with concussion issues who makes his numbers underneath and in traffic. Even with the comfort and upside Welker's valuable role can provide when healthy, count me among the wary.
In looking through red-zone rushing tendencies, it was interesting to find that the New York Giants tied for fourth in the league with 23 rushes to their running backs inside the 5 in 2013 and remain tied for fourth in this stat going back to 2011.
David Wilson didn't earn trust from coaches or fantasy investors before his career-threatening neck injury. Rookie Andre Williams is a short-yardage, early-down prospect with only 10 college receptions. In the seven games Rashad Jennings was on the field for more than 70 percent of the Raiders' snaps in 2013, he averaged 16 standard fantasy points, good for third among all backs on a per-game basis. I'm not expecting such success to sustain over a full season, but I'm not fading Jennings as he heads to an offense desperately in need of a capable veteran back.
Since 2010, 13 running backs have compiled 20 seasons of at least 275 carries and 30 receptions. So in the past four seasons, we have seen an average of five such workloads occur each year. Is my reasoning for liking Toby Gerhart as a strong RB2 or flex tied strongly to an expectation that he sees a workload similar to the type I just mentioned? Mostly, yes. But I'm also intrigued enough by the efficiency (4.7 career YPC) he's displayed and the impressive six-game stretch he enjoyed in place of an injured Adrian Peterson in 2011. From Week 12 to the finish in 2011, Gerhart was tied for ninth among backs in PPR scoring. If a guy like Zac Stacy can thrive in a fantasy sense given a volume of touches, I see no reason why a more accomplished candidate like Gerhart can't, as well.
Darren Sproles leads all backs in targets in the past two seasons with 181, while Pierre Thomas ranks eighth in that span with 131. Sproles is now in South Philly in a system that should cater to his unique receiving skills. For Thomas, who was taken earlier in the fourth, the Saints' love for targeting tailbacks will remain, making that lofty price make much more sense in this scoring context.
Marques Colston has officially become boring. Boring can become a true asset in most commodities, as the ho-hum 75/1,000/6 slash we have come to expect is now coming at a discount.
There might not be much fantasy owners can do to counter the splits, but Jason Witten's home/road numbers the past two seasons are really compelling and unique. Having played all 32 games since 2012, in Witten's past 16 games at home he has posted 116 receptions (to just four drops) for 1,269 yards and seven touchdowns. In his past 16 road games, Witten has posted just 67 receptions (to seven drops) for 621 yards and four touchdowns. As you can imagine, the fantasy point gap is massive (279 home points in PPR to 146 on the road). We can't say if this is an enduring trend to watch for in 2014, but it all sort of rings true for Tony Romo and the overall passing offense in a scaled version of how the Saints' home/road stuff can play out.
It always feels better to not be the team that takes Darren McFadden, but we can see that this round is largely defined by veteran backs with very real questions about their production potential with the likes of Maurice Jones-Drew, Stevan Ridley and both Jacksons, Steven and Fred. We all know the running back crop gets ugly early and doesn't often relent, and this round is just further confirmation.
Rookie wideouts rarely pan out for us in the fantasy sense, but a talented crop at the top will likely see as many as four freshmen (Sammy Watkins, Brandin Cooks, Mike Evans and Jordan Matthews) surface in most PPR leagues. Maybe one of them will matter enough for weekly fantasy usage, but the odds don't even suggest that.
In a staff mock like this, we often all wait for a good deal on quarterbacks past the top trio, but seeing Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson and Tony Romo in these rounds truly reinforces just how deep this year's class is at the position.
Given the choice again, I might have gone with Terrance West over Khiry Robinson, even though I like both backs. I want to buy a handful of these rookie lottery tickets at tailback, with West premier among them. Being Ben Tate's understudy means you are going to want to know all of your lines.
The Steelers lost two veteran receivers this offseason who combined for 186 targets last season in Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. After essentially redshirting as a rookie, Markus Wheaton is slotted to take a healthy share of the available work.
It's possible that Hakeem Nicks is no longer considered in a if-he-can-only-stay-healthy guy and has transitioned into the he's-probably-not-that-good-anymore grouping, but I'd gladly take a swing even as high as the 10th in a format like this. In fantasy baseball, I sometimes like guys on a "pillow" contract; short deals with an eye on reestablishing lost market value. I sort of view Nicks in that sense with some potential for profit.
Jordan Reed stands out here as a pretty special value for Berry in the 13th. We can look past Berry's obvious homerism for his favorite team and still find value in the volume of work Reed could net in Jay Gruden's tight-end-friendly scheme.
It's hard to tell if Bernard Pierce is a competent NFL running back (2013 wasn't a great argument), but he's probably the guy who will get the first crack at work if or when Ray Rice nets a suspension.
The bottom line on kickers is that they have legs and feet and they use them to score points for their NFL teams and us. As for team defenses, I prefer to wait until the penultimate round in nearly every case to pursue my group. There are exceptions for when you might identify a unit you really trust, but I'm often much happier in the preceding rounds investing in the lottery tickets at tailback and receiver.