EARLY 2016 NFL FANTASY MOCK DRAFT; FIRST ROUND – 10 TEAM

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In year’s past, running backs and quarterbacks were considered the best bets in the first round of NFL fantasy drafts, but that trend is seemingly coming to an end. In the modern day NFL, with the passing game becoming more and more valuable, wide receivers are now the most prolific weapons on most NFL teams, and that translates directly to big-time points in the fantasy football world.

Sure, QBs still tally the most points, but the difference between the top QB and the 10th top QB is small enough not to waste a top pick on a play-caller. And in today’s NFL it’s rare to find an every-down RB who isn’t in a time-share with another player who could easily steal his job. Additionally, RBs tend to get injured more than any other fantasy-related position, diminishing their value just a wee bit more.

It’s early – heck, the Super Bowl JUST ended – but for many of us Fantasy Football is a year-round game. Here’s a look at my top-10 picks for next year’s NFL Fantasy Draft.

 

1. Antonio Brown – WR – Pittsburgh Steelers

All Antonio Brown did in 2015 was tie for the league lead in receptions (136), finish second to Julio Jones in reception yards (1,834) and score 10 touchdowns. Oh, and that was with Michael Vick and Landry Jones throwing to him for 4-plus games.

With a healthy Ben Roethlisberger for a full-season, AB would have undoubtedly shattered a few NFL records, and would have produced even more that his non-QB leading 252.2 (non-PPR) fantasy points.

Sure, expecting an injury-free season from Big Ben is akin to expecting a drama-free Chip Kelly season, but even if Ben plays only another 12 games in 2016 Brown will likely once again lead all non-throwers in fantasy points, making him the obvious top pick in most leagues, especially PPR leagues.

 

2. Odell Beckham Jr. – WR – New York Giants

You’ve seen the highlights; this kid can ball.

The Giants promoted former offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo to Head Coach, and that should keep the synergy between Eli Manning and OBJ strong going forward.

Beckham finished 2015 as the 5th ranked WR despite missing a game due to suspension and should continue to increase his numbers as he gains more experience and familiarity with his QB.

Expect an uptick in receptions and yards and for him to haul in 12-15 TDs.

 

3. Julio Jones – WR – Atlanta Falcons

Simply put, Jones’ 2015 season was one of the best ever for a WR in the history of the NFL. His 1,871 yards is the second highest all-time behind only Calvin Johnson’s historic 2012 season.

Jones could have easily finished as the most valuable WR in 2015 had he scored more than 8 TDs, something I expect he’ll do next season.

Matt Ryan’s inconsistency is a little troubling, but I would trust Jones even if Nick Foles was his QB. Although matching his yardage from last season may be tough, an increase in TDs should allow him to come close or better the 239 fantasy points he put up this season.

 

4. Leveon Bell – RB – Pittsburgh Steelers

 

When healthy, Bell is easily the most valuable fantasy player in the game. An every-down back, Leveon is a threat in both the running and the passing game and is a threat to score on every touch. His patience and awareness is unmatched, and playing behind a strong offensive line and a powerful offense in Pittsburgh only adds to his value.

If he can stay healthy, expect him to lead all RBs, and maybe even all players, in fantasy points. If someone were to take him first overall, I doubt there would be anyone who would question the decision.

 

5. Adrian Peterson – RB – Minnesota Vikings

At the age of 30, AP defied the odds and led the league in rushing with 1,485 yards. His 230 fantasy points was second to only Devonta Freeman for RBs, and Peterson looked as youthful and dangerous as ever.

Normally I would shy away from a 31 year old RB, but AP is a different animal. Age doesn’t appear to have slowed him down and as long as he keeps getting the touches in Minny, I expect him to continue to out up the numbers. His ceiling may not be as high as others on this list, but you know what you’re going to get with Peterson, and his floor makes him a safe bet as an early first-round pick.

 

6. DeAndre Hopkins – WR – Houston Texans

Hopkins had a breakout 2015 campaign, and at only 23 years old, there’s no reason to expect any regression next season. His 220 fantasy points were sixth most for WRs, and the likelihood of him improving on his numbers is high.

He’s a monster, and Houston’s passing game was better than expected and should continue to improve as Brian Hoyer gains more experience and confidence. A line of 120-1,800-15 isn’t out of the question entering his fourth season for the Texans.

 

7. Dez Bryant – WR – Dallas Cowboys

2015 was a mess for Dez and the Dallas Cowboys as a whole. Injuries limited Bryant to just nine games, and he was clearly playing hurt through most of them. Add to that that starting QB Tony Romo only played four games, and Dez needed to rely on Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel to get him the ball, and it’s no surprise that Bryant’s season was disastrous.

Assuming Romo and Dez stay healthy, a return to the top echelon of WRs is almost a certainty.

 

8. Todd Gurley – RB – Los Angeles Rams

Despite missing the first three weeks of the season due to a knee injury, Gurley’s rookie season was nothing short of spectacular. He finished as the fifth highest scoring RB and playing a full season, with the added experience should make Gurley a slam-dunk as a top 5 back. His ceiling is as high as anyone’s in the league.

 

9. Rob Gronkowski – TE – New England Patriots

Water is wet, the sky is blue and Rob Gronkowski scores touchdowns. Sure, he probably won’t crack the top-ten in fantasy points, but his floor is as safe as anyone’s in the game and picking him in the first round is a safe, safe pick.

TE is not a deep position, and having a guy like Gronk that you can confidently start every week at the position is a nice luxury for any fantasy owner.

 

10. David Johnson Jr. – RB – Arizona Cardinals

Opportunity, man. It’s a great thing. No one showcased that theory more than Johnson, who started the season as the third stringer for the Cards. Injuries to both Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington enabled Johnson to become an every-down back, and his ability as a runner, pass-catcher and return man makes him a threat every down, every possession.

Johnson undoubtedly won fantasy owners some money, as he was an absolute beast for the last few weeks of the fantasy season and playoffs and his upside his sky-high.

We’ve seen rookies regress in their sophomore season before, and it’s always a possibility, but a top-3 RB season is definitely not a stretch.

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