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FANTASY FOOTBALL: How to nail the back end of a mock draft after going ‘RB’ with the first four picks

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Packers tailback Aaron Jones (1,558 total yards, 19 TDs) produced 14 red-zone touchdowns last season ... despite only logging 33 red-zone carries all year.

If 2020 were a typical sports summer, instead of the logistical Year From Hell, we likely wouldn’t have the time or interest in doing LIVE mock drafts before training camps launch in late July/early August.

Instead, we had plenty of hourly openings on this week’s Wednesday calendar, and begrudgingly got sucked into another live mock draft, via ESPN.com.

To make things interesting, though, we decided on the pre-mock caveat/strategy of going RB-RB-RB-RB in the first four rounds, regardless of any absurd pop-up values with wide receivers or quarterbacks (at this stage of the draft).

The overall mission here? The pressure-packed task of building up a quality receiving corps, without the impact of a top-10 wideout … while still jumping at the chance to land tremendous value with tailbacks, quarterbacks, tight ends and even defenses from Rounds 5-12.

Simply put, this is how good mock GMs become excellent real-world drafters. Always make things uncomfortable during August prep time, even if no one’s paying close attention.

Never treat a mid-week mock draft as a seemingly mindless exercise. There’s value in every mental exercise.

POSITIONAL RANKINGS

QB-STARTER RANKINGS

TOP 60 PPR TAILBACKS

TOP 75 PPR WIDE RECEIVERS

TOP 30 PPR TIGHT ENDS

TOP 150 PPR PLAYMAKERS

BATSBY SPORTS’ LIVE MOCK DRAFT FROM JULY 23

ROUND 1 — RB Aaron Jones, Packers
ROUND 2 — RB Leonard Fournette, Jaguars
ROUND 3 — RB Chris Carson, Seahawks
ROUND 4 — RB D’Andre Swift, Lions
ROUND 5 — WR DeVante Parker, Dolphins
ROUND 6 — QB Deshaun Watson, Texans
ROUND 7 — RB Derrius Guice, Redskins
ROUND 8 — WR Will Fuller, Texans
ROUND 9 — WR Christian Kirk, Cardinals
ROUND 10 — TE Austin Hooper, Browns
ROUND 11 — D/ST Pittsburgh Steelers
ROUND 12 — QB Carson Wentz, Eagles
ROUND 13 — WR Anthony Miller, Bears
ROUND 14 — WR Michael Pittman Jr., Colts
ROUND 15 — PK Harrison Butker, Chiefs
ROUND 16 — TE Dallas Goedert, Eagles

ROSTER BREAKDOWN

a) I find it shocking that Aaron Jones (my No. 4 overall asset in fantasyland) has consistently fallen into the 8-14 range with mock drafts.

Especially when hypothetically paired up against Alvin Kamara or Ezekiel Elliott.

For 2019, Elliott enjoyed the head-to-head edge with carries (301), rushing yards (1,357), total yards (1,777), catches (54) and targets (71); whereas Jones prevailed with yards per carry (4.6), receiving yards (474), rushing touchdowns (16), receiving scores (3) and total touchdowns (19).

The tiebreaker for 2020: Similar to Dalvin Cook, Jones should greatly benefit from a schedule that includes the Panthers (NFL-worst 27 rushing TDs allowed last year), Jaguars (bottom-5 ranking with rushing yards/rushing TDs surrendered) and Lions (bottom-10 with rushing yards/rushing TDs allowed).

Two more bonus tracks:

****In his final six outings last season (including the playoffs), Jones posted supreme averages of 116 total yards and 1.5 touchdowns.

****Last season, Elliott nearly doubled Jones’ amount of red-zone carries (59-33 disparity); and yet, the latter finished with more rushing touchdowns inside the 20 (14-11 advantage).

b) Don’t be intimidated by the Jaguars’ lack of scoring prowess (26th overall last year), the early-stages development of quarterback Gardner Minshew II (often playing from behind as a rookie) … or how the Jacksonville front office bypassed the ‘fifth-year option’ on Leonard Fournette’s entry-level contract.

Last year, Fournette notched career highs with rushing yards (1,152), catches (76), targets (100), receiving yards (522) and total yards (1,674) … without surpassing his 2017 number of carries. This bodes well for 2020, factoring in how the Jaguars didn’t make any massive upgrades among the tailbacks (sorry, Chris Thompson).

We’re also willing to guarantee that Fournette scores more than three touchdowns this season, barring catastrophic injury.

The only real conundrum here: At the 17th slot of Round 2, we had trouble deciding among Fournette, Nick Chubb, Miles Sanders and Chris Godwin, my No. 2 PPR receiver during the preseason.

c) Chris Carson (my No. 11 PPR tailback) owns stellar two-year averages of 1,405 total yards and nine touchdowns … despite missing three regular-season outings during this span.

And when in doubt, roll with the elite-level running backs at the top of the draft. As referenced many times in the last few weeks, there should be a flood of quality options, among wideouts, in the latter rounds.

d) For the record, I have Devin Singletary rated two slots ahead of D’Andre Swift in the tailback rankings.

However, for this particular mock draft, we’re targeting upside at the RB4 slot, since this player — barring a monster breakout in September — could be languishing on the bench, minus bye weeks.

So, let’s ride with Lions’ Swift, who has the physical tools to collect 60-plus targets in Year 1 … and be a top-10 fantasy tailback in Year 2.

e) The Dolphins will likely assign a redshirt year to rookie QB Tua Tagovailoa, allowing him to fully mend from last year’s hip surgery and subsequently hit the ground running for 2021 — similar to how Patrick Mahomes transitioned with the Chiefs in 2017-18.

And if that’s the case, we look forward to 12, 14 or even 16 games of Ryan Fitzpatrick (the only QB in NFL history with three straight games of 400 yards passing) slinging it around to DeVante Parker, who averaged 5.1 catches, 82 yards and 0.7 TDs in his final 13 outings last year.

For this prolific stretch, Parker collected double-digit targets seven different times. He also tallied six catches, 90 yards and/or one touchdown on 10 occasions.

f) For those waiting until Round 5 to fortify the receiving corps (like me), it’s imperative to link a high-end quarterback to a solid No. 1 wideout.

The best option at this point in the draft? Taking Deshaun Watson (two-year average: 4,005 yards passing, 32 total TDs) in Round 5 … and then confidently hoping that Will Fuller drops to Round 8 or 9.

Speaking of which …

Charting his 10 greatest games with Watson as the Texans’ starting quarterback, Fuller boasts staggering averages of 5.6 catches, 102 yards and 1.4 TDs per outing.

In case you’re wondering … that otherworldly sample size represents roughly 47 percent of Fuller’s starts with Watson running the Houston offense.

g) On the surface, it seems foolish to draft Derrius Guice as an RB5 in Round 7.

In this scenario, Guice would essentially be a shiny object riding my fantasy bench for sustained periods of a season.

For this exercise, however, we only care about value; and Guice (137 total yards, 2 TDs versus the Redskins last year) should make for excellent trade fodder come late September/early October … with teams that desperately require an upgrade among their starting tailbacks.

And trust us, marketable running backs never go out of style in highly competitive fantasy leagues. Just like solid long-term planning.

h) With the Falcons last season, Hooper (75 catches, 97 targets, 787 yards, 6 TDs) enjoyed career-best marks across the board; and yet, fantasy owners should feel optimistic about the 26-year-old’s still-roomy ceiling, moving forward.

For instance, replicating 97 targets will likely be a stretch in Cleveland, given the Browns’ arsenal of explosive playmakers (Nick Chubb, Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Kareem Hunt, David Njoku).

On the plus side, Hooper (my No. 5 PPR tight end) might never encounter a between-the-20s double team with Cleveland all season, let alone inside the red zone.

So, it might be a reasonable swap to cede slightly fewer catches and targets … for a tangible bump in touchdowns.

And last but not least …

i) Without a doubt, Christian Kirk’s preseason fantasy ranking has been adversely affected by DeAndre Hopkins joining the Cardinals’ explosive offense.

Last year, Kirk (68 catches, 709 yards, 3 TDs) produced eight outings of nine-plus targets, seven games of six-plus catches and two 100-yard efforts … while serving as Arizona’s No. 1 wideout (with apologies to Larry Fitzgerald).

Fast forward to the present: Fantasy owners should anticipate Kirk seldom, if ever, incurring any double teams, especially in the red zone, thanks to the arrival of Hopkins and tailback Kenyan Drake.

In other words, I’m much happier to invest a Round 9 selection on a somehwat-invisible Kirk … instead of a Round 6 pick who didn’t find the end zone in 12 of 13 games last season.

About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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