FANTASY FOOTBALL: Quick-hitter thoughts from a live mock draft on July 20 (No. 12 slot)

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Steelers tailback James Conner has amassed 94 total yards and/or one touchdown 17 times in his last 23 outings.

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

Instead, we had plenty of hourly openings on our Monday schedule for this week, and begrudgingly got sucked into a live mock draft, via ESPN.com.

For this 12-team faux league with PPR rules, I was the second owner in the draft room and happily chose the 12th slot in Round 1.

Here are the results:

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 20

ROUND 1 — WR DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals
ROUND 2 — WR Chris Godwin, Buccaneers
ROUND 3 — RB James Conner, Steelers
ROUND 4 — RB Melvin Gordon, Broncos
ROUND 5 — WR DeVante Parker, Dolphins
ROUND 6 — RB Mark Ingram, Ravens
ROUND 7 — RB Sony Michel, Patriots
ROUND 8 — WR Will Fuller, Texans
ROUND 9 — QB Matthew Stafford, Lions
ROUND 10 — RB Marlon Mack, Colts
ROUND 11 — TE Austin Hooper, Browns
ROUND 12 — D/ST New England Patriots
ROUND 13 — QB Baker Mayfield, Browns
ROUND 14 — WR Michael Pittman Jr., Colts
ROUND 15 — PK Harrison Butker, Chiefs
ROUND 16 — TE Greg Olsen, Seahawks

ROSTER BREAKDOWN

a) There were only three serious options at the 12th spot — DeAndre Hopkins, Aaron Jones and Chris Godwin.

In a real live draft, I might have opted for positional balance at 12 and 13, in the form of Godwin (see praise below) and Jones (averaged 116 total yards/1.5 TDs in his final six outings last year).

However, for the sake of experimentation, we went with Hopkins and Jones … with the full intent of stocking up on running backs over the next six rounds.

b) Godwin finished second overall with PPR leagues last year (trailing only Michael Thomas), despite ranking 11th in receptions (86), 17th in targets (120), 3rd in receiving yards (1,333) and 3rd in receiving touchdowns (9).

As such, there are two ways to interpret our positional ranking (No. 2) for 2020:

GOOD: Godwin (three double-digit target outings, six 100-yard games last year) might already be a fantasy superstar … but also has plenty of tangible upside with catches, targets and touchdowns.

MEH: Fantasy owners should never assume 1,300-plus yards and nine touchdowns from any wideout, year to year, especially one who has yet to clear 90 receptions.

c) This time last summer, James Conner (1,470 total yards/13 TDs in 2018) was being hailed as a low Round 1/high Round 2 pick in PPR drafts.

Fast forward to the present: Conner easily deserves the benefit of the doubt here, based on a 2018 track record of 11 outings of 95 total yards and/or one touchdown.

(There were also five games of multiple TDs within that dream campaign.)

d) From 2016-18 with the Chargers, Melvin Gordon averaged 1,457 total yards and 13 touchdowns over a 41-game span, with per-outing tallies of 107 total yards and 0.92 touchdowns.

Last season, however, Gordon merely averaged 76 total yards and 0.75 TDs per game, a noticeable drop from the three previous campaigns.

So, why does Gordon make sense at the end of Round 4, considering how Phillip Lindsay (two-year average: 1,243 total yards, 9 TDs) could be a top-3 backup this year?

Here’s our two-tiered rationale:

****After going WR-WR in the first two rounds, we didn’t have the luxury of grabbing QB Lamar Jackson, Titans receiver A.J. Brown or Steelers wideout JuJu Smith-Schuster at the 48th overall slot.

****Given how Lindsay doesn’t have the track record of being a targets machine, Gordon (averaging 65 targets since 2016) should be a healthy lock for 50 catches and 70-plus targets.

e) There’s no justification in Mark Ingram (1,265 total yards/15 TDs last year) falling to the 61st slot.

Seriously.

Yes, Ingram’s 2019 tallies for catches (26) and targets (29) were wretched; but then again, he also had a 90-percent proficiency rate when targeted … and six outings of 100-plus total yards or multiple touchdowns.

What more do you want from a primary cog in the NFL’s most prolific rushing offense?

f) Charting his 10 greatest games with Deshaun Watson as the Texans’ starting quarterback (dating back to 2017), wideout Will 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 approximately 47 percent of Fuller’s starts with Watson running the Houston offense.

g) Fantasy pundits might have Jaguars wideout DJ Chark (73 catches, 1,008 yards, 8 TDsd in 15 games last year) ranked ahead of DeVante Parker, through the appearance of more stability with the quarterbacking situation (Gardner Minshew’s the clear-cut starter in Jacksonville).

However, we’d argue the Dolphins will do everything in their power to 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 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.

h) Matthew Stafford’s midseason injury served as a death knell for the eminently flawed Lions, who went 0-8 without their franchise signal-caller last season.

There were also fantasy consequences to swallow, since Stafford was on pace for 4,998 yards passing and 38 touchdowns … before going down with a serious-but-not-surgery-worthy back ailment.

Can Stafford produce another year of monster numbers?

****Unlike previous years, the Lions are blessed with high-upside playmakers at the tailback, receiver and tight end slots.

****The schedule-makers have apparently been very kind, since Detroit draws the vulnerable pass defenses from the AFC South (Texans, Colts, Jaguars) and NFC South (Bucs, Falcons, Saints).

****Stafford posted the third-highest average of points among quarterbacks last year (25.9 per game).

The two passers ranked ahead? Lamar Jackson and Jameis Winston … currently Drew Brees’ backup in New Orleans.

Bottom line: A healthy Stafford has value that far exceeds pick 108. Just sit back and reap the rewards of absurdly low value every time.

i) Unlike most fantasy pundits, I’m penciling in Marlon Mack as the Colts’ go-to back for Week 1, with Wisconsin rookie Jonathan Taylor serving as the backup.

If things should change during training camp, we’d easily drop Mack for Derrius Guice, who appears to have a stronghold on the RB1 slot with the Redskins.

Last season, Mack posted eight different outings of 90 total yards and/or one touchdown, despite logging 20-plus touches for merely seven games.

j) With the Falcons last season, Austin 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 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.

Put it all together, and pick 132 represents tremendous value for Hooper — BATSBY Sports’ fifth-ranked tight end.

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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