Earlier in the offseason, picking fourth seemed like a great spot to be in. With Ezekiel Elliott often going in the top three, one of Alvin Kamara or Christian McCaffrey would routinely fall there. That's no longer the case. The question now becomes: Do you take Elliott at four or do you go elsewhere?
I haven't been high on Elliott much of the offseason because I saw Tony Pollard as a legitimate threat to at least passing downs work, so with the holdout uncertainty — and I do expect him to return, but even if there's a 5% chance he doesn't, you have to factor that into his risk profile — he is not in consideration for me until at least the latter part of the first round. My decision came down to DeAndre Hopkins or David Johnson, who I'm winding up with on a lot of teams.
My colleague Heath Cummings recently laid out Kyler Murray will dump off, as rushing quarterbacks tend to eschew some running back targets in favor of scrambles, but I still see a major parallel here to when Todd Gurley rid himself of Jeff Fisher's coaching and was unleashed. There's only room to go up for Johnson, even if the situation isn't perfect, because the situation last year was awful.in the first round. While I share Heath's concerns about the offensive line, I think we should be given they were abnormal in several key ways. Play volume, percentage of rush attempts that went straight up the gut, a failure to split Johnson out wide — all of these things were inexplicable trends that sapped Johnson of his ability to post strong Fantasy numbers. There are still concerns about the line and about how frequently
Johnson is my pick at 1.04. Here's how the rest of the draft played out:
- 1.04 David Johnson, RB, Cardinals
- 2.09 Dalvin Cook, RB, Vikings
- 3.04 Brandin Cooks, WR, Rams
- 4.09 D.J. Moore, WR, Panthers
- 5.04 Mike Williams, WR, Chargers
- 6.09 Robby Anderson, WR, Jets
- 7.04 Corey Davis, WR, Titans
- 8.09 Marquez Valdes-Scantling, WR, Packers
- 9.04 Ronald Jones, RB, Buccaneers
- 10.09 Jalen Richard, RB, Raiders
- 11.04 Kyler Murray, QB, Cardinals
- 12.09 Jamaal Williams, RB, Packers
- 13.04 Giovani Bernard, RB, Bengals
- 14.09 David Njoku, TE, Browns
- 15.04 Rex Burkhead, RB, Patriots
I typically won't start RB-RB in a PPR league where you can start up to four wide receivers, but Cook is a difficult player to pass up in the late second round. His upside in the Vikings' run-heavy scheme was evident when he broke off an 85-yard touchdown run on one of just two touches in the team's third preseason game.
But because I believe there are far fewer upside wide receiver plays late in drafts relative to other positions this year, the RB-RB start meant I needed to immediately prioritize my WR depth. I'm very high on Cooks and Moore, but things did thin out quickly in this draft (partly because I drafted three separate teams and prefer a WR-heavy approach in the middle rounds from nearly any draft slot this year!).
I'm also very high on Williams and Anderson, but my decision to take six consecutive receivers through Valdes-Scantling was certainly impacted by my inability to get a player like Calvin Ridley or Tyler Boyd along with Moore as the draft swung around the 4/5 turn. Flexibility is key in drafts, but flexibility is also dependent on your philosophy. For me, flexibility here meant I needed to stay with WR until I felt I had the requisite depth.
From there, my roster is a mixed bag. It doesn't have quite the RB upside I typically find on my own rosters, again not the least of which because I was taking several of my own priority late-round running back targets on other rosters in this draft. Williams, Bernard and Burkhead are all later fliers for me, though I think Williams and Bernard are undervalued No. 2s.
Burkhead is an example of something I like to do with my last pick in deeper leagues which is to take a high-risk option that would be easy to cut after Week 1 if need be. Things have been quiet on the Burkhead front, and it's possible he's not even active on game days, but when healthy the last few years New England has used him as a Swiss Army Knife as a pass-catching back that can split out wide. James White is of course their primary pass-catching back, but I could see Burkhead having a surprise Week 1 role as a versatile player that can help minimize the loss of Rob Gronkowski. If that doesn't pan out, I can cut him for whichever Week 1 pickup I covet.
Lost in the Cardinals' subpar preseason was Murray showing us what he needed to. He displayed the passing accuracy that helped him to one of the most efficient passing seasons in Division I history last year, and he also showed off the athleticism that helped him to a 1,000-yard rushing season last year at Oklahoma with a few easy scampers where he ducked out of bounds rather than taking a hit. Much of the hype around Lamar Jackson's rushing upside being Fantasy gold applies also to Murray, but Murray provides more passing upside along with it. I still believe he has , and on a roster where I've already invested in David Johnson, and by extension the Cardinals offense, I'm more than happy to make Murray my starting quarterback.
I've caught plenty of flak for what likely appears to be an unwavering belief Jones will be a superstar, but I don't keep picking him without concerns. I'm extremely concerned about his situation (the offensive line is very bad, and Dare Ogunbowale is challenging to turn what was a two-man committee into a three-man, especially as it relates to the important passing downs work), and in most drafts I'm hoping to get him a bit later where more of the risk is factored in. But even in the ninth round, it's hard to argue the upside isn't worth it. And there is still upside; the entire Fantasy community very much believed Melvin Gordon and Devonta Freeman were bad after their rookies season, and both exploded in year two. The bottom line is Jones was a better prospect than he's given credit for, and even with Ogunbowale's ascendance Jones still doesn't have major competition if he looks like the player who was taken 38th overall just a year ago. When I already have two very good backs, I'm comfortable taking a swing on a player like Jones, but I'm not doing it because it's a high-probability bet. And because of that, my 10th-round pick of Jalen Richard should also be read as concern for Jones; after Doug Martin's release I see Richard as a safe No. 3 with a pass-catching role and upside. Those two picks should be viewed as a pair, and I recommend finding safe options like Richard to fill out your RB depth chart if you take the plunge on Jones.
Either of Johnson or Cook would fit here, and I discussed both above, but because of how I constructed my roster I've exposed myself to plenty of risk if either of these backs misses time. Of course, this roster will flex a WR nearly every week, and it wouldn't be drawing completely dead if the unfortunate happened, but with a late-round TE already being the weak spot in the starting lineup, upside for the roster as a whole relies on the two running backs I took in Rounds 1 and 2 being a tandem of RB1s.