2016 Ideal Draft – Middle Draft Slot 

By Alan Satterlee, DFW Senior Writer and Co-Owner, @Speedkills_DFW

If you end up with a middle draft slot this year, what strategy should you consider on who to target for your team? Based on average draft position data from Fantasy Football Calculator this combination is possible and a potential combination to put you well on your way to a fantasy football title in 2016. This series scripts out the first ten rounds, with a middle-draft spot – an early slot was recapped here and a late-round draft spot team will come out tomorrow here at DFW.

FFWIMAGE-Cardinals1.07 RB David Johnson
Receivers will rule the early part of the draft but at some point running backs are going to be safe, prime draft targets. If we are calling this an “ideal draft” from the middle slot then let’s go with David Johnson (in some drafts Johnson has gone number one overall, and now lower than 9th overall). There’s not much not to like here. Johnson should absolutely explode and could be a blast back to the Marshall Faulk fantasy days where fantasy points are dropping from the sky from a can-do-it-all back who gets plenty of carries, gets goal line work (and behind one of the best offensive lines in football and best offenses,) and collects bundles of receptions. Johnson scored 8 rushing TDs on just 125 rushing attempts last year, and 4 receiving TDs on just 36 receptions. Pretty sick. If Johnson is gone, Todd Gurley can be queued up next.

FFWIMAGE-Bucs2.06 WR Mike Evans
I’ll admit, I am definitely a sucker for the Mike Evans upside, but the reality is he has averaged 71 receptions, 1,129 yards and 7.5 TDs per season in two years in the NFL which is pretty sick and that includes a brutal “sophomore slump” season last year. Still just 22 years old (Evans turns 23 in August) he could go nuclear this year. Tampa is running a ton of up-tempo, no-huddle offense this preseason which could create a recipe for some big games this year for Evans, who plays for a great offensive-minded coach in Dirk Koetter and with a big-talent at quarterback in Jameis Winston. In the Week 3 preseason tune-up game, Winston targeted Evans five times resulting in five receptions, 115 yards and a score in the first half.

FFWIMAGE-Panthers3.07 QB Cam Newton
There are many an expert and fantasy GM that will say this is not a good move, don’t take a quarterback this early. This is Cam Newton we are talking about, the Michael Jordan of his day. If Cam slips down in the third, snatch him up and then continue to fill-in the skill positions after that while then ignoring quarterback until it is either too much of a value, or snag a backup late. In the FANEX draft, I took Cam at 3.09, then waited until the 17th round to get a backup quarterback (Robert Griffin III). I like it. Maybe Cam’s stats from last season doesn’t quite resonate the way Peyton Manning’s 5,477-yard, 55-TD season in 2013 did, or the way Tom Brady’s 50-TD season in 2007 did, or the monster 5,476-yard and 46 TDs that Drew Brees had in 2011, but Cam’s 2015 season is right up there with the big 5,000-yard seasons, yet Cam is not getting near the same love in ADP. As measured by fantasy stats Newton’s 2015 season was actually the 4th-best season in NFL history, and he is only getting better. Newton has a legitimate chance in 2016 to have the greatest fantasy season by a quarterback ever (the first ever to crack 500 fantasy points) and the math isn’t that hard with his rushing production and rushing touchdowns. For all the natural, God-given talent Cam has, it’s easy to perhaps underestimate how hard he has worked to improve. We saw that work pay off last year as Newton’s QB-rating soared up from 82.1 in 2014 (and 88.8 in 2013) to 99.4 last year. Cam Newton is a freak of nature (unlike any other quarterback the game has ever seen), likely extremely motivated after losing the Super Bowl, he is off the fourth-best fantasy season by a quarterback — ever — and he has not even entered his prime yet. Cam’s fantasy and NFL records are being collected by the bushel (including already having the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in NFL history, the most combined yards in a player’s first five seasons — the list goes on and on). Could the greatest quarterback fantasy season ever be next? Could the game’s first-ever 500-point fantasy season be next? It sure does seem quite possible.

FFWIMAGE-Titans4.06 RB DeMarco Murray
Opinions on DeMarco Murray for 2016 are decidedly split, but I am on board. Many were burned from Murray’s lackluster 2015 season as he dropped from RB2 the season prior RB15 (although it felt way worse as Murray was hardly used some weeks — anyone remember the two-carry, three-yard game in Week 15 fantasy playoff week last year? — and he dropped from 12 games of 100+ yards in 2014 to one last year). That was last year though. Murray is wanted in Tennessee and set to be super busy, and he’ll likely be very fantasy friendly. Derrick Henry is there (more on him in a bit), but Murray in his own right is one of the better goalline runners in football statistically and he’s also a huge asset in the passing game (Murray averages 51 receptions over the past three seasons). As a Titan in preseason, Murray has racked up 153 yards rushing on 19 rushing attempts in three games with two touchdowns. He’s a lethal RB2 (as Murray is actually a RB1).

FFWIMAGE-Lions5.07 WR Marvin Jones
There are targets to be had with Calvin Johnson’s retirement and Marvin Jones will likely command his share. For starters, Detroit signed Jones for major bank. He’s on a five-year, $40M deal and based on 2016 cap hit, Jones is the 25th-highest paid wide receiver for the 2016 season. Jones has also quickly formed a strong rapport with Matthew Stafford and Jones has made several highlight-worthy catches in preseason. There also will be a lot of no-huddle offense in Detroit to help pad the receiver stats, and perhaps Jim Bob Cooter is just a really good offensive coordinator. After Cooter took over last year, the Lions went from averaging 18.5 points per game in the first of the season to 26.1 in the second half. Jones will be collecting a good chuck of that and well-worth a 5th-round gamble.

FFWIMAGE-Chiefs6.07 TE Travis Kelce
Just in terms of managing a draft, nabbing Travis Kelce in the 6th is a good use of a pick. There is a lot to be said for not spending too high of a pick on a tight end, and the 6th round is not too high. Nonetheless, Kelce provides an option that is both extremely safe (in two NFL seasons Kelce has been TE6 both years) and with tremendous upside still. Kelce has averaged 9.1 yards per target over his two years in the NFL, which is good enough for 2nd-best among tight ends over the 2014-15 seasons. The Kansas City Chief organization didn’t even need to see more, they already locked him up in January to a new contract (a six-year, $46.8M deal). Kelce is a sleep-well-at-night pick. 

FFWIMAGE-Titans7.06 RB Derrick Henry
Needing a third wide receiver, we nonetheless hit the pause button there and take Derrick Henry. If you draft DeMarco Murray, Henry is a must have. Henry is the type of pick who can instantly win a league. If Murray were to miss time, it’s hard to imagine Henry not pretty easily being a Top 10 running back (if not a Top 5). Henry also has value regardless as a red zone weapon and should be busy regardless (you can’t run “exotic smashmouth” football without him getting liberally involved). Henry should be particularly effective around the goal line where he is relentless — Henry had 45 touchdowns in three seasons at Alabama and an astonishing 153 touchdowns in high school.

FFWIMAGE-Redskins8.06 WR DeSean Jackson
Coming back, now it’s time to get on the wide receiver train. DeSean Jackson could make for a lethal WR3 this season (especially for 8th round price after you’ve stocked up elsewhere). Coming off a season where Jackson severely under-performed (just 58.7 yards receiving per game — about 25 percent less than he had in 2014, his first year with Washington) and having missed seven games, Jackson is flying a little under the radar. Washington should have a pass-heavy team and Jackson could be in store for a career season. He’s in a contract year, and that’s a big deal in this case. Jackson also has made every practice in camp — reportedly, the first time he’s ever done that, so he’s healthy and he’s focused (on getting paid, which is fine by me). Jackson has also has had the chance to ramp up his game going against newly added Josh Norman in practice (and Jackson by all accounts has not only gotten better with the competition, but he is consistently beating Norman).

FFWIMAGE-Panthers9.06 WR Devin Funchess
Late to get a WR3, then let’s be quick to get a WR4, especially in this case with Devin Funchess in the 9th round. Reports of Funchess’ stardom in Panthers’ camp have been widely reported, and I believe the hype. Funchess has the look of a young Terrell Owens about to break out (Owens broke out in his second NFL season). In addition for this fantasy team, Funchess makes for an attractive hookup with Cam Newton on this fantasy roster. Funchess was targeted nine times in the first half of the Week 3 pre-season game.

FFWIMAGE-Seahawks10.07 RB Christine Michael 
Closing out this 10-round roadmap, let’s snag some Christine Michael. It will be interesting where Michael goes in drafts after an impressive preseason but according to recent ADP you can still get him in the 10th round. Michael has never been short on talent and now he has made his way to “co-starter” with Thomas Rawls. I wrote the Christine Michael ROOKIE PROFILE back in 2013, and the upside is evident in the recap. Mike Mayock said during 2013 draft evaluations how “He’s the most gifted tailback in this class, albeit-troubled.” To Mayock’s point, Michael accidentally slept through two team interviews during the Combine. Finally, it looks like Michael is getting his head on straight. Through week three of preseason Michael has rushed for 157 yards on 24 attempts (6.5 yards per carry). Michael had an amazing Combine back in 2013 if you’ve forgotten some of the juicy measurables. No back even came close to Michael in skill testing that year. Michael was 1st among RBs in both the 3-Cone and 20-Yard Short Shuttle drills, 2nd-best in the Broad Jump and was also 1st in the Vertical Jump, an almost unbelievable 43″. Michael also showed off his strength with 27 reps in the Bench Press.

There you have it, mapping out an “ideal draft strategy” for those drafting in the middle rounds. There are many roster constructions scenarios to win at fantasy football, and hopefully this one is available to you and serves you well.