2-QB Mock Draft Musings
August 18, 2015 | Chet
It’s never too early to begin prepping for fake football and I’ve been channeling my inner war boy. I mock, I die. I mock again. By the time the real drafts roll around in August and September, I will be ready to ride eternal, shiny and chrome, en route to fantasy football Valhalla. My journey down this off-season’s fury road started at the end of June. Since then, I’ve navigated my way through a few 2-QB mock drafts. Here are the results of three, with each mock on a separate tab titled with the date range over which the draft took place:
Note #1: There were some subtle roster and scoring differences between these mocks, but for this piece, assume standard scoring with 0.5 PPR and the roster setup shown below the draft boards.
Note #2: Because these drafts all took place a while ago, the focus in this piece will be on styles and strategies of drafting, not so much an examination of specific players’ ADPs. That ADP information is still valuable to us, but keep in mind that draft tendencies and techniques at the time of these drafts were informed by a different set of inputs (player news, injuries, etc.). Let’s all agree Arian Foster used to be a top-25 player, Ameer Abdullah used to be Joique Bell’s backup, and I took too long to write this piece.
Thanks to @joe_siniscalchi, @2QBFFB, and @LakeTwoQBs for setting up these exercises. Those degenerates, like me, have championed the two-quarterback and superflex formats in recent years. If you’re already a fan or have decided to throw yourself down the 2-QB rabbit hole, be sure to follow those gentlemen on Twitter and check out their respective works.
Through their analysis and the results linked above, you’ll see this format affords a lot of creativity and flexibility to one’s draft strategy. There are plenty of ways to win and this piece will examine the trends and some potential traps awaiting us in two-quarterback leagues.
Draft Planning for Top Picks
Typically, the top 3 to 5 picks ask each drafter a simple question — elite quarterback or elite running back? In these drafts, quarterback was the near-consensus answer. All three mocks began with three QB selections and two out of the three mocks saw another QB taken with the fourth pick. Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and Peyton Manning were the most popular top QBs, but I snuck Drew Brees into the top-3 in mock draft #2.
I’m generally of the opinion that there’s more value to elite RBs than elite QBs as early picks in this format, but I used my early draft slots in these mocks to experiment with taking top-ranked signal callers instead of rushers. I was not horrified by the results. In mock #2 (12-team), I started with Brees third overall and scooped up C.J. Anderson in the second, then Matt Forte in the third. In mock #3 (10-team), I started with Rodgers first overall, wheeling Brees and Anderson at the 2-3 turn. From the first pick in mock #1, my fake sports compatriot @ConsultFantasy mirrored the same A-Rod/Brees/C.J. opening that I made in mock #3. Great minds, right?
Despite a relatively down year in 2014, Brees is my #3 QB for this season, making him a must-pick at the 2-3 turn if he’s available there. In these mock drafts, the other QBs generally available in that range are Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Newton, Tony Romo, Matt Ryan, and Tom Brady (ordered here by their 2-QB ADP from FantasyPros.com). Chalk up Brees’ slippage in mocks #1 and #3 to variance because he goes in the first round of 2-QB drafts on average.
On the other hand, I didn’t expect to see the likes of C.J. Anderson and Arian Foster (pre-injury news) lasting into the late second or early third rounds either, so what’s going on here? In short, drafters are falling in love with first- and second-round wide receivers. Luck, Rodgers, Brees, Wilson, and Peyton as early picks naturally degrade the ADPs of traditional first-round running backs like Adrian Peterson, Le’Veon Bell, Jamaal Charles, etc.. If receivers are also targeted earlier in drafts, the suppression of running back ADP intensifies, particularly for tier-2 guys like Anderson, Jeremy Hill, and DeMarco Murray. Thus, a window to running back value opens up in the late second round and early third round.
Three mock drafts is admittedly a small sample size, but for the sake of this thought experiment, let’s assume these results are indicative of most 2-QB leagues. What happens if we grab a running back in the top three instead of a quarterback? In theory, the drafters with tendencies to take wideouts early would likely stay that course because they were already prioritizing players like Antonio Brown, Dez Bryant, and so on over the 1A tier of running backs. Meanwhile, the first tier of running backs would cascade up the draft until some sort of breaking point, where a would-be running back drafter opts for a QB or WR instead. In most cases, the QB we passed on with our top-3 pick would create that inflection point, effectively resulting in a top-QB for top-RB trade between two early-to-mid picks in first round.
In the end, one top-3 drafter pivoting to take a running back wouldn’t necessarily have a profound effect on the players available at the end of the second round. The best values available at that point near the 2-3 wheel should still be running backs like Anderson, Murray, and Hill. If we accept that notion as mostly true, our question of “RB or QB?” at the start of the draft unravels into something more: Would you rather start your draft RB-RB or QB-RB? There isn’t a definitively correct answer.
Your decision should be based on a few factors. I’ll cover this as we go, but you need to have an idea of which positions offer more upside in the mid-to-late rounds. Also, you must have a general plan for the third round. Two picks that close together have relatively equal values (and exactly equal values if you have the first overall pick). Let’s look at two of my mock drafts as case studies:
In mock #1, it essentially didn’t matter if the top 3 drafters picked rushers or passers. Three late-pick drafters employed a WR-WR opening in the draft, creating a ton of RB and QB value in the second and third rounds. The top picks all opted for QBs and they were rewarded with first-round RB talent in the second round. If one of the top-3 drafters had gone RB instead of QB in the first round, they could have scored Brees in the second or their choice of Anderson, Murray, and Hill (again, assuming that the WR-WR foes would stick to their guns). In a zero-RB heavy draft like this, the top two picks seem incentivized to take Luck and Rodgers in some order because the running backs coming back in the next rounds are so good. At pick 3, there’s more of an argument for going RB because the QB cascade you would create increases your chance of getting a guy like Brees, Wilson, or Manning in the second round. With that said, these general results do not seem typical for a 2-QB league. I would never expect so many different owners to build their roster starting with two wideouts in the same draft. On the other hand, if your league is full PPR, it’s fair to expect more receivers going in the first two rounds and plan accordingly.
Mock #2 is a bit different because it featured 12 teams and only one receiver drafted in the first round. The second round was another story, as seven out of the first nine picks were receivers (counting Gronk at 2.1). The other two picks in that span were QBs — Newton and Roethlisberger. Consequently, there was RB value at the end of round 2, but not nearly as much QB value compared to Mock #1. In this case, opting for a top-3 running back wouldn’t necessarily push an elite quarterback back to you in the second round, so it seemed wise to lock up a QB first. This phenomenon is more applicable to 12-team leagues, where there aren’t enough starting quarterbacks in the NFL to allot three stable QBs per fantasy team (2 starters, 1 bench guy). Drafters often fear getting stuck without bye-week or injury replacements in 2-QB leagues, so they’re more inclined to draft passers early to create a stable team framework. If wideouts continue to dominate the second round, picking a quarterback in the top-3 is a safe play.
On the other hand, if those WR-grabbers at later picks switch gears and start scooping up RBs in the first two rounds, grabbing one of the top-3 RBs up front becomes a better proposition. There are enough fairly valued and undervalued QBs in the middle rounds that I’m comfortable starting RB from a top spot, then grabbing a RB or WR in the second round as market price dictates (assuming the top 5 QBs are gone). Yes, there are more RBs and WRs to choose from in the later rounds, but that larger selection increases the odds of an incorrect draft choice between similarly valued players. Meanwhile, mid-tier QB production is more consistent between players and therefore easier to predict and replace with similarly tiered options.
Above all else, I’m left with the impression that when in doubt, drafting a top-tier running back from any first-round draft slot carries more upside for your entire draft than selecting a quarterback. Taking a QB in the first round may seem safe, but that line requires hitting on mid-round lotto tickets at RB and WR. You know who’s really safe? Alex Smith. See also: Joe Flacco, Jay Cutler, et al. Those dudes are going to put up points every week they take the field. That cannot automatically be said about the skill position players being drafted around those quarterbacks in the middle rounds. All of the players in the first two rounds are supposed to be good, so differentiating between positions is all about knowing what positions are discounted later in the draft, then going the other way with your early picks. There are exceptions to every rule and I won’t fault anyone for taking Luck and Rodgers with top-2 picks, but QB is very deep in the modern age of fantasy football and I recommend using premium picks on other positions.
I’ve already discussed the values of wide receivers in the early-to-mid second round and running backs in the late second or early third, so where are the other positional value zones based on the data from these mock drafts?
Tight Ends — To Gronk or Not To Gronk?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first — tight end gems can be unearthed in the late rounds. If you’re not willing to pay the asking price for Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce, or Greg Olsen, you can take your chances in the middle rounds with Julius Thomas, Martellus Bennett, or Zach Ertz. If none of them feel like proper values while you’re on the clock, plenty of other viable options wait patiently for you in outside of the top-100 overall.
In mock #1, I experimented with Gronk as my second-rounder. I like how the team turned out, but seeing the steep slide of most other tight ends convinced me to avoid Gronk and other high-priced TEs in the subsequent mocks. Jordan Cameron, Jason Witten, Tyler Eifert, Delanie Walker, and Kyle Rudolph all seem like bargains where they’re currently being drafted. If you miss on them, Austin Seferian-Jenkins, Vernon Davis, Charles Clay, Dwayne Allen, and Antonio Gates/Ladarius Green are practically free to draft.
Does that value pocket of late-round TEs diminish incentive to pick Gronk and the other early-round options at the position? *Boring answer alert.* It depends. You can make up for the opportunity cost of drafting Gronk or Jimmy Graham by hitting on your mid- and late-round picks at other positions. Conversely, you can avoid the top TEs, build depth at RB/WR/QB early, and hope to hit on your mid- or late-round TE. The latter approach seems more sensible.
We want to build rosters that are oppressive to play against with elite producers across the board. Building those teams starts with commodities we know to be great like Gronk, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell, etc.. We then aim to supplement those proven players with mid-round breakout players. For example, many pundits are bullish on Allen Robinson and Martavis Bryant this year. Because most fantasy teams are required to start three WR or more and because not all teams will draft top-tier wideouts in the first couple rounds, players like Robinson and Bryant are likely to be WR2s in most 2-QB leagues. Fantasy owners aren’t “gambling” on the upsides of those players, they are depending on it. If Robinson and/or Bryant are busts, their owners will be scrambling for production at a position that has already been picked clean through the draft and the waiver wire based on the need to start 3-4 players with WR eligibility.
On the other hand, owners who whiff on their TE-with-upside from the later rounds (e.g., Seferian-Jenkins) might already own a capable backup from the draft. Otherwise, the waiver wire can act as an extension of their benches. Here’s a list of TEs that went undrafted in at least one of my three mocks: Vernon Davis, Owen Daniels, Charles Clay, Dwayne Allen, Larry Donnell, Heath Miller, Jordan Reed, and Mychal Rivera. None of these players will be exciting to own, but all of them have produced at TE1 levels before and could serve as fantasy starters in appropriate match-ups. Risk of streaming tight ends is a small price to pay for taking a top-tier RB or WR over an elite TE. Gronk may seem like the exception to this rule because he posts numbers similar to those of a top-tier WR at a position where his stats are uncommon. Flipping that narrative on its head, if the point totals are relatively equal, I prefer to build depth with premium players at positions that require multiple starters.
Quarterbacks — Hunting Unicorns
Drafting your quarterbacks in a 2-QB league is more about necessity than value. After the top passers are gone, others begin to tumble off the board steadily with occasional runs on the position. Finding values at QB thus becomes a matter of reading your room and trusting the tiers of your rankings. You either want to start the run on a tier of quarterbacks by taking the best of that group, or you want to back into one of the last remaining quarterbacks from a tier that your enemies spent higher draft capital to thin out.
Mock drafting and studying ADP will help you understand the general pecking order of your pigskin-tossing options. Relative to previous years, the fantasy football hive mind is down on Drew Brees, Matthew Stafford, Jay Cutler, Colin Kaepernick, and Robert Griffin III. Contrastingly, the public is very high on Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Ryan Tannehill, and Teddy Bridgewater. Those pessimistic and optimistic outlooks will be justified in some cases, but it’s impossible for expectations to meet returns in all cases.
Personal perception and preferences will factor heavily into how quarterbacks are targeted. I’m buying stock in Brees, Romo, Eli, Rivers, Bradford, Cutler, and Jameis Winston. Meanwhile, I’m comfortable owning almost any other quarterback, but I’ve found my intuition leading me away from Bridgewater (price becoming too high), Flacco (perennially overrated), Dalton (brutal schedule), Foles (nebulous situation), and all the options in Buffalo (QB roulette).
For the most part, draft position and the actions of my opponents will dictate which QBs I own. In mock #1, I started a quarterback run with Tony Romo at pick 3.08. He tops my third tier at the position (QB6). Like me, the two teams picking after me in the 3rd still needed their QB1s, so I knew the run was coming. I took Romo and almost immediately received notification of the following tweet:
— Joe Siniscalchi (@Joe_Siniscalchi) June 27, 2015
I can think of no higher praise. In the 7th round of the same mock, I was in a similar spot, ready to select my second quarterback. Of the QBs available, I had Jay Cutler and Sam Bradford ranked highest, ahead of already-drafted guys in the same tier — Bridgewater, Flacco, and Kaepernick. This time around, I passed on QB and selected Joseph Randle, confident that the drafter at the turn wouldn’t take a third quarterback just yet. I was wrong, but luckily, he took Carson Palmer over my two targets. Joe then snapped up Cutler, leaving me with Bradford at 8.03.
In mock #2, I grabbed Brees in the first round and that decision priced me into taking RBs and WRs until the 6th round. At that point, Cutler was once again staring back me from the list of available players. With Bradford already gone, Cutler sat alone at the top of my 5th tier. The two teams waiting on my pick already had two quarterbacks, but remembering the lesson of Carson Palmer from mock #1, I pulled the trigger on Cutler. Neither of those opponents selected a signal caller as the draft arced back to me in the 7th, but I was happy to have locked up my preferred QB2.
Necessity and panic over potential injuries tend to dictate price points for starting passers in 2-QB leagues, but there are potential bargains available at the end of drafts. I mentioned previously that I’ll be avoiding the Buffalo Bills clipboard posse, but other teams faced with quarterback competitions could produce surprisingly startable options. Specifically, whichever QB win the job for the Texans can be a quality back-ups/streamer, assuming he can stay in his saddle as the quarterback carousel spins. The Jets’ situation with Geno Smith and Ryan Fitzpatrick was similar for fantasy purposes before Smith’s locker room bludgeoning.
With that in mind, I like taking flyers on Brian Hoyer & Ryan Mallett in the late rounds of my 2-QB drafts. In mock #2, I locked up both Hoyer and Mallett to ensure owning the Texans’ starter as my back-up to Brees and Cutler. As the preseason plays out, I can drop either one if it seems like the other is a lock to start. In mock #1, I grabbed Hoyer in the penultimate round as my QB4. If he wins the gig in Houston, I’ll have QB depth to trade from. If he doesn’t, I can drop him for help elsewhere. A similar tack could have been taken in all of these mocks with Smith and Fitzpatrick. Some early July drafters are currently swimming around in a McDuck-inspired vault filled with the fantasy value payouts from the Fitzy penny slots.
In the same vein, until we have a clearer picture of Sam Bradford’s health, Mark Sanchez should be drafted in most 2-QB leagues. The Sanchize posted fine numbers in his time starting for the Eagles last year, but because of the Bradford signing, the butt fumbler’s fantasy stock has rightfully plummeted. He still deserves 2-QB consideration in the later rounds because he will cost you nothing and if Bradford underperforms or gets injured for the billionth time, Sanchez will slide into one of fantasy football’s best situations.
Running Backs — Tailback Wasteland
Even in double-quarterback formats, running backs go early. The advent of early-round wide receivers only delays the eventual evisceration of RB rankings. By the fourth round of most drafts, the reliable workhorse rushers will be gone. The leftovers tend either have high mileage (Frank Gore), injury-riddled pasts (Jonathan Stewart), no track record (Carlos Hyde), or committee competition (C.J. Spiller/Mark Ingram). Their warts can be overlooked when slotted as RB2s, but for drafters who spend the first three rounds stocking passers and receivers, a bust RB in the 4th or 5th round can be devastating.
On the flipside, if you nail your RB picks in rounds 4 and/or 5 after setting a high team floor with QB/WR in the first three rounds, you’re probably making the playoffs. It’s a simple case of risk versus reward, but the gambit isn’t often worth it. Even beyond the 3rd round, competition to draft running backs is high. Zero-RB zealots need to start selecting their backs eventually and the drafters who have already rostered rushers need to build depth at the position. As a zero-RB drafter, you may like certain 3rd- to 5th-round rushers around their ADPs, but are you willing to audible to less desirable options if those players you prefer get sniped? If not, you may still have time to convert your league from snake-draft to auction, just sayin’.
Multiple owners may enter a draft believing that Lamar Miller in the 4th round will win them their league. Whether the notion is correct or not, only one of those owners can draft Lamar Miller. This sort of thinking applies to all of the perceived RB bargains after the first three rounds. Some owners will hit and some won’t. After those mid-tier guys are gone, the RB position becomes a wasteland of backups and committee members. Sure, you might find an oasis in the change-of-pace desert, but many of the bargains you view from a distance in August will turn out to be mirages in the regular season.
So where is the running back value? Depending on your draft, it can start to show up as early as the late first round with top-5 RBs sliding into the 8-12 range overall. In my three mocks, Marshawn Lynch went no higher than eighth overall. If you can draft a legitimate candidate for fantasy’s top RB in the latter stages of the first round, that’s a discount. If a player like that slides into the second round, like in mock #1, that’s a steal. I’ve already discussed the potential value of RBs in the late second and early third (although that tier shrunk when Arian Foster suffered his groin/sports hernia injury).
Essentially, running back values are nearly all player- and round-specific. Look for rushers slipping beyond their ADPs, excluding those who are falling for a good reason. C.J. Spiller in the 4th round (mock #2) makes me feel queasy and fragile, but Spiller in the 7th round (mock #3) pumps me up like Popeye on PCP-laced spinach. The later the pick, the easier it becomes to dismiss a player’s red flags. Here are some other RBs I like more than most in the middle rounds: LeGarrette Blount, Chris Ivory, Ameer Abdullah, Rashad Jennings, Doug Martin, and Devonta Freeman. In the later rounds, I’ll take a flyer on most guys, but my favorites are Jerick McKinnon, Knile Davis, David Johnson, and Roy Helu. In the mocks, however, I tried to lock up RBs early and use my late picks elsewhere.
Similar to the quarterback position, demand for running backs is ever present in 2-QB leagues, so the best values won’t always be available when you’re on the clock. My goal is to incite or finish runs on the position by taking one of the last couple backs in the tier currently being drafted or by taking the best back from a mostly intact tier of players. Ultimately I want to mitigate the bust potential of mid-round running backs by spending as little draft capital on them as possible without sacrificing too much production. The easiest way to do this involves getting workhorse running backs earlier in the draft so you don’t need to rely on mid-round options. This is contrary to my approach on drafting quarterbacks, where the drop-off in floor between the early rounds and mid-to-late rounds is much more palatable.
Wide Receivers — Studs and Surplus
Receivers are a tricky bunch because so many of them seem like sure-things for season-long production. It’s crucial to understand that season totals do not necessarily equate to reliability from game to game. Like the every-down running backs lauded a paragraph ago, the truly elite wideouts dominate touches and produce nearly every week. As the NFL trends deeper into the pass-happy abyss with each season, more receivers project as elite fantasy options.
For 1-QB leagues this year, I have 4 receivers ranked as first-round players and 11 in my top-24 (Gronk is in there, too, for what it’s worth). For 2-QB, the top quarterbacks push a few of those receiving standouts into the third round, but this season’s crop of second-round WR fantasy talent is staggering. FantasyPros’ ADP data has only Antonio Brown as a first-rounder among wideouts. Take this data with a grain of salt because perception of 2-QB leagues dictates drafters take quarterbacks in the first round. This perception informs 2-QB draft rankings and draft software AI, which leads more drafters to buying in. In a real draft with more potential for creative and experimental strategies like zero-RB, you may see more wide receivers move into the first round.
With Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Julio Jones, Calvin Johnson, Odell Beckham, Jordy Nelson, A.J. Green, and Alshon Jeffery frequently available past pick 12, many draft positions have the potential to land fantasy’s #1 WR in the second round. That feels like value across the board. Even if you miss on that first uber-tier of top receivers, Randall Cobb and Mike Evans each make a fine consolation prize down the ADP food chain. Further down, T.Y. Hilton, Brandin Cooks, Jordan Matthews, and DeAndre Hopkins all have a ton of potential. Shall I continue? Here’s the point — after the elite options are gone, there’s a surplus of slightly less appealing WRs you can talk yourself into for any number of reasons.
Let the archetype of each WR help inform how you value that player relative to others at the position. It is dangerous to roster too many home run threats like Vincent Jackson, Torrey Smith, and Michael Floyd. On the other hand, in non-PPR leagues, you don’t want to spin your wheels with too many short-route target hogs like Julian Edelman, Jarvis Landry, and Pierre Garcon. Ideally, you’ll create a mix of both types to support your anchors at WR1 and WR2. The more elite talent you have at wideout, the more you can afford to use your deeper WR spots and flexes on high-variance players.
Deep threats at WR are typically overrated for fantasy because they make memorably big plays that produce memorably big fantasy scores. Those week-winning performances enable owners to forget or dismiss bad weeks and general inconsistency. Torrey Smith and Mike Wallace are permissible picks in the middle rounds, but Kenny Stills, Nick Toon, and others offer similar big-week upside later in the draft. Eventually, as your draft picks the WR position apart, almost all the available options start to become boom-bust due to ability or situation. Knowing that most late WR picks are high-variance creates incentive to draft steadier WR production earlier in the draft for many team construction models. For example, my advocacy for running backs early means I’m less likely to have more than one truly elite receiver on my rosters and that drives my preference for consistency over volatility at wide receiver in the middle rounds.
Ultimately the surplus of usable wide receivers will create value throughout the draft, though not necessarily in well-defined groupings of players. After the semi-elite values in the third and fourth rounds, prices become a little too fair for wide receivers. There are wideouts in that range of the rankings that deserve their ADPs, but I am more interested in their counterparts going around the eighth and ninth rounds. Starting rosters begin to fill up by that point, but the WR position maintains supply of starter-level talent like Brandon Marshall, Vincent Jackson, Charles Johnson, Nelson Agholor, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Smith, and Eric Decker. Holistically, I try to lock up two wide receivers in the first five rounds, then address other positions before returning for more WR picks in and after the eighth round.
Kickers & Defenses — The Case for Drafting Both Higher
Just kidding. I could probably come up with something to say about fantasy’s most hated roster necessities, but this lengthy journey is over. Be sure to return later this week to watch my first draft video for the 2015 season here at TheFakeFootball.com. Until then, good luck in your drafts and thank you for reading.