Continuing our early 2018 fantasy football PPR mock draft, we dig into the second round. Plenty of question marks surrounding this crop of players, but which ones should you really avoid? Keep reading to find out.
Note: This is the second round of what eventually will be a full four-round mock draft. These rankings are not final and will change as the season draws closer. You can see the first round here.
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2.01. Davante Adams – WR – Green Bay Packers
Do you know how many receivers have had more receiving touchdowns than Davante Adams over the last two seasons?
It’s a trick question. In the last two seasons combined, Adams leads the entire NFL in receiving touchdowns with 22. Jordy Nelson is third with 20. Now, Nelson is off to Oakland and that leaves none other than Adams as the No. 1 receiver in Green Bay’s high-octane offense, and the Packers clearly view him as their top receiver of the future, as evidenced by the four-year, $58 million contract they gave to him following the 2017 campaign. The Packers are paying Adams like he’s a top ten wide receiver in the league, and I fully expect him to meet that expectation in fantasy.
Rodgers clearly likes throwing to Adams in the red zone. Over the last two seasons, Adams has 17 touchdowns in eighteen games when both have played, and he finished third in total red zone targets in 2016 despite Nelson being the top receiver in Green Bay. Jimmy Graham’s signing will steal some targets away, but Rodgers has already proven he can sustain multiple receivers with gaudy touchdown numbers, and Adams has already shown his compatibility in that offense whereas Graham has not. A second-round fantasy draft pick is a high price to pay for a receiver who has never had 1,000 yards in a season, but Adams’s touchdown potential is too hard to pass up in the early second.
2.02. Kareem Hunt – RB – Kansas City Chiefs
After Spencer Ware went down to a torn ACL in the 2017 preseason, all eyes fell on rookie running back Kareem Hunt, and, boy, did he ever deliver.
Hunt finished as the RB4 in PPR in 2018 en route to leading the NFL in rushing yards despite seeing inconsistent volume during the middle part of the season. In Weeks 6-12, Hunt saw an average of just 13.7 carries per game compared to the 21.9 carries he averaged in all other games., largely due to Andy Reid taking over play-calling duties from now-Bears head coach Matt Nagy during that portion of the season.
With Nagy gone, Reid is expected to assume the role of chief (pun intended) play-caller for Kansas City, which leads to questions about Hunt’s expected volume in 2018, especially with Ware back from injury. Ware is an adequate pass catcher and has a size advantage over Hunt, which could mean Ware vultures a significant amount of red zone work from Hunt. Furthermore, Reid has a history of somewhat limiting this top back’s touches. The last time a Reid back finished with at least 272 carries (the amount Hunt had in 2016) was 2011, when LeSean McCoy totaled 273 for the Eagles.
However, Reid’s top backs have still finished in the top 10 in terms of overall fantasy points for RBs in eight of the last twelve seasons. Regardless of the volume Reid gives his running back, Reid is one of the sport’s best offensive minds and, while the data is partially skewed, given that three of the running backs Reid has had in the last twelve years are Jamaal Charles, McCoy, and Brian Westbrook, the production of his previous running backs proves that there are ample opportunities to score fantasy points in Reid’s offense despite fewer carries relative to other top backs.
The Chiefs offense looks straight-up scary on paper, between Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins, and Hunt, and, even with an inexperienced QB at the helm, the skill position players in Kansas City’s offense should be enough to make the Chiefs one of the league’s best offenses, and that can only bode well for Hunt’s fantasy production.
2.03. A.J. Green – WR – Cincinnati Bengals
Although Green may have underperformed based on his 1.10 2017 ADP by finishing as the WR10, he still is one of the most talented wideouts in the league and has gone over 1,000 yards in six of the last seven years. The one year he didn’t was 2016, when he played just 10 games before tearing his hamstring and ending his season. What’s more, Green has averaged at least 8.3 targets per game in each of the last six seasons.
Despite the disappointing campaign last year, Green still managed to top the millennial mark in yards despite ranking 72nd in the NFL in catchable target rate. The quarterback play in Cincinnati was worse than it was in previous years, due in part to an abysmal offensive line and a lack of receiving options outside of Green. The offensive line should be improved in 2018 thanks to the additions of Cordy Glenn and Billy Price, and the Bengals will now have a hopefully healthy Tyler Eifert and John Ross, both of which point to improved QB play for the Bengals. Green has been a fantasy WR1 for the better part of a decade, and his safety warrants a second-round fantasy selection.
2.04. Mike Evans – WR – Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After an elite 2016 season in which Mike Evans accumulated 12 touchdowns and more than 1,300 yards, the Texas A&M product dropped into WR2 status in 2017 despite posting his fourth consecutive 1,000 yard season. The main reason for Evans’s disappointing 2017 campaign was the drop in target share from 2016 to 2017. In 2016, Evans led the NFL with a 30 percent target share, compared to his 24 percent target share (fourteenth in the NFL) last year. The additions of tight end O.J. Howard and wide receiver Chris Godwin via the 2017 NFL Draft, as well as the signing of speedster DeSean Jackson, surely contributed to Evans’ decrease in targets.
Jackson, Godwin, and Howard are still there, and the Bucs added running back Ronald Jones in the 2018 NFL Draft. Although Jones didn’t flash much as a receiver in college, the point remains that there are a lot of mouths to feed in Tampa Bay, and it’s unrealistic to expect Evans to replicate his gaudy 2016 numbers. Still, Evans’s 96th percentile speed score and 94th percentile catch radius (via PlayerProfiler.com) make him a nightmare for opposing cornerbacks, and he’s clearly entrenched as the top receiving option in the Buccaneers offense.
On paper, Tampa Bay’s offensive core of Jameis Winston, Evans, Godwin, Jackson, Jones, Howard, and Cameron Brate is one of the deepest skill groups in the league, and Tampa Bay ranked seventh in the NFL in total yards per game last year despite finishing in the bottom half in points per game. The Buccaneers are in line to score more points than last year, and that can only bode well for the 6’5” Evans. His 2018 target share likely won’t approach his awesome 2016 figure, but he’s still one of the most talented wideouts in the league and should improve on his disappointing 2017 season.
2.05. Christian McCaffrey – RB – Carolina Panthers
Christian McCaffrey finished as the RB10 in PPR formats in 2017 despite seeing 117 carries, an average of just 7.32 carries per game. Granted, he was fairly inefficient with his carries, with an average of just 3.7 yards per carry, and Carolina’s signing of former Broncos running back C.J. Anderson certainly dampers the amount of carries McCaffrey will see in 2018.
However, McCaffrey saw 2.38 more carries per game during the second half of the 2017 campaign compared to the first eight games, and it’s possible the Carolina coaching staff was just trying to ease their rookie running back into the more physical playing style of the NFL, especially with a veteran like Jonathan Stewart also in the backfield.
Regardless, most of McCaffrey’s fantasy football allure comes from his pass-catching ability, as he placed third in receptions (80) and first in targets (113). While additional rushing volume would be nice for his fantasy value, McCaffrey’s fantasy value isn’t necessarily dependent on an uptick in rushing attempts since he gets so much volume through the air. Therefore, McCaffrey should be able to replicate his RB1 finish from 2017 regardless of whether or not he sees more volume in the rushing game, and that makes him worthy of a second-round fantasy pick in PPR leagues in 2018.
2.06. Leonard Fournette – RB – Jacksonville Jaguars
Although Leonard Fournette’s 2017 stats may look enticing from an outside perspective, there are reasons to be concerned about his 2018 value.
First, Fournette struggled with injuries all season long, appearing on the injury report three times and missing two games. Health has been a concern for Fournette since his days at LSU, and lower body injuries, such as the ankle that caused Fournette so much trouble in 2017, tend to linger. However, the main dilemma surrounding Fournette’s fantasy stock is the lack of offensive talent, other than him, in Jacksonville. With Blake Bortles at quarterback and an uninspiring receiving corps, Fournette will be facing stacked boxes all season long. Fortunately, he’s already used to it, as Fournette faced eight or more defenders in the box on nearly half of his runs last year. Despite the success last year (RB9 despite missing three games), skepticism about Fournette’s ability to replicate his 2017 production is warranted.
2.07. Melvin Gordon – RB – Los Angeles Chargers
Melvin Gordon is an enigma. Talk to fantasy owners around the country and you’ll get a whole host of thoughts and feelings on Gordon. After a rookie season that was nothing short of horrendous, Gordon has strung together two consecutive RB1 seasons in fantasy despite never having a yards per carry average of 4.0 or higher. However, Gordon has had to run behind an offensive line that ranked 29th in 2016 and 24th in 2017 according to Pro Football Focus, and therein lies the controversy: is it Gordon or the offensive line that is causing his inefficiency woes? Will a hopefully improved offensive line in 2018 make Gordon more efficient and finally prove he’s an above average NFL back? What came first, the chicken or the egg?
There’s no definitive answer as Gordon has never run behind an above average offensive line in the NFL, so all there is is speculation at this point. Gordon’s production premium according to PlayerProfiler.com (how productive he was against a league average defense) was 0.3 in 2017 (33rd among RBs), indicating that he was above average compared to other NFL running backs (a positive value means the player was above league average), but only slightly.
Gordon also finished fifth among running backs in evaded tackles with 86, but part of that can be chalked up to his huge number of total carries. Still, regardless of efficiency, Gordon gets volume, and a lot of it: only three running backs (Le’Veon Bell, Todd Gurley, and Ezekiel Elliott) have more total carries over the last two seasons combined.
Austin Ekeler is there to steal some looks in the passing game, but the run game belongs to Gordon and that alone gives him significant fantasy value. Furthermore, despite Ekeler’s presence, Gordon is no slouch in the pass game either, as he has seen both his targets and receptions go up in each year of his career and finished with 58 total catches last year. Gordon might not be the most efficient back in the world, but his volume is enough to warrant taking him in the second round of fantasy football drafts.
2.08. Dalvin Cook – RB – Minnesota Vikings
Despite playing just four games last season before a torn ACL, Dalvin Cook’s situation and 2017 flashes land him in the second-round of this mock draft. Volume is king in fantasy football, and Cook ranked second in the NFL behind only Ezekiel Elliot in attempts per game with 18.5.
The Vikings project to be one of the most potent offenses in the NFL next year, and that means more positive game scripts for Cook. Furthermore, Cook managed elite efficiency in 2017 despite running behind an uninspiring offensive line, as he ranked eighth in the NFL among all running backs with at least 50 carries in yards per carry (4.78).
The Vikings offensive line was outside the top 20 in 2017 according to Pro Football Focus, but Cook was able to manage such efficiency because of his tackle-breaking ability and elusiveness, as he ranked second among all running backs in evaded tackles during Weeks 1-4 and eighth in yards after contact per attempt. While the small sample size is concerning, Cook should be locked in as a late second-round pick in 2018 due to projected volume and efficiency.
2.09. Devonta Freeman – RB – Atlanta Falcons
Despite a fairly disappointing season relative to his first-round ADP in 2017, Falcons running back Devonta Freeman managed to finish as the RB13 both overall and in points per game.
Coming off of two consecutive top six running back seasons, Freeman was the fourth or fifth running back off the board in most drafts last season, and many fantasy owners expected a third straight RB1 season. Alas, it was a frustrating season for the Florida State product as he struggled with injuries the second half of the season, missing two weeks after leaving his Week 9 game after just two touches (if you remove that game, Freeman jumps up to RB11 on a points per game basis).
Much of Freeman’s struggles stemmed from the Falcons overall offensive regression from 2016 to 2017, which can be partially attributed to former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan going to coach the San Francisco 49ers. Still, the Falcons were a top ten offense by DVOA last season despite being around average by points per game. Atlanta’s offense should rebound as a whole in 2018, and that only bodes well for Freeman’s fantasy value.
While Tevin Coleman is still there to limit Freeman’s touches, Freeman now has three straight top fifteen running back seasons, and safety should be the number one priority in the first couple rounds of fantasy drafts. Although it may not be as flashy a pick as similarly-ranked running backs like Cook or Jerick McKinnon, Freeman has proven himself over the course of multiple seasons and deserves to be picked in the top two rounds.
2.10. LeSean McCoy – RB – Buffalo Bills
Heading into 2018, LeSean McCoy has potentially the most question marks he’s ever had in his career. The Bills lost three starters on the offensive line, the quarterback situation in Buffalo is up in the air, and Shady is on the wrong side of 30. McCoy is coming off of the worst season he’s had by yards per carry and he has almost 2,200 career rushing attempts. However, Shady’s pedigree over the last decade still gives him reason to be selected in the first two rounds of fantasy football drafts.
Center Eric Wood, left tackle Cordy Glenn, and left tackle Richie Incognito are all gone from a Bills’ offensive line that ranked seventh in 2017. Tyrod Taylor is in Cleveland, leaving only A.J. McCarron, Josh Allen, and Nathan Peterman as the quarterbacks in Buffalo. The offense is almost completely devoid of talent outside of McCoy, meaning defenses will be able to key in on Shady completely.
However, that also means Buffalo’s offense will run through McCoy, who is in line to potentially see 250-plus carries and 50-plus receptions, so the efficiency he’s giving up relative to other second round running backs should be balanced out by the massive workload he’s expected to receive. Despite all the negatives, Shady has been a fantasy RB1 in seven of the last eight seasons on a per-game basis, and he deserves to go in the late second despite all the question marks surrounding him.
2.11. Doug Baldwin – WR – Seattle Seahawks
Although Baldwin may have disappointed fantasy owners who drafted him in the middle of the second round last year with a 75/991/8 stat line, he still managed to finish as a WR1 for the third consecutive year.
Now, with Paul Richardson and Jimmy Graham gone, Baldwin is in line for an uptick in targets as the only players behind him are Brandon Marshall, Tyler Lockett, and Amara Darboh – not exactly an inspiring group. Furthermore, Seattle’s once-feared defense has been retooled after Richard Sherman joined the 49ers in free agency and Michael Bennett was traded to the Eagles. Kam Chancellor is also a question mark with a neck injury, and Earl Thomas has missed seven games in the last two seasons. Put simply, Seattle’s defense looks quite different from the one that once terrorized the league under the Legion of Boom moniker. That means Seattle will likely be in higher-scoring, more pass-happy games going forward, which bodes well for Baldwin and the other Seahawks’ skill position players. The receiver-friendly game scripts and lack of target competition, combined with the fact that Baldwin has been a fantasy football PPR WR1 for three years running, means Baldwin is a safe selection at the end of round two.
2.12. T.Y. Hilton – WR – Indianapolis Colts
T.Y. Hilton’s fantasy value is dependent on one thing: Andrew Luck’s health. With Luck healthy in 2016, Hilton led the NFL in receiving yards with 1,448 yards and finished as a top five fantasy football receiver.
With Jacoby Brissett in 2017, Hilton struggled, mustering just 966 receiving yards and frustrating fantasy owners with his boom-or-bust style of play. If Luck can’t make his way back to the field for 2018, Hilton’s value plummets to that of a potential flex play. If Luck can come back, Hilton is firmly in the WR1 conversation.
By trading down from 1.03 to 1.06 in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Colts’ front office is sending a message that they believe Luck will be back for 2018. General manager Chris Ballard has reportedly turned down multiple trade offers for Luck, although that could be partially because Luck is in no position right now to pass a physical. Indianapolis executives have acknowledged that they messed up by trying to rush their star quarterback back for the 2017 season. According to people inside the Colts’ organization, they are taking Luck’s shoulder rehab slow the second time around to ensure that he’ll be back at one hundred percent for the 2018 campaign. Luck’s situation is something to monitor heading into the summer for owners thinking about taking Hilton in the first two rounds, as T.Y.’s ADP could end up being a complete reach or an absolute steal come August.