Welcome to the start of a new series here at DLF. With the dynasty regular season behind us, it’s never too early to start looking ahead to next year. One of the most critical tools when preparing for any upcoming season is using mock drafts to get you ready for your impending start-up and rookie drafts. Throughout the off-season, I’ll be looking at NFL mock drafts, DLF’s rookie and start-up mocks, and ADP, and I’ll conduct some of my own mocks using DLF’s mock draft simulator. I plan to cover all things mock draft over the next few months. Thanks for joining me on this journey, and I hope you come out of this more prepared than your leaguemates when your drafts roll around.
With all that out of the way, in this first edition, I’m going to look at a couple of popular NFL mock drafts and get an idea of what players look to be consensus first-round picks, then discuss the potential landing spots and their impact for dynasty in 2023 and beyond. I selected three mocks I found that didn’t involve trades. It’s hard enough to guess who is getting drafted to what team; I’m not interested in adding additional layers of make-believe into the mix as people try to guess which trades happen too. I used USAToday’s mock draft from January 10th, SBNation’s mock draft from January 10th, and FoxSports’ mock from January 9th.
Disclaimer: I am not a devy guy, not even a little bit. I’m learning about all of these rookies alongside you. I don’t really know anything about anyone in the draft yet, so no opinion is my own. I’m reading and watching YouTube videos learning about the players as I go along. Fortunately for you and I, DLF has plenty of devy content to help us.
Get Familiar with the Names
One of the first steps when prepping for dynasty drafts, especially if you’re not a big college football fan, is finding rankings. Luckily for you, DLF already has mock drafts and dynasty rookie rankings for you to peruse. Things will undoubtedly shake up quite a bit between now and April’s NFL draft. But knowing the names and early ADP of the incoming rookies gives you a huge leg up on your leaguemates. We’re already seeing some player movement following the bowl games, and Rob Willette broke down the biggest winners from bowl season. Almost every bit of news during this time of year can impact your draft four months from now, so keep your eyes and ears open.
Who is Going Early?
Most NFL mocks I’ve seen have roughly ten offensive skill position players going in the first round, eight of which have been in every mock I’ve seen. I’m mainly going to focus on the eight, but I will also mention the others who are getting a little first-round buzz.
The top eight offense skill position players as of today are as follows:
Bryce Young, QB Alabama
CJ Stroud, QB Ohio State
Will Levis, QB Kentucky
Quentin Johnston, WR TCU
Jordan Addison, WR USC
Anthony Richardson, QB Florida
Michael Mayer, TE Notre Dame
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR Ohio State
The fringe first-rounders are:
Bijan Robinson, RB Texas
Zay Flowers, WR Boston College
Josh Downs, WR North Carolina
Darnell Washington, TE Georgia
Quarterbacks All Over the Board
For as long as I can remember, Young and Stroud have been the projected 1a and 1b in this class. Every mock I have seen without trades has the Texans selecting Young at 1.02 and the Colts selecting Stroud at 1.04. So there isn’t much to overthink at this point in the process if you’re in superflex leagues. Unless one of them has an all-time disastrous combine or pro-day performance, They’re likely to be two of the top three picks in your drafts.
The three mocks I used all had four QBs taken in the first round, but looking at 10+ mocks to prepare for this, I’ve seen some mocks with as many as six first-round quarterbacks and some mocks with as few as three. Regardless, the other two quarterbacks I’ve seen routinely drafted in the first round are Will Levis and Anthony Richardson. Of course, after you get through that quartet, you never know who can propel themselves upwards after a strong showing at the combine, but as of today, those are the four top picks at the position.
A Down Year for Pass Catchers?
Currently, there are only three wide receivers and one tight end projected as first-rounders in this draft, according to the mocks I’ve seen. If it holds, this would break from the trend we’ve seen over the last three years. In 2020 six wide receivers were taken in the first round, and two more were taken with the first two picks of the second round also. In 2021 five wide receivers and one tight end were drafted in the first, and last year we had six first-round wide receivers. Recency bias is in full effect, but the trend is for six receivers to be selected in the first round. Assuming that holds true, we should see some Combine darlings sneak their way into the back end of the first round.
Who is there today? Quentin Johnston, Jordan Addison, and Jaxson Smith-Njigba are the three wide receivers, and Michael Mayer is the lone tight end who all appeared in the mocks I used. Zay Flowers and Josh Downs snuck into the back half of the round in SBNation’s mock, and Darnell Washington made it into the FoxSports mock. If they’re right, that will bump us toward the “normal” numbers we’ve seen over the last few years.
A Return of the First Round Running Back?
All the way back in 2013 and 2014, we had back-to-back drafts without a first round running back. Since then, we’ve had at least one running back taken in the first of each draft- until last season, when we returned to none. Even this year, it’s not a lock, with SBNation’s mock omitting the position in the draft’s opening round. However, I don’t think that will be the case, as the dynasty and devy communities have been waiting for Bijan Robinson’s debut for a while. Although I suspect he will be drafted early, as we saw with Breece Hall a year ago, the position has been devalued by the NFL on draft day for several seasons.
Dynasty Impact of Landing Spots
There Can Be Only One
Let’s get Bijan Robinson out of the way. He’s all but locked in as the 1.01 in standard leagues and is in the conversation in super flex too. Barring some bizarro world landing spot where he gets buried behind Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard or Christian McCaffrey, there’s nothing I can imagine bumping him down in people’s rankings. Our very own Jeff Smith took an early look at Robinson as a dynasty asset if you’re looking for an in-depth scouting report.
Looking at the quarterbacks, it’s safe to assume we’re going to see the top players in the class wind up in Houston and Indianapolis (for sure), and then potentially some combination of Detroit, Carolina, New York (Jets), Washington, or Seattle for the rest. Similar to Robinson, Young and Stroud are both likely to be landing spot-proof. Based on the supporting cast and dynasty owner preference, you could see them flip-flop from draft to draft, but I can’t see any other quarterbacks creeping into the top three during fantasy rookie drafts. For more on Young in particular, super flex guru John Hogue wrote up a profile on the 2021 Heisman Trophy winner, so be sure to check it out.
Sticking with quarterbacks, we could see player values swing dramatically based on where the second tier lands. Will Levis and Anthony Richardson both have their fans- and their detractors. They’ve both been mocked to Detroit, and while they seem to be an ascending offense, they also seem to be committed to Jared Goff for one more season. Washington will be bringing in a new offensive coordinator, so we don’t even know what that offense will look like, and Ron Rivera likes to lean on the run. However, Richardson, in particular, would be my QB3- and potentially even higher- in Washington with Rivera at the helm. Richardson has a little Cam Newton to his game, and that duo worked out just fine for fantasy for several years.
Catch a Rising Star
I already mentioned that four receivers are projected to be first-round picks. This quartet includes the only universally mocked first-round tight end, Notre Dame’s Michael Mayer. Over the previous five drafts, seven tight ends were selected in the first round; David Njoku, Evan Engram, OJ Howard, Hayden Hurst, T.J. Hockenson, Noah Fant, and Kyle Pitts. If you include the first tight end selected in the two years there wasn’t one picked in round one, you can add Cole Kmet and Tre McBride to that list too. My larger point is this: the NFL has a pretty good recent track record when it comes to early-drafted tight ends. While there are a few systems that aren’t particularly tight end friendly (Green Bay, Carolina, Miami, NYG, to name a few), for the most part, if you’re drafting a tight end early, you intend on using them. So, there is an argument to be made that Mayer is also as landing-spot proof as any rookie tight end could be.
Pivoting to wide receivers, we currently only have three first-rounders. My favorite of the bunch is USC’s Jordan Addison. Do quarterbacks make the receivers good, or do receivers make quarterbacks good? If you think the latter is the correct answer, then let me introduce you to Jordan Addison. In my opinion, Addison single-handedly turned Kenny Pickett into a first-round pick a year ago and then won Caleb Williams a Heisman Trophy this year. If you’re looking for a more in-depth look at Addison, Jeff Mueller broke him down in a recent article for DLF. Again, I’m heavily biased here, but not only might Addison be landing spot proof, but he might even be able to make some of the league’s worst quarterbacks better.
The other two first-round receivers (and I use the term “other” loosely, as they both have many fans) are Quinton Johnston and Jaxson Smith-Njigba. I haven’t seen TCU’s Johnston fall past the 12th pick in any mock yet, and at this time, he seems to be the favorite to be the first wideout off the board in April. The six-foot-four-in-215-pound Johnston has drawn comps to Julio Jones. Multiple mock drafts have him going to the Panthers or Houston, and with both teams looking to upgrade at quarterback, it could be a win-win situation for all parties involved. However, I’ve also seen him mocked to the Titans, which could turn into a chicken vs. egg situation. Would the addition of Johnston to go along with Treylon Burks improve their quarterback situation, or will the quarterback situation be the thing that keeps them both from reaching their full potential?
Ohio State’s Smith-Njigba looks to be a late-first-round pick. In the three mocks I used, he went 21st to the Jaguars, 22nd to the Giants, and 24th to Baltimore. I’ve seen other mocks where he landed anywhere between 11 and 31. Projected as a slot receiver in the NFL, that Philly landing spot is mouth-watering as opposing defenses would need to worry about AJ Brown, DeVonta Smith, and Dallas Goedert on every play. Any scheme or quarterback that heavily focuses on the slot could be a dream landing spot for him. Regardless, the recent track record of Buckeye receivers in the NFL indicates he’ll be good to go no matter where he winds up. He may not have the highest ceiling in this class, but he likely has the highest floor.
Boston College’s Zay Flowers was mocked 20th overall to Seattle in SBNation’s mock draft. Seattle’s depth at the position is garbage, and Tyler Lockett isn’t getting any younger, but the Seahawks have more significant needs than a 5’10”, 172-pound speedster. North Carolina Tar Heel Josh Downs is also 5’10” and 175 pounds, and was projected to the Chargers at 25 in SBNation’s mock. Right now, shorter and lighter players terrify me. Time and time again, we see at the combine that these measurables are inflated by their respective colleges, and little guys come in shorter and lighter. There is not a long track record of success for undersized receivers in the NFL. Yes, of course, there are always outliers, but I’m not burning early dynasty draft capital on outliers.
Georgia’s Darnell Washington was mocked 21st overall to Cincinnati in the FoxSports mock draft. I haven’t found another mock yet with him in the first round, and I don’t like the Cincinnati landing spot, either. A 6’7″, 270-pound monster of a man, Washington is in a similar spot as Mayer above. Tight ends typically take longer to develop than other positions, and if you get stuck with a team or quarterback who don’t lean on the position, your upside will be capped for the first four or five years of your career. Tight ends are tricky, and I made a pact with myself to stop drafting them early in rookie drafts. Instead, if I need help, I’ll trade for established veterans.
Rookie rankings, opinions, and ADP are always fluid-especially early in the process. Be sure to check back here with this link for all of the most up-to-date 2023 rookie profiles at DLF. I hope you enjoyed this look at the top of the class and come back for more, as this is the start of a weekly series. Thanks for reading, and I welcome any of your feedback in the comments here or on Twitter, I’ll be using your input to help guide me in future editions of this series. Enjoy the offseason and the NFL playoffs!
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