Fantasy Football: Drafting the Perfect 2018 Team
Four to five months ago, every fantasy owner hoped he or she was drafting the perfect team. With the NFL’s regular season in the books, we now know what that team, or at least a version of that team, would have looked like.
Using the final average draft position report of the season from our friends at 4for4 Football, we’ve put together a team that most fantasy owners could have realistically drafted that likely would have gone undefeated and won a fantasy championship. A few players, such as Patrick Mahomes and George Kittle, were slam-dunk selections, but there were a number of routes we could have gone while building this team with the benefit of hindsight. The one we present below, however, represents the best distillation of the perfect fantasy football team for the 2018 season. The key to it all? Christian McCaffrey.
Taking the first two rounds as a whole, McCaffrey was the one player who had to be on this team. That means we could have reached for him in the first round, or taken him at his late-second-round ADP. A quick look over the rest of the ADP chart showed that taking him in the second was the better choice. Thus, we gave ourselves a draft slot late in the first round to build this year’s perfect team.
The team was built using typical league parameters. That means a 12-team league, 16-round draft, with starting rosters of one quarterback, two running backs, three receivers, one tight end, one flex, one kicker, and one defense.
Below are the picks, and what we might have been smart to say about them at the time.
First round: DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Texans (Overall ADP: 9.42)
We could go Melvin Gordon here, but the elite receivers feel like a safer investment at the end of the first round. Odell Beckham and Julio Jones are on the board, but they don’t have the floor that Hopkins does, especially with a healthy Deshaun Watson. And if what Hopkins and Watson did in 2017 can hold in 2018, Hopkins will be the WR1 this season.
Second round: Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers (ADP: 16.29)
The fulcrum on which the perfect team balances. McCaffrey is ready to be an elite RB1 this season, yet he’s still coming at a second-round price. McCaffrey is Todd Gurley and Saquon Barkley, just 10 to 15 picks later in a typical draft. That frees us up to take Hopkins in the first round. In other words, getting Hopkins and McCaffrey feels like having two top-10 picks.
Third round: Juju Smith-Schuster, WR, Steelers (ADP: 42)
Sure, this feels like a bit of a reach, but Smith-Schuster is clearly ready to ascend to another level, especially in an offense like Pittsburgh’s. Antonio Brown is still great, but he isn’t getting any younger, and the Steelers relationship with Le’Veon Bell is at a breaking point. Smith-Schuster is ready to be the guy in Pittsburgh. Our pairing of him and Hopkins is going to be hard to beat.
BELLER: 2018 Fantasy Football MVPs
Fourth round: Derrick Henry, RB, Titans (ADP: 41.29)
I don’t know, there’s just something to like about Henry’s playoff schedule. This pick may not pay huge dividends in the fantasy regular season, but it’s no challenge to find running back value later in the draft. We can trust that we’ll do just that to take Henry at ADP. Seriously, look at that playoff schedule. The belief here is that Henry is going to run all over the Jaguars, Giants and Redskins in Weeks 14 through 16.
Fifth round: Brandin Cooks, WR, Rams (ADP: 57.21)
Did you watch the Rams in 2017? We need to get some line of investment in this team. How about Cooks, who the Rams targeted aggressively in the offseason, and then signed to an extension before he played a down for the team. They clearly have huge plans for him, and, all things being equal, I want to be making the same bets that Sean McVay and Les Snead are making.
Sixth round: Robert Woods, WR, Rams (ADP: 82)
Seriously, did you watch the Rams in 2017? It’s not typically great practice to get two receivers from the same team, but this is one offense for which we can make an exception. Woods is as reliable as they come, and that will make him a great player to have around all season, especially when bye weeks start to take their toll on rosters. With Cooks and Woods offering such different skill sets, we’ll often be able to make the right call if we can only start one Rams receiver.
Seventh round: Chris Carson, RB, Seahawks (ADP: 93.42)
Forget about Rashaad Penny. He showed up to camp overweight and is injured now that we’re around the draft table. Carson is going to start the year in command of Seattle’s backfield, and, by time Penny is ready to return, it will be too late. Running backs always succeed next to Russell Wilson. Ever heard of Marshawn Lynch? Plus, don’t sleep on that playoff schedule. We’re not afraid of the Vikings, 49ers or Chiefs defenses, are we?
BELLER: 2018 Fantasy Football LVPs
Eighth round: Marlon Mack, RB, Colts (ADP: 104.43)
Yeah, he’s got a shoulder injury right now, but he should be ready to go by the end of September. There’s no reason to fear either Nyheim Hines or Jordan Wilkins running away with the job while Mack is out. If Andrew Luck is back to his old self, this offense is going to rebound in a huge way, and Mack will be the team’s workhorse in the backfield.
Ninth round: Patrick Mahomes, QB, Chiefs (ADP: 124.86)
OK, enough waiting on a quarterback. Things are starting to get dicey with 12 of them off the board. We could go Philip Rivers or Matt Ryan here, but Andy Reid knows a thing or two about quarterbacks. He traded up to the 10th overall pick in the 2017 draft to get Mahomes, and then sent Alex Smith to Washington shortly after the Chiefs’ playoff ouster to hand the reins to the kid out of Texas Tech. Maybe we should ride with Reid? One thing’s for certain: If everything breaks right for Mahomes, he could have a record-setting season.
10th round: George Kittle, TE, 49ers (128.29)
Speaking of record-setting seasons, there’s something about this second-round tight end out of Iowa that feels special. Remember how well he played with Jimmy Garoppolo last season? Just imagine what he can do with Garoppolo for a full season. And even the worst were to befall Garoppolo, Kittle showed off an elite skill set that should translate no matter who is under center.
11th round: Nick Chubb, RB, Browns (ADP: 130.86)
We’re in good shape at running back with McCaffrey, Henry, Carson and Mack, but I suppose Carson could lose to the job to Penny, and that Mack’s shoulder injury could linger. We may need some reinforcements at the position in midseason, and Chubb fits that bill. He’s going to start the season behind Carlos Hyde on the depth chart, but there’s a reason this rebuilding team used an early second-round pick on a running back, even after signing Hyde. If Chubb ever gets this starting job, he could take off immediately, especially if Baker Mayfield is all he’s cracked up to be.
12th round: Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks (147.86)
We haven’t selected a receiver since the sixth round, so it’s time to add some depth. Lockett has hinted at a breakout previously in his career, but has been blocked by Doug Baldwin and Jimmy Graham. The latter is gone, however, and the former is already admitting that he won’t be 100% all season because of a knee injury. This feels like it could be Lockett’s time to break through.
13th round: Tyler Boyd, WR, Bengals (ADP: N/A)
Things haven’t quite clicked for Boyd just yet, but this is just his third season and he was a second-round pick back in 2016. Let’s give him one more chance before writing him off, ok? Plus, it’s not like John Ross proved much of anything last year. The Bengals are desperate for a second receiver to step up alongside A.J. Green, and Boyd has the potential to be that guy. If he is, this is going to be a huge steal.
14th round: James Conner, RB, Steelers (ADP: 204.43)
Alright, there are just three rounds left in the draft, and we still need a defense and a kicker. This is our last shot to add some flex depth, so we might as well shoot for the stars. I have to say, I do not like what I’m seeing from Le’Veon Bell and the Steelers. Bell really seems like he’s willing to sit out a huge chunk of the season, if not the entire season. If he does that, I think Conner can basically be Bell with a different name. Remember what DeAngelo Williams did here previously when Bell was injured and suspended? This is an ideal offense for a back. Conner could be the cheapest RB1 in recent fantasy memory if Bell really holds out all season.
15th round: Chicago Bears Defense (198.43)
Vic Fangio and Ryan Pace quietly built a strong defense during John Fox’s disastrous tenure, with standouts such as Akiem Hicks, Danny Trevathan, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Fuller and Eddie Jackson. They added Roquan Smith in the draft, and then pulled off a heist by trading for Khalil Mack just before the start of the season. This is going to be the best defense in the league this year, and one of the few worth keeping around all season in fantasy leagues.
16th round: Ka’imi Fairbarin, K, Texans (ADP: N/A)
Rule No. 1 for drafting a kicker: Make sure he’s tied to a great offense. Remember how lethal Houston’s offense was in 2017 before Deshaun Watson tore his ACL? Fairbairn made 11 field goals and 19 extra points in the six games Watson started. That’s 8.67 points per game, not including yardage bonuses (which are terrible, just for the record). The Texans’ offense could easily be just as good, if not better, with a healthy Watson this season. If that’s the case, Fairbairn just may be fantasy football’s top kicker.