Way too early 2024 fantasy football mock draft: An early receiver run, mid-round running back bargains and more – The Athletic
By Jay FelicioFeb 2, 2024
Why do a 2024 fantasy football mock draft now? Why not wait until after free agency and the NFL draft? Things will change drastically from now until the fantasy football draft season — isn’t this useless?
Quite the contrary. There are valuable takeaways from a mock draft this early, lessons to be learned and applied to future drafts, by comparing this mock draft to ones done before the season started and seasons past. Remember Gave Davis’ inflated 2022 ADP after his eight-catch, 201-yard, four-touchdown performance in the 2021 playoffs? Could another Davis be lurking, waiting to be overdrafted in 2024 thanks to a strong showing in the playoffs?
I teamed up with fellow members of The Athletic crew and industry stalwarts for a “Way Too Early” 2024 draft on Sleeper — 1QB, PPR setup. I’ll divide/dissect the draft into three segments: early rounds (1-3), middle rounds (5-8), and late rounds (9-12), analyze the draft, and discuss my evolving strategy based on the draft board.
- Cody Carpentier — RosterWatch
- Jake Ciely — The Athletic
- Jorge Martin — Yahoo Fantasy
- Sam Choudhury — FTN
- Rachel Woodford — IBT Media
- Joey Wright — Footballguys
- Jay Felicio — The Athletic
- Marco Enriquez — FantasyPros
- Eric N. Moody — ESPN
- Tera Roberts — PlayerProfiler
- Eric Romoff — Green Screens Media/IBT Media
- Teddy Ricketson — DraftKings Network
Note: The roster settings were as follows: 1 QB | 2 RB| 3 WR| 1 TE | 1 Flex | 4 Bench. Also, rookies were not included in this mock as where they ultimately land in the NFL draft will have a heavy influence on their value. But we’ve enlisted our dynasty guru Jeff Haverlack to provide an addendum to this column in which he offers thoughts on which rookies would have been in play for this draft had they been included, and also discusses the round in which they might have been drafted.
Analysis: Receivers started flying off the board after Christian McCaffrey went 1.01 (as he should) — a run of five straight led to eight of the first 12 picks being wide receivers. The two teams on the turn decided to wait on receiver, however. If Cody can hit on mid-round receiver value, his team will be a favorite to finish the story and win a championship. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better start than CMC-Saquon Barkley–Sam LaPorta. Teddy picked up three players with first-round ADPs in 2024, two who regularly went in the Top 5, with a Travis Kelce–Austin Ekeler–Nick Chubb start.
Kelce’s strong showing in the playoffs could mask the fact his dominance of the tight end position looks to be coming to an end. Yes, he tied with T.J. Hockenson for TE1 at 14.6 points per game. But he finished under 15 ppg for the first time since 2016. I’d much rather draft the likes of Trey McBride, Mark Andrews, and Hockenson in the middle rounds versus using a first- or second-round pick on Kelce. While I love LaPorta and his potential to finish as the TE1 next year (and the seasons to come), I’m uncomfortable taking him in the third. I wouldn’t be shocked to see his ADP climb into the second round, either.
My Strategy: I knew that drafting in the middle of the first would leave me no shot at CMC, Justin Jefferson, CeeDee Lamb, and likely Tyreek Hill. The hope was to land one of Amon-Ra St. Brown or Ja’Maar Chase, but Rachel and Joey quickly dashed those hopes. There’s a tier drop for me after those five wide receivers, so I decided to pivot and take Bijan Robinson as the second running back off the board (to which Jake immediately started jawing at me).
Talent wasn’t the reason Bijan failed to live up to the hype in 2024 — Arthur Smith’s obsession with Tyler Allgeier was. Bijan nearly surpassed 1,000 rushing yards despite only getting 214 carries, thanks to averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Thankfully, Smith was ousted as the Falcons head coach and replaced by Raheem Morris, who brought Zac Robinson with him from the Rams to serve as offensive coordinator. Rams running back Kyren Williams broke out in 2024 and had 14 more carries than Bijan despite playing in five fewer games (six if you include the “headache” game). I’m willing to take Bijan in the middle of the first.
There was no chance of Garrett Wilson or A.J. Brown making it back to me in the second, so I was targeting one of Chris Olave, DJ Moore, or Stefon Diggs — I landed Moore. Whether it’s Caleb Williams or Justin Fields under center for the Bears in 2024, I expect Moore to build on his career-best season and once again finish as a WR1. I was ecstatic Tee Higgins was available in the third. He’s got some variability as an impending free agent, but I don’t see a situation where he isn’t worth the draft capital here. If Higgins returns to the Bengals (which I expect to happen), he’ll be the Robin to Chase’s Batman in one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. If he were to leave Cincinnati, he’ll likely be the top option on whatever team he lands on. If Higgins is available in the third, I’m smashing that 10 times out of 10.
Analysis: Eric Moody rode the line between madman and genius, starting his draft with four wide receivers: A.J. Brown, Olave, Cooper Kupp, and Michael Pittman (spoiler: Moody knows what he’s doing). Tony Pollard and Derrick Henry are free agents, so their team and roles have yet to be determined, but I expect them to be drafted in the middle rounds, and if they land in the right situation, they could turn into values in the same vein as James Conner and David Montgomery in 2024.
I understand the allure of having a stud quarterback like Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, or Jalen Hurts. All three were gone by the middle of the third round in last year’s mock with the same format. But even the fourth round cost you see in this draft, with Cody, Jake, and Sam taking them, is too rich for my blood. C.J. Stroud, Fields, and Anthony Richardson went three rounds later (Round 7). Rachel picked up Jordan Love in Round 8, the same round Jorge drafted Dak Prescott. This is before the influx of rookie talent such as Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels, and Drake Maye. In that same mock from last year, Stroud and Brock Purdy went undrafted. Richardson went in Round 9 and Kirk Cousins in Round 10. There is simply too much value at the position to use early draft capital on a quarterback.
After a robust RB start of Breece Hall and Kyren Williams, Tera shored up her receiving corps with Deebo Samuel, Mike Evans, and Jayden Reed. She followed that up with the potential steal of the draft with Alvin Kamara in Round 6 and snagged Anthony Richardson in Round 7. She has my favorite team in the draft at this point.
My Strategy: I’ve had success in recent years with the “Hero RB” strategy, drafting a high-end RB1 and waiting until the middle-to-late rounds to load up on high-upside targets. After drafting Bijan in the first, that was the path I expected to take. But I couldn’t pass up Josh Jacobs in the fourth round — if he winds up back in Las Vegas, he’ll be in line for a huge workload. I was eyeing four wide receivers in Round 5: Nico Collins, Terry McLaurin, Rashee Rice, and Jordan Addison. Not a single one of them made it back. But Mark Andrews in the fifth round is quite the consolation prize. I’d take him as early as the mid-fourth if/when he makes it there.
While I certainly didn’t plan on taking three running backs in the first six rounds, none of the wide receivers on the board were worth passing on Najee Harris here. As much as I loathe Arthur Smith for his usage of Bijan in Atlanta, he had success as the Titans offensive coordinator. Derrick Henry had his best statistical seasons under Smith. He now brings his run-heavy approach to Pittsburgh as the newly hired OC for 2024, which could be a boon to Harris’ fantasy production. Harris is well worth the sixth-round price tag.
Analysis: De’Von Achane. Sam LaPorta. Nico Collins. They are just a few of the players who were either drafted late or went undrafted in 2024 who will be taken in the early rounds of 2024 fantasy drafts. The late rounds of drafts are not to be undervalued. I love every one of Marco’s late picks. Zach Charbonnet, Michael Mayer, and Dontayvion Wicks showed flashes in their rookie seasons and could see more opportunities in 2024. Eric smashed the late rounds as well. He was the last to take his first quarterback, landing Kyler Murray in Round 9. He is among a handful of quarterbacks with a legitimate shot at finishing 2024 as the QB1 in fantasy. There’s a real chance the Cardinals draft Marvin Harrison Jr. to give Murray another weapon, one with elite potential. (Sidenote: Writing about the offspring of former NFL stars I vividly remember rostering on past fantasy teams serves as a stark reminder that I am getting old.)
A few other late-round picks I adore are Tera taking Zamir White and Jorge taking Romeo Doubs in Round 9, as well as Sam taking Khalil Shakir and Jake taking Keaton Mitchell in Round 12.
My Strategy: While it wasn’t my intention going into the draft, I ended up with just two wide receivers through the first six rounds. So I used the late rounds to take shots on receivers with upside — Mike Williams, Marvin Mims, and Rashod Bateman. I regret my D’Onta Foreman pick, however. If I had a mulligan, I’d take Shakir, Mitchell, or Jonathan Mingo instead.
Here’s how my team shook out:
- QB – Justin Herbert
- RB – Bijan Robinson, Josh Jacobs, Najee Harris, D’Onta Foreman
- WR – DJ Moore, Tee Higgins, Jahan Dotson, Mike Williams, Marvin Mims, Rashod Bateman
- TE – Mark Andrews
My team is solid, but I am gambling with my wide receiver corps. I could be in trouble if Moore regresses or Higgins gets paid and winds up in an unfriendly fantasy situation. But without rookies included here, and being a “way too early” mock, we stopped at 12 rounds. If afforded more picks, I’d have taken shots on rookie wide receivers, hoping to land that lottery ticket that pays off.
Full Draft Board
I asked the participants a variety of questions in regards to the mock and their draft strategy in general.
Q: Are there lessons learned from 2024 fantasy drafts that you applied in the mock draft?
You draft talent not situation, especially if you’re drafting early. — Enriquez
Loading up on an offense you believe in isn’t such a bad move. In 2024, I had two to three Detroit Lions on essentially every team I drafted. I found more teams in the playoffs than any other season playing fantasy. Bye weeks weren’t the headache you’d imagine. — Wright
The elite tier of running backs are thin, but the position as a whole is somewhat deep. A lot of starting backs are available towards the end of the draft. — Choudhury
One lesson from 2024 fantasy drafts that I implemented in this mock was to prioritize the wide receiver position early. A viable running back can always be found in the middle rounds who ends up exceeding expectations. — Moody
Don’t always fall for the hyped-up players. Don’t rule out the trusted reliable players who have proven their worth with their consistency. — Woodford
I waited on QB, whereas in 2024 I was on the elite QB bandwagon. While last year it paid off with Josh Allen and Jalen Hurts, I didn’t do as well with Patrick Mahomes, Justin Fields and Justin Herbert teams. Grabbing Dak Prescott in the eighth round was fantastic value. I think I’ll be doing that more in 2024. — Martin
Nah, I don’t generally let the prior season effect new drafts — different season and different situations. Stylistically, I always stay Bayesian and allow the draft to unfold.— Carpentier
Q: If their ADP stays similar to where they went in this mock draft, are there any players you will target or avoid in 2024?
Nick Chubb in the third feels like a ton of value. I also love where Jaylen Waddle, Michael Pittman, Rashee Rice, Tank Dell, Jayden Reed and Zay Flowers went. — Ricketson
Stefon Diggs likely won’t even be in my Top 20 WRs but Khalil Shakir will be a terrific WR3; Josh Jacobs is a steal if he’s back with the Raiders; and Brock Purdy outside the Top 13 QBs is criminal (I would have just waited if I knew he could be my last pick). — Ciely
“…there’s no need to take a quarterback in the early rounds. Positional values aren’t guaranteed to repeat but a QB1 can be found well into the mid rounds.” — Roberts
If I can get Jahmyr Gibbs at the front end of the second round, I will be elated with a pick at the turn. He is easily a Top 8 pick for me in 2024. — Wright
Cooper Kupp will be on many of my fantasy teams if his average draft position remains the same. Kupp and Puka Nacua can coexist. Kupp averaged 8.0 targets and 13.7 fantasy points per game last season with Nacua. Kupp’s statistical body of work makes landing him in the third round appealing. Derrick Henry in the sixth round was a pleasant surprise, and I could see myself targeting him often if he was readily available in the middle rounds. — Moody
I’m assuming their ADPs go up… but ninth-round Zamir White and 12th-round Keaton Mitchell are things that I want for my future self. — Romoff
Targeting Jonathan Taylor in Round 2 every single time and staying away from Austin Ekeler at the 1/2 turn. — Carpentier
Q: If your draft was a well-known dance or dance move, what would it be, and why is it fitting?
The robot. Mainly because I autodrafted my first two picks and last two picks thinking Sleeper would tell me I was on the clock (LOL). Also, because we focused on the future and didn’t worry about injuries this year to Kelce, Chubb, Burrow, or J.K. Dobbins. — Ricketson
The Jive — it’s upbeat and energetic like my team as a whole. It’s also an older style of dance just like some of my drafted players are, shall we say, seasoned vets. — Woodford
The No Look Pass — my Top 3 wide receivers had QBs in 2024 who were so awful it’s like they closed their eyes every time they threw the ball. — Enriquez
Uh, Toosie Slide because I have so many damn kids on my team. And, yes, I did search for trending TikTok dances on Google because I’m old and out of touch. — Ciely
My draft was definitely a tango. A traditional approach — starting with two running backs — but a bit risky, taking more of a contrarian approach compared to other wide receiver heavy teams. — Roberts
My draft would be the Hoedown Throwdown, made popular by the 2009 motion picture, The Hannah Montana Movie. It is a country and western line dance with lots of flair which reminds me a lot of the four Houston Texans players who ended up on my team. Yee-haw! — Wright
The Electric Slide because the draft room was exactly that, “electric.” — Choudhury
My fantasy draft would be the Charleston, which is a well-known dance move that can be adapted to a variety of music styles. Whenever I build my fantasy teams, I always use positional tiers so that I can adapt my strategy based on how others draft. — Moody
The Kid N Play dance — it’s categorically awesome and immediately upon seeing it, people will want to learn how to do it themselves. — Romoff
The Two Step — back-to-back RBs to start, and then ignoring the position until Round 9 — Carpentier
The Twist, because often I felt like I was folded into a pretzel as guys were flying off the board. — Martin
The Cha Cha Slide, because it’ll make everybody clap their hands. — Felicio
Q: If you could choose any animal as a companion or sidekick, what would you choose and why? (Bonus points for what you’d name them.)
Real-life would be an otter. I know there are reports of them being mean, but I believe that just as much as a coach who lists a player questionable who has practiced in full all week. If we are allowed to pick a fictional character it would without question be Scooby Doo. — Ricketson
I adore rhinos. They are extremely beautiful with their rough and rugged appearance. — Woodford
Red panda named Taco. They are smart and can be trained well, also they’re adorable. Obviously, Taco because tacos are awesome and so is my red panda. — Enriquez
I mean, Scrooge McDuck, no question. Scrooge has powers (can spot a dime on a distant mountain, speed, strength, cane-based abilities, and more) which also include the luck factor. — Ciely
This is such a basic answer but I’d want a cuddly companion. I’d choose a dog. They’re loyal, smart and make excellent team mascots! — Roberts
It’s a raccoon — 100%. They are my favorite animal. I would name him Avir after my favorite Uber driver I met last summer in NYC. Miss you, Avir! — Wright
Billy the buffalo, because this team hinges on the success of #BillsMafia — Choudhury
Because I am going against the grain, I would choose an eagle instead of a dog. They are bigger than you think, strong, great hunters, fast, agile, social, and able to fly. The name of my eagle would be Thunderwing. — Moody
If you’re talking pure companionship, you gotta go dog. The GOAT. Sidekick implies they would do my bidding… maybe an owl. Smart, stealthy, can turn its head all the way around. In either case, I would name them Scrambles — Romoff
I love my dog Dino, but if not him, I’m picking a monkey. They’re almost as smart as humans, and so incredibly strong and agile. If I need fruit from the highest point in a tree, I’m calling in the monkey. Boy or girl, I’m naming it Mookie. I’m a Dodgers fan, do you need any other reason? — Martin
Brown bear named Bijan, because I be drafting him EVERY time — Carpentier
I’d go with a pig named Bacon. I love bacon, and I’d love Bacon, but I’d never feed bacon to Bacon. I’m not a monster. — Felicio
(Top photo of Puka Nacua: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports)
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Jay Felicio is a Fantasy Football analyst and contributor for NFL/College Football betting at The Athletic. His work has been showcased on FanDuel, PlayerProfiler.com, and numerous other outlets. Jay is an Advanced Data Charter with FTN.com and a Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. He is a native of New York but was raised in North Carolina, where he currently resides with his beautiful wife and three kids. Jay’s off-field interests include the Marvel Cinematic Universe, professional wrestling, and classic Simpsons humor. Mark 12:30-31. Follow Jay on Twitter @GMenJay