Mock Draft Strategies: How Reaching for a QB Affects Your Roster Construction

Malcolm McMillan (@McLateralFF)
The Lateral Writer

Charles Herrmann (@HermsNFL)
The Lateral Chief Editor

[NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: This article was written/these mocks took place in July prior to players arriving at training camp. Opt-outs due to COVID-19, various signings and some other pieces of news have occurred since.]

Mock Drafts.

These two words, while so simple, make a world of difference in fantasy sports. It is basically a coming of age ritual, a fantasy Bar/Bat Mitzvah. You know you have truly entered the world of playing fantasy once you start doing mock drafts.

The reasoning, of course, is obvious. Mock drafts are practice, they are the offseason of this so-called sport. Instead of suiting up and throwing on the pads, thousands of people around the world sweatsuit up and break out the iPad to get an edge going into the season. It is the Galdwellian 10,000 hours concept; to get really good at something, to develop mastery, it usually takes about 10,000 hours. Mock drafts are a consequence-free method to those 10,000 hours.

As you may have seen in our Mock Draft Series Preview,The Lateral plans to spend a lot of the off-season focusing on mock drafts. Each week looks at a particular strategy, and through testing proves the route that leads to the best roster construction. This week, The Lateral focuses on whether reaching for the top tier QB is really worth it, or if there is more value waiting until the middle rounds and grabbing that extra WR/RB.

QB: Do I draft early? Or late?

Great question. Lately, or at least last year, the trend was definitely to draft later. Outside of Patrick Mahomes, no QB went in the top 3 rounds for 12-team PPR drafts, based on data from Fantasy Football Calculator. Only 3 QBs went in the Top 5 rounds. On average, people drafted their QB between Round 8 and Round 9 in 2019, and in 2020, the early trends are that people are drafting even later, between Round 9 and Round 10.

However, this year the top 5 rounds are a little more crowded. Mahomes and Lamar Jackson are going in Round 2 on average based on the Fantasy Football Calculator data, and Kyler Murray, Russell Wilson, and Dak Prescott are also off the board by the end of Round 5.

This shows a trend towards either reaching for a Top 5 QB or punting until your bench has some depth and grabbing a value QB in the later rounds.

The Fantasy Football Calculator data is great because it shows where those QBs are going, but it is lacking in presenting us with the bigger picture. So The Lateral decided to get into the weeds and start mocking.

Here were our parameters:
  • 12-Team
  • PPR
  • 2 WR
  • 3 drafts where a QB had to be taken by the end of Round 5
  • 2 drafts where a QB had to be taken by the end of Round 10
  • 5 drafts on ESPN
    • Charles Herrmann did all the ESPN Mock Drafts
  • 5 drafts on Yahoo
    • Malcolm McMillan did all the Yahoo Mock Drafts
Unfortunately, the mock draft platforms have their limits, so doing things such as deeper benches, or 3 WR rosters were off the table.

Players left on the board most often using this strategy:

CH: Whenever I took QB way. way early, I ended up having to pass on those tier 4 guys at RB and tier 3 at WR to get Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson. In those instances, I'm kicking myself thinking, "Damn, did I really give up Allen Robinson, JuJu, and Adam Thielen for this? I really passed up Carson, Todd Gurley, Le'Veon Bell, and Gordon? Geez, Ertz would've been nice there."

By waiting a little longer, it allowed me to shore up my starting RBs and WRs. Because a lot of people on ESPN are really going RB heavy earlier on this year, snagging a backend tier 1 QB like Watson/Prescott/Murray/Wilson did not leave as much on the board that I really felt as bad about giving up and enabled me to feel better about my depth. It does take you out of the Higbee/Henry/occasionally Waller sweepstakes at TE and whoever is leftover in that 5th tier of WRs I really like such as Boyd/Diggs/Edelman. Not the biggest fan of the RBs in that range, but if you want to take a stab at the Tampa Bay backfield, you may not be in luck.

Waiting closer to the 10th and going with someone like Allen/Ryan/Wentz in the tier 2 QB range felt great, but some of the less-hyped rookie RBs and the rookie WRs are such great bench stashes.

MM: In my first draft, the big one left on the board was DeVante Parker in Round 5 when I picked up Dak Prescott. I was still feeling out the Yahoo platform, so I never stood a chance at getting Mahomes or Jackson, who were both gone by the end of Round 2. In fact, every single draft I did, they were gone by the end of Round 3.

I got lucky in my second draft, snagging Jackson in the 3rd after already picking up Dalvin Cook and Austin Ekeler, and then getting DJ Moore, DeVante Parker, and DJ Chark for my 3 picks after Jackson. I did end up having to get Sony Michel as my first backup RB, rather than Carson who was on the board when I drafted Lamar, so that was the biggest flaw in reaching for that draft. Draft number three was much more brutal. I had to leave Golladay, Robinson, and Kittle on the board (the only time Kittle was ever available in the 3rd), which is just too much. I still got some solid WRs in Cooper Kupp and DeVante Parker, but missing out on that top tier WR hurt.

This was really my biggest takeaway regarding players left on the board: if you reach for a QB you're going to give up a top tier WR or RB, and it is just not worth the drop-off. If you can wait till Round 6, like I did in my final draft, you can end up with a Carson, Robinson, or even and Odell Beckham Jr like I got in the 3rd round. That leaves you with the ability to have DeVante Parker, who I got in the 5th, be a FLEX rather than a starter, which is a huge benefit. Especially since I still got Russell Wilson in the 6th anyway, and he's a perennial MVP candidate.

Players acquired to compensate for QB pick:

CH: Whenever I went super early with Mahomes or Lamar, I felt like I immediately needed to commit to whoever falls back at WR or RB because I know the cliff at those positions comes up on you fast. Earned me a lot of Le'Veon Bell and Melvin Gordon at RB, a lot of Odell Beckham Jr. and Tyler Boyd at WR. None of those names are very sexy, but obviously, you could do a lot worse. There's some reliability there.

Whether I went super early or waited more toward the 5th-7th rounds, I also ended up with a lot of Marquise Brown and Brandin Cooks at WR, James White and Jordan Howard at RB. By taking a backend tier 1 QB, you are kind of taking yourself out of the race for players at RB that have more predictable safety, but more "boring" guys like White and Howard give you a little bit of that. Brown just feels like a solid breakout candidate in year 2 with Lamar regardless, but if taking a top QB prevents you from addressing WR2 or your flex sooner, you could do a lot worse than Brown. And regardless of how you feel about his health history, the possibility of Cooks as Watson's #1 WR in Houston is pretty solid. It's worth a gamble.

Going with a tier 2 QB freed me up to draft like I normally do, so I wouldn't say I had to compensate necessarily in that range.

MM: I had the same issues as Charles; once you snag the top-tier QB, you immediately feel the need to compensate for the lost piece. Whether it is a Derrius Guice, a Sony Michel, or a Julian Edelman (lots of Julian Edelman in your future by the way if you go 2 RB followed by a QB), you just do not feel as good as when you are able to rely on someone like Raheem Mostert as your 3rd RB, as I did with my fourth mock draft (the first one where I was drafting QB between Round 6 and Round 10), or having Kareem Hunt and DeVante Parker to choose from for your FLEX, as I did in my fifth and final mock draft.

General roster strengths:

CH: Generally, it's nice to know that you have a matchup-proof QB. Only having to ride the waiver wire for a bye week fill-in there gives me peace of mind. Depending on what I choose to address after I went super early at QB, a certain degree of positional depth at one of RB or WR is to be had, but not at both spots.

By waiting till the middle rounds for either a backend tier 1 or tier 2 QB, it gave me the opportunity to do what I normally do and have at least 3-4 RBs and 3-4 WRs I like before I bother with the position. You gain depth across the board by waiting.

MM: Biggest roster strengths for drafting a QB in rounds 1-5 are Mahomes and Jackson are in a tier of their own. So if you can be patient, and a bit lucky, and get them in round 3 (or even round 4), you can feel confident that you got a potential league winner at QB, and either 2 top-tier WRs or RBs, depending on how you drafted. I think of my second draft in particular, where I got 2 top-tier (or close to it) RBs in Dalvin Cook and Austin Ekeler, snagged Jackson in the 3rd, and then followed it up with 3 excellent WRs in Moore, Parker, and Chark.

If I had to be honest though, that was pretty lucky, as I was left with Julian Edelman as my 3rd WR in my other two mock drafts where I took a QB in the first five rounds. If you can wait until the middle rounds, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, and Josh Allen are all available in Round 6. This allows you to stack your WRs and/or RBs, which is always a good thing. Having a strong 3rd RB and 3rd WR is crucial for making it through the season, and you always feel better if you stole a stud while others reached for a QB.

General roster weaknesses:

CH: Going QB super early forces you to feel like you're playing catch-up, and if you go RB with your next pick after, you might not like your team's WRs. If you go WR with your next pick, you might end up looking at your group of RBs and hating yourself. A lot of buyer's remorse is going to creep in as the draft goes along.

Waiting too late at QB might force you to have to play the waiver wire if the guy you pick does not pan out for some reason. It's only a small pain in the ass but a pain nonetheless.

The big point here is that overall roster depth is a big risk by going QB too soon.

MM: I must sound like a broken record at this point, but your 3rd RB and 3rd WR are going to take a hit. There is just no way around it. Even in my draft where I got three great WRs, I still have the struggle-bus that is Sony Michel for my 3rd RB. Could he finally be the ground game machine that we have seen glimpses of in New England? Sure, especially with Cam under center. But if he continues to be just a touch above the perfect mediocrity that is David Montgomery, I will be in for a world of hurt, especially if one of my top-2 RBs goes down with an injury.

Overall conclusions:

CH: Going QB super early did not feel worth it. Unless Mahomes or Lamar fall out of the 3rd round, I'm not going for it. You're relying on the draft to fall just the right way to bail you out, and that did not typically happen. Positional depth across the board has much less stability if you stab too soon. The difference in value between Patrick Mahomes as your QB and Allen Robinson as your WR2 or Todd Gurley as your RB2 or RB3/flex feels obvious to me. I care way more about overall roster depth than I do about a dominant starting lineup.

I liked how my team felt with whoever was left over out of the backend tier 1 QBs/tier 2 QBs in the middle rounds though. They're in that range around where I'd normally at least consider a QB but never do. I typically go double-digit QB, but snagging any of those guys just a tad before I'm comfortable might happen for me this year. Mid-6th round to late-8th feels like a good sweet spot at QB in 2020. I didn't find myself angry that I took a QB over who was on the board in that range more often than not.

I think there is a lot of good value to be had on ESPN at the other positions in the double-digit range. All in all, I don't wanna go into the 5th round with a QB, but I'd really like to leave the 8th with one so I'm free to spend on upside flyers the rest of the draft.

MM: You need luck if you are going to reach for a QB. It is not impossible; all my drafts where I reached were graded high by Yahoo and FantasyPros, but the value just does not make it worth it. You are going to want as good a 3rd RB/WR and/or FLEX as you can get, and it just is not possible to check all those boxes and still reach for Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson.

I will say though, this research did shift my opinion on where to draft QB.

I tend to be a late QB guy (Charles does too), because it allows for the bench depth a lot of fantasy managers covet. This year though it feels like there is a huge drop off in the skill position players after Round 5 or Round 6. Is Kareem Hunt, who is being drafted in Round 6 or Round 7, really that much better than Phillip Lindsay, who you can literally bet the house on being available in Round 10? Is Darren Waller really so much better than Mike Gesicki, Noah Fant, or Jonnu Smith?

QB is different though. There is a huge difference in getting a mobile QB like Deshaun Watson or Josh Allen, who were constantly there in Round 6 or Round 7, compared to Jimmy Garoppolo, who while mistake-free, stays locked in the pocket 24/7. Yes there is still value to be had in the later rounds: Matthew Stafford occasionally falls to Round 10, Ben Roethlisberger and Ryan Tannehill could sling the ball around and are usually available in the double digits, but aside from Stafford, none of them has a chance at being a Top-5 QB this year, and Watson, Allen do because of their mobility.

Obviously, the real answer is to take a page from Sun Tzu's Art of War, always being like water, and follow the natural course of the board. If you are in a draft where Mahomes falls to 6th, take the guy and run. Or if Deshaun Watson is on the board but so is Tyler Lockett? Take the WR and wait for the right time to take the QB. Overall though, I think Round 6 and Round 7 are the time to take a slept on mobile QB and still have a nice starting lineup at your skill positions, leading to a balanced roster.

And there you have it, folks. Part one of the Mock Draft Series out of the way. Next week, The Lateral duo is going to take a look at "Zero RB" draft strategy.

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