Fantasy Redraft: Who would be this year's top picks at midseason?
Hindsight is a beautiful thing. It allows us to see everything so clearly, making everything we should have done in the past seem obvious. It works in all facets of reality, and it is equally as effective in the fantasy world. If only we knew that Calvin Johnson would suffer an ankle injury or that DeMarco Murray would launch an assault on the record books, we could have adjusted our draft boards accordingly. Alas, we will always have to rely on foresight when filling our fantasy rosters.
At the same time, hindsight does not give us a window into everything we need to know. Past results are not necessarily indicative of future performance, even within the same season. The history of fantasy is littered with players who lit up scoreboards in the first half of the year, only to fall off dramatically in the second half. It takes a combination of hindsight and foresight to accurately predict what will happen the rest of the season once we are midstream.
With that, allow me to present the SI.com First Round Redraft. The following is meant to reflect what the first round would be if you were starting a league from scratch right now. What players have done to this point of the season is important, but equally as important is what they will do for the rest of the year. The goal is to combine hindsight and foresight into an all-seeing eye that grants us the sort of fantasy omniscience heretofore only dreamed of by the most brazen of fantasy owners.
First pick: Matt Forte, running back, Chicago Bears -- Of the backs who entered the year among the unquestioned top five at the position, only Forte has delivered since Week 1. He’s currently the third-ranked running back in fantasy, trailing DeMarco Murray and Arian Foster. He gets the nod as the No. 1 pick here for a few reasons. First, he’s the fulcrum of a high-powered offense. Second, he’s lethal as a receiver, making it nearly impossible for him to lay an egg, even if he has an off day running the ball. Third, he has proven he can hold up while getting 300-plus touches in a season. Not only is Forte the top player for the rest of the season, he will finish the year as the top-ranked running back.
Second pick: Demaryius Thomas, wide receiver, Denver Broncos -- Thomas gave his owners a bad case of heartburn during the first three weeks of the season, but he has turned it around considerably since then. In his last five games, he has 41 catches for 753 yards and five touchdowns, which translates to a season-long pace of 131 receptions, 2,409 yards and 16 scores. Thomas hasn’t had a game with fewer than 10 fantasy points in that stretch and has had at least 18 points in three of those games. That sort of consistency is what makes him a rock-solid pick in the No. 2 slot.
Third pick: DeMarco Murray, running back, Dallas Cowboys -- Speaking of consistency, Murray has been the poster child for that prized trait this season, and it has him threatening Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record. Murray ran for at least 100 yards in the first eight games of the season and hit paydirt in six of those games, as well. Until the Cardinals held him to 79 yards on 19 carries last week, he hadn’t scored fewer than 17.1 fantasy points in a game this year. The Cowboys have one of the best lines in the league, and the team remains committed to putting the offense on Murray’s shoulders -- or, more accurately, his legs.
Fourth pick: Le’Veon Bell, running back, Pittsburgh Steelers -- A lack of touchdowns has caused Bell’s sophomore season to fly slightly under the radar for a player that ranks fourth among running backs in fantasy points. Like Murray, Bell had an impressive streak snapped last week, as well: He had racked up at least 100 total yards from scrimmage in the first eight games of the season. All told, Bell has 711 rushing yards (third in the NFL), 47 receptions (second among backs), and 433 receiving yards (ditto) but just three total touchdowns. A player who gets the ball as frequently as he does playing in an offense like Pittsburgh’s typically can’t help but score far more often than that. Expect that to even out over the remainder of the season.[onetwenty:100794190]
Fifth pick: Antonio Brown, wide receiver, Pittsburgh Steelers -- Here’s our consistency king at the wide receiver position and the top-scoring receiver to date this year. Brown has had a minimum of five catches and 84 yards in every game this year. He has gone north of 100 yards five times and caught at least seven passes in seven of his nine games. He leads all receivers in receptions (71) and yards (996), and is second in touchdowns (eight). There’s really nothing more the guy can do, other than keep it up for the second half of the season. Fantasy owners should expect him to do just that, making him an easy choice with the four guys above him off the board.
Sixth pick: LeSean McCoy, running back, Philadelphia Eagles -- This one may raise some eyebrows, but remember that this is primarily a draft for the rest of the season, and everything is starting to turn in McCoy’s favor. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in two of his last three games, and he now has four of his five starting linemen in front of him. McCoy and the Eagles also have a run-friendly remaining schedule, and the team will likely lean on him a bit more with Mark Sanchez at the helm. You drafted McCoy thinking he could carry you to a championship. He may very well do that, even after all of his early-season struggles.
Seventh pick: Arian Foster, running back, Houston Texans -- Foster plummeted in fantasy drafts because of concern over his back, and that depressed draft stock likely means that his owners are near the top of their league standings. Foster is second among running backs in fantasy points, racking up 822 rushing yards, 229 receiving yards and 10 total touchdowns. He did miss one game and put up just 61 total yards in another, but he leads the position in points per game, edging Murray by 1.2 PPG. He hurt his groin last week, but it isn’t thought to be serious, and the Texans enjoy a perfectly timed bye in Week 10. Expect Foster to remain a stud RB1 for the rest of the season.
Eighth pick: Jamaal Charles, running back, Kansas City Chiefs -- Despite an ankle injury that cost Charles all of one game and most of another, he is the 10th-ranked fantasy running back at this point of the season. On a per-game basis he ranks eighth, posting a robust 13.9 points per game. Charles has yet to surpass 100 yards rushing in a game, but his ability as a pass-catcher has again placed him among the most dangerous weapons in the league. With two games left against the Raiders and single games against the Broncos and Steelers, Charles should be a top-10 overall player from here on out.
Ninth pick: Calvin Johnson, wide receiver, Detroit Lions -- Johnson’s season stalled right out of the gate because of a high ankle sprain that has essentially cost him five games. He played twice on the gimpy ankle but was clearly much less than the Megatron we’ve all come to expect over the last eight seasons. Before the injury, he was his usual self, catching 19 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns the first three weeks of the season. Now that he’s fully recovered from the injury, there’s every reason to believe he will once again be the dominant fantasy receiver he was expected to be back in August. The Lions still have two games with the Bears, and individual matchups with the Buccaneers and Vikings this season.
10th pick: Jordy Nelson, wide receiver, Green Bay Packers -- There are a lot of perks associated with being Aaron Rodgers’ favorite receiver. One of those, which is probably not too high on the list in Nelson’s eyes, is being a fantasy star. Nelson has 50 receptions for 737 yards and six touchdowns this year, which is good enough for fifth in fantasy points per game among receivers. He has put up at least 16 points three times, while scoring less than eight points twice. With a remaining slate that includes the Bears, Eagles, Falcons and Buccaneers, Nelson should be able to finish in the top three at the position in 2014, along with Thomas and Brown.
11th pick: Rob Gronkowski, tight end, New England Patriots -- The New England offense has awakened from its early-season slumber, and the full unleashing of Gronk has had a lot to do with it. In the last five weeks, Gronkowski has 36 receptions for 512 yards and five touchdowns, which are completely absurd numbers for a tight end. Even before that run, he had three touchdowns in four games but wasn’t on the field enough to make the impact he has over the last month or so. Now that he is completely healthy and the Patriots’ offense is humming right along, there’s no stopping Gronk. Jimmy Graham was the only tight end who merited first-round consideration before the season, but Gronkowski is once again king of the mountain.
12th pick: Marshawn Lynch, running back, Seattle Seahawks -- It seemed that no one wanted to hitch their fantasy wagon to Lynch during draft season. He began the summer as a likely top-five pick, then watched his fantasy draft stock slowly tumble, until he ended up with an average draft position that straddled the line between the first and second rounds. All he’s done since then is run for 549 yards, haul in 22 passes for 223 yards and find the end zone eight times in eight games. With the Seattle passing game in a rut and the team still relying on its defense and rushing attack to win games, expect to see a whole lot of Lynch over the second half of the season. He doesn’t have the ceiling of the backs taken before him, but he does have one of the highest floors in the game.