The perfect team: A look back at what would have been 2015’s ideal draft
Every fantasy owner sets out with the same goal when they sit down at the draft table: to build the best team possible. There are many different ways to achieve that feat, but no team is truly perfect. There are simply too many variables and too many unforeseen turns in an NFL season to craft the perfect team in a draft. That, of course, is why we grab players off the waiver wire and make trades during the season. A championship fantasy owner is always ready to tweak his or her roster.
With the benefit of hindsight, however, we can build the perfect fantasy team. We used average draft position from the final week of draft season to answer the following question: If you made the perfect realistic selection in every round of a draft in 2015, what would that team look like?
For the purposes of this exercise, we assumed a 12-team league with 16 rounds in its draft. This league starts one quarterback, two running backs, three receivers, one RB/WR/TE flex, one tight end, one kicker and one defense. (We did not draft the kicker or defense because, well, it’s the kicker and defense. You should be streaming them anyway.)
And now we present to you, the perfect fantasy team for the 2015 season.
Round 1: Antonio Brown, Steelers (ADP: 6.8)
You need a player with bankable production who also has the ceiling to single-handedly win you a week in the first round. Brown checks both of those boxes. He was this year’s No. 1 receiver and No. 2 flex player, trailing Devonta Freeman by just 1.7 points in standard-scoring leagues. He was a top-three weekly receiver six times in Ben Roethlisberger’s 12 starts, and he surely would have been the first ever 2,000-yard receiver had his starting quarterback played all 16 games. He was, without question, the best first-round fantasy pick this year.
Round 2: A.J. Green, Bengals (ADP: 20.3)
If we’re being realistic about where we nabbed Brown, then we definitely missed out on Julio Jones and Odell Beckham Jr. LeSean McCoy would have been a fine selection in this space, but zero-RB was clearly the winning draft strategy this season. That makes Green, who unfairly slid down draft boards after his injury-slowed 2014 season, the choice. He ended the year as the No. 8 receiver, with more points than all but four running backs. Green’s consistency left a bit to be desired, but he showed up late in the season, giving his owners double-digit points in five of his last seven games.
Round 3: DeAndre Hopkins, Texans (ADP: 34.7)
Hopkins went at the end of the third round in a typical draft, meaning he was definitely available to our fictional owner. Teaming him with Brown and Green essentially locked in the best receiving corps in the league, and that proved to be a path to a championship in 2015. Hopkins was the No. 6 receiver in standard-scoring leagues and, conveniently, played some of his best football while Green was in his mini-slump. If you need further proof of his consistency, just recall the four quarterbacks who started a game for Houston this season. When Brian Hoyer was, by far, the best of the bunch, the receiver who succeeds on the other end of those throws deserves a Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Round 4: Jonathan Stewart, Panthers (ADP: 52.5)
With the wide receiver position in good shape, we finally shift our attention elsewhere. Greg Olsen could slot be the choice here, too, but we’ve got our eye on another tight end whom we loved back in the summer. Instead, we’ll finally jump into the fray at running back with Stewart. It took him about a month to get going, but once he did he was among the best backs in the league. He finished the season 11th in points per game (minimum eight games) and went on a nine-game stretch during which he averaged 14.07 points, which would have been good for fourth at the position. He missed Week 15 and 16 due to injury, but don’t worry. We’ll have the position well covered.
Round 5: Todd Gurley, Rams (ADP: 69.7)
Had we gone with LeSean McCoy in the second round, Brandon Marshall would have been the pick here. In leagues where you can start at least four receivers, he’s a worthy selection even with Brown, Green and Hopkins already on the roster, but that doesn’t fit the parameters we’ve assumed. Since we’re still in the market for running backs, why not swing for the fences? Held back over the first three games of the season (he had a token role in the offense in Week 3), Gurley busted out, scoring at least 12.6 points in each of his first seven starts. He had three games with at least 20 points and failed to reach at least 12 points just twice. The rookie out of Georgia finished the season fifth among backs in points and fourth in points per game.
Round 6: Doug Martin, Buccaneers (ADP: 74.8)
After grabbing the frequently injured Stewart and the rookie Gurley, who was coming off an ACL tear, we needed someone a bit safer at the position. We considered Chris Ivory, but we also have the benefit of hindsight, so we know that Martin had the better season. He, too, started the season slowly, but picked it up in Week 4 and never looked back. By the end of the year, he would be the No. 3 running back, trailing only Devonta Freeman and Adrian Peterson. While our running backs didn’t produce the first few weeks of the season, our receivers and quarterback (to be revealed shortly), did plenty for us to win before the backfield got up to speed.
Round 7: Allen Robinson, Jaguars (ADP: 83.5)
Who’s ready for another receiver? Robinson was the 30th receiver off the board in a typical draft, but he finished the season with 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns, and scored more points than everyone at the position other than Antonio Brown, Julio Jones and Brandon Marshall. This team now features four of the top eight receivers, as well as six of the top 13 scorers at receiver and running back combined. We’ll remind you now that this was a team that was attainable, based on ADP. And yes, the next player in our draft would have been there for the taking in the middle of the following round.
Round 8: Cam Newton, Panthers (ADP: 89.3)
We’ve covered Newton’s 2015 exploits too many times to count here on SI.com. He’s going to be the MVP and could very well lead the Panthers to a Super Bowl. But here is my favorite Newton stat from this season. No, it’s not his 10 rushing touchdowns. No, it wasn’t his status as the first player in NFL history to throw for five scores and run for 100 yards in the same game. Rather, it was that he had seven weeks among the top-three fantasy quarterbacks. Four of those games he was the No. 1 scorer at the position. No player was as consistent as Newton, while also being as explosive. He was the fantasy MVP, and you were able to get him in the eighth round of a typical 12-team draft.
Round 9: Eric Decker, Jets (ADP: 108)
By the time draft day rolled around, it was clear that too many owners had learned a false lesson from Decker’s 2014 season and took it as gospel. People looked at his first year with the Jets, in which he caught 74 passes for 962 yards and five touchdowns, and hopped aboard the Confirmation Bias Express, nodding as they patted themselves for knowing—just knowing—that Decker was a product of the offense in Denver. Instead, what they should have been saying was, “How did he possibly have that good a year with Michael Vick and Geno Smith under center?” With the steady hand of Ryan Fitzpatrick guiding the ship, as well as some help in the form of Brandon Marshall, Decker hauled in 80 passes for 1,027 yards and 12 touchdowns, finishing the season as the No. 11 receiver in standard-scoring leagues.
Round 10: Devonta Freeman, Falcons (ADP: 119.3)
If you stayed exactly to ADP and pre-draft rankings, you wouldn’t have taken Freeman here. That’s just another example of why you should trust your own rankings, not the consensus. Freeman was an attractive sleeper after the Falcons handed the reins to rookie Tevin Coleman, and he showed why when he got his first start in Week 3. He put up consecutive 30-point games in his first two starts and never let go of the starting gig. He had seven games with at least 15 points, including four with at least 25. Freeman’s production slowed in the second half of the season, but he ended the year atop the running back position in standard-scoring leagues.
Round 11: DeAngelo Williams, Steelers (ADP: 139.5)
At this stage of the draft, there’s no doubt our running back corps has upside, but it’s entirely possible not one of the players pans out. We needed some stability at the position, at least early in the season, and we found it in Williams. We knew that, unlike Gurley or Freeman, Williams would start the first two weeks of the season. And obviously we held onto him when Le’Veon Bell returned from suspension, just in case. Our prescience paid off, because Williams turned into one of the most bankable assets in fantasy after Bell’s season-ending knee injury. He and Freeman became our eighth and ninth players who finished among the top-13 scorers at receiver and running back combined. Yes, this was possible to do.
Round 12: Tyler Eifert, Bengals (ADP: 143.7)
Eifert was a popular breakout selection back in the summer, an idea advanced both in our fantasy draft kit and our NFL season preview. No matter where you read that on SI.com, you were undoubtedly happy that you did so. Eifert led all tight ends with 13 touchdowns, and he did so at a remarkably cheap price. You had to use a first-round pick on Rob Gronkowski and no later than a fifth-rounder on Travis Kelce. Eifert and Jordan Reed were the draft-day steals at the position, with Gary Barnidge standing in as the waiver wire hero among tight ends. Eifert, however, gets the nod on the ultimate 2015 team.
Round 13: David Johnson, Cardinals (ADP: 161.2)
There was plenty of preseason talk that Johnson might eventually take a significant role in the team’s offense. That was enough to make him an attractive late-round flier, especially for the zero-RB owner. If you held onto him all season, he paid off at the most important time of the year. Johnson starred in Week 13 through Week 16, totaling 599 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in that crucial four-game stretch. With Stewart injured and Freeman and Gurley slowing down, Johnson would have been this team’s best running back heading into the fantasy playoffs. He’d go on to more than carry his weight in the postseason.
Round 14: Doug Baldwin, Seahawks (ADP: 166.8)
The perfect, yet realistic, draft for 2015 wraps up with one of the final players to break out this season. Baldwin ended up leading all receivers (tied with Allen Robinson who, as you’ll remember, is also on this team) with 14 touchdowns, going on a ridiculous tear in which he scored 11 times in five games, from Week 12 through Week 16. It would have been nearly impossible for any team with Johnson and Baldwin to lose in the fantasy playoffs. It would have been especially so for a team that also had Antonio Brown, Cam Newton, DeAndre Hopkins, Todd Gurley, Doug Martin and on and on and on. Baldwin is the last piece of the perfect team puzzle.