So what if it's not even Valentine's Day ... it's never too soon to put out a fantasy football mock draft! This one is going to surprise some people out there for several reasons, none more evident than the utter lack of quarterbacks among the first 20 picks. I have said it before and I will say it again (and again, and again) -- the depth among signal-callers has never been more plentiful than it will be entering the 2013 season. As a result, there is no real reason to pick a quarterback in the first few rounds of a standard league. Your focus (and the focus of this mock draft), will showcase the importance of running backs and wide receivers.
This mock draft is based on NFL.com's standard 10-team leagues with a basic (non-PPR) scoring system that rewards four points for touchdown passes and six points for all other touchdowns scored. Each numbered position represents an individual fantasy team, so no more than one quarterback, three running backs, three wide receivers or one tight end will be selected per roster.
1. Arian Foster, RB, Houston Texans: Peterson might have been the better fantasy player in 2012, but Foster was once again a superstar in the stat sheets. Sure, landing either one of these runners is a great way to start the foundation of your fantasy team. But let's talk about realistic expectations -- do you really think Peterson is going to rush for 2,000-plus yards and score more than 300 fantasy points again? I think Foster has a much better chance to duplicate his statistics and the 262.10 fantasy points he scored last season. Oh, and for those of you that argue Foster was overworked last season, he had just three more carries than Peterson.
2. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings: Peterson, the 2012 NFL.com Fantasy Player of the Year, showed that he is no mere mortal out on the football field. Despite having major knee reconstruction, he still put up more than 2,000 rushing yards and led all backs in fantasy points. While I have Foster ranked ahead of him, A.D. is going to be the No. 1 overall selection in countless 2013 fantasy drafts. And honestly, I don't have a problem with that at all -- it's like deciding whether to date Kate Upton or Bar Rafaeli -- either choice is a win. Just keep in mind that no back has rushed for even 1,500 yards following a 2,000-yard campaign.
3. Marshawn Lynch, RB, Seattle Seahawks: Lynch rocked the fantasy football world in 2011, rushing for more than 1,200 yards with an impressive 13 total touchdowns. To prove that was no fluke, Lynch then went into "beast mode" again in 2012 with more than 1,500 yards on the ground and 12 total scores. He's still in the prime of his career at the age of 26, and the Seahawks will no doubt continue to ride their workhorse throughout the upcoming season. While Ray Rice will move ahead of him among running backs in almost all leagues that reward additional points for receptions, Lynch is locked in as the third-best running back in fantasy football.
4. Ray Rice, RB, Baltimore Ravens: With Peterson, Foster and Lynch all off the board, Rice was the best remaining option at the running back spot. He finished sixth in fantasy points at the position and now has a nice track record of success as the main back in Baltimore. At 26, he's also still in his prime between the white lines. Some fantasy leaguers might be worried about the presence of Bernard Pierce, who showed flashes of real potential during his rookie season. But if you ask me, Rice is still as close to being a featured back as you can have in the National Football League. He won't be available out of the top five in most formats.
5. LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles: McCoy was one of the bigger disappointments in fantasy football last season. A top-five overall selection, he missed several games with a concussion and didn't even finish among the top 20 players at his position. Regardless, I think he'll have a major rebound in the stat sheets in the offense of new coach Chip Kelly. Runners thrived in Kelly's system at Oregon (just look at LaMichael James' collegiate totals), and McCoy is versatile enough to be a serious contributor. At 24, he's still a very young runner who will be a surefire first-rounder -- even if he isn't one of the first five overall selections.
6. Jamaal Charles, RB, Kansas City Chiefs: Charles was inconsistent this past season, but when he was good he was exceptional. Rushing for more than 1,500 yards in his first year back from a major knee reconstruction, Charles put up 220-plus rushing yards twice and finished eighth at his position in fantasy points. The addition of coach Andy Reid should mean even more of a featured role for Charles, who figures to also be more prominent in the pass attack (think Duce Staley, Brian Westbrook and McCoy). Still in the prime of his career at the age of 26, Charles should be considered one of fantasy's most coveted running backs in 2013.
7. Trent Richardson, RB, Cleveland Browns: One of several rookie standouts last season, Richardson finished among the 10 best players at his position despite missing some time due to injuries. The bruising back out of Alabama should be at 100 percent in time for the start of training camp, and I think he can improve on the 203.70 fantasy points he scored in 2012. While I can see a scenario where Richardson falls into the second round in some smaller leagues, this kid is good enough to be a top-eight selection in drafts. With no threats to steal significant work, including goal-line chances, Richardson will be a very valuable asset.
8. C.J. Spiller, RB, Buffalo Bills: One of the most explosive playmakers at his position, Spiller averaged an impressive 6 yards per carry, put up better than 1,700 scrimmage yards and found the end zone eight times last season. While the return of Fred Jackson from an injured knee is a cause for at least some concern from a fantasy perspective, I can't see new coach Doug Marrone not utilizing Spiller in a prominent role in the offense. After all, the Bills don't have a glut of offensive playmakers. A member of my upcoming 2013 Fantasy Man Crush list, Spiller is in line to put up some nice totals on the field and in fantasy leagues.
9. Doug Martin, RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Martin, a rookie standout in the stat sheets, finished second to Peterson based on fantasy points among running backs in 2012. That's quite an accomplishment. While there is always that threat of a sophomore slump, Martin is going to be a tough back to pass on in Round 1. A versatile performer featured in an offense that leans on the run, Martin will continue to be a featured option for coach Greg Schiano. I wouldn't be a bit surprised to see the "Muscle Hamster" come off the board with one of the first five overall picks, but I see him as more of a late first-round choice in 10-team formats.
10. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions: The top fantasy wideout in each of the last two seasons, Johnson is almost certain to be one of the first 12 players selected in all 2013 drafts. He just broke Jerry Rice's record for receiving yards in a single season with an amazing 1,964, and has now recorded 220-plus fantasy points in each of his last two campaigns. That's huge for a receiver. Fantasy leaguers in PPR formats are certain to target Megatron earlier in Round 1, but I don't like taking a wide receiver (even one as good as Johnson) unless I have the last pick and can grab the best running back available at the top of the second round.
11. Alfred Morris, RB, Washington Redskins: One of the best draft bargains (or waiver wire pick ups) of the entire 2012 campaign, Morris emerged from what looked like a crowded backfield to finish second in rushing yards and fifth in fantasy points among running backs. The Florida Atlantic product could be hard-pressed to duplicate his 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns in back-to-back seasons, though, and the specter of Shanahanigans always looms in Washington. Still, Morris has to be seen as a No. 1 fantasy runner after what he was able to produce as a rookie. In fact, he'll end up being selected in the first round in a lot of standard leagues.
12. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals: Once Megatron comes off the board, Green is not going to be far behind in 2013 fantasy drafts. The breakout star put up career bests across the board in his second pro season, recording 97 catches for 1,350 yards with 11 visits to the end zone. Green was also a consistent and reliable contributor in the stat sheets, scoring double-digit fantasy points on 10 different occassions. The top option in the offense for coach Marvin Lewis, Green has the sort of skills to continue his status as an elite fantasy wideout far into the foreseeable future. He won't last past the second round in most formats.
13. Brandon Marshall, WR, Chicago Bears: Reunited with Jay Cutler, Marshall had a monster season with career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns in the Windy City. In fact, Megatron was the lone wide receiver to score more fantasy points -- and the difference was fewer than four points. Assuming he has no setbacks in his return from an offseason surgical procedure on his hip, Marshall should be good to go in plenty of time for the start of training camp. And with an offensive-minded coach in Marc Trestman now calling the shots, the Central Florida product should continue to produce terrific totals across the board once again in 2013.
14. Dez Bryant, WR, Dallas Cowboys: Despite a painfully slow statistical start to the season that had a lot of fantasy owners worried, Bryant finished hot and recorded career bests across the board. The third-ranked player at his position, Bryant put up 1,382 yards with 12 touchdowns and scored no fewer than 9.90 fantasy points in each of his last seven games during the fantasy season. The top option in the offense for Tony Romo, the sky is the limit for Bryant in 2013. While his off-field issues in the past do raise a bit of a red flag, it's going to be hard to pass on a young, talented wideout like Bryant in the middle of the second round.
15. Percy Harvin, WR, Minnesota Vikings: Harvin was well on his way to a monster 2012 season in the stat sheets, but an injured ankle cost him his final seven games and a chance at real fantasy glory. The Florida product should be fine to start training camp, though, and the sky is once again the limit for this talented and versatile playmaker. A dual threat in both the passing and running game, Harvin's skill set makes him a candidate to rank among the top five players at his position based on fantasy points next season. Whatever you do, don't let Harvin slide past the second or third round based on his mediocre final totals from 2012.
16. Demaryius Thomas, WR, Denver Broncos: Thomas, another breakout fantasy wide receiver in 2012, put up career totals across the board and has emerged as one of Peyton Manning's top options in the pass attack. At 25, this is just the tip of the statistical iceberg for Thomas out on the gridiron. A talented, physical receiver, the Georgia Tech product is tough to cover and should continue to produce impressive totals as long as he has the future Hall of Famer under center. In standard leagues, Thomas will be off the board no later than the start of the third round. More likely, his name will be called at some point in the second stanza.
17. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons: Jones had a bit of an inconsistent start to the 2012 campaign, but he finished strong and helped a lot of owners win a title. The Alabama product put up 79 catches, 1,198 yards and found the end zone a total of 10 times as he emerged into one of Matt Ryan's most reliable options. At the age of 24, Jones has a huge ceiling and should only get better with age and experience. In fact, I can easily see him improving on the 182.80 fantasy points he put up in his second pro season. Sure, he'll lose some opportunities to Roddy White in the pass attack, but there's enough production to go around in Atlanta.
18. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers: Let me preface this selection by saying this -- I know Rodgers is not going to be available at this stage of most 2013 fantasy drafts, but I simply refuse to take a quarterback in the earlier rounds. If it were up to me, there wouldn't be a single quarterback to come off the board until the fourth round. That's not a knock on Rodgers, who has been an absolute fantasy monster over the last several seasons. It's just not a smart strategy to pass on the elite running backs and wide receivers when there are so many good signal-callers -- and most fantasy owners are required to start just one every week.
19. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints: The top-scoring quarterback in fantasy football last season, Brees is the first player at his position to put up 5,000-plus passing yards and 40-plus passing touchdowns in consecutive years. He has also finished no worse than second in fantasy points among quarterbacks in four of the last five seasons. The one year he missed the top two was 2010, when he was on the cover of the Madden game. Much like Rodgers, the Saints signal-caller is going to come off the board earlier in a lot of leagues -- he'll even be a first-rounder in some formats -- but the depth at the position needs to be remembered.
20. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots: Gronkowski missed several games with a broken forearm this past season, but he still finished second in fantasy points among tight ends based mainly on the strength of his 11 touchdowns. He has now found the end zone a combined 39 times in his first 43 regular-season games, and it's that nose for the end zone that makes him such a valuable commodity in fantasy leagues. In fact, grabbing Gronkowski is much like adding a wide receiver to your starting lineup each week. Considering how poorly the tight end position produced in the stat sheets overall last season, Gronkowski is a solid addition.
21. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots: Brady ... in the third round? That's where I would consider him, but he'll be long gone by this point in most drafts. Though he is getting up there in age -- he'll be 36 to start next season -- Brady is still a star in fantasy land. He's finished no worse than seventh in fantasy points in each of his last five full seasons dating back to 2007.
22. Andre Johnson, WR, Houston Texans: Johnson was considered a bust for all intents and purposes during the first half of last season, but he finished strong with 100-plus yards in five of his last nine starts. In all, Johnson ranked among the top 10 players at his position based on fantasy points. He's no longer a top-five wideout, but A.J. remains a legitimate No. 1 option in 2013.
23. Randall Cobb, WR, Green Bay Packers: Cobb showed flashes of brilliance in his second pro season, and I think he's in line to have a major break out in 2013. Assuming the Packers cut ties with Greg Jennings during the offseason, Cobb could be the new top option in the pass attack for Rodgers. Considering the offense, his skill set and his quarterback, Cobb is in a great spot to succeed.
24. Cam Newton, QB, Carolina Panthers: So much for a second-season decline for Newton. While he left a lot to be desired in the first half, the Auburn product went off in his final eight games of the fantasy season. Overall, he finished as a top-five player based on fantasy points. Someone in your league will no doubt grab Newton in Round 1 or 2, but he goes in the third round here.
25. Matt Forte, RB, Chicago Bears: Forte had his typical season in the stat sheets, posting better than 40 catches, over 1,400 scrimmage yards and six touchdowns. He's not an elite runner from a fantasy perspective, but the Tulane product is a nice No. 2 option in most fantasy leagues. In fact, Forte could come off the board in the late second-round in some PPR formats next season.
26. Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots: Ridley is a one-dimensional back as he caught just six passes in the 2012 season. However, his role as the top runner out of the backfield for coach Bill Belichick was enough to make Ridley a top 12 player at his position. A goal-line star, Ridley finished tied for fourth in rushing touchdowns (12) and is a high-end No. 2 fantasy runner.
27. Vincent Jackson, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: One of the six best wide receivers in fantasy football last season, Jackson posted 1,384 yards and eight touchdowns in his first season with the Buccaneers. He has now posted 1,000-plus yards and at least seven touchdowns in each of his last four full seasons, and at the age of 30 he still has plenty left in his statistical tank for 2013.
28. Chris Johnson, RB, Tennessee Titans: Johnson's 2012 statistical season resembled a roller-coaster ride, as he put up several huge games to go along with a bunch of stinkers in the stat sheets. The former fantasy star should no longer be seen as a No. 1 runner, but he makes a lot of sense as a high-end No. 2. Look for Johnson to come off the board no later than the third round.
29. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars: Jones-Drew, who held out of training camp and then missed most of the 2012 season with an injured foot, was worth a roll of the dice at his stage of the draft. Barring any setbacks in his return from a surgical procedure to repair the foot, "Pocket Hercules" could end up being a steal in Round 3. Consider him a risk-reward selection.
30. Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints: Graham might have finished with 43 fewer fantasy points last season compared to his 2011 totals, but he still led all tight ends in points. Much like Gronkowski, Graham is like having an extra wideout in your starting lineup, so he'll be hard to pass on at this stage of drafts. No other tight ends should be considered in the first three rounds.
31. Roddy White, WR, Atlanta Falcons
32. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos
33. Eric Decker, WR, Denver Broncos
34. Frank Gore, RB, San Francisco 49ers
35. Wes Welker, WR, New England Patriots
*36. Victor Cruz, WR, New York Giants
*37. Darren McFadden, RB, Oakland Raiders
38. Michael Crabtree, WR, San Francisco 49ers
39. Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans Saints
40. Greg Jennings, WR, Green Bay Packers