When entering a dynasty start-up draft there are a few key things to keep in mind that differ from a season-long league. Usually sticking to rankings is the way to go in the first few rounds of a draft, then you can start picking your favorite players in the middle rounds as things start to get muddy. While I personally advocate sticking to rankings and getting the best player available at all times, in a dynasty league these will be your players year in and year out, so you’ve got to be happy with them.
Season-long leagues are hard enough to predict as it is, dynasty rankings are much more complex with factors such as age and surrounding cast playing a bigger part. When doing a dynasty start-up small factors such as a player being in his 4th season instead of his 5th may be enough to make one guy more attractive in the mind of drafters.
Let’s go through the first two rounds of a start-up dynasty draft based on PPR rankings.
1.1 DeAndre Hopkins
1.2 Todd Gurley
1.3 Odell Beckham Jr.
1.4 Ezekiel Elliott
1.5 Antonio Brown
1.6 Saquon Barkley
1.7 Le’Veon Bell
1.8 David Johnson
1.9 Michael Thomas
1.10 Alvin Kamara
1.11 Keenan Allen
1.12 Mike Evans
Hopkins is 26 and in the prime of his career. Unless the Texans bring back Brock Osweiler to play quarterback, nothing is going to slow Hopkins down. The offensive line is a bit of an issue, but with the emergence of Deshaun Watson, that should matter more for the run game than the passing game.
Gurley just had the best season for a running back since Chris Johnson in 2009, and he’s only 24. Gurley has a three-season sample size and two of them are spectacular. His touchdown totals can be expected to regress slightly, but as long as Sean McVay is calling the plays, expect Gurley to be a top running back for years to come.
Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham and Hopkins often trade back and forth as the number one and number two wide outs in dynasty. There is no wrong answer here. Beckham is 25 so he’s a little younger than Hopkins but he also has a little more injury history. While there are question marks about Watson being able to continue his 2017 efficiency, there are certainly question marks in regard to Beckham’s future at the quarterback position as Eli Manning nears retirement. Don’t worry too much though, when healthy, Beckham is essentially quarterback-proof.
“Zeke” is an incredible talent behind a good offensive line with a young talented quarterback. He really does have everything going for him, and that’s why he’s just as high in dynasty rankings as he in seasonal leagues. Gurley has demonstrated more pass catching than Zeke has to this point which is what gives him the nod for now, however, Dallas has stated this may change in 2018. The offensive line has suffered some injuries, but Zeke has the talent regardless. If he can manage to keep out of any further off the field issues, lock Zeke in for top production for a long time.
Brown is as tried and true as they come. The only reason he’s fallen to number five is age. The man is a machine of efficiency year in and year out. Draft him if you want to win this year or next but have some caution as there is a youth movement at receiver in Pittsburgh.
Barkley is a freak athlete. Putting a rookie in the top ten of dynasty rankings before he’s even played a regular season snap is a huge testament to his abilities. Some are calling for Saquon to have a better rookie year than the two running backs ranked above him, and if that’s the case he may rise even higher on this list before long. If you’d like to search for a negative it would be this, there are a lot of mouths to feed in New York so it’s entirely possible some of them disappoint. Don’t count on Barkley to be the one who disappoints though, that would be a mistake.
Bell has been one of the best running backs every single year since he’s entered the league. His talent is undeniable, however, there are other concerns. At the time of this writing, Bell is in his second consecutive preseason hold out. He absolutely deserves to get paid, however, due to his age (26) and the work that he’s received over the past few seasons, he’s been unable to receive the contract he believes he is due. It’s been widely speculated this is Bell’s last year in Pittsburgh and there’s even talk that his holdout may extend into the regular season. The talent is there and once Bell takes the field, whenever that ends up being, he will be worth the high draft pick. The off the field issues, however, drop his stock just enough to put him outside the top three running backs for dynasty.
“DJ” as he’s affectionately known, was primed last season to prove why he’s every bit as good as Le’Veon Bell before an injury forced him to miss the entire 2017 season. Now fully healed, DJ should bounce right back with little physical problems as his injury was a broken wrist and nothing that would impact him long term. At age 26, DJ should still have some miles left on his legs since he sat out an entire season. The Arizona offense as a whole may struggle. Johnson’s talent earns him a high draft spot, just be wary that outside of Larry Fitzgerald, DJ is Arizona’s only true weapon and opposing defenses will know that.
Thomas has only been bested in fantasy production by one receiver since entering the league two years ago, Antonio Brown. That’s a pretty good conversation to be in. Thomas is young and playing with a future hall of fame quarterback. The only drawbacks are that the run game has improved greatly in New Orleans, and their defense is also on the rise. They may not be in as many shootouts as in the past, but that doesn’t mean Thomas won’t get his targets. He’s as safe as they come at this position with 196 receptions in this first two years. You will want to keep an eye on who the starting QB becomes once Drew Brees inevitably retires.
Kamara was astounding as a rookie. Too astounding to be honest. Repeating the numbers he put up in his rookie season would be unprecedented, but that doesn’t mean Kamara isn’t worth a high draft pick. He’s shown the incredible highs he can reach and with some regression, he will still be a top running back. What we need to see from Kamara is his ability to endure more touches per game. In 2017 he did not see more than 12 carries in any game. Kamara makes up for that with his receiving abilities, however, and is still worthy of a first round pick in any format.
Allen is as talented of a receiver as you’ll find in the entire league, and he’s been underappreciated until last season due to his inability to stay on the field. While Allen may only have scored six touchdowns last season, he also had 102 receptions. Allen could easily catch that many balls every year, and with that level of volume the touchdowns will inevitably come up. When healthy, Allen is a lock for top 10 production. Can he stay healthy? That’s a very different question.
Many say that Evans has had a roller coaster of a career so far, but I disagree. Evans has managed over 1,000 yards in every season thus far in his career. His touchdowns have been a bit more sporadic, but that is more of a product of QB play than inefficiency on Evans part. He has all the physical tools needed, he’s listed at 6’ 5” 231lbs and he’s only 25. There are suddenly a lot of mouths to feed however in Tampa Bay as the coaches have been raving about the rise of Chris Godwin and O.J. Howard. Evans is not likely to reach 100 catches as he only has one season with 96, but three with 68, 71, and 74. Evans will make his money on touchdowns, which should improve from the five he saw in 2017.
As you can see, the first round in a dynasty start-up is not drastically different from a seasonal league, except some wide receivers typically seen in rounds two are pushed up. This is simply due to age, nothing more. Running backs break down by age 30 and are no longer the same studs they once were. Receivers don’t have that same wall at age 30. Receivers don’t get as many touches per game as a workhorse running back, nor do they take hits from 300lb linemen on a regular basis. Longevity plays a much bigger role in dynasty, and if you can draft a player that will give you 8-10 years of production as a starter, verses 4-5, that’s a no-brainer.
2.1 Kareem Hunt
2.2 Davante Adams
2.3 Dalvin Cook
2.5 Julio Jones
2.7 Melvin Gordon
2.8 A.J. Green
2.9 Joe Mixon
2.10 Amari Cooper
2.11 Tyreek Hill
2.12 Stefon Diggs
Hunt enjoyed an absolute breakout rookie season in 2017. It’s always good to see a rookie display such a high ceiling so early on. Hunt benefited from Spencer Ware going down in the preseason, but Ware is healthy now and will steal some touches. Hunt should continue to be an every week starter and should benefit from new quarterback Patrick Mahomes strong arm stretching the defense.
Pop Quiz! Which receiver has the most touchdowns over the past two seasons? If you guessed anyone other than Davante Adams, you would be wrong. Adams has 22 touchdowns over the past two seasons and has clearly established himself as an elite red zone weapon. During that time, Adams has had to deal with Aaron Rodgers missing most of the 2017 season, and Jordy Nelson as the number one target. Now Nelson is gone, and Rodgers is back! Adams could easily outperform his draft day price as the top target for Rodgers for years to come.
Cook looked fantastic during his four game stretch last season before tearing his ACL. Now he’s healed up and impressing in camp. The Vikings have been cautious with their young superstar running back so we haven’t seen any meaningful game action in the preseason. By all reports, he looks as good as ever. Cook totaled 71 touches over the first three games in 2017, projected out over the course of a 16-game season that would be 379 touches. ACL injuries are not what they use to be so there is optimism surrounding cook, however, every injury is different so there is some risk here. The Vikings may start cautiously with Cook, but if he returns to form then this is a pick that will pay dividends.
McCaffrey is a wildly different running back based on the format. These rankings are based off the PPR format where McCaffrey shines. McCaffrey had 80 receptions as a rookie, which is more than some of the wide receivers ranked above him! He’s not built properly for a traditional workhorse role, but Ron Rivera insists that’s how McCaffrey will be used. While he may not get as many touches per game as some of the running backs around him, McCaffrey is an important part of a high scoring Panthers offense. Cam Newton will steal some goal-line work, so McCaffrey doesn’t have as high of a ceiling as some of the running backs in this area of the draft, but he has one of the highest floors.
Julio may be getting up there in years, but he’s as consistent as they come. He’s a top 10 receiver every single season that he’s healthy, and you can count on that to continue. Like Brown, Julio is only ranked here due to his age. He will easily outperform this value, just not for as many years as the younger receivers ranked above him. Draft him with confidence.
Fournette only needs to stay healthy to become considered elite. His talent is not in question but dating all the way back to college he’s been prone to nagging injuries. Subpar quarterback play from Blake Bortles doesn’t help matters and allows defenses to stack the box against Fournette constantly. Fournette faced the third most stacked boxes of any running back in 2017. He’s trimmed down to 223lbs which should help him have even more burst.
Fun Trivia fact; Fournette clocked the fastest run on the field in 2017. Not Tyreek Hill, not Todd Gurley, not John Ross… Leonard Fournette.
Gordon does not boast a high YPC (yards per carry) but his high-volume mixture of rushes and targets in the passing game more than make up for this. Gordon has averaged about 1,500 yards and 319 touches each of the past two seasons. He’s a valuable piece in a high-powered Chargers offense that should score early and often. At age 25, Gordon should be able to handle this high amount of volume for at least a few more years with success.
Green falls into the same category as Antonio Brown and Julio Jones, just at a slightly lower level. Green boasts an elite talent that has not faded, but he’s hit age 30 and therefore his dynasty value has taken a hit. Green still should finish as a top 12wideoutt, but for how many more years is the question. He’s more of a safe receiver at this stage of his career than a player with immense upside. Draft Green if you plan to take some risk elsewhere and want a safe top talent to help lead your squad.
Mixon’s draft position is a product of talent that has yet to reach it’s potential. All the tools are there for Mixon and some have even compared his abilities to that of Le’Veon Bell. Mixon had a rough rookie season, only averaging 3.5 YPC behind a poor offensive line. The line has seen improvements and Jeremy Hill is no longer on the team to steal touches. The opportunity is there, the talent is there, but will it all come together on the field? If you believe so, then the end of the second round is a steal for a workhorse running back. And he’s only 22 years old! If you’re willing to accept the high level of risk for a potential star, then Mixon is for you. If you want your first few rounds to be safer more established players, then stay away from Mixon as he still has the potential to be a bust.
Cooper has been such a highly touted dynasty player ever since he entered the league and flashed his potential in 2015. His first two years in the league he was a solid receiver, posting over 1,000 yards and 70 catches in both years. In 2017 however, Cooper took a big step back. While he only played 14 games, Cooper failed to top 700 yards and only managed 48 catches. Derek Carr was also impacted by an injury in 2017 so it might be unfair to judge Cooper on that season, however, it is still a glaring negative mark against him.
With John Gruden in town now and a healthy Carr, most fans seem ready to forgive Cooper for his poor performance last year. Much like Mixon, Cooper is young (he’s only 24!) and has immense talent. This is another high upside player who has the potential to outperform his draft spot. However, he may also continue to play “good” but not great.
Hill had an incredible 2017, but the circumstances surrounding that season have changed dramatically. Patrick Mahomes is now under center in Kansas City and no one really knows what that will mean for Hill. Hill’s speed is almost unmatched in the open field. Hill’s efficiency in 2017 was excellent, however, that was with Alex Smith who is notorious for his accuracy. Mahomes has an absolute cannon for an arm, but he is not the most accurate passer. Sammy Watkins has also come to town to take away targets. Add in the fact that of Hills seven touchdowns in 2017 exactly zero of them came from within the red zone. Big plays are exciting but hard to replicate. Hill will have some explosive weeks, but there will also be weeks where he doesn’t do much.
Diggs has a much-improved situation heading into 2018. Kirk Cousins is a significant upgrade over Case Keenum and he already has shown some chemistry with Diggs. While there are certainly a lot of mouths to feed in this offense, Diggs is the standout talent. Cousins has a history of spreading the ball around which is a concern, but the talent should help Diggs overcome that situation. There is some injury risk here, but if he stays healthy we may be talking about Diggs in the first round at this time next year.
The first two rounds of a dynasty start-up are very important as these are the players that will lead your team for years while you are developing younger guys or more unproven talent. Most importantly make sure you take players you will be happy with! Draft well!