It’s that time of year again. I have started participating in Mock Drafts with the purpose of helping those of us participating to crystalize our thinking on how to rank players heading into actual drafts. As I was watching the picks unfold in the early rounds, I was trying to think of different ways to approach the analysis. The guys I am drafting with know what they’re doing so there weren’t any wildly bad picks to criticize. No one was picking players based more on favorite team than actual fantasy potential.
About the time Christian Eriksen went off the board (7th overall), it struck me that the right way to think about any analysis in late June is to think about players in terms of risk. On talent and proven fantasy production, Eriksen is undoubtedly worth the 7th overall pick in either PL.com or Togga scoring system. Where the concern comes in with the Dane is that, at least until the PL Transfer Deadline, there is a serious risk that Eriksen will be sold to Real Madrid as a result of him not signing a contract extension. So, unless you’re drafting after the transfer deadline has passed, here is a review of the risk that comes along with players likely to be drafted in a standard 8-team fantasy league.
The mock draft I was participating in was actually a 10-team affair and I’m going to order my analysis in the order that the players were selected so you get your first peak at an expert mock draft order heading in to the 2019-2020 season:
Mo Salah – Not much risk here with a player in his prime who is the focal point of an excellent attack who seems happy (and thus not likely to try to force his way out). As solid a number one overall pick as you’re going to find this side of prime Messi or Ronaldo.
Harry Kane – The production is great when healthy but the health worries are starting to mount. At least he’ll have a relatively inactive summer to recover so I’d consider the risk minimal by the time we get to the start of the season but certainly not nothing.
Raheem Sterling – Not much risk to speak of here other than City prioritizing the Champions League and that, combined with the crazy amount of talent on hand, seeing Sterling rotated more than you’d like for 3rd overall pick.
Sadio Mané – His production of end product spiked last season well beyond anything we’ve seen before. Was this the equivalent of Salah’s 2017-18 season where everything went right? If, like Salah before him, Mane regresses to being merely very good then he’s probably more of a second round pick. As downsides go, that’s not too tragic.
Kevin De Bruyne – The talent isn’t in question but the health and positioning certainly are. While KDB was injured last season Bernardo Silva ascended as the primary creator. Given the gushing that Pep has done about Silva the question is where De Bruyne plays and how often. Seems more likely that he’ll start 28 matches than 36 which makes him an uncertain fit as a first rounder.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang – There isn’t a great deal of risk here as PEA tied for the Golden Boot despite being used judiciously at times by Unai Emery. With Arsenal rumored to be chasing Wilfried Zaha, there’s a non-zero chance that Aubameyang ends up at Manchester United which shouldn’t impact his value much or China which obviously would. Overall, I’d still be very comfortable with this pick.
Christen Eriksen – The motivation for this column. An absolutely solid pick if he remains in the Premier League. The concern is that Daniel Levy is no dummy and he’ll want to sell Eriksen this summer before he can leave for free next summer. That makes him a very risky pick until the situation is resolved one way or another. The proximate danger of a sale would have me of the mind to avoid Eriksesn until about the 3rd round of an 8-team draft.
Paul Pogba – The key pieces of the Eriksen analysis applies to Pogba as well. United seem inclined to keep him and his contract has years to run so he doesn’t have nearly the leverage that Eriksen does but Real Madrid seem interested and if Pogba is intent on making a nuisance of himself until he gets what he wants then you have to attach significant risk here.
Bernardo Silva – Silva ascended to fantasy star last season and the only real risk is that he loses playing time with David Silva still being around, Kevin De Bruyne returning to health, and Phil Foden ascending.
Sergio Agüero – Given the risk profiles of the players above, especially Eriksen and Pogba, this is surprisingly low for Aguero. He hasn’t shown any signs of age-based regression. It is a minor worry for sure but unless Gabriel Jesus takes a massive step forward then Aguero should be a close-to-riskless pick.
Gylfi Sigurdsson – The upside isn’t as outrageous as the players above him but there is almost no risk here.
James Maddison – I’d suggest that Maddison has some upside that Sigurdsson doesn’t given age and lack of Premier League experience going into last season. He has been mentioned as a potential target for a move to a bigger side. If that side is Spurs then it would be nothing but upside. If that side is Manchester United then I’d be at least a little dubious given their up and down performances. Still, very little risk here.
Roberto Firmino – Very little risk here unless Liverpool land a surprise forward candidate in the transfer market. There have been rumblings but nothing appears to be particularly close.
Raúl Jiménez – Very low risk here unless Europa League participation knocks Wolves for a loop given what was a relatively thin squad last season.
Marcus Rashford – Transfer rumors surrounding Manchester United are haphazard enough that it’s hard to know what to believe. The concern is that someone like Aubameyang or Griezmann arrives and pushes him either out to the wing (where he isn’t as effective) or to the bench.
Hueng-Min Son – For me there’s some serious upside here as Son has managed to be a high-performing attacker despite producing very little over the first third of the season or so the past two seasons. The lack of international obligations this summer could see him bolt straight out of the gate. Not really much downside unless Eriksen departs and isn’t adequately replaced and Spurs struggle to create chances.
Virgil Van Dijk – Hard to see much risk here.
Trent Alexander-Arnold – Hard to see much risk here.
Alexandre Lacazette – While there is a bunch of negativity and swirl surrounding Arsenal right now, Lacazette seems like a pretty stable fantasy commodity. Not a ton of upside but he should start and get his share.
Jamie Vardy – Age is creeping up for a player whose game is predicated on speed. There’s also a chance that the Foxes lose their two biggest creators from last season in James Maddison and Youri Tielemans. Call it a medium risk on Vardy.
Pascal Gross – With a new manager and coming off of an injury-plagued season, Gross is something of a draft fantasy Rorschach Test. You could see him as a great buy-low candidate that many will have forgotten about or presumed declining early at an old-looking age 28. Alternatively, you could see him as a serious bounce back candidate of the Gylfi Sigurdsson-post-Spurs variety. I suspect his range of draft selection across leagues will be as large as anyone in the Premier League.
Ryan Fraser – Really, there’s only mild downside here in the event he’s the last man standing after departures of Bournemouth’s other attackers. So far, guys like Callum Wilson, David Brooks, and Joshua King seem like they’re staying. There’s even some mild upside if a late move to Arsenal comes through.
Andros Townsend – This seems high for Townsend but it is probably due to the combination of this being at Togga-style draft where his high-volume activity on stats like chances created and shots on target boost his value and the fact that we had the draft in the middle of Zaha-to-Arsenal mania.
Richarlison – Not too much downside here other than the odd rumor that he might be on his way out of Everton. Those rumors seem more of the agent-trying-to-get-his-client-a-raise variety than anyone with serious interest.
Lucas Digne – Another low-risk option even if this is a touch early for a defender who isn’t going to pile on the clean sheets.
Felipe Anderson – He came on in a big way over the back half of last season so if you project a full season of last season’s production then there’s actually some upside here.
Leroy Sané – The Sane-to-Bayern hype seems to have faded so the only risk is who gets the minutes with Riyad Mahrez more comfortable in Pep’s system and Kevin De Bruyne (presumably) healthy again after a summer off.
Dele Alli – Alli is something of a mystery. What happened to the outrageous talent of his breakthrough season? Spurs have continued to play well. He’s young and should still be improving rather than leveling off/declining. At his best, Alli has significant upside over this draft spot. The only concern is that Son and Moura continue to play well, Eriksen stays, and Spurs buy ahead on Eriksen’s replacement (Lo Ceslo?) and Alli loses playing time to that combination. Not saying it will happen but that’s the risk.
Callum Wilson – He’s been somewhat fragile but that’s baked in to this draft positioning. Otherwise, he seems like a low risk option.
Luka Milivojevic – To me this is just a poor value pick. With guys like Zaha and Jota on the board there’s too much season-to-season variance in Milivojevic’s primary source of value, penalty opportunities. If Palace don’t see as many penalty opportunities then his value plummets.
Ricardo Pereira – Almost no risk here and even some upside as the dream attacking group of Vardy, Perez, Maddison, Tielemans, and Barnes comes together. That’s a lot of potential opportunities for an attack-minded defender.
Andrew Robertson – Very little risk unless Liverpool buy a high-level deputy that starts taking Robertson’s playing time.
Diogo Jota – Not much concern here other than the very mild risk that Europa League participation harms Wolves’ season.
Christian Pulisic – Given his price he’ll certainly get every opportunity to replace Eden Hazard as the fulcrum of the Chelsea attack. The risk comes with the weight of expectations and a history of minor injuries. Lets remember that he was never an every-match starter at Dortmund. Hardly a slam dunk that he’ll be capable of a star turn with an attack that just lost its best player and still hasn’t filled the hole at forward.
Marko Arnautovic – Arnautovic has since been transferred to China so this pick represents the reason we write columns like this.
David Brooks – Almost no risk here outside of the seemingly very low risk that he is picked off by a bigger club (Spurs? United?) where he doesn’t play every week.
Callum Hudson-Odoi – I couldn’t believe the news when I read that he’s already back in training. It certainly seemed like a much more serious injury than that when it happened. Given what he showed and the transfer ban, Hudson-Odoi should get every opportunity if he’s healthy. The big question is whether he can star without Hazard and a top tier forward to help absorb defensive attention.
Gerard Deulofeu – Nothing ever seems incredibly certain at Watford but Deulofeu came on late and seems to have upside rather than downside.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – This feels a bit high based on his brand name from his Dortmund days and wild hope rather than any likely production. Plus, you know Unai Emery is doing everything he can to get Mkhitaryan’s high wages off the books. It seems unlikely to succeed but there’s some chance he’s gone by the start of the season.
Miguel Almirón – With Rafa Benitez, Ayoze Pérez, and Salomon Rondon all gone Newcastle is looking like a tire fire waiting to happen. Almiron never really showed end product last season and doing so with little to no support seems unlikely.
Nathan Redmond – Very little risk after a strong second half to last season and few alternatives for his spot.
James Ward Prowse – It feels like we’ve been waiting forever for JWP (or his teammates) to add end product to his wonderful service. This is definitely an upside play on that happening but at this point in the draft it isn’t a ton of risk on a team that looks like it is going in the right direction.
Abdoulaye Doucouré – A steady fantasy performer whose transfer market seems to be very quiet. That’s good for drafting purposes.
Benjamin Mendy – Pep clearly doesn’t like Mendy so that fact plus his injuries is blended with the silly fantasy pace he was on before getting injured last season. There’s a small chance he’s the highest scoring defender in fantasy and there’s a medium chance he barely plays for City as
Kyle Walker – Walker should be a pretty safe bet but you get the sneaking suspicion that Pep would move on from him if he had a viable alternative. Still, seems like there are bigger fish to fry for City in the transfer market so consider this a low risk proposition.
David Silva – Silva has already announced this will be his last season at City. The question is whether he is still a regular starter or if Pep is ready to start the transition to some combination of Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, and Phil Foden in Silva’s role.
Matt Doherty – There is some chance of regression after an exceptional season for the outside back. Otherwise, it is the lurking possibility of the Europa League being too much on a small squad that isn’t rotated frequently.
Anthony Martial – Manchester United is just a big risk overall given all of the seeming dysfunction. Martial seems to be in and out of the doghouse of every manager who bumbles his way through Old Trafford so you get the feeling that it is as much Martial as it is the managers. Still, at this point there are precious few alternatives so his spot seems fairly safe.
Willian – The third Chelsea winger off the board, one of the three is going to disappoint when it comes to playing time. With Lampard’s statements about going with youth, you’d think Willian has some serious downside risk. Given that Pedro wasn’t drafted at all, you’d think you could get similar value from the Spaniard at a much lower price.
Manuel Lanzini – With Marko Arnautovic gone, Lanzini has some significant upside. There are the usual caveats about a player coming off of an injury but there should be more than enough distance between player and injury to make it a minimal concern.
Joshua King – Very low risk.
Ayoze Pérez – The move to Leicester City should come with upside from this draft spot which came pre-move. The only concern is that with this many attackers you wonder if there are enough fantasy points for a 4th or 5th option in a team that isn’t Liverpool or Manchester City.
Joao Moutinho – Very low risk.
Lucas Moura – See the review on Dele Alli, the real concern is that Eriksen stays and his replacement is sourced a season early making the attacking midfield spots something of a logjam for one season.
Aymeric Laporte – Very low risk
Riyad Mahrez – Playing time is a huge risk as we saw last season when he was clearly down the pecking order. We’ve certainly seen players see a significant jump after completing their first season in Pep’s system but there’s still a lot of talent ahead of the Algerian. This feels like a reach that is more likely to be a poor use of resources than a home run bargain buy.
Youri Tielemens – At the time of the draft, Tielemans wasn’t particularly close to a move to Leicester City. As that deal speeds toward completion this looks like a low draft position for a player who totaled 3 goals and 5 assists in 13 matches for the Foxes last season. Even with some regression in goal and assist rate that’s some serious value.
Sead Kolasinac – Arsenal have been trying to replace Kolasinac with Kieran Tierney all summer. Obviously, some serious risk as the history of Scottish players heading to places like Napoli isn’t very long. Feels like Celtic are using the specter of Napoli to bump up the price.
Luke Shaw – Nothing new as far as risk. Shaw’s injury history is long and his hold on the starting job, while stronger than last season, has never been as strong as it should be given the reputation he arrived with as the next big thing at left back in England.
César Azpilicueta – Very low risk outside of Chelsea just taking an overall step back.
Ilkay Gündoğan – With the arrival of Rodri since this draft I have to assume Gundogan wouldn’t have been drafted here. He feels like a spare part now rather than a sneaky upside play.
Jack Grealish – Not a great deal of risk here unless he’s sold to Spurs in January which seems unlikely unless Villa are historically bad and looking to cash in ahead of a retooling for the Championship next season.
Mesut Ozil – Always a risk to draft someone who you know is being shopped any and everywhere by his current club. This draft position does feel like it takes that risk into account though.
Ben Chilwell – Feels like a bargain give the attacking upside that it looks like the Foxes have plus the non-zero chance that City come in and make him even more valuable.
Matt Ritchie – Last man standing at Newcastle. The reclassification to defense would have been huge under Rafa but with the club in turmoil it might end up offering very little upside.
Emi Buendía – The usual newly promoted and never played in the Premier League before caveats all apply but he’ll almost surely get plenty of playing time as Norwich attempt to jump their attacking style up a level.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka – He was still a Palace player when the draft happened but it seems unlikely that his stock has dropped moving to United. Expect a few more clean sheets and maybe a few less goals/assists with more talent ahead of him. Certainly some upside if he maintains the attacking results while upping his CS total.
Gabriel Jesus – Given that the upside is huge if Aguero goes down injured or his performance drops off a cliff there isn’t much downside risk that managers didn’t already experience last season after picking him far higher.
Teemu Pukki – Another one who has the usual caveats about Championship performers, especially those who have already reached footballing middle age, not making the leap to the Premier League. There really isn’t much in the way of established alternatives for his minutes so there’s little risk that he won’t get the chance.
Tammy Abraham – Hard to know how to evaluate Abraham coming off of a prolific season for Villa in the Championship. He’s back at Chelsea and could get a chance to shine for the Blues since they can’t buy a Álvaro Morata/Gonzalo Higuaín/Diego Costa replacement and have only Olivier Giroud as an established center forward. That said, he could sit on the bench or get loaned out again. Just about anything is on the table so lots of risk but lots of potential upside too.
Kieran Trippier – The rumors of an exit to Italy continue to circulate so while the upside is there if he starts and recovers some of his pre-World Cup form there’s the very real chance that this is an entirely wasted pick.
John McGinn – This seems to be a Togga system pick since McGinn wasn’t prolific for Villa in the Championship. Hard to see him doing well in the PL.com scoring system moving up a level.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek – A nice placeholder for a player who isn’t likely to be back until well into the season. With Achilles injuries you worry that the player won’t fully trust his fitness despite being cleared to play.
Danny Ings – Injury is always an issue with Ings as is Southampton bringing in competition at forward. This far into a draft, the upside should be worth the risk but there is certainly risk with guys like Chris Wood still on the board.
Olivier Giroud – No idea what Frank Lampard is going to do with forward minutes between Giroud, Abraham, and Batshuayi.
Harvey Barnes – With all of the other attacking options seemingly arriving at Leicester City (Perez and Tielemans weren’t arrived/likely during this draft remember) the risk is that Barnes is a fifth or sixth banana or a reserve attacker. Great situation for Brendan Rodgers but less so for anyone drafting Barnes.
Marcos Alonso – How is Frank going to set up? Does he play 3 CBs and then Alonso as a wing back in which case there’s a ton of upside? Does he go with a more traditional four-man defense with Emerson as his right back? Does he mix and match based on opponent? There’s very little certainty around Alonso and his role this season.
Jonny – Very little risk other than the risk mentioned with other Wolves players related to the squad being thin with European football now on tap.
Ederson – as little risk as you’ll find in the draft.
Andriy Yarmolenko – Another player returning from injury who could help replace Marko Arnautovic’s production. If he’s fit then West Ham will have an interesting attack featuring Filipe Anderson, Lanzini, and Yarmolenko.
Roberto Pereyra – Watford have been very quiet meaning that Pereyra’s role should be safe. Now all he has to do is stay healthy and continue the production he flashed last season.
Dwight McNeil – Very little risk of not playing or being supplanted by an incoming transfer.
Max Aarons – An outside back who contributes to the attack. He won’t be picking up a ton of clean sheet points moving up a division and playing in the style that the Canaries have telegraphed but there’s little risk that he won’t start.
Michael Keane – Very safe pick.
Pablo Fornals – Not much risk but not much production in Spain last year either. The risk here is that excitement over a new player outweighs actually looking at his production from Villareal.
Wilfred Ndidi – Very little risk here – maybe a few extra assists available with the addition of Perez and retention of Tielemans (can you tell I’m excited for Leicester City this season in both fantasy and reality?).
Danny Rose – Transfer rumors combined with Ben Davies signing a new five-year deal have Rose in doubt. A reasonable handcuff for Davies but a real risk to be second choice if he’s still at Spurs to start the season.
Seamus Coleman – There have been rumors of Everton looking for a right back in the transfer market but it isn’t clear how substantial those are. Coleman seems likely to start somewhere in the PL this coming season so the risk is modest.
Alex Iwobi – Hard to know what to make of Iwobi’s status at Arsenal. If Zaha/Fraser arrives then he seems likely to be a part-time starter again which means this is an overdraft. If Arsenal spend their limited transfer budget where it needs to go (CB, LB) then Iwobi could be a regular starter and justify this draft position or higher.
Fabian Schär – This draft took place before Rafa left. Hard to like Schar’s value given all of the uncertainty at St. James Park.
David Luiz – Low risk pick given the injury to Rudiger, departure of Cahill, and inability for the Blues to add this summer or in January.
Alexis Sánchez – So. Many. Risks. United dysfunction. New arrivals. Injury issues. General decline after a long career playing an extremely physical style. His teammates resenting his pay packet. I’m sure I’ve missed a few.
André Gomes – You’ll get what you expect
Wesley Moraes – Making the leap from Belgian league to the Premier League on a newly promoted side. The 22-year-old has some upside but that’s a lot of leaps to take all at once.
Allison – Another almost risk-less pick even if goalkeepers don’t have much positional value.
Jan Vertonghen – He’s aging and playing in a demanding system but after a summer off the risk seems to be at least somewhat mitigated. Pretty safe pick.