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Who Is the #1 Pick in 2022 Fantasy Football?

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The 2021 fantasy football season is over, but that doesn't mean we are done analyzing the game. The 2022 draft season will be here before we know it.

One of the biggest questions that fantasy managers need to have answered is more confusing than in recent years. Who should be the number one overall pick on draft day?

There are arguably several candidates worth considering but we'll narrow it down to four for now. Here are my top choices and reasoning as to why they should or should not be the number one overall pick.

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Should Austin Ekeler Be the #1 Pick?

Not even a consensus first-round pick last season, Ekeler has stated his case strongly for consideration at the top of the draft board. Following Week 17, when most fantasy football seasons have wrapped up, he was second out of all players in total fantasy points scored and third on a point-per-game basis.

The knock on Ekeler heading into 2021 was that he didn't score enough touchdowns. In his first four NFL seasons, he hadn't scored more than three rushing touchdowns in a single season and found the end zone a total of three times in 2020. He flipped the script in 2021, as he couldn't avoid crossing the goal-line nearly every week. Ekeler has 18 TD and could add to that total in the final week of the season. The issue this brings up is regression in a critical category.

I was vehement that Davante Adams would not be able to score 18 times again as he did in 2020. Sure enough, despite having another great campaign, he only has 11 TD through Week 17. Touchdowns are a hard category to predict and not one that should be a determining factor when it comes to projecting fantasy value.

The pros certainly outweigh the cons when it comes to Ekeler. He isn't a traditional workhorse back who will see 250+ carries in a season, although he could cross the 200 mark in the final game. His work as a receiver actually makes him more valuable in PPR formats, though. He is tied to a strong offense with a young star QB in Justin Herbert, so the floor is as high as any player on this list.

 

Should Derrick Henry Be the #1 Pick?

On the one hand, injuries happened to a ton of running backs this year and Henry should be fine entering the 2022 season. On the other hand, many people can say they saw this coming. A running back who goes over 300 carries in consecutive years, coming off a year where he nearly garnered 400 total touches and then was averaging even more touches through the first half of 2021 (29.6 touches per game) was bound to break down at some point. Sure enough, he did.

Henry's injury was a Jones fracture in his foot. According to University of Michigan Health, one main cause is "repeated stress on the bones of the foot." Sounds accurate.

The risk of his workload being scaled down is slim to none based on what we've seen from Tennessee's offensive scheme and their dependence on Henry. The risk of re-injury is another matter. This must be weighed against the injury risk for every other RB in the league, since completely healthy young players can have their season ended in a moment's notice during training camp.

Before his season-ending incident, Henry was averaging 24.2 PPR points a game. That still ranks first among all running backs and second among all players. The upside to be the top player in fantasy is clear because that's what he was doing up until Week 8. Concerns of him not catching enough passes or seeing touchdown regression can be laughed away but the spectre of another injury will always loom. Plus, there is one player who will finish the year with a higher fantasy PPG average than Henry...

 

Should Cooper Kupp Be the #1 Pick?

Let's get the first point out of the way - Kupp has to be the WR1 next year. He wasn't just the top-scoring fantasy receiver in 2021, he was the WR1 by a significant margin with 80 more points than Davante Adams.


He will still be in the same offense with breakfast buddy Matthew Stafford. It's unclear whether Odell Beckham Jr. will be around in 2022 and Robert Woods will be recovering from an ACL tear.

The debate comes down to whether a receiver should go first instead of a running back. Many drafters who were burned by CMC or any number of RB busts may be tempted to go Zero RB or wait until round two or three before taking their first runner. I wouldn't blame them either. Kupp was the real league winner of 2021 and is a far safer pick than any running back could ever be.

The only real question in regard to Kupp's ceiling is whether he can remain at such a high level. Surely, at some point defenses will try to take him away and force Stafford to throw to his second or third option. Right?

What if the return of Cam Akers combined with a highly-effective Sony Michel lead the Rams to run the ball more? OK, that won't happen but it must be accepted that Kupp isn't 100% guaranteed to see 184 targets. Plus, drafting a WR first just feels weird. But it might be the best move.

 

Should Jonathan Taylor Be the #1 Pick?

Here's the chalk. JT is most likely going to be the top pick in early drafts and could cement that status with a big postseason performance, assuming the Colts even make it. He was Mr. Consistent, not falling below 50 rushing yards once all season and gaining over 100 yards on the ground seven of the last eight weeks.

Then there are the 20 touchdowns buoyed by a league-high 83 red-zone attempts. We discussed touchdown regression earlier in regard to Austin Ekeler but Taylor's usage near the goal-line is so insanely high it's doubtful he doesn't reach at least 15 TD next year. Here's what the red-zone rushing leaderboard looked like this year, courtesy of AddMoreFunds.com:

Taylor plays behind one of the best offensive lines in the game on a team with a run-first mentality backed by a solid defense. Carson Wentz is never going to turn into a gunslinger, nor is coach Frank Reich going to let him. Taylor is the lynchpin of this offense and he was exactly that for fantasy teams in 2021. But can he do it again or will he wear down from a 300+ carry season?

 

Honorable Mentions

Dalvin Cook was far from disappointing this season, averaging 4.6 yards per carry and 108.4 scrimmage yards per game. Except that he didn't play in Week 16 and gained 16 yards in Week 17, effectively becoming useless at the most important point of the season. Alexander Mattison filled in quite well during the four games that Cook missed which brings up two problems: Cook missed time with injuries and he has a pretty good backup. The Vikings have gone all in with Cook when he's healthy but might choose a different approach to keep him fresh, especially if a new coach is brought in next season. He's worth a first-round pick but shouldn't be a top-three selection.

Najee Harris is the dark horse candidate that I might wind up taking second overall in PPR leagues but there are too many questions left unanswered at this time to put him in serious discussion for number one overall. The O-line in Pittsburgh is a mess, which is why he only rushed for 4.0 yards per carry. While Ben Roethlisberger retiring may ultimately be good for this offense, especially Harris, we have no idea who will be behind center and how that will affect the team. Harris was the fantasy RB3 due to volume; he was second in rush attempts and first in targets at the position. His stock should only go up but we need to see what happens in the offseason before putting all our eggs in that basket.

Alvin Kamara won a lot of leagues in 2020 by tallying 1,688 scrimmage yards and scoring a league-high 21 touchdowns, especially since six of them came in championship week. He was solid in this year's fantasy finale, totaling 100 yards with a score, but it followed two straight duds to cap off a year of inconsistency and a four-week injury absence. Kamara always has a high floor due to his receiving skills but this offense wasn't the same without Drew Brees and may never be again.

Davante Adams was only the WR2 because Kupp szn happened. He could reclaim the throne as the top receiver in fantasy but that's only if Aaron Rodgers returns. If not, Adams either sees a huge drop in value with Jordan Love as his quarterback or he takes his talents elsewhere like Vegas. If you were nervous at all about drafting him last summer, just wait until this draft season when Rodgers leaves us all hanging.

Is it possible that Christian McCaffrey is the league-winner we've been looking for? His injury isn't as severe as Henry's but the real issue is that McCaffrey has now piled up various ailments over the last two years and missed a lot more time than expected. Carolina is also due for an interesting offseason as antsy ownership may ditch the Matt Rhule experiment and/or chase Deshaun Watson. C-Mac may be QB-proof or coach-proof but he's now proving to be injury-resistant. Most of all, we just can't go through the pain all over again after this year.

 

The #1 Pick Is...

Sometimes the obvious choice shouldn't be questioned. Taylor is the most risk-free of all these choices and that's exactly what you should strive for in fantasy football, especially in these trying times. Amid a slew of early-round busts in 2021, be it due to injury or poor performance, fantasy GMs were lucky to scrap together a team that had even half of the players they originally drafted by season's end. Sure things like Christian McCaffrey, bounce-back candidates like Saquon Barkley, and budding young stars like Cam Akers (if you were unfortunate enough to draft early in the preseason) left teams wishing they had gone a different direction early in the draft.

We can never predict injuries but it's definitely smarter to count on a player who doesn't have an extended injury history. Taylor also has the workload in his favor, favorable team context and scheme, as well as youth. You could argue that Derrick Henry has a higher ceiling



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