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Every year, there is a consensus #1 overall pick in fantasy football. The consensus varies in strength, but there's usually a guy the majority of the fantasy community agrees should go first. Last year, it was David Johnson. In 2016, it was Antonio Brown. In 2015,  it was Adrian Peterson.

The past three seasons have seen a relatively universal consensus, especially in 2016, when, for the first time in as long as I've been doing this, the consensus #1 overall pick wasn't a running back.

This year, things won't be as cut and dry. There are four players that you can justify taking first overall with little room for argument against them. Let's go through each one's credentials and see if we can't reach a definitive conclusion as to who should be #1.

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Contenders for the Throne

Todd Gurley (RB, LAR)

Currently, Todd Gurley is the leading candidate to be selected first in redraft leagues, but it's certainly not unanimous. Following a disappointing 2016, Gurley exploded last season, finishing as the RB1. He averaged 25.6 PPG in PPR leagues (for all fantasy stats, I will be excluding Week 17), which was nearly three points more than the RB2, Le'Veon Bell.

Gurley is on one of the best offenses in the NFL with a young, innovative, offensive-minded head coach, a young QB, and a loaded WR corps. Gurley was fourth in yards per touch (6.1), sixth in evaded tackles (84), and first in dominator rating with 40% of his team's yards and touchdowns. We never doubted the talent, but the situation and opportunity presented a problem during the Jeff Fisher era. Last season, the situation and opportunity caught up to the talent and magic happened.

One concern with Gurley is that he is unlikely to repeat his receiving game proficiency. That is not say he's not a good pass catcher - he is - but of his six receiving touchdowns, one came from 53 yards, another from 80 yards, and two more from 18 and 14. For comparison purposes, David Johnson's four receiving touchdowns in 2016 were from distances of three, four, three, and 25. Gurley's pass catching stats were boosted by gains he is doubtful to repeat.

Then we have the added concern of Brandin Cooks - someone who should command a larger share of the targets than Sammy Watkins. The Rams already had Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp. There are a lot of ways the Rams can hurt opponents and I have to think Sean McVay is unlikely to want to put the ball in Gurley's hands 343 times again.

Ultimately, Gurley is a three down back that catches passes and handles all the goal line carries. The Rams should once again be one of the league's better offenses. I have no concerns that a healthy Todd Gurley won't be an elite fantasy RB. He is definitely worth the #1 overall pick, but could there be another player with a higher ceiling?

Le'Veon Bell (RB - PIT)

2018 will mark the fourth consecutive year that Le'Veon Bell has been a top-three pick (I know he went later in 2016 because of his suspension, but he would've been a top-three pick had he not been suspended). He is the epitome of consistency. 2017 was actually a bit of a down year for Bell. He posted similar totals to his 2016 season, except he played three more games in 2017 and still finished as the overall RB2.

Bell, like Gurley, is a three down back that catches passes and handles all the goal line carries. The difference is that Gurley is a running back who catches passes, while Bell is a legitimate pass catching back that can line up at WR and run real routes. It appears as if the off the field concerns are behind him and he doesn't pose any significant injury risk despite having torn his ACL three season ago.

Bell's situation is also similar to Gurley's in that Bell also is on one of the league's best offenses with a very good QB and a loaded WR corps. The Steelers also have a TE in Vance McDonald while the Rams don't really have anyone commanding targets. But the thing with Bell is he's had this elite competition for touches and targets before - it's never mattered before and it won't matter now. Bell is well worth the #1 overall pick given his incredibly high floor, his high ceiling, and his lengthy track record of success. But, is he my choice?

David Johnson (RB - ARI)

Last year's consensus best player in fantasy was unable to build on his monster 2016 season after a wrist injury ended his season before it really began. But this is still the man that holds the fourth highest fantasy football season since 2000, averaging 26.7 ppg in 2016. In fairness to Bell, he only averaged 0.2 ppg fewer that season - so he was right there. For as great as Todd Gurley was last season, he was still a full point worse than DJ in 2016. So that's just your friendly reminder as to how truly transcendent DJ was in 2016.

DJ's ceiling is the highest of all the backs because of his pass catching ability. He is a converted wide receiver. He is essentially Arizona's #2 WR behind Larry Fitzgerald. Johnson said his goal is still to go 1,000-1,000 and I believe he can do it. No one is doubting DJ's upside as the best player in fantasy football. However, there are concerns.

The Cardinals project to be one of the worst teams in the lead. While playing from behind isn't detrimental to DJ because instead of handing the ball to him, they'll just throw to him, the Cardinals' overall poor team could negatively impact DJ's scoring ability. If his touchdown count falls from 20 to even 12-14, he's probably not going to be able to finish #1 overall.

I do think the Cardinals can function well with Sam Bradford at the helm, but you and I both know that won't last very long. Bradford's career is going to end this season when his degenerative knee inevitably gives out. I like Josh Rosen, but I'm not overly excited about DJ playing with a rookie QB, although it could help his dump off numbers.

If all three RBs were in ideal situations, I would probably take Johnson as I feel he has the highest ceiling, but of the three RBs, his situation is undoubtedly the worst. So, is he safe enough to be considered for the #1 pick?

Antonio Brown (WR, PIT)

During the entirety of my fantasy football career (which began in 2003), 2016 was the only year in which a non RB was the consensus #1 overall pick. That man was none other than Antonio Brown. The second greatest receiver in NFL history is nowhere near the end of his career despite turning 30 this July. He's been the overall WR1 for four consecutive seasons. He's caught over 100 passes for five straight seasons. He's the surest of sure things in this game of randomness.

If you want to take AB #1 overall, no one can fault you. But should you? This analysis is less about Brown himself and more about positional value. We are looking at about 15 RBs going in the first 24 picks. If you spend an early first round pick, specifically the first pick on a WR, you are going to be at a significantly disadvantage at RB. Additionally, you are more likely to be able to find a quality WR in the middle rounds than you are a reliable RB.

Ironically, the blurring of the lines between WR1s, WR2s, and WR3s does not increase the value of an early WR. It's the exact opposite. Because the separation between a low end WR1 and a low end WR2 is smaller than usual, selecting an RB early is more important because the edge you will have at the position will be greater than the edge you'll have at the WR position. As you may have gathered, AB is not who I would go with at #1.

 

Final Verdict

You really can't go wrong with any of these guys, but if you are fortunate enough to secure that top pick, you have to make a decision. Personally, I would go with Le'Veon Bell. When we're talking about three running backs that are truly the elite of the elite, any separation between them is splitting hairs. Bell is on the best offense of the three and has the longest track record of success. I very much would like to land a top three pick this season and if I end up at #1, Bell is the man getting his name called.

 

More 2018 Fantasy Football & ADP Analysis


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