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2017 Fantasy Football: Who Should You Draft #1 Overall?

| May 22, 2017 12:00 am PDT
Fantasy Football

The top pick in fantasy football drafts must offer two things, without hesitation. They need to be able to produce elite outings in any given week and in some regard, they need to be able to do so on a consistent basis.

That doesn’t mean you’re drafting your favorite player with the #1 pick and expecting them to dominate every single week. No, but this player is a top-five talent, has a massive role, hopefully has a history of extended success at a high level and is going to be the key piece to a team that can make a run to the fantasy football playoffs.

Needless to say, whoever you take with the top pick in fantasy drafts needs to be pretty awesome.

Gone are the days of Adrian Peterson, Jamaal Charles or even Marshawn Lynch being dissected at that top spot. Even Cam Newton can’t be argued there anymore. Rob Gronkowski has become too great of an injury risk, too.

Instead, depending on your fantasy football league and scoring format, we’re looking at a running back or wide receiver at the #1 overall pick, and it’s a pick you can’t mess up. Who should it be? We gauge the top options and pick our favorite candidate below:

ADP Breakdown

Before you even get to the guys you want to draft first overall, you should probably get a good grasp of how people are drafting (or mock drafting) in fantasy leagues right now. A lot can (and will) change in the next three months – which is why it’s always best to delay your drafts for as long as possible – but we can start getting vital ADP (Average Draft Position) feedback as soon as the previous fantasy season comes to an end.

As things stand, here are the top options for the #1 pick and how they’re being taken off draft boards, per FantasyFootballCalculator.com (Using standard 12-team league draft data):

  • David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals (1.02)
  • Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys (1.02)
  • Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers (1.02)
  • Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers (1.04)
  • Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons (1.06)
  • Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants (1.06)

Buffalo’s LeSean McCoy is the next guy up, while some big names like Mike Evans, Melvin Gordon, A.J. Green and DeMarco Murray can fill out the first round. All those guys come with some risk as first round picks, while it’s also worth noting that potential studs like Todd Gurley, Dez Bryant, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Rodgers are all projected somewhere in round two or later.

Find Your Strategy

How you pick at the top spot is going to depend hugely on two things; your league settings and your personal draft strategy.

Scoring/Settings

This can take us down a litany of paths. Maybe your league is a 2QB (two starting quarterbacks) league. In this case, with there being just 32 starting NFL quarterbacks and only half are good-to-elite, you’re going to want to target a quarterback early and possibly right away at that top spot.

Perhaps your league is weird and only rosters one RB or WR. If this is the case, that one main running back or wide receiver you start each week is going to directly impact how you draft. What your weekly lineup allows should impact how you perceive value and also how you draft.

For instance, most lineups start one quarterback, and this happens to be the deepest position in fantasy football. You can win routinely with a slightly above average quarterback or you can find diamonds in the rough late in drafts. Matt Ryan put up the second most fantasy points in leagues in 2016, yet you wouldn’t find him taken until round seven or much later in most fantasy drafts.

A year can change everything, as can a system coaching, schedule and supporting weapons. It is important to consider all the variables, but first make sure you’re drafting to fit your league/scoring/roster instead of just trying to do what you think is right.

Draft Strategy

Once you know what you need based on your league, you can implement your own strategy. As we suggested, part of that could by bypassing the top quarterbacks in lieu of value sleepers later in the draft. Perhaps you use this same philosophy for the tight end position, opt to stream one/both positions and also devalue kickers and team defenses so you’re not spending valuable picks on them until later in your draft – if at all.

Usually it’s good to load up on quality running backs and wide receivers, not because they score the most points (quarterbacks do), but because they frequently get hurt and they make up the majority of one’s fantasy roster each week.

Giving yourself more outs with more able bodies is the way to go, but it gets started super early if you hold the top pick in your draft. Then it just boils down to which player is simply too good to not draft – or which player perfectly suits your roster/scoring settings and is set up to be a beast this year.

The ultimate decision will always be up to each fantasy team manager, but for us, the top pick boils down to the best running backs and wide receivers; guys that in any given week can sway your team from a loss to a win or on the year rival the best quarterback’s numbers.

Last year David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott did just that, as they finished 4th and 7th respectively in standard fantasy football leagues.

Top Options at #1

This all brings us to that top spot. You understand your league and have a strategy you prefer, but even that stuff doesn’t always matter when you’re making the first pick. You really just don’t want to mess up here. Ideally, you’re getting the best fantasy producer for the year and this player stays healthy and carries a quality team week in and week out.

The big question, of course, is who is the best bet at the top? Let’s break down the top options to find out:

Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons

Jones is a physical specimen and he’s routinely in the conversation to be the top wide receiver in fantasy football, but ultimately, he normally isn’t. There are two big reasons why; he always seems to have some foot issue he’s dealing with and despite his size and insane athleticism, he doesn’t pile up touchdowns at a high level.

Jones is a beast and he can win you any given week all on his own. You certainly want him if you can get him. But he’s not the best fantasy receiver to target and that reason alone takes him out of the running, unless you’re for sure he’ll be even more productive in 2017 and log a career high in touchdowns.

He just doesn’t score enough to make sense at #1, however. Jones was the 6th best fantasy receiver in 2016 and his career high in touchdowns is just 10. Given his talent and role, that’s remarkably bad. In fact, 8 is his second highest number. This guy plays with ferocity at the position and holds a ton of upside, but he’s a constant injury risk and for whatever reason doesn’t have the same upside as some of the other wide receivers in the NFL. Take him if you have a mid-to-late first round pick or if he slides to round two, but don’t take him #1 overall.

Odell Beckham Jr., WR, New York Giants

Odell is going to be a little more in play than Jones, as he’s proven to be just as explosive in terms of production and big play ability and he’s been a touchdown monster through his first three seasons. Beckham finished 2016 as fantasy football’s 4th best wide receiver and scored at least 10 times for the third year in a row.

Beckham is a total beast and he seems quite prideful, so you can bet he will always try to suit up and put on a show. He has weird games where he gets shut down and the addition of Brandon Marshall could hurt his ceiling a bit in 2017, though, so taking him first overall feels like a considerable reach.

You could make the argument to do so in WR-heavy leagues or in any PPR leagues, but Beckham finished 39th in fantasy points in 2016. He’s awesome and he could always post slightly better numbers than he already has, but he’s not quite #1 pick worthy.

Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

The only wide receiver you should really be considering drafting from the top spot is probably Antonio Brown. Martavis Bryant is due back this year and the Steelers have a lot of weapons to get the ball to, but nobody is a bigger part of their passing game than Antonio Brown is.

He is untouchable from a PPR perspective, as he’s caught at least 106 balls in each of his last four seasons, while also topping 1,200 yards and 10 touchdowns in three of those four seasons. At 28, Brown is still a massive piece to Pittsburgh’s puzzle and he’s still in his prime. He absolutely is worth consideration at the top spot in all formats, assuming we don’t think his decline in catches in 2016 is a trend that will continue.

There isn’t much reason to expect that to be the case, while Brown was 3rd in fantasy points among wide receivers last year and missed the top spot by just seven points. Brown should see his receptions tick back up a bit in 2017 and another season well over 1,200 receiving yards and anywhere between 10-15 touchdowns is in order.

Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers

While Antonio Brown is certainly in the discussion for the first pick in fantasy drafts, he’s not the Steelers star I’m interested in at the top spot. That’s going to be Le’Veon Bell, who is an even bigger part of Pittsburgh’s offense, as crazy as that sounds.

Bell just signed a huge new deal and has had injury problems in the past, so there are two things working against him this year. That naturally means there is some risk involved, but this is the NFL and anyone can regress or get hurt. All we can really do is hang our hat on the fact that when this guy is healthy and playing, he’s pretty much unstoppable.

Nothing tells us that more clearly than Bell finishing 3rd in points amongst fantasy running backs last year despite playing in just 12 games. That’s right, Bell got four fewer games than most running backs, yet still could have carried your team all the way to a title.

The crazy part is Bell is still just scratching the surface of who he can be at just 25 years old. This guy is an elite back in every sense of the word, yet he’s never rushed for 10 touchdowns in a season and has played a full 16-game season just once in four years. You could use those facts as deterrents to drafting him (and that’s fine), but there’s enough logic here to suggest we’re looking at the consensus top pick in fantasy drafts for years to come.

David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals

Last year’s top fantasy running back is obviously in the running to be the top pick in fantasy drafts this year and to this point is the consensus #1 option. That’s a layered revelation, of course, as the difference between Bell, Johnson and Zeke seems about as thin as it gets.

Johnson specifically offers insane upside, as he showed everything he can do last year when he finished 4th in the league among all fantasy performers. Anytime you’re neck and neck with quarterbacks, you know you had a good year. Johnson certainly enjoyed his second NFL season, as he went from sharing the load with Chris Johnson to busting out completely as one of the most dynamic players in the entire league.

Johnson was admittedly held back by a regressing Arizona offense last year, which actually makes his production all the more impressive. Carson Palmer saw a drop-in play and overall consistency, yet Johnson was able to rip off over 2,000 total yards and 20 total touchdowns on 373 touches.

Arizona’s top offensive weapon did hurt his knee to close out last year, but he’s expected to be fully healthy for the start of the 2017 campaign and at just 25 years old, there isn’t realistic concern for him to suddenly break down due to his workload.

Johnson might not necessarily be the best overall fantasy player in 2017, but he’ll easily be in the mix and is very much in the conversation to go first in any draft.

Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys

As great as these options are, I think this is a three-man race between the top three running backs. A truly elite rusher is tops in fantasy football and there simply is no replicating the weekly impact guys like Bell, Johnson and Elliott offer.

Of that insane trio, I think Elliott might have the most to give fantasy owners at the top spot. Part of it is his awesome surroundings (elite o-line, strong offensive supporting cast), but few running backs operate with a chip on their shoulder or the swagger Zeke does.

This is also a 21-year old phenom that could be set up to have an even stronger second NFL season. Aside from his natural talent and strong supporting cast, Elliott seemed to only get better as the weeks wore on and it’s arguable we haven’t seen what he can really do as a receiver out of the backfield yet.

Improvement can be expected, both because of natural progression in the league and because Elliott has been quite open about the fact that he isn’t settling for last year’s stellar production:

Zeke was fantasy football’s 7th best performer and 2nd best running back, yet he wants more. He has a desire to be even better and hit bigger plays in year two, which says a lot for a guy who piled on nearly 2,000 total yards and 16 touchdowns in his rookie season.

David Johnson is a little more explosive and both he and Le’Veon Bell to this point have proven to be more versatile. However, Zeke is truly just scratching the surface of what he’s capable of compared to those guys and behind arguably the NFL’s best offensive line, the sky seems to be the limit.

We can’t knock you for taking Bell or Johnson, while even the top wide receivers are somewhat in play. However, Zeke looks locked and loaded for an even better run in year two and we’ll want all of the shares we can get atop fantasy football drafts in 2017.

Noah Davis

Noah Davis is one of the more diverse writers at GamblingSites.com. Like many of his colleagues, he's a huge fan of both football and basketball. But he also writes about box office records, TV show prop bets, DFS, and all kinds of other subjects.

When it comes to the NFL, Noah's favorite team is the Cleveland Browns. He enjoys cheering them on with his wife and daughter.

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