2018 Fantasy Football: First Round Draft Picks
With the 2018 NFL draft just over a week away, Fantasy owners are starting to get giddy over this upcoming football season. Here’s an early look at the top 12 options to be drafted in PPR leagues this year.
1 – RB Todd Gurley, Los Angeles Rams
At age 22, Gurley made Fantasy owners a ton of money in 2017. His ADP was about mid-second round creating a great buying opportunity for the sharp Fantasy owners. The Rams scored the most points (478) in the NFL last season, which came after ranking last in points scored (224) in 2016. LA scored 51 total TDs in 2017 with 19 touchdowns coming from Gurley. The previous season the Rams only scored 24 combined TDs. The change in coaching staff and the 2017 offseason moves were magical bringing the NFL spotlight back to Los Angeles. On the year, Todd finished with 2,093 combined yards and 64 catches while averaging 22.9 touches in his 15 games. His explosiveness was back in his game (4.7 yards per rush and 12.3 yards per catch). LA is on the rise with a young improving quarterback. Fantasy games are won by scoring TDs, and Gurley should be one of the best in the game in this area again in 2018. Three-down with the opportunity and scoring ability to win Fantasy championships.
2 – RB Le’Veon Bell, Pittsburgh Steelers
There is no doubt Bell will out touch Gurley if he plays a full season, but he may not offer the upside in yards per touch (4.8 in 2017 and 5.6 in 2016 compared to 6.1 by Gurley in 2017) or elite TD production. Over 62 games in his career, Le’Veon has 42 TDs while never scoring more than 11 TDs in any season. Bell is a great NFL back who has the ability to do it all. In his NFL career, he’s averaged 24.9 touches and 129 combined yards per game. Pittsburgh has offensive talent, but Fantasy owners want more explosive scoring a team that has the top WR in the league and one of the best RBs in the game. His slight injury risk and the fragile nature of Ben Roethlisberger pushes Bell to number two in my early 2018 draft rankings.
3 – RB David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals
As great as Todd Gurley was in 2017, Johnson was better in 2016. He finished with 2,118 combined yards with 20 TDs and 80 catches while averaging 23.3 touches per game. Note: Gurley only played 15 last year. David missed last season due to a wrist injury, which won’t be a strike on his 2018 Fantasy value. In 2015 with Johnson as a part-time RB, the Cardinals had the top offense in the league while averaging 31.1 points per game. The loss of Johnson and weaker QB play led to only 18.4 points per game last year. Arizona brought Sam Bradford to upgrade the quarterback position, but the Cardinals still lack threats at WR behind Larry Fitzgerald while lacking top talent at TE. Johnson is a great player, and he can do it all. He needs a better supporting cast to create more opportunities and scoring chances. Either way, his volume of touches will lead to another high-ranking finish in 2018. My decision for my best RB this season is driven by the overall value and upside of a team’s offense. Maybe an easier schedule late in the season and help from the 2018 draft class will help Johnson push his way higher in the draft rankings.
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4 – RB Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys
It would be extremely difficult for me to take an elite WR over a third-down back with scoring ability in 2018. Elliot plays behind one of the best offensive lines in the league as far as talent. Last year the Cowboys’ offense fell to about league average after scoring 26.3 points per game in 2017. Ezekiel gained a yard fewer per rush (4.1 to 5.1) in his ten games while maintaining his big-play ability in the passing game 10.3 yards per catch. In his 15 games in the NFL, Elliott averages 24.9 touches, 130 combined yards, and one TD per game. He can’t match the top three RBs in the league in catches (2.3 per game), but the loss of Dez Bryant may force the Cowboys to look his way more to help move the chains. Dallas has a ball control QB with below NFL league average talent at WR and a slow-footed TE, which will lead to eight men in the box on many plays. Elliott will need to carry Dallas on his back in a similar way as Adrian Peterson in his prime in Minnesota. I expect Ezekiel to have the widest range of value of all the top backs in the league in 2018.
5 – RB Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs will be making a change at QB in 2018. Patrick Mahones comes with high pedigree, and he’s expected to add more value to the deep passing game. His ability to challenge defenses over all parts of the field can only help Hunt find freedom at the second level of the defense. In his rookie season, Kareem gained 1,882 combined yards with 11 TDs and 53 catches. He averaged 20.3 touches per game with 12 rushes over 20 yards and three runs over 40 yards. Kansas City has a stud TE plus an extremely quick and talented Tyreek Hill. The addition of Sammy Watkins will force the defense to pay attention to the deep passing game. This whole equation points to a much better situation than Ezekiel Elliott, but Hunt may lose the touch battle to Elliott by 20 percent or more. Kareem has pass-catching ability, and his overall opportunity should rise in 2018. The key is the success and the development of a young QB. I expect him to score more than 350 Fantasy points in PPR leagues. As much as long Antonio Brown, and the opportunity of DeAndre Hopkins, I can’t pass on Hunt in this are of the draft unless I’m able to identify a break type RB in the second round.
6 – WR Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers
Over the last five seasons, Brown has 582 catches for 7,848 yards and 52 TDs over 77 games. This breaks down to 7.6 catches for 101.9 yards and 0.67 TDs per game or 21.8 Fantasy points per game. Over this span, he’s been the best Fantasy player in the game while offering explosiveness to the WR position. His floor must be 320 Fantasy points with much higher upside if the Steelers ever put together impactful offensive season. The debate and challenge for a Fantasy owner is finding the outs at RB by starting with a WR in the first round. In the past, the top end RB pool has been as deep making Brown a huge edge at WR early in the first round. Great player and well worth an early piece to a Fantasy team in the first round.
7 – WR DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans
Hopkins can’t match the recent resume of Antonio Brown, but he has does have two special seasons (111/1521/11 and 96/1378/13) over the last three years. His top two seasons came to 331.10 and 310.80 Fantasy points in PPR leagues, which is on par with Brown’s five-year path. DeAndre has scoring ability plus a high volume catch opportunity from week-to-week. Deshaun Watson was special over a short stretch in his rookie year, which points to a special career in the NFL. I like the overall offensive talent better in Pittsburgh, but I like the arm and talent of Watson over Ben Roethlisberger. Coin toss as the best WR in 2018 with both options being winning plays if they stay healthy.
8 – RB Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints
Hands down Kamara was the best back in the NFL in 2017. He gained 7.7 yards per touch with 14 TDs. His season started as the third wheel in the Saints’ RB rotation with AdrianPeterson on the roster for the first three games. In the end, New Orleans gave him 201 touches for 1,554 combined yards. Alvin only had one game with over 100 yards rushing (106) plus another game with over 100 yards receiving (101). He runs with power with high upside as a pass receiver. Overall, he averaged 1.59 Fantasy points per touch, which would have worked out to 545 Fantasy points in PPR league if he had the same touches (343) as Todd Gurley. The Saints will use two backs again in 2018, which will lead to Kamara being discounted a bit in drafts. Buy the talent and upside while understanding Alvin is one injury away from being the top RB in the league. I expect him to post 1,000 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving in the same season in his future career with an excellent chance at reaching over 100+ catches at least once in his career.
9 – WR Odell Beckham, New York Giants
Beckham is a special WR, and we still haven’t seen him at his best. Over his first three seasons in the NFL, Odell had 288 catches for 4,122 yards and 35 TDs or 21.67 Fantasy points per start. During this stretch, Beckham averaged 6.9 catches for 98.1 yards and 0.83 TDs per game. His ankle issue will lead to him being discounted some in the 2018 draft season. Beckham has all the talent and explosiveness a Fantasy owner is looking for as a lead WR on a Fantasy team. New York is in position to add an elite RB in the draft plus potentially adding another strong wide receiver. If 2018 breaks right, Odell may end up being the top WR in the land.
10 – WR Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints
Thomas had growth in his second year in the league (104/1245/5) even with Drew Brees attempting the lowest total of passes (536) in his career with the Saints. In 2016, New Orleans threw the ball 673 times with Michael catching 92 balls for 1,137 yards and nine TDs. In the end, Thomas had growth in his target opportunity (149 chances – 27.8 percent of the total pass thrown by New Orleans) compared to 2016 (121 targets – 18.0 percent of 673 passes). The change in style by the Saints’ offense due to a much-improved run game and better defense led to a shorter total in TDs (5). Thomas is a high volume WR with a chance at double-digit TDs. The growth in scoring ability on the ground by the Saints’ back does remove his upside in TDs. Buy the 100-catch season while expecting some return in TD production.
11 – RB Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers
For the first time in his career, Gordon played 16 games. He finished with a career-high 344 touches for 1,560 yards with 12 TDs and 58 catches. As great as his season looked, the Chargers gave a piece of his pie to Austin Ekeler mid-season leading to some lost TDs (5) and catches (27). In the end, Melvin may have lost about ten percent of his potential opportunity to Ekeler. With same RB structure in LA, Gordon will again have a slight thorn in his side thus creating a step back in draft value. Melvin has the talent to be an elite three-down back, and he did play through some injuries last year. Gordon needs the Chargers to ad more talent on the offensive line as well.
12 – RB Saquon Barkley, TBD in Draft
Without knowing where Barley will land, it is tough to predict his 2018 Fantasy draft value. Over his last two seasons at Penn State, Saquon had 3,801 combined yards with 43 TDs and 82 catches. He projects as a three-down back with high value in scoring ability. In the right offense, Barkley may push his way to a top ten Fantasy pick this season.
The first-round of 2018 drafts looks loaded with talent at RB creating value at WR in the second round. An early draft selection will then be present with better than expect opportunities at wide receiver.
Am I too RB heavy early? Do you agree with my draft order? Who do you think will be drafted in the first round of Fantasy drafts in 2018? Let’s have that debate in the forums at ScoutFantasySports.com to help each other make better decisions on draft day.