When’s the last time you were picked No. 1 overall for something? Maybe it was when you got hired for a job or when a buddy had an extra ticket to an NFL game and invited you over anyone else. Or maybe it was even that time a person chose you as the lucky shlub they’d spend the rest of their life with. My wife picked me No. 1 overall four years ago. Picking a spouse and picking a fantasy football player can both come with a lot of second guessing. It’s possible in retrospect that she wishes she had chosen an Aaron Rodgers or Calvin Johnson type; but at least she didn’t end up with a Ray Rice.
There’s a lot of pressure that comes with the No. 1 overall pick. There was a time when picking first was a no-brainer, drafting Ladainian Tomlinson from 2002-2007 almost guaranteed fantasy owners a championship. For the past couple of seasons, however, there has been no clear-cut dominant player to take first in your fantasy draft. It’s a tough decision once again in 2016.
We can’t just go by how well a player did last year; we need to look at the intangibles like my wife did when she selected me. What were those intangibles, you ask? You’d have to ask her, but I did have a great DVD collection and I cut my own hair. Maybe she was some upside there. Let’s take a look at which studs have the upside to warrant the first pick of your 2016 fantasy football draft!
Antonio makes plays on the field that you thought were only possible with a joystick. Even some of his most memorable moments look as though they were taken straight out of our favorite video games. That time he jump kicked a defender like Chun-Li in Street Fighter, or when he returned a kickoff for a touchdown and jumped nards first into the goalpost like Super Mario leaping onto the flagpole. What will he do this year? Rumors are he’s planning on a Mortal Kombat style finishing move against a Ravens cornerback in Week 9. Somebody please warn Jimmy Smith to protect his spleen. Brown simply moves a little differently than any other player on the field, his unorthodox style grabs your attention and his unique skillset has led him to receiving the most catches in the NFL for two years in a row.
He would have led the league in catches for three years in a row but he came in second to Pierre Garcon in 2013. Robert Griffin III and Garcon connected 113 times to lead the league that year. Wow, things change quickly in the NFL. Although Brown has finished with the second most targets two years in a row, he is the clear favorite to lead the league this year for multiple reasons. Two of Big Ben Roethlisberger’s red zone weapons won’t be on the field for the foreseeable future. Ladarius Green might be forced into early retirement after a bad head injury, and a failed drug test for wide receiver Martavis Bryant resulted in a one year ban from the NFL. Brown should eat up these absent player’s targets like Pac-Man gobbles up pellets.
There is a slight downside to Antonio’s outlook. If Roethlisberger is injured and forced to sit out, Brown disappears like a Hillary Clinton email. When Big Ben’s clock stopped ticking for four games in 2015, Brown failed to score a single touchdown. However, the duo has more chemistry than any other quarterback/wide receiver in the league. We’ve seen Big Ben and Antonio go off script time and time again; the pocket has collapsed and the play seems doomed, but Ben and Antonio improvise and connect for a big play down field. After revamping their offensive line, these two should have time to improvise more than a “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode. Larry David announced they’ll film another season after a five year hiatus, “Curb is back” and football season is about to begin. Life is pretty, pretty, pretty good.
Some of us old fashioned fantasy aficionados will continue to stock up on running backs no matter what new trend is occurring in the NFL. Like trying to find a designated driver on New Year’s Eve, it’s nearly impossible to find a three down back after the first two rounds; much less one with Gurley’s talent. Picking a stud running back early gives you a feeling warmer than the southern Californian sun, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley is going to keep it hot in 2016.
He’s one of the last of a dying breed; the three-down workhorse running back. Fellow Rams running back Tre Mason recently jumped on his ATV and led police on a high speed chase. It seems like something Kenny Powers would have pulled on “East Bound and Down,” but it happened in real life and it’s likely the most running Mason will do in 2016. There really is no threat to Gurley’s workload, coming out of Georgia last year, he was considered to have a level of talent you are lucky to see once in a decade. Gurley missed the first two games of 2015 as he worked his way back from a nasty torn ACL he suffered in college. He was only given six carries as he was eased into his first NFL game in Week 3, but come halftime of Week 4 he sprang into action like Usain Bolt hearing a starter Pistol. It was the beginning of a five game stretch for the ages totaling 165 yards and four touchdowns.
A rookie quarterback and injury history might give some fantasy managers pause when their draft begins, he also wasn’t much of a factor in the passing game in 2015 catching 21 of 26 targets. However, rookie QB Jeff Goff has to be an upgrade over Case Keenum and the other jokers who took snaps for the Rams last year. Gurley has also expressed a desire to be more involved in the passing game and lost 10-15 pounds over the summer. With a new Gurlish figure, Todd is poised for a monster season in 2016. Gurley even stated that you should take him with your No. 1 fantasy pick. Gurls just wants to have fun, and it’s sure to be a fun fantasy season with a rare superstar workhorse running back like Gurley on your roster.
Adrian Peterson has been in consideration for the first overall pick his whole career, after he exploded as a rookie in 2007. Entering his tenth season in the league, “All Day” Peterson is now seen as “All Morning And Then A Nap” Peterson. He might be getting old by NFL standards, having just turned 31 in March; but it’s a thirsty 31. Adrian still appears hungry and on the top of his game, as well as on top of the league. Peterson finished 2015 above all running backs in carries (327), rushing yards (1,485), and he tied for the most rushing touchdowns (11). After such a strong year, you’d think he’d still be a hot commodity in your fantasy draft.
In 2015, Peterson’s average fantasy draft position was No. 1 overall. He rewarded owners by scoring the second most fantasy points for running backs, behind only Devonta Freeman. As of this writing, his average draft position this year is ninth overall. Falling from first to ninth after the type of season he had seems Ryan Lochte stupid.
However, fantasy managers passing on AP have a solid argument. Back-up running back Jerick McKinnon will have a bigger role in the Vikings offense, the offensive line is just average, and history tells us running backs over 30 tend to break down. Many drafters want to jump off the Peterson train a year early rather than a year too late.
Understandable points, but this offense is still built around their best player, Adrian Peterson. It doesn’t feel like this is the year he suddenly falls off the running back cliff. If you want a safe workhorse running back who’s delivered countless fantasy championships, draft “All Day” all day.
Odell Beckham Jr.
The Odell era has begun. Proving there was nothing fluky about his record breaking rookie year; Odell spent his 2015 sophomore season as the most electric receiver in the NFL. Similar to his rookie year, he got hot mid-season and began playing like his hair was on fire. Maybe that’s what Odell signature hair style is meant to symbolize. From Week 8 to Week 14, Beckham scored a touchdown in six of seven games. He also gained 100 yards or more in six of those seven games. On the field, Beckham was inhuman, unsympathetic, and just plain unfair. Similar to the way Roger Goodell commissions the league.
By the time fantasy playoffs came around, owners were feeling good. Visions of fantasy trophies and a year of gloating were in their peripheral view. Unfortunately, a showdown with Greg Norman and the Carolina Panthers in Week 15 derailed everything. The matchup between shutdown corner Norman and Odell was hyped up like a heavyweight title fight. It was scrappier than two Real Housewives at a reunion show. Odell received three personal fouls in the game, most notably when he delivered a helmet-to-helmet hit on Norman at the end of a run play. The only thing dirtier than the play was the taste left in fantasy owners mouths when they heard Beckham would be suspended for Week 16, the fantasy championship.
Beckham should comeback hungry, prepared to redeem himself, and on a mission to prove he is indeed the top receiver in the NFL. Even though Greg Norman got in his head, Beckham still finished the game with six catches, 76 yards, and a touchdown. It appears the only man who can stop Beckham is Beckham himself. If he keeps his head on straight he should be in for a record setting 2016.
For the fantasy managers who rode the Dave wave in 2015, it was a heck of a ride. After scoring six touchdowns in his first five games as a pro, you would think you could feel comfortable locking him into your lineup every week. However, like a young boy peaking up a mannequin’s skirt at JC Penny’s; Johnson left fantasy owners both excited and confused. His six touchdowns all seemed fluky. Johnson ran three of those touchdowns in but only averaged three carries a game. Two touchdowns were receptions but he only averaged three catches per game, and his fifth touchdown came on a kick return. Johnson was able to do so much damage with such little work; you would have thought he was a member of the United States Congress.
It was clear David was a special player, but head coach Bruce Arians has a reputation for not trusting young players and Johnson was used sparingly for most of his rookie season. Teammate Chris Johnson was given the bulk of the backfield duties and actually did quite well with them, averaging a very boring 4.2 per carry. Although, he only scored three touchdowns before an injury ended his season. It was a break of his tibia, sucks to be ya CJ2K. David Johnson paid off for patient fantasy owners. In the final four games of the fantasy season, Johnson averaged 20 carries, 104 yards, and a touchdown per game.
Unfortunately, Chris Johnson is back and the Cardinals are once again speaking about giving him a large share of the workload. Former fantasy darling Andre Ellington will also return to this crowded backfield after an injury riddled 2015. The Cardinals do offer one of the best offensive lines in the NFL, and we know what David Johnson is capable of if he’s given a heavy workload; but Bruce Arians’ love for Chris Johnson and Andre Ellington could cause this backfield to be more crowded than a Japanese train station during rush hour. YouTube it… David Johnson’s risk factor seems to slightly outweigh his upside.
Antonio Brown wasn’t the only one to lead the league in receptions last year; Julio Jones tied him with 136 catches. Julio also led the league in receiving yards with 1,871. His yardage total was good for second most all time in the NFL, Megatron’s 1,964 yards in 2012 tops the list. Now that Calvin Johnson has retired, Julio is arguably the most dominant receiver left in the NFL. Teammate and mentor Roddy White has parted ways with the falcons, Mohamed Sanu will replace the slowed down Hot Rod as the Falcons No. 2 receiver. Considering White has been on his last legs for the past couple seasons, Sanu should be considered a considerable upgrade. The Titans were considering signing White this year but chose washed up Andre Johnson instead… Oh how the Roddy has fallen. Sanu and second year wide receiver Justin Hardy should draw more defensive attention away from Julio than last year’s unit was able to. At 6’3 and 220 pounds, Jones is a physical imposition to any cornerback. Julio Jones towers over most of his defenders like Leslie Jones towers over co-stars… No relation.
He carried fantasy teams all year and put the notion that he can only excel indoors to bed, he actually fared better outdoors in 2016.
Most importantly, he’s missed just one game in the past two seasons and stepped up when fantasy owners needed him most; during the fantasy playoffs. In the last three games of 2015, Jones caught nine balls in each and had yardage totals of 118, 178, and 149. That’s the kind of consistency you hope for with a No. 1 pick. Matt Ryan might not be the most talented quarterback in the league, but he gave Julio double digit targets in all but two games last year. You can do like Matty Ice and rely heavily on Jones in 2016.