We are now just two weeks away from the start of the regular season. This means that nearly every fantasy football owner will be drafting their team within these next 13 days, before the Denver Broncos host the Carolina Panthers on September 8th.
One of the biggest questions associated with fantasy is who are you going to take first? Your first round pick is one of the most important components of your team. A first round stud can lead you to a championship. If you pick a first rounder who performs horribly or is injured, it may be too much for your team to recover from.
It really seems that fantasy has undergone some changes for 2016. Last season, Adrian Peterson and Matt Forte were the only two running backs widely picked in the first round to finish 2015 in the top 10 for fantasy points at their position. Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski were the only non-running backs to go in most first rounds, so that means that roughly 80% of the people who picked running back last year did not get good results.
Because of running backs doing poorly in 2015, wide receivers have climbed up the draft boards for 2016. In past seasons, only elite talent like Brown and Calvin Johnson would have been taken in the first round. But in 2016, there is at least five receivers that you could make the case for taking in the first round. There is about five running backs in that position as well, meaning that wide receiver has closed the gap and is now on its way becoming fantasy’s most valued position.
Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from taking Gronkowski or a top-end QB like Cam Newton in the first round. But for most fantasy owners, the question is now wide receiver or running back? Which player among the highest rated players in fantasy has the highest ceiling but also has a low floor?
This article is about trying to pick out those highly rated fantasy players that are risky picks. Whether it’s injury concerns or uncertainty as to their exact role, these players have various reasons for fantasy owners to steer clear of them. Obviously, their upside is immense and some fantasy owners like to make risky moves. But if you want to play safe in fantasy and do what is most likely to get you to win, you should avoid drafting them with your first pick.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, PIT.
Le’Veon Bell is an interesting case because he is a player who would be a surefire first round pick if he wasn’t suspended the first three games of the season. Even so, the immensely talented Bell is going late first round and the early second round in many fantasy drafts.
Make no mistake, Bell has an enormous fantasy ceiling. A popular candidate for the first overall pick last season, he is one of those select few running backs that can put up huge rushing numbers and huge receiving numbers. He is the clear starting RB for Pittsburgh, though his backup DeAngelo Williams could steal some carries after putting together a surprising top 10 finish last season.
The biggest risk with Bell is his propensity for getting injured. Bell has only played all 16 games once in his NFL career (2014) and he missed 10 games last season after suffering a knee injury. Knee injuries are serious deals for running backs and with Williams performing so well last year, maybe the Steelers split the carries between the two more evenly. And with Bell already missing three games in addition to being injury prone, drafting Bell could cause you to miss out on a running back or receiver who will actually play in all 16 games.
Dez Bryant, WR, DAL.
It is my general opinion that most of the first round wide receivers are safer than the first round running backs. Brown, Julio Jones, Odell Beckham Jr. and DeAndre Hopkins are basically locks to go in the top 10 and all four of these players are low-risk selections. After those four, receivers like Dez Bryant, AJ Green and Allen Robinson can make cases to go late in the first round or early in the second.
Bryant in the first round is a bit of a head scratcher to me. Like basically everyone else on the Dallas Cowboys, 2015 was a total nightmare for Bryant. He played in nine games after suffering a foot injury early in the season. His final numbers were very pedestrian: 31 catches for 401 yards and three touchdowns.
If you’re drafting Bryant, you are hoping for 2014 numbers. He put up 16 touchdowns that season with 1,320 receiving yards. For him to reach those heights again, he needs to stay healthy. And he also likely needs Tony Romo to stay healthy.
Romo played just four games last season, as he missed most of the season because of a broken collarbone. Romo will be 36 years old this season and due to the nature of his collarbone injury is considered to be quite injury prone. The main risk with Bryant is that Romo goes down and the backup quarterback doesn’t throw the ball as well.
In the six games Bryant played without Romo last season, he had 50 or fewer receiving yards in four of them. His reception count was under five in four of those games as well. Though Bryant had topped 1,200 receiving yards three consecutive season before 2015’s mess, he is a risk because both he and Romo are injury risks this season.
David Johnson, RB, ARI.
David Johnson took the fantasy world by storm last year when he went on a tear during the fantasy playoffs, rushing for 417 yards and five touchdowns from Week 13-16. By all indications, this should make him the Arizona Cardinals’ bell cow running back and a dominant fantasy factor right?
Not exactly so. Bruce Arians will also have a healthy Chris Johnson in 2016. The older Johnson actually had a good 2015 in his own right, running for 814 yards and three touchdowns in 11 games. The possibility certainly exists that he could cut into David Johnson’s carries.
The younger Johnson could be another flash in the pan type guy ala CJ Anderson in 2015. Has a huge ending to the season, gets hyped up in the offseason and then falls flat when the season happens. In addition, Johnson is a second-year player which could set him up for a dreaded sophomore slump. You want a known commodity for your first round pick and right now, Johnson isn’t a known commodity.
Devonta Freeman, RB, ATL.
Now Devonta Freeman may be a bit of a stretch for first rounder consideration, seeing as he is going in the second round in many drafts. The main concern with Freeman in 2016 is touchdown regression. He scored 14 touchdowns last season, with nine on the ground and three through the air. That was a huge part of the reason why Freeman closed out 2015 as fantasy’s highest scoring running back.
That’s a lot of touchdowns for one season. It was enough to finish Freeman in a four-way tie for first with Peterson, Williams and Jeremy Hill. With double-digit rushing touchdowns last season, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that Freeman’s touchdown numbers regress in 2016. Especially if second-year player Tevin Coleman takes a step forward and becomes more utilized in the Atlanta Falcons’ rushing game, as injuries were a big reason why Freeman became the feature back early in the season.
You also got to realize that Freeman’s numbers faded as the year went on. He recorded 825 total yards and nine of his 14 touchdowns in Weeks 3-7. For the remaining 10 weeks of the season, he scored five touchdowns and had under 50 rushing yards for four of the eight games he played. Though his upside is enormous, his floor is also higher than first most round running backs and that makes him one of the riskiest picks for the first round.
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, DAL.
Time to end this article with a look at one of the strangest fantasy trends currently taking place in many mock drafts. Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott is somehow a popular choice for a first round draft pick! A player with zero career NFL carries has already gotten himself into the top five rankings for running backs and is being talked about as a favorite to win the rushing title.
Granted, the upside is enormous for Elliott. The Cowboys have one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the league, as they were a huge reason why DeMarco Murray won the rushing title in 2014. Elliott is in a great situation, especially since Dallas is committed to protecting Romo by making their offense run-heavy.
But you can’t guarantee anything with rookies. Just ask Melvin Gordon owners from last year. Since 2006, 23 running backs have been taken in the first round. Just two totaled more than 200 fantasy points their rookie season (Doug Martin and oddly enough Trent Richardson).
Not every rookie will light up the NFL from game one like Peterson and Todd Gurley did. The expectations for Elliott are so high that it seems more likely than not he will fall short of them. Especially if Romo should get hurt and the Cowboys again find themselves trailing often in games, forcing them to pass more than they run.