This article is part of our DRAFT NFL series.
I've done enough best ball NFL leagues on DRAFT.com at this point to have a pretty good idea of my preferred general roster blueprint. My exact approach will depend on which pick I'm assigned, however, so rather than just listing my ideal picks generally, I'm going to try an article where I list the players I target for specific pick ranges.
This article will focus on the first round options on DRAFT. The players in consideration for a pick range are listed in a descending order from left to right.
I try not to chase last year's numbers, but Gurley ahead of Bell strikes me as a good idea because the conditions that made Gurley superior last year seem part of a trend rather than an aberration. While Bell just turned 26 in February, he's a bit older in football years after accumulating 2,049 touches from scrimmage in the last six years, including playoffs. Gurley, 24 in August, has 1,507 touches in that span.
I'm also not crazy about Bell's contract situation. It's fair to worry about whether he'll keep his conditioning in check while away from the team, because he showed up just before Week 1 last year and, coincidentally or not, posted sluggish rushing stats for the first 12 weeks, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry. At least he averaged 4.6 yards per carry in the final four games, but that's a comparatively small sample. That decrease in rushing efficiency would potentially be attributable to some decline if it isn't attributable to being out of game shape, but even the conditions of the latter scenario seem likely to repeat for 2018, unless Bell and the Steelers reach some common ground in contract negotiations.
Still, even this lesser version of Bell yielded 20.2 fantasy points per game last year in DRAFT's 0.5PPR scoring. Any decrease in his efficiency is offset by his enormous volume for the most part.
As you can see, I'm significantly higher on Brown than most people. Because I value him most out of this group, the sixth slot is my favorite place to draft from. It's rare that someone takes Brown in the top five on DRAFT, yet even if someone does, it hurts me none to 'have' to settle for Kamara or Johnson or whoever falls to six in that scenario.
My reason for preferring Brown out of this group is a combination of generally preferring wide receivers due to starting three versus two running backs, as well as the generally lower injury risk at receiver. Even in DRAFT's 0.5 PPR scoring, Brown has averaged 18.7 fantasy points per game the last four years, which is only slightly less Elliott's 20 points per game from the last two years. To me, the lower injury risk at the position that starts more players is worth the trade off of the lower point projection.
Beyond that, I do have some level of concern about the circumstances surrounding Elliott and Johnson. Johnson probably has the highest upside of this group, given that he averaged 23.2 fantasy points per game in 2016, but I don't like his situation at offensive line and quarterback, and his schedule has a few tough spots. I think Arizona's defense will be good enough to preserve Johnson's volume, and even if Arizona falls far behind he'll just catch that many more passes, but even in Johnson's best season he averaged only 4.2 yards per carry. It wouldn't surprise me if the number went below 4.0 this year.
In Elliott's case, I rank him slightly higher than Johnson because, while I'm worried that he'll see stacked fronts in an incredibly slow Dallas offense, I'm not worried about the Dallas offensive line at all. In fact, if Tyron Smith is back to his usual self, Elliott should be able to eat up yardage no matter how much opposing defenses sell out against the run. And the volume with Elliott will always be obscenely high. Furthermore, he has immense untapped upside as a pass catcher that Dallas would be foolish not to implement into this year's offense, especially with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten gone.
Kamara's situation doesn't need much clarification – he's an incredible talent in an explosive offense that makes consistently creative use of his incomparable skill set. I do think his second-half usage was close to the best-case scenario – I have trouble imagining him getting 100 targets on 464 snaps ever again in his career – but the Mark Ingram suspension opens at least a four-week window for Kamara to see unusually high rushing volume. Still, whatever Kamara's best-case outcome, I have trouble putting him ahead of volume monsters like Elliott and Johnson. Perhaps that's a mistake.
I might not end up with that many Barkley shares this year, because he tends to go in the first six picks in drafts I'm in. I can't fault anyone for making the pick – I might even start making it myself if I feel compelled to diversify at some point. In theory, he could see fantasy usage almost exactly that of David Johnson and Todd Gurley, in which case the volume alone – especially the pass-catching volume – would give him some substantial upside.
There are two reasons why I rank Barkley outside the top six. The first is that, while I think the additions of Nate Solder (left tackle) and Will Hernandez (left guard) provide clear talent upgrades on the Giants offensive line, adding those two entailed moving incumbent left tackle Ereck Flowers to right tackle, effectively creating three new starters on the five-man line. Talent upgrades are great, but offensive lines generally improve as groups the longer they play together, and particularly with a rookie among its three new starters, I'm concerned the Giants line might not find its rapport until the second half of the year. My second concern is with Barkley generally, and dovetails with the line concern. I think Barkley has below average vision out of the backfield. It won't necessarily matter much – you don't need to have great vision when you're a freak athlete at 230 pounds, and Barkley's vision improves once he gets to the open field. But if I'm right that Barkley is below average at reading the field behind his offensive line, then one that hasn't yet gelled could exacerbate Barkley's issue. I think there's a coin flip's chance he finishes the year with fewer than four yards per carry, and a slow start as a runner is my particular concern. For what it's worth, I think Barkley will be a hit as a pass catcher right away, and I find nothing threatening about Jonathan Stewart or Wayne Gallman. My concerns as stated here are only relative to Barkley as a top-six selection – I'd feel one hundred percent content taking him at seven.
I rank Kareem Hunt behind DeAndre Hopkins and Odell Beckham here, but I'm splitting hairs to do so. I'd ideally get a pretty even split between the three when facing the hypothetical of all three on the board in this range. My reasoning for putting Hopkins and Beckham slightly ahead is partially due to my previously mentioned tendency to lean toward receiver when breaking a tie with a running back. The other reason is some level of consistency concern with Hunt. He's an awesome player, but one with an extensive history of ankle troubles at Toledo, and he still plays for Andy Reid, whose tendency to forget about the run game was a major factor in Hunt's slow stretch from Weeks 8 through 13.
While I think Julio Jones is the most talented of the three receivers I rank behind Barkley, my concerns with offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian are such that I don't need to think twice about taking Hopkins and Beckham ahead of Julio. My favorite one-two punch to start off a draft this year is probably catching Beckham at 10 and then Julio at 15 (it happened once, I swear), but that takes too much luck to be the stuff of serious planning. In the meantime, I'll probably need at least three shares of Hopkins/Beckham to every one of Julio before I'd worry about diversifying with Julio earlier than the 10th pick.
Does 12th overall feel early to select Davante Adams? It does. But I think the 28.0 ADP cited on DRAFT will rise by at least 12 spots pretty soon. This is the WR1 in an Aaron Rodgers offense. Almost from that mere fact you have to either lock in Adams for double-digit touchdowns, or project fewer than 30 touchdowns for Rodgers, which hasn't happened outside of injury-shortened seasons. Adams turned just 25 in December, and somehow enjoyed a fine 2017 season despite dealing with Brett Hundley for about half of his snaps. I'm not the type to project quarterback injuries, so I feel compelled to target Adams, ideally in the second round, but at the turn of the first if I must. This is a player who is still ascending.
In upcoming posts on this subject I'll be looking at the consequent hypotheticals one would likely face after engaging the various scenarios described previously, probably on a round-by-round basis for the most part.