No doubts about No. 1

With NFL training camps open now, it’s finally not too early to turn our attention to the NFL and fantasy football. There are plenty of new faces on the scene and position battles to play out over the next month and a half, including rookies who could have an impact in 2020. Today, we look at the early rounds of the draft, and I’ll give you my thoughts and who’s overvalued and undervalued.

My first piece of advice. Pray for the No. 1 pick in your draft so that you can get Christian McCaffrey. He is a consensus No. 1 pick, and why not? McCaffrey, last year’s best fantasy player in PPR (second in non-PPR), had 471.2 PPR points, 1387 rushing yards, 1005 receiving yards and 19 total touchdowns. He was only the third player to record 1,000 plus yards receiving and rushing in the same season.

There’s also widespread agreement on the No. 2 overall pick, but Saquon Barkley comes with more risk. You surely recall how Barkley sustained a high-ankle sprain in the third game of the year and missed the next three games. When he returned, he wasn’t the same player. Because of the injury history and a mediocre New York Giants offensive line, I see Barkley as a distant No. 2 pick at best.

Frankly, once you get past No. 1, there are three other names in the mix for No. 2. Running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Alvin Kamara are in the discussion for the second pick. And wide receiver Michael Thomas can’t be ignored, either. Thomas actually has an ADP of 3 right now, and he is a top-five pick on everyone’s list. Kamara is a better pick in PPR because he catches a lot of passes.

If you’re playing in a non-PPR league, Elliott is a much better choice than Kamara. But Elliott is not going to hurt you in either format. The caveat with Elliott is the Cowboys seem intent on putting the ball in the air more – in spite of Prescott’s limitations as a pocket passer.  And who can blame them? They have Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and highly-touted rookie CeeDee Lamb running routes.

Most fantasy owners are reluctant to pick a wide receiver in the top five, but Thomas belongs there. Consider how dominant he was in 2019 – the second straight year that he led all receivers in receptions and total yards. Thomas put up the best season for a WR of all time and there’s little reason to doubt that he should put up another dominant performance in 2020. Draft him with confidence.

Those are your top five, with McCaffrey a clear No. 1 and the other four falling in behind him. Again, if you’re playing in a non-PPR league, you can bump Kamara from the top five. I would substitute Derrick Henry in his place. In a PPR league, Henry is not a top five. I would take any of these players with one of the first five picks.  If I was picking six, and any of these fell to me, I would consider it Christmas.

The second five is more complicated. Dalvin Cook’s ADP is No. 6, but he scares me. Cook’s stated intention is to hold out if he doesn’t get a new contract. That frightens me after drafting Le’Veon Bell in 2018 with the assumption that he was bluffing about holding out. Bell wasn’t bluffing. I took Elliott last year with the fifth pick, but I was confident he was close to signing – and he did.

If Cook signs, or is close to signing by September, he’s certainly worth the sixth pick in the draft. Cook finished 10th in the NFL with 1,135 rushing yards and fourth with 13 rushing touchdowns despite playing only 14 games. He was also sixth among running backs with 519 receiving yards on 53 receptions. Add it all up and he was a top-five or six fantasy running back in most scoring systems.

The other four players in the second five will be debated by the analysts and pundits for the next several weeks. Henry, Devante Adams, DeAndre Hopkins, Tyreek Hill and Julio Jones are all in the mix. Joe Mixon’s ADP is currently 11 – one better than Jones. But I wouldn’t touch Mixon with a 10-foot pole in the first or second round. Do you remember how bad he was in the first half of 2019?

There are several players that I like better than Mixon in the second round. If Henry, Adams, Hopkins, Hill or Jones slips into the second round, I’m a buyer. I also love Nick Chubb and Aaron Jones, who are currently ADP 17 and 18 respectively. My dream on draft night is to get one of the big five in the first round and then find either Chubb or Jones available for my second round selection.

Other names worth considering in the second round are Kenyan Drake, who found new life last year in Arizona, Josh Jacobs and Austin Ekeler in PPR only. Two tight ends to consider with a late second-round pick are Travis Kelce and George Kittle. In addition to avoiding Mixon, I’m also avoiding Miles Sanders. Frankly, I’m surprised that Sanders has an ADP of 14. Can anyone spell committee?

It’s likely that either Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson will be drafted by someone in the second, or third round. Don’t let it be you.  The third round has several wide receivers that are worth considering – especially if you started by drafting running backs in the first two rounds. But there is a rookie running back that is also worth a third-round pick. This rookie’s name is Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

The LSU star, drafted in the first round by Kansas City, has a ridiculous upside with the high-powered Chiefs offense. His stock rose even further this week when Damien Williams opted out of the 2020 season. Edwards-Helaire rushed for 1414 yards for the Tigers last year and also caught 55 passes for another 453 yards. It’s hard to see him not having an immediate impact in the NFL.

Two Tampa Bay wide receivers may be taken by someone in the third round – Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. Another wide receiver that is undervalued is Allen Robinson. The Bears wideout finished 2019 with 98 receptions – the seventh best in the NFL. Kenny Golladay shined in 2019 with Matthew Stafford out. Stafford is due to return, but Golladay was placed on the COVID-19 list this week.

A wide receiver that will probably be drafted in the third or fourth round is Odell Beckham Jr. But I can assure you it won’t be by me. I got burned by Beckham last year, and I learned my lesson. I do like Adam Thielen better than Beckham in the fourth – especially with Stefon Diggs gone from the Vikings. But there are two backs that intrigue me more than Thielen – Bell and David Johnson.

Bell and Johnson were being drafted fifth and sixth in many drafts last year, and now the opportunity to get one of them in the fourth round is alluring. I especially like Bell, who missed time in 2019 with an injury and had a low touchdown rate but still finished as an RB2. He’s a true bell-cow back. Johnson also was slowed by injuries last year but also figures to be a three-down back.

As you prepare for your fantasy draft(s), study these players carefully. Do your homework before draft night. I’ve told you what I think, but you should get other opinions from analysts you trust. Whatever you read, or hear, put it through your own personal filter. But you need to get it right in the first four rounds of your draft. These early rounds will make, or break you.

You can follow Thomas L. Seltzer, AKA Doubting Thomas, on Twitter.

 

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