Athlon editors and contributors state their case for which player they would take with the first pick in a fantasy football draft
The NFL MVP may be a quarterback most seasons, but when it comes to fantasy football the "it" position has been running back. Last year, the debate for the No. 1 overall pick was pretty much focused on three guys -- Le'Veon Bell, David Johnson and Ezekiel Elliott.
Of those three, Bell lived up to No. 1 status while Elliott finished in the top 10 in fantasy points among RBs as well. Johnson suffered a wrist injury in the season opener, delivering an early knockout punch to many fantasy teams in the process. Meanwhile, Todd Gurley, a guy who more than likely wasn't even taken in the first round, was the equivalent of a runaway fantasy freight train last season.
So looking ahead to 2018, who is the presumptive No. 1 pick? Has Gurley earned the nod after his monster season? What about Bell, who apparently will be playing for his next contract? And will Johnson return to his 2016 season form? Does Elliott or someone else deserve consideration?
Athlon Sports editors and fantasy football contributors were asked who they would take if they had the No. 1 overall pick. While there's no consensus about who it should be, there's no argument about what position he plays.
Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
"Gurley scored 50 more fantasy points (Athlon Sports scoring) than the second-best RB last year (Le’Veon Bell), and that difference is the greatest between the top two since 2010 (Arian Foster vs. Peyton Hillis). Many times, the first overall pick is just a knee-jerk reaction by the masses to what happened the previous year. While Gurley was certainly head and shoulders above all other fantasy players last season, making him the top pick in 2018 is as much testament to this season’s promise as it is recognition for last year’s dominance. The Rams fortified an offense that ranked 19th in offensive plays from scrimmage in 2017, bringing in speedster Brandin Cooks. That move alone will stretch the field, opening up space for Gurley to run, which in turn means more first downs, more drives and more plays from scrimmage -- and more chances for Gurley to score you fantasy points." -- David Gonos, SoCalledFantasyExperts.com
"For me, Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell check all the boxes you are looking for in a No. 1 overall pick. Gurley led the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,093) and total touchdowns last season (19). Bell wasn’t far behind at 1,946 yards with 11 touchdowns. Given that Gurley is unlikely to again average more than 12 yards per reception and that touchdown totals can often be fickle, we’re really splitting hairs here. Still, I’m going with Gurley. While he may not threaten 20 TDs again, the explosive Rams are going to give him plenty of scoring opportunities. Fifteen scores seems like a safe bet. As good as Bell has been -- and when he’s been on the field over the last four seasons, there’s really been no one better -- he has never topped 11 touchdowns in any season, and he’s played 16 games just once. If I have to choose, it’s Gurley for 2018." -- John Gworek, Athlon Sports
"A solid argument can be made for any of the top four running backs (Le’Veon Bell, David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott and Gurley) to go No. 1, but Gurley simply dominated 2017 and should only get better. He really benefited from new head coach Sean McVay, a drastically improved Jared Goff and an offensive line that opened up holes everywhere and could even be better this year. After a rookie year that saw him take the league by storm, Gurley struggled mightily in 2016 with Jeff Fisher calling the shots. He rushed for only 885 yards, averaging a lowly 3.2 yards per carry. But in 2017, the staff changes helped Gurley put together a monster year. Not only did he post 1,305 rushing yards while gaining nearly five yards per carry (4.7), but he also caught 64 passes for 788 yards. He led the NFL in both yards from scrimmage (2,093) and total touchdowns (19). Not bad for a second- or third-round pick in last year’s fantasy drafts. Gurley has the talent, youth, pedigree and the surrounding weapons needed to dominate the 2018 fantasy football season. He should be the No. 1 player in all formats." -- Michael Horvath, AthlonSports.com contributor
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
"It is much closer for me than last season, but this year I lean towards Bell over Todd Gurley. It is a virtual coin flip for me with these two, and format determines which side I go with. Bell had 11 touchdowns and 1,946 total yards in 2017. Rushing or receiving, he does it all, and he will remain the key piece to the Steelers’ offense and No. 1 on most of my draft boards." --Chris Meyers, AthlonSports.com contributor
"If you get multiple shots from the No. 1 spot, don’t take the same guy every time. There are just too many things that can go wrong. Ask David Johnson owners. If you get the top pick more than once this year, spread it around a bit. Todd Gurley and Le’Veon Bell both stand to dominate touches in what should be successful offenses. If, however, you’re making the decision once for 2018, I’d lean Bell. Gurley’s Rams scored 20 more points than any other team in the league, despite ranking 10th in yards and tying for 19th in total plays. At the least, they’re likely to regress in scoring. Jared Goff is likely to regress from the 5.9 percent TD pass rate that ranked fourth in the league. Gurley’s six TD receptions -- and 12.3 yards per catch -- don’t look sustainable. Bell, on the other hand, has averaged more than five receptions per game each of the past three years in which he played more than six games. He has averaged 21.6 carries per game over the past two years and topped 18 carries per game every season. And Pittsburgh has finished four straight years among the top seven in yards and top 10 in scoring. You can count on them continuing to move the ball and score points." -- Matt Schauf, DraftSharks.com
David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
"This year I believe the separation between the top six running backs and the rest of the league is very clear; the only issue is stacking them up among each other. It’s a close race, but I lean toward David Johnson. Todd Gurley seems to be the consensus No. 1 pick, but I fear that teams with an offseason to study Sean McVay’s tendencies will be able to clamp down on his offense a bit -- it did seem to be incredibly streaky. Johnson has fresh legs working in his favor, a quarterback situation that should be at least as good as it was in 2016, and a new offensive coordinator in Mike McCoy who should have complete control and loves to establish the run. A year ago, Johnson was the easy No. 1 pick. Don’t count a fluke injury against him this season." -- Rivers McCown, Football Outsiders
"Johnson’s 2017 season consisted of a grand total of one game after he injured his wrist in Week 1 against Detroit. But he’s had plenty of time to recover, and there’s no question he will remain the focal point of the Cardinals’ offense this season. In 2016, Johnson led the NFL in both yards from scrimmage (2,118) and total touchdowns (20). Besides being the team’s workhorse, Johnson also is one of the most targeted running backs (120 in 2016) in the league. And that certainly doesn’t figure to change with Sam Bradford (or rookie Josh Rosen) set to replace Carson Palmer as Arizona’s starting quarterback. Many fantasy owners’ seasons were ruined when Johnson went down in Week 1 last season, but I like his chances of bouncing back and being just as good, if not better, in 2018." -- Mark Ross, Athlon Sports
Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
"In a world where first-round running backs often disappoint (see: Adrian Peterson, 2016; David Johnson, 2017, among others), Brown is a relatively safe No. 1 overall pick. Wide receivers still have their share of risk, but Brown has been a solid WR, despite some injuries. In the past five years, he has had at least 1,280 yards and eight touchdowns in every season. He’s had 100-plus receptions in each season, and he doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Even as Ben Roethlisberger gets older, Brown still manages to get the ball in the end zone. A strong running game and the emergence of other wide receivers have only helped Brown’s cause." -- Sarah Lewis, AthlonSports.com contributor