Athlon editors and contributors state their case for which player they would take with the first pick in a fantasy football draft
Having the first pick in a fantasy football draft is an enviable position, but it comes with a fair amount of pressure. If there's any pick you don't want to screw up in a draft, it's the first one, right?
While he may not have been the first player taken last year, chances are Le'Veon Bell went fairly soon after (as in second overall) and look how that pick turned out. Bell's situation may have been unique but there are other factors at play that could turn a No. 1 pick into a colossal disappointment. Injury has wrecked many fantasy seasons, something those who used an early pick on David Johnson in 2017 know all too well. And that's just one example.
So if you have the first pick in your fantasy draft this year who are you taking? That's the question that was posed to Athlon Sports editors and fantasy football contributors. It wasn't unanimous but one player received the majority of votes and all but one panelist went with a running back. Not surprisingly, no one picked Bell (or Gurley).
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
"While taking a running back with the first overall pick is often a gamble, Barkley is the best bet among the top backs. Ezekiel Elliott is another option, and it's a toss-up as to which back has the best outlook. The Giants have an offense that will revolve around Barkley now that Odell Beckham Jr. is gone. Eli Manning still can't throw the ball (and could be replaced by first-round pick Daniel Jones sooner rather than later), so Barkley will be involved in the passing game and the running game. No other running backs are in the picture for the Giants.
Barkley is a tough runner and proved to be durable with 261 carries and 91 receptions in his rookie season. He had 1,307 rushing yards, 721 receiving yards and 15 total TDs. With no real downfield options and uncertainty under center, the Giants are going to feed Barkley early and often. Even with the likelihood of facing stacked boxes, Barkley still has the tools and the potential to be a top-tier back in 2019." — Sarah Lewis, AthlonSports.com fantasy contributor
"Sure, it's tempting to consider Ezekiel Elliott — last year’s leader in rushing yards (1,434) — or even last season's TD leader Todd Gurley (with 21). But Barkley checks every box. He's not splitting time in the backfield. At 22, he's only in his second NFL season with fresh legs and a bulldozer-like build that should keep him healthy. Furthermore, he’s the Giants' only real playmaker.
In 2018, he had 1,307 rushing yards and tacked on 721 more receiving. And yes, a frightened Eli Manning, who targeted Barkley 121 times last year (second only to Odell Beckham Jr., who's in Cleveland now), should continue dumping it off to Barkley with great regularity. The same will also hold true if rookie Daniel Jones gets his shot. As for the fantasy Holy Grail — touchdowns — there's no reason the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year can’t top last year's 15. Trust me, Barkley is as close to a sure thing as you're ever going to get." — Rich McVey, Athlon Sports
"With all the question marks hanging over Todd Gurley after his playoff performance (or rather the lack of one), it is difficult for me to place him as the top target for 2019 drafts. I think he can easily reclaim the title, but for this year I am going with the second-year phenom, Barkley. Matching the 2,000 total yards in 2018 as the focal point of the offense is a given if he remains healthy. The loss of Odell Beckham Jr. concerns me a bit, but not enough to bump Barkley from the No. 1 spot." — Chris Meyers, AthlonSports.com fantasy contributor
Related: 2019 NFL Bye Weeks Cheat Sheet
"I won't lie and say that I'm firmly in one camp. If I'm taking multiple shots at the top pick, I'm not taking the same guy every time. If I have one chance, though, it's Barkley. And it's about certainty.
We know that Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott and Christian McCaffrey will all get the ball a ton. But Barkley's 73.7 percent share of rushing attempts last year beat Elliott's 69.3 and McCaffrey's 52.6. His 20.8 percent share of targets fell short of McCaffrey's 22.0 but beat Elliott (18.0). The Panthers, however, have a couple of young wideouts on the rise: DJ Moore and Curtis Samuel. They missed tight end Greg Olsen for most of last season. The Giants, meanwhile, traded away their lead wideout.
I don't trust the Giants offense to be good. But I know that Barkley will get the ball a whole lot, and I just watched him finish second across fantasy formats in an offense that ranked 16th in scoring." — Matt Schauf, DraftSharks.com
Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
"How do I love Zeke? Let me count the ways. First, Elliott is heavily involved in both the run and pass game, despite being the league’s leading rusher for the second time in three seasons. Who knows — had he not been suspended for a chunk of 2018, he could be a three-time rushing champion entering '19! Second, this guy is tough, playing in 40 games and rarely dealing with nagging injuries that affect many tailbacks lacking his tenacity. There were just four games last season where he rushed for less than four yards per carry. Third, his market share was greater than any other non-QB last season, getting more of his team's touches/targets than any other running back, wide receiver or tight end. With 26.6 targets/touches per game, he led the NFL, with Todd Gurley (24.07) and Saquon Barkley (23.88) nearly 10 percent behind. Finally, the Cowboys offense is gearing up to be one of the best in the league, which means more first downs, more touches and more scoring opportunities, allowing him to beat last year's relatively disappointing nine TDs." — David Gonos, The Athletic
Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
"As we get deeper and deeper into the end of the 2010s, one thing that becomes extremely evident is that there is a clear separation of running back tiers. There are the ones who catch balls and carry 80 percent of the workload, and there are those who don't. No. 1 is as simple as which of those backs you trust the most.
My projection is based on safety. The best, most consistent offense among the top back pool is in New Orleans. Mark Ingram is gone, and Latavius Murray has never been the sort of back to grab a huge fantasy football workload. Thus, Kamara is where I'd head if I had the No. 1 pick." — Rivers McCown, Football Outsiders
Patrick Mahomes, QB, Kansas City Chiefs
"Quarterback has become a fairly deep position in fantasy, but that doesn’t mean there isn't any separation at the top. Mahomes is not just the reigning NFL MVP; he was the best player in fantasy last season, and it wasn't even close. Behind his ridiculous numbers, as in 5,300-plus total yards and 52 touchdowns, Mahomes finished with nearly 100 more fantasy points than the No. 2 quarterback, Matt Ryan (Athlon scoring). Even with regression, that's a significant gap for the field to make up.
Mahomes' dual-threat ability only increases his appeal, and there's no doubt that he's the horse Andy Reid is going to hitch his wagon to. Mahomes had at least three TDs in 10 of 16 games, and in the one game that he had just one TD (vs. Jacksonville), he still threw for more than 300 yards (and the TD came on the ground). Mahomes is clearly the biggest thing going in the NFL right now, so why not take him No. 1, sit back and enjoy the ride?" — Mark Ross, Athlon Sports