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?
Fortunately, this year the decision seems fairly simple. Christian McCaffrey may not have been named MVP, but he did have some things in common with the guy who did. Lamar Jackson and McCaffrey were both first-team All-Pros in 2019 and made history in the process. McCaffrey not only broke his own record for receptions by a running back in a season with 116, he also became just the third player in NFL history to record 1,000 rushing and receiving yards in the same season.
His 2,392 yards from scrimmage were good for third all-time and his 19 total touchdowns tied him for the league lead. McCaffrey is a big play waiting to happen whenever he touches the ball and as the new face of the Carolina Panther franchise for a team that has overhauled its roster and is embarking on a complete rebuild under first-year head coach Matt Rhule, you know he's going to get probably get plenty of opportunities. In short, there's really no reason why you shouldn't take McCaffrey with the No. 1 pick in a fantasy draft.
But if you still need some convincing, see who a panel of Athlon Sports editors and fantasy football contributors said they would take if they had the first pick. It doesn't mean everyone was in agreement, however. After all, there are no sure things when it comes to fantasy football. Just ask those that went Saquon Barkley or perhaps Todd Gurley with the first pick last year.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
McCaffrey is the No. 1 pick in any fantasy format this year. Will he definitely finish atop the board again? No. But the guy just finished ranking fourth in the league in carries AND second in receptions. McCaffrey’s receiving numbers alone would have tied him for 11th among running backs in PPR points for 2019.
Now comes a new head coach with a run-heavy history. Matt Rhule spent 11 years as an offensive coordinator or head coach in college. Those 11 offenses collectively ran the ball on 53.8 percent of offensive snaps. That's nearly a 2019 Ravens-level run lean. And new QB Teddy Bridgewater ranked last among qualifying passers in average depth of target (aDOT) for 2019.
Who's the top short-range target in Carolina again?
A healthy Saquon Barkley has a shot to approximate McCaffrey's total touches. A healthy Alvin Kamara could go TD wild for the Saints. Each could outscore McCaffrey for the season.
I hate falling into consensus, and in fact, I started off making a defense of Saquon Barkley for the No. 1 pick, but here’s where we're at:
- McCaffrey dominated all running backs in receiving yardage last year, in a league that has only gone more and more in that direction over the last 10 years.
- McCaffrey signed a huge contract extension this offseason, so there's no ulterior motivation for the team to get someone else going.
- New offensive coordinator Joe Brady, formerly of LSU, turned primary back Clyde Edwards-Helaire into the third-leading receiver on a national championship team, and he almost always let Joe Burrow throw from five-man protections.
- New starting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has more problems throwing deep than throwing short, meaning that despite the stacked receiving corps, McCaffrey should still be the easiest target.
In PPR formats, McCaffrey had the most fantasy points out of ANY player. That includes quarterbacks, who usually reside at the top of the points chart. In non-PPR formats, McCaffrey was second behind only MVP Lamar Jackson.
He had a career year, with 1,387 rushing yards, 15 rushing touchdowns, 116 receptions, 1,005 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns. His rushing total was third in the league, and he had the second-most touchdowns on the ground. He also finished second in the entire NFL in receptions. How could you not draft him as No. 1 overall? The Panthers will have Teddy Bridgewater at the helm this season, but that should only help ensure that McCaffrey gets the lion’s share of touches. He's the top pick, regardless of PPR/non-PPR format. — Sarah Lewis, AthlonSports.com fantasy contributor
No need to overthink things here: McCaffrey is the slam-dunk No. 1 pick, especially in PPR leagues. McCaffrey outscored every other non-quarterback last season by well over 100 fantasy points (Athlon scoring), and the gap is even bigger between him and the No. 2 running back. Since there are fewer bell-cow backs than ever before, you can't afford to wait until the end of the second round to grab your first running back, and McCaffrey is as complete a back as you can find.
With Joe Brady directing the offense and a big upgrade at quarterback with Teddy Bridgewater, Carolina should have a stronger offense, and McCaffrey will be a major beneficiary. McCaffrey was held under 60 rushing yards six times last year, but that should happen less in 2020 since defenses have to respect Bridgewater’s arm and can’t stack the box as frequently. The Panthers may come to regret paying a running back so much several years down the road, but that shouldn't dissuade you in his age-24 season. — Ben Weinrib, Athlon Sports
Saquon Barkley, RB, New York Giants
I fully understand the reasoning behind Christian McCaffrey being a near-unanimous pick for No. 1 overall. But as someone who has been burned in the past by the so-called "sure thing," I'm willing to look at other options. Even though Barkley missed three-plus games because of his sprained ankle and was likely limited in a couple more, he still finished as a top-12 scorer at his position. What's more, Barkley is one of the few backs likely to get the opportunity to match McCaffrey in terms of total touches. Barkley finished 2019 strong (539 total yards, five TDs in his last three games), and the Giants have made a concerted effort this offseason to address what has been a shaky offensive line. There's absolutely nothing wrong with taking McCaffrey at No. 1, but that doesn't mean you can’t be a contrarian. — Mark Ross, Athlon Sports
If I get the first pick, I'm trading down. Now, I'm not a dummy. I'm not trading out of the first round. I'm swapping first-round picks and looking for either additional picks or later advantageous swaps. Suppose the fifth overall pick offers to trade spots in the first round in a deal that also includes swapping out picks in the second and fourth rounds? I'm taking it.
In the last dozen-plus years, you know how many times the consensus No. 1 overall pick ended up being the best overall player that year? Twice. Your odds are better picking a name out of a hat! And given the documented bust rate of the top overall pick, I'd rather rely on my ability to differentiate in the middle rounds than hope for what is not even a 15 percent chance of guessing right on the top player.
Now, if I couldn't trade out, I'd go with McCaffrey. Unless I'm in a two-QB or Superflex league, I'm taking an RB with the first overall pick. More than 4,300 combined yards the last two years? No one else even comes close. Give me McCaffrey. — Mark Strausberg, AthlonSports.com fantasy contributor