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?
Take last year, for example. While it wasn't necessarily unanimous, the No. 1 overall player distinction was assigned to Christian McCaffrey with fellow running backs Derrick Henry, Alvin Kamara, and Dalvin Cook typically following in some order.
But that's certainly not how the 2021 season wound up as none of this quartet of first-round picks played more than 13 games and only one (Kamara) finished in the top 10 in fantasy points (Athlon scoring) among running backs. Yes, injuries played a huge part in their lack of production, especially in McCaffrey's case, as he was on the field for only seven games. But injury risk has to be taken into account when you have the first pick, right?
So entering the 2022 season, it's safe to assume there's a new leader for the No. 1 label. And that appears to be the case, especially after Jonathan Taylor ran roughshod over the league and still has less tread on the tires compared to his aforementioned peers. However, that doesn't mean that Taylor is the unanimous pick, at least not according to a panel of Athlon Sports editors and fantasy football contributors who were asked the question.
Not only does a pair of wide receivers enter the conversation but at least one panelist isn't quite ready to give up on McCaffrey just yet.
Who's the No. 1 pick in fantasy football drafts this year?
Jonathan Taylor, RB, Indianapolis Colts
As far as who will finish as the No. 1 back, I think there are compelling cases to be made for Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry if you look past the injuries. But the No. 1 pick is really a question that asks: “Who do you feel safest about coming into the season?” And the guy who led the NFL in rushing yards by almost 600, led in rushing touchdowns by three and remained involved in the passing game to the tune of 51 targets is the answer. Jonathan Taylor will find himself with a new quarterback in Matt Ryan, but the Colts should continue using him as the main piece of their offensive identity. The weak AFC South should continue to let them ground-and-pound to victories. Taylor’s 2021 may wind up being an aberration, but the talent and opportunity are there for him to wind up near those totals again. It’s hard to find a safer pick. — Rivers McCown, Football Outsiders/NBC Sports EDGE
One of the most important things to consider when making the No. 1 selection is a high floor. Teams don’t often win their fantasy league because of their first-round pick — it’s the middle-round and waiver-wire breakout stars that make a champion. But you can easily ruin your season if your top pick doesn’t pan out, especially if you don’t pick again until No. 20 or 24. The other main consideration should be positional scarcity. Cooper Kupp was the highest-scoring non-quarterback in fantasy last year, but there are far more useful wide receivers than running backs. It’s not that Kupp is a bad option, but it’s much more manageable to find a starting-caliber WR later in the draft or on the waiver wire. Elite RBs tend to be gone after the first few rounds. Those two factors make Jonathan Taylor the slam-dunk No. 1 pick. Christian McCaffrey may have more upside with his pass-catching production, but he’s a major risk with health. And Taylor is no slouch, either, with 40 receptions last season. He’s a bell-cow back with little competition, which is hard to find today. Go safe early with Taylor, and you won’t regret it. – Ben Weinrib, Athlon Sports
I almost always try to trade out of the No. 1 spot if I can. The consensus No. 1 pick has more often NOT finished as the top-scoring player than he has. But assuming that’s not an option, I’ll grab JT. Barring injury, he has the highest floor of any of the leading contenders for the top pick. Don’t overthink this. — Mark Strausberg, AthlonSports.com fantasy contributor
Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams
The first pick this year is not a no-brainer. (Which makes it a brainer, I guess.) If I’m picking there multiple times, I’m spreading the shares among Jonathan Taylor, Cooper Kupp and even Christian McCaffrey — with format affecting my favorite. For a three-receiver lineup in half- or full-PPR, though, Kupp is my top guy.
Taylor was awesome last year, blowing away the rest of the RBs. But Kupp was even better, and further ahead of his position. He beat Taylor in total points and even edged him in top-12 half-PPR weeks (13 to 11).
The key, though, is risk factors. RBs continue to get hurt at a higher rate than other positions. And Taylor’s TD rate is likely coming down. Over the past 10 years, Dalvin Cook is the only RB with consecutive years of more than 223 carries and a rushing TD rate of five percent or higher. (He missed two games in each of those seasons.)
There’s regression potential for Kupp, too, but his 11 percent receiving TD rate looks more repeatable. And he should remain the dominant lead target. Trades of Tyreek Hill and Davante Adams only make Kupp easier to like among top receivers. — Matt Schauf, Draft Sharks
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Carolina Panthers
I am well aware that Christian McCaffrey has played a total of 10 games the past two seasons, but I also can’t forget how dominant he was in 2019 and that he looked the part in both 2020 and the start of ’21 before he got hurt. Injury concerns aside, McCaffrey is neither old (he’s 26), even per NFL running back standards, nor will his role diminish on a Panthers team that lacks offensive playmakers (outside of WR DJ Moore) and is rife with uncertainty at the quarterback position. Yes, it’s going to take some gumption to be the fantasy manager to take CMac No. 1 overall again, but while Jonathan Taylor is a difference-maker as a runner and Cooper Kupp is the same as a receiver, McCaffrey is the one player in the league who has proven that he can do this in either role, as he ran for 1,300 yards and was a 1,000-yard receiver (with 116 catches!) in the SAME season (2019). Why not take a chance on the true fantasy unicorn? — Mark Ross, Athlon Sports
Davante Adams, WR, Las Vegas Raiders
Many people are going to go with Jonathan Taylor as the No. 1 overall pick, and I can certainly understand that. He has the potential to be great, especially after last year. However, with quarterback changes and SO many injuries to running backs, it seems a bit risky. So for the first overall pick in a redraft league, I’m going to take someone who has played at least 12 games in each of the eight years he’s been in the league. In the past four years, he has more than 1,300 yards in three of them. He has double-digit touchdowns in those three years as well.
Davante Adams is now in a new city with a new team, and there are question marks on how he will fare. But Adams is reconnecting with his college quarterback, Derek Carr. The Raiders are going to use Adams, and tight end Darren Waller will be there to take some defensive attention away from him. The team is working on a running game, and this will be beneficial for Adams as well. The positive thing about Adams is that he is such a talented player, he will be a top option no matter what team he is on. Carr will be getting him the ball often, which will lead to plenty of fantasy points. — Sarah Lewis, AthlonSports.com fantasy contributor