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Fantasy Football 2016: Who's Number 1?

Antonio Brown

Antonio Brown

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As has been the case in recent seasons, the race for the top overall spot on fantasy football big boards is wide open. Last year, Le’Veon Bell’s two-game suspension resulted in owners of the No. 1 pick to at least think twice before taking the All-Pro running back.

This season Bell is back in the conversation but may not be the safest choice considering he’s returning from a serious knee injury. In fact, when the question “Who would you take with the No. 1 pick in a fantasy draft” was posed to several Athlon Sports editors and fantasy football contributors, only one said it would be Bell. Three other backs besides Bell got a vote but it was another Steeler at a different position who led the way. Read who each picked and why and see if you agree or disagree.

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Antonio Brown for No. 1

While I’m certainly not a huge believer in the Zero RB Theory, Brown stands above all other players because of his consistency, age, offense, quarterback and the fact that no running back enters the 2016 season without a couple of questions surrounding him. Brown had nearly 200 targets last year and hasn’t missed a game since 2012. Whether Le’Veon Bell plays or doesn’t play, Brown gets his targets, yards and touchdowns. Not since the early ’90s, when Jerry Rice was at his peak, has a wide receiver been a serious No. 1 pick candidate. — David Gonos,

Antonio Brown for No. 1

I resisted last year, to my own detriment. Now it’s too clear to deny: Brown’s the guy. Heading into just his age-28 season, the Steelers’ leading man has paced the league in receptions for two straight years. He has caught at least five passes in 48 of 50 games since the start of 2013, including the playoffs. Brown has racked up 678 more receiving yards over the past three years than anyone else in the league. He delivered in 2015 despite losing Ben Roethlisberger for four games. Now Martavis Bryant’s suspension leaves targets on the field, and Le’Veon Bell’s questionable for Week 1. All the more reason for Pittsburgh — and you — to target Brown. — Matt Schauf,

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Antonio Brown for No. 1

I know it’s a boring pick, but if you’re drafting No. 1 overall, do you really trust anyone else with the pick? All Brown does is produce, and most importantly, he’s consistent. Just look at his stats over the past three seasons — he just keeps getting better and better, and he’s still only 27. Last year he averaged 15.4 fantasy points per game (standard scoring), and with the Steelers’ high-octane offense, there is a very good chance that Brown breaks the all-time NFL single-season receptions mark of 143 and goes over 2,000 receiving yards. Picking Brown No. 1 overall should be the easiest decision anyone has to make in any fantasy draft this year. — Michael Horvath,, fantasy football contributor

Antonio Brown for No. 1

Antonio Brown was my No. 1 pick last year and he remains so this year. With a healthier Le'Veon Bell back and Martavis Bryant facing a year-long suspension this once again opens the door for the most unstoppable wide receiver in the game. Receptions, yardage and touchdowns? Check. Check. Check. —​ Chris Meyers, fantasy football contributor

Adrian Peterson for No. 1

Last year, Peterson was arguably the No. 1 pick in fantasy drafts. In standard scoring, he finished second out of all running backs in terms of fantasy points (short by four to Devonta Freeman). With position scarcity at running back, it is important with the first pick to grab someone who is as close to a sure thing as possible. He doesn’t have the injury history of some of the other top backs (Le’Veon Bell, Jamaal Charles), and he is on a team in which he is the bell-cow back, something that is rare now. While the argument can be made to take a wide receiver with the first pick, the wide receiver position extends deeper than running back. — Sarah Lewis, fantasy football contributor

David Johnson for No. 1

This has to be the most wide-open draft board in the history of fantasy football. In a PPR league, I’d lean Antonio Brown or Julio Jones as my top pick. In a two-QB league, I’d lean Cam Newton or Aaron Rodgers with my first overall selection. But in traditional formats — and because dependable value at the position continues to be more difficult to pinpoint — I’d still go with a running back. I’m taking David Johnson over Le’Veon Bell and Todd Gurley — both of whom have injury or suspension histories. Only four players in all the NFL scored more TDs than Johnson’s 13 last year, and he did that in only five starts. He caught 36 passes and posted 1,038 yards from scrimmage. His all-around game as the feature back in a loaded offense gives Johnson my nod for the top pick. — Braden Gall, Athlon Sports

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Le’Veon Bell for No. 1

I suppose it’s understandable for a serious knee injury (torn MCL) to give you pause here. But seeing as Bell was tweeting videos of himself dunking basketballs in April, I am going to go ahead and assume he will be ready to roll come September. And that makes this an easy choice. Maybe a repeat of his 2014 numbers (2,215 yards from scrimmage, 11 TDs) is unlikely. But last season in about five and a half games he still averaged 115 yards from scrimmage and scored three times — without injured Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey and without Ben Roethlisberger for four of those games. Bell is healthy again. Roethlisberger and Pouncey are healthy again. Bell’s numbers will be healthy again as well. — John Gworek, Athlon Sports

Editor’s note: This exercise was done before it was announced that Le’Veon Bell is facing a possible four-game suspension for violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

Todd Gurley for No. 1

Coming back from a torn ACL, Gurley didn’t play until Week 3, and he still finished third in the league in rushing. In fact, if you throw out the three games where he had fewer than 10 carries, you get 1,037 yards at a better than five yards per carry over 10 games. Extrapolate those numbers over a full season and it equals more than 1,600 yards rushing with about 21 carries per game. Given the fact the Rams took quarterback Jared Goff with the No. 1 overall pick, it’s safe to assume that whoever is under center will be handing the ball off to Gurley a lot. Defenses may know what’s coming, but that was the case last year, and Gurley was still productive. Imagine what he will do with even more touches this season. — Mark Ross, Athlon Sports