When it comes to who should be the first player taken in a fantasy football draft this year, at least this much seems clear – it should be a running back. But which one? That’s where the debate begins.
In David Johnson, Ezekiel Elliott and Le’Veon Bell you have the top three players with the most yards from scrimmage in 2016. You also have the NFL’s leading touchdown scorer (Johnson), rusher (Elliott) and a guy who was among the league leaders in rushing and touches despite playing just 12 games (Bell).
So when there appears to be no clear-cut choice for No. 1, who would you take if you had the first pick? Athlon Sports editors and fantasy football contributors were posed that very question. As you can see from the choices below, even though Johnson edged out Bell among the eight polled, you really can’t go wrong with any of the three backs.
“Last year in this space, I couldn’t bring myself to endorse David Johnson for the No. 1 overall pick based on his part-time status as a rookie in 2015. With most draft formats relegating you to the end of Round 2, No. 1 overall is no place to gamble. But those who did won big with Johnson, and he looks like a much safer bet this time around. While I still worry that his 20-touchdown 2016 will be difficult to repeat, he proved to be durable enough to play all 16 games, and he doubled his receptions per game. The result was a league-best 2,118 yards from scrimmage, a number he should approach again. Maybe Ezekiel Elliott improves on a stunning rookie season and passes Johnson. Maybe Le’Veon Bell plays all 16 games. But I’m not betting on a maybe at No. 1.” — John Gworek, Athlon Sports
“David Johnson gets 20-plus carries per game regularly, and he hauled in seven or more catches five times in his last 10 games last year. This Cardinals’ offense is dynamic on the ground and in the air, and that makes Johnson a threat on every snap. While I’d be satisfied with Ezekiel Elliott at No. 2 and Le’Veon Bell at No. 3, I’m more than happy taking the best player in fantasy football at No. 1, knowing his NFL team wants him to score as much as his fantasy owners do.” — David Gonos, FNTSY.com/ SoCalledFantasyExperts.com
“In a league where it’s hard to find a three-down back, especially one who also can line up as a receiver, David Johnson is the No. 1 overall pick for fantasy drafts in 2017. He’s only 25, and it is likely that Johnson will see 30 touches a game this season. In fact, the Cardinals are looking to find ways to get him the ball even more, while Le’Veon Bell may see a reduced workload because of injuries he’s suffered in the past. The sample size on Johnson is small (the end of 2015 and the ‘16 season), but he has shown he’s one of the most talented running backs in the league — which means plenty of fantasy points for his owners. Don’t forget that he had the second-most rushing touchdowns (16) and the most total scores (20) in the NFL.” — Sarah Lewis, AthlonSports.com contributor
“You can’t go wrong with Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott or David Johnson as the No. 1 pick, but my choice would be Johnson. As great as Elliott was last season, I think the Cowboys’ offense leans too heavy to the run, which limits his opportunities as a receiver. Bell is a stud, but he’s missed time each of the past two seasons (for different reasons), and his supporting cast is stronger than Johnson’s. The Cardinals’ offense revolves around Johnson, and that’s not likely to change with 37-year-old Carson Palmer at quarterback. All three running backs are going to get plenty of touches; I just like Johnson’s chances of doing more damage when he has the ball.” — Mark Ross, Athlon Sports
“Unless you think David Johnson and/or Le’Veon Bell will bust marvelously, there’s just no way to displace them at the top of your draft. Both backs outscored the top wide receiver, Antonio Brown, by roughly 5-7 points per game across fantasy scoring formats last season. Johnson’s 20 total TDs leave room for regression, but he’s also capable of improving on 4.2 yards per carry and a 66.7 percent catch rate. Bell ranked in the top three in scoring across formats despite missing four games. He tallied three more carries per game last year than his previous high, but his numbers weren’t otherwise out of line with previous campaigns. The risk with him is the injury history, but he’s a better bet for per-game points. I’ll take him just ahead of Johnson.” — Matt Schauf, DraftSharks.com
“At first it was a toss-up between David Johnson and Le’Veon Bell, but when you consider that Johnson still has Carson Palmer as his quarterback, the decision to tab Bell as the No. 1 overall pick in this year’s fantasy drafts is rather simple. The knock on Bell has always been that he’s slightly injury-prone, but his production is well worth the risk. Not only could he rush for more than 1,500 yards, but he’s also basically the Steelers’ No. 2 receiver, meaning he has the opportunity to add 75-plus catches. The potential is there for a 1,000-yard rushing and a 1,000-yard receiving season. Throw in 10-plus touchdowns and you have a fantasy stud.” — Michael Horvath, AthlonSports.com contributor
“Le’Veon Bell is my No. 1 this season. With a very real 1A and 1B situation between David Johnson and Bell, l lean to Bell because of his opportunity to capitalize on a full season. With a more potent receiving corps that should only improve his output and usefulness in the offense, Bell will remain a player who gets it done in all aspects of fantasy. Another 1,500 rushing yards and 500-plus receiving yards are not out of the question. In fact, Bell’s chances may be better than Johnson’s in this respect due to a stronger supporting cast.” — Chris Meyers, AthlonSports.com contributor
“I think you can make legitimate arguments for any of the three best running backs in the NFL — David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell or Ezekiel Elliott. All three figure to be heavily involved in their respective team’s offense, but Elliott is part of an attack that is built around the run rather than the pass. The strength of Dallas’ offensive line also serves as a bit of a tiebreaker. Johnson and Bell both ended last year hurt, and the latter has been suspended previously for some off-the-field missteps. The Cowboys also are more likely to give Elliott the ball to protect late leads and run down the clock compared to the Cardinals or Steelers. It’s splitting hairs, but I feel safest about Elliott returning the value of No. 1 overall.” — Rivers McCown, Football Outsiders