Titans running back DeMarco Murray should not be a first-round fantasy pick. (Mark Humphrey/AP)

Some sayings we hear over and over, and accept them as true, regardless of whether they actually are. “We swallow eight spiders a year in our sleep.” It’s hogwash.

But then there are sayings we hear over and over and accept them as true, because they are true. “You can’t win your fantasy league in the early rounds, but you can lose it.”

Go back a year. David Johnson in the first round made for a strong start, sure. But one player does not a championship team make. Meanwhile, ask the people who spent a first-rounder on Todd Gurley, or DeAndre Hopkins, or heaven forbid, Adrian Peterson how their seasons went. You can overcome it, but not without all sorts of good fortune.

The late rounds are when you swing for the fences, look for high upside. The early rounds? Those are where you just want to avoid screwing up. That in mind, here are 10 players — two for each of the first five rounds — of which to steer clear, lest they derail your season all on their own. (All ADP data is courtesy Fantasy Football Calculator, and assumes a 12-team league.)

First round

Devonta Freeman, RB, Atlanta Falcons

Historically, teams that jump by more than 20 percent in total fantasy points accumulated from one season to another fall off by more than 10 percent in the third year. The Falcons last year jumped by 29.9 percent, meaning regression to the mean is likely this season.

And then, of course, there’s the Tevin Coleman, who:

  • Beat out Freeman for the starting job in 2015 before an injury messed things up.
  • Had a higher breakaway percentage (percent of rushing yards on runs of 15-plus yards) than Freeman last year (40.5 to 37.5).
  • Tallied a higher receiving yards per route run than Freeman last year (2.58 to 1.59).
  • Managed a better pass-blocking efficiency (a PFF stat that measures pressure allowed on a per-snap basis with weighting toward sacks allowed) than Freeman last year (93.9 to 88.4).

Freeman will still be the Falcons’ starter, but Coleman is nipping at his heels.


DeMarco Murray, RB, Tennessee Titans

By PFF’s efficiency stats, Murray and his backup, Derrick Henry, were nearly equivalent players last year. They were similar in yards per carry and yards after contact per rush, and forced missed tackles on rushes at roughly the same rate. Henry was more efficient on receptions, though that’s a small sample size.

Well, Henry just turned 23, while Murray is 29 and has more than 1,700 career touches in six seasons. There’s no reason to think Murray is going to stop being productive all at once, but there’s a chance, and even if he doesn’t fall apart, Henry isn’t going to be silent in 2017.

Second round

Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette runs behind a mediocre offensive line. (Steven Senne/AP)

Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars

Fournette was drafted fourth overall, evoking memories of Ezekiel Elliott, who did the same a year before and became one of the league’s top running backs. Well, pump the brakes on Fournette. His situation isn’t really that comparable to Elliott’s. The Cowboys have a top offensive line; the Jaguars are middle of the pack at best. Elliott joined a team that had a competitive passing game; Fournette’s coach wants his quarterback to throw “zero” times. Elliott had little competition for touches; T.J. Yeldon and Chris Ivory are still around in Jacksonville and at least one will have a role. Add that Fournette is already dealing with a foot injury, and taking him in the first two rounds is asking for it.

Marshawn Lynch, RB, Oakland Raiders

On the other side of the spectrum from Fournette is Lynch, who is returning after a year of retirement to significant fantasy buzz. But Lynch is 31, and if missing a season to stay fresh is a pro, then the simple fact that he’s 31 is a con. On top of that, in Jalen Richard and DeAndre Washington, Lynch has a better supporting cast than he ever had in Seattle. Lynch isn’t much of a pass-catcher and isn’t going to get the kind of carry total he did in Seattle. The improved offensive line is nice, but drafting Lynch as your RB1 or high-end RB2 is just too high.

Third round

T.Y. Hilton, WR, Indianapolis Colts

Hilton’s inclusion here is because of the mystery surrounding quarterback Andrew Luck. Luck has yet to be activated from the preseason PUP list, and every day that passes increases the odds that he starts the season on the list, or at least misses one or more games. Every game Hilton plays with Scott Tolzien knocks his value. Luck still could play all 16 games, but the risk involved makes it hard to rely on Hilton.

Terrelle Pryor, WR, Washington

Pryor was on everybody’s favorites list after signing with Washington, likely taking over the featured role in an offense that was losing DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. And when he first signed in March, carrying a seventh-round ADP, it was easy to be on board. But he’s crept steadily upward in drafts since then, and at this point there’s no room for error in his value. Taking Pryor there means he has to be a help — Jordan Reed and, Jamison Crowder and Josh Doctson can’t take control — and that’s asking too much.

Fourth round

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill. (Charlie Riedel/AP)

Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

Hill finished 2016 as the No. 15 fantasy receiver, though about a third of that production came through rushing stats — 267 rushing yards and three touchdowns, compared with 599 and six on receptions. Gadget player or not, that sort of production isn’t often replicable. Tavon Austin is the only receiver in the last decade with multiple seasons of multiple rushing touchdowns. With Kareem Hunt added to Spencer Ware in the Kansas City backfield, Hill isn’t going to get the ground work he did last year. He’s going to get more targets with Jeremy Maclin’s departure, but at current ADP, he’s being drafted where his results were last year, and that leaves no room for error.

Martavis Bryant, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers

Even if we assume Bryant does get completely cleared to return to action, the hype is out of control. There are only so many targets to go around, and we know for sure that Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell will get their shares before Bryant. If I can get Bryant in the seventh or eighth round, I’m all for it for the possible upside. But in the fourth, we have to assume he takes on the exact role he had in 2015 and is just as efficient. In 2015, though, Bell was hurt for much of the year, and JuJu Smith-Schuster and Eli Rogers weren’t involved in the offense. Bryant’s hype is too much.

Fifth round

Adrian Peterson, RB, New Orleans Saints

What exactly are you hoping for if you take Peterson as a low-end RB2 or high-end flex? Mark Ingram is still No. 1 in that backfield, and even if he isn’t, Peterson isn’t the pass-catching option the Saints tend to lean on. Best-case scenario for Peterson is an injury to Ingram and a lot of carries, and even that makes him a dicey RB2. And that all assumes that Peterson — at 32 and coming off an injury-plagued season in which he averaged 1.9 yards on 37 carries — still has “it.” That’s the résumé of retirement, not a starting role.

Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons

Circle back to the Devonta Freeman section for an explanation of the drawback with the Falcons. Ryan is likely to finish with fantasy starter-type stats — he’s been a QB1 five of the last seven years — but the fifth is too early for a back-end QB1, which is Ryan’s likely status. The only quarterbacks who should go that early are guarantees, and Ryan, coming off the career-est of career years, is not a guarantee.

Daniel Kelley is the fantasy editor for Pro Football Focus.

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