So, who is the right call here? Saquon Barkley, Christian McCaffrey and Alvin Kamara are the surest of surefire first-round picks among the 1,282 fantasy football mock drafts conducted at Fantasy Football Calculator between Aug. 31 and Sept. 1., with none of the three slipping into the second round of 12-team drafts. The same could be said for wide receivers DeAndre Hopkins and Davante Adams.
Ezekiel Elliott becomes a much safer selection after inking a massive six-year, $90 million contract extension that makes him the highest-paid running back in the NFL. There is still some concern over rookie Tony Pollard’s role in the Cowboys’ offense — he rushed 15 times for 84 yards and caught all three of his targets in the preseason — but Elliott should get a large-volume of work after Week 1 against the New York Giants.
Here are the top choices for the start of the first round, ranked from least risky to most risky. Our beginner’s guide will help you determine how to supplement your first-round pick in subsequent rounds. And don’t miss our comprehensive fantasy rankings, with seasonal and weekly point projections.
1. Saquon Barkley, New York Giants (372 projected points in PPR leagues in 2019)
Barkley did not disappoint in his rookie year. The 6-foot, 233-pound bruiser from Penn State led the league in yards from scrimmage (2,028), scoring 15 total touchdowns (11 rushing, four receiving), earning offensive rookie of the year honors and recording the most fantasy points at the position in 2018. He did all that despite playing behind an offensive line that ranked 29th for run blocking and 20th for pass blocking last season, per Football Outsiders.
The game charters at Pro Football Focus believe that offensive front should improve in 2019, but New York’s offense will still feature either an aging Eli Manning or rookie Daniel Jones under center, and won’t feature Odell Beckham Jr. — the disgruntled wideout was traded to the Cleveland Browns this offseason.
To some, that move was a red flag, but it paves the way for Barkley to again get a lion’s share of the offensive opportunities. In 2018, only Elliott received a higher share of his team’s total opportunities (rushes plus targets) than Barkley.
2. Christian McCaffrey, Carolina Panthers (359 projected points in PPR leagues in 2019)
McCaffrey is an every-down back who was on the field for 966 snaps last season, per Football Outsiders, the most among running backs. And that despite playing just 10 snaps in a meaningless Week 17 contest against the New Orleans Saints. The net result: 1,098 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground, along with 107 receptions for 867 yards and six touchdowns, setting an NFL record for most receptions by a running back in a season.
It also sounds like the Panthers want to optimize his talents even more this season.
“The goal is to cut down on his plays, but we’re not going to take away his touches,” Coach Ron Rivera said, via the Charlotte Observer. “We want the ball in Christian’s hands. When he’s on the field, there’s no reason for him to be a decoy or be a swing guy.
“That’s what [offensive coordinator] Norv [Turner] wants to do. He basically said that the other day when he talked to you guys: We don’t want to take away the touches. What we want to do is take away the excess plays that he doesn’t have to be out there.”
Only Elliott (381) and Barkley (352) had more touches than McCaffrey (326) in 2018.
3. Alvin Kamara, New Orleans Saints (348 projected points in PPR leagues in 2019)
Mark Ingram was suspended for the first four games of 2018 for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancing drugs, opening the door for Kamara to be the lead back. The second-year pro did not disappoint. Kamara produced 611 yards from scrimmage with six total touchdowns in that span, resulting in 33 points per game in PPR leagues. The next 13 weeks, with Ingram active on the roster, were still productive but showed an obvious drop-off: 981 yards from scrimmage with 12 total touchdowns for 19.6 PPR points per game.
Ingram, however, signed a three-year, $15 million deal with the Baltimore Ravens in the offseason, giving Kamara more room to flourish. Sure, he will have Latavius Murray on the roster as a backup, but the 29-year-old veteran shouldn’t be much of a threat to Kamara’s workload.
4. Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas Cowboys (294 projected points in PPR leagues in 2019)
Elliott led the league in touches (381) in 2018 and was second in 2016 (354). In 2017, he was suspended six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy, but still averaged 26.8 touches in the 10 games he played, good enough for second overall. He’s also becoming a bigger part of the team’s passing game. Elliott saw just 8.4 percent of his team’s targets in 2016, but that has quickly increased to 18.4 percent in 2018, the fourth most among running backs last season behind McCaffrey, Barkley and Kamara. Only Amari Cooper saw more love from quarterback Dak Prescott among Cowboys pass catchers.
Team owner Jerry Jones has been hyping fourth-round draft pick Tony Pollard and the Cowboys also signed seven-year veteran Alfred Morris to a one-year deal earlier this month but Elliott should be the No. 1 option most of the time.
5. David Johnson, Arizona Cardinals (309 projected points in PPR leagues in 2019)
Johnson set a career-low in yards per touch (4.5) in 2018, but the arrival of new head coach Kliff Kingsbury could have Johnson back in Pro Bowl form. Kingsbury’s heavy passing attack will force opposing defenses to spread the field, creating space for Johnson both when he rushes the ball and when he catches passes out of the backfield. The latter should be a renewed focus for Johnson and the Cardinals, as he was targeted just 76 times last year despite catching two-thirds of his targets while forcing 27 missed tackles after the catch in 2016, per Pro Football Focus.
Plus, Arizona has one of the easiest schedules in 2019 in terms of defenses faced, per Sharp Football Stats, with only one fearsome defense to contend with during the first 11 weeks of the season.
6. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans (320 projected points in PPR leagues in 2019)
Drafting a receiver high in the first round is a bold strategy, but if anyone deserves such a lofty position it’s Hopkins. The three-time Pro Bowl wideout caught 115 of 163 targets for 1,572 yards and 11 touchdowns last season while drawing a league-high 33 percent of his team’s passing targets. The drop-off in production from Hopkins to the No. 2 receiver (15 points) is the same as the drop-off from the No. 2 to No. 6 player at the position, making it easy to see why Hopkins would be coveted in this spot.
7. Davante Adams (305 projected points in PPR leagues in 2019)
Adams should be the most-targeted receiver, by far, for one of the most talented quarterbacks in the NFL. Aaron Rodgers threw to Adams 169 times in 2018, 80 more than tight end Jimmy Graham, who had the second most pass-catching opportunities on the team. Adams rewarded his teammate by gaining 2.1 yards per route run last year, the 12th most at the position, per Pro Football Focus.
However, Green Bay has a brutal start to the season in terms of pass defenses faced, having to navigate the Chicago Bears, Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos during the first three weeks of the season, followed by two competent defenses in the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. In Weeks 15 and 16, weeks typically reserved for the fantasy football playoffs and championship game, the Packers will again face the Bears and Vikings.
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