There is nothing more important to a fantasy manager than nailing the first pick in a fantasy draft. A top fantasy running back or wide receiver can tally 250 to 300 fantasy points. A bust will score a lot less than that and nothing upsets a fantasy manager more than wasting a high pick on a player that does not produce. Good fantasy managers can overcome those mistakes and find bargains in the later rounds, the waiver wire, or in trades. That is a lot more work than nailing that first pick and having a solid foundation to build the fantasy roster around.
Early Draft Picks to Avoid
No player is risk-free in fantasy football. Cooper Kupp was a fantastic player in 2021, tallying 367 fantasy points. He was off to a great 2022 season, posting 163.9 fantasy points in his first nine games. That was less than his stellar 2021 season, but he was still the fourth-ranked fantasy wide receiver after 10 games, which more than justified his Average Draft Position (ADP) of the sixth overall pick. Even though he was 29 years old and had played at least 15 games the last three years, Kupp suffered a high-ankle sprain and missed the last eight games of the 2023 season, devastating fantasy managers that had used a high pick on him in fantasy drafts.
The goal in the first round is to take the safest players possible that have the best chance to put up big fantasy points and stay healthy. That means going with players that are in the prime of their NFL careers in good situations with a history of staying healthy and a history of being consistent fantasy performers. An example of such a player is Justin Jefferson. He has been in the league for three years and he is a 24-year-old player entering his fourth season. He plays with a veteran quarterback, Kirk Cousins. Jefferson has tallied 230.2, 276.4, and 304.6 fantasy points, respectively, in his first three years. He has finished no lower than sixth in any of those three seasons.
The following players are not players like Justin Jefferson. These are five players that are going in the first four rounds of fantasy drafts that carry a ton of risk at their current ADP. They are players that fantasy managers should consider avoiding at their current ADP.
Robinson had a three-year career at Texas that saw him tally 539 rushing attempts, 3,410 rushing yards, 60 receptions, 805 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. He backed up those incredible numbers with solid NFL Combine numbers. He tallied a 4.46-second 40-yard dash, a 1.62 10-yard-split, a 37-inch vertical jump, and a 10-foot, four-inch broad jump. All of those athletic measurables were in the Top-5 for running backs.
The result is that his fantasy ranking has shot through the roof since the NFL Draft. He is currently the third-ranked fantasy running back and eighth overall player, which means that fantasy managers will need to use a high first-round pick on Robinson. That is not uncommon, there are only five running backs prior to Robinson that were taken in the top 10 of the NFL Draft since 2015 and all of them finished in the Top-12 among running backs in their rookie season. Other than Saquon Barkley in 2018 and Ezekiel Elliott in 2016, none of them scored the 300 fantasy points needed to justify a Top-5 selection. It is a lot to expect a rookie to be that dominant in his rookie year.
I have a few other concerns. The Falcons had one of the least productive passing offenses in the league and that included running back production in the passing game. The Falcons had only 53 receptions for 333 yards and one receiving touchdown to their running backs. The receptions were the fifth-fewest in the league, the 333 yards were the third-fewest, and the one touchdown was tied for the fourth-fewest. This was a team with wide receiver turned running back, Cordarrelle Patterson, playing 13 games and starting 11 games. Patterson had only 31 targets in the passing game last year, making me question what type of target share Robinson will have this year.
The good news is the Falcons were third in rushing yards last year, so they did show an ability to move the ball on the ground. A commitment to the running game should allow Robinson to have immediate success. I just fear that the hype has turned him into a Top-5 pick and I would avoid him that high. He is going to need to tally 300 fantasy points to justify a Top-5 selection and there are quite a few wide receivers that high in the draft that should see 100 receptions and have a much higher floor than Robinson on an Atlanta offense that did not throw the ball much to running backs last year and has some questions at quarterback entering this season.
Top-10 1st-Round Picks Rookie Fantasy Seasons Since 2015
|Player||Team||Rookie Year||Pick #||Rush Yds||Rush TDs||Rec||Rec Yds||Rec TDs||Fantasy Pts||Fantasy Rank (RB)|
Henry is hitting that age where you have to worry about production declines. Henry turned 29 years old in January and he has led the league in rushing attempts in three of the last four years. He has 1,750 career carries and 1,877 career touches. Running backs tend to decline around 30 years old and 2,000 career carries and Henry is going to check both of those boxes by the end of the season. He also is not the same player he was in 2019 and 2020 when he averaged 5.1 and 5.4 yards per carry. He has averaged 4.3 and 4.4 carries in the last two years, respectively.
When you add into the equation that the Titans may be moving on from Ryan Tannehill this year and that rookie Will Levis could start games, that adds some uncertainty to the offense. Their three best receivers are Treylon Burks, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, and Kyle Phillips. They also are rebuilding an offensive line that has declined in recent years.
That means he is going to see a lot of defenders stacked in the box. When you consider his age and a rebuilding offensive line charged with opening holes for him, it all adds up to him being ranked too high as the ninth-ranked running back and the 24th overall player. I would feel more comfortable taking him in the middle to the end of the third round, not the end of the second round.
Kenneth Walker did a lot of great things last year, he tallied 1,215 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns as the focal point of their rushing offense. He is only 23 years old and entering his second year. The prevailing thought entering this offseason was that Walker could build on those numbers and be one of the better fantasy running backs in the league.
Then the 2023 NFL Draft happened and the Seahawks took Zach Charbonnet with the 52nd pick. Pete Carroll did not mince words about what that pick meant for the Seahawks backfield. Walker and Charbonnet will be in a running back competition and there is reason to believe, at the very least, Charbonnet takes over the receiving role on third downs. Walker was not very productive in that regard last year and Charbonnet has a ton of upside in the passing game.
It is a recipe for a frustrating timeshare and Walker is ranked as the 14th-ranked running back and 34th-ranked player. Timeshares are tough to predict and when you are dealing with a second-year player battling a rookie taken in the second round, all bets are off when it comes to projecting this timeshare.
Kupp is still projected as the fifth-ranked fantasy player and third overall receiver coming off a season where he played only nine games due to an ankle injury and he is turning 30 years old this year. If the only question surrounding Kupp were injury, I think it would be reasonable to roll the dice on him at that point in the draft. He is just a year removed from tallying 367.0 fantasy points and he was very productive last year until his season ended with an ankle issue.
The problem is that there are a ton of questions about the Rams. The Rams have not had a first-round pick since the 2016 NFL Draft when they drafted Jared Goff. Their decision to trade away picks for established players served them well, they made the Super Bowl in the 2018 season and they won the Super Bowl in the 2021 season. That strategy seems to finally have caught up with them, as they are in a full rebuild with no draft picks to accelerate the rebuild.
Matthew Stafford missed eight games last year, dealing with elbow and concussion issues. The offensive line is in a rebuild. Their next two receivers after Kupp are Ben Skowronek and Van Jefferson. Their tight end is Tyler Higbee. Kupp is going to see a lot of the double teams and he is going to need Stafford to stay healthy for 17 games, all while Kupp turns 30 years this old and returns from his ankle injury. There is a lot of risk going with a player like that as the fifth overall selection. I would feel better about him in the second round, not the Top-5 in the first round.
Everyone knows what Jackson is capable of when the Ravens’ offense is clicking. In 2019, Jackson set the NFL world on fire with 421.7 fantasy points. That was one of the most productive fantasy seasons in NFL history, topping Peyton Manning’s 410.1 fantasy points in 2013. Jackson’s 1,206 yards rushing that year and seven rushing touchdowns helped propel him to more fantasy points than Manning, who threw for 5,477 yards and 55 touchdowns in 2013, which dwarfed Jackson’s 3,127 yards passing and 36 passing touchdowns in 2019.
The problem for Jackson is that it is not 2019 anymore. There have been three fantasy seasons since 2019 and Jackson’s production has gone down every year. He tallied only 341.7 fantasy points in 2020, which made him the 10th-ranked fantasy quarterback in the league that year. In 2021, he tallied only 253 fantasy points, thanks to five missed games due to injury. He tallied 243.1 fantasy points last year, thanks again to five missed games due to injury.
There is no denying Jackson’s upside, everyone would like to see the player that took the 2019 fantasy season by storm. The problem is that Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert are also going to be available at the 38th spot in fantasy drafts, as are Justin Fields and Trevor Lawrence. Quarterback is such a deep position, Geno Smith has an ADP of 102, Jared Goff has an ADP of 103, and Russell Wilson has an ADP of 109. When you consider Jackson’s injury history over the last three years, it would take a lot for me to use a third-round pick on him. I would either use a higher pick to select a player like Josh Allen, Patrick Mahomes, or Jalen Hurts or I would wait until later and take one of the many great options available after the third round. There is just too much uncertainty for me to use a third-round pick on Jackson, who has not been able to stay healthy in back-to-back years.