2018: King of the Mountain

Isn’t it crazy how fast your mood and demeanor changes when you get that email or notification that you can reactivate your fantasy league? It makes the biggest smile come across your face just thinking about the next season right on the brink. In just a few short weeks you are going to be drafting your next team, your next group of guys who can bring you that championship! So naturally once you find out it’s around the corner the first thought is always, “Where am I picking this year?” It’s a simple question but it invokes many other inquires such as “Who can I get with my first pick?” “Where do I want to pick?” “Who’s picking near me?” “Is it deeper at running back or wide receiver this year?” “Who could make it back to me on the first turn?” “Whoever wins our league always have a top tight end, do I take one earlier than normal this year?” And the questions and restless nights begin and don’t end until the day you find out your draft order; which should always be at least a few weeks before the draft day but that’s a discussion for another time.

Now, let’s say it’s the day draft order is determined and you find out where you are selecting and oh happy day it’s the top slot! You can have any player you want! But after a few minutes of elation the smile quickly becomes a form of panic. It becomes less joy and more stress … the way it all kicks off this year is on your shoulders. That’s when the next barrage of questions enters your mind; “Who is going to be the best player this year?” “It has to be a running back, right? No, wait, maybe it’s a wide receiver?” “If I take player A over player B and player B finishes higher that could screw me over, right?” “What if the guy I take gets injured?” And then once again we are back in that vicious question and no sleep cycle until draft day comes and you can make your final call and hope and pray to the fantasy gods you made the best possible choice.

Some seasons there is a clear cut number one option; 2007 it was LaDainian Tomlinson, 2010 saw CJ2K, 2013 Adrian Peterson was the guy, and 2015 Antonio Brown made your top pick easy but more-often-than-not it’s a debate. Maybe it’s between two guys, maybe it’s between a handful but there is always a choice to be made and no matter how confident you are making the pick there always is a slight shadow of doubt in the back of your mind if you made the best possible decision. 2018 has a few different options as to who could be your first choice, the man to build a championship team around, the king of the mountain! Let’s break down those names and draw the best conclusion as to who you should take off the board first this fantasy season. (Names are listed alphabetically)

  • “The Wiley Vet” – Le’Veon Bell PIT RB: Why not kick off this list with the most controversial name on it, that being Le’Veon Bell. If Bell was less of a problem off the field, not always arguing about his contract or staying away from trying to be a wrapper or not getting arrested for smoking weed, it be real hard to find someone better than him as the top over all pick. He’s got five NFL seasons under his belt and he’s been a beast each and every one of them:

YEAR GAMES RUSH YARDS RUSH TDs RECs REC YARDS REC TDs FF POINTS RB FINSH FULL SEASON POINTS
2013 13 860 8 66 408 0 217 RB14 267 (RB5)
2014 16 1,361 8 105 854 3 370 RB1 NA
2015 6 556 3 26 136 0 111 RB46 296 (RB2)
2016 12 1,268 7 94 616 2 315 RB3 420 (RB1)
2017 15 1,291 9 106 655 2 341 RB2 363 (RB2)

Looking at the chart of Bell’s career numbers and fantasy finishes, had he played full seasons each year and not missed due to injury or suspension he never would have finished worse than RB5 in the last five seasons! He would have been the only back in that period to finish with 300+ points in three or more seasons and only Matt Forte (2013 & 2014) did it multiple times in that time. Bell is arguably the biggest piece of the Steelers offensive success. Does having a Super Bowl champion and perennial Pro Bowl quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger hurt? Hell no! Does having Antonio Brown on the outside whom teams have to constantly double and triple team hurt? Hell no! If Bell is on virtually any other offense he’s still one of the best but not putting up the same numbers he does in Pittsburgh. So what about 2018? Bell has already voiced his displeasure on his contract dispute after the team and his side couldn’t find common ground and there are sources that said Bell could hold out half the season, which is a moronic move if you’re looking to become the highest paid back as a free agent next season. It will save his body but if you’re missing time at your job and are looking for a new one, why would your next employer give you more money after throwing a temper tantrum? If Bell got paid and we knew he was playing the full season he’d be the guy to take given his ability and body of work since 2013, but he’s been suspended, he’s been injured, and he’s been moronic at times in his career so do his positives outweigh the negatives? Is he worthy of your first pick? (If you listen to the champs and hold off your draft until the last possible moment you will have more clarity on the issue but if you have to draft earlier it’s high-risk, high-reward taking Le’Veon off the board first) …

  • “The Man with the Hands” – Antonio Brown PIT WR: The only wide out to make the list of consideration, Brown has been the best receiver in the game for the last half a decade, both fantasy wise and reality. The man has never been slowed down, double teams and triple teams can’t stop Brown from delivering big weeks virtually every single week of the season. Since 2013 Brown has finished with 308 points (WR3) in that season, 374 points (WR1) in 2014, 378 points (WR1) in 2015, 307 points (WR1) in 2016, and 308 points (WR2) last year. In the last five seasons just 36 players have hit for 300+ points in a season; of those 36 only 11 have done it multiple times in that stretch: Aaron Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Peyton Manning, Matt Forte DeAndre Hopkins, Brandon Marshall, Jordy Nelson, and Demaryius Thomas have hit that number twice; Russell Wilson and Le’Veon Bell reached it three times; Drew Brees saw 300+ in four of those seasons and only Brown has done it all five years! Brown is a machine when it comes to his targets and receptions:

2013: 110 receptions on 167 targets; catch rate of 66%

2014: 129 receptions on 181 targets; catch rate of 71%

2015: 136 receptions on 193 targets; catch rate of 70%

2016: 106 receptions on 154 targets; catch rate of 69%

2017: 101 receptions on 163 targets; catch rate of 62%

When you take those five seasons worth of targets and receptions you get Brown having 858 targets (71 more than 2nd place Demaryius Thomas), 582 receptions (101 more than Thomas and the only player with 500+ catches in that span), 7,848 yards (951 more than Julio Jones), 52 touchdowns (11 more than Thomas), and Brown’s 67.8% catch rate was only passed by Golden Tate (69.6%) among players with 600+ targets and 400+ receptions in that period. Let’s take Brown’s greatness to the next level with the fact that he is one of five players in NFL history with 3 or more consecutive seasons with 150+ targets and 100+ receptions in each; Jerry Rice, Herman Moore, and Brandon Marshall all did it three times, Marvin Harrison did it four, and the great Antonio Brown has done it in five straight, and counting. With the first pick in the draft everyone is likely to go running back but Brown’s numbers speak for themselves …

  • “The Reigning Champ” – Todd Gurley LAR RB: Whether you owned Gurley last season or had the unfortunate displeasure of going up against him; especially in the playoffs, everyone knows how dominate the reigning NFL and fantasy MVP was in 2017. Let’s kick off the Gurley love party with noting his numbers across the board were all career-high’s; from his 1,305 rushing yards and 13 scores on the ground to his 64 catches for 788 yards and another 6 touchdowns via the passing game. How about his 2,000 yards from scrimmage in 2017? Last year Gurley racked up those 1,305 rushing yards over 15 games; 2nd most in the league just 22 behind Kareem Hunt (who played all 16 versus Gurley’s 15). Gurley posted 788 receiving yards; 2nd to Alvin Kamara’s 826 through the air at the position and Todd’s 788 would have ranked him 5th among tight ends and 31st among wide outs in the yardage department. That 2,000 yards; well 2,093 to be exact, made Gurley just the 39th player in NFL history with better than 2K from scrimmage in a single-season. That feat has only be reached 10 times in the last 10 years:
PLAYER YEAR SCRIMMAGE YARDS FANTASY POINTS FOLLOWING YR POINTS
CHRIS JOHNSON 2009 2,509 390       272 (RB7)
ADRIAN PETERSON 2012 2,314 345     232 (RB11)
DEMARCO MURRAY 2014 2,261 351     184 (RB15)
ARIAN FOSTER 2010 2,220 391       303 (RB4)
LE’VEON BELL 2014 2,215 370   111* (RB46)
LESEAN MCCOY 2013 2,146 330     201 (RB12)
DAVID JOHNSON 2016 2,118 405                   0*
TODD GURLEY 2017 2,093 383                 ???
RAY RICE 2011 2,068 368       283 (RB4)
RAY RICE 2009 2,041 324       276 (RB5)

Notice he scored 383 points last year; 4th best on that list of 10 players from the last 10 years. Also, if we taken into account the following season these 9 other guys had the year after 2,000 yards they averaged 251 points (taking Bell and Johnson out of the equation due to injury and missing most of, if not all of the season). Of those 7 healthy backs’ following years, 6 were still RB1’s to finish the season, 5 finished top 10 at the position, and 3 ended in the top 5 with no one ranking higher than RB4. Now, Gurley will look to hit that mark in back-to-back seasons for the first time since Larry Johnson and Tiki Barber both did it in 2005 and 2006; just 10 players have ever hit it in consecutive year. And reaching that peak again could be a little easier for Gurley as he hit the mark with just 343 touches in 2017; the 7th fewest touches it’s taken a player to pass the 2,000-yard threshold. The numbers says Gurley should have another solid season (barring injury) and finish as RB1 once again, and with the addition on offense of Brandin Cooks coupled with Jared Goff and co. feeling more confident with Sean McVay’s system, there is no reason to think Gurley won’t be near the top of backs at the close of business 2018 but will he be on top again …

  • “The Comeback Kid” – David Johnson ARZ RB: Johnson’s name coming up on this list is going to get some people’s panties in a twist but so be it, the dude has shown he is a monster! Last year he missed basically the entire season with a wrist injury, and that’s much better news than an ACL or Achilles tear and a lot easier to come back from and be at full speed from the jump. Let’s look at Johnson’s work before the injury; he come on strong at the end of the 2015 season and was easily the fantasy MVP of the playoffs where he averaged over 27PPG in weeks 14, 15, and 16. And if we break down the last 21 games he played (from week 13 of 2015 and the entire 2016 season), DJ was held to single-digit points just twice; both times coming in week 17 of each season. That means he scored you 10+ points 19 out of those 21 games or 91% of games he played. He scored 15 or more points in 17 of the 21 (81%) and he went for 25+ on 11 occasions (52%). Sounds amazing, right? Let’s kick it up a notch then; from the start of 2015 to the end of 2017 which is 48 total games, only Le’Veon Bell had more 25+ point games than Johnson. Bell had 12 while Johnson had 11 and Bell played (as an every week fantasy option) in 10 more game than DJ over that span! So basically Johnson has been killing it every week since the end of 2015. While he missed all of 2017, we can never forget his unreal 2016 season where he scored over 400 fantasy points, a feat not accomplished by many players:
PLAYER YEAR POINTS POINTS FOLLOWING YR
LaDainian Tomlinson 2006 481 362
Marshall Faulk 2000 459 422
Priest Holmes 2003 446     212 (8gms)
LaDainian Tomlinson 2003 441 334
Priest Holmes 2002 441 446
Marshall Faulk 2001 422 283
Emmitt Smith 1995 419 281
Steven Jackson 2006 415   197 (12gms)
Peyton Manning  2013 412 308
Jerry Rice 1995 411 294
David Johnson 2016 407                 ???
Marshall Faulk 1999 401                                   459

Johnson’s monster 2016 performance was just the 11th 400+ point season in fantasy football history and he was just the 8th player to surpass that mark. He’s looking to join LaDainian Tomlinson, Marshall Faulk, and Priest Holmes as the only players to ever pass the 400-point mark multiple times in their careers. Let’s throw away DJ’s 2017 and use 2018 as his next season after 400; the other 10 times the players on the list averaged 360 points the following year, and that includes two guys missing part of that following season. Three times players going back-to-back 400+ years, and take away the injured seasons of Priest Holmes and Steven Jackson and all hit better than 280 points the following year; and Holmes (424) and Jackson (262) both would have had big years again if not hurt. So while 2018 isn’t Johnson’s direct follow up season, he’s coming back healthy and having saved his body there is a good chance he becomes just the 3rd player ever in the fantasy world to hit 400+ points in “back-to-back” seasons, wouldn’t you agree …

  • “The Wild Card” – Alvin Kamara NO RB: As a rookie last season Kamara came into the league and finished as one of the best offensive rookies we’ve ever seen in the fantasy world; and not just at running back, at any position! Kamara was held to under 7 points just once in 16 games and he hit double-digit points in 13 of the final 14 of the year; going for 12+ in all 13 of them and hitting 20+ points eight times! The only three guys who hit that 20 point threshold more last year were Todd Gurley (10), Russell Wilson (10) and Le’Veon Bell (9) while Antonio Brown his it eight times as well; that already puts Kamara in some elite company but let’s dig further. Kamara is just one of two rookies to ever have 100+ targets, 80+ receptions, 1,325+ scrimmage yards, and 12+ touchdowns in his first NFL season, the other was Odell Beckham Jr. in 2014. However, while OBJ out-targeted (130 to 100) and out-caught (91 to 81) Kamara, Alvin was able to go for more scrimmage yards (1,554 to 1,340) and more scores (14 to 12). Impressive, no? Ok how about this list of rookies he joined in the fantasy world:
PLAYER YEAR POSITION TEAM FANTASY POINTS
Eric Dickerson 1983 RB RAM 379
Edgerrin James 1999 RB IND 369
Cam Newton 2011 QB CAR 369
Billy Simms 1980 RB DET 327
Ezekiel Elliott 2016 RB DAL 325
Robert Griffin 2012 QB WAS 317
Clinton Portis 2002 RB DEN 317
Alvin Kamara 2017 RB NO 314
Herschel Walker 1986 RB DAL 312
Doug Martin 2012 RB TB 311
Fred Taylor 1998 RB JAX 307
Matt Forte 2008 RB CHI 305
Randy Moss 1998 WR MIN                         304

Almost every player on that list went on to have many more big years and even those that didn’t; Billy Simms and Robert Griffin, had solid sophomore campaigns. Not only does Kamara have the historic rookie run, but he plays with one of the best quarterbacks of all-time on one of the most prolific offenses we’ve seen over the last half a century. Also, remember his backfield partner Mark Ingram? We all know last year they both had phenomenal years as Ingram averaged just shy of 18PPG and finished as RB6 at the end of the season. Ingram and Kamara had 10 games last year where they each scored double-digit points and there were 5 instances where Kamara outscored Ingram. Oh yeah, and Ingram is missing the first four games this year. Kamara has unreal value heading into the season without Ingram in the beginning and Alvin’s worth will barely dip when Ingram is back on the field. So while Kamara is a wildcard with a small body of work it’s hard to not put him in this conversation as a a guy who could be the first pick in fantasy drafts this year …

Conclusion:

Having the first pick in the draft is just as exciting as it is nerve-wracking. You have the advantage of getting any player you want but you don’t want to make the wrong call. Sometimes you make the wrong decision but it’s not always your fault. Injuries can’t be predicted, and neither can some guys just going off more than originally thought; if you take Le’Veon Bell and he finishes as RB3 while David Johnson finishes at RB1 it’s not like you made a bad decision.

So based off the five guys we just talked about, who should be your first guy off the board? Here is my order of ranking the names we discussed:

  1. Todd Gurley
  2. Antonio Brown
  3. David Johnson
  4. Le’Veon Bell
  5. Alvin Kamara

There is no reason to not take Gurley first off the board with his MVP season in 2017, improved offense around him, and his youth there is no reason to believe Gurley can’t repeat as the best fantasy player in 2018. Antonio Brown is a close, close second place with his consistency and dynamic offense in Pittsburgh we should see AB being AB once again. David Johnson comes in third despite missing last year, and while plenty of people won’t play with this fire after getting burned last season, let him drop to you and watch DJ run to another (very realistic) 400 point season. Le’Veon Bell is 4th on the list only because he’s done big things the last four years, but his past shenanigans always make me somewhat leery of what he could pull during the year. If he’s on the field all 16 he’s a lock as a top 3 back. And lastly, and certainly not least, is sophomore Alvin Kamara. We only saw it once out of Kamara and Ingram will be back at some point and force a split in the backfield unlike every other player on this list who gets all the attention.

In the end can you go wrong with any of these guys? Of course not. However, if I’m sitting with pick number one in my league I have to take my man Todd Gurley knowing he’s got the best odds to once again be “King of the Mountain” at the close of the 2018 season!

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