2016 may represent a changing of the guard, when it comes to the first overall pick in standard scoring fantasy football leagues. Previously, especially in leagues that didn’t incorporate any points per reception component, it was a foregone conclusion that you’d take the best running back in the league. Over the last decade, guys like Priest Holmes, LaDainian Tomlinson, and Adrian Peterson were almost always off the board by the second overall pick. Sure, there would be the odd year when Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers would enter the consideration set, but the ability to capitalize on the rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and receiving yards and touchdowns that the elite franchise running backs produced was just too much to pass up.
So with this changing of the guard, who enters the 2016 season as the top overall picks? Here’s are the
Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers — Brown may be the singularly most dominant wide receiver in fantasy football (and football in general) since Randy Moss. In 2014, he lead the league receptions, receiving yards, and passes caught for a first down. He averaged over 100 receiving yards per game, and almost one touchdown per game (he had 13). How did he follow that up in 2015? By again leading the league in receptions and receiving yards, exceeding both totals from 2014. His 136 receptions was the second highest total in NFL history, and his 1,834 yards was the 4th highest total in NFL history. Few players have shown that type of year-over-year consistency, in terms of re-writing NFL standards for their position. With Ben Roethlisberger throwing the football as well as any quarterback in the league, and with the suspension of Martavis Bryant opposite Brown (meaning the Steelers will likely have to continue to force targets in Brown’s direction), there’s no reason to see those statistics dropping.
Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams — at this point last year, there were legitimate questions as to whether Gurley would even play in the 2015 season for the team that drafted him; he suffered a torn ACL injury in November while playing his last season for the University of Georgia. The Rams tried to bring him along slowly, not rushing him into immediate action when the season began. It started with just a few spot carries in an ugly game against the Steelers; Gurley had a paltry nine rushing yards on six carries (and one reception for five yards). From there? Everything changed. Over the next four games, Gurley ripped off 566 rushing yards and four touchdowns, drawing rave reviews from the rest of the league for his startling combination of vision, size, and speed. Despite really only playing in 12 games last year, Gurley finished third in the NFL with 1,106 rushing yards and 10 touchdowns (the latter tied for second best in the NFL). Who knows what a full season of carries, and an improvement at the quarterback position — assuming the Rams select a quarterback with the #1 overall pick — could bring.
Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers — Once Bell returned from his two game suspension to start the 2015 season, the conversation began as to whether he emerged as the best running back in the NFL. His ability as a runner and a receiver began to draw comparisons to Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk. In the five games prior to the early November matchup against Cincinnati, when he suffered his season-ending knee injury, Bell recorded over 125 combined yards in four of those five games. He remains one of the true “bell cow” running backs in the NFL, but the biggest question around Bell will be whether he will be fully healthy when the 2016 season begins, after his offseason surgery to fix the damaged MCL/PCL in his knee.
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