Early 2019 Fantasy Football First-Round Picks
2019 Fantasy Football First Round Draft Order
We have officially entered the fantasy doldrums. There are seven grueling months between us and our next fantasy drafts, at least in traditional redraft leagues. There is hope, though. Hope in the form of extraordinarily early 2019 content, because it’s never too early to start planning for next season. So without further ado, here are the 12 players I’m looking to snag in the first round of 2019 PPR fantasy drafts
If Gurley isn’t the consensus No. 1 fantasy pick in 2019 then it’s probably Saquon Barkley’s fault. Either way, we know what we’re getting with Gurley. After scoring 19 times in 15 games last season, he found the end zone 21 times in just 14 outings while leading his position in Defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA), according to Football Outsiders.
Gurley bested Barkley for top running back honors in standard scoring and finished behind Barkley and Christian McCaffrey in PPR formats. His receiving game does leave something to be desired compared to the top pass-catchers at his position, but Gurley is arguably – I say arguably because of Ezekiel Elliott and Barkley – the most complete player in the sport. After amassing an absurd total of 50 touchdowns in two years as the anchor of one of the most potent offenses in the league, Gurley belongs in this spot.
New York Giants
Barkley was as advertised coming out of Penn State; we expected greatness and we got it immediately. The first-year wonder turned in one of the most accomplished rookie seasons in football history on his way to becoming the third rookie ever to surpass 2,000 yards from scrimmage (Erick Dickerson -1983, Edgerrin James – 1999). Add 15 total touchdowns and 91 receptions and you’ve got yourself one heck of a diaper dandy.
From a fantasy perspective, it was the best rookie season ever, beating out Dickerson’s 1983 offering by 6.6 PPR fantasy points. What made Barkley’s year even more special is that he didn’t put the ball on the ground even once. He’s the face of the future at the position and has to be one of the first names mentioned when it comes to who will be taken first in 2019 fantasy drafts.
Consistency is the name of the game for Ezekiel Elliott. In two full seasons, he has averaged 329.3 PPR points, finishing as the RB2 and the RB5. And despite missing six games due to suspension, Zeke still held the RB12 spot in 2017.
Were we to nitpick and discover a foible in Elliot’s efforts it would be his touchdowns. We were spoiled by his 15 rushing touchdowns as a rookie; he even racked up nine total touchdowns in 10 games in 2017. Thus, his nine total touchdowns this season left us wanting. We expect a player of his caliber that is as involved as he is to cross the goal line more often, but we’ll take nine total touchdowns from anyone, right?
Let’s not nitpick and instead appreciate how special Zeke was as he literally carried the Cowboys to the playoffs. The addition of Amari Cooper and an underrated defense helped, of course, but Elliott was the cornerstone.
He is the seventh player in NFL history to tally at least 300 carries and at least 75 catches in the same season (LaDainian Tomlinson did it twice); his nine total touchdowns are the fewest among those seven players. Nevertheless, the bottom line is that the third-year plodder is one of the safest picks you can make in fantasy drafts.
McCaffrey’s sophomore crusade was one for the ages. He didn’t quite see the 25 to 30 touches per game offensive coordinator Norv Turner wanted for him before the season commenced, but McCaffrey’s 326 touches were third-most behind Elliott (381) and Barkley (352).
His receiving statistics alone would have made him the WR15. He paced running backs in targets (124), receptions (107) and receiving yards (867). Thanks to dump-offs for days from Cam Newton, CMac’s 107 catches set the single-season record for running backs, surpassing Matt Forte’s 102 catches in 2014.
McCaffrey’s featured status was a welcome sight for fantasy owners. Many were concerned about a relatively small frame holding up to such a large workload, but he swiftly proved he could handle it. With Jonathan Stewart out of the picture, McCaffrey took advantage of his newfound role. As the featured back, the Stanford alum scampered for nearly 1,100 rushing yards, averaging 5.0 yards on 219 carries, scoring seven times. Add his rushing prowess to his lethal receiving ability and you have yourself a top three-to-five PPR pick.
New Orleans Saints
We were spoiled with Kamara in 2017. His rookie numbers were special thanks to his big-play ability and inflated yard averages. As good as he was coming out of college, he was actually better in his second go-round fantasy wise. Kamara constructed a sneakily reticent RB4 campaign as one of only five running backs to achieve more than 300 PPR points. As a matter of fact, he and Gurley are the only running backs with 300+ point fantasy seasons in each of the last two years.
Believe it or not, there is more reason to be excited about Kamara heading into 2019. Mark Ingram is slated to hit free agency, meaning Kamara will be a legitimate featured running back if Ingram chooses what he deems to be greener pastures. That being said, the Saints could still bring someone else on, and it’s unlikely that Kamara will run for 14 touchdowns again. Even so, Kamara is a PPR goldmine that we can chisel out in the top five picks.
This selection comes with a little bit of bias as Hopkins is my favorite receiver in the sport, both because he is elite at it and because of what he does off the field. We’ll stick to his on-field accomplishments, though. Astonishingly, Hopkins led the NFL in snap percentage (99.09%), according to Daily Roto and dropped ZERO of his 115 catchable targets, according to Pro Football Focus. Let’s take a moment to let the grandeur of that feat sink in —————————————
At first glance, Hopkins doesn’t appear to be much of a deep threat, but he gets open. Hopkins and his dreadlocks were fourth among wide receivers with 23 plays of 20+ yards. His ability to separate from coverage, viscid hands, pristine route-running and nose for the end zone (24 touchdowns over the last two years) are what make Hopkins the best wide receiver in the NFL and in fantasy football.
Green Bay Packers
There is no wide receiver more dangerous near the end zone than Davante Adams. He was an absolute animal in the red zone, scoring all 13 of his touchdowns in that area and pacing his position in market share of red-zone targets (43.84%). You think Hopkins has a knack for scoring? Adams has averaged 11.6 touchdowns in a three-year span. And – thanks in large part to a dearth of good health among his peers – Adams obliterated his career high by catching 111 balls in the fifth iteration of his career – 36 more than his previous best.
Will that number regress to the mean? Probably, but Adams is the best scoring wide receiver in the league with Aaron Rodgers throwing him the ball. The latter may not mean what it used to, but it still means a lot.
A new head coach shouldn’t mean much in the way of change for Adams. He’s far and away Green Bay’s best receiving threat and his role should remain the same. And it’s not like Rodgers will just stop looking his way after five years together. If I have a late first-round pick in 2019 drafts, I’ll click that “Select” button on Adams without hesitation.
Jones may have just completed the quietest 1,600-yard performance in history. Hissy fits aplenty were being thrown this time last year after Jones managed a meager three touchdowns. Those fits didn’t subside easily as it took seven weeks for Jones to score his first touchdown in 2018. He scored all eight of his touchdowns over his last nine games, all the while quieting fantasy owners and leading the league in receiving yards (1,677) for the second time in four years.
An astounding 45.64% of the Falcons’ air yards went Jones’ way. Somewhat of a surprise considering the success rookie Calvin Ridley had and the fact that Mohamed Sanu, Austin Hooper, Tevin Coleman, and Ridley played in all 16 games. Matt Ryan likes throwing footballs to Julio Jones, it’s a tale as old as time. You can do much worse than choosing Jones with your mid-to-late first-round pick, no matter how much he frustrates with a “lack” of touchdowns.
Since 2016 Melvin Gordon has averaged 1,455.3 total yards, 12.6 total touchdowns and 49.3 catches. In that span, he has not finished worse than PPR RB8. What’s really impressive about those accomplishments is that he was even sidelined for three games in 2016 and four games this year. Injuries have been a nuisance here and there, but he has overcome them and performed consistently. He ranked third in DVOA at his position and has become one of the more unsung fantasy heroes.
The little thorn in Gordon’s side – besides the injury bug every now and then – is in the form of Austin Ekeler. Ekeler has hindered Gordon from reaching his full PPR potential, catching 66 passes and scoring 11 times in his first two years. The Chargers love Ekeler as Gordon’s sidekick, but he’s the primary reason we’re not talking about Gordon as a top-five pick.
Do you know who topped the list for the largest market share of team carries in 2018? I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes with Rames Ponner. That’s right, the answer is James Conner. He hogged 76% of Pittsburgh’s carries in 13 games, totaling 1,470 yards and 13 touchdowns in his first stint as a full-time running back.
Conner began his new job at a torrid pace and left Pittsburgh fans asking “Le’Veon who?” as he ran for nine touchdowns through the first seven weeks, averaging 131.7 total yards per game in that span. His main damage came on the ground, but he was reliable in the passing game as well. Conner was one of eight running backs with at least 70 targets and a 77% catch rate, averaging an impressive 9.04 yards per catch. Ironically, Conner may have a higher average draft position than Bell depending on where Bell lands. He has earned his place in the late-first to early-second round conversation.
The Colts? The Jets? The Buccaneers? The Bills? The Raiders? The 49ers? We don’t know whose colors Bell will don next, but we know what he’s capable of when the uniform is on. We also know that he’ll be well rested, ready for a fresh start and motivated – ready to stick it to the naysayers of yesteryear.
Honestly, he should probably be higher on this list, but it’s difficult to imagine him going to a better team than the Steelers. Bell is special, though. At 26 years old Bell already owns three seasons of 75+ catches and 1,800+ yards from scrimmage. Marshall Faulk leads the way with four such seasons, so don’t be shocked to see Bell pass him in the next few years.
Bell is a top candidate to finish as the No. 1 PPR running back. Crazily enough, since 2003 there has not been a repeat No. 1 PPR running back. Last year it was Gurley, this year it was Barkley. If I was a betting man I would bet on either Bell or Elliott supplanting Barkley for the top PPR RB spot. Ask not for whom the Bell Tolls, it tolls for a mid- to late-first round pick.
This can be considered somewhat of a reach and Chubb does have less PPR value, but I don’t think his first try at professional football was a fluke. He transformed Cleveland’s backfield from Gandalf the Grey into Gandalf the White. I guess that would appropriately label Hue Jackson as Saruman, or the Balrog, but I digress.
The rookie standout faced at least eight defenders in the box on more than 34% of his carries – the fourth highest percentage in the NFL, according to Next Gen Stats. Despite defenses honing in on him, Chubb averaged 5.2 yards per carry and scored eight times on the ground on 192 carries. Impressively, but not surprisingly, Chubb’s 75.54% market share of carries after he became starter (Weeks 7-17) was second in the league behind Elliott (77.27%). He was annoyingly FOUR YARDS shy of becoming the third rookie running back to reach 1,000 rushing yards and 10 total touchdowns on fewer than 200 carries (Franco Harris – 1972, Phillip Lindsay – 2018). There is a fruit to describe how impressive that is. That fruit is bananas.
It’s also bananas that the aforementioned Jackson voluntarily chose to keep Chubb on the bench for the first six weeks. Offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens – if he’s not hired elsewhere – and Cleveland’s new head coach will keep feeding Chubb the ball in 2019 if they know what’s good for them. Duke Johnson’s involvement in the passing game clearly stint’s Chubb’s fantasy ceiling, but running for nearly 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns while starting just nine games speaks for itself. It’s stimulating to think what Chubb can do with 16 starts.
Others to Consider in the First Round:
- David Johnson – He was fifth in the league in touches (305) and will have a new coaching staff. It can only get better.
- Antonio Brown – His future in Pittsburgh is iffy but his status as an elite PPR wide receiver is not.
- Michael Thomas – He led the league in catches (125) and remains a top-tier PPR wide receiver as long as Drew Brees doesn’t retire.
- Dalvin Cook – I’m not taking him in the first round simply because he’s struggled to keep good health in his first two years. His stock will obviously rise if Latavius Murray isn’t retained.
- Patrick Mahomes – It’s not my strategy but there are those who will draft him in the first round after a league-shattering sophomore campaign. He will regress after achieving the most fantasy points in any season ever.