FANTASY FOOTBALL: Analyzing the First-Round Picks

LeSean McCoy went first in many fantasy drafts this year. | Photo: Eric Hartline/U.S. Presswire

Week 3 was less than stellar for LeSean McCoy, who faces the 49ers this Sunday. | Photo: Eric Hartline/U.S. Presswire

How important are first-round picks in fantasy football, and how clearly does off-season hype translate into regular season production? In the summer, we find ourselves swept up in the excitement, scrolling reports ad nauseam for analysis, creating handwritten cheat sheets and completing countless mock drafts. Eventually, it all seems for naught as we realize teenage-level mood swings on a regular-season Sunday when our big name studs under-produce.

What is it about fantasy football that can turn a cocky braggart into a mopey girly-man, pouting when his big picks–who he bragged about to his opponents, girlfriend and mom–float at a steady two or three points as he stares at a stat tracker in disbelief?

This year, my league’s draft was a strange anomaly. As the 2013 fantasy season came to a close, last year’s leaders panicked and sold their high 2014 picks for big name players. As one of the benefactors of that insanity, I admit to having felt cozy in my position as heir-apparent to the fantasy throne. However, many of the top name players have been brutally under-producing so far this year, if they’re still even on the field at all.

This article is a breakdown of the top 12 draft picks and an analysis of their fantasy production to date. At the bottom I’ve compiled what the order would look like if we drafted today.

So… Where Are They Now?

Numbered 1-12 are the players that went first in most drafts.

1. LeSean McCoy – Wk1 v Jax: 74rush, 41rec, 0TD. 11.5pts Wk2 @ Ind: 79rush, 23rec, 1TD. 16.2pts Wk3 v Was: 22rush, 0rec, 0TD. 2.2pts.

It would have been hard to predict McCoy’s apparent timeshare with bruiser Darren Sproles, but it certainly seems to be working for the Eagles. As frustrating as it is for McCoy owners to see Sproles with the rock, realize that having a solid backup is a good thing for McCoy. After all, he’s the only one of the top 4 running backs still holding decent fantasy value. He’s got the 49ers next (3rd fewest pts against the run).

2. Jamaal Charles – Wk1 @ Bal: 19rush, 15rec, 0TD. 3.4pts. Wk2 @ Den: 4rush, 8rec, 0TD. 1.2pts. Wk3: injured.

It’s looking good for a Charles return before the Chiefs’ week 6 bye, but fantasy owners are quickly losing hope of seeing a breakout like Charles showed in 2013. It may have been a soft schedule that allowed that hyper-production which placed Charles at #2 overall in the draft, but this season looks a little tougher. And the Chiefs altogether seem to be regressing into the terrible team we all know and love. If Charles can manage to get on the field this week, he will face the Patriots in Kansas City (14th most points against the run).

3. Matt Forte – Wk 1 v Buf: 82rush, 87rec, 0TD. 16.9pts. Wk2 @ SF: 21rush, 15rec, 0TD. 3.6pts. Wk3 @ NYJ: 33rush, 43rec, 0TD. 7.6pts.

Forte has been shut down twice in a row by a couple of very tough run defenses, but it goes to show that this star (and perhaps the Bears in general) are highly matchup-dependent. Good news, because he’s up against the Packers next (5th most points against the run).

4. Adrian Peterson – Wk1 @StL: 75rush, 18rec, 0TD. Wk2: OUT. Wk3: OUT.

Ugh. While the Vikings are willing to accept Peterson back, he won’t be allowed to return to the NFL until his child-abuse case is fully resolved. Either way, the Vikings look terrible. Peterson was easily the biggest land mine in the first round of the fantasy draft.

5. Eddie Lacy – Wk1 @ SEA: 34rush, 11rec, 0TD. 4.5pts. Wk2 v NYJ: 43rush, 18rec, 0TD. 6.1pts. Wk3 @ Det: 36rush, 9rec, 0TD. 4.5pts.

The Packers have shown us this year that they are simply not an aggressive team. Aaron Rodgers is a patient, brilliant veteran and a true pleasure to watch. However, when faced with a physical defense like Seattle and NYJ, the team seems to shrink up. When this happens, Lacy is called upon to block so Rodgers can stop getting the crap kicked out of him. It has happened in every game so far and is reflective of Lacy’s low production. Owners might want to hang in there with Lacy because his schedule in the first three games was probably the toughest of any team. He has the Bears next (15th most points against RBs) and then it softens up (Minnesota – 14th fewest, and Miami – 2nd most).

6. Calvin Johnson – Wk1 v NYG: 164rec, 2TD. 28.4pts. Wk2 @ Car: 83rec, 0Td. 8.3pts. Wk3 v GB: 82rec, 0TD. 8.2pts.

This guy is solid and matchup-proof. Stafford feeds him the ball like nobody else. If you didn’t grab him in the first round, you are stupid, like me. In the last two weeks, he hasn’t seen the end zone because of an arguable call back and a Stafford pick. He gets the Jets next, so opponents beware (5th most points given to WRs).

7. Demaryius Thomas – Wk1 v Ind: 48rec, 0TD. 4.8pts. Wk2 v KC: 62rec, 1TD. 12.2pts. Wk3 @Sea: 31 rec, 1PAT. 5.1pts.

One of three things, or a combination thereof, should help explain DT’s up-and-down showing. Firstly, he’s battling a foot issue that may not allow him to beat his defenders as well as last year. Second, Julius Thomas and Peyton Manning are experimenting with man-love. Third, he may just be off his game. In the last game against the Seahawks, DT dropped a couple screen passes. He also fumbled, but it wasn’t called. The Broncos are on bye this week, and then they get the Cardinals (15th most points given to WRs).

8. Jimmy Graham – Wk1 @ Atl: 82rec, 0TD. 8.2pts. Wk2 @ Cle: 118rec, 2TD. 23.8pts. Wk3 v Min: 54rec, 0TD. 5.4pts.

Another great pick for the first round, Graham has shown consistency consistent with his numbers last year. If the dude can stay healthy, that shouldn’t change. New Orleans is getting off to a slow start but Graham is producing like a beast. He gets the Cowboys at home next week (2nd most points given to TEs).

9. Dez Bryant – Wk1 v SF: 55rec. 5.5pts. Wk2 @ Ten: 103rec, 1TD. 16.3pts. Wk3 @ StL: 89rec, 1 TD. 14.9pts.

The Cowboys are going very run-heavy with Romo still dealing with back problems, but it isn’t stopping Dez from producing. If there’s anything truly desirable in fantasy football it’s consistency, and Dez is a great player to own for that reason. He gets New Orleans next (7th most points given to WRs).

10. Montee Ball – Wk1 v Ind: 67rush, 16rec, 1TD. 14.3pts. Wk2 v KC: 60rush, 29rec. 8.9pts. Wk3 @ SEA: 38rush, 6rec. 4.4pts.

Like Lacy, Ball will be called to protect Peyton Manning when faced with an aggressive defense. Frustratingly, Peyton also likes to pass in the redzone. It will take a few more weeks to really get a hold on what to expect from Ball, but from what we’ve seen he really wasn’t worth a first-round pick. He gets a bye week and then it’s the Cardinals at home in Denver (2nd fewest points given to opposing RBs).

11. AJ Green – Wk1 @ Bal: 131 rec, 5rush, 1TD. 19.6pts. Wk2 v Atl: Injured in the first quarter. 0pts. Wk3 v Ten: 102rec. 10.2pts.

An injured toe took him out of week two, so there’s that. But seriously, what the hell is going on in Cincinatti? They’re relying heavily on trick plays in the redzone, which they probably think is really clever, but it’s going to bite them in the ass soon enough. AJ Green is a superstar, built like Usain Bolt and the team is simply underutilizing him. He gets the Patriots after a week 4 bye (New England gives the single fewest points to WRs).

12. Marshawn Lynch – Wk1 v GB: 110rush, 14rec, 2TDs. 24.4pts. Wk2 @ SD: 36rush, 27rec, 1TD. Wk3 v Den: 88rush, 40rec, 2TD.

Probably the best pick of the first round, Lynch went 12th in most leagues. He picks up huge numbers even against the best defenses, and there’s no sign of slowing down for the Super Bowl champion. After a week 4 bye, he’ll play the Redskins (Washington gives the 6th most points to RBs).

Montee Ball remains a big part of the game plan for the Broncos, despite disappointing early numbers. | Photo:

Montee Ball remains a big part of the game plan for the Broncos, despite disappointing early numbers. | Photo:

The outlook is bleak on Jamal Charles. | Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The outlook is bleak on Jamaal Charles. | Photo: Jamie Squire/Getty Images

So what have we learned? After 3 weeks, you could argue that the draft should have gone in a much different order. A better reshuffling of the first 12 might go like this from best to worst. Scroll all the way down to see a more comprehensive list in which DeMarco Murray goes first.

Marshawn Lynch

Calvin Johnson

Jimmy Graham

Dez Bryant

Demaryius Thomas

LeSean Mccoy

Matt Forte

AJ Green

Eddie Lacy

Montee Ball

Jamaal Charles

And of course, Adrian Peterson is the odd man out here.

The reality is, owners are finding more consistency and production from players who were way further down the draft this year. Guys like Kelvin Benjamin, Emmanuel Sanders, CJ Spiller, Ahmad Bradshaw and Darren Sproles have been entirely more useful than some of the players that went in the first round. Maybe next year this article can provide a little bit of perspective when we go to draft again. It’s a real crapshoot, it’s frustrating to owners worldwide, and it’s why we love fantasy football. Game on.

How the actual draft order might look if you drafted today, based on accumulated points

Several WR2s like Randall Cobb, guys on smaller-impact teams like Mike Wallace, all TEs except the leader Julius Thomas and all QBs are excluded from the first round — even though they might be carrying a lot of points — in order to keep it consistent with how a draft would actually look. Also added are the players’ actual pre-draft rankings (PDR) from the preseason.

Round 1

1. DeMarco Murray – 62.7 PDR #15

2. Marshawn Lynch – 61.5 PDR #12

3. Julio Jones – 54.5 PDR #14

4. Antonio Brown – 52.4 PDR #20

5. LeVeon Bell – 52.1 PDR #22

6. Giovanni Bernard – 51.3 PDR #18

7. Rashad Jennings – 50.1 PDR #43

8. Darren Sproles – 49.0 PDR #111

9. Julius Thomas – 46.0 PDR #32

10. Calvin Johnson – 44.9 PDR #6

11. Ahmad Bradshaw – 44.4 PDR #143

12. Jordy Nelson – 41.1 PDR #19


Round 2

13. CJ Spiller – 40.84 PDR #37

14. Jimmy Graham – 37.4 PDR #8

15. Kelvin Benjamin – 37.3 PDR #98

16. Dez Bryant – 36.7 PDR #9

17. Brandon Marshall – 36.5 PDR #14

18. Percy Harvin – 32.25 PDR #55

19. LeSean McCoy – 29.9 PDR #1

20. A.J. Green – 29.8 PDR #13

21. Andrew Luck – 80.88 PDR #50

22. Peyton Manning – 65.06 PDR #17

23. Pierre Garcon – 28.7 PDR #40

24. Matt Forte – 28.1 PDR #3

(Slider Image: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images North America)

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Matt Mackle

Matt is a sports and arts writer, musician and journalist. He has worked as an editor for various publications including The Miami Herald. At 30 years old, he is still quite serious about a career in rock n roll. For now, he writes fantasy football articles for tuffgnarl and manages websites for a nonprofit.

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