It may seem like it’s way too early to already be thinking about next year’s fantasy drafts, but there’s always room to grow and time to gather information. Quite frankly, it’s also a pretty fun mental exercise.
If you had to draft your 2019 fantasy roster right now, who would you choose? Moreso, who would you take in the ever-important first round? Let’s take a closer look at how a 12-team, PPR league could play out.
Pick No. 1: Todd Gurley
This is a fairly easy selection here. He was the No. 1 overall player drafted in fantasy coming into 2018 and he lived up to his draft slot. No player averaged more points per game than Gurley’s 26.6. He was the fantasy MVP of the 2018 season before missing the final two games, and has a great chance earn that title in 2019. His game-to-game consistency is nearly unparalleled and no player has a higher upside. Sean McVay and the Rams offense should continue to click for a very, very long time. That’s great news for fantasy owners.
Pick No. 2: Christian McCaffrey
This next pick isn’t so easy. There are three RBs that could go realistically here, but I’m leaning toward McCaffrey. The Stanford product finished No. 3 in total points and No. 4 in fantasy points per game (FPPG) in 2018. He was just 0.3 points behind rookie phenom Saquon Barkley. McCaffrey gets the nod here because his pass-catching upside is so tremendous. I don’t fear a regression from his 107 catches this season. I predicted in the preseason that he’d eclipse the 100-catch mark if healthy. I expect the same in 2019. He’s shown an aptitude for running between the tackles that he didn’t have his rookie year and the Panthers have shown a willingness to let him expand that area of his game. He’s a slightly safer pick than the next RB on this list.
Pick No. 3: Saquon Barkley
He somehow not only lived up to the stupid amount of hype he had coming into the NFL, he surpassed it. What an absolutely phenomenal season for Barkley, who finished as the No. 1 RB in total points and No. 2 (only behind Gurley) in FPPG. I don’t fear regression or the “sophomore slump” per se, but he is slightly more risky than McCaffrey until we see him do it again after teams have a year of film on him. Sure, the Giants offense has room to grow, but that may not actually help Barkley’s numbers. A better passing game likely brings Odell Beckham Jr. and Evan Engram back into fantasy prominence more than it brings Barkley closer to Gurley. Still, if you take him No. 2 overall you won’t be disappointed.
Pick No. 4: Ezekiel Elliott
Safe. That’s the world I’d use to describe Zeke. Sure, he’s yet to reach double-digit touchdowns since his 16-score rookie season, but he’s becoming a more all-around back. You may be surprised to find out that he had 77 catches in 2018. He had 58 in his first two seasons combined. I expect more of the same in 2019. The Cowboys offense looked completely different with wide receiver Amari Cooper in the fold. Once Cooper joined the team, Elliott was the No. 2 player in fantasy the rest of the way (only behind McCaffrey). The Cowboys will have 16 games of Cooper next season and they’ll keep feeding Elliott the ball. Fantasy owners won’t complain.
Pick No. 5: Melvin Gordon
It’s hard to call 2018 a breakout season for Gordon, since he was on the cusp of stardom heading into the year and he missed four games, but it was a great season nevertheless. I predicted in the preseason that Gordon would be a top-six RB and should be drafted in the first seven or eight picks. He finished as the No. 5 RB and No. 6 overall player on a points per game basis. He continued to grow his passing game presence and will be a very solid pick here in the middle of the first round as he’s a lock for double-digit touchdowns.
Pick No. 6: Alvin Kamara
The former third-round pick out of Tennessee continues to produce at a high level for a prolific offense. That’s why he has to round out the top tier of running backs taken in the first half of Round 1. He finished as the No. 4 RB (No. 5 overall) in points per game in 2018 after finishing as the No. 4 back in 2017. Even though his position ranking stayed the same, he scored nearly four more points per game year over year. There’s also a strong chance that he’s alone in the backfield for New Orleans next season since Mark Ingram is a free agent. It’s a young man’s game at the top of the draft and Kamara fits the mold.
Pick No. 7: DeAndre Hopkins
Finally, we get to a non-RB. Hopkins gets the early nod as my WR1 because of his consistency and lack of question marks. If you throw out his 2016 season (the year of Brock Osweiler), Hopkins has been a top-5 player at his position every year. He was No. 5 in FPPG in 2015, No. 2 in 2017 and No. 3 in 2018. Because he didn’t miss any time last season, he finished as the No. 1 WR in total points as well. He has a legit quarterback now that should be even better in his second season removed from ACL surgery. It’s hard to see anything but injury keeping Nuk out of the top 3 at WR in 2019.
Pick No. 8: Antonio Brown
The demise of AB was completely over exaggerated. You’d think he’d fallen off the face of the Earth and is just a broken down man living on a street corner somewhere in Pittsburgh. Instead, he was the No. 2 WR on a points per game basis last season. No. 2 — you know, after finishing No. 1, No. 1, No. 1 and No. 2 the four seasons prior. Brown is as consistent as it gets and you’d be crazy to undervalue him in 2019. The only reason for concern is that we’re not sure he’ll be back with the Steelers. He could be just as productive in a number of other offenses, but he could get shipped off to a place that reduces his value a bit. Or he could play in Pittsburgh and the end of the season will be forgotten. Either way, he’s a mega safe pick here in the later portion of the first round.
Pick No. 9: Davante Adams
Adams was the best wide receiver in fantasy in 2018. He averaged 22 FPPG — a half-point more than Brown’s average and 1.2 points more than Hopkins’ average. So why is he only my WR3? Well, this is new territory for him. He’s never cracked the top 7 before 2018, even if he was hanging around somewhere near the bottom of the top 10 the prior two seasons. He’s also in an offense that I believe will focus more on the run more in 2019. In my eyes it’s more likely that he finishes the season outside of the top 5 WRs than he finishes No. 1 again. That’s why he ranks just below Brown and Hopkins.
Pick No. 10: Le’Veon Bell
The curious case of Le’Veon Bell. He sat out an entire year because of a contract dispute. Is he rested or rusty? Will he have fresh legs or be soft-tissue injury prone? Oh, and uh… where will he play? This is undoubtably a risky selection here in the top 10, but let’s not forget the type of talent Bell is. Prior to 2018, he finished as the No. 4, No. 1 and No. 2 RB, respectively, on a FPPG basis. His average totals over his last two healthy seasons (24.7 FPPG) would’ve been good enough to be RB2 in 2018. Even if you take away 10 percent of his production, he would’ve been RB6. A team isn’t going to invest the time and money into Bell without expecting him to have a featured role. It’s a high-risk, high-reward pick.
Pick No. 11: James Conner
Bell’s replacement holds the final RB spot in the first round. Conner filled in more than admirably and finished as the No. 7 RB on a points per game basis. As mentioned in the Bell section, Steelers running backs have a pretty strong fantasy track record in the last half-decade. Like with Barkley, you do worry ever so slightly about the league adjusting with a year’s worth of tape on him, but Conner just touches too many areas of the game for fantasy owners to be concerned. You’re going to have to pay full price for him this year, but you’re more than likely getting a top-10 RB in the process.
Pick No. 12: Tyreek Hill
Do you think this offense is going to slow down at all? Me neither. Hill is a game-changing talent and the centerpiece of Kansas City’s offense with and without the ball. His mere presence sends defenses into a panic. He finished as the No. 4 WR on a FPPG basis in 2018 after finishing No. 7 in 2017. He’s outscored Julio Jones in each of the past two seasons and has averaged a half-point more per game than Michael Thomas over the past two seasons combined. He deserves first-round consideration.
Just Missed: Michael Thomas, Julio Jones, Joe Mixon