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First Round Strategy: Safe Investment vs Bank Robber (PPR)

Updated: Aug 23, 2022

Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated :

The first round of your fantasy football draft is the most important round of the draft. If you strike out on your first rounder the entire fantasy season can be a struggle to stay alive. In years past running backs like Saquan Barkley and CMC have caused fantasy owners headaches due to constant injury issues. On the flip side drafting safe always seems to come out just short of the championship. So is it worth trying to hit the home run pick or is trying to make it on base the better strategy? This varies from manager to manager, but whatever strategy you decide to use there is some great first round options either way. On this article I am going to explain my picks for the best safe investment picks and my best bank robber picks.

Safe Investment Picks

When I am looking for a safe investment pick I am trying to pick a guy who I know what they will produce. This does not mean that they will not see regression though. Touchdowns can vary from season to season and as a fantasy manager I can expect most first round picks to possible lose out on some touchdowns. Safe picks tend to have high opportunity shares, target shares, or just be in great situations. I also try to pick guys whose injuries show little signs of lingering or who I can expect to be out (such as Dalvin Cook who will miss about 3-5 games a year). Some backs fit this bill such as Nick Chubb, Zeke Elliott, or Cordarelle Patterson, yet they will not appear because I do not value their upside as first round production or who I think is in line for a very significant regression (Sorry CP).

Jonathon Taylor

Taylor comes into this season as the clear cut first overall #1 draft pick. After finishing the 2021 season as the RB1, he goes into this year with an average ADP of 1. With Matt Ryan replacing Carson Wentz at QB it is easy for managers to think the Colts may decide to pass more. While this could very well be true, any loss in touches that Taylor sees can only be replaced by efficiency. While Taylor will likely see touchdown regression in 2022, he is still a surefire top 5 RB when he is on the field and has managed to stay on the field 32 games over the past two seasons. There's no reason to overthink the number one overall pick.

Austin Ekeler

Austin Ekeler comes into this year with an average ADP of 3.3 while producing as a top 5 RB 2 out of the 3 past years. Ekeler tied with Najee Harris last season as the #1 most targeted RB (94 targets) and carried along an impressive 15.1% target share. Ekeler remains in one of the most potent offenses led by Justin Herbert and showed little signs of regression at age 27. If you are stuck between the choice of taking CMC or Ekeler as the second RB, you can trust Ekeler will get you a top 5 RB season.

Derrick Henry

I know what every fantasy expert says about Derrick Henry: "He is a first round runningback, but I'd rather take someone with more receiving value". Despite his lack of receiving value Henry was the RB5 in 2019, RB3 in 2020 and was on pace for RB1 (averaged 24.2 FPTS/G). Henry did come off of a significant foot injury that pushed him out for 9 games, but when looking at Henry's 6'3" 247 frame the only injury that concerns me are the opponents he's stiff arming to the ground. There is no safer pick to a guy that throw any defender into the sideline and boost your fantasy team to the top.

Cooper Kupp

Finally! The fantasy gods are going to look down on me for throwing their #1 fantasy scorer down to 4th on my list. Luckily this is a list and not rankings. Kupp comes into the season after leading all fantasy receivers by close to 100 points (439.5>344.3). The biggest knock on Kupp is that it will be very hard to replicate last season, especially with Stafford's lingering elbow injury. That being said Kupp is still a dynamic receiver who, if healthy, will likely not fall under a top 5 receiver as long as Stafford stays throwing. He received a 31.7% target share and was targeted 38 times in the red zone which is convincing enough for me to trust him as a solidified first round pick.

Najee Harris

After a promising rookie campaign in which Harris finished as the RB3 in fantasy, Najee goes into the season getting drafted around the 7-8 pick. The Steelers improved their offensive line by paying for Center Mason Cole and Guard James Daniels who should have an immediate impact on this run game. Najee has another season ahead of him where he will likely be the main focus of the Steelers offense without a solidified QB. On top of that he also tied with Austin Ekeler for the most targets by a RB last season. He may not end up being the most efficient RB but you can bet he will get a significant amount of carries and targets.

Bank Robbers

Bank Robbers! Swingin' for the fences! No Risk It No Biscuit. Most championship teams have a RB/WR that end up scoring in the top 3. The only issue is when trying to project who will lead the league in scoring is that it is rarely the number one overall pick. Jonathon Taylor and Cooper Kupp both jumped up to take the top 2 spots after both being available after the first round. Some players like Derrick Henry always tend to rank high in fantasy points per game but somehow manage to slip out of the top 3 or 4. So how can you project whether a player will blow up? In all reality it is very difficult to predict the league leader in points but there are players that come with a ton of opportunities to take that mantle... but they come with a heavy risk. So like a bank robber you can either steal a guy that is worth millions or end up sitting in a lonely low scoring fantasy jail handcuffed to a guy that is on IR the whole season.

Christian McCaffrey

I mean who else would you expect here? After coming off a successful 2019 fantasy campaign that had him leading in scoring, he has played 10 games in two seasons. All of these missed games are especially concerning considering most players regress after injuries and its looking like its going to be a continuous issue. So there is no world where CMC could be worth a first round pick let alone a top 3 pick right? Wrong. Kind of. CMC is one of the hardest players to argue for because you have to stay on the field to provide fantasy value but there is one point that is not debatable. He is one of the best fantasy football players of all time when he is on the field. Last year he landed as the RB5 in fantasy points per game. While this alone is not worth the risk, the fact that in games that he played over 50% of the snaps in (what I consider a healthy game) he averaged 25.85 fantasy points a game. That would put him as the RB1 in FPTS/G and if he played an entire 17 game season (Unlikely even in my dream hypotheticals) he would have scored 0.05 lower than Cooper Kupp. 0.05. If he manages to put up 13-14 games of similar productivity he is likely ranked RB2 in fantasy points. That is also assuming he does not have any breakout games. Yeah that might be worth the risk. If you decide to swing for CMC you could end up having a dreadful season if he takes another injury this season. Or you might have the gut to steal the Fantasy Football Gem that everyone gave up on.

Saquan Barkley

You know when I said who else but CMC... Barkley might be the who else. After an impressive rookie and sophomore campaign Barkley went down for the rest of the 2020 season with an ACL tear. He then struggled to regain the production and efficiency in 13 games in 2021. Most people would read this as a sign that he will never be the same back. Not me though. While Barkley was not effective last season as a runner, I blame a large portion of that on coaches Joe Judge and Jason Garrett and the all access pass of an offensive line they had. Now they bring in Bills OC Brian Daboll and revamped the O line along with Barkley entering this season fully healthy and given a full workload. He has fallen to an average ADP of 23. Is he worth an early first round pick. Probably not, but if you are sitting at the 9-12 spots and you are stuck deciding between Nick Chubb, Javonte Williams, or Aaron Jones, it might be worth the thought to consider Barkley. Oh and he is much more built to recover from injury than CMC and CMC has gone as early as #1, yet both have the rushing and receiving potential to be the RB1. All the signs are pointing to a huge comeback season for Barkley and I am on board with it.

Alvin Kamara

First off it is unlikely that Kamara gets a suspension this season from all the reports I have heard. So it is time to steal Kamara as soon as you can. He is currently getting drafted at about pick 17-18 yet he may offer a more realistic (and healthy) shot at being the RB1 this season. When Jamies Winston and Kamara were on the field together, Kamara averaged 21 FPTS per game over 6 contests. That would have put him as the RB4. Now a full offseason as a recovery and now with old reliable targets like MT coming back it is more likely that Kamara's efficiency will go up and health will be more manageable. He was the RB8 despite dealing with Trevor Simeon and Taysom Hill throughout the second half of the season. It is not nearly as much of a risk as it could be a reach. At least with Kamara he is going to produce you just have to grab him whenever you can because if he slips to a late second round then you might end up with a nightmare matchup come playoffs.

Justin Jefferson

I know everyone who reads this will be shocked that I put JJ as a risk pick... but I never actually said it was a risky pick. This pick comes with some context. Lets say you are chilling at pick 2,3,4,5 and the only RBs left either aren't appealing or carry a lot of risk. You are now left to decide between Cooper Kupp and JJ. Most people will lean towards last years highest scorer but I can make an argument that JJ will be better this season. Ever since his rookie season JJ has exploded onto the fantasy scene improving with each year. he has never been lower than WR6 his fantasy career. Now going into his 3rd season I expect an even bigger jump. With Kupp likely to see a regression and JJ entering a new offense under Super Bowl winning offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connel' replacing Mike Zimmer, everything is paving the way for JJ to take that #1 fantasy scoring spot. While not a true risk, taking JJ ahead of Kupp may get you some ridicule, but could let you have the last laugh.

Dalvin Cook

Following the trend of risky players who aren't really risky here comes Dalvin Cook. Yes Dalvin Cook will probably be out 3-5 games. Fine, who cares, draft Mattison as a handcuff. What I am more interested in is his improvements this season. Specifically when it comes to his receiving numbers. Like previously said, the Vikings are run by Kevin O'Connell who will allow Cook to become a more active member in the Vikings offense. Cook was the RB6 in 2019, RB2 in 2020 before declining to RB16 in 2022. Yet Cook was ranked at RB11 in FPTS/G last year all while having only an 11.7% target share which was ranked 13 amongst running backs. That number should increase and as long as Dalvin Cook can maintain a 8.4% breakaway rate and 79.7% opportunity share, then he may be able to overcome that hurdle and finally grab that RB1 spot. While many are dismissing him for the likes of Najee, Ekeler, CMC, and even Mixon, Cook has a great mixture of efficiency and production along with room for progression in the receiving game which could elevate his fantasy status to top 3.

Follow @JaceEarls for more posts about Fantasy football and use the forum or twitter to respond to posts or ask inquiries.

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