The 2018 fantasy football first round should be full of more running backs than wide receivers compared to recent seasons. We’re talking in both standard and PPR formats and most other mock draft types.
I’m a big believer in being prepared. I’m like a boy scout, only… more prepared. That’s why I break down the best Fantasy football draft tools all year round.
So I’m prepared to look ahead into next season, even before this NFL season is behind us! The mere fact you are reading this means you are like me! Whether you won a bunch of leagues, lost a bunch of leagues or came in sixth across the board, you are ready to start your Fantasy draft prep for drafts happening seven months from now.
Here’s the thing about looking this far ahead at the 2018 Fantasy Football first round of mock drafts. You get a starting point to begin the rest of the offseason. Every offseason transaction by these players’ teams, every injury, every offseason quote about their fitness – all of that will affect their movement up or down this list, in varying degrees.
2018 Fantasy Football First Round Mock Draft
This mock draft preview of the 2018 Fantasy Football first round is for 12-team Fantasy leagues using standard scoring systems.
1.01 Todd Gurley, RB, Los Angeles Rams
Gurley was head-and-shoulders above all other Fantasy players this past season, and it really wasn’t even close. To give you an interesting comparison, Gurley’s 319 Fantasy points from Weeks 1-17 were 60 points better than Le’Veon Bell, the second-best non-QB in Fantasy.
- In 2016, the difference between the top two players was 31 points.
- In 2015, the difference between the top two players was 11 points.
- In 2014, the difference between the top two players was 17 points.
- In 2013, the difference between the top two players was 32 points.
- In 2012, the difference between the top two players was 45 points.
You must go back to 2010 for a similar points difference between the top two running backs: Arian Foster (329) and Peyton Hillis (244) – 85 points. The Fantasy record holder? Emmitt Smith (365) and Curtis Martin (267) – -98 points.
The Rams offense made huge strides under new head coach Sean McVay, and we expect them to improve their wide receiver position even more this offseason. A more balanced attack won’t hurt Gurley’s numbers (he had 62 fewer touches than Bell), but it could give him more room to run, which is scary.
1.02 Le’Veon Bell, RB, Pittsburgh Steelers
He’s threatening to hold out, of course, or retire, but we’re going off the basis that he’s coming back to Pittsburgh, where he is still a major part of the offense. He carried the ball an NFL-high 321 times, which is also a career-high, but even if that dips back 10 percent, he still gets thrown to (106 targets) more than enough to make up for it.
Featured Photo Credit: Brook Ward
1.03 Ezekiel Elliott, RB, Dallas Cowboys
Thankfully, the suspension that had loomed over Elliott for a couple seasons is behind him – until he does something stupid again, which is always a possibility. But for now, he should enter 2018 in great health, with a completely healthy offense around him. We’ll see what happens with Dez Bryant in the offseason, as his value has dropped considerably, and we can ask the question If the Cowboys offensive line is going to rebound after a mediocre 2017.
They get a pass from me, with Elliott’s issues haunting this team all of 2017, and a sophomore slumping Dak Prescott should be able to adjust to the adjustments teams made on him. To be fair, about Prescott, he should have been much worse in his second season than he was.
Elliott didn’t start the season suspended, but the off-and-on suspension news caused a lot of problems for his owners, including them working to get Darren McFadden or Rod Smith on their roster as insurance.
But here’s an interesting fact for you: Had Todd Gurley not been the amazing beast that he was this season, Elliott would have led all running backs in Fantasy points after nine weeks. And the Cowboys had a bye in Week 6.
1.04 Antonio Brown, WR, Pittsburgh Steelers
OH, HOW THE MIGHTY HAVE FALLEN! Brown has been the greatest Fantasy wide receiver in the game since Jerry Rice was roaming the gridiron in the Bay Area. But in 2018, he gets outdone by DeAndre Hopkins in total Fantasy points! (Sure, Hopkins played 15 games to Brown’s 14, but this still counts!)
Make no mistake – Brown is still the best wide receiver in Fantasy, and he’s closing in on being called the greatest Fantasy wide receiver of all time. He still has a ways to go, however…
Did You Know? – 49ers WR Jerry Rice finished as the best Fantasy wide receiver (and a top-five Fantasy pick) in eight different NFL seasons.
Brown has been the top Fantasy WR just twice, and he has been a top-five pick just three times, so far. He’ll be a top-fiver once again this year, as long as Big Ben Roethlisberger returns. But Todd Haley didn’t have his contract renewed by the Steelers (joining the Browns? Hello, Duke Johnson!), and that could affect this Steelers offense some. We doubt there’s anyone coming in that won’t keep working to get the ball to Bell and Brown.
1.05 David Johnson, RB, Arizona Cardinals
Johnson’s 2017 season was lost to a wrist injury, which is absolutely great news to his prospective 2018 owners. They’re going to get the 2017 No. 1 pick at a discount, since some owners might react to him like a player coming back from a torn ACL. Unfortunately, it might not erase the fact D.J. ranks as one of the worst Fantasy Football picks in history!
Bold statement! This set of top-five players, barring offseason injury or major roster shakeups, is the best set of five players at the top of a Fantasy draft since 2003 (Ladainian Tomlinson, Ricky Williams, Clinton Portis, Marshall Faulk and Priest Holmes).
One major issue for D.J. owners is that he’ll be working without Bruce Arians, who was always Fantasy-friendly. In 2016, Johnson was involved in 413 plays where he was the ball carrier or intended receiver. That’s 25.81 touches per game, behind just Bell. Will Arians’ successor feed Johnson as much? We can only hope. Another reason Johnson falls to five is that this team needs a quarterback.
1.06 Kareem Hunt, RB, Kansas City Chiefs
It was a tale of two seasons for Hunt, well, not really, it was more like the tale of one great season – with a big lull in the middle, like a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Hunt was a mid-round rookie in early Fantasy drafts, but those that took a chance on him were greatly rewarded when Spencer Ware (knee) went down in the middle of the NFL Preseason. It’s tough to imagine Ware holding the starting gig for very long, though, if he had stayed healthy.
Hunt shot up to becoming a second- or third-round pick in many late-August Fantasy drafts. Once the season started, he was suddenly the greatest NFL rookie since Bo Jackson, after he blasted the Patriots in Week 1 for 246 total yards and three touchdowns.
In the first seven weeks of the season, Gurley was the only Fantasy player better than Hunt. here’s no doubt Hunt will be among the top-10 picks in any 2018 Fantasy Football first round.
But from Weeks 8-13, he sputtered, possibly costing a lot of teams either a Fantasy playoff spot, or at best, a bye week.
Then from Weeks 14-16, those that were able to reach the Fantasy postseason in spite of his lull watched Hunt post more points than all running backs except Gurley again.
Hunt went on to lead the NFL in rushing yards (1,327), causing Chiefs owners to forget about Jamaal Charles, and only the bright light of Alvin Kamara could have people thinking twice about giving the Fantasy Rookie of the Year award to Hunt.
No, THIS is the NFL's Rookie of the Year. pic.twitter.com/Clq0udyq22
— Connor Peters (@chief8225) December 31, 2017
Hunt could also be playing 2018 with a new quarterback, but if Alex Smith returns, this offense should be among the best in the NFL again. Either way, getting Hunt as your first-round pick is a huge plus for your 2018 Fantasy team. He will get a full NFL training camp under his belt, and he won’t have to deal with the NFL Draft this spring. He can focus on getting better as a pro.
1.07 Leonard Fournette, RB, Jacksonville Jaguars
For the second season in a row, a rookie running back was taken very high in Fantasy Football drafts, which was abnormal at one point. For instance, before Elliott’s 1.06 ADP last season (and Fournette’s 2.10), the last rookie to be drafted in the first two rounds in ADP was in 2010, with San Diego’s Ryan Mathews, if you can believe that.
The huge seasons by rookies over the past few seasons (Gurley, Johnson, Elliott, Jordan Howard, Hunt, Kamara and Fournette) are setting us all up for a huge disappointment this year (Saquon Barkley?) or next.
As far as Fournette goes, he’s a true ground-and-pound runner that carried the Jaguars offense on his back at times. His 3.9 yards per carry weren’t great, but consider that defenses didn’t have to show too much respect for QB Blake Bortles, so they stacked the box.
Imagine what happens once defenses have to sit back, facing a more skilled quarterback, like Eli Manning? Between the Jags’ propensity to run and their studly defense, this is lining up to be a huge sophomore season for Fournette. (Let’s include the return of Allen Robinson from injury, too, helping to keep drives going.) His ADP might even climb higher than where I have him in this 2018 Fantasy Football first round.
1.08 Alvin Kamara, RB, New Orleans Saints
This is the pick I can see creeping up the most for me this offseason. He has the speed and skills of Jamaal Charles, and he’s in a prolific offense. Many people are expecting some sort of regression for Kamara, but isn’t that obvious? A full season of his stats extrapolated from his totals from Week 4 on (when he really started to become a key cog in the Saints’ offense), gives him this stat line:
- 825 rushing yards
- 8 rushing TDs
- 923 receiving yards
- 89 receptions
- 8 receiving TDs
- Total Fantasy Points: 271
Obviously, all of that depends on him staying healthy for 16 games, similar usage to 2017 and a host of other things, but those 271 Fantasy points would have made him the second-best Fantasy RB behind just Gurley, bypassing Bell and Hunt.
Vote for the 2017 Fantasy Football Rookie of the Year! This award goes to the best first-year Fantasy player, regardless of where they were drafted. #FNTSYawards
— FNTSY Sports Network (@FNTSYSportsNet) December 28, 2017
1.09 DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Houston Texans
Hopkins defied all odds in 2017, beating Antonio Brown in total Fantasy points, leading the league in receiving touchdowns (13), working with a rookie QB (DeShaun Watson) in the first half of the season, a journeyman QB (T.J. Yates) in the final few games and a future journeyman (Tom Savage) in the middle portion of the season.
Consider that Watson improved after the initial start to the season, and you can be even more excited for Hopkins with Hopkins’ return from a knee injury. Interestingly, Hopkins was awesome no matter who was under center:
- First 8 games with Watson: 45 rec., 606 rec. yds, 7 rec. TDs
- Final 7 games without Watson: 51 rec., 772 rec. yds, 6 rec. TDs
Hopkins led all WRs in Fantasy points during both of those segments!
CBS’ Jamey Eisenberg ranks Hopkins ahead of Brown in his 2018 Fantasy Football first round mock draft, and he believes he’ll be worth a top-five pick in 2018! Dave Richard has him eighth overall, and Heath Cummings fourth!
The one and only DeAndre Hopkins took down not one, but TWO Consistency Awards in #FantasyFootball in 2017! You can probably guess the obvious one! But what other coveted award did Nuk win? Find out here: https://t.co/SrxWqXdjPI pic.twitter.com/nurcHkAKIy
— Bob Lung (@bob_lung) January 8, 2018
1.10 Melvin Gordon, RB, Los Angeles Chargers
Once again, people point to a player’s yards per carry as the reason to avoid him in Fantasy drafts. And once again, I’ll pounce and happily take a player with an average YPC that also carries with him great hands and the ability to come close to scoring a touchdown per game.
A couple years ago, people hammered on Le’Veon Bell’s 3.7 yards per carry, vowing not to take him because of the analytics. Smart.
Gordon averaged 3.9 yards per carry last season, but he was also the third-most consistent running back in Fantasy Football, with a 81.3 start% (number of times he was a top-25 RB in ESPN leagues). He also posted just one “stiff” game, which is when his point total ranked beyond the top-50 RBs that week. That’s the kind of reliability you want in a late first-round running back. Plus, he was a top-five RB five times!
Top 5 Percentage of teams rushing yards
Leveon Bell – 77.4
Melvin Gordon- 69.27
Todd Gurley – 66.82
Jordan Howard – 62.57#FantasyFootball #SteelersNation #ChiefsKingdom#Chargers#Rams#ChicagoBears
— TheCommish (@fntsyfbconnect) January 5, 2018
1.11 Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
I avoided Jones in all my 2017 leagues because of a foot injury I believed would haunt him all season. It didn’t, and he produced the sixth-best season for Fantasy WRs. I blew it! He proved to be ultra-reliable once again (he has missed just three games in his past four seasons), and I believe his second season in Steve Sarkisian’s offense will see a lot of improvement. Kyle Shanahan, the orchestrator of the Falcons’ huge 2016 season, also had a rough time in his first season with the Falcons. Which WR would you want more than Jones in the 2018 Fantasy Football first round that’s not named Brown or Hopkins?
This stat seems impossible. pic.twitter.com/PeMdv8WdDs
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) January 14, 2018
1.12 Dalvin Cook, RB, Minnesota Vikings
It’s tough drafting a guy coming off a major knee injury, but as we’ve seen in recent years, that injury doesn’t affect running backs like it once did.
Cook proved to be stellar in the Vikings offense, and now he gets to work with a stud quarterback (relax, Case Keenum fans) in Kirk Cousins. That passing game should help push the defense back, plus the Vikings are built on Mike Zimmer’s defense-first philosophy, controlling the clock and keeping the other offense off the field by running the clock.
You should run your own mock draft, like this one I did in the video, in just 10 minutes!
Who do you want in your early 2018 fantasy football first round? Would you move Devonta Freeman up here? How about an aging LeSean McCoy, an oft-injured Rob Gronkowski or Mark Ingram, who might lose touches to Kamara? I’ll be back soon with my look at the second round – which promises to be nearly as controversial!
David Gonos spent 5 years as a CBSSports.com Senior Fantasy Writer and three more years writing with SI.com. Over the past 17 years, his work has been published on NFL.com, MLB.com, FanDuel, FoxSports.com and USA Today. Since 2001, he has been tracking down the Top 50-plus Free Fantasy Football Draft Tools online. You can contact David Gonos here.