Draft season is upon us! As we prepare for our leagues, there is the inevitable question that everyone asks: Who should I be taking first overall? This off-season, there has been plenty of buzz about the running back position, which has created a consensus top three of David Johnson, Le’Veon Bell, and Ezekiel Elliott.
While those players certainly have merit, it is my belief that the top pick in 2017 drafts should be Antonio Brown. Here’s why.
A Dominant Stretch
While everyone loves talking about the dominance the big three RBs showed in 2016, they seem to be all-too-quickly forgetting what Brown has done over the last four seasons.
Brown has been the top overall WR for three straight seasons and was the WR3 in 2013. His 2014 and 2015 seasons, in which he eclipsed 380 PPR points, were the two highest scores posted by any non-quarterback after Johnson’s 2016 performance. To put his production into context, here are the top five most similar four year stretches to Browns 2013 to 2016.1
Names like Calvin Johnson and Marvin Harrison really bring to light just how great Brown has been. His dominance both at his position and overall give him the best floor in fantasy football while also having elite upside.
The Return of Martavis Bryant
Also working in Brown’s favor is the return of Martavis Bryant to the Steeler receiving corps. The young freak’s presence has been a positive for the Pittsburgh offense.
When Bryant has been in the fold, it has allowed the Steelers to play faster, averaging almost two more plays per game. Pittsburgh also threw the ball more often and averaged more points per drive. This has resulted in an increase in scoring for Brown.
As you can see, Brown has played at a 400 PPR point pace with Bryant, which would be a career best in scoring.
This may seem noisy at first since that split includes time without Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell. However, if we look at just the 11 games Brown has played with all three teammates, he still has averaged 23.6 PPR points, a 377.6 point season-long pace.
Why NOT an RB?
Of course, the argument to take Brown first can’t be just based on his production. There need to be some solid reasons to pass on these top RBs. The arguments are a little easier to make than you would expect. As I mentioned in the latest Lowdown, the return of Chris Johnson to the Arizona backfield may lower David Johnson’s ceiling.
David Johnson saw three fewer targets and three fewer rush attempts with Chris Johnson in the fold. There was even one 2016 game where the elder Johnson saw more rush attempts. The Cardinals will also be welcoming back John Brown, who struggled with the sickle cell trait last year. With more reliable pass-catchers, the team probably doesn’t have to rely on D.J. for another 120 targets. He should also see a reduction in scoring, as his 20 TDs were the most since LeSean McCoy scored 20 in 2011.
Le'Veon Bell still has not signed his franchise tender, so he's not obligated to be at camp. May not see him until mid-to-late August.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) July 17, 2017
Bell is currently not at Steeler camp, and may not be for a while. He is not expected to hold out into the season, but until he signs his tender, that risk is certainly there. 2016 is also the only time in the last four years he has outscored his teammate in either season-long points or PPG. The presence of Bryant has had the opposite impact on Bell as it has on Brown.2
The case against Elliott is the easiest, as he is facing a potential suspension of unknown length. The Cowboys have worked out Ronnie Hillman and Denard Robinson in recent days, showing that there is some good reason to be concerned. Any kind of time missed to start the year would automatically take Elliott out of contention as a top pick, and until we know exactly what will happen to him, there is no reason to take him over the likes of Brown.
Big picture, there are reasons to pass on RBs in general in favor of Brown. RBs get injured more often and more seriously than WRs. We are also better at predicting WR performance than RB performance. That means that if your point projections are relatively close, you should take the WR.
If you are lucky enough to pull the 1.01 in your fantasy league this season, you should be taking Brown. In our composite staff projections, he is second in non-QB scoring to Johnson by 23 points.3 In my own personal projections, that gap is just four points. Either way, the difference is close enough where the resume and positional advantage favor Brown. The best part is that Brown’s ADP is 3.55, meaning you probably don’t have to pick first in order to get the best player in the draft.